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Ask Boswell 2/18/14 Edition

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Lots of questions about Mr. Williams.  Photo Nats official 2014 via sportingnews.com

Lots of questions about Mr. Williams. Photo Nats official 2014 via sportingnews.com

Washington Post columnist Tom Boswell must be in heaven: he’s at Spring Training, in 80 degree weather, talking baseball.  Here’s his 2/18/14 WP chat edition and how i’d have answered his baseball questions.  He did an extra long session, doing an hour and then coming back for even more questions, so this is a huge post.

Q: Which Nat is most and least likely to benefit from Matt Williams’ detail-oriented approach?

A: I’ll take the easy way out on this one: I’ll say that the rookies are most likely to benefit and the veterans are least-likely.  But that’s probably not very fair because it assumes that our vets will automatically have a hard time adjusting to a new voice.  In reality, Matt Williamspedigree as a player is going to shut just about any veteran up; name one player on this team who has accomplished anything close to what Williams did as a player?   I mean, we’re talking about a guy with multiple All Star appearances, multiple Gold Gloves, multiple Silver Sluggers, a couple near MVP seasons, more than 200 post-season at-bats spread across 5 post-season trips, three trips to the World Series and one ring.  He also played in two specific games that are both counted among the best games of the last 50 years (Game 7 of the 1997 World Series and 2001′s Game 7 of the World Series).

That’s a heck of a lot of accomplishments.  Who in their right mind is looking him in the fact and doubting his wisdom about anything?

Boswell points out a number of guys who are “introverts” who like the structure, mentions Rafael Soriano as a possible problem child … but then also notes Soriano lost a ton of weight and is playing for a contract, so he doesn’t expect any issues.  Fair enough.

Q: Where can I get good details on the Nats spring training schedules in Viera?

A: CSN’s Mark Zuckerman posts a great intro-to-spring training on his Natsinsider.com blog each year.  Here’s parts 1 and 2, focusing on the Nats baseball Complex and the Town of Viera.  Boswell speaks highly of watching bullpen sessions.  Can’t blame him; man I want to do Spring Training sometime!

Q: What does the Yankees signing of Masahiro Tanaka do for the Yankees season?

A: Not much in my opinion.   Despite Tanaka’s pedigree and $175M paycheck, he’s being touted by his own team as a “#3 starter.”  That’s a heck of a lot of money for a #3 starter.  Now in reality scouts liken him to a young Dan Haren (in terms of his repertoire), but he’s still not nearly in the same Ace class as the most recent Japanese import Yu Darvish.  Plus he’s got to deal with the inevitable adjustment to this country, a new language, 10,000 obnoxious NY beat reporters, the food, the city, and that pesky 4-days of rest schedule we have here for our starters.

As for the Yankees chances in 2014 in general, check out their current depth chart: Their rotation is set to be Sabathia (coming off an awful year), 40-yr old Kuroda, TanakaIvan Nova and David Phelps.  Does that sound like a 95-win rotation?   Here’s their infield: Mark Teixeira (15 games last year), Brian Roberts (77 games last year), Derek Jeter (17 games last year), and Eduardo Nunez (90 games last year).   Does that infield inspire confidence?  What makes anyone think that infield is lasting even a quarter of the season without a major injury?  Plus, Buster Olney or Jayson Stark recently mentioned this factoid:  ”No team has ever in the history of the game had a winning season starting a shortstop as old as Jeter.”    Yes the Yankees made some significant signings (Beltran, Ellsbury, McCann).  But I don’t think its enough to make up for what’s going to happen to their infield.  I think years of overpaying for FAs and being unlucky in their player development has caught up with the Yankees in a big way and they’ll be lucky to be a .500 team this year.  Boswell points out that PECOTA has them as 82-80.   And then he drops a scary subtle hint saying that Ian Desmond has already declined an $85M deal and may have his sights on becoming the next Yankees long-term shortstop.  Ouch.  Thankfully the timing doesn’t quite work out; Jeter retires after this year and the Nats have Desmond locked up for two seasons.

Q: Can you go into the stadium and see the view from your seats before committing to a Season Ticket?

A: No idea, but I’d bet the answer is yes.  We could do that before, you know back when I was a season ticket holder, pre Nats stadium, pre kids, pre getting-royally-screwed-in-the-new-stadium-relocation game.  Boswell assumes yes, and posts an answer confirming it from another fan later on who did exactly this.

Q: Why is the name Redskins such a hotbutton while the Braves gets almost no press?

A: (I couldn’t resist this question even if not entirely about Baseball): Probably because one name is a slur and the other is just a noun.  In a politically correct world no person-indicating moniker would ever be used as a team nickname … but then again you can get rather ridiculous (is “Padre” and the drawing of a priest with a goofy smile swinging a bat offensive to the clergy?  I’m of Irish descent; what if I said that the Notre Dame “Fighting Irish” is offensive to me because of my culture?).   Plus, frankly, I don’t get why little Danny Snyder won’t just frigging change the name; I mean, how many gazillions of dollars of new merchandise sales would he get if he re-branded the team?  Why is he so obstinate about this issue?  Every time he posts some dumb letter defending the name it makes him look more and more like a little rich whiny fan-boy who grew up loving the team despite being too sickly to actually play, and now he’s clinging to an iconic symbol of his youth.  As if it was a ratty security blanket.   Boswell talks about cultural change and social progress and hints that he’s going to post his official opinion on the matter soon.

Q: Has Jeter’s retirement caused TOO much media attention?

A: Honestly, I don’t feel like it has; at least not as much as the questioner, who whined about all the coverage and news items related to Jeter.  Perhaps its because he’s gone up against the Olympics and NBC’s force-fed human interest coverage machine that I havn’t noticed.

Olympics Rant/Tangent: Seriously; I thought I had seen it all with NBC’s ridiculous coverage over the years of figure skaters as “athletes” … now the coverage of these silly snowboarders has surpassed it.  I’m sorry; if your “sport” requires judges who take into consideration your “style” or your “costume,” then it isn’t a sport.  ”Team skating?”  ”Ice Dancing?”  Why not just have a frigging spinning contest or see who can coast the longest on one skate or some other useless reason to award a few more gold medals?  In my opinion, if there isn’t a score or a race to a finish line or one man versus another in a contest … you’re not a sport.  Nothing against figure skaters specifically; what they do is amazing, requires elegance and strength and years of training.  But so does Ballet; why is one an olympic sport and the other a performance art?  All those cirque-de-soleil performers?  Why isn’t that an olympic sport too?

Tangent/Rant off.

I think we’ll all be pretty frigging sick of Derek Jeter once August and September rolls-around.  Yeah he’s a great player, first ballot hall of famer.  But so are about 20-25 other guys playing right now.  I agree with the questioner’s rant about the over-coverage of all things Yankees.   Boswell points out that Jeter’s career WAR is one spot above Bobby Grich, so as to temper some expectations.  That’s harsh; even I recognize his importance to the game as a surpassing point than just whittling down all his accomplishments to one (dubious) number. 

Q: What is Livan Hernandez’s role on this team?

A: Whatever it is, I think its friggin awesome that he’s in Spring Training representing the Nats.  Kudos to whoever reached out and got him to come help out.  Livan Hernandez may have played all over the majors (9 teams in 17 seasons; that’s tough to do when you’re not a left-handed reliever) but he played the most of it with our franchise.  Boswell’s quoting of Drew Storen‘s description of Livan’s role is awesome: ”His job is life-coach, bleep-talker and being Livo.”   He also notes that Livan can provide some fielding and instruction on holding runners, a sore spot for several Nats starters.

Q: How is Christian Garcia looking so far? Any chance that he goes north with the club?

A: All reports list Christian Garcia as (finally) healthy.  But its telling that the team is already specifically pointing out that “he’s made it further than he did last year.”  It seems like his fragility is almost a running joke on the team now.  Chances of breaking into the 7-man bullpen?  Remote unless there’s injuries.  But if he goes to AAA and pitches lights out, he’ll be first guy back.   If he stays healthy (four words that should be attached to every single sentence ever written about Garcia).  Boswell says that if he’s healthy, he’s on the team.  I have a very hard time believing that; who makes way?  Not Soriano, Storen, Clippard or Stammen.  Not Blevins.  Ohlendorf?  Roark?  Roark’s numbers last fall were *better* than anything Garcia did in 2012 and in 4 times the innings.  Ohlendorf isn’t being paid north of $1M to screw around in upstate New York.  And, none of this takes into account the statements from Williams about liking to have two lefties in the bullpen… If it were me, I’d want to see Garcia pitch at least a month straight without hurting something on his person.  

Q: How would you grade Rizzo’s off-season?

A:  Pretty frigging good.  Fister: fantastic acquisition.  McLouth; not too bad, should help.  Lobaton: looking better and better, considering the pedigree i’m hearing about the two guys thrown into the deal (Vettleson and Rivero).  I don’t think his lack of acquiring a better lefty will hurt; Sammy Solis is impressing and could contribute immediately, newly acquired Rivero apparently has some stuff, and there’s still the likes of Cedeno and a couple other AAA guys who we could use.  Boswell says A- … and then tells a tid-bit about the Grant Balfour deal that fell through.

Q: Why are the Nats pitchers so bad at holding runners on?  Is this something they’re working on this Spring

A: Why?  beats me.  Maybe a better defensive catcher will help in that category.  They definitely seem to be working on it this spring as noted in the above Livo question.  Boswell doesn’t really answer the question but then uses this question as a segue into talking about Williams’ anger issues.  Random.

Q: If Ryan Zimmerman is going to play some first base … what the heck is Tyler Moore going to do?

A: A decent question, but which assumes that Tyler Moore is anything other than a bench bat.  And it assumes that Adam LaRoche is going to platoon.  I know plenty in the blogosphere want that to happen … but this is a contract year, and the last time couple times LaRoche faced a contract year he played pretty durn good.  Meanwhile, Moore seems like the kind of player who could use a change of scenery and a trade to a team with more playing time.  Boswell likes his swing.

Q: Is team improvement correlation or causation to a hitting coach change, like what happened last year with Eckstein’s firing?

A: You ask me, i’d say its correlation/coincidence.  It isn’t the hitting coach facing 95 mph fastballs.  But I’m no professional.  Boswell can’t figure it out either.

Q: Did they really need another catcher when they had both two young options and Synder as a proven vet? Why waste a pitching prospect with a high upside for a backup catcher who can’t throw out runners, already a major problem. Did Rizzo get taken by the Rays?

A: Sounds to me like this question-er is overvaluing the potential contributions of our catching prospects Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano, is incredibly overvaluing what Chris Snyder still brings to the table, and is overvaluing Nathan Karns and what is ceiling seems to realistically be.  Oh, and he’s undervaluing the prospects we got in return (both of which are in our top 14 according to mlbdraftinsider.com’s recent post).  I like the move, it fixes a hole for the team and gives a couple of prospects to shore up a thinned system, all for a guy who I think we all liked in Karns but who likely faces a ceiling of a reliever.  Boswell notes the need for a “real” backup catcher and notes that the team traded from depth.

Q: Have the Braves taken a step back this offseason and are really counting on BJ Upton to do anything on offense this year?

A: Yes and yes.  McCann is a  huge loss.  Tim Hudson may not “seem” like a loss given the Braves pitching depth, but he was their opening day starter in 2013 and was their bulldog staff leader (if not an “ace” in the literal sense of the word).   They also let go Paul Maholm, who gave them a ton of decent innings last year.  They’re depending on Brandon Beachy to come back healthy and on the rest of their young rotation to contribute.  Otherwise they did little this off-season other than extending a couple of guys.   As far as BJ Upton, what choice do they have but to run him out day after day at this point?  Same as Dan Uggla: those two guys are getting paid a ton of money and will be given every chance to prove themselves.  Boswell agrees.

Q: How often have you seen baseball players take a hometown discount?

A: Not very often: Roy Halladay took a bit less so he could play for Philly … because their spring training complex is in the same town as his full-time home.  Hard to think of obvious other players off-hand.  The asker questioned whether Jordan Zimmermann would consider less money to play for his “hometown” Brewers … without really considering the fact that Milwaukee is a cheap-skate franchise and will *never* come close to paying the 9-figure deal that Zimmermann probably earns in two years’ time.  Boswell doesn’t really answer the original question, just notes that so far our FA players are going for the money.

Q: In your opinion, who will end up being the fifth starter? Detwiler, Roark, or Jordan?

A: Ross Emery Detwiler, for the same reasons I pointed out in my 2014 Staff Projections post in late december.   Quoting myself from that post:

Why am I predicting Detwiler will win the rotation spot?  Partly because of options (Detwiler has none while Roark, Ohlendorf and Jordan all do), but partly because I’ve sort of come back around on him after looking more closely at his 2013 season.  He had a decent to good 2012; he posted a 118 ERA+ and even if his advanced FIP/SIERA didn’t indicate he was quite that good, he was still more than a servicable 5th starter.  Then in his first seven 2013 starts he was also very good (he had a 2.53 ERA in his first 7 starts and 42 2/3 innings … he got hurt in his 8th start).  The rest of his season was a mess, with him fighting injury and ballooning his seasonal ERA from 2.53 to more than 4.00 in five more starts.   If he comes back healthy to start 2014, why wouldn’t we expect more of the same performance that he had at the start of 2013?  For these reasons, I think Detwiler breaks camp as the 5th starter.

I like Tanner Roark and feel the team is going to find a way for him to be in the MLB bullpen.  I also now believe Taylor Jordan‘s off-season ankle injury will give the team an excuse to keep him in the minors a bit to season him up and maybe even keep some innings off his arm.   So it’ll be Detwiler until he either falters or gets hurt again.  At least we have a ton of options this year to cover for a starter injury.

Boswell says Detwiler as well but writes a ton on othe other guys, including a glowing talk about Roark.  And he throws in this tidbit: Detroit asked for Jordan and Robbie Ray before settling for Ray and spare parts.  Interesting.  

Q: What’s your read on how the last two bullpen spots play out?

A: Also borrowing from my Dec 2013 post, I’ll go with Ohlendorf and Roark.  Ohlendorf as the long-man, spot starter rubber arm guy.  Roark with the hope he continues his magical run of exceptional command and fearless relief.  I know that only leaves on lefty out there, and leaves guys like Ryan Mattheus and Christian Garcia in AAA.  Hey, I could be wrong.   Boswell doesn’t seem to guess.

Q: Do you think the coaches will let Espi continue to be a switch hitter or keep him as a lefty hitter only? 

A: I hope you mean righty hitter only; he is a career .220 lefty hitter but .262 righty. If I was the Nats brass, i’d try him as a righty-only guy.  But by all accounts Danny Espinosa is a bit stubborn and may not be open to limiting a unique skill that he may continue to think distinguishes himself from other competitors.  I continue to wonder just how hurt he was last year … as others have said, it isn’t like Espinosa suddenly forgot how to hit.  Yes he was always somewhat limited as a player, but 20-homer capable middle infielders don’t grow on trees.  Boswell says the team isn’t messing with Espinosa, and that they want to see what he can do in 2014.  Fair enough.

Q: Are you worried about the power (or lack thereof) in the Nats lineup?

A: Not really.  The capability is there across the lineup.  Zimmerman has hit 30.  So has LaRoche.  Desmond has hit 20.  So has Espinosa.  Ramos has 20+ homer capability if he’s healthy.  Werth is good for 25 and has hit 30+ before.  And none of this talks about our best power hitter Harper and what he can do.   Basically the team is a whole bunch of guys with 20 homer capability.   The Nats were T-3th in the NL in homers last year as a team (trailing two teams in offensive parks) and should improve in this category with a healthy Harper.  Boswell just talks about Ramos’ stats extrapolated to a full season.

Q: Is praise of Williams’ approach tacit criticism of Davey Johnson’s?

A: Yeah probably.  That’s why you change managers; to change the message.  I’m not going to disparage Davey Johnson too much here other than to say what i’ve said before; the team needed a new voice.  Boswell points out that Johnson’s 2012 job was fantastic and that there’s “different jockeys for different horses.” I like that analogy.


One last point: there was a question about MASN that Boswell went off on and gave some tidbits, including a shot at Bud Selig.  Its worth the read; click on the chat link and head to the bottom.

Thoughts on Keith Law’s organization and prospect rankings

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Giolito is rising the ranks of prospects baseball-wide.  Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

Giolito is rising the ranks of prospects baseball-wide. Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

I’ll admit it; I’m a sucker for prospect lists.

Every time I see an organizational ranking published (whether it be from BA/John Callis, BP/Jason Parks, ESPN/Keith Law, MLB/Jonathan Mayo, John Sickels or whoever, I put the rankings into a big spreadsheet and do comparison analysis (I’d publish on Google Docs it except that Law’s stuff is ESPN insider only and I wouldn’t want to get into trouble).   Every time any of these guys puts out organizational top 10s, I capture that too into one big file too.

So, this week is an exciting time because one of the leading prospect voices out there has published his annual rankings lists.  Keith Law published his System rankings 1-30 on 1/28/14 and published his Top 100 prospects list on 1/29/14.  The links themselves are ESPN-insider, which I believe is well worth the pittance of a cost per year just to get access to Law and Buster Olney‘s stuff (among others).

Law has our system ranked 18th this time around, a slight increase from last year’s ranking of 21.   In the five years that I’ve been capturing Law’s organizational rankings, this is as high as he’s had the system ranked believe it or not; his 2012 rankings (where Baseball America famously had us ranked #1) came out after the big Gio Gonzalez trade and thus we didn’t get the high ranking we would have expected (Law said he dropped the system from a top 5 ranking b/c of that trade).

So, how do we explain how the system went from #21 to #18 given all that has happened in the last year?   Borrowing from the comment I made at NationalsProspects.com when Luke Erickson noted the same Law publishing, lets analyze where we were in January 2013 versus now as a system:

In Law’s 2013 writeup for the team, he noted that he liked Washington’s top 5 prospects but that there was a significant gap afterwards.  Going back and looking at my notes, Law’s top 5 guys went:

  1. Anthony Rendon
  2. Brian Goodwin
  3. Lucas Giolito
  4. A.J. Cole
  5. Nathan Karns

Then the gap, then Law ranks 6-10 as went Matt Skole, Christian Garcia, Carlos Rivero, Matthew Purke and Michael Taylor. So, no mention of Taylor Jordan or Ian Krol, both of whom graduated and performed more than ably in the majors in 2013.  There was no mention of Robbie Ray, who Law never liked and never gave much credit to even when in 2011 he was out performing Cole in the low minors despite being the same age and same draft class, but who was regarded enough in Detroit to basically fetch a 4-win established MLB pitcher in Doug Fister.  There was no mention of Jeff Kobernus, who did get some MLB innings but isn’t considered a real prospect.  No mention of Nats minor league batter of the year Billy Burns (again, not really a prospect in lots of evaluator’s eyes).  No mention of Eury Perez as a top 10 candidate, and obviously no mention of Tanner Roark (who in January 2013 pretty much everyone saw as an organizational arm playing out the string to minor league free agency).  Law did say at the time that if Sammy Solis got healthy again he’d be back in the running for his top 100.  Amazingly Rivero, a waiver claim who ended the year demoted to AA, was his 8th best prospect for the system, quite an indictment.  Well, either that or a blind spot for Law, who is more impressed by tools in lower-minors kids than capabilities in prospects in the upper minors.

So, given that our top 10 last year in Law’s minds (in order):

  1. Rendon graduated to a starting job in the majors
  2. Goodwin struggled in a 2-level jump
  3. Giolito ably recovered from injury
  4. Cole impressed at AA after a promotion
  5. Karns made the leap to the majors but struggled
  6. Skole missed the entire season due to a freak injury
  7. Garcia missed basically the entire season with yet another injury
  8. Rivero was demoted to AA and is now a MLFA
  9. Purke pitched mostly a full season but did not dominate as expected
  10. Taylor impressed in high-A and was added to the 40-man

… and considering the litany of graduations/trades/exoduses out of the system (Rendon, Jordan, Krol, Ray, Rivero, Burns and Roark all ineligible for a 2014 analysis), how do you explain the fact that he thinks the system is basically treading water?

You have to think Law’s top 5 for the system now starts Giolito/Cole/Goodwin but then who knows where it goes from there.  I know from chat responses that Law is down on Purke now and that he didn’t ever really rate Jake Johansen or Drew Ward as 2013 draft picks.  Does Karns still qualify as a prospect?  Yes I believe so.   Solis came back and performed post injury but was he that impressive in 2013?

Perhaps Law’s thinking goes like this: he likes our top 3 prospects (clearly; Giolito, Cole and Goodwin all made Law’s minor league-wide top 100 list with Giolito at #21).  Law rates these top 3 guys as strong enough to make up for the graduations from last year.  Then there likely is a gap, then perhaps a small grouping of Karns and Solis, both of whom Law likes and both of whom he probably believes would make either #5 starters or good bullpen guys.  Then after that a grab bag to include Skole, Taylor, Perez and perhaps a couple guys from our 2013 draft class (Austin Voth?).  The problem with the back side of this theoretical top 10 list is that it includes a slew of players who were hurt or who treaded water in 2013.

What do you think?  And if your answer is some variation of, “Todd you spend too much time over-analyzing prospect lists and you just proved your own point by showing that a guy like Taylor Jordan can go from high-A to a MLB-average ERA+ and never appear on anyone’s prospect lists therefore prospect lists are useless” …. well I’m not going to argue against you that vociferously :-)  I’d probably respond by saying something to the effect of, “Its frigging january, what else are we going to talk about?”

Potomac/High-A Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2013

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Taylor Jordan's phenomenal rise from A-ball to the majors is this year's high-A story of the year.  Photo via wffn.net/hueytaxi on flikr.com

Taylor Jordan’s phenomenal rise from A-ball to the majors is this year’s high-A story of the year. Photo via wffn.net/hueytaxi on flikr.com

This is the 4th in the 2013 Pitching staff review series, here’s a review of Potomac/High-A’s pitching staff for 2013.  Other parts of the 2013 series:

For some historical perspective, here’s 2012′s version (Nathan Karns the feature pitcher) and 2011′s version (Danny Rosenbaum the feature pitcher) of this post specifically for Potomac/High-A.

All stats are courtesy of either milb.com’s Potomac 2013 Stats page or via Fangraph’s Potomac 2013 page.   Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker since so many of these lower-minors guys are recent draftees.

Note: from here on down, there’s more than a few examples of small sample sizes.  Plus, I know many readers here were frequent Potomac game attendees and may have different/better opinions than I.  Please comment if you disagree with the sentiments here.

Potomac starters.  The rotation started the season with Ray, Jordan, Cole, Turnbull and Hill.  It ended with Purke, Demny, Mooneyham, Solis and Schwartz.   There were quite a few changes along the way; I counted 9 promotions throughout the year.  Lets take a look at the High-A starters for 2013, starting with the original five and then counting down by the number of starts.  Because there were so many promotions, we’ll be referring to the AA and MLB posts frequently here for more detail.

  • Robbie Ray got the ball opening day and never looked back: he dominated high-A in the first half of the season (10.71 K/9 in 16 High-A starts) and continued the great work as one of the youngest starters in all of AA by the time the season was over.  See the AA-writeup for more. Outlook for next season: in the Detroit organization.
  • Taylor Jordan gave up just 5 earned runs in his first 6 Potomac starts of the year, quickly earning him a promotion to AA.  We all know the story from here; he blew up AA and then gave the MLB team 9 good starts before hitting his post TJ surgery innings limit.  See AA’s and the MLB post for more detail.   Outlook for next season: AAA rotation.
  • A. J. Cole made his triumphant return to the Nats organization, escaping his hellish 2012 season in the California League by coming back to Washington as bounty for Michael Morse.  Cole threw about 100 innings in High-A across 18 starts and was 6-3 with a 4.25 ERA.  His FIP was considerably better and he averaged more than a K/inning, and the team pushed him to AA as a 21 year old.  See AA’s post for more.  Outlook for next season: AA rotation to start, looking for a mid-season promotion to AAA.
  • Kylin Turnbull lasted just three high-A starts, giving up 10 runs in 17 innings and was demoted to low-A.  See low-A’s post for more.   Outlook for next season: Attempting High-A’s rotation again.
  • Taylor Hill threw 84 innings of sub 3.00 ball across 14 starts in Potomac, earning a promotion to AA mid-season.  See AA’s write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: AA rotation.
  • Blake Schwartz blitzed through 4 starts in low-A and was quickly promoted to Potomac, where he led the staff in starts, wins and innings.  He finished the year with an 11-4 record with a 2.65 ERA in 132 innings.  His ERA was a bit masked by a low BABIP, resulting in a FIP that was a point higher.  He had a nice 4/1 K/BB ratio, a relatively small WHIP, and a decent enough K/9 rate.  Another excellent small college find by the Nats scouting staff.  Outlook for next season: You have to think he’s in the AA rotation; what more does he have to prove in high-A?
  • Sammy Solis made it back from Tommy John and gave Potomac 57 innings over 13 apperances with a decent 3.43 ERA.   He did miss some time mid-season but came back pretty strong.  He was also the P-Nats’ #1 starter in the playoffs, giving them one great and one not-so-great start in the post season.   Solis was added to the 40-man ahead of the Rule-5 draft by virtue of his being eligible; now there’s talk about him possibly featuring as a lefty-matchup guy at the major league level.   I can see that eventually, but not from the start of the 2014 season.  I can see Solis going to AA to get some reps against better hitters and possibly covering for injuries/need later this year.  Outlook for next season: AA rotation for now.
  • Brian Rauh started the year in Hagerstown’s bullpen as an 8th inning guy, didn’t really pitch that well but was pushed up to Potomac anyway, where he suddenly slotted in as a starter and ended up giving the team 12 starts over 16 appearances with a 4.22 ERA (4.81 FIP) over 64 innings.  He made way in the rotation late in the season for Brett Mooneyham and worked out of the pen again for the playoffs.   Outlook for next season: High-A bullpen, perhaps a starter.  Perhaps a release candidate.
  • Matt Purke finally looked healthy after years of shoulder issues.  He over matched low-A and was pushed to Potomac in early July.  In 12 starts he was 5-3 with a 4.43 ERA, 1.39 whip, and 3.58 FIP.  He got the ball in the ghird playoff game and pitched decently enough.  What concerns me is his lack of dominance of A-ball hitters; he sported just a 6.05 K/9 rate as a starter in High-A this year.  This from a former first round pick, a dominant lefty who was undefeated as a freshman in college in a good baseball conference.   What are we to make of him at this point?  On the bright side, he’s only 22 and still has a couple of option years left, so the Nats have some time to see what they have (unlike, say with Solis, who is 25 and needs to show something like right now).  Outlook for next season: High-A starter once again, looking for a quick promotion to AA.
  • Paul Demny couldn’t make the jump to AA as a starter, and was demoted back to Potomac mid-season.  He ended the season in Potomac’s rotation but (likely out of respect for what the Potomac guys accomplished this year) did not participate in the High-A playoffs.  In 8 Potomac starts, he was 2-2 with a 3.69 ERA with about a K/inning, which he should have done considering that he’s in his 6th pro season.   See the AA post for more.  Outlook for next season: AA bullpen.
  • Brett Mooneyham pitched most of the year in Hagerstown before a late-season bump up to Potomac, where he promptly got shelled.  See the low-A post for more.   Outlook for next season: High-A rotation.
  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there:
    • Ivan Pineyro got 3 starts in High-A before he was flipped for Scott Hairston.  See the low-A post for more. (Editor’s note: corrected for the right Hairston thanks to John C comment).
    • Brian Dupra got a few spot-starts; see the reliever section.
    • Marcos Frias posted a 7.59 ERA in two starts and a few relief appearances and was released 7/24/13.   See the AA post for more.
    • Rob Gilliam made two forgettable starts in High-A before getting pushed up to AA.  See the AA post for more.
    • Hector Sylvestre got called up from the rookie league to make one spot start.  See GCL post for more.
    • Ross Detwiler and Ross Ohlendorf both made one rehab start for Potomac.  See MLB post for more.

Potomac Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps.  We’ll organize relievers by looking at closers first, then by innings pitched.

  • Robert Benincasa earned 17 saves in 25 apperances for Potomac to lead the team in saves.  He earned his promotion after starting the season as Hagerstown’s closer.  His numbers on the year: 34/9 K/BB in 30 innings, 3.30 ERA, 1.23 whip, 2.80 fip.  His performance earned him a placement in the Arizona Fall League, where he posted a 4.00 ERA in 9 innings of work.  Outlook for next season: Depending on the numbers, I could see him in the AA bullpen or beginning in High-A with a look for a quick promotion.
  • Richie Mirowski dominated to the tune of a 1.50 ERA across 48 high-A innings and earned his promotion.  See the AA post for more.  Outlook for next season: AA bullpen again, looking to force another promotion.
  • Rob Wort started the season in AA, struggled, missed 5 weeks with an injury, but then settled in as a back-of-the-bullpen guy for Potomac.  In 34 innings he posted a 3.71 ERA but more impressively had a 48/29 K/BB ratio.  Well, ok, the 29 walks in 34 innings wasn’t that impressive, but the 48 Ks was.  Unfortunately for Wort, this is the FOURTH season in a row he’s been in Potomac.   He had absolutely fantastic numbers in 2012 but couldn’t back them up.  It may be safe to say he’s hit his limit organizationally.   Outlook for next season: Another shot at AA bullpen but may end up back in High-A.
  • Greg  Holt put up solid numbers as a middle reliever for Potomac, leading the bullpen in innings while going 9-0 with a 3.71 ERA in 70+ innings.  I’m concerned with his 55/33 K/BB ratio in those 70 innings; that just seems like too many walks and not enough K’s.  He’s progressed each of his three pro seasons; will he keep moving on up to AA for 2014?  Outlook for next season: Possibly in AA’s bullpen, more likely back as high-A middle reliever.
  • Colin Bates had a really nice season for Potomac this year, posting nearly a 6-1 K/BB ratio while still striking out nearly 7 guys per 9 innings pitched.  He posted a 2.61 ERA over 62 innings pitched, his second straight season advancing a level and posting a sub 3.00 ERA in the bullpen.    Outlook for next season: AA bullpen.
  • Brian Dupra earned two promotions on the season to end up in Potomac’s bullpen, where he put up pedestrian numbers (1-7, 4.96 ERA, 1.49 whip).  A college senior draftee with very little bonus money investment, Dupra’s usefulness to the organization may be at a limit.  Outlook for next season: High-A bullpen competition, possible release.
  • David Fischer started the year in Hagerstown but was quickly bumped up to Potomac, where he served as a long-man out of the pen.  He hit the D/L in mid August and never returned.  On the year his numbers were pedestrian; 4.30 ERA in 44 innings.  He did maintain a great K/9 rate (10.84).  But Fischer’s problem is the same as his fellow low-bonus/college senior draftees currently toiling in A-ball; its move up or ship out.  Outlook for next season: High-A bullpen.
  • Matt Grace threw 28 innings of quality relief and was bumped up to AA.  See the AA write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: AA bullpen to continue as the lefty matchup guy.
  • Rafael Martin didn’t make his first appearance until July, and when he got to Potomac he was great; a 1.04 ERA in 26 innings.  As well he should; two years ago he was a closer in AA and posted a 1.77 era.  What is he doing in A-Ball?  The Mexican league free agent signing in 2009 seems like he should be back in AA, where he’s shown he can compete in the past.  Outlook for next season: AA bullpen.
  • Derek Self couldn’t make the leap to High-A, getting demoted to Hagerstown after putting up a 6 ERA in 29 innings.  See the low-A post for more.   Outlook for next season: trying the high-A bullpen again.
  • Tyler Herron quickly showed he was too good for High-A and was promoted to Harrisburg after 20 innings.  See the AA post for more.  Outlook for next season: AAA bullpen.
  • Christian Meza lasted about 5 weeks in Potomac, putting up a 6.62 ERA and greater than a 2.00 whip before getting demoted back to Hagerstown.  See the low-A post for more.  Outlook for next season: trying the high-A bullpen again, possible release candidate.
  • Travis Henke toiled most of the season in Hagerstown and got a late-season promotion.  See the low-A post for more.   Outlook for next season: high-A bullpen.
  • Cameron Selik struggled through 10 appearances and 11 innings throughout the course of the season, missing a ton of time as he struggled with injury.  He can’t go back to Potomac for the fourth straight season, can he?   Outlook for next season: AA bullpen if healthy, otherwise perhaps an unfortunate release candidate.
  • Other guys who had short stints with Potomac this year:
    • Ben Hawkins threw 8 innings and was released.
    • Justin Thomas threw just one inning in Potomac during his tour of the low-minors this year; see the Low-A post for more.

Summary

No less than 18 guys got starts this year for Potomac, in a 142 game season.   All five of their opening day starters were moved out (four up, one down) by mid-season, and yet the team still made the playoffs.  That’s a great testament to the pitcher development going on in our low minors, and I think it is going to show on the big club very soon.  Its not hard to see potential in a whole slew of the starters who passed through Potomac this year.

On the reliever side, there’s a couple of guys here who may make an impact, but there’s also a whole slew of right handed middle relievers who were college senior graduates who may very quickly find themselves pushed out by the later crops of college senior draftees.

Harrisburg/AA Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2013

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Nathan Karns was the story of the year for AA Harrisburg's squad.  Photo Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Nathan Karns was the story of the year for AA Harrisburg’s squad. Photo Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

This is the 3rd in the 2013 Pitching staff review series, here’s a review of Harrisburg/AA’s pitching staff for 2013.  Other parts of the 2013 series: Washington/MLB’s 2013 review and Syracuse/AAA’s 2013 review.

For some historical perspective, here’s 2012′s version (featuring Danny Rosenbaum) and 2011′s version (featuring Brad Peacock) of this post specifically for Harrisburg/AA.

All stats are courtesy of either milb.com’s Harrisburg 2013 Stats page or via Fangraph’s Harrisburg Stats page.   Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker.

Harrisburg starters.  The rotation started the season with Broderick, Treinen, Demny, Clay and Karns.  It ended with Karns, Cole, Treinen, Hill and Ray.   There were quite a few changes along the way.  Lets take a look at the AA starters:

  • Brian Broderick got the opening day start for Harrisburg but didn’t last very long, giving the team 7 mostly bad starts before hitting the D/L.  He got one more rehab start in the GCL and ended the season (I believe) on Potomac’s D/L list.  It doesn’t matter; Broderick’s time with the organization is likely done after quite a whirlwind trip; he was a 2010 rule-5 draftee from St. Louis who pitched for our MLB squad for nearly two months before being jettisoned back to the Cardinals.   St. Louis eventually waived him and we grabbed him in July 2012.  He toiled for AA last year and started there again this year.   Outlook for next season: MLFA, with another organization or perhaps out of affiliated baseball.
  • Blake Treinen, aka one of the “other guys” in the Michael Morse trade, quietly put together a pretty good season for the Senators.  In 21 games and 118 innings he had a 3.64 ERA and a nearly an identical 3.67 FIP.  He’s not a strike out guy (86 in 118 innings for a 6.5 K/9 rate, and he gave up more base-runners than you’d like to see (1.33 whip), which is odd considering his pedigree as one of the hardest throwers in the Nats farm system.  He missed a chunk of time this season with two separate D/L trips but made it back just in time to get hammered as the 4th starter in the playoffs.  I projected Treinen as an eventual back-of-the-bullpen arm thanks to his velocity, but for the time being the team should want to see if he can continue to develop as a starter.  Outlook for next season: back in AA as a starter, looking to push to AAA mid-season.
  • Paul Demny got 15 incredibly inconsistent starts for Harrisburg this year before a D/L trip resulted in his losing his rotation spot and then eventually losing his AA spot.  He ended the season in Potomac’s rotation but (likely out of respect for what the Potomac guys accomplished this year) did not participate in the High-A playoffs.  AA numbers for the year: 5-6, 4.95 ERA but 86 K/s in 83+ innings.  Outlook for next season: you have to think that he’s done as a starter, having failed to make the leap to AA for the second year running.  I”m predicting he’s in the AA bullpen.
  • Caleb Clay got 13 AA starts after signing as a MLFA before finishing the year in Syracuse.  See the AAA write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: in the San Francisco organization.
  • Nathan Karns followed up his 2012 Nats Minor League Pitcher of the year with a dominant season at AA: 10-6 with a 3.26 ERA and 155 Ks in 132 innings.  He was the first minor league reinforcement starter to get the call-up to the majors this year. (here’s my “first look” post at his 5/28/13 debut).  In three MLB starts he got hit hard and was eventually returned (after an 11 day layoff) to the AA rotation.  He finished the season strong and got one great playoff win, but was hammered in the season-ending championship for a sour end to a great season.  Nonetheless, we saw the potential and the organization’s patience has been rewarded.  For now Karns remains a starter.  Outlook for next season: AAA rotation.
  • Rob Gilliam ended up being the primary 6th starter/swing-man for Harrisburg this year, covering in the rotation as its original members got promoted, injured or demoted.  The “forgotten man” in the big Gio Gonzalez trade, Gilliam gave the Senators 18 starts and 90 innings of 4.40 ERA ball this year.  Nothing great but nothing awful; right now I see no reason to think he’s not going to serve in a similar same innings-eating role next year.  Outlook for next season: AA swing-man/spot-starter.
  • Taylor Hill had an exceptional season, stepping up from a guy who was throwing 5.00 ERA ball in low-A at the beginning of 2012 to a guy who was making a name for himself with sub 3.00 ERA pitching in AA by the end of 2013.  He earned a promotion out of Potomac with 14 excellent starts and continued the same work in AA.  His K/9 isn’t phenomenal (around 5.5 K/9 between both levels) and his FIPs show that his ERA was a bit lucky at both levels (3.38 FIP in high-A, 4.06 in AA) but the guy clearly knows how to pitch.  I think he’ll be a key man in the AA rotation next year.  Outlook for next season: AA rotation.
  • Robbie Ray showed why I kept my faith in him despite his 6.56 ERA blow-up in Potomac in 2012.  He dominated high-A in the first half of the season (10.71 K/9 in 16 High-A starts) and continued the great work as one of the youngest starters in all of AA by the time the season was over.  Final AA numbers: 5-2, 3.72 ERA, 3.42 whip with 60 K’s in 58 innings.  As we all know by now, Ray was the feature player in the Doug Fister acquisition and clearly made a huge impression on the Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski.  I’m sorry to see him go but I’m happy with the return he brought back.  Outlook for next season: in the Detroit organization.
  • Taylor Jordan passed through AA during his dream 2013 season, going 7-0 with a0.83 ERA in 9 appearances.  See Washington write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: AAA rotation.
  • A. J. Cole continued the trend of Potomac pitchers earning promotions, becoming the 5th of 5 starters who began the  year in Potomac to matriculate to AA.  He did not disappoint, going 4-2 with a 2.18 ERA and greater than a K/inning to solidify his status as one of the top prospects in the organization.  The Michael Morse trade that engineered his return is looking better and better for the team.  Outlook for next season: AA rotation to start, looking for a mid-season promotion to AAA.
  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there:
    • Matt Swynenberg got a few spot-starts heare and there; see the reliever section.
    • Ryan Tatusko dropped down to give AA a spot start; see AAA post.
    • Trevor Holder and Tyler Herron each got a spot start but were primarily relievers; see the reliever section.

Harrisburg Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps at the end of the season.  We’ll start with the closers and then run down the relievers by innings pitched.

  • Aaron Barrett was the primary closer for Harrisburg, earning 26 saves, striking out 69 in 50 innings and posting a 2.15 ERA.  His FIP was significantly lower (1.87) thanks to an inflated BABIP for the year.  Barrett’s performance on the year necessitated his protection on the 40-man roster: he was added in November ahead of the rule-5 draft.  His late August injury does not seem to be that threatening; the organization clearly thinks he’s got potential to help and i’m sure he’ll feature at some point in 2014 to cover for bullpen injuries.  Outlook for next season: AAA bullpen, likely the closer again.
  • Tyler Herron is an interesting case: signed out of the independent leagues, he had not appeared in affiliated ball since 2009.  He quickly showed he was too good for High-A and stuck around as a back of the bullpen guy in Harrisburg the rest of the season, taking over for Barrett when he hit the D/L in August.  Final season stats: 6-2, 5 saves,  a 3.11 ERA, and an even better FIP.  Even better: 58 K’s in just 46 1/3 innings.  He proved to be a very versatile arm for this team.  Despite the fact that he was a MLFA signing last off-season, he’s not listed on BA’s MLFA list for this off-season; is he still with the organization?  I hope so: I think he can be useful going forward. Outlook for next season: AAA bullpen, if he’s still with the org.
  • Matt Swynenberg served as a longer reliever out of the bullpen and posted a 3.16 ERA in 74 innings over 36 appearances and 4 starts.   He continues his steady progression up the organization but remains off the prospect-radar.  He’s been rule-5 eligible two  years running now and hasn’t been sniffed.  He enters his last  year of pre-MLFA possibly topped out in the organization thanks to a numbers game in the AAA bullpen.  Outlook for next season: AA bullpen.
  • Neil Holland was another big arm in the Harrisburg bullpen this year, posting 63 K’s in 50 relief innings to the tune of a 2.84 ERA/2.43 FIP.   Holland was a 2010 draftee who was Rule-5 eligible this year, but he slipped through the cracks and the Nats get to keep him off the 40-man roster for one more season.   He’s under-sized but has put up great numbers wherever he’s been; it is just a matter of time before he gets his shot.  Outlook for next season: AA bullpen to start, with a good likelihood of moving up soon.
  • Pat McCoy failed to make the jump from AA to AAA and was demoted back to Harrisburg after 7 ineffective AAA appearances.  Repeating AA for the third year, he posted a 4.32 ERA in 41 middle relief innings.  He exhaused his 6 years in the organization and has already signed elsewhere for 2014.  Outlook for next season: in the Detroit organization.
  • Matt Grace was one of NINE hurlers who earned promotions out of Potomac this year, and could be the next “sneaky good loogy” prospect that the organization develops.  He transitioned away from starting after the 2011 season and has seen his numbers improve.  In 38 AA innings this year he posted a 3.79 ERA but better looking 2.88 FIP.   He has good control but seems hittable; his career BABIP is especially high.  As with Holland, Grace passed through his first year of Rule-5 eligibility this year without any interest; he needs to push for a AAA promotion to get onto the MLB radar in 2014.   Outlook for next season: AA bullpen to continue as the lefty matchup guy.
  • Ian Krol exploded onto the scene for the organization, giving up just 2 earned runs in his first 21 appearances for Harrsiburg and getting a surprise  call-up in June.  See the MLB write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: in Detroit’s organization
  • Ryan Perry started the year in the AAA rotation under the National’s grand plan to make him a starter, and the experiment failed.  8 starts later, he boasted a 7.93 ERA.  He hit the D/L, then was demoted to Harrisburg.  There, he was outrighted off the 40-man roster and returned to the bullpen, where he was mediocre (4.43 ERA).   Outlook for next season: he has to show he can get AA hitters out; you have to think he’s starting in the AA bullpen again.
  • Richie Mirowski continues to impress; he has never posted an ERA above 2.61 at any level he’s appeared.  Not bad for a college senior draftee from a no-name college in the 45th round who likely signed for a bonus small enough to fit into the scout’s wallet who brought him his paperwork.  He posted a 1.50 ERA across 48 high-A innings and earned his promotion.  For Harrisburg he had a 12.63 K/9 rate in 20 innings and posted a 1.12 FIP in a small later-season sample size.  Not too shabby.  Outlook for next season: AA bullpen again, looking to force another promotion.
  • Pat Lehman was sent to AA after being a successful AAA guy in 2012 thanks to a numbers game; he promptly posted a 5.49ERA, got hurt and missed most of the season after just 13 appearances.  He did appear in 8 rehab games in the rookie league in August but did not make it back out of Florida.   Here’s the problem with Lehman; he has nothing to prove in AA; he already earned his stripes in AAA.  But is there enough room for him on the AAA roster in 2014?  He enters his 6th pro season and will face MLFA next year unless he pushes his way to the 40-man roster.   Outlook for next season: AAA bullpen competition, a possible release candidate?
  • Marcos Frias posted a 6.16 ERA in 19 innings and was dumped back to High-A.  There he posted an even worse 7.59 ERA and was released mid-season.  Outlook for next season: in another organization or out of baseball.
  • Trevor Holder was repeating AA and had posted respectable numbers through the first month of the season when he was suddenly released to make room for Taylor Jordan‘s promotion on 5/8/13.  I was shocked; we were talking about a 3rd round pick after all.  He was immediately picked up by San Diego and possibly proved why the organization knows more than we do; he dropped down to high-A and was lit up in the California league (a 6.39 ERA in 100 innings).  Now, its the California league (land of small ball parks and high altitudes) so the numbers are inflated (just look at what happened to A.J. Cole out there in 2012), but the story remains the same; Holder’s high draft pick was viewed at the time as the Nats “punting” on the pick to save money, and Holder never really proved anyone wrong.  Outlook for next season: in San Diego’s organization.
  • Michael Broadway started in Harrisburg and quickly earned a promotion to Syracuse.  See the AAA writeup for more.  Outlook for next season: in the Toronto organization.
  • Bill Bray returned to the organization that drafted him, and returned to his “home” team; he grew up in Virginia Beach, went to William & Mary and in a bit of a personal interest item is cousins with a friend of mine; he was counting on him making the MLB team and reaping the benefits of free tickets for family and friends :-) .  However he struggled in the spring and was sent to minor league camp.  He stuck around Viera to work on his mechanics, finally got to Harrisburg and then, after just four outings, suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.   He’s a MLFA again this off-season and it remains to be seen where he picks up.  I’d like to see him back here again, but Bray’s representatives have to be looking at the crowded bullpen and may suggest he continue his career elsewhere.   That is if he can recover from his latest injury.  To say that Bray has “unconventional” mechanics would be an understatement, and it is no shock that he’s struggled with arm issues his whole career.  Outlook for next season: MLFA, in another organization.
  • Other Relievers who appeared in AA of note:

    • Christian Garcia pitched 4 rehab innings during his rehab tour of the organization.  See AAA write-up for more.
    • Ryan Mattheus pitched 4 innings of rehab over three games recovering from his broken hand.  See the MLB write-up for more.
    • Brian Rauh got a one-game call-up to provide bullpen cover.  See the high-A write-up for more.
    • Rob Wort pitched 3 AA innings before getting demoted to Potomac, where he spent the rest of the year.   See the high-A write-up for more.
    • Jose Lozada is normally a SS; he pitched one inning somewhere along the line in what likely was a blow-out loss.

Summary

Harrisburg got a ton of really good pitching this year, both from the starters and from the relievers.  And a ton of it matriculated up over the course of the year from Potomac.  Three guys on this squad jumped straight to the majors, and it isn’t hard to see another couple of these guys getting MLB debuts in 2014.

 

Fister acquisition thoughts and fallout

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What a steal; Fister joins the Nats rotation.  AP Photo/Paul Sancya via cbssports.com

What a steal; Fister joins the Nats rotation. AP Photo/Paul Sancya via cbssports.com

Wow; I got into work today and opened up the Washington Post and saw that the Nationals pulled off what I think is a huge steal of a trade, getting Detroit’s Doug Fister for three fringy guys in Steve LombardozziIan Krol and Robbie Ray.

Taking the very glass is half empty view of the guys we just sent away: we get an accomplished starter for (frankly) two edge-of-the-25 man roster players in Lombardozzi and Krol, and a prospect who I like but who scouts never have really taken to in Ray.  Lombardozzi took a step back this year offensively and despite being the kind of flexible, multi-positional player that teams crave this year (think of how Tampa Bay uses Ben Zobrist) he was exposed at the plate and may have already shown what his peak is (backup infielder).   Krol flashed up the farm system and looked fantastic in his early MLB appearances, but slumped enough to be demoted back to the minors in search of some consistency; he’s got a great arm but clearly is a one-out lefty.  Robbie Ray is a very young and accomplished starter who has operated in the shadow of his fellow high school draft-class mate A.J. Cole and has mostly out-pitched him, but the scouting reports on Ray seem bearish on his eventual ceiling (4th starter at best?).  

If i’m a Detroit fan, I’m scratching my head here.  A backup infielder, a matchup-lefty with just a few months of MLB experience, and a AA prospect who is probably still 2 years away?  That’s the return for a cost-contained, effective 4th starter for a team who’s oft-repeated mantra is Win now?  I just don’t get this deal for the Tigers.  Yes Fister faces arbitration, and his salary may rise up to the $6-$7M range, and yes I guess Detroit has a ready-made replacement in Jose Alvarez or perhaps Drew Smyly, but why are you trading away depth at a time like this?  Is this simply a money-saving deal?   The team saves somewhere in the range of $6M in arbitration for Fister (paying MLB mins or less for all three guys they got back).  As others have pointed out, the Tigers really must have liked what they saw in Robbie Ray to make him the clear centerpiece of this deal.

Some other quick responses in the Baseball analysis world: Keith Law hates the deal for Detroit with this quote summing it up nicely: “A lefty reliever, a backup at second and a non-top-100 prospect is just not a good return for two years of one of the top 30 starters in baseball.”   Jayson Stark thinks Detroit made this deal for payroll relief and seems to indicate that Detroit’s GM Dave Dombrowski is already on the defensive.  Matt Fillippi at HardBallTimes questions Detroit’s mindset.   Grant Brisbee wishes his team (the Giants) could have done this deal.  Dave Cameron says the Nats “stole” Fister in this deal.    So, I’m not being a homer in saying that, on the face of it, this is a fantastic deal.

Fister posted 3.67 ERA in 2013 pitching in front of a horrible Detroit defense in the American League, so you would have to think that he’s going to immediately get that typical 1/3 to 1/2 point improvement on his ERA moving to the NL and facing weaker lineups and pitchers on a regular basis.   Not to mention going from one of the worst infield defenses to one of the better ones.  Meanwhile, despite being called a “4th starter” Fister quietly has been one of the best pitchers in the league over the last three years; in Cameron’s fangraphs post he has a list of the top pitchers by various measures over the last three years and Fister easily makes the top 15 arms in the game by most measures.  He’s a 4-WAR arm slotting into a near-replacement level WAR slot (Dan Haren) for half the price.  And the team basically gave away spare parts and a decent but not elite prospect to get him.

Other positional fallout from this for the Nats off-season:

  • Lombardozzi was still penciled in a backup infielder/utility guy.  Does this open up an opportunity for Zach Walters to earn a spot?  Will the team buy a cheap utility guy on the FA market to couple with Scott Hairston?  Does this pave the way for Danny Espinosa to return to the majors?
  • Krol’s departure thins the already thin internal loogy ranks to choose from, which to me indicates that one of two things now happens.  We either try to buy one of the limited remaining professional lefties on the market or we go into 2014 planning on converting a here-to-fore starter (either Ross Detwiler or Sammy Solis) into a left-handed option out of the pen.  Unless we think Xavier Cedeno is the answer.

Summary; Great move by Mike Rizzo, and I have to immediately agree with Law’s sentiment that this easily gives the Nats one of the 2-3 best rotations in either league heading into 2014.  I didn’t think Starting Pitching was an area of greatest need necessarily … but boy he’s upgraded over the 4th starter/$13M experiments the team has been running out for the past two years in a hurry.

 

What is the “ceiling” of various Nats pitching prospects? (Updated for 2013)

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Can Giolito live up to his potential? Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

Can Giolito live up to his potential? Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

Two off-seasons ago, I did an analysis piece discussing the “ceilings” of the various pitchers (focusing on starters in the system) on our major and minor league rosters.   That led to some good discussions in the comments about what the definition of a pitcher’s ceiling is, about what a “#3″ starter is, etc.

Now that the 2013 season has ended, I thought it’d be a good topic to revisit and factor in recent performances and the last couple year’s worth of player movement in and out of the organization.

This post mostly focuses on the Starters we have in the organization.  There’s no real mention of guys who are already in the bullpen (either in the majors or the minors) unless we have heard rumors of them converting back to being starters at some point or another.


Some setup

What do I mean by a #1, #2, #3, #4 or #5 starter?  With some simple examples (from the 2011 post)

  • A #1 starter is a MLB-wide “Ace,” one of the best 15-20 pitchers in the league, someone who you’re genuinely surprised if he performs badly on a given day, opten mentioned in Cy Young conversations.   Guys like Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander.
  • A #2 starter is a  slight step down from your elite “Aces,” but still an excellent starter.  Can challenge for the top awards if they put everything together for a season, but remains consistently above average.   I see guys like Madison Bumgarner, Homer Bailey or James Shields in this category
  • A #3 starter is better than your league average pitcher, someone who is solid, consistent innings eater and who routinely gives you quality starts but not much more than that.   I think of guys like Mark Buehrle, Kyle Lohse, or John Lackey here.
  • A #4 starter is basically someone defined as someone who’s a slight step above the back-of-the-rotation guy, usually a veteran guy who knows how to pitch but doesn’t have the best stuff to really go much beyond or a younger guy who is establishing a foothold of a career.   Good examples from this year could include the likes of Kyle Kendrick, or Edwin Jackson or Bronson Arroyo.
  • A #5 starter is just good enough to fill out your rotation.  Starters at the back end who all you’re hoping for is 6 innings and keeping your team in the game.  Think of someone like Jason Marquis at this point in his career, or Ryan Vogelsong.

For clarity; if your team has three excellent pitchers, it does not mean that a league-wide ace is defined by these standards as a “#3″ starter.  When the Phillies big 3 of Roy HalladayCliff Lee and Cole Hamels were all healthy and firing on all cylinders a couple of years back, all three were #1 starters in my book.  Just because Hamels pitched third in the rotation didn’t mean he was a “#3 starter.”

Also before getting going, a quick discussion on “ceiling” versus “predictions” and what I’m trying to do here.  As was pointed out when I posted on this topic in 2011, a pitcher’s “ceiling” is quite literally the highest level of capability that we can expect that pitcher to accomplish given a perfect set of circumstances.   Scouts routinely talk about player “ceilings” and “number X” starters as a convenient way to speak a common language when describing a pitcher.   I like to be a bit more grounded in predicting what may happen to pitchers, so this analysis is less about the perfect-scenario “ceiling” as it is a thoughtful prediction on where a guy may eventually fit in given his talents and his performances as compared to scouting reports and industry buzz.


Updated ceiling predictions for Nats pitchers post 2013 season:

Nationals Starter Ceilings (per scouting reports, personal observations).  I’m not going to include any MLFAs here, assuming that they’re all either 4-A or minor league starters as a ceiling.  I’m also only really going down to full-season ball guys, throwing in a couple of our higher-end prospects.  Its just impossible to really project guys in rookie ball unless you’re a professional scout.

  • #1: Strasburg, Giolito
  • #2: Gonzalez, Zimmermann
  • #3: Cole, Ray
  • #4: Jordan, Roark
  • #5: Detwiler, Solis
  • MLB bullpen: Purke, Karns, Ohlendorf, Garcia, Johansen, Treinen
  • 4-A starter: Hill, Mooneyham, Schwartz, Voth, Meyers
  • Minors starter: Rosenbaum, Maya, Gilliam, Rauh, Anderson, Encarnacion, Bacus, Turnbull
  • Minors bullpen: Perry, Demny, RPena

Discussion:

#1 Starters: Stephen Strasburg is already an “Ace” starter in this league, ranking up among the 15-20 best arms out there.   However he’s no longer considered in the same class as the likes of Kershaw, thanks to injury and a curious lack of dominance this year (have a draft post on this topic that i’ll expand on later).  Lucas Giolito is widely considered the Nats top prospect and an easy future #1 pitching prospect.  Big guy, big arm, and by all accounts has come back post TJ surgery.  The BA guys think that he could be the #1 prospect in the entire minors with another dominant 2014.  How quickly can he move through the minors?  Can he stay healthy?  Right around the time Giolito arrives, the Nats “3 big names” could all be at the end of their current contracts and an interesting conundrum could face the team; keep the band together?  Or let these guys go and re-load/re-build?

#2 Starters: Just as Gio Gonzalez made the leap to a #2 starter with his Cy Young challenging 2012, Jordan Zimmermann has made that leap by virtue of his near-20 win season in 2013.  I believe these two guys can stay as #2 starters for the next few years, until they hit the regression stages of their careers.

#3 Starters:  A.J. Cole has regained his mojo after bouncing around the California league and advanced to AA this year.  He features a significant fastball and but complaints in the scouting world about his secondary stuff lead him to a #3 starter prediction.  I think he should be a #2 ceiling, and perhaps a spring training working with the Nats staff can get him back where we thought he was when we drafted him.  I’m sure picking Robbie Ray to have a higher likely ceiling than his 2013 AA counterparts would be mocked.  But look at the evidence: he’s the same age and same draft class as Cole and has consistently out-performed him when they’ve been on the same team.  He’s lefty, he averaged well over a K/inning this year, and suddenly he’s 22 and he may be “done” with AA.  Why aren’t his credentials higher with prospect-watchers?  It isn’t has if he’s a soft-tosser; he throws decent stuff from the left side.  I continue to think he’ll move along with Cole and they’ll be promoted to the majors within a couple of weeks of each other, perhaps mid 2015.

#4 Starters: If you want to say I’m crazy for thinking that Tanner Roark can maintain his September pace as a starter for this team, I can understand.  I’m not personally convinced that he’s going to be a mediocre 6th inning reliever or continue to be a Kris Medlen-in-2012 anomoly who continues to get guys out.  For now, i’m rooting for the better story.  Meanwhile I’m also not convinced that I have Taylor Jordan pegged properly; I think honestly he could be a #3 pitcher in the league.  This lack of real punch-out capabilities is what’s holding him back for now.  That being said, guys don’t just come up to the majors and post a 3.66 ERA.  For now, a #4 ceiling sounds good.

#5 StartersI’ve come to believe that Ross Detwiler‘s reached his ceiling; his 2012 season is as good as we’re going to see him.  Not because of a lack of talent; its because he just can’t stay healthy.  I’ve seen and heard reports that Detwiler’s stuff is fantastic; that’s great on paper but he just can’t seem to translate that to the big club on a consistent basis.  I would not shed a tear if he headed to the bullpen, other than to think that its a waste of his talents.   I also feel like Sammy Solis will stay as a starter and continue to climb up the ranks, and tops out as a 5th starter just by virtue of his being left handed.  There’s just something to be said about being a lefty with decent stuff being able to hang around the league (think of someone like Eric Stults).  

MLB Bullpen: Right now i’m projecting a whole handful of our good minor league starters to eventually get transitioned to the bullpen.  Which is good and bad; good for this team as they continue to develop arms and continue to have quality guys in the pen.  But bad in that it predicts a severe thinning of the starting pitching corps.  First off, I think the Christian Garcia as starter experiment is over; he needs to focus on being a reliever so that he can stay healthy and contribute.   I believe that Ross Ohlendorf‘s time as a starter is over, but he should slot in nicely as the 7th guy/long-man/spot-starter that this team will need here and there in 2014.  The more I think about Nathan Karns, the more I think he’d make an excellent setup guy.  Big arm, big fast-ball, not really that much secondary stuff.  He got hit hard as a starter; in shorter stints he could dial it up more and focus on his limited arsenal.   Unfortunately I think Matthew Purke may be headed to the pen as well, but his gun-slinger action could make him an excellent later-innings pitcher, perhaps even a closer, if he can translate that to a bit more velocity.  Lastly the reported two biggest arms in the minors (Jake Johansen and Blake Treinen) project for now as bullpen guys.  Again, I hope I’m wrong, but so far the evidence seems to point at big velocity and little else.

What is a 4-A starter?  A guy basically who looks good in AAA but who, for whatever reason, can’t translate that success to the Majors.  They may get a call-up here and there but never pitch well enough to stick.  This is how I see a handful of guys ending up: Brad Meyers has been hanging around this status for several seasons and just can’t get a break.   I’ve also tagged some guys with good numbers in the lower minors but with fringy scouting reports with this for now, thinking that a lack of a dominant fastball means they’ll stay as a starter until they reach their peak.  Taylor HillBlake Schwartz, and Austin Voth all seem to fit this bill.  Lastly the curious lack of dominance of Brett Mooneyham lends me to believe he’ll end up in this predicament as well.  I hope I’m wrong here; I’d love to see these guys take the leap, or (save that) find success in the bullpen.

Career Minors Starter: Unfortunately, I think we’ve seen the best that Danny Rosenbaum and Yunesky Maya can give; they’ve both had shots at a major league roster and couldn’t stay.  I think they’ll retire as AAA starters.  The rest of these guys listed are mediocre-to-decent starters in the system who don’t seem to be listed as true prospects.  I’m specifically disappointed thus far in Kylin Turnbull, who couldn’t make the leap to high A and seems like he needs to make some sort of adjustment in 2014.

Career Minors Bullpen guys: When Ryan Perry passed through waivers off the 40-man roster, his chances of ever making it back to the majors took a huge dent.  Paul Demny‘s precipitous drop this season also seems to spell doom for his career.  And apropos of nothing else, Ronald Pena seems like he has achieved the dreaded “organizational arm” tag.


On the bright side, the top-heavy nature of this list gives fans optimism for the power of this rotation for years to come.  In 3 year’s time (if Giolito, Ray and Cole all matriculate as expected) you’d have two Aces, two #2s and two #3s to choose from for your rotation.  That’s significant, considering that lots of teams are scraping the bottom of the barrel for their 5th starter.  If Ray and Cole turn into servicable major leaguers, you could trade/let go a guy who gets too expensive (Gonzalez or Zimmermann) with an able, cheap replacement.  Maybe I’m too high on Ray and Cole (who are both youngsters) … but then again maybe i’m too low on Jordan and Roark (both of whom have already shown the ability get major league hitters out).

Agree/Disagree/Hate what I’ve written?  I’m open to criticism.

 

Ladson’s Inbox 11/5/13 edition

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Can Roark win a 2014 rotation job? Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Can Roark win a 2014 rotation job? Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Well, we finally got a manager, so hopefully MLB.com Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson will stop taking “Who do you think the next Nats Manager” questions.  I’m not ruling it out though :-)  Nonetheless, here’s the latest Ladson inbox, dated 11/5/13.  As always, I write my response before reading his and edit questions for clarity.

Q: Will Davey Johnson still play a role in the organization?

A: Who cares?  Does it matter?  Whatever role Davey Johnson could play would have so little significance on the on-field play of the 2014 team that I find it useless to even speculate.  I’m sure the Nats offered him a limited role out of respect, and I’d assume Johnson accepted it as long as it allowed him to go relax in Florida for a while, hoping another managerial job opens up.  Ladson expects he’ll consult to the team and advise on trades and FA signings because he’s such a great “talent evaluator.”  Hey Bill; if Johnson was such a great talent evaluator why exactly did he run Danny Espinosa out for so many at-bats?  Why didn’t he push to make a change in the rotation when it was clear that Dan Haren wasn’t pitching at even a replacement-level?  How come he didn’t see the rising talent that made such a difference in September?

Q: After Stephen StrasburgGio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, how do you see the rest of the rotation shaking out?

A: A good question.  After going into the 2013 season with almost no high-minors starting pitching depth, you have to think the team is going to cover themselves for 2014.  So count on there being more seemingly worthy candidates than roles going into spring training 2014.  The answer to this question may depend on payroll issues: right now Cots has the Nats with about $80M committed for 2014 prior to its arbitration cases, which MLBtraderumor’s Matt Swartz is estimating will run the team another $37.3M (which honestly I think is slightly low).  That’s roughly $117M in payroll before even looking at a single FA candidate.   You could save some of this money with non-tenders or trades (Tyler Clippard at $6.2M is a candidate to be moved), but not enough to get an impact player.

Will the ownership group expand the payroll even more for 2014, knowing their “window” with this group of players is shrinking?  Or will they stay the course and know that nearly $30M of mostly underperforming veteran FAs (LaRocheSpanSoriano) come off the books after next season, allowing them to reload in the FA market towards 2015 and beyond?

If ownership frees up some cash, by trade/non-tender or by expansion of the payroll limit, there are FA pitchers to be had.  I’ve seen more than one pundit with the Nats linked to Matt Garza, but I don’t see it; I don’t think he’s worth what people seem to think he’s going to get (4 yrs/$60M).  More likely is the team going with a modification of the Edwin Jackson/Dan Haren plan and getting a reclamation project in the ilk of Josh Johnson on a one-year/low paying contract with big incentives.

Less predictable is the trade acquisition.  Nobody saw the Gio Gonzalez trade coming until it happened, and something similar could happen now.  The team is in the same position generally this off-season as it was in 2011 in terms of having a slight surplus of closer-to-the-majors arms and bats and could put together a similar package.  If we moved Brad PeacockTommy MiloneDerek Norris and A.J. Cole for Gonzalez in 2011 (or in otherwords, a good-looking starter with great initial call-up numbers, a solid lefty starter who dominated AAA, a decent looking catcher prospect and a high-leverage low-minors prospect) would a similar package of something like Tanner RoarkNathan Karns, Eury Perez and Robbie Ray fetch a #2 starter in the trade market?   Oakland isn’t facing the same issue they were in 2011 with any of its pitchers, so the most likely eager-to-make-a-trade GM in Billy Beane is out.  But that being said, they’re paying Brett Anderson a LOT of money for Oakland’s payroll (roughly 1/6th of their payroll for next year), and he could be moved.  Anderson wouldn’t cost nearly this much in prospects, but would be a huge risk; he hasn’t pitched a full season in years.

Meanwhile everyone knows Tampa is looking to move David Price, but any trade for him has to start with your two best prospects and build from there, and the Nats are just back to the point where the farm system is looking respectable again.  I’m not sure the Nats are going to be willing to give up what the Rays will demand.  The Nats have done business lately with the Chicago Cubs, who may look to move the arbitration-eligible Jeff Samardzija, but they’d be selling incredibly low on him after his poor 2013.  Lastly the Tigers reportedly are considering moving Max Scherzer, who enters his last year of arbitration looking for a big pay day and with Ken Rosenthal reporting that the Nats are his best fit, but I just cannot see purposely moving a Cy Young winner and disrupting a team that continues to be one of the best in the AL.

With no FA acquisitions and no trades, I see a competition next spring that likely sees Ross Detwiler in the 4th spot (no options, theoretically healthy again), Tanner Roark in the 5th spot (he keeps his spot until he shows that his remarkable September numbers are human), Ross Ohlendorf as the spot starter/long man in the MLB pen, and Taylor Jordan-Nathan Karns being the #1 and #2 starters in AAA Syracuse.  Some speculate that Detwiler would lose out to both Roark and Jordan and become a lefty out of the pen … but I don’t see that.  I’m not counting it out, but I don’t see that happening if he’s healthy.

With any significant FA acquisition or trade, you line up Stras-Gio-Zimmermann-New Acquisition and Detwiler to start off 2014, just as you did in 2013.   Roark and Ohlendorf likely work out of the MLB pen and Jordan/Karns still in AAA.   Maybe Karns comes up and works the 7th inning as well, while Jordan remains starter insurance plan #1.

Ladson also mentions Price, also mentions what I do about the difficulties lining up, thinks the Nats will acquire someone for #4 spot and then says Roark has the inside edge on #5 spot, even over Detwiler (who he thinks could move to the bullpen). 

Q: What did you think about the Nationals hiring Williams as manager last week?

A: Well, I guess Ladson had to get in one last question about the managerial situation.  My take: I like the move, I think Matt Williams‘ combination of successful playing career and MLB coaching experience will instantly give him the respect of the veterans and the rookies on this team.   He will get this team in line, he will bring some old-school notions to this team and won’t back down in a fight (as Johnson clearly did with Atlanta all year).  I think he will give this team the spine it lacked and will do nothing but help move the team forward.

One other opinion; I do see some critics who say that Williams’ lack of direct managerial experience at any level hurts him.  I say BS; he was a major league coach for four years, working underneath a successful, respected manager.  He presumably contributed to the decision making process, got to witness first hand how decisions worked out, got to decide for himself how he would have handled situations, and in some ways I think this experience supercedes being a manager of a lower-level ball-club where there’s no egos and just a bunch of kids who you can cower into submission.

Ladson says its too early to tell, but that Williams had a great news conference.  Honestly I didn’t really expect much of an answer here from an employee of MLB.

Q: What is Christian Garcia‘s status? Will he join the Nationals in 2014? He was a great late addition to the bullpen in 2012.

A: He’s finally healthy, and pitching in the Mexican Winter League.  I think the team sees the error of its ways in trying to convert the injury-riddled pitcher to being a starter.  He’s working as a reliever in winter ball, and I hope to see him continue to work as a reliever in the spring.  I’d love to see him earn a spot in the bullpen; lord knows the team could use one more reliable arm in the 6th/7th inning (Ryan Mattheus needs to be on guard; your spot is in jeopardy for 2014).  Ladson agrees with everything I’ve said.

Q: Do you think the Nationals will trade Danny EspinosaTyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzithis winter or sign a couple free agents? I believe they need a lefty middle reliever, a left-handed bat coming off the bench and a veteran backup catcher.

A: Trading any of those three guys after the seasons they had at the plate would be selling incredibly low.  So no, I don’t think any of them get moved unless they’re part of a larger deal.  Espinosa needs to get healthy, learn how to hit left handed, and build trade value.  I believe he can be a valuable player for someone, somewhere, just based on his incredible defense.  But he has to hit better than .150.  Moore needs to return to his 2012 power ways, but I still see him as a useful player who we have no reason to trade; he still has options, he’s still pre-arbitration and thus he’s cheap.  Lombardozzi is the quintessential utility guy; he can play 2nd, 3rd, left, right.  You have to have one of these guys around … and if he can’t hit, it is’t going to kill you.  But when this player gets 300 ABs (as Lombardozzi got last year) … then you have a problem.  This is why the team got Scott Hairston and why they’re likely to give some looks to Zach Walters in 2014.   Maybe the team looks for a cheap veteran to replace Chad Tracy but i’d hope for a bit more positional flexibility.

I can also see the team kicking the tires on a veteran lefty but don’t entirely see the need; Ian Krol may have faltered down the stretch but he was mostly good.  Abad was good.  Cedeno was good.  We have all these guys locked up.  You see who wins a competition and switch them out if they’re ineffective.

Ladson thinks Espinosa is getting traded no matter what, and has played his last game as a National.

Q: Are Gold Glove Awards given with consideration to the offensive stats of a player? Otherwise, how could Denard Span miss out on the award this year?

A: They’re not supposed to be … but we all know old habits die hard and bit players who are awful at the plate often times have a hard time getting a Gold Glove.  Span as it turned out led all NL centerfielders in one defensive metric (Total Zone Total Fielding Runs), but I have zero problem with the NL winner Carlos Gomez.  Ladson says he was “shocked” that Span didn’t win, and then used “# of errors” as a metric.  Poor form Ladson; you need to reference some of the advanced stats in question.  Gomez led the NL in Defensive Runs Saved, one of the two major defensive metrics.  So your argument fails.  Span may have great range, but he wasn’t best in the Ultimate Zone Ratings measurement either.  See the Fielding Awards spreadsheet link to the right to see all the leaders in one place.

August-September 2013: Minor League Monthly Rotation Review

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Roark is our ML inspirational story of the year.  Photo via milb.com

Roark is our ML inspirational story of the year. Photo via milb.com

Here’s the final Minor League Rotation Review post for the season (Here’s April 2013May 2013, June 2013 and July 2013‘s posts for historical viewing).  Since the minor league seasons mostly end right after the Labor Day weekend, this post actually includes a few days in September for each non-playoff team.  We’ll also include the playoff starts for those teams that made it, which has pushed this post well into September (and very late) to include all the playoff starts for our many minor league playoff teams.

For each level, I’ll put out the rotation members, their “letter grades” per start for this month only, and then throw in a quick link to show their seasonal stats for context.  For each team there are 3 distinct groups of starters: the top group of 5-6 Starters per level is the “current rotation” as best as I can figure it, then the next section of pitchers are swing-men or spot-starters or guys who had “2nd start” or longer outings worthy of grading, followed by a 3rd group of guys who are generally no longer with the team (either by D/L, promotion, demotion or release).  I’ve only listed the third category if something transactionally has happened to the player this particular month.

 


AAA Rotation: click here for Syracuse Milb.com stats

  • Rosenbaum: A,D,D,C+,B+,C+,C-
  • Maya: A,C,B+,C+,B+
  • Mandel:B,A,A,A,D+,B+
  • Clay: A,C+,A,B+,C,A
  • Tatusko: F/inc,F,A-,D,D,D-,D
  • Robertson: A-
  • Kimball: B
  • Roark: B- -> promoted
  • Ohlendorf: B+ (rehab)
  • Hill: C-,C- -> demoted back down post spot starts

Discussion: Syracuse drug itself to the finish line of a disappointing season withat least some stability in the rotation.  The 5 guys standing at the end were basically the rotation for the entire month.  Tanner Roark was rewarded for a great season by getting called up to provide some long relief in the MLB bullpen and 6 weeks later is now 7-0 with the best ERA for any pitcher with more than 40 innings in the entire MLB.   Roark’s trade-mate Ryan Tatusko really struggled down the stretch and finishes with a 4.33 ERA and a 1.58 whip on the season.  Meanwhile, Caleb Clay continues his career resurgence and may have put himself in place to pick his spot in MLFA next year (well, unless the Nats hold onto him by putting him on the 40-man, not a bad idea).  Jeff Mandel and Yunesky Maya pitched well while playing out the string; both are MLFAs and both may choose to look elsewhere.

 


AA: click here for Harrisburg Milb.com stats

  • Karns: B+,A,D,A,C+,A,A+ (playoffs), F (playoffs)
  • Treinen: C+,A,F (playoff)
  • Cole: A+,C,C-,B-,A,C (playoff),C+ (playoff)
  • Hill: B -> up/down,A-,D,C+,A (playoff)
  • Ray: A,B,D,B-,D,A+,A+ (playoff)
  • Gilliam: D,D+,C-,D -> demoted to bullpen for Treinen?/spot starts?,A-
  • Swynenberg: D,B -> back to bullpen,B+

Discussion: Harrisburg played great down the stretch to reach the playoffs, then won a series before losing in the League Final.  Nathan Karns recovered from his to really pitch well in August and in the first round of the playoffs before getting hammered in the league final series.  Robbie Ray did nothing to damage his career advancement, pitching a gem in his playoff appearance.  Fellow HS phenom draftee A.J. Cole pitched well enough in the playoffs, good enough to get the wins each time.


High-A:  click here for Potomac Milb.com stats

  • Purke: B,A,B,B+,C,A,C (playoff)
  • Demny: B+/weird game,D+,C+,C+,A,C
  • Mooneyham: F,D,F-,C (playoff)
  • Solis: A,D,C+,B,B-,F,A (playoff),F (playoff)
  • Schwartz: A,D+,A-,B-,A+,C,A+ (playoff)
  • Rauh B+,A,D-,C- (lost rotation spot to Mooneyham?)
  • Fischer: -> D/L
  • Bates A-
  • Holt: B+ (abbr)
  • Dupra: D-,A-
  • Ohlendorf | | | | D (rehab)

DiscussionBlake Schwartz was the most consistent of the starters for Potomac this month (and this season really).  Mooneyham struggled after his promotion but saved his best game for the playoffs.  Matthew Purke pitched decently in the month but his seasonal numbers remain poor.  Sammy Solis had a couple of dud outings, including his playoff appearance, but on the whole I think his 2013 is a success coming off surgery.  Paul Demny seems like he’s bound for the bullpen soon; he’s shown multiple times he cannot compete as a starter above the high-A level.

 


Low-A: click here for Hagerstown Milb.com stats

  • Turnbull: B+,A-,A,B,B,A,B- (playoff),F (playoff)
  • Encarnation: C-,C,B+,B-,C+,B-,F,B (playoff)
  • Bacus: A,A+ (playoff long relief),D (playoff)
  • Voth: D+,A+,A (playoff)
  • Johansen: D,D,A (playoff)
  • RPena: B+,A-,A+ (playoff long relief)
  • Dickson: D-,D+,A,B+,A- -> demoted to bullpen for Bacus
  • Mooneyham: A,A+,A,A+ -> promoted
  • Lee: F,C+,A+,D,B+ -> d/l for Bacus

Discussion: I wonder how it played in the Hagerstown clubhouse that 3/5ths of their playoff rotation had been with the team less than 3 weeks?  Dakota Bacus especially; he was acquired, made one start and was a playoff starter.  Austin Voth and Jake Johansen were due promotions no doubt, but to immediately get thrown into the low-A playofs in place of guys who had worked longer and harder to get the Suns there seems, well, wrong.  Nonetheless, longer serving Sun pitchers such as Ronald Pena, Kylin Turnbull and Pedro Encarnacion (not Edwin, thanks to commenter Melissa) all finished off good seasons and will look at high-A next spring.

 


Short-A: click here for Auburn Milb.com stats

  • Orlan: | | C+,A,C- | F-,B-,A,A,F | B,A,A-,D+,D,B+
  • Giolito: | | | | A,A,B
  • Selsor: | | B-,F,C+ | B,D,D -> demoted to bullpen | A,B+,D+
  • Pivetta: | | | | D,D,D -> demoted to bullpen for Selsor?/maybe not,B+,A
  • Ullmann: | | | F,B+ | B,D-,B+,C-
  • Simms: | | | | D+,F
  • Barrientos: F,F,F -> demoted to bullpen for Simms
  • DWilliams: F -> demoted
  • Voth: B+,A+,A+ -> promoted
  • Treinen: A/inc (rehab start),A+ (rehab)
  • Johansen: A-,A,A+ -> promoted
  • Young: A (rehab)

Discussion: Lots of ugly pitching lines for Auburn this year.  Casey Selsor and Nick Pivetta struggled to stay in the rotation, the team struggled to replace the production they got out of promoted starters Voth and Johansen, and the results showed on the field.  Robert Orlan was the staff-leader in innings and seems like a good bet for a full-season starter’s job next year.  The rest of this motley crue of starters leaves Auburn with ERAs in the 4s and 5s (or higher) and likely bullpen roles going forward.


GCL: click here for GCL-Nationals Stats on MiLB.com

  • JRodriguez: B+,C,C,D/inc,A-,B+ (playoff)
  • Silvestre: A-,A,A,A-,A+ (playoff)
  • Suero: A,A+,A+ (playoff)
  • Ott: B,A,A,B/inc
  • DWilliams: B+,D-,A
  • KRodriguez: D-,C
  • Valdez: C,B+
  • DeRosier: C,B
  • Waterman: B,B-
  • Sylvestri: A-
  • Reyes: D
  • Pivetta: promoted
  • Giolito: A,A,A -> promoted
  • Young: 2-inning rehab

GCL’s trio of dominant pitchers (Jefry RodriguezWander Suero and Hector Silvestre) powered the team to an easy GCL victory after its record breaking season.   Most of the rest of the staff had graded outings of chunks of like 3-4 innings, so it was difficult to really pass judgement on the chances of sticking as a starter.  Lucas Giolito of course earned his promotion to short-A at the end of the season and seems a good bet to be a low-A migrating to high-A starter in 2014.

 

 

Great performances from Nats minor league teams in 2013…

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Most people have heard about the historic Nats Gulf Coast Rookie league team’s performance this year, but the Nats farm teams were great up and down the system in 2013.   Here’s a recap of each level’s season, in case you havn’t already gotten the summary from Dave Huzzard or Luke Erickson:

  • AAA Syracuse: Last place, International League North.  Season record: 66-78.  Contrary to the title of this article, our AAA team was pretty bad this year.  Culprets?  A middle-of-the road offense and a relatively weak pitching staff (they were easily last in the league in strikeouts, lower ranked in other major pitching categories).
  • High-A Potomac: 1st half AND 2nd half champions, Carolina League North.   Season Record: 84-55.  Winning both halfs earned them full home field advantage in the first round of the divisional playoffs, which they used to beat Lynchburg easily enough.  However in the Carolina league final the Nats lost both games at home before getting swept by Salem in the league championship series (Salem is Boston’s high-A affiliate).
  • Low-A Hagerstown: 1st half champs of the South Atlantic League Northern.  Season Record: 80-57.  They dispatched the 2nd half champs from West Virginia in the divisional series to face Savannah in the Sally League championship.  After splitting the first two games at home, Hagerstown traveled to Savannah and lost two straight to drop the championship (Savannah is the New  York Mets’ low-A affiliate).

  • Short-A Auburn: Last place, NY-Penn Pinckney.  26-49.  Culprets include a team .230 batting average and near league bottom OPS combined with the worst team ERA and worst team WHIP in the league.  Bad hitting and the worse pitching equates with last place.

  • Rookie GCL Nats: 1st place, GCL League East with an amazing 49-9 record.  That according to press releases by the team is the highest W/L percentage in (domestic) minor league basebal history.  Wow.  They then swept the GCL Red Sox to win the GCL championship.
  • Dominican Summer League Nats: 4th Place, Boca Chica South.  Season Record: 38-31.

So that’s four playoff teams out of six US affiliates (I often ignore the DSL, fairly or otherwise, since it has such a low percentage of players even making it to the US leagues, let alone advancing into relevance).

What  makes these performances even more amazing, especially for Potomac, is that they persevered on despite losing significant numbers of pitchers through out the season to promotion.  Quick glances:

  • Harrisburg lost 3 starters (Clay, Jordan, Hill) and two relievers (Broadway and Krol) to promotions.
  • Potomac lost an entire rotation of starters (Jordan, Gilliam, Hill, Ray and Cole) in addition to four other relivers (Herron, Grace, Frias and Mirowski).
  • Hagerstown graduated at least 5 starters (Schwartz, Dupra, Rauh, Purke and Mooneyham), traded another starter (Pineyro) and matriculated a couple of relievers along the way (Benincasa and Henke).

I know this only focuses on arms on these minor league teams, and that isn’t necessarily fair to the offense, but Potomac especially was amazing in chugging along while losing its best starter month after month to promotion.

Ask Boswell 8/19/13 edition

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Arod, the greek tragedy figure. Photo John Munson/The Star-Ledger via nj.com

Arod, the greek tragedy figure. Photo John Munson/The Star-Ledger via nj.com

With somewhat of a lack of topics to write about lately, I turned to find a relatively deep Ask Boswell discussion on the Washington Post website 8/19/13.  Tom Boswell takes baseball questions, I provide my own answers.

As always, I’ll write answers here before reading his, and edit questions for clarity.  All stats quoted are as of 8/19/13.

Q: Leave it to the Red Sox to make A-Rod into a sympathetic figure!

A: Agree.  I wouldn’t normally have tuned into the expected 4.5 hour 8pm Sunday night game between Boston and New York, but just happened to see the first Alex Rodriguez at bat last night.  My immediate thought: Ryan Dempster‘s actions were pretty gutless and he should have been immediately ejected.   You throw at a guy once and miss?  You’ve made your point.  You had your chance to make a statement and missed.  But then throw two more balls inside then blatantly drill the guy on 3-0?  Sorry; that’s just bush league.  The umpires badly mismanaged that situation; Dempster should have been immediately ejected.  Joe Girardi had a very legitimate point at the time, and continued with very intelligent observations afterwards (where, paraphrased, he said that Dempster was a union rep, should have known better, and if he had a problem with the process of his own players’ union the time and place was elsewhere, not on a nationally televised game).

So, yeah, Alex Rodriguez did earn sympathy there.  How poetic was his home-run later in the game?  Were it me, I would have milked it for everything it was worth, making it a poster child for every egregious home-run celebration.  Bat flip, slow trot, kisses to the stands, fist pumps and multiple pointing to the sky.  But that’s just me.

Boswell doesn’t really say much about the question other than stating the obvious about the athlete and the situation.

Q: Wouldn’t it be better to show up the Braves by actually beating them once in a while, rather than throwing at them?

A: Not the point.  As I posted in this space over the weekend, there’s a code in the game that the Nats, for some unknown reason, were not keeping to.  Kudos to Stephen Strasburg for finally standing up for his own.  It has nothing to do with wins or losses on the field, it has to do with protecting yours.  Boswell says the Justin Upton plunking was done perfectly, but then questions the ejection for what a lot of people thought were just very wild pitches to Andrelton Simmons.

Q: Why did the Nats not keep Oliver Perez?

A: Who said it was just the Nats decision?  Oliver Perez piched as a starter for our AA team in 2011 and then signed another minor league deal with Seattle for 2012.  Only then he converted to a reliever and has had success since.  We don’t really know what happened; maybe the Nats offered to keep him but wouldn’t promise a AAA spot or a spring training invite.  Maybe Perez saw our rotation for 2012 and thought Seattle would give him a better shot at a MLB job.  Honestly I don’t remember a single word at the time indicating that either side wanted a 2012 deal.  Perez was good but not great in AA for us in 2011 (3-5, 3.09 ERA. 1.3 whip in 15 starts), far less than a guy who was once a very effective MLB starter.  Maybe we just though he was washed up.  Boswell questions whether a guy with a 4.25 ERA is even worth discussing.  Fair point

Q: Who would the Nationals “third-string” catcher be? If, for instance, Suzuki got injured and Ramos pinch-hit. -Who would be the preferred position player to pitch if they ran out of pitchers? 

A: Great question.  3rd string catcher?  I have no idea, maybe Steve Lombardozzi.  I do remember the team saying that despite Bryce Harper‘s youth position being predominantly catcher that he was not an option.  Pitcher?  Boy, another who knows.   I can’t remember a single positional player who has taken the mound for the Nats since they moved here.  The best guess would be a utility guy, either Lombardozzi or Scott Hairston.  Boswell guesses the same names I do.

Q: Do you think the Nats will make a serious effort to keep him next year? (I’m already writing off 2013) I’m sure he wants to play every day, but given Ramos’ physical issues that isn’t out of the question.

A: Kurt Suzuki is gone.  His $8.5M option for next year is way, way too much for what he has become; a once-a-week catcher.  Even given Wilson Ramos‘ fragility, you just can’t waste money at the backup catcher position.  Look for a 2014 spring training fight between Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano for the #2 catcher spot, and look for the team to add a lot of depth in the minor league ranks in the off-season.  Boswell notes the horrific catcher ERA of Suzuki compared to Ramos, and predicts a minor FA signing this coming off-season.

Q: Is there a more insincere human being in sports than A-Rod? Has he always been like this?

A: The above answer was my weekly quota of Alex Rodriguez discussion.  I will say this though; how do you really KNOW that A-rod is an “insincere human being?”  Do you know him personally?  Or are you just following the media narrative?  Boswell makes a good point; the damage he’s done to the game outweighs any sympathy you could have for him.

Q: You’ve said in the past the Nats would return to their career averages…eventually. Are the Nats reverting to their mean, or is this the new mean?

A: If 2012 was the high, maybe 2013 is the low.  Lets hope for somewhere in the middle for 2014.  Hell, i’ll settle for league average.  I did a quick little runs-scored analysis at the end of June that showed where the Nats record would have been if they had a league-average offense (tied for 1st place) or their 2012 offense (best record in majors).  You could quibble with the math, but I think we all know what has let down the team this year.  Boswell summarizes many of the same points I made … and then has some great stats isolating the bench’s collapse this year.

Q: Given Haren’s performance since returning from the DL, does Rizzo make him a qualifying offer for 2014?

A: Good question.  I just don’t see how you can give Dan Haren a qualifying offer.  The Q.O.  amount is going to increase; lets assume its $14M/year.  Would you give a guy with this stat line $14M?  7-11, 4.79 ERA?  Probably not (those are his season numbers).  His last 8 games (since coming off D/L?)  3-2, 2.25 ERA.   Yeah, that’s worthy of a Q.O.   Maybe the team avoids having to make a decision and flips him to someone needing a starter for September, since he passed through waivers.  That’d be advantageous to Haren too, meaning his signing next off-season won’t have compensation associated with it.  In any case, I think the performance of Taylor Jordan has clearly made Haren expendible, giving as good as or better performance for 1/26th the cost.  Use that $13M towards some hitting.  Boswell says no.

Q: When does Drew Storen replace Soriano as the Nats closer?  (After another blown save).

A: When Soriano’s contract is over.  You bought him, you’ve gotta use him.  Rafael Soriano‘s m.o. was always “good when he’s the closer, sullen underperformer when not.”  He was a poor signing when they got him, and continues to be wasted money.  But hey, its not my money.  Boswell agrees.

Q: When Magic Johnson’s group purchased the Dodgers, he was going to fire Mattingly, whom you said would be a very good manager. Does he still want to fire Donnie, now that the Dodgers have gone 42-8, the best MLB win stread in 100 years? Would you like to see him managing the Nats?

A: Well of course Don Mattingly isn’t going to be fired; he’s now neck and neck with Clint Hurdle for manager of the year.  I don’t have a good sense for what kind of manager he is; after Davey Johnson‘s laissez-faire attitude I know what kind of manager I do want; I want someone with some emotion.  Girardi proved a lot to me last night; lighting into an umpire who failed to control the game.  That’s the kind of emotion I want in my skipper.  Boswell gives some good managerial candidates.

Q: Who are the young pitchers the Nats thing are coming soon?

A: From AAA on downwards, here’s a few starters to keep an eye on: Nathan Karns, A.J. Cole, Robbie Ray, Taylor Hill, Sammy Solis, Matthew PurkeBlake Schwartz, Jake Johansen, Austin Voth and Lucas Gilioto.   Almost every guy on this list has performed well and/or earned a promotion in 2013.   Boswell points some of these guys out and then mentions that we need to produce some hitting too.

Q: Should I be worried that the Nats are going to become the new Caps, a talented team who just lacks the discipline to get it done when it matters?

A: No, because at its heart this is still the same basic team of guys who nearly won 100 games last year.  They need a new voice in the skipper’s office, one who reverses the course of Johnson and who properly motivates them.  Boswell says not to judge a team because of 3/4′s of one disappointing season.

Q: Zim’s surgically-repaired shoulder clearly affected his throwing this year — whether physically or mentally. However, his power numbers at the plate are down too, and we haven’t seen his usual late summer hot streak. Do you think his shoulder affected his hitting? If so, what’s the prognosis for next year for Zim’s hitting?

A: If his shoulder really is/was as bad as everyone seems to think, then yeah you can derive all sorts of bad performance indicators from it.  Next year?  Who knows; he should be healthy.  Of course, he was promised to be healthy by spring training of THIS year.  It takes me back to what I now perceive as disinformation from the team about the whole shoulder issue from the onset.  Either way, I think he’s playing 3B for this team in 2014 no matter what (well, unless the team somehow unloads Adam LaRoche).  Boswell shows some good stats showing Zimmerman’s consistency over the years, then goes on to rave about Jayson Werth.

Q: Will baseball be ruined by the addition of instant replay or have the times changed?

A: I think times have changed.  But from all accounts, the implementation will be typical of everything MLB does; half-done, ham-handed, inefficient and not going nearly as far as its counterparts.  Boswell isn’t a fan.

Q: With two years under his belt, he has a 3.00 ERA and a pretty good 27-19 record. He doesn’t hit 100 mph anymore. He hasn’t proven so far to be anything better than mediocre in the clutch. Not a bad track record, of course, but not anywhere near great. He’s 25 years old now. Is it time to adjust expectations?

A: Is this a baiting question?   Quotes ERA and W/L record as the sole ways to evaluate a pitcher (especially a pitcher who hasn’t yet pitched a full season).  What proof is there that he’s “mediocre in the clutch?”  He’s still the highest or 2nd highest average fastball of any starter in the league despite dialing it down, he’s still a league leader in K/9.  His ERA+ is still significantly above average both for this year and for his career.  What more do you want from the guy?  Ask any baseball pundit to give you a list of his top 5 starters in the league and he’s still on it.   Boswell gives some great historical stats, putting Strasburg in pretty elite company thus far.

Q: Why has Bryce Harper not made the 20 year old leap we expected him to? Did the collision with the wall in LA derail his entire season?

A: A fair point; everyone saw his splits pre and post-LA wall.  His lefty splits are abhorrent.  But he hasn’t been the second coming of Mike Trout.  Maybe we just need to appreciate him for what he is right now.  Boswell mirrors what I said.