Nationals Arm Race

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

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Nats Individual Award voting over the years

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Rendon's 2014 5th place MVP result is the highest ever for a Nat.  Photo Nats Official via espn.com

Rendon’s 2014 5th place MVP result is the highest ever for a Nat. Photo Nats Official via espn.com

While we wait for the Rule-5 results, I thought i’d throw a fun little post out there.  Inspired by James Wagner‘s blog post last week (and subsequent newspaper filler two days later), I decided to dive into the subject of Nats award-receiving seasons.  Anthony Rendon just finished 5th in NL MVP voting, the highest ranking ever for a Nats player.  And three of our five starters just got Cy Young votes.

Using baseball-reference.com’s award pages as a source, here’s the history of every Washington Nationals player who has received any voting whatsoever in MVP, Cy Young or Rookie of the Year races.

MVP Races

year Rank  Name  Tm  Vote Pts  1st Place  Share  WAR 
2014 5 Anthony Rendon  WSN  155 0 37% 6.5
2014 18 Jayson Werth  WSN  9 0 2% 4
2014 19 Denard Span  WSN  8 0 2% 3.6
2013 13 Jayson Werth  WSN  20 0 5% 4.9
2012 6 Adam LaRoche  WSN  86 0 19% 4.1
2012 16 Ian Desmond  WSN  15 0 3% 3.4
2012 20 Gio Gonzalez WSN  8 0 2% 4.7
2012 24 Ryan Zimmerman  WSN  7 0 2% 3.9
2012 30 Bryce Harper  WSN  2 0 0% 5.1
2011 19 Mike Morse  WSN  5 0 1% 3.4
2010 16 Ryan Zimmerman  WSN  18 0 4% 6.2
2010 21 Adam Dunn  WSN  9 0 2% 2.4
2009 25 Ryan Zimmerman  WSN  2 0 0% 7.3
2006 6 Alfonso Soriano  WSN  106 0 24% 6.1
2005 14 Chad Cordero WSN  21 0 5% 2

There’s only been three top-10 MVP performances in franchise history: Rendon’s sneaky good 2014, Adam LaRoche‘s 6th place 2012 finish, and Alfonso Soriano‘s 40-40 season in 2006 (also a 6th place finish).   But it is kind of indicative of the balance on this team that *eight* different players have received MVP votes over the course of the last three years, and seven of them seem likely to suit up for the 2015 team.  No, a 17th place MVP finish isn’t really that impressive … but it is recognition that someone thought you were a top 10 player in the league that year (the MVP ballot goes 10 deep), and that’s worth recognizing.

Cy Young Races

year Rank  Name  Tm  Vote Pts  1st Place  Share  WAR  W  L  SV  ERA  WHIP 
2014 5 Jordan Zimmermann  WSN  25 0 12% 4.9 14 5 0 2.66 1.07
2014 8 Doug Fister  WSN  5 0 2% 4.5 16 6 0 2.41 1.08
2014 9 Stephen Strasburg  WSN  3 0 1% 3.5 14 11 0 3.14 1.12
2013 7 Jordan Zimmermann  WSN  21 0 10% 3.7 19 9 0 3.25 1.09
2012 3 Gio Gonzalez  WSN  93 1 42% 4.9 21 8 0 2.89 1.13
2005 5 Chad Cordero  WSN  1 0 1% 2 2 4 47 1.82 0.97

As we mostly know, Gio Gonzalez‘s 3rd place finish in 2012 (which included a first place vote amazingly) was our closest Cy Young candidate.  Amazingly, the team didn’t have a pitcher even garner a Cy Young vote from 2006-2011.  It was quite a dry stretch for hurlers.

Rookie of the Year Races

RoY
year Rank  Name  Tm  Vote Pts  1st Place  Share  WAR 
2012 1 Bryce Harper  WSN  112 16 70% 5.1
2011 4 Wilson Ramos  WSN  6 0 4% 1.8
2011 6 Danny Espinosa  WSN  3 0 2% 2.8
2006 2 Ryan Zimmerman  WSN  101 10 63% 2.9

Finally we have a winner!  Zimmerman was a justified 2nd place in 2006 (he lost to Hanley Ramirez).

Not much analysis here, just recognition of the balance of talent we have on this team and how hard it is to win one of these awards.

2014 playoff team payroll analysis

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An annual post done at the end of each season.  Here’s 2013’s version.

Money can’t buy me love.  And, in baseball, more and more we’re seeing that Money also can’t buy playoff spots.  Of the ten teams that made the 2014 MLB playoffs, only half of them were among the top 10 spenders in terms of opening day payroll (payroll numbers courtesy of Spotrac.com).  Here’s the full list:

Team SpotRac Opening Day Payroll SpotRac Opening Day Rank Final W/L W/L Rank Playoff Status Payroll/Record Delta
Los Angeles Dodgers $232,899,930 1 94-68 4 NL West -3
New York Yankees $194,460,757 2 84-78 13 -11
Philadelphia Phillies $177,729,966 3 73-89 22 -19
Detroit Tigers $163,285,500 4 90-72 5 AL Central -1
Boston Red Sox $155,912,125 5 71-91 25 -20
San Francisco Giants $148,589,474 6 88-74 8 NL WC -2
Los Angeles Angels $146,647,750 7 98-64 1 AL West 6
Washington Nationals $133,319,078 8 96-66 2 NL East 6
Toronto Blue Jays $133,070,557 9 83-79 14 -5
Texas Rangers $131,657,214 10 67-95 28 -18
St. Louis Cardinals $112,768,000 11 90-72 5 NL Central 6
Atlanta Braves $112,658,731 12 79-83 16 -4
Arizona Diamondbacks $112,298,833 13 64-98 30 -17
Cincinnati Reds $111,694,938 14 76-86 21 -7
Baltimore Orioles $104,045,833 15 96-66 2 AL East 13
Milwaukee Brewers $103,397,967 16 82-80 15 1
New York Mets $96,554,970 17 79-83 16 1
Colorado Rockies $94,079,071 18 66-96 29 -11
Seattle Mariners $91,739,642 19 87-75 11 8
Kansas City Royals $90,837,000 20 89-73 7 AL WC 13
San Diego Padres $90,361,600 21 77-85 18 3
Chicago White Sox $89,792,166 22 73-89 22 0
Chicago Cubs $89,046,356 23 73-89 22 1
Minnesota Twins $85,465,000 24 70-92 26 -2
Cleveland Indians $84,809,134 25 85-77 12 13
Oakland Athletics $80,360,900 26 88-74 8 AL WC 18
Tampa Bay Rays $76,746,916 27 77-85 18 9
Pittsburgh Pirates $71,929,833 28 88-74 8 NL WC 20
Houston Astros $50,032,900 29 70-92 26 3
Miami Marlins $44,136,900 30 77-85 18 12

As you may have already surmised, the “delta” column to the right quickly shows which teams were badly over or under performing their payroll ranks.  Specifically:

  • Boston, Philadelphia, and Texas are three obvious teams that badly underperformed their payroll.  We’re all well aware of Philadelphia’s problems: too many long term contracts given out to guys in their 30s, locking that franchise into transactional inertia for the past few years.  Texas suffered from injury problems that were beyond ridiculous; they ended the season with 10 players on the 60-day D/L, used 15 different starters and no less than *40* pitchers on the year.  Fourty different pitchers!   Texas started the year with $130M payroll and finished with a worse record than their in-state rivals Houston, who have been *not* trying for years.
  • Arizona is a sneaky under performer, but also merits discussion.  Ownership finally has admitted that the brain trust that has been running players out of town for 50 cents on the dollar for years because of “character” or “make-up” issues has, well, not worked (see Justin Upton, Trevor Bauer most famously, but also see the moves that jettisoned Tyler Skaggs, Ian Kennedy and Brandon McCarthy in the same vein).  Gone are former GM Kevin Towers and the on-field managerial staff who has valued “grit” over “capabilities” for years, led by Kirk Gibson.  However, now running the show in Arizona is a newbie GM Dave Stewart whose accomplishments during his brief front-office experience in Toronto were not exactly well thought of by his former staff-member Keith Law.  Nonetheless; they’ll have the #1 overall pick in 2015 thanks to their ineptitude, and a chance to put some depth into a middling farm system.
  • The three teams who have already replaced their GMs this off season (Colorado, Atlanta, Arizona) all were on the under-performing list.  Colorado had the second worst record with a mid-sized payroll but has replaced its odd executive structure from within (which some pundits think will lead to more ineptitude).  Arizona’s odd choices are discussed above.  Atlanta’s GM switch is surprising to me (as i’ve mentioned before) and seems to be the result of an odd power-struggle going on within the Atlanta executive suite.  How do you fire a guy who constructed a team that has gone to the playoffs three out of the last five years on a budget immediately following a season when he lost 3/5ths of his starting rotation to injury before the season began?

How about on the “good” side?

  • Three of your four WC teams are among the smallest payrolls in the game.  Oakland, Pittsburgh and Kansas City rank 26th, 28th and 20th in 2014 payroll.  Also worth mentioning as overachievers are Cleveland (who missed out on the AL wild card by a game), Baltimore (who won 96 games with the 15th ranked payroll) and (of course) Miami (who sported the lowest payroll *by far* but still won 77 games).  Miami in particular seems like it is ready for another boom and sell-off cycle; they have a good team without the services of its best pitcher nearly all year; one or two more acquisitions and/or successful call-ups could have Miami competing for a divisional title again, and soon.
  • Washington Nationals: 8th highest payroll, 2nd best record.  That’s certainly good news.  Our opening day payroll of $133M may have been on the high side to some observers, but the team lived up to its reputation.
  • The Angels bashed their way to the best record in the league on just the 7th highest payroll, ironically, considering the over-spending they’ve been accused of in the past few years.  Don’t worry though; the Angels payroll will begin to have its own issues when Trout’s $30M/year contract years hit.  $30M a year.

What happens next year?

  • The Nats may be holding steady; LaRoche‘s $12M and Soriano‘s $14M salaries go away, but huge increases to Desmond and Zimmermann‘s salaries in 2015, stepped-up increases for Gonzalez and Span (who I’m assuming we’re going to exercise for 2015), and arbitration cases for a number of key and expensive players (Fister, Strasburg, Ramos, Clippard, Storen) will probably  more than make up for the $26M coming off the books.
  • The Phillies, to my constant amusement, already have $127M committed to just nine players for next year.  They’ll continue to be a top payroll, bottom performer for at least two more years.
  • The Yankees, who dipped underneath $200M for 2014 thanks to a gift-wrapped Bud Selig suspension for Alex Rodriguez and an equally generous $14M payoff from the cubs to take Alfonso Soriano off their hands, have $161M committed next year for just 10 players, with five of those players each earning north of $20M a year.  Wow.   Plus, they stand to lose their closer, two of their five SPs (Kuroda and McCarthy), and several position players to either FA or retirement.  They could be a train wreck again next year.

 

 

Would you have pulled Fister?

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Fister shows Tim Hudson what *he* has between his legs.  Photo via wp.com

Fister shows Tim Hudson what *he* has between his legs. Photo via wp.com

It’s only fair to discuss, since we just saw Matt Williams pull another starter in the midst of a shutout and sitting right at 100 pitches.  That’s where Doug Fister stood after completing 7 innings last night before giving way to the conventional 1-2 punch of Clippard-Storen to finish off the Giants in Game 3.

With a 3 run lead and the top of the order due up in the 8th inning, the move to Clippard was a bit less arguable.  Fister was on a shutout, but wasn’t half as dominant as Jordan Zimmermann was the previous night.  Fister had given up 7 base runners in 7 innings: Zimmermann only 4 in 8 2/3rds.  It may smell like hindsight-is-20/20, but I thought this was a good managerial move.

Meanwhile, even if the hits off of Storen were mostly weak (going back to last night too; Posey’s single was on a good outside pitch that he nubbed into center and Sandoval sliced a ball the other way, landing it three feet fair, usually a sign of luck and not malice), are you concerned about going back to him with the game on the line?

Tonight, the Giants get our sole lefty Gio Gonzalez, who didn’t face the Giants this year.  In his sole start against SF last year, he gave up 2 in 7 and took the loss.  The Giants as a team possess a .258/.318/.390 slash line good for a wRC+ of 104 against lefties on the year, slightly better than how they fare against righties.  So we may brace ourselves for a bit more offense than we’ve see so far.  Meanwhile, the Nats get Ryan Vogelsong, who had just a 87 ERA+ for the season and who got absolutely blitzed in the two games he faced the Nats this year (2 starts, 11 1/3 innings, 13 hits and 9 runs).

Smells like a high-scoring, get into the bullpen early kind of game.  Do you like the Nats’ chances?

If we make it to game 5, do you dare to skip Strasburg and go with Zimmermann (who, by the way, would have his normal 4 full days of rest by the time the deciding game rolled around on thurs 10/9/14).

 

Written by Todd Boss

October 7th, 2014 at 9:17 am

Divisional Series Pitching Matchups & Predictions

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Strasburg's first post-season start is upon us. Photo unk via thewifehatessports.com

Strasburg’s first post-season start is upon us. Photo unk via thewifehatessports.com

Last year I went nearly game-by-game, night-by-night with predictions and analysis of the playoffs.  Can’t do that this year, but I am doing some quickie starter match-up analysis to do some Divisional Series match-up predictions.  The current list of probables is mostly guess work, with the help of MLB.com’s probable pitcher page.  Also using depth charts to make guesses on the probables.

Lets start with the home team.

Washington-San Francisco

Potential Pitching Match-ups:

  1. Game 1: SF@Wash: Jake Peavy vs Stephen Strasburg
  2. Game 2: SF@Wash: Tim Hudson vs Jordan Zimmermann
  3. Game 3: Wash@SF: Doug Fister vs Madison Bumgarner
  4. Game 4: Wash@SF: Gio Gonzalez vs Ryan Vogelsong (if necessary)
  5. Game 5: SF@Wash: Peavy vs Strasburg (if necessary)

The WP’s James Wagner has a nice “how do the Nats fare against Peavy and Hudson” story on 10/2/14 with per-National stats against Peavy and Hudson for the first two games.  And Wagner also just announced the rotation order for the Nats.

Yes, it seems like we’re going to see Strasburg & Zimmermann at home instead of Stras-Gio.

Looking at the match-ups, its easy to say “advantage Washington.”  Strasburg has been hot.  Zimmermann has been even more hot.  We then throw the underrated Fister against Giant’s best starter, then come back with Gio in game 4 on the road, where he’s  going against the erratic Vogelsong.  Hudson has had the Nat’s number for years, but he’s been a train wreck in the 2nd half of 2014.  Peavy has been a bulldog for San Francisco since the trade, but was nearly a 5.00 ERA in the AL.

I’m predicting Washington sweeps the first two at home, loses Bumgarner’s start, then beats SF in game 4 to wrap up the series 3-1.



St. Louis-Los Angeles Dodgers

  1. Game 1: Stl@LAD: Adam Wainwright vs Clayton Kershaw
  2. Game 2: Stl@LAD: Lance Lynn vs Zack Greinke
  3. Game 3: LAD@Stl: Hyun-Jin Ryu vs John Lackey
  4. Game 4: LAD@Stl: Dan Haren vs Shelby Miller (if necessary)
  5. Game 5: Stl@LAD: Wainwright v Kershaw again (if necessary)

St. Louis has already announced that Michael Wacha is *not* in the post-season rotation, which is a huge blow for their chances to out-last the Dodgers.  The game 1 match-up might be the pitching matchup of the post-season, with perennial Cy Young candidate Wainwright going against the likely MVP in Kershaw.  Lynn has gone from being barely a 5th starter to being the #2 guy on St. Louis’ staff, but I don’t know if he’s got enough to get St. Louis the split against Greinke.  Missing Wacha means that St. Louis will have to depend on both Lackey and Miller.  Long odds there.

This series might end up being a sweep frankly; I think LA has the distinct pitching advantage here.  And not having Wacha’s dominance from previous post seasons makes it tough.  Dodgers in a sweep or 3-1 if the Cards can get to either Greinke or Ryu.

 


Detroit-Baltimore

  1. Game 1: Det@Balt: Max Scherzer vs Chris Tillman
  2. Game 2: Det@Balt: Justin Verlander vs Wei-Yin Chen
  3. Game 3: Balt@Det: Bud Norris vs David Price
  4. Game 4: Balt@Det: Miguel Gonzalez vs Rick Porcello (if necessary)
  5. Game 5: Det@Balt: Tillman-Scherzer (if necessary)

The 96-win Orioles get rewarded with having to face three Cy Young winners in the first three games.  Their rotation mates are underrated (3rd best ERA in the 2nd half) but certainly not in the same class as what Detroit puts up there.  Baltimore’s best case is to get a split at home, then a split away and get to the 5th game.  I don’t see it: I think this series hinges on whether Verlander is Cy Young-Verlander or inexplicably-bad-lately Verlander.  I’m guessing the former; Detroit wins this series in a sweep or perhaps 3-1.


Kansas City-Los Angeles Angels

  1. Game 1: KC@LAA: Jason Vargas vs Jered Weaver
  2. Game 2: KC@LAA: Yordano Ventura vs Matt Shoemaker
  3. Game 3: LAA@KC: C.J. Wilson vs James Shields
  4. Game 4: LAA@KC: Weaver vs Jeremy Guthrie (if necessary)
  5. Game 5: KC@LAA: Shoemaker v Vargas (if necessary)

The Angels are struggling into the playoffs and have announced they’re going with a 3-man rotation.  Weaver’s history of going on 3 days rest is spotty; one decent start and one blow-out.  Meanwhile the Royals burned their #1 guy in the WC game AND threw Ventura enough to have people question Ned Yost‘s sanity (even moreso than they already were with his multiple bunting).  But the Angels hit, and the Royals’ guys won’t be able to completely put them at odds.

I think the 3-man rotation will backfire, and whether the Royals throw Guthrie or Danny Duffy in game 4 won’t make a difference; they’ll hit Weaver at home and push this to a 5th game, where everybody will be on deck.  Angels in 5.


Lets see if these probable pitchers hold up to guesses made on 10/1/14.

Rotation Reviews of your 2014 Playoff Teams

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Will the Nats be staring down Kershaw in the playoffs? Photo via wiki.

Will the Nats be staring down Kershaw in the playoffs? Photo via wiki.

Here we are.  After a crazy trade deadline in July, and an August and September that featured the division leaders (in most cases) solidifying their positions and extending their leads, the playoffs are upon us.

Lets take a look at the rotations of the playoff teams (despite the fact that the four Wild Card teams are just one-man pitching staffs until they win the play-in game).  Who lines up best?  For each team i’ve tried to line the pitchers up one through five, with the 5th guy being the one headed to the bullpen.

(Quick useful links: AL full standings on b-r.com, NL full standings, and post season schedule at MLB.com).

Trade deadline 2014 acquisitions highlighted in blue.  Pre-season acquisitions highlighted in Green for context.

NL Division Champs:

  • Washington: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmerman, Fister, Roark (yes this is how I think it will shake out despite Roark’s great season-long performance; we posted on this separately)
  • St. Louis: Wainwright, Lynn, Wacha, Miller, Lackey (Masterson to the bullpen when Wacha came back)
  • Los Angeles: Kershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Haren, Hernandez, Wright (Beckett hurt, done for year, Ryu coming back, should be ok for playoffs so I’ve inserted him as the #3.  Maholm, Billingsley, Fife hurt all year).

Just look at what the Dodgers have tried to do to keep their rotation afloat in terms of player acquisition over the past couple of years.  I’d like to have their budget.  They will have no less than eleven capable, MLB-experienced starters once they’re all healthy.  Yes Kershaw is unbeatable, but as pointed out earlier this year, they are basically a .500 team otherwise.  Their 4th and 5th starters have been below replacement for much of the past month but they’re getting back Ryu right in time for the playoffs.   St. Louis’ rotation looks just as strong as it has been for the past few years; Wainwright quietly has 20 wins and a 2.38 ERA on the season.  Lynn has been great.  Only Miller has struggled but still has a league-average ERA+.

It is hard not to look at the Nationals’ rotation and claim they’re the deepest one-through-four, despite Gonzalez’s struggles.   I’d take our #4 (Fister) over anyone else’s #4, I think our #3 matches up just as favorably to anyone els’es #3, and Strasburg has a 1.34 ERA in September as the #1.

NL Wild Card:

  • Pittsburgh: Liriano, Cole, Locke, Volquez, Worley (Morton dinged up late Sept, made way for Cole).
  • San Francisco: Bumgarner, Hudson, Petit, Vogelsong, Peavy (Lincecum to bullpen for Petit, Cain out all year)

The NL WC pitching match-up will be Bumgarner-Liriano.  Both teams manipulated their rotations at season’s end to preserve their aces for the coin-flip game.  We’ll do a separate prediction piece.

NL Also-Rans;

  • Atlanta:  Teheran, Minor, Santana, Harang, Wood (Beachy, Floyd, Medlen out all year)
  • Milwaukee: Lohse, Garza, Gallardo, Peralta, Fiers (Nelson and Estrada to bullpen)

The Braves fell so far, so badly in September that they were nearly surpassed by the lowly NY Mets for 2nd place in the NL East.  That’s crazy.  But they still remain here as an also-ran because they were in the wild card race until mid-September.  I still think it is crazy what they were able to accomplish given the starting pitcher injuries they suffered in spring training and don’t quite understand why Frank Wren was fired.  If you want to fire him for his crummy FA contracts so be it; but the man engineered a team that made the playoffs three of the past five years.  Harsh treatment if you ask me.  Insider comments seem to think that Wren lost an internal power-struggle involving Fredi Gonzalez.


And here’s what we’re looking at in the AL:

AL Division Champs:

  • Baltimore: Tillman, Norris, Chen, Gonzalez, Gausman (Jimenez demoted to BP)
  • Detroit: Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, Price, Porcello
  • Los Angeles: Weaver, Wilson, Shoemaker, Santiago, Rasmus, LeBlanc (Richards injured, Skaggs hurt)

It is hard to look at these rotations and comprehend where these teams currently stand:

  • How is Baltimore leading the AL East by 12 games?  None of these guys are a league-wide “Ace.”
  • How is Detroit not pulling away from the AL Central with this collection of arms?  Of course, you could ask this question of Detroit over and again the past few years; with a stacked lineup and stacked rotation they have just barely won their (usually) weak division year after year.
  • How does Los Angeles have the best record in the majors with a non-drafted FA and a waiver claim in their Sept rotation?  Would you favor this rotation over Detroit’s?

I guess it doesn’t matter; these teams have bashed their way to their titles and should continue to hit in the post-season.  Apparently the O’s aren’t going to go with Gausman in their playoff rotation despite his good seasonal numbers.  It may be a case of veteran manager going with the veterans, as Gausman’s numbers are pretty much in line with most of the rest of the Baltimore rotation.  The injury to Richards really hurts the Angels: Weaver may be close to an Ace but Wilson showed he is hittable in the post-season and lord knows what will happen when LA has to throw their #3 and #4 choices.

AL Wild Cards:

  • Kansas City: Shields, Duffy, Ventura, Guthrie, Vargas
  • Oakland: Grey, Samardzija, Lester, Hammel, Kazmir

AL Wild Card looks like a knock-out match-up of Shields and Lester; the A’s burned Grey yesterday to get the win that put them in the playoffs.  Oakland has to be kicking themselves; how did they go from (easily) the best team in the majors for the first half to struggling to hang onto the WC spot?   On paper replacing 3/5ths of the rotation (out with Chavez, Milone, Pomeranz and Straily, in with Samardzija, Lester and Hammel) sounded like a great idea … but to me the team’s chemistry was clearly un-balanced.  At least they held on to the spot and avoiding a one-game play-in against Felix Hernandez.

AL Also-Rans:

  • Seattle: Hernandez, Walker, Iwakuma, Paxton, Young (Elias out for year)
  • New York: McCarthy, Greene, Kuroda, Capuano, Pineda (with Tanaka finally coming back at season’s end.  Nova and Sabathia gone all year with injuries).

All Seattle needed to do was *get* to the wild card game … and they’d have great odds of advancing behind ace Hernandez.  But struggled to the finish line.  Meanwhile Cleveland and New York would have been mentioned here a week ago, but both squads just ran out of time to make comebacks.  I’ll give NY credit: they played 7 games better than their pythagorean record with huge chunks of their rotation gone for the season and depending on guys who’s names I had to look up.

Coming soon; a review of the WC matchups with predictions.

 

Written by Todd Boss

September 29th, 2014 at 8:58 am

Nats playoff rotation: who will be in and who should be in?

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Roark may be odd-man out in the playoffs.  Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Roark may be odd-man out in the playoffs. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

The NL East champion Nationals have a problem that lots of teams would like to have: they have 5 great starter options for 4 post-season rotation spots.  Who should we pick, and in what order should they pitch?

(all stats are as of 9/23/14 courtesy of baseball-reference.com)

Option 1: stick with the season-long rotation.  Strasburg-Gonzalez-Zimmermann-Fister with Roark heading to the bullpen.

Pos Name W L W-L% ERA ERA+ FIP WHIP G GS IP BB SO BB9 SO9 SO/W
SP Stephen Strasburg 13 11 0.542 3.23 116 2.98 1.139 33 33 209 42 235 1.8 10.1 5.6
SP Gio Gonzalez* 9 10 0.474 3.74 100 3.13 1.233 26 26 151.2 54 150 3.2 8.9 2.78
SP Jordan Zimmermann 13 5 0.722 2.78 135 2.75 1.117 31 31 190.2 28 172 1.3 8.1 6.14
SP Doug Fister 15 6 0.714 2.55 147 4.07 1.123 24 24 155 24 89 1.4 5.2 3.71
SP Tanner Roark 14 10 0.583 2.85 131 3.49 1.102 30 30 192.1 39 137 1.8 6.4 3.51

This is likely what happens regardless, since manager Matt Williams is old school and likely sticks with his veterans over the “new guy” in Roark.  Thanks to four off-days between their last regular season game (Sunday 9/28) and the first game of the playoffs (Friday 10/3) it doesn’t even matter what order these guys have been pitching in; even the guy who goes Sunday (scheduled to be Gio) would have four full days of rest prior to the NLDS opener.

Option 2: Go with the four best starters in terms of season-long performance: Zimmermann-Fister-Strasburg-Roark with Gonzalez the odd-man out.

Looking at the above stats, this would be your top four going strictly by a subjective opinion looking at the “old school” stats of W/L record and ERA.  But a closer look at the FIPs show this to be faulty logic; despite his excellent numbers Fister has the highest FIP of the starters despite having the best ERA+ figure.  Plus, you really don’t want to leave out your sole lefty starter in a playoff series.

Option 3: Go with the hottest hands. Strasburg-Zimmermann-Gonzalez-Roark with Fister in the pen.

Here’s the stats for the last 5 starts for each guy:

Pos Name Team W Team L W-L% ERA babip BAA WHIP G GS IP BB SO BB9 SO9 SO/W
SP Stephen Strasburg 3 2 0.6 1.34 0.28 0.21 0.802 5 5 33.66 2 33 0.535 8.82 16.5
SP Gio Gonzalez* 3 2 0.6 3.41 0.25 0.22 0.958 5 5 31.33 4 23 1.149 6.61 5.75
SP Jordan Zimmermann 5 0 1 2.03 0.3 0.23 1.032 5 5 31 4 32 1.161 9.29 8
SP Doug Fister 3 2 0.6 3.26 0.27 0.27 1.352 5 5 30.33 9 12 2.671 3.56 1.333
SP Tanner Roark 2 3 0.4 3.13 0.3 0.28 1.169 5 5 31.66 3 19 0.853 5.4 6.333

Taking a look at each starter’s last 5 starts, a couple things become clear: Strasburg, as we have all seen, is on fire; just two walks in 33+ innings and a 1.34 ERA.  Its ridiculous that the team hasn’t won all five of his games.  Washington has won all five of Zimmermann’s starts.  Meanwhile, Fister looks like the weakest link here, with the highest whip and the fewest Ks in the closing run.  Roark’s finish hasn’t been too bad, but his peripherals put him behind Gio.

Option 4: Look at the home-road splits to pick starters.  Strasburg-Roark-Zimmerman-Fister

Here’s the season long home/away splits for our starters.

Pos Name Split W L W-L% ERA G GS IP BB SO WHIP SO9 SO/W
SP Gio Gonzalez* Home 4 3 0.571 3.88 12 12 65 23 63 1.3 8.7 2.7
SP Gio Gonzalez* Away 5 7 0.417 3.63 14 14 86 31 87 1.2 9 2.8
SP Stephen Strasburg Home 8 3 0.727 2.7 17 17 110 17 133 1.1 10.9 7.8
SP Stephen Strasburg Away 5 8 0.385 3.82 16 16 99 25 102 1.2 9.3 4.1
SP Tanner Roark Home 6 6 0.5 2.5 14 14 90 23 61 1.2 6.1 2.7
SP Tanner Roark Away 8 4 0.667 3.17 16 16 102 16 76 1.1 6.7 4.8
SP Doug Fister Home 7 2 0.778 1.95 10 10 69 10 47 0.9 6.1 4.7
SP Doug Fister Away 8 4 0.667 3.05 14 14 85 14 42 1.3 4.4 3
SP Jordan Zimmermann Home 6 2 0.75 2.81 16 16 96 16 78 1.2 7.3 4.9
SP Jordan Zimmermann Away 7 3 0.7 2.76 15 15 94 12 94 1 8.9 7.8

This isn’t so much about picking who is better at home; its going with those who have the best away records.  Zimmermann and Fister both give a better chance of winning on the road and make sense as game #3 and #4 starters.  Meanwhile both Strasburg is less effective on the road versus at home.   This scenario leaves us without Gio though, our sole lefty, so it probably isn’t viable.

Option #5: play match-ups with the opponent.  Unfortunately, I’m hoping the team clinches the top seed, which means they go against the wild card winner … and while we’re pretty sure we know who the WC teams are (San Francisco and Pittsburgh) at this point … we don’t know who will host the play-in game, nor who they’ll be throwing.   Washington took the season series against both squads (4-3 over Pittsburgh, 5-2 over San Francisco), and the timing of those series are also interesting:

  • Nats dropped 3 out of 4 in Pittsburgh in May when playing poorly.
  • Nats swept Pittsburgh 3 straight in August at home as they began to solidify their lead in the division.
  • Nats won 3 out of 4 in San Francisco in June when they were still a .500 team.
  • Nats won 2 out of 3 at home in August in a slug-fest of a series.

Fister beat Liriano in Pittsburgh in May; Strasburg, Zimmermann and Treinen all lost.   Then, Roark and Fister pitched effectively in August while Gio was run-of-the-mill.

Against San Francisco; Strasburg, Fister and Roark all pitched great in ATT Park (only Treinen got beat).  Then at home, Strasburg was awful, Fister mediocre and Zimmerman effective in the August series.

Does that tell us much?  Not really.


In the end, I think it’s going to be the same rotation that we lined up on opening day, in the same order. Luckily for us, that means our hottest pitcher (Strasburg) getting the ball in game #1 and #5, it means our two starters who are best away from home will get the ball in games #3 and #4 at the opponent’s park, and it gives us a decent balance of lefty/righty in the first two games at home.  No room for Roark though, which is a shame considering his performance on the year.

So much for cutting edge analysis :-)

 

Written by Todd Boss

September 23rd, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Blogging goodbyes and hellos

5 comments

When I first started blogging here (4+ years and 750+ posts ago), the sole local coverage of the Nats farm systems was thanks to Brian Oliver‘s Nationals Farm Authority blog.  Oliver covered the farm systems with daily recaps of each minor league affiliate’s game, some quick stat lines for stars and duds, and generally made it quite easy to follow the minor league affiliates.

Following the minor leagues was important in 2010, because the team had just bottomed out with two straight 100+ loss seasons, had jettisoned a GM that seemed out of his depth to turn the team around, and had just drafted two of the biggest draft-day names in a generation in Stephen Strasburg and Bryce  Harper.  I was personally convinced that the pathway to success at the MLB level, and the most undervalued resource in the game, was developing quality pre-arbitration starters out of your system.  I began tracking the rotations of the minor league teams closely, looking for the next Jordan Zimmermann (arguably the best starter this team has developed not named Strasburg in the Washington era of baseball).

Eventually, Oliver “took a real job” and had to step down from daily posting.  When Oliver hung ‘em up, a new blogger stepped up to take his place.  Initially going by a pseudonym (literally, “Sue Dinem”), but eventually “coming out” and revealing his name, Luke Erickson‘s Nationals Prospects blog picked up where Oliver left off and has served as the go-to place for tracking Nats affiliates for the past several years.  I would not be able to track the minor league rotations like I do without his work.  And, as was probably an inevitability, Erickson too has announced he’s hanging them up (clarification per Luke: “dialing it back”) and heading back into the workforce himself.

Back in the 2009 time-frame, I covered for Oliver for a week of doing his weekly recaps on NFA.  He was going on vacation and would not have any time to do the coverage.  I quickly discovered the time involved; it took 2+  hours a day to run through the links and drill down into the recaps done at various local papers to do this daily coverage.  In fact, I created a links page at my own personal website just to assist with the linking (a links page that I maintain and use to this day in fact; scroll to the bottom for all the minor league affiliate links).  At the end of the week I questioned how Oliver found the time … and always marveled at how Erickson kept it up for years on end.

Nowadays, there’s more people covering the farm system (just off the top of my head, Ryan Sullivan‘s NatsGM does a great job, especially in draft coverage, and the likes of Byron Kerr at MASN and some of the MLB guys are doing more farm coverage than ever before), which is great, but the stuff that Erickson provided was invaluable.  I sincerely hope that someone steps up to continue the daily farm coverage like we’ve seen (I know that Erickson had some help writing the dailies this season; if you’re reading this Jason CrockerJulie Goldberg, Souldrummer and whoever is “the two SDs” I hope you consider taking over).  In fact, if someone doesn’t take over perhaps we could propose a daily summary by community to spread around the work, where volunteers would take certain days to keep the summaries alive.  I’d certainly be up for this arrangement, committing to one day a week instead of seven.

In the meantime, as discussed in the comments, long time commenter “bdrube” (real name Karl Kolchak) has announced his own blog and I’d like to welcome him to the fold.  Nats EXPOsed has started with a strong set of prospect-centric posts and I encourage everyone to give him a RSS subscribe and join the party.

Thanks again to Luke’s years of efforts.

 

Statistics, Deception and Boswell

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In case you weren't aware, Clayton Kershaw is really good.  Photo via wiki.

In case you weren’t aware, Clayton Kershaw is really good. Photo via wiki.

Was casually reading Tom Boswell‘s article in the post today (which can be summarized as “1,000 words on why you don’t want to face Clayton Kershaw in the playoffs, duh) and he posted the following intriguing statistic as part of his argument:

  • In games started by Kershaw, the Dodgers are 19-4
  • In games NOT started by Kershaw, the Dodgers are 59-58

Ergo, the Dodgers are really beatable when they don’t throw Kershaw.

This sounded like a great stat.  Until you dive a little deeper and you do the same analysis for our own first place/better record than the Dodgers team.

Los Angeles is, as of the moment of this writing, 78-62.  By starter, their team record breaks down like this:

  • Kershaw: 19-4
  • Ryu: 15-9
  • Greinke: 14-13
  • Haren: 13-14
  • Beckett: 9-11
  • Other randoms: 8-11

All others besides Kershaw and Ryu: 44-49
All others but Kershaw: 59-58

Pretty compelling, eh? They’re a losing team when not throwing one of their two aces in Kershaw or Hyun-jin Ryu.   Surprisingly, the team under their supposed #2 Zack Grienke sports just a .500 record on the year through 27 starts despite his known quality.


Lets do the same analysis for the Nationals, currently sporting a better record of 79-59 and having just beaten the Dodgers two out of three at their house.  Here’s the Nats team record under each starter this year:

  • Zimmerman: 19-9
  • Fister: 14-7
  • Gio: 13-10
  • Stras: 16-13
  • Roark: 15-12
  • Jordan: 1-4
  • Treinen: 1-4

All others besides Zimmermann and Fister: 46-43.

Hmm.  So, much like the Dodgers, if you play the Nats and you’re not facing one of OUR two best pitchers, we’re basically a .500 team.

I guess the point is this: in a sport where a team that is winning 57% of its games has the best record in the majors, the margins for winning and losing are pretty slim.  Or maybe the point is this: you can use stats to support pretty much whatever hypothesis you wish to postulate.

I think everyone knows that beating Kershaw is nearly impossible, and facing him twice in a short series may be the difference between advancing and going home.  But then again, this is the same Kershaw who has (believe it or not) a career 4.23 ERA in the post-season and got hammered by the Cardinals for 7 runs in 4 innings in last  year’s NLCS.   I guess that’s why they play the games.

But, I think it is also safe to say that the series in Los Angeles showed why it’d be one heck of an NLCS if the seedings held and the two top NL teams  held form in the divisional series.  Lets hope it comes to pass.

Post trade-deadline playoff contender rotations

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This year’s MLB trade deadline was crazy.  Never before have so many big-time names moved teams.  And certainly I cannot remember so many big-time pitchers relocating mid-season as well.

Lets look at the playoff contender rotations as they stand right now, with Trade deadline acquisitions highlighted in blue.

NL

  • Washington: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmerman, Fister, Roark
  • Atlanta:  Teheran, Minor, Santana, Harang, Wood
  • Milwaukee: Lohse, Garza, Gallardo, Peralta, Nelson
  • Cincinnati: Cueto, Latos, Bailey, Leake, Simon
  • St. Louis: Wainwright, Masterson, Lackey, Lynn, Miller
  • Pittsburgh: Liriano, Morton, Locke, Volquez, Worley
  • Los Angeles: Kershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Beckett, Haren
  • San Francisco: Bumgarner, Hudson, Lincecum, Vogelsong, Peavy

St. Louis clearly did the most in the NL, acquiring two mid-rotation guys to help cover for the injured Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia, but it is hard to look at their rotation and say they’d have the advantage over some of their potential playoff rivals.  San Francisco lost its ace (thought he hasn’t pitched like an Ace since signing his new deal) Matt Cain, and his replacement was not inspiring confidence (Yusmiero Petit), so they added former Cy Young winner Peavy (who is pitching better than his 1-11 W/L record .. but not a lot better).  Otherwise the NL playoff contenders mostly stood pat.  There was some small surprise that the free-spending Dodgers wouldn’t try to improve upon the suddenly underperforming Josh Beckett and/or the “fool-me-once” Dan Haren.  They’ll struggle to get through the #3 and #4 starts of their planned playoff rotation to get back to their co-aces Kershaw and Greinke (who was good but not shut-down in last year’s playoffs).  The home-town Nats may find themselves with an uncomfortable decision to make if they make the playoffs; which starter to send to the pen?  Roark is the least renound and the least tenured … but he has clearly been more effective than other rotation members.

It continues to amaze that the Braves are competing, given the losses they’ve faced in their rotation.  They are missing (arguably) their planned #2, #3 and #5 starters in Kris MedlenBrandon Beachy and Gavin Floyd but are getting by thanks to two mid-spring acquisitions (Santana and Harang) and the surprise performances of youngsters Wood and David Hale (who didn’t merit his demotion to the bullpen).

AL

  • Baltimore: Tillman, Norris, Chen, Gonzalez, Gausman
  • Toronto: Buehrle, Dickey, Happ, Strohman, Hutchinson
  • New York: Kuroda, Phelps, Capuano, Greene, McCarthy
  • Detroit: Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, Price, Porcello
  • Kansas City: Shields, Duffy, Ventura, Guthrie, Vargas
  • Oakland: Grey, Samardzija, Lester, Hammel, Kazmir
  • Los Angeles: Weaver, Wilson, Richards, Shoemaker, Santiago
  • Seattle: Hernandez, Iwakuma, Paxton, Elias, Young

I didn’t include fringe playoff contenders such as Cleveland or Tampa Bay here; both of those rotations were purged and weakened, and their odds of catching one of these listed WC contendors is long.  Oakland completely re-made their rotation here, attempting to keep up with Detroit, who now features the last three AL Cy Young winners to go along with Sanchez (who finished 4th last year in a season where he led the league in both ERA and FIP).  That’s quite a lineup.  Meanwhile Seattle likely finishes 10 games back of the Angels and could end up facing them in the coin-flip wild-card game … and could end up throwing the best pitcher in the AL at them (which has been noted as a significant down-side to the 2nd wild-card matchup; who wants to see a team lose out to a divisional rival that they bested by so many games in a play-in game?).

New York is the “Atlanta” of the AL this year; they currently have four planned rotation members on the D/L and (likely) out for the year (CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka).   Their 4th and 5th starters were a 14th and 15th round pick respectively.  They’ve been outscored by nearly 30 runs on the year yet somehow have a winning record.  It seems like just a matter of time before their luck runs out and they settle back below .500.

Who would you rather go to war with, Detroit or Oakland’s rotation?   Probably Detroit’s rotation, given its depth one to four.  But the ALCS could be one heck of a series.

 

 

What’s eating Stephen Strasburg? Some stats and some thoughts

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Strasburg's  having a weird season. Photo unk via thewifehatessports.com

Strasburg’s having a weird season. Photo unk via thewifehatessports.com

Knee-jerk question: who is the best starter on the Washington Nationals?  Who do you call the team’s “Ace?”

For years its been Stephen Strasburg, even when Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann were getting Cy Young votes (Gio 3rd place in 2012 and Jordan 7th place in 2013).  Its been Strasburg even when Zimmermann makes two consecutive all-star teams and the team acquires Doug Fister, who is 13th in the majors in accumulated fWAR over the past four seasons.  Its still Strasburg despite the fact that #5 starter (and someone who people in this space argued rather vociferously for “stashing” in AAA this year in lieu of other pitchers) Tanner Roark leads the team in victories right now.

(all stats on baseball-reference.com and/or fangraphs.com as of 7/31/14).

But this year, something is amiss with Strasburg.  He’s having a complete jeckyl-and-hyde season in many ways.  To wit;

  • He leads the starters in FIP and xFIP,  (indeed; among qualified starters right now in MLB, he’s 11th in FIP and 4th in xFIP, training just leading Cy Young favorites Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez and Masahiro Tanaka).
  • He leads the Nats starters in fWAR.
  • He leads the NL in strikeouts with 10 more than his closest competitor Johnny Cueto.

I dunno.  If someone told me that a starting pitcher was leading the league in Ks, was 4th in xFIP, 11th in FIP and was 6th in velocity i’d say you had a pretty darn good pitcher.  But he’s been arguably the Nats *least* effective starter this year all in all.

Yet he’s just 7-9 on the season with a 3.55 ERA (one 1/100th of a point better than Zimmermann for last on the Nats rotation).   He has the worst WHIP of any of our starters at 1.240.  The team is just 11-12 in his starts.

So what the heck is going on?  Here’s some interesting statistical splits:

  • Compared to last year, his K/9 is up, his BB/9 is down.  That sounds good.  But his ground ball percentage is down and his line drive percentage is up.  Batters are putting better wood on the ball.  Which leads to…
  • His current BABIP against is an astoundingly high .345.  That’s the third highest BABIP of any qualified starter this year and a good 50 points higher than the league average.
  • Why are hitters getting such good wood on him?  Here’s a hint: for reasons unknown, batters are squaring up his fastballs like never before.  Checking his Pitch F/X data: he’s got a batting average against (BAA) of .294 on his four-seam fastball and an astounding .350 against his two-seam fastball.  Both of those figures are 50 points higher than the comparable BAA for those two pitches from 2013.
  • His velocity is down.  Which is kind of like saying that a model has gained a few pounds, but still.   Last years’ avg MPH on his two fastballs were 95.2 and 95.3.  This year?  94.5 and 94.6.  That’s just 7/10ths of a mph, and even with his loss of velocity he’s still easily in the top 10 in the league in average fastball velocity (6th in four seam velocity among starters), but its still declining.  In his 5 pro seasons his 4-seam average fastball velocity has gone from 97.6 to 96.0 to 95.8 to 95.2 to his current 94.5.

It sounds to me like a combination of slightly declined fastball velocity and some bad luck has led to hitters squaring up his fastballs more this year, resulting in more line drives, higher BABIP and more runs.  That more or less explains the huge delta between his ERA and his FIP.  But why?  Pitch F/X isn’t showing much of a change in fastball movement from last year to this year, so it is hard to argue that he’s lost movement on his fastball.  Could it all just be about location?

A couple more split-related observations (some of these we’ve seen during broadcasts):

  • Home ERA: 2.62.  Away ERA: 4.68.  Yeah, but lots of pitchers have big home/away splits.
  • First Inning ERA: 5.09!  Second Inning ERA: 4.30.  He’s getting hit early and often.
  • He’s improving as the game goes on; his stats against the order the second time through are significantly better than the first time through, something you don’t normally see.

If he’s so bad in the first inning, is he just having difficulties getting loose and finding his spots?  Is he falling behind and grooving fastballs and getting more line drive hits?  Why is he so significantly worse on the road?

On the bright side, the combination of an inflated BABIP and a huge delta between xFIP/FIP and his ERA does tend to indicate that there should be some regression back to the mean.  Maybe we’ll start seeing a bunch more of 7ip, 4hit, 2walk, 10K outings and he’ll break off a slew of dominant starts to help the Nats pull away in the division, just in time to lead the charge with a  home-field start in game 1 of the playoffs.

Thoughts?  Are you worried?  What else do you think is causing his troubles this year?