Nationals Arm Race

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

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MLB Trade Deadline 2015: who improved their rotation the most?


He looks pretty good in Canadian blue.  Photo via

He looks pretty good in Canadian blue. Photo via

It was by most accounts the busiest trade deadline ever.  Lots of high impact players moved.  And we were worried that the 2nd wild card would curtail the trade market!

Here’s a couple of good summary links: a division-by-division overview of teams post-deadline,’s Trade Central, with a review of every 2015 trade, and a nice trade-by-trade grade at

Lets look at those teams that altered their rotations and talk about how much they improved.  In order of perceived impact:

1. Los Angeles: added Mat Latos and Alex Wood, replacing two placeholders who had taken over for the injured Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu.  Add Latos and Wood to what the Dodgers were already rolling out and I feel like they have become the new team to beat in the NL.

2. Toronto: adds the best pitcher on the market David Price to a team that really, really needed a bump in their pitching.  Price is used to the AL East and gives Toronto (coupled with their big Troy Tulowitzki move) a leg up on their divisional rivals.  The rest of the division mostly stood pat in terms of the trade deadline, and the division is there for the taking.  I believe Toronto can catch the Yankees; they’ve been incredibly unlucky by RS/RA and should regress upwards.

3. Kansas City: Johnny Cueto immediately replaces the injured Jason Vargas in a “nice timing” move, and KC solidifies its grip on the division.  This move wasn’t about getting to the post season as much as it was about winning once they get there.  Cueto is their 2015 version of James Shields; the workhorse who they can lean on in the 5- and 7-game series.

4. Houston: added Scott Kazmir and Mike Fiers, who will slide in to the 4th and 5th spots and supplant the under performing Scott Feldman and others who need more time in AAA.  While not as flashy as some other teams’ moves, this makes the back of Houston’s rotation stronger.  And, it should be noted, Houston’s main AL West rival (Los Angeles) not only didn’t make a move but just lost one its key starters to injury (C.J. Wilson).  Houston’s rebuilding plan looks like its at least a year ahead of schedule and coupled with serious injury issues to their competitors look like the favorite in the AL West.

5. Texas: adds Cole Hamels, who Philadelphia *finally* moved after sitting on the pot for 2 years.  I think this move is more about 2016; I don’t really see Texas making a move in 2015.  But it is a significant move: Hamels could give Texas one of the best AL 1-2 punches when Yu Darvish comes back, and then they have a nice collection of arms to choose from to fill out the rotation (Gallardo, Holland, Perez, Lewis, Martinez).

6. San Francisco adds the underrated Mike Leake, who slides into the #3 spot, prevents the Giants from even considering using Tim Lincecum in the rotation any longer, and certainly gives them an upgrade over what they were getting from Tim Hudson.  SF isn’t *that* far back from LA in the division … but more importantly is working hard to secure a WC spot.

7. Pittsburgh makes a minor move in adding J.A. Happ, who slides nicely and fortuitously into the spot that A.J. Burnett may be giving up to injury.

8. Chicago Cubs curiously added Dan Haren to their rotation; adding a mediocre #5 starter to a team that plays in a hitter’s park may back fire.  I would have thought Chicago would have been more aggressive to try to secure the 2nd wild card, but then again is it fair to say their rebuilding plan is also a year ahead of schedule right now?  Maybe they go big in the off-season to add starters behind Lester/Arrieta.


Sellers and the Impacts to their rotations:

Detroit moved backwards, selling their ace but acquiring a good prospect in Daniel Norris.  This move also lets them try out a couple of starter prospects for the rest of a season where they’re clearly not going to catch Kansas City.

Oakland was a seller but didn’t augment their rotation very much, getting a #5 starter in Aaron Brooks.  Oakland has been completely snake-bit this season, sporting one of the best run differentials in the game but having lost 75% of the one-run games they’ve played.  Billy Beane isn’t afraid to deal though and he’s got more than enough starting pitching coming off injury to compete in 2016.

Philadelphia got the rotting corpse of Matt Harrison in return for Hamel, along with a whole slew of players; I doubt Harrison ever pitches for them.

Cincinnati sold off their two best pitchers and now are doing open auditions at the MLB level for their 2016 rotation.

Miami finds themselves in a familiar place, selling off assets so as to line the pockets of their owners needlessly.  They lose two rotation guys but augment from the D/L and the farm system.  They’ll regroup for 2016 and continue to challenge as the worst organization to their fan base.

Seattle was sort of a seller, flipping off back of the rotation guys for spare parts.  They did not meaningfully alter their core rotation.  Their problem is simply under-performance.

Atlanta curiously parted with one of the most valuable resources in the game; the effective MLB-minimum starter.   They ended up with draft picks and prospects and a Cuban wild card in Hector Olivera.

Milwaukee parted with a 5th starter, giving those starts to their #1 prospect Taylor Jungmann.  A good deal for them.


2014 Tommy John Post-Mortem



Jose Fernandez is (arguably) the biggest name to go down to TJ surgery yet.  Photo via

Jose Fernandez was (arguably) the biggest name to go down to TJ surgery in 2014. Photo via

When we hit 20 MLB pitchers going under the knife for blown Ulnar Collateral Ligaments (UCL) on the 2014 season, I posted on possible reasons for the epidemic.  By the time the season was over, more than 90 players in professional baseball (and a handful of marquee amateurs, including two first round picks and our own) had gone under the knife for blown UCLs/Tommy John surgery.  2014 was the year of the elbow ligament, no question, in terms of volume and awareness.

This post lists all the major league pitchers who had the surgery this year, with links to the announcements as they happened, along with stills of the pitchers’ mechanics to do a quickie thumb nail analysis of mechanics and whether there’s a relationship to the injury. At the bottom i’ve captured any significant news related to the surgery, MLB being proactive in preventing the injuries, and other TJ news.

First, here’s the complete Tommy John fall-out for the year for major league arms.  According to the great injury tracking links below, no less than 91 players in all levels of pro baseball had the surgery in calendar year 2014, of which 29 were MLB-experienced pitchers.

(data from, which has detailed Disabled List data).

10 of these 29 pitchers are getting the surgery for the 2nd time.  Wow.

Here’s links to other notable non-MLB pitchers who have gotten the surgery as well in 2014:

  • Jamison Taillon: the Pirates #1 pitching prospect and one of the best pitching prospects in the game.  Diagnosed 4/6/14, surgery 4/9/14.
  • Danny Rosenbaum: Nats AAA starter and long-time farmhand.   Surgery 5/8/14.  Tough for Rosenbaum because he’s a MLFA this coming off-season, now facing a very uncertain future.
  • Miguel Sano: one of the best prospects in the minors, had the surgery 3/12/14.  He’s not a pitcher, and he initially injured his arm playing in the Dominican Winter League, but it still costs Minnesota one of its best prospects.
  • Jeff Hoffman, ECU’s right handed starter and consensus top 5 pick in the 2014 draft, hurt his arm and was diagnosed on 5/8/14.  He dropped 5 places from his likely drafting spot by the Cubs at #4, which cost him about $X in slot dollars.   We talked about whether the Nats (picking at #18) were a likely suitor for him at the time of the injury in early May.
  • Erick Fedde, UNLV’s friday starter and projected mid-1st round pick, was diagnosed two days after Hoffman on 5/10/14.  He dropped perhaps 8 places from his estimated drafting spot of mid 1st round and was picked by Washington.  His injury didn’t really cost him much in slot money thanks to the Nats paying over-slot.
  • Our own Matthew Purke, diagnosed and set for TJ surgery 5/29/14 after really struggling out of the gate this year for Harrisburg.   Purke may face an options crunch by the time he’s done re-habbing, thanks to his MLB deal signed on draft-day.  (Update: the Nats never let him get there, releasing him on 11/14/14).
  • Chad Billingsley having flexor tendon surgery while trying to recover from his 2013 TJ surgery.    This isn’t counted as a TJ, but is noteworthy.
  • Not a pitcher, but key Orioles player Matt Wieters had to have TJ surgery on 6/18/14.
  • Matt Cain dodged a bullet by just being diagnosed with elbow chips, but still had season-ending elbow surgery on 8/5/14.
  • Padres uber-prospect and 2012 first rounder Max Fried went under the knife in mid-august.
  • Yu Darvish didn’t fall victim to the TJ surgery, but an elbow issue is shutting him down in late August, just the latest nail in the coffin of the Rangers’ season.
  • Jonathan Mayo discussion on elbow surgeries and prospects from Mid-Late August.

Here’s quickie images of every MLB starter diagnosed this year as they land to make a quick judgement about their mechanics:

VentersJonny landingHefnerJeremy landing

SkaggsTyler landingJonesNate landingChatwoodtyler landingTanakaMasahiro landing

ArroyoBronson landingBurnettSean landingBellTrevor landingWithrowChris landing

PerezMartin_landingCisnerJose landingFernandezJose landingGriffinAJ landing


FigueroaPedro landingNovaIvan landingJohnsonJosh landingMooreMatt landing


GearrinCory landingParnellBobby landingDavisErik landingHernandezDavid landing


MLB: Spring Training-Arizona Diamondbacks at Los Angeles DodgersRondonBruce landingCorbinPatrick landingParkerJarrod landing

BeachyBrandon landingMedlenKris landingHochevarLuke landingLeubkeCory landing2

Quick and Dirty Mechanics analysis (images in same order as list of pitchers above, which is chronological in order of diagnosis in 2014):

  • Inverted W: Hefner, Skaggs, Withrow, Griffin, Nova, Gearrin, Beachy, Hochevar
  • Sideways M: Ventors, Chatwood, Bell, Burnett, Fernandez, Johnson, Davis, Moylan, Rondon, Parker, Medlen
  • Inverted L: Jones, Tanaka, Arroyo, Perez, Cisnero, Figueroa, Moore, Parnell, Hernandez, Corbin, Luebke

Conclusions? None.  They’re all over the road.  TJ injuries this year happened to those thought to have “dangerous” mechanics and clean mechanics.  TJ injuries happened to the league’s harder throwers (Rondon, Ventors, Fernandez) and its softest throwers (Medlen and Arroyo, both of whom are usually at the absolute bottom of the league in terms of fastball velocity).  Starters and relievers, no discernable pattern.

I think all you can conclude is this: if you throw a lot of innings, you’re more prone to injury.  I know, ground breaking analysis.

Other notable/interesting links I’ve collected on the topic over the length of the season:

  • Yahoo’s Tim Brown interviewed Zack Greinke (published 5/15/14)who says he made a conscious decision to throw fewer sliders, noting that he could really feel it in his elbow after starts where he threw too many.  This tends to support the notion that sliders make a difference.
  • Jerry Crasnick interviewed commissioner Bud Selig on 5/15/14 and Selig said he’s “concerned.”  Great!  On a scale of “Resolve Oakland/San Jose territorial rights” concerned to “Resolve MASN dispute” concerned, I wonder where he falls?  Maybe he’ll form a blue-ribbon committee that can meet for several years without arriving at any solutions.
  • Stephania Bell‘s articles on the spate of TJ injuries: from April and again in May.
  • Nate Silver‘s new blog 538 chimes in in mid-may.
  • Neil Weinberg from Peter Gammons‘ website posts his own theory on 5/16/14 that is basically related to the rise in youth/showcase events.
  • Shawn Anderson from the blog posts his theory (overuse).
  • An older link to Will Carrol from July 2013 talking about the surgery, how its done, who’s had it and some other great stuff.
  • The American Sports Medicine Institute (led by Dr. James Andrewsreleased a statement on 5/28/14 on the issue of Tommy John surgeries (as pointed out by David Schoenfield and/or Craig Calcaterra in late may and/or Jerry Crasnick on the same day).  Their basic point: don’t throw with max effort.
  • Dr. James Andrews announced that he’s releasing an app to help keep pitchers healthy.   Per screen shots, it will be relatively simple and will have pitch counts, age and rest days calculate a max number of pitchers that a player can throw today.
  • An interesting analysis of Kansas City’s Yordano Ventura after he was diagnosed with a non-UCL related elbow injury in May.
  • Thoughtful piece from Dirk Hayhurst about the quest for velocity and the value of soft-throwers like Mark Buehrle.
  • Danny Knobler special piece to the BleacherReport in June 2014 discussing “child abuse” of kids over-throwing, throwing too much, too hard, too soon.
  • A sleeve has been announced that may help prevent TJ injuries (its called the Motus Pitcher Sleeve).  Dirk Hayhurst subsequently did some research and interviews about the sleeve and offers some thoughts.
  • CBS’s Jon Heyman breaks the news that #1 overall pick Brady Aiken may have an “elbow ligament issue,” thus holding up the signing.  Wow.  As we all know, this turned into a big-time stalemate, the non-signing of Aiken (which cascaded down and cost the Astros their 5th round pick too), possible grievances, possible lawsuits, all sorts of NCAA eligibility concerns, and a whole big black-mark for the Astros organization.  All over $1.5M.  Remember; this is the same team that gave $30M last off-season to 5th starter Scott Feldman.
  • There was a two hour special on the injury on MLB Radio Networks on 7/17/14 that I hope they replay or transcribe to the internet.
  • Bud Selig still awaits the Tommy John study in Mid July 2014.  If its anything like his other blue-ribbon panels, he’ll be waiting a long time.
  • Discussion about youths with UCL/TJ injuries in USA Today on 7/23/14.
  • Study from USA Today on how prep pitchers are avoiding TJ.
  • MLB unveils “Pitch Smart” guide in Mid November to help youth’s understand workloads.  Also discussed by Jeff Passan.

Hope you’ve found this trove of TJ links as interesting as I have.

Opening Day Starter Trivia – Updated for 2014

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CC Sabathia continues to be the active leader in Opening Day starts. Photo via wiki/flickr.

Some of my favorite trivia questions  revolves around Opening Day Starters.  With another Opening Day in the books, here’s some useless trivia related to Opening Day starters.  I’ve updated my Opening Day Starters spreadsheet to Google Docs and created a link in the “Nationals Arm Race creation” section along the right.  Fyi, on a team-by-team basis you can query for the opening day lineups (here’s the Washington/Montreal franchise’ opening day lineup history as an example).

Current Active Leaders in Opening Day Starts

11 CC Sabathia
9 Mark Buehrle
7 Felix Hernandez
7 Justin Verlander
6 Bartolo Colon
6 Tim Hudson
6 Jered Weaver
6 James Shields
5 Josh Beckett
5 Yovanni Gallardo
4 Jake Peavy
4 Tim Lincecum
4 Clayton Kershaw
4 Jon Lester
3 Strasburg, Cueto, Wainwright, Price, Masterson, Nolasco
2 Lee, Samardzija, Liriano, Dickey, Sale, Feldman

Those players bolded in the list above had 2014 opening day starts and added to their totals.   (Note; there’s plenty of guys out there with 2 or 3 opening day starts but who did not extend their count in 2014; they are not included here).  With the retirement of Roy HalladayCC Sabathia extends his active lead in this category.  Mark Buehrle has given over the reigns of opening day starter possibly for good, based on his standing in the Toronto rotation.  Meanwhile the next closest competitors (Justin Vernalder and Felix Hernandez) could eventually supplant Sabathia, especially if he continues to struggle and gets replaced as the Yankees’ ace.

Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander continue to be the best bets to broach the all-time records (see below) based on their ages, their current counts and their new long-term contracts.

Answers to other Opening Day start trivia:

Current Active Leader in consecutive Opening Day Starts: Sabathia with 9 consecutive, split among two teams.  Second is Verlander with 7 straight, albeit all with the same team.  There was talk about how his Cy Young-winning rotation mate Max Scherzer should have gotten the ball this year, given Verlander’s 2013 struggles.

Most ever Opening Day Starts all-timeTom Seaver with 16 in his career.

Most ever Consecutive Opening Day Starts: Hall of Fame lightning rod Jack Morris, who made 14 straight such starts.

Number of first-time opening day starters in 2014: Ten (10) guys got the ball on opening day for the first time, slightly down from last year’s 13.  Injuries gave some pitchers the ball on opening day over other expected rotation mates (this is definitely the case with the likes of Julio Teheran, Tanner ScheppersSonny Gray, Dillon Gee, Jorge De La Rosa), and its probably the case that others got the ball on opening day thanks to their own personal ascention to the “lead-dog” spot on their teams (Jose Fernandez, Madison Bumgarner).  The other three newbies (Andrew CashnerWade Miley, and Chris Tillman) probably fall somewhere inbetween these categories.

Who seems most likely to break Seaver or Morris’ Records at this point? Still Sabathia, who already has 11 opening day starts (and 9 straight), is the #1 in New York, is only 32 and still has four years on his current deal. However, he took a big step backwards in 2013 performance-wise, and the Yankees spent a ton of money on Masahiro Tanaka, and there could be a passing of the torch if Tanaka blows it out in 2014.  Meanwhile Hernandez already has 7 opening day starts, just signed a deal that takes him through 2019 with a relatively easy option for 2020.   That’s many more seasons under contract and he’d only be 34 years of age by its end.   He could be the standard holder if he stays healthy and continues to pitch like an ace.

Most Inconsisent team using Opening Day Pitchers: Oakland.  They’ve used 9 different opening day starters in the last 9 seasons, and that’s likely to continue since both the candidates for this year had injuries that forced them to go to a rookie for 2014.  Pittsburgh is right behind them;  they have used 7 different opening day starters in the last 7 seasons, and 13 different starters in the last 15 seasons. The Nats have at some point employed no less than three former Pittsburgh opening day starters: Ron Villone, Oliver Perez and Zach Duke.   Colorado, Baltimore and Minnesota have also struggled for most of the past decade to find a dominant, reliable “Ace” and constantly cycle through new opening day starters, and once again each is using a different guy in 2014.


2014 Rotation Rankings 1-30


The ace on the best rotation in the game.  Photo:

The ace on the best rotation in the game. Photo:

Last year, with my excitement over Washington’s Dan Haren signing and my supposition that Washington had the best rotation in the game, I ranked all 30 team’s rotations ahead of the 2013 season.  Then, after the season was done, I revisited these pre-season rankings with a post-mortem to see how close (or, more appropriately, how far off) my rankings turned out to be.

Here’s the 2014 version of this same post: Pre-season rankings of the MLB’s rotations; 1 through 30.  Warning; this is another huge post.  I guess I’m just verbose.  At this point midway through Spring Training there’s just a couple of possible FAs left that could have altered these rankings (Ervin Santana being the important name unsigned right now), so I thought it was time to publish.

The top teams are easy to guess; once you get into the 20s, it becomes pretty difficult to distinguish between these teams.  Nonetheless, here we go (I heavily depended on and for this post, along with ESPN’s transaction list per team and Baseball Prospectus’ injury reports for individual players).

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Written by Todd Boss

March 10th, 2014 at 9:50 am

Posted in Majors Pitching

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2013 Pre-season Rotation Rankings revisited


Scherzer's dominant Cy Young season brings the Tigers to the top.  Photo AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Scherzer’s dominant Cy Young season brings the Tigers to the top. Photo AP Photo/Paul Sancya

In January, after most of marquee FA signings had shaken out, I ranked the 2013 rotations of teams 1-30.  I was excited about the Nats rotation, speculated more than once that we had the best rotation in the league, and wanted to make a case for it by stacking up the teams 1-30.

I thought it’d be an interesting exercise to revisit my rankings now that the season is over with a hindsight view, doing some post-mortem analysis and tacking on some advanced metrics to try to quantify who really performed the best this season.  For advanced metrics I’m leaning heavily on Fangraphs team starter stats page, whose Dashboard view quickly gives the team ERA, FIP, xFIP, WAR, SIERA, K/9 and other key stats that I’ll use in this posting.

  1. (#2 pre-season) DetroitVerlander, Fister, Sanchez, Scherzer, Porcello (with Alvarez providing some cover).  Scherzer likely wins the Cy Young.  Three guys with 200+ strikeouts.  The league leader in ERA.  And we havn’t even mentioned Justin Verlander yet.  A team starting pitching fWAR of 25.3, which dwarfed the next closest competitor.  There’s no question; we knew Detroit’s rotation was going to be good, but not this good.  Here’s a scary fact; their rotation BABIP was .307, so in reality this group should have done even better than they actually did.  Detroit’s rotation was *easily* the best rotation in the league and all 6 of these guys return for 2014.
  2. (#3 Preseason): Los Angeles DodgersKershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Nolasco, and Capuano (with Fife, BeckettLilly, Billingsley and a few others helping out); The 1-2 punch of Kershaw (the NL’s clear Cy Young favorite) and Greinke (who quietly went 15-4) was augmented by the stand-out rookie performance of Ryu, the surprisingly good half-season worth of starts from Nolasco, and then the all-hands-on deck approach for the rest of the starts.  This team used 11 different starters on the year thanks to injury and ineffectiveness, but still posted the 2nd best team FIP and 5th best fWAR in the league.
  3. (#8 pre-season): St. LouisWainwright, Lynn, Miller, Wacha and Kelly (with Garcia, Westbrook, and a few others pitching in).  Team leader Chris Carpenter missed the whole season and this team still was one of the best rotations in the league.  Westbrook missed time, Garcia only gave them 9 starts.  That’s the team’s planned #1, #3 and #4 starters.  What happened?  They call up Miller and he’s fantastic.  They call up Wacha and he nearly pitches back to back no-hitters at the end of the season.  They give Kelly a starting nod out of the bullpen and he delivers with a better ERA+ than any of them from the #5 spot.  St. Louis remains the bearer-standard of pitching development (along with Tampa and Oakland to an extent) in the game.
  4. (#22 pre-season): Pittsburgh:  Liriano, Burnett, Locke, Cole, Morton (with Rodriguez and a slew of call-ups helping out).  How did this team, which I thought was so low pre-season, turn out to have the 4th best starter FIP in the game?  Francisco Liriano had a renessaince season, Burnett continued to make Yankees fans shake their heads, and their top 6 starters (by number of starts) all maintained sub 4.00 ERAs.  Gerrit Cole has turned out to be the real deal and will be a force in this league.
  5. (#1 pre-season) WashingtonStrasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Haren, Detwiler with Jordan, Roark and other starts thrown to Karns and Ohlendorf).   Despite Haren’s continued attempts to sabotage this rotation’s mojo, they still finished 3rd in xFIP and 5th in FIP.  Haren’s 11-19 team record and substandard ERA/FIP values drug this group down, but there wasn’t much further up they could have gone on this list.   If  you had replaced Haren with a full season of Jordan’s production, maybe this team jumps up a little bit, but the teams above them are tough to beat.
  6. (#11 pre-season) Atlanta: Hudson, Medlen, Minor, Teheran and Maholm, (with rookie Alex Wood contributing towards the end of the season).  Brandon Beachy only gave them 5 starts; had he replaced Maholm this rotation could have done better.  Hudson went down with an awful looking injury but was ably covered for by Wood.  They head into 2014 with a relatively formidable  and cheap potential rotation of  Medlen, Minor, Teheran, Beachy and Wood, assuming they don’t resign Hudson.  How did they over-perform?  Teheran finally figured it out, Maholm was more than servicable the first couple months, Wood was great and came out of nowhere.
  7. (#26 pre-season) ClevelandJimenez, Masterson, McAllister, Kluber, Kazmir.  Too high for this group?  7th in rotation fWAR, 8th in FIP, and 6th in xFIP.  This group, which I thought was going to be among the worst in the league, turned out to be one of the best.  Jimenez and Masterson both had rebound years with a ton of Ks, and the rest of this crew pitches well enough to remain around league average.  They were 2nd best in the league in K/9.  You can make the argument that they benefitted from the weakened AL Central, but they still made the playoffs with a relative rag-tag bunch.
  8. (#9 pre-season) CincinnatiCueto, Latos, Bailey, Arroyo, Leake (with Tony Cingrani).  Cueto was good … but he was never healthy, hitting the D/L three separate times.  Luckily Cingrani came up from setting strikeout records in AAA and kept mowing them down in the majors.  Latos was dominant,  Leake took a step forward, and Bailey/Arroyo gave what they normally do.  If anything you would have thought this group would have been better.  6th in Wins, 7th in xFIP, 9th in FIP.  Next year Arroyo leaves, Cingrani gets 32 starts, Cueto stays healthy (cross your fingers, cross your fingers, cross your fingers) and this team is dominant again despite their FA hitting losses.
  9. (#25 pre-season) New York MetsHarvey, WheelerNiese, Gee, Hefner and a bunch of effective call-ups turned the Mets into a halfway-decent rotation all in all.  7th in xFIP, 11th in FIP.  Most of this is on the backs of Matt Harvey, who pitched like the second coming of Walter Johnson for most of the season.  Wheeler was more than effective, and rotation workhorses Niese and Gee may not be sexy names, but they were hovering right around the 100 ERA+ mark all year.  One superstar plus 4 league average guys was good enough for the 9th best rotation.
  10. (#12 pre-season) TexasDarvish, Holland, Ogando, Perez, Garza at the end.  Texas’ fWAR was the 2nd best in the league … but their accompanying stats drag them down this far.  Despite having four starters with ERA+s ranging from 114 to Darvish’ 145, the 34 starts given to Tepesch and Grimm drag this rotation down.  Ogando couldn’t stay healthy and Perez only gave them 20 starts.  Garza was mostly a bust.  And presumed #2 starter Matt Harrison gave them just 2 starts.  But look out for this group in 2014; Darvish, a healthy Harrison, and Holland all locked up long term, Ogando in his first arbitration year, and Perez is just 22.  That’s a formidable group if they can stay on the field together.
  11. (pre-season #6) Tampa BayPrice, Moore, Hellickson, Cobb, Archer and Roberto Hernandez.   Jeff Niemann didn’t give them a 2013 start, but no matter, the Tampa Bay gravy train of power pitchers kept on producing.  Cobb was unhittable, Archer was effective and Moore regained his 2011 playoff mojo to finish 17-4 on the year.  An odd regression from Price, which was fixed by a quick D/L trip, and a complete collapse of Hellickson drug down this rotation from where it should have been.  They still finished 12th in FIP and xFIP for the year.
  12. (pre-season #21) SeattleHernandez, Iwakuma, Saunders, Harang, Maurer, and Ramirez.  Seattle featured two excellent, ace-leve performers and a bunch of guys who pitched worse than Dan Haren all year.  But combined together and you have about the 12th best rotation, believe it or not.
  13. (pre-season #7) PhiladelphiaHalladay, Hamels, Lee, Kendrick, Lannan (with Cloyd and Pettibone as backups).  The phillies were 13th in xFIP, 10th in FIP on the year and regressed slightly thanks to the significant demise to their #1 guy Halladay.  Lee pitched like his typical Ace but Hamels self-destructed as well.  The strength of one excellent starter makes this a mid-ranked rotation.  Had Halladay and Hamels pitched like expected, they’d have finished closer to my pre-season ranking.
  14. (pre-season #17) BostonLester, Buchholz, Dempster, Lackey, Doubront, and Peavy: Boston got a surprise bounce back season out of Lackey, a fantastic if oft-injured performance from Buchholz, a mid-season trade for the effective Peavy.  Why aren’t they higher?  Because their home stadium contributes to their high ERAs in general.  Despite being 3rd in rotation fWAR and 4th in wins, this group was 17th in FIP and 18th in xFIP.  Perhaps you could argue they belong a couple places higher, but everyone knows its Boston’s offense that is driving their success this year.
  15. (pre-season #16) New York YankeesSabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Nova, Hughes/Phelps Hughes and Phelps pitched as predictably bad as you would have expected … but Sabathia’s downturn was unexpected.  Are  his years of being a workhorse catching up to him?  The rotation was buoyed by unexpectedly good seasons from Nova and Kuroda.  Pettitte’s swang song was pretty great, considering his age.  Enough for them to slightly beat expectations, but the signs of trouble are here for this rotation in the future.   Pettitee retired, Kuroda a FA, Hughes a FA, a lost season for prospect Michael Pineda and other Yankees prospects stalled.  Are we in for a dark period in the Bronx?
  16. (pre-season #29) Miami: FernandezNolasco, Eovaldi, Turner, Alvarez, Koehler and a few other starts given to either re-treads or MLFAs.  For Miami’s rotation of kids to rise this far up is amazing; looking at their stellar stats you would think they should have been higher ranked still.  Fernandez’s amazing 176 ERA+ should win him the Rookie of the Year.  Eovaldi improved, rookie Turner pitched pretty well for a 22 year old.  The team dumped its opening day starter Nolasco and kept on … losing frankly, because the offense was so durn bad.  Begrudgingly it looks like Jeffry Loria has found himself another slew of great arms to build on.
  17. (pre-season #5) San FranciscoCain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Vogelsong, Zito, Gaudin.  What the heck happened here?  Cain went from an Ace to pitching like a 5th starter, Lincecum continued to completely forget what it was like to pitch like a Cy Young winner, Vogelsong completely fell off his fairy-tale cliff, and Zito completed his $126M journey in typical 5+ ERA fashion.  I’m surprised these guys are ranked this high (14th in FIP, 16th in xFIP but just 27th in fWAR thanks to just horrible performances all year).  What the heck are they going to do in 2014?
  18. (pre-season #10) Arizona: CorbinKennedy, McCarthy, Cahill, Miley and Delgado.  Corbin was 2013’s version of Miley; a rookie that came out of nowhere to lead the staff.  Miley struggled at times but righted the ship and pitched decently enough.  The rest of the staff really struggled.  I thought this was a solid bunch but they ended up ranked 23rd in FIP and 14th in xFIP, indicating that they were a bit unlucky as a group.
  19. (pre-season #15) Chicago White SoxSale, Peavy, Danks, QuintanaSantiago and Axelrod.  Floyd went down early, Peavy was traded.  Sale pitched well but had a losing record.  The team looked good on paper (16th in ERA) but were 26th in FIP and 17th in xFIP.
  20. (pre-season #14) Oakland: ColonAnderson, Griffen, Parker, Straily, Milone, with Sonny Gray giving 10 good starts down the stretch.  This rotation is the story of one amazing 40-yr old and a bunch of kids who I thought were going to be better.   Oakland is bashing their way to success this season and this group has been just good enough to keep them going.  I thought the likes of Griffen and Parker would have been better this  year, hence their falling from #14 to #19.
  21. (pre-season #19) Chicago CubsGarza, Samardzija, JacksonWood, and FeldmanFeldman and Garza were flipped once they showed they could be good this year.  Samardzija took an uncharacteristic step backwards.  Jackson was awful.  The Cubs ended up right about where we thought they’d be.  However in 2014 they look to be much lower unless some big-armed prospects make the team.
  22. (pre-season #20) Kansas CityShields, Guthrie, Santana, Davis, Chen, Mendoza: despite trading the best prospect in the game to acquire Shields and Davis, the Royals a) did not make the playoffs and b) really didn’t have that impressive a rotation.  12th in team ERA but 20th in FIP and 25th in xFIP.   Compare that to their rankings of 25th in FIP and 26th in xFIP in 2012.   But the results on the field are inarguable; the team improved 14 games in the Win column and should be a good bet to make the playoffs next year if they can replace the possibly-departing Santana and the ineffective Davis.
  23. (pre-season #23) Milwaukee: LohseGallardo, Estrada, Peralta, and dozens of starts given to long-men and call-ups.  I ranked this squad #23 pre-season before they acquired Lohse; in reality despite his pay and the lost draft pick, Lohse’s addition ended up … having almost no impact on this team in 2013.  They finished ranked 23rd on my list, and the team was 74-88.
  24. (pre-season #13): Los Angeles AngelsWeaver, Wilson, Vargas, Hanson, Blanton, Williams: The Angels are in a predicament; their two “aces” Weaver and Wilson both pitched well enough.  But nobody in baseball was really that surprised by the god-awful performances from Hanson or Blanton (2-14, 6.04 ERA … and the Angels gave him a two year deal!).  So in some ways the team brought this on themselves.  You spend half a billion dollars on aging offensive FAs, have the best player in the game languishing in left field because your manager stubbornly thinks that someone else is better in center than one of the best defenders in the game … not fun times in Anaheim.  To make matters worse, your bigtime Ace Weaver missed a bunch of starts, looked mortal, and lost velocity.
  25. (#28 pre-season) San DiegoVolquez, Richards, Marquis, Stults, Ross, Cashner: have you ever seen an opening day starter post a 6+ ERA in a cave of a field and get relased before the season was over?  That happened to SAn Diego this year.  Another case where ERA+ values are deceiving; Stults posted a sub 4.00 ERA but his ERA+ was just 87, thanks to his home ballpark.  In fact its almost impossible to tell just how good or bad San Diego pitchers are.   I could be talked in to putting them this high or all the way down to about #28 in the rankings.
  26. (pre-season #27) Colorado: ChatwoodDe La Rosa, Chacin, Nicaso, Francis and a few starts for Garland and Oswalt for good measure.  Another staff who shows how deceptive the ERA+ value can be.  Their top guys posted 125 ERA+ figures but as a whole their staff performed badly.  26th in ERA, 19th in FIP, 26th in xFIP.  Colorado is like Minnesota; they just don’t have guys who can throw it by you (29th in K/9 just ahead of the Twins), and in their ridiculous hitter’s park, that spells trouble.
  27. (pre-season #4) TorontoDickeyMorrowJohnson, Buehrle, Happ, Rogers, and a line of other guys.  What happened here?  This was supposed to be one of the best rotations in the majors.  Instead they fell on their face, suffered a ton of injuries (only Dickey and Buehrle pitched full seasons: RomeroDrabeck were hurt.  Johnson, Happ, Redmond only 14-16 starts each.  This team even gave starts to Chien-Ming Wang and Ramon Ortiz.  Why not call up Fernando Valenzuela out of retirement?  It just goes to show; the best teams on paper sometimes don’t come together.  The Nats disappointed in 2013, but probably not as much as the Blue Jays.
  28. (pre-season #18) BaltimoreHammel, Chen, Tillman, Gonzalez, FeldmanGarcia with a few starts given to Gausman and Britton.  I’m not sure why I thought this group would be better than this; they were in the bottom four of the league in ERA, FIP, xFIP and SIERA.  It just goes to show how the ERA+ value can be misleading.  In their defense, they do pitch in a hitter’s park.  Tillman wasn’t bad, Chen took a step back.  The big concern here is the health of Dylan Bundy, who I thought could have pitched in the majors starting in June.
  29. (pre-season #30) Houston: BedardNorris, Humber, Peacock, Harrell to start, then a parade of youngsters from there.  We knew Houston was going to be bad.  But amazingly their rotation wasn’t the worst in the league, thanks to Jarred Cosart and Brett Olberholtzer coming up and pitching lights-out for 10 starts a piece later in the year.  There’s some potential talent here.
  30. (pre-season #24) MinnesotaDiamond, Pelfrey, Correia, Denudo, Worley and a whole slew of guys who were equally as bad.  Minnesota had the worst rotation in the league, and it wasn’t close.  They were dead last in rotational ERA, FIP, and xFIP, and it wasn’t close.  They were last in K/9 … by more than a strikeout per game.  They got a total fWAR of 4.6 from every pitcher who started a game for them this year.  Matt Harvey had a 6.1 fWAR in just 26 starts before he got hurt.  Someone needs to call the Twins GM and tell him that its not the year 1920, that power-pitching is the wave of the future, that you need swing-and-miss guys to win games in this league.

Biggest Surprises: Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Miami and New York Mets to a certain extent.

Biggest Disappointments: Toronto, the Angels, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Baltimore to some extent.

Disagree with these rankings?  Feel free to pipe up.  I’ll use this ranking list as the spring board post-FA market for 2014’s pre-season rankings.

Written by Todd Boss

October 10th, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Posted in Majors Pitching

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Ranking the 2013 Playoff Rotations

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Kershaw leads the best rotation in the playoffs. Photo via wiki.

Kershaw leads the best rotation in the playoffs. Photo via wiki.

Now that the playoff fields are set … who has the most formidable playoff rotation?

Unlike previous rotation rankings posts, the playoffs focus mostly on the 1-2-3 guys.  Your 5th starter may not even be on the playoff roster and your 4th starter usually just throws one start in a series where you can line up your guys, and some teams skip the 4th starter altogether if they at least one veteran pitcher who can all go on 3 days rest (there’s enough off-days in the 2-3-2 format to allow most guys to go on regular rest).  So the focus here is on the strength of your top guys.

Here’s how I’d rank the 10 playoff teams’ rotations, despite the fact that two of these teams will be wild card losers and never get a chance to use their rotations:

  1. Los Angeles: Kershaw, Greinke, Nolasco, Ryu (Capuano left out).  As great a 1-2 combination Kershaw and Greinke are, Nolasco has for stretches outpiched them both since his trade, and Ryu is a #2 starter talent in the #4 slot.  They’re going to be a tough out in any short series where Kershaw gets two starts.  Easily the #1 playoff rotation.
  2. Detroit: Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, Fister (Porcello left out).  Hard to believe that a guy who most thought was the best or 2nd best pitcher in baseball (Verlander) may not even get the start in the first game of the playoffs.  But they’re still the 2nd best rotation.
  3. St. Louis: Wainwright, Miller, Wacha, Kelly (Westbrook and Garcia hurt, Lynn left out).  The knock on St Louis’ current rotation is their youth; two rookies and a 2nd year guy who was in the bullpen all last year.  Are there any innings-limit concerns here that could force a shutdown  It doesn’t seem so at this point?  It continues to amaze me how well St. Louis develops players.  Carpenter and Garcia out all year?  No worries we’ll just bring up two guys in Wacha and Miller who are barely old enough to drink but who can pitch to a 120 ERA+.
  4. Tampa Bay: Price, Moore, Archer, Cobb (Hellickson left out); A tough top 4, if a little young on the back-side.  Moore has quietly returned to this dominant form upon his call-up and gives Tampa a formidable 1-2 punch.  Price has already pushed them past game 163.
  5. Pittsburgh: Liriano, Burnett, Cole, Morton (Rodriguez hurt, Locke left out).  The team previously said that Cole would likely a reliever in the playoffs, but I’ll believe that when I see it; he’s been fantastic down the stretch.  It is difficult to put a rotation headlined by the burnout Burnett and the reclamation project Liriano this high, but their performances this year are inarguable.
  6. Boston: Lester, Buchholz, Peavy, Lackey (Dempster, Doubront left out).  Buchholz just returning mid September after a hot start; could push this rank up.  I don’t necessarily trust the #3 and #4 spots here in a short series, but Boston can (and probably will) bash their way to the World Series.
  7. Cincinnati: Bailey, Cueto, Arroyo, Cingrani (Leake left out, Latos hurt).  Cingrani may be hurt, Cueto has returned to replace the sore-armed Latos.  Leake’s performance may push him over Arroyo if they get there, but the odds of them beating Pittsburgh were already slim after their poor finish and were vanquished last night.  Still, isn’t it nice when you have more quality starters than you need heading into a season, Mike Rizzo?
  8. Atlanta: Minor, Medlen, Teheran, Wood (Hudson hurt, Maholm left out).  If Wood is shutdown, Maholm makes sense as the #4 starter but has struggled most of the 2nd half and finished poorly.  I may have this rotation ranked too low; they’re solid up and down, just not overpoweringly flashy.
  9. Cleveland: Jimenez, Kluber, Kazmir, Salazar (Masterson in the pen, McAllister left out).  How did these guys get a playoff spot?  Amazing.  They’re all solid, nobody especially flashy, and they won’t go away.
  10. OaklandColon, Parker, Griffen, Gray (Milone, Straily left out, Anderson in long relief).  I didn’t want to rank them last, considering Oakland’s record over their last 162 game stretch.  But here they are; on an individual level one by one, they just do not stack up.  The age-less wonder Colon is easily the staff Ace.  The rest of these guys’ seasonal numbers are just not impressive.

These teams obviously didn’t make the playoffs, but were in the hunt until late, and since I had already typed up this content might as well say where I’d have ranked them, had they made the playoffs…

  • Washington: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Haren (Ohlendorf, Roark left out, Jordan shut down)  Perhaps you’d replace Haren with Roark based on September performances;  I just can’t imagine trusting Haren in a 7 game series..  I’d put them about #4, just ahead or just behind Tampa.   Gonzalez and Zimmermann have shown themselves to be oddly vulnerable here and there coming down the stretch, and I just don’t put Strasburg in the same elite category as Kershaw right now.  Too bad months of indifference cost them the 4 games they needed to make up in the standings to reach the WC game.
  • Kansas City: Shields, Santana, Chen, Guthrie (Duffy, Davis, Mendoza left out): Duffy may be a better choice than Guthrie based on small sample sizes.  I’d have put them just behind Cincy at #8 in terms of rotation depth.
  • Texas: Darvish, Garza, Holland, Perez (Tepisch, Grimm left out, Harrison hurt): Great Ace in Darvish (even if he has occasaional blowups), but falls off badly after that.  The Garza acquisition has just not worked out, and the rest of the rotation is good but not overpowering.  I’d put them behind KC but just ahead of Baltimore.
  • Baltimore: Tillman, Chen, Gonzalez, Feldman (Norris, Garcia, Hammel and others left out).  They’d probably be behind Atlanta at #9, only ahead of Oakland/Cleveland.
  • New York: Sabathia, Kuroda, Nova, Pettitte (Hughes, Phelps left out): Kuroda has been the ace of the staff this year, but you’d always lead off with Sabathia (though, had they made the playoffs it would be unknown if Sabathia could even go with his late-season injury).  Either way, this would be behind any other playoff team’s rotation.

Time to pull the plug on Haren yet?


How much longer is Haren going to be wearing this hat? Photo nats official via

The Nats management waited and waited, but finally gave in and dealt with season-long performance issues in Henry Rodriguez, Zach Duke, Danny Espinosa and Tyler Moore in the first two weeks of June, DFA-ing or demoting as needed and bringing in replacements to try to do a better job and turn this season around.

So, when will it be time to talk about the train-wreck season that Dan Haren is having?  For $13M, here’s what the team has gotten in his first 12 starts, including June 12th’s meltdown:

  • a 4-8 Record with a 5.70 ERA and a 67 ERA+ (his ERA is 6th worst in baseball for qualified pitchers).
  • A 6-10 team record in games in which he’s started
  • a league leading 17 home runs allowed

A quick glance at his advanced stats doesn’t give much credence to any apologists that may try to excuse his line either; his BABIP is slightly elevated but not overly so (.320) and his FIP is still an unsightly 5.06 (5th worst among qualified starters).  Only his expected xFIP and SIERA numbers are relatively respectable, but xFip is just an estimator stat and often times never comes to pass, since it assumes silly things like the fact that Haren can’t possibly keep giving up this many home runs… an assumption that continued to be disproven as he gave up two more in his most recent loss in Colorado.

Game-Log analysis: Haren has yet to have a start where he shut out the opponent.  He’s only got 5 quality starts out of 12.  In half his starts he’s allowed 4 or more runs (not good when your team’s offense is only scoring 3.4 runs a game).  Haren’s only really had a couple of starts that were “grade A” in my book (his best start of the year was an 8 inning 4 hit performance in Atlanta of all places).  In his defense, he has gotten awful run support (2.84 runs per start), heavily indicating team losses every time he pitches.

I’ll admit it; I talked myself into the Haren deal big time after it was announced.  I ignored his 2012 struggles, looked back to the near Cy Young guy he was in 2009 and thought this was the move that could push the Nats to a 105 win team.  Now clearly whatever excuses we made for his performance in 2012 (back injury leading to diminished velocity leading to loss of his sinker leading to crummy numbers) seem like they’re covering up for an aging sinkerballer who never had lights out velocity and who now looks dangerously close to extinct as his very-hittable fastball flattens out and gets hit harder and harder.

So what’s the answer here?

Don’t talk to me about his salary; that $13M is out the door already.  Kaput.  Gone.  Look up the definition of a “Sunk Cost” in economic terms.  If you were worried about $13M in annual salary then you shouldn’t have bought a $15M a year closer who isn’t exactly a complete shutdown guy (Tyler Clippard has almost identical stats this year to Rafael Soriano for a third of the price and he didn’t cost us a 1st round draft pick, which as it turned out could have been spent on one of two pre-draft top-10 talents).  The decision needs to be made; do you still want to try to “win now” in 2013 as all the other off-season moves seemed to indicate?  Because the solution likely is going to be a bit more money and a few more prospects.

Short term (as in, the next week): see how Ross Ohlendorf does in his spot start (Answer: uh, he did awesome, holding a good hitting team to two hits through 6 in the best hitters park in the league).  If he’s anything remotely close to effective, I think you look at an invented D/L trip for Haren and send him on a rehab assignment tour of the minors.

Mid-term (as in, for the next couple weeks): do we have anyone else in the minors worth checking out?  Not on the 40-man and not with enough experience.  Maybe we give Danny Rosenbaum a shot if another spot-start is needed after Detwiler and Strasburg come back.

Longer term (as in, the next two months); Look at the trade market and look at who may be available leading up to the trade deadline.  We’re already seeing some teams completely out of it and clearly some guys will be available:

  • The Cubs probably will look to move Scott Feldman and especially Matt Garza.
  • The Astros probably will cash in on Lucas Harrell and Bud Norris (nobody’s likely interested in Erik Bedard at this point).
  • The Marlins would listen for offers for Ricky Nolasco, though perhaps not intra-division.
  • The Mets aren’t winning this year and could be moving Shawn Marcum (though perhaps not intra-division).
  • I think eventually Seattle becomes a seller: Joe Saunders and Aaron Harang should be dangled.
  • I also think San Diego eventually realizes they’re not going to win the NL West: Edinson Volquez, waiver pickup Eric StultsClayton Richards and our old friend Jason Marquis all make for possible trade candidates.

A few other poorly performing teams are probably going to be too stubborn to wave the white flag, which cuts down on the number of guys that will be available (see the Los Angeles Angels, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Toronto specifically).

The only problem with a trade market move is this: all these teams are going to want prospects back.  And the Nats prospect cupboard has been cleaned out recently to acquire all these fools who are underperforming so far in 2013.  I’m not an opposing GM, so I can’t say for sure, but from a quick look at the Nats best prospects in the minors right now (basically in order: Giolito, Goodwin, Cole, Karns, Garcia, Skole, Purke, Solis, Perez, then guys like Hood, Taylor, Walters, Ray and Jordan round out the list) and I see a lot of injured guys or players on injury rehab, backups or guys barely above or still in A-ball.  I’m not trading a valued asset for an injury-risk guy who has never gotten above AA.  Who on this list is going to fetch us a quality major league starter?

Maybe we trade Haren along with a huge chunk of his remaining salary and multiple prospects to one of these teams in order to get one of these 5th starters back.  But that’d be an awful trade when it was all said and done (about as awful as, say, the Giants trading Zack Wheeler to the Mets for 2 months of Carlos Beltran in a failed effort to make the playoffs in 2012; with all the Giants 2013 pitching issues do you think they wish they had Wheeler back right now??)

Or, it very well may be that the Nats are stuck; we knew going into the season we had no starter depth and those MLFAs we did acquire (Ohlendorf and Chris Young basically) probably aren’t the answer.  But something has to give; we can’t give away every 5th start like we seem to be doing now and claw back into the NL East race.

May 2013 Monthly review of Nats rotation by Opponent

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Welcome to the Majors Nathan Karns. Photo

Continuing a monthly series of look-backs at our starters (here’s Apr 2013 post), here’s a monthly glance at how our .500 team is doing from a Starting Pitching standpoint.  As with last month, we’ll have “Grades” per outing, the team’s performance per opposing starter sliced and diced a few ways, and other per-starter stuff that I like to track.

MLB Rotation Per-Start Grades for May:

  • Strasburg: C-,B-,A,A-,A+,C/inc
  • Gonzalez: C+,A+,C+,A,D-
  • Zimmermann: A+,A,A-,A,B+,D+
  • Haren: A+,D+,A-,F,C+,B+
  • Detwiler: C-,B,D-/inc -> D/L
  • Duke: F
  • Karns: D+

Discussion: Nats Pitcher YTD Stats from Baseball-Reference are here

Strasburg has stepped up his game after his well-documented 4-unearned run meltdown and has dominated his last three starts before straining his Lat on 5/31 (hence the “incomplete” grade).  Gonzalez remains up-and-down, as he was in April/  He’ll be excellent and then less than mediocre start to start.  Zimmermann‘s 6 run 7th in Baltimore is the only blip on an otherwise fantastic month which has put him into Cy Young contendor status.  Haren‘s up and down starts finished off with a heroic effort in Baltimore on 5/30/13, pitching into the 8th and giving up just two runs to one of the more potent offenses in the league.  Detwiler‘s month was cut-short by his injury and subsequent D/L trip.  Lastly the Nats one known glaring weakness heading into this season (Starting pitching depth) has been exposed with the two spot starts we’ve gotten from Duke and Karns.  I know Karns’ grade isn’t that fair considering the circumstances (MLB debut, hot night, tough hitting team), but his stat-line is what it is.

May Performance By Opponent Starting Pitcher Rotation Order Number

A look at the opposing team’s rotation ranked 1-5 in the order they’re appearing from opening day.

Starter # Record Opposing Starter in Wins Opposing Starter in Losses
1 3-4 Samardzija, Volquez, Hamels Burnett, Kershaw, Cain, Hammel
2 4-2 Maholm, Rodriguez, Sanchez, Bumgarner Jackson, Greinke
3 2-3 Medlen, Fister Feldman, Stults, Tillman
4 1-0 Kendrick
5 3-1 Locke, Beckett,Teheran Vogelsong
5+ 2-3 Smith, Gausman Cashner, Pettibone, Garcia

Thoughts; as always, not all opposing team #1 starters are the same.  But, the Nats actually fared pretty durn well against opposing #1 and #2 guys in May.  Where they struggled were against the #3 starters in May; you cannot lose to the likes of Scott Feldman, Eric Stults and Chris Tillman.  They also struggled with what I call “5+” starters; guys who were call-ups to replace opening day starters.  Sometimes a 5+ is a rising ace prospect (theoretically a Kevin Gausman or perhaps a Matt Harvey in the end of 2012) and sometimes they’re a 4-A guy (Jonathan Pettibone).  But usually you expect a winning record there.

May Performance By Opponent Starting Pitcher Actual Performance Rank Intra-Rotation

A ranking of opposing teams’ rotations by pure performance at the time of the series, using ERA+ heavily.

Starter # Record Opposing Starter in Wins Opposing Starter in Losses
1 1-3 Bumgarner Burnett, Kershaw, Cashner
2 6-2 Samardzija, Sanchez, Medlen, Fister, Kendrick, Locke Greinke, Tillman
3 3-2 Maholm, Rodriguez, Beckett Feldman, Pettibone
4 1-3 Teheran Cain, Stults, Garcia
5 2-3 Volquez, Hamels Hammel, Jackson, Vogelsong
5+ 2-0 Smith, Gausman

On the bright side; going 6-2 against the opposing team’s 2nd best starter isn’t bad.

May Performance By Opponent Starting Pitcher League-wide “Rank”

A team-independent assignment of a league-wide “rank” of what the starter is.  Is he an “Ace?”  Is he a #2?

Starter # Record Opposing Starter in Wins Opposing Starter in Losses
1 1-3 Hamels Kershaw, Greinke, Cain
2 4-0 Bumgarner, Samardzija, Sanchez, Medlen
3 3-2 Fister, Maholm, Volquez Burnett, Tillman
4 3-3 Kendrick, Rodriguez, Beckett Cashner, Hammel, Jackson
5 4-5 Locke, Smith, Gausman, Teheran Feldman, Pettibone, Stults, Garcia, Vogelsong

I like this table the best; It usually shows where a team really is over- or under-performing.  There’s no shame in going 1-3 against the league’s best hurlers.  And its fantastic to see the team going 4-0 against that collection of league-wide #2s.  It is downright awful to see the team go 4-5 against this collection of #5 starters.

May Records by Pitching Advantage

Start-by-start advantages in my own opinion and then looking at the results.

Wash 9-5 Strasburg-Hamels, Zimm-Maholm, Stras-Volquez, Zimm-Kendrick, Gonzalez-Rodriguez, Zimm-Beckett, Stras-Locke, Gio-Smith, Stras-Teheran Zimm-Tillman, Gio-Hammel, Stras-Jackson, Gio-Feldman, Zimm-Stults
Even 2-4 Gonzalez-Bumgarner, Zimm-Sanchez Strasburg-Cain, Detwiler-Burnett, Haren-Cashner, Haren-Garcia
Opp 4-4 Haren-Medlen, Karns-Gausman, Detwiler-Samarzija, Haren-Fister Haren-Kershaw, Detwiler-Greinke, Haren-Pettibone, Duke-Vogelsong

In other words, the team when 9-5 when I thought Washington had the pitching advantage, 2-4 when I thought the pitching matchup was even, and 4-4 when I thought the opposing team had the advantage.  This is about what I expected, perhaps wanting to see a slightly better record in our advantage’d starts.  The Strasburg-Edwin Jackson loss hurt, as did the Zimmermann-Stults loss.

May matchup analysis

Looking at the opposing starter rank that our guys are going up against to see how their competition fares.

Nats Starters Opponents matchup analysis Nats Record under starter
Strasburg Three #1s, One #2, Two #5s 4-2
Gonzalez One #1, Two #2s, a #3 and a #5+ 3-2
Zimmermann Two #2s, Two #3s, a #4 and a #5 4-2
Haren One #1, Two #3s, and Three #5+ 2-4
Detwiler Two #1s, One #2. 1-2
Duke One #5 0-1
Karns One #5+ 1-0
total record 15-13

Detwiler’s turn now basically matches up with the opposing teams’ best guys, while Haren is getting more and more #5 and #5+ guys but continues to struggle.

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 11/25/11 edition

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Happy Thanksgiving! image via

A shortened Thanksgiving edition, with me being on travel for the holidays visiting family in Dallas.

Unfortunately they’re not really baseball fans down here, so conversations about whether or not the move of the Houston Astros and forthcoming rivalry with the Texas Rangers fall mostly on deaf ears.

After watching the last couple versions of this post get really bloated and difficult to read, i’m dividing this one up by topic.

Nationals In General

  • Cole Kimball is back, two days after we lost him on a waiver gamble.  Clearly the team values him, though now my post questioning the move and all the subsequent arguing in comments is moot and seems over-reactive.
  • Nats add four players to the 40-man … but only two that I predicted.  More thoughts/opinions here.
  • MLB’s Jonathan Mayo put up his Nats top-10 prospect list.  Its a list that does not include any 2011 draftees, so it differs widely from Baseball America’s and Fangraphs.  He also has some odd rankings, includes Cole Kimball and has Rick Hague above other more promising candidates such as Robbie Ray or Steve Lombardozzi, given that both are pretty big question marks going forward due to injury.
  • No surprise here; Shairon Martis signed a minor league deal with Pittsburgh.  Clearly he wasn’t going to make it in this organization; good luck to him moving forward.  He’s very young and could still have an impact.
  • The new deal probably delays Bryce Harper‘s debut, due to new changes in the super-2 status.  This is pretty much the exact OPPOSITE of what the two sides needed to do; we want to see these star rookies sooner, not later.  Frankly at this point despite it being essentially a useless delay, I’d be in favor of completely scrapping the “super-2” status and just go to a hard 3-years of arbitration.  If players are kept down artificially for a week in April, that’s still much better than wasting them til mid-June.  Here’s additional links from Adam Kilgore and Mark Zuckerman both discussing this same topic.
  • Here’s some welcome news: Matthew Purke struggled early but finished strong in Arizona due to a quick adjustment by Nats pitching coaches.  By the end of the AFL he was hitting 95 with good life on his breaking pitches.  That’s fantastic news; if Purke can continue showing this kind of velocity coming from the left-hand side with good secondary pitches, he’ll clearly be closer to the #1-starter potential he showed two years ago.
  • As pointed out by Zuckerman, The Nats won’t be getting any more revenue sharing under the new CBA.  And frankly, nor should they, being in the 6th largest market and owned by a billionaire.  This is one small modification in the new CBA that makes 100% sense.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • Yoenis Cespedes apparently expects a deal in the neighborhood $35-50M.  Wow.  Thats a lot of risk for a player who won’t be MLB ready in year one and who most people only know by his incredibly odd youtube scouting video.
  • At one time Scott Kazmir was an “Ace” in this league; a guy easily within the best 15-20 arms in the league.  The Angels gave up on him and released him this summer, eating $9.5M.  Nobody else even sniffed the guy.  Now he’s set to play in the Dominican Winter League to try to re-invent himself.    I agree with the comments in this article mostly; he isn’t even 28 yet.  Someone may take a flier on this guy and really get themselves a diamond in the rough.
  • Here’s Jon Heyman‘s predictions on salaries, with some thoughts on possible locations for the top free agents this off-season.  Not destinations; amounts.  He has Nats sniffing around on Fielder, Buehrle and Madson.  Nothing really earth-shattering there.
  • Tim Dierkes reporting that the Nats are visiting Buehrle at his home, and that he’s the #1 priority for this team.  We’ll see; I still have my doubts that Buehrle would come to Washington.  But signing him pretty much spells the end for Ross Detwiler.
  • The Rangers made an interesting FA signing, getting closer Joe Nathan for 2yrs/$14M.  The signing isn’t as much interesting b/c of Nathan (and $14M for what Nathan put up last year coming back from injury is a huge risk).  But it does imply that Neftali Feliz is going back to the rotation, and THAT would imply that the Rangers aren’t really that interested in re-signing CJ Wilson.  Fair enough for me; starters are far more valuable than closers, and if the Rangers make the world series again in 2012 having lost their #1 pitcher in each off-season, the GM should get a gold star.  They’ll go into 2012 presumably with this rotation: Feliz, Ogando, Harrison, Holland and Lewis.  They could also slot in Scott Feldman in place of an injury, as a former starter who struggled in 2011 due to injuries.  Do you think the Nats would ever consider doing this with Drew Storen?
  • The Nats may be chasing Buehrle, but here’s an interesting note: Roy Oswalt was NOT offered arbitration by the Phillies, so signing him would cost us no picks.  And, more importantly, we wouldn’t surrender our unprotected 1st rounder.
  • The Angels need a catcher.  We have catcher depth.  Maybe we can work a trade?

New Labor Deal Items

  • Not many details at first, but the announcement came on Friday 11/18 that the two sides had reached an agreement for a new 5-year labor deal, per Ken Rosenthal breaking the storyTom Verducci is right though in complaining that there are precious few details right now on how the Houston move affects the schedule.  Here’s a nice Labor agreement overview from a good Business of Baseball blog that covers the business-side of the industry, and also a detailed review of the new CBA.
  • Apparently one feature of the new agreement is the elimination of free agent compensation for relievers.  This is a welcome move and is refreshing to see, in that this particular rule was clearly broken and wasn’t in the best interests of either the clubs or the players.
  • Matthew Pouliot reports that the new agreement could have a “low-payroll” tax on clubs that don’t spend a certain amount.  I struggle with this concept to a certain extent.  Clearly teams that pull the plug on free agency and start over have shown that they can be successful in this league.  Tampa Bay and (to a certain extent) Texas in recent times have won playoff series with payrolls in the bottom 5 of the league.  Meanwhile teams like Pittsburgh and Kansas City may not have big MLB payrolls but are investing heavily in the draft ($17M by Pittsburgh last year).  So any such tax would have to be implemented in a way that it allows teams to “start over” without incurring such a tax.  I think the last thing we want is to see poor free agent signings and millions of dollars in payroll wasted just to reach an arbitrary level.  The bigger problem in this league is not at the payroll bottom, but at the payroll top.
  • Rosenthal calls the new deal a “dagger” to small-market teams.  Hard to disagree.
  • Scott Boras says the new deal hurts “all of baseball.”  I realize he’s quite biased, but I don’t disagree with him either.  It really seems that Selig and his little band of millionaire owners paid little attention to the growth of the game and competitive balance achieved by smart teams building through the draft, and were more interested in saving a few million dollars annually in the draft.  Really disappointing.

General Baseball News

  • Some career-reflection comments from the Owners meetings in Milwaukee from commissioner Bud Selig.  Like him or not, his tenure has resulted in a lot of significant events in the history of baseball.  Some good, some bad.  Expansion, Wild Card, Divisional play, steroids.  Its all in there.
  • Apparently there’s some movement in the A’s relocation to San Jose possibility.  There’s some direct parallels here to the plight of the Washington Nationals, and I’d guess that the Giants will get a similar sweetheart regional sports network deal in order to “relinquish” their San Jose territorial claim.  For me though, the difference between the Baltimore and Washington markets is much more distinct; there’s really only one road between Washington and Baltimore, and a realistic trip to reach Baltimore’s inner harbor from the Northern Virginia area on a week night in traffic would take more than 2 hours.  San Jose is a comparable distance from San Francisco, but with multiple interstate-speed routes between the two cities (I-280, California 101 and I-880) the San Jose market is less distinct from San Francisco.  People regularly commute between the two cities.
  • Interesting article from Mike Silva about possible future expansion in the MLB.  He thinks two more teams would make sense, one in New Jersey and the other in, wait for it, Montreal.  I posted on more or less this same topic in July, concluding that two new teams (San Antonio/Austin and Portland) would make a ton of sense.  Of course, what would make MORE sense is two new teams in the two massive markets of New York (perhaps in Jersey somewhere as is suggested) and Los Angeles (specifically in Riverside/Valley area that’s 1.5 hours on a good day from either Anaheim or down-town).  But baseball has allowed these owners to have territorial claims that are somehow gifted by god (see the previous San Francisco/San Jose argument) and thus making expansion into these markets an impossibility.

Tell me again why Holland wasn’t the game 7 starter?


Would game 7 have gone differently if Holland had thrown on full rest? Photo unk via

I know this is going to sound like a classic “hindsight is 20/20” post, but you can ask my wife (who listened to me ask this same question when Derek Holland came in to pitch relief in game 6 and Matt Harrison took the mound to start game 7) for confirmation that I was already asking this question prior to the outcome of last night’s game 7.

Why didn’t Ron Washington use the extra day off gifted to him by the rain delay on October 26th and use Holland on full rest as his 7th game starter?

I’m sure the answer you get from the old-school Washington is that Harrison did nothing to “lose” the opportunity to take his normally scheduled rotation spot, despite taking the loss in game 3 and giving up 5 runs (3 earned) on 6 hits in 3 2/3 innings.  However, in the post season you ride the hot hand and you go with your best arms.  That’s why Chris Carpenter was on the mound in game 7 on 3 days rest instead of Kyle Lohse (the starter opposite Harrison in Game 4 and the scheduled starter) and that’s why Washington should have gone with Holland (on a short leash) instead of Harrison.

Instead, we got a predictable result; Harrison knocked out of game 7 after a 4 innings and 3 runs and took another loss.  Washington had to go to his shredded bullpen early again, and it cost him.  Scott Feldman walked 3 guys, CJ Wilson forced in another run by hitting a batter with the first pitch he threw and the game was effectively out of reach.

Coincidentally, Wilson finishes off a post season where he was the “ace” starter yet issued a post-season record number of walks and had a 5.79 era.  He had one effective start and three awful ones.  Please, Mike Rizzo, think long and hard before throwing ace money at this guy.  I’ve said it in several spaces before; I think Wilson is a good, effective mid-rotation pitcher who will get vastly overpaid this summer (think John Lackey) and will fail to live up to the contract.  You can see this coming a mile away.  With one Nats player already fitting that contract description (ahem Jayson Werth), lets not saddle the team with another.

As for the series itself, I didn’t feel the need to write my own “Game 6 was the best ever” post after waking up and reading 20 others from every baseball columnist that I follow in RSS.  But i’ll say it here; Game 6 was the best baseball game I’ve ever personally witnessed.  Several times I stated aloud that the “game was over,” only to follow that up with an audible “wow” when the Cards hitters would reach back and get a clutch hit to tie the game late.  Game 7 featured more clutch hitting, with David Freese picking up right where he left off the previous night and keeping his team (and the crowd) in the game early.  You have to hand it to both teams; they slugged their way into the World Series and the series featured a ton of power, lots of clutch hitting, lots of offense and little in the way of clutch pitching.

Side note: I hate the trend of naming things that just happened or current players “the best ever;” we saw it when Albert Pujols hit 3 homers earlier in the series (despite their being relatively meaningless in the grand scheme of that blow out victory) and we saw it again within hours of the end of Game 6.  Does Game 6 stand up to the immortal World Series games played in 2001, 1991, 1988, 1986, 1975 or 1960?  We think so, but we won’t really know for years to come.  Why isn’t it enough to just say, “Wow, that was one of the best games i’ve ever seen” and leave it at that?

What does Texas take away from this World Series?  Despite having a great 7th-8th-9th inning set of relievers in Mike Adams, Darren Oliver and Neftali Feliz, their bullpen failed them badly this off season.  Ogando had an era in the 11’s for the post season.  So did Oliver.  Their bullpen blew THREE save chances in the infamous game 6.  All credit to the team for making it back to the World Series after losing Cliff Lee, but clearly the team needs a bit more starting depth to outlast a 7-game series against a quality team.  To that end, look for Texas to work long and hard on retaining Wilson, moving Feliz to the starting rotation and supplementing their bullpen for next year.

Welcome to the off-season!