Nationals Arm Race

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

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Ask Collier 8/3/17

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Did the Nats do enough at the deadline to shore up the bullpen? Photo via UPI

Did the Nats do enough at the deadline to shore up the bullpen? Photo via UPI

Another Nats off-day, another Jamal Collier twitter-driven mailbag.  If people tweeted me a bunch of random questions, I’d probably do “mailbags” too!

Here’s how i’d have answered the questions he took.


 

Q: To me it looks like Dodgers vs Nationals NLCS unless bracketed before…who can u see beating either of these 2 teams???

A: Well, lets not put the cart before the horse.  What’s looking more and more certain by the day isn’t a guaranteed NLCS matchup, but rather an NLDS matchup between the Nats and the Cubs.  And who can beat the Nats?  Certainly the Cubs can.  Heck, the Nats just got their asses handed to them by the Marlins in a 3-game series; certainly they could lay an egg in a 5-game series against a good offensive team that’s the defending World Series champs.  It bears repeating: in a short series, anything can happen.  The Nats outscored the Dodgers in the 2016 NLDS 24-19 and had the lead in the deciding game heading into the 7th inning … and still managed to lose.

I’ll also point this fact out: the 116 win 2001 Seattle Mariners got their asses handed to them in 5 games by the Yankees in the playoffs.

Lets make it to October, then see how our health looks and see how we’re hitting.  All we can hope for is 100% all hands on deck to give the series our best shot.

Collier notes that anything can happen in the playoffs, that the wild card teams all improved at the trade deadline, and that he’d love to see an LA-Wash rematch.


 

Q: Do you see the Nats going after a waiver Starting Pitcher this month in case Strasburg needs to be out for an extended period?

A: Hmm.  Yeah I could.  I don’t think the team trusts Jacob Turner, nor A.J. Cole.  Certainly not 40-man member Austin Voth (demoted to AA a month ago).  But I also think Erick Fedde was better than his stat line showed, and his dominant 2nd inning was clearly a sign of what he “can” do if he stays consistent.  But we need to get to October first and that might mean a waiver-wire trade.  It all depends on how much more time their two aces miss at this point.

Collier disagrees, saying that Rizzo was adamant about not getting antoher starter at the trade deadline … but things have changed.


 

Q: With Matt Wieters recent offensive and defensive struggles, do you think that the Nats should give Pedro Severino a closer look in Sept?

A: In a word, No.  Severino‘s 2016 stat line was a mirage; he’s hit just .213 in AAA this year.  That might not even be good enough to supplant Jose Lobaton as our once-a-week catcher.  I agree with those who complain about the Wieters signing … but then again Derek Norris has hit just .201 for Tampa, and Wilson Ramos is hitting even worse after missing half the season.  So its not like they really had a choice.  Lets just hope some of our lower minors Catcher depth pans out.

Collier agrees.


 

Q: How are they going to fit everyone back into this pen when Kelley and Glover come back?? Surely they can’t send anyone down for Kelley

A: Good question.  As of today (prior to the Romero injury, their pen was as follows:

Kintzler, Doolittle*, Madsen, Albers, Romero*, Perez*, Blanton, Grace*,

They’ve been carrying 8 relievers for a bit, probably since their 5th starters rarely make the 5th inning.  Now look at that crew and ask yourself; who could even be optioned?  Kintzler, Madsen, Perez and Blanton are all vets that could refuse demotions.  Albers too; they all have 5+ years.  Doolittle doesn’t … but he’s also pretty much your closer right now.  So that’s 6 of your 7 guys.  Romero is out of options.  That’s 7 of 7 right there.  Despite how well Grace has pitched, he’s on the outside looking in right now.  If/when Kelley and Glover come back … yeah you have to make some tough decisions.  If I had to guess, the team is going to have to D/L some guys (like Blanton) in order to get others in.  And if you were putting together an 8-man playoff bullpen, you’d probably go Kintzler, Doolittle, Madsen, Kelley, Glober, Albers, Romero and Grace.  Man it’d be tough leaving Perez off a post-season roster though.  And we havn’t even mentioned Solis, banished to AAA but very much an integral part of last year’s playoff bullpen.

Collier notes that by the time some of these roster squeezes happen, we’ll be past the 9/1 expansion deadline and it may not matter.  Which is a good point.


Q:  It’s definitely a long shot, but do you think there’s any chance whatsoever that a ’17 draftee pitches in our bullpen by end of September?

A: Zero chance.  For reasons inexplicable, the one guy who may have had a shot (Seth Romero) failed to sign until the deadline, apparently squeezing out the ever last drop of over-slot bonus money, then failed to even appear in a game for several weeks beyond that (despite not having pitched since mid-March?).  Clearly the organization was not in a hurry to move him along.  Times are changing; we still havn’t even seen a 2016 draftee appear in the majors yet, so to project a 2017 player moving up that fast would be crazy.

Collier agrees.

 

 

A weekend of injuries, moves and trades

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Ross down and out. Photo Getty Images via federalbaseball.com

Ross down and out.
Photo Getty Images via federalbaseball.com

As I mentioned in the comments on the previous post, I was away from computer all weekend so I missed the opportunity to comment on all the major things that went down.

So this is a clearing house of thoughts.


 

Joe Ross to undergo Tommy John; I don’t think anyone saw this coming, but then again nobody saw it coming with Stephen Strasburg either.  With Stras it seemed to be a one-pitch injury.  Ross’ pitch f/x data for his last start indicated that he was definitely off his typical velocity; compare his 90mph average on July 9th to his July 4th start, where he started routinely in the 93-94 range, before dropping off a cliff towards the end of his outing.  If I had to guess, I’d guess he might have injured his arm somewhere in the 7th inning or so of his July 4th start and tried to give it a go the next outing before his teammate Max Scherzer spotted his distress.  Ross finishes a struggle of a 2017 season where he got an amazing 10.55 runs per 27 outs of support; in 6 of his 13 starts the team scored more than 10 runs for him.  He clearly had settled down from early season issues, throwing four consecutive quality starts and again looking like perhaps the best #5 starter in the league.  Now he’s out until the all star break of next year at best, likely until September of 2018.  He’s only 24, mind  you, but this injury comes at a tough time for him; he’ll be arbitration eligible for the first time after the 2018 season, one in which he may only  make a handful of starts.  So this will cost Ross millions of dollars…. and will save the Nats at a time when they may be looking to save pennies for Bryce Harper.

Looking at the rotation for 2018; as we’ll soon find out (read on), there’s not a whole lotta help on the farm, so the Nats are probably shopping for starters this coming off-season, unless you guys think Erick Fedde will be ready for prime time next April.

In the meantime, it leads to a sticky situation in the near term yet again for this team.  They traded away all their near-to-the-majors starting depth last off season, and have had to give starts already this season to three non-rotation guys (Jacob TurnerA.J. Cole and the ill-fated Jeremy Guthrie start early on).  Well, now their starting depth in the minors is even weaker; A.J. Cole’s AAA era this year  is a nifty 6.00 and the only other 40-man roster starter (Austin Voth) is even worse; he’s pitched to a 6.38 ERA in Syracuse this year and is either doing a rehab assignment or is being outright demoted to Harrisburg as we speak.

 


 

So instead of going with an internal option, the brain trust is enlisting the help of MLFA Edwin Jackson, who eternally owes Mike Rizzo a bottle of champagne for NOT offering him a qualifying offer when he became a FA after his run-of-the-mill 2012 season for us.  The lack of the QO enabled Jackson to get a 4 year deal he never would have gotten otherwise, but cost the Nats a pick that they probably could have used … heck a junior college starter drafted towards the end of the first round in 2013 … probably would have been Sean Manaea, currently dominating for the same Oakland As who just sent us our next wave of bullpen reinforcements (more on that in a moment).  But I digress.

We plan on giving Edwin Jackson another shot in the majors, despite his giving up 11 hits and 4 walks in 5 innings for Baltimore earlier this year, despite his pitching to a 5.89 ERA in San Diego last year (where everybody looks like a Cy Young winner).   I’ll say this: if the Nats can score in double digits for Jackson the same way they did for Ross … maybe it won’t matter than his ERA sits in the 6-7 range.  It’ll look like a slow-pitch softball game.

But what choice do the Nats have?  Erick Fedde you say?  Have you seen his inconsistency in Syracuse?  Its like the Nats didn’t learn from jerking Tanner Roark around a couple years ago; Starting pitchers are creatures of habit.  They eat the same meal 2 hours before they pitch, they do the same running and lifting sessions in-between outings.  If you have a successful starter, you don’t suddenly decide he’s a middle reliever.  So it should be of no surprise that Fedde’s all over the road right now.

Jacob Turner?  Well, he’ll be around too; I’m guessing he’s option 1-B to Jackson as 1-A.  But Turner is no savior; you don’t get DFA’d and pass through waivers and accept an outright to AAA as a pitching prospect in the modern game unless the rest of the league really, really doesn’t like you.  To say there’s a lack of quality starting pitching depth in the league right now is kind of an understatement.

Who else is starting for this team in the upper minors?  Here’s the rest of the Syracuse rotation right now: Sean O’Sullivan, Jared Long, Greg Ross.  Her’es their current AAA ERAs respectively: 4.40, 5.29, 6.34.  Here’s how we acquired them, again respectively: MLFA  in May of this year, MLFA in April of last year, and again MLFA in April of last year.  So three org guys just eating up AAA innings, none of which are pitching especially well.  No wonder Luke Erickson over at www.nationalsprospects.com has given up tracking the AAA team this year.

Maybe we drop down to AA: how’s that look?  Bleak.  Taylor Hill is already demoted once this year and is closer to a release than a promotion.  Austen Williams: 6.85 ERA.  Matthew Crownover is pushing a 5.00 ERA.  They just got Wirkin Estevez off the D/L: he’s only got 26 innings of 4.10 ERA pitching above A-Ball.   Lastly there’s  John Simms, the “Ace” of Harrisburg’s staff who is pitching there for the *fourth* successive season.  He’s got solid numbers: 4-6 with a 3.57 ERA but middling K/9 rates  and some hittability; would you rather roll the dice on a grizzled veteran with more than 1700 innings on his MLB resume or go with a guy who you refuse to promote even to AAA despite the same decently solid numbers year over year?  I think you have your answer.

So lets see how it goes.  Jackson’s Syracuse numbers for 2017 are pretty nifty; 20 innings, 9 hits, 22 ks.  Oh and 10 walks; we’ll just say that last part a little more quietly and focus on the positive.  As I noted in the comments section in another blog … we’re about to see just what the difference is between AAA and the majors.


Meanwhile, after more and more ridiculousness in the late-innings of games (including a 7 run collapse late last week that nearly blew a 10-run cushion), the Nats finally made their move to bolster the bullpen (and hopefully grease the skids for a wholesale shedding of deadweight off the 40-man roster by everyone involved in the latest debacle).  Rizzo called up his best buddy Billy Beane and pulled off what I think is a pretty good trade:

  • Acquire: Sean DoolittleRyan Madsen: both mid-30s one inning guys with excellent numbers this year and neither being one-year rentals.
  • Give up: Blake TreinenJesus Luzardo and Sheldon Neuse

Treinen just needs a mental D/L trip; there’s nothing appreciably different with his stuff from last year (when he was good) to this year (when he has been awful).  Classic change of scenery guy who returns to his drafting team and probably has a solid rest-of-2017.  Luzardo and Neuse are good prospects but  young and several years away; perfect for what Oakland wants.  I’m bummed they’re leaving (especially Luzardo, who by all accounts has come all the way back from TJ surgery and had looked solid in his early GCL outings).  Prior to 2017, Neuse was generally about our 8th best prospect and Luzardo 12th or so.  Both have improved their rankings with their play this year, so this may look more foolish if Luzardo becomes a #2 starter in a few years.   But as they say, you have to give up stuff to get stuff.

As others noted, the Nats managed to get these two guys without giving up any of their top ranked prospects (Robles, Soto, Fedde, Kieboom), which is a huge win.


 

Crazy weekend.  Sorry I missed it in realtime.

Quick pre-Winter Meetings thoughts…

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

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

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

Here’s some thoughts I have:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

2015 World Series matchup and Prediction

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Can Batman bring a championship to New  York? Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Can Batman bring a championship to New York? Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Post season predictions so far:

So, neither LCS went as I thought it would and we have the #1 media market in the post-season for the first time since 2009.

Likely Pitching Matchups for Mets-Royals:

Mets-Royals:

  • Game 1: Harvey vs Volquez
  • Game 2: deGrom vs Ventura
  • Game 3: Cueto vs Snydergaard
  • Game 4: Young vs Matz
  • Game 5: likely Volquez vs Harvey again
  • Game 6: likely deGrom vs Ventura again
  • Game 7: likely Snydergaard vs Cueto again

Discussion

The Mets, by virtue of their quite unexpected sweep, get to reset their rotation and opt (somewhat surprisingly) to lead with Matt Harvey instead of Jacob deGrom.  So be it; both guys likely throw twice in the series anyway, so perhaps its a case of getting Harvey a home start in game 5 where he’s likely to be unbeatable.  The Royals had to burn Yordano Ventura in the LCS game 6; he won’t be available until WS game 2, so they seem set to lead off with their 2nd most effective guy Edinson Volquez in the opener.

Man for man, the Mets seem to have an overwhelming pitching advantage here.  Their 1-2-3 starters each are significant throwers, Volquez doesn’t normally scare anyone, and Johnny Cueto had a 36.00 ERA in the LCS.  But the Royals are formidable at the plate: 2nd in the league in BA (by just a point behind the leader), Fewest in the league, by a fairly significant margin, in percentage of strikeouts.  Lastly, as a team they’re the 3rd best squad in the game at hitting fastballs.  So strength meets strength here.

I can see the Royals working the Mets pitchers, who are all young and may be at the tail end of their effectiveness after a season where almost all of them are pitching far longer than they thought.  If the Royals get into the Mets bullpen … are they in trouble?  Meanwhile, the Royals’ starters don’t exactly inspire confidence necessarily, but the Royals bullpen is 2nd to none and with so many off-days there’s no reason to think that their main bullpen arms can’t throw in practically every game.   With the possible exception of one game in NY, I can see the likes of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar throwing each night and shutting down the late innings.  This could make the difference if this team can get a lead and hold on to it in a close game.

Side note: how funny is baseball; Wade Davis was an awful starter … 5.32 ERA for KC in 24 starts in 2013.  and in 2 years out of the pen he’s 17-3 with a 0.97 ERA across 139 IP!!  Read that statline again; it wasn’t a typo.  187/43 K/BB in 139 IP over the last two years as a 7th/8th inning guy.  Hochevar was the same thing: 5.73 ERA as a starter in 2012, then a 1.92 ERA when he got moved to the pen in 2013.  They also have the effective Ryan Madsen (former Phillie) out there, and all of this bullpen success is in spite of losing perhaps their *best* arm in closer Greg Holland to injury earlier this year.  Maybe there’s a lesson to be learned for our Nats in terms of bullpen construction and what it can do for you.

Can the Mets keep up their momentum after such a long layoff?  Will the rest help or hurt their young arms? (probably help frankly).

I have a feeling this is the Royal’s year.  I’m not sure how they do it, but I think the home field advantage and the fact that they’ve “been there before” gives them a bit of an advantage.  The Mets’ arms are not infallible; they’ll give up runs.  Is Daniel Murphy still the second coming of Babe Ruth?  Can Lucas Duda get hot again (when he’s on fire, he’s the best hitter in the league, as my fantasy team this year could attest).

Prediction; I like Kansas City in 7.  This goes against my better judgement, because I always favor the arms, but when the bats can neutralize the arms … go with the team that seems like its destined to win.

PS: in case you were not aware of the local connection … Kansas City’s GM Dayton Moore was involved with the baseball program at George Mason University, serving as an assistant coach from 1990-1994, right around the same time as some of my baseball colleagues were there (my former teammates who played at Mason would have graduated in the 92-94 range).  Now as GM in KC, he’s hired former local player Lonnie Goldberg as his scouting director; we mentioned Goldberg in this space back in Jan 2013 when talking about notable local pro players in my big “All-Virginia team” post, and Goldberg was on those Mason teams in the early 1990s with my former HS teammate Billy Emerson (now the AD at Paul VI in Fairfax).  Small world.