Nationals Arm Race

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

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The Nats should just move Detwiler

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Detwiler's being wasted right now.  Photo: Cathy T via nationalsdailynews.com

Detwiler’s being wasted right now. Photo: Cathy T via nationalsdailynews.com

How do you go from being the 5th most important pitcher on a MLB staff (yes, I believe the 5th starter is more important than the closer or any other bullpen guy, a statsitical fact that can be easily seen by WAR contributions by even the best closers), to being the least important, aka the last guy out of the pen, the swingman or long man, the mop-up guy?

Well, that’s what’s happening to Ross Detwiler so far this year.

Now, its sort of hard to feel a ton of compassion for a guy who is making $3M this year guaranteed, whether he pitches 50 times or five.   So this article isn’t so much about Detwiler or his salary, but about things like “opportunity costs” and the relative value of players in particular roles, and how teams can turn replaceable assets into needed depth.

Coming into this season, I figured (along with many) that Detwiler’s pre-injury 2013 performance, coupled with his break-out 2012 season would earn him the 5th rotation spot.  As it turned out, not only did the team not want to give him that spot … but they have repeatedly passed over Detwiler to make starts when the opportunity has arisen.  When Doug Fister went down with injury, Detwiler wasn’t pulled back into the rotation; the starts were given to Taylor Jordan.  When Jordan proved unreliable and was sent down, the team called up Blake Treinen and gave him a spot start on 5/6/14 instead of throwing Detwiler.

Which makes you wonder; what’s the point of keeping a high-priced/high-talent “swing man” if you never let him do his role??  Detwiler’s usage so far in 2014 has been more like a middle reliever than a long-man; in 9 appearances (before last night) he’s logged 14 2/3 innings.  Now, on the one hand this is a relatively good sign; if you’re never using your swing-man for 4 inning stints it means your starters are pitching well.  But on the other hand … the team is clearly wasting Detwiler’s talents.  Of the 66 batters he had faced prior to 5/6/14’s debacle, only SIX of them were classified as “high leverage” situations by baseball-reference.com.  He’s being used as a mop-up guy.

You don’t use power lefty capable starters as mop-up guys.  Its a waste of their skills and talent, and ends up leading to human-nature meltdowns like we saw out of Detwiler on 5/6/14.

Here’s a quick history of the Nats longmen in recent years: Ross OhlendorfZach DukeTanner Roark (to some extent in late 2013), Tom GorzelannyMiguel BatistaSaul Rivera (to some extent), Stephen Shell, Micah Bowie and Levale Speigner (though honestly, dipping back into the 2007-2008 timeframe is tough because our starters were so bad, it was difficult to find who the designated “long-man” really was because eventually they were starting too).  There’s common features to most all of these guys: they’re generally either veterans signed to MLFA deals or on one year deals for limited money, or they’re rookies who earned their way up and provided some value.  The point is this;  you don’t pay your long-man good money, and you certainly don’t waste a good former starter in the long-man position.

The missed opportunity cost for the Nats is this: they can turn Detwiler into something of value in trade for some other team out there, right now.  Go look at our favorite trade partner Oakland’s #4 and #5 starters stats (Straily and Milone); we could move Detwiler to Oakland and get something of use back in a heartbeat and it’d make both teams better.   The Yankees would kill for a reliable 5th starter right now, with Pineda hurt or suspended, Nova lost to Tommy John and Nuno ineffective.   The Mariners are now 9-deep into their starter depth chart and are treading water.   I’ll bet you couldn’t even name Pittsburgh’s 5th starter right now.   Cincinnati’s two starters down right now and that’s before Johnny Cueto gets his inevitable D/L trip (he made 3 such trips last year).  So there’s definitely teams out there who expect to contend with starter depth issues.

Meanwhile, the Nats have 4 or 5 guys in AAA right now who could fill the role that Detwiler is playing right now, for less money and just as well, and we’d be a better team with Detwiler’s return in trade for it.   Every additional injury further thins this team and highlights more need for backup hitters (right now as we speak, we don’t have a SINGLE middle infielder on the 40-man who could get called-up to cover … and our only two out-field 40-man options Eury Perez and Michael Taylor are basically a pinch runner and a guy who’se got a month above A-ball.   (Admittedly, this situation has somewhat cleared up recently with Hairston‘s return and considering that we also have Souza and Moore back in the minors … but we still need some depth).

Move Detwiler, get some closer-to-the-majors bats, and install Treinen as that last-guy in the bullpen.  Or call back Aaron Barrett or Ryan Mattheus and just leave t hem in the bullpen instead of making them rack up frequent flier miles.  If you want another lefty, re-call Aaron Laffey and/or Xavier Cedeno and leave them on the club for a while.  You don’t need your best prospect pitching mop-up/low-leverage innings in 8-0 games.

(I’m not the only one talking about this right now: WP’s James Wagner has peppered Matt Williams about it and MLBTradeRumors Jeff Todd mentioned it prominently this week as well).

Nats Trivia: Home Opener and Record Attendance Figures 2014 Edition

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Here’s some useless trivia related to the Nats home openers, now that we have the Nats 10th home opener in the books.

Nats Trivia: capacity of Nats park? 

  • 41,888 at opening
  • 41,546 in 2010
  • 41,506 in 2011
  • 41,487 in 2012
  • 41,418 in 2013
  • 41,506 for 2014

Interesting how the capacity has slightly decreased each year but jumped for this year.  Do we know where they’re adding/removing seats?   By the way, RFK capacity: 45,596 per wikipedia/ballparks.com.

Nats All-time Record attendance?

  • 45,966 10/12/12 game 5 2012 NLDS

Other/Previous Attendance Records

  • 45,274 Opening Day 2013 (new and current Regular Season record for Nats park)
  • 45,017 10/10/12 first home playoff game
  • 44,685 8/20/11 vs Phillies (longer standing Nats park record)
  • 41,985 6/24/09 vs Boston. (Nats reg-season record standard bearer for a while in the new stadium)
  • 45,157 Fathers day 2006 vs Yankees (long standing Regular season Record)
  • 45,596 RFK franchise opener (long standing franchise attendance record)

Opening Day Attendances and weather through the years

  • 2014: 42,834 (1:05 Friday game, 50s and overcast)
  • 2013: 45,274 (1:05 Monday game, 60 and beautiful)
  • 2012: 40,907 (1:05 Thursday game 56, partly cloudy)
  • 2011: 39,055 (1:05 Thursday game, 41 degrees and overcast)
  • 2010: 41,290 (1pm game Monday, beautiful weather 80s and sunny): this was the “Phillies invasion” game.
  • 2009: 40,386 (3pm game on a Monday, chilly 53degr and overcast).
  • 2008: 39,389 (season and stadium opener), 8pm Sunday night, nat’l tv, clear but very cold.
  • 2007: 40,389 (in rfk, 1pm game vs Florida, 72degrees)
  • 2006: 40,516 (in rfk, Tuesday day game vs Mets, 72degr and sunny)
  • 2005: 45,596 (in rfk, debut of entire franchise, 62degr and clear, evening game)

Opening Day Box Scores and Results

Nats are 4-6 in their home openers now since moving to Washington, and they’re just 2-6 in non-stadium openers.  Just one starter has thrown more than one home opener for the Nats: Livan Hernandez.  When Livan gets elected to Cooperstown, I hope he’s wearing the curly W.  :-)

  • 2014: mlb.com or b-r.com.  Braves d Nats 2-1.  WP: Luis Avilan.  LP: Tyler Clippard.  (Starters: Jordan Zimmermann and David Hale).
  • 2013: mlb.com or b-r.com.  Nats d Marlins 2-0.  WP: Stephen Strasburg.  LP: Ricky Nolasco
  • 2012: mlb.com.  Nats d Reds 3-2.  WP: Craig Stammen. LP: Alfredo Simon (Starters: Gio Gonzalez and Mat Latos)
  • 2011: mlb.com.  Braves d Nats 2-0.  WP: Derek Lowe.  LP: Livan Hernandez
  • 2010: mlb.com.  Phillies d Nats 11-1.  WP: Roy Halladay.  LP: John Lannan
  • 2009: mlb.com.  Phillies d Nats 9-8.  WP: Jamie Moyer.  LP: Saul Rivera (Nats Starter: Daniel Cabrera)
  • 2008: mlb.com.  Nats d Braves 3-2.  WP: Jon Rauch.  LP: Peter Moylan (Starters: Tim Hudson and Odalis Perez)
  • 2007: mlb.com.  Marlins d Nats 9-2.  WP: Dontrelle Willis.  LP: John Patterson
  • 2006: mlb.com.  Mets d Nats 7-1.  WP: Brian Bannister.  LP: Ramon Ortiz
  • 2005: mlb.com.  Nats beat Arizona 5-3. WP: Livan Hernandez. LP: Javier Vazquez

Gonzalez to play in WBC: why this is really Bad News for the Nats

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Gonzalez decides rolls the dice with his 2013 performance. Photo via Wikipedia/Flickr from user muohace_dc

Word came out over the weekend that suddenly embattled Nats pitcher Gio Gonzalez has accepted an invitation to play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, replacing Kris Medlen (who is anticipating having a child right around the same time).

Why is this bad news for the team?

Simply put: there’s a really bad track record for Pitchers who throw in the WBC the subsequent season, both league-wide and especially with the Nats.

Speaking just about the Nats first: Here’s a quick table showing the before and after ERA and ERA+ figures for the five Nationals pitchers who played in the first two iterations of the WBC (the “before” year is the season leading up to the WBC, while the “after” year shows performance in the season following the WBC):

WBC Yr Pitcher Name ERA before ERA After ERA+ before ERA+ after
2006 Luis Ayala 2.66 inj 153 inj
2006 Chad Cordero 1.82 3.19 225 134
2006 Gary Majewski 2.93 4.61 139 96
2009 Joel Hanrahan 3.95 4.78 109 89
2009 Saul Rivera 3.96 6.1 109 70

As you can see; every single one of our pitchers was either injured or regressed (mostly significantly) after playing in the WBC.  Ayala’s injury cost him the entire 2006 season.  I talked about this discovered phenomenon back in November, 2012 when trying to predict who may participate in the WBC (and where I actually predicted that Gonzalez would play, though the rest of my team USA predictions were wrong).

But this is just our team’s experiences.  How about Baseball wide?  MLB has endeavored itself to argue that participation in the WBC does not lead to an increase in injuries amongst its players and especially pitchers.  But we’re not talking about injuries here; we’re talking about performance.   Here are two very well done studies that show the negative impact of pitching in the WBC:

  1. This July 2010 study on Fangraphs
  2. This Feb 2013 study from BaseballPress.com

The BaseballPress one shows some of the same numbers I’ve shown above, but conducts the analysis across every pitcher who participated in both WBCs.  And the results are pretty evident; across the board on average pitchers regressed both in the year of the WBC and in the year after.  Plain and simple.

It isn’t hard to figure out why these guys regress; playing in the WBC interupts the decades-old Spring Training plans for getting a starting pitcher ready for a season by slowly bringing him along in terms of innings and pitch counts.  And, suddenly exposing both starters and relievers to high-leverage situations in February/March that they aren’t ready for either physically or mentally puts undue stress on these guys that (as we have seen) manifests itself later on down the road.

In the comments section of another post, someone asked what would stop the Nats from steamrolling to the World Series this year.  I answered “rotation injuries” and “bad luck in the playoffs.”  Well, now thanks to Gonzalez we can add two more items: PED suspensions and WBC regression.

Written by Todd Boss

February 11th, 2013 at 9:45 am

Possible 2013 WBC Nationals participants?

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Harper makes perfect sense to represent the US in 2013 WBC. Photo GQ magazine Mar 2012

I read a quickie piece with some Mike Rizzo quotes from the Washington Time’s beat reporter Amanda Comak on November 11th, 2012 and there was an interesting tidbit at the bottom: per Comak,  Rizzo has not been approached yet about any Washington Nationals participation in the WBC, but would approach each request on a “case-by-case basis” to determine what is in the best interests of the team.  This got me thinking about possible Nats representatives on 2013 WBC teams.

Lets take a quick look at the Nationals representatives on WBC teams from the past, talk about whether its really in the best interests of the team to even let these guys play, and then talk about who may be candidates for the 2013 WBC regardless.

(Note: I’ve added updates highlighted in red since the original 11/21/12 publication date on players mentioned here).

Washington has sent a decent number of players to play in the WBC over the years, with very mixed results for the team’s interests.  In 2006 the team sent seven different players to the inaugural WBC:

  • Luis Ayala for Mexico
  • Chad Cordero, Gary Majewski and Brian Schneider for team USA
  • Ronnie Belliard, Alberto Castillo, and Wily Mo Pena for the Dominican Republic.

The tournament was marred for the team by a blown UCL ligament to Ayala, who had undergone elbow surgery earlier in the off-season but pitched for his home country anyway.  The team did not want Ayala to participate in the inaugural event, did not want him used by the Mexican team, and team officials were “livid” by the injury, which cost Ayala the season and cost the team its 8th inning setup guy.  Ayala recovered to pitch again in 2008 but was never as effective, and was shipped out in 2009 for a PTBNL.  Coincidentally, I suspect the team still harbors some ill-will towards Ayala to this day.  Meanwhile the other two relievers who participated both experienced regressions in form; Cordero’s ERA nearly doubled (from 1.82 to 3.19) from his breakout 2005 season while Majewski’s numbers dipped slightly before he was traded in the big Cincinnati deal of 2006.

In 2009, the team had 5 participants:

  • Pete Orr playing for Canada
  • Joel Hanrahan and Adam Dunn playing for the USA
  • Saul Rivera and Ivan Rodriguez playing for Puerto Rico.

The WBC seemed to energize particularly Dunn, who enjoyed playing in a post-season atmosphere for the first (and only) time in his career.  Nobody suffered any injuries, but Hanrahan in particular may have been affected by his lack of a proper spring training; he posted a 7.71 ERA for the team while losing the closer spot and was shipped to Pittsburgh.  Ironically, Rivera also experienced a huge regression of form, going from a 3.96 ERA in 2008 to a 6.10 ERA in 2009 and was eventually released.

This begs the question; do we even WANT our pitchers playing on this team?  The first two WBCs have shown pretty distinctly that our pitchers have regressed greatly after playing.  This only makes sense: the spring training routines are greatly impacted to play in this event.  We may see a ton of front-office resistance to specific guys (especially those coming off injury) playing in the 2013 event.  Which could affect the eligibility of some specific players for 2013.

Now, which Nats may play for the 2013 teams?  First off, looking at the Nationals 40-man roster, we have become an amazingly heavy USA-born team (we’ll get to non-40man roster players in a moment). Thanks to the Nats big board resource (originated by Brian Oliver and now maintained by “SpringfieldFan”), which has the country of origin for players, here’s a breakdown of the home-country of our current 36 active (as of November 15th, 2012) roster players:

  • USA: 27 (would be 29 if adding in our rule-5 avoidance players)
  • Venezuela: 5 (Jesus Flores, Sandy Leon, Wilson Ramos, Henry Rodriguez, and Carlos Rivero)
  • Cuba: 1 (Yunesky Maya)
  • Columbia: 1 (Jhonatan Solano)
  • Dominican Republic: 1 (Eury Perez)
  • Netherlands (via Curacao): 1 (Roger Bernadina)

As you can see, the massive bulk of our team is USA born, and essentially our entire post-season starting roster was USA born as well.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that these USA-born players will actually play for team USA (Alex Rodriguez played for Puerto Rico despite being born and raised in Miami, and our own Danny Espinosa is eligible to play for Mexico by virtue of his first-generation born in the US status), but almost all of these guys will be up for consideration for the USA team.  And this only accounts for our 40-man players; as we’ll see below there’s plenty of lower-minors players from smaller countries that will participate.

Who from the Nationals franchise may make a 2013 WBC roster?  First off, thanks to James Wagner‘s 11/15/12 NatsJournal post we already know of three WBC participants; Solano is on the Columbian team, minor leaguer Jimmy Van Ostrand is on the Canadian team, and A-ball catcher Adrian Nieto is on the Spanish team.  Curacao qualifies to play with the Netherlands, and I’d guess that Bernadina would make a great choice considering the lack of Dutch players in baseball (Baseball Continuum’s projections agree.  And as of 12/4/12 he’s officially been listed as a Netherlands participant).. Venezuela is already qualified for the main draw and has a relatively strong possible team.  The Baseball Continuum blog posted an early projection of the Venezuelan team and listed Flores as a likely participant (specifically mentioning that Ramos wasn’t considered due to injury recovery; I’d suspect these two players to switch based on Ramos’ recovery and Flores’ awful 2012).   If Henry Rodriguez was healthy i’d guess he would be on that list too, but his season-ending surgery probably precludes his participation.  The Dominican Republic has perhaps the strongest depth and has no need for the recently called up Perez among its outfield depth.  Maya’s defection eliminates him from discussion for the Cuban team.  (12/4/12 update): Chien-Ming Wang has been announced as a member of Chinese Taipei’s team (for the purposes of this article I investigated all 2012 Nats).

Which leaves our large contingent of American players.  A couple of writers have started postulating on these rosters (David Schoenfield‘s very early guess as to a potential USA roster is here, Baseball Continuum’s latest projection is here).  So using these two posts as a starting point, lets go position-by-position and give some thoughts as to who may get some consideration.  Keep in mind the WBC rosters are generally very reliever heavy, since no starter is going to be “allowed” to pitch a complete game in March.

(Note: I’m still considering our Free Agents as “Nats players” for the purposes of this analysis, since this really goes position by position from our 2012 team to find candidates).

  • Catcher: Kurt Suzuki isn’t nearly in the class of the likes of Buster Posey, Brian McCann, Joe Mauer, or Matt Weiters.  There are a ton of quality american backstops right now.
  • First Base: Free Agent Adam LaRoche probably faces far too much competition from the likes of Prince Fielder, Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, Allen Craig, Eric Hosmer, and Mark Teixeira to make this team.  If it were me, I’d go with Fielder and Teixeira.  But, LaRoche’s great 2012 season and his Gold Glove recognition may get him a spot.  He is a FA though, so i’d guess he won’t commit until he signs and gets the go-ahead from his new team.  Or, perhaps he uses the WBC to showcase himself?  Not likely needed; he should sign long before the WBC kicks off in March.
  • Second Base: Danny Espinosa is a decent player, but not in the same league as  Shoenfield’s projection of Dustin Pedroia and Ben Zobrist.  Brandon Phillips is also in the mix for the team.
  • Shortstop: Ian Desmond‘s breakout 2013 season may get him some consideration.  There’s not a lot of American quality short stops out there.  Troy Tulowitzki is the obvious leading choice (as was Derek Jeter in the first two WBCs), but is he ready to come back from injury?  Looking around the majors there are a couple other possibilities (JJ Hardy, Brendan Ryan, Jimmy Rollins and Brandon Crawford all could be alternatives as well).   I think Desmond’s combination of offense and defense, combined with Tulowitzki’s injury recovery could get him on the team.
  • Third Base: Ryan Zimmerman cannot break the hegomony of David Wright and Evan Longoria right now, even given Longoria’s injury struggles this season.  Chase Headley and David Freese are also in the 3b mix.  12/4/12 update: Apparently Wright is committed, Longoria is out due to injury recovery and Headley “was not asked,” so perhaps Zimmerman is back in the mix.
  • Outfielders: I think Bryce Harper is a natural to make this team, not only on talent but also because of the brand-name recognition (and TV ratings and fan interest) it would generate.  Same goes for Mike Trout.  Otherwise there’s a slew of top-end american players who can man the outfield and they read like the top of the MVP boards: Braun, Kemp, McCutchen, Stanton, Hamilton, and Granderson are all candidates to make this team.  12/6/12 update: Scott Boras has stated that Harper will skip the WBC to focus on his sophomore season.
  • Starters: The two logical Nats candidates to be considered would be Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg.  But lets be honest; there is no way in hell Strasburg would be allowed to play.  Could Gonzalez make this team?  Given the depth of American starter talent right now (just off the top of my head: Verlander, LincecumCain, Hamels, Halladay, Kershaw, Lee, Weaver, Sabathia, Medlen, and so on) perhaps this will be a selection of attrition moreso than a selection of availability.  So if a number of the older guys on this list beg out, perhaps Gio gets his shot.  The WBC’s location in San Francisco has already lead to Ryan Vogelsong committing to play in his home town, and could lead to other Bay Area players signing up.  I’m not sure any of the rest of our starters are really candidates, given the reputations of the above list plus the reliever-heavy nature of the roster.
  • Relievers: our two most well known relievers (Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen) are possibilities; would the Nats block Storen based on his 2012 injury?  Craig Stammen‘s breakout 2012 season could get him looks, based on the reliever-heavy needs of the team.  Normally Sean Burnett may be in the loogy mix, but there’s better lefty relievers out there AND Burnett’s FA status may lead him to bow out to curry favor to his new team (Schoenfeld lists Burnett as a possible member back in July, before knowing he’s declared free agency).  The question is, would you take Clippard/Storen against the likes of this list of quality american back-of-the-bullpen arms: Kimbrel, Ventors, Marshall, League, Janssen, Papelbon, Hanrahan, Motte, Boggs, Bailey, Reed, and Nathan?  Possibly, considering that a lot of these guys probably bow out.  We’ve sent multiple relievers to each of the past two WBCs and its likely going to be the same thing this year.

Summary: here’s my guesses as to which Nats (and recent ex-Nats) will play in the WBC:

  • Venezuela: Ramos
  • Spain: Nieto
  • Canada: Van Ostrand
  • Columbia: Solano
  • Netherlands: Bernadina
  • Chinese Taipei: Wang
  • USA: Harper, Desmond, Gonzalez, Clippard.  Perhaps Zimmerman and Stammen.

March 2013 update: here’s the post-WBC actual list of participants when all was said and done, helped by  the list of rosters via Wikipedia.  MLB reports that nine (9) Nationals are participating in the classic, though the below list (excluding Wang) totals more.  They’re not counting Solano/Columbia, having lost in the preliminaries.

  • Columbia: Jhonatan Solano (AAA/Mlb in 2012)
  • Spain: Adrian Nieto (low-A in 2012)
  • Canada: Jimmy Van Ostrand (AA in 2012)
  • Italy: Matt Torra, Mike Costanzo (both AAA in 2012, Washington MLFA signings for 2013)
  • Netherlands: Roger Bernadina, Randolph Oduber (high-A in 2012)
  • Chinese Taipei: Chien-Ming Wang (former Nat, non-signed FA for 2013 start of season)
  • USA: Gio Gonzalez, Ross Detwiler
  • Dominican Republic: Eury Perez (3/4/13 addition to DR team)