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Nats 40-man Option status for 2015

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Moore's lack of options puts him in a tough spot for 2015.  Photo unknown via insidenova.com

Moore’s lack of options puts him in a tough spot for 2015. Photo unknown via insidenova.com

A while back, I postulated that the Nats were going to have a “roster crunch” this coming off-season thanks to the litany of new-adds and 60-day DL shuffling.

Now that the rosters have been reset, as of this moment the team has 39 spots of 40 filled.  The FAs are officially cut loose and the 60-day D/L guys have been put back.  The only move of note has been the outrighting of Ross Ohlendorf, who elected free agency.

So, if we’re at 39/40 right now, do we have a roster crunch coming?  Yeah I think we do; a quick look at the Draft Tracker shows quite a few names that we likely have to add this fall in order to keep them away from the Rule 5 draft.  Without doing a huge analysis, college players drafted in 2011 and high schoolers drafted in 2010 will be draftable, and we have more than a few names we might be thinking about keeping (quick high-visibility list includes Brian Goodwin, Matt Skole, and A.J. Cole, along with the likes of Matt Grace and Destin Hood, who faces MLFA this off-season).

So, where’s the space going to come from?  Well, read on.  Lets talk about options.  Here’s a quick run down of the entire 40-man roster right now and their option status:

First, Veterans with more than 5 years experience.  This list swelled significantly for the Nats in 2014, though frankly almost none of these players were really going to be affected.  None of these players can be optioned without their permission at this point.

Player Service Time post 2014 First Added to 40-man Option Years Used Options left?
Zimmerman, Ryan 9.032 Sep 2005 none 3
Werth, Jayson 11.102 Nov 2002 2003, 2004, 2005 0
Span, Denard 6.111 Nov 2006 2007, 2008 1
McLouth, Nate 8.152 Jun 2005 2005, 2010 1
Gonzalez, Gio 5.162 Aug 2008 2009 2
Zimmermann, Jordan 5.154 Apr 2009 2010 2
Desmond, Ian 5.027 Nov 2008 2009 2
Fister, Doug 5.058 Aug 2009 3
Clippard, Tyler 5.148 May 2007 2007, 2008, 2009 0
Thornton, Matt 10.129 Jun 2004 2004 2
Detwiler, Ross 5.002 Sept 2007 2008, 2009, 2011 0
Blevins, Jerry 5.081 Sept 2007 2008, 2009, 2011 0
Frandsen, Kevin 5.151 Apr 2006 2006,2009,2010 0

Most of these guys are entrenched starters who never would have been optioned anyway.  Those that are not in that category (Detwiler, Blevins, Frandsen) were out of options anyway, so they aren’t candidates to stash in AAA next year regardless.  All three are 3rd year arbitration eligible and bit players; for my money I’d not be surprised to see at least one (Detwiler) or more non-tendered at the tender deadline.

This next category I call “Options Avail but are MLB entrenched.”

Player Service Time post 2014 First Added to 40-man Option Years Used Options left?
Strasburg, Stephen 4.118 Aug 2009 2010 2
Storen, Drew 4.140 May 2010 3
Rendon, Anthony 1.130 Aug 2011 2012, 2013 1
Harper, Bryce 2.159 Aug 2010 2011, 2012 1
Ramos, Wilson 4.047 Nov 2008 2009, 2010 1
Stammen, Craig 4.160 May 2009 2009, 2011 1
Roark, Tanner 1.070 Aug 2013 3

As with the likes of Storen a couple years back, these guys could get optioned back to AAA without much to say about it, but the odds seem unlikely.  Maybe someone like Roark could lose out on a rotation spot and head to AAA as a spare part, but that seems incredibly unlikely after his 2014.

This next category I call “Options Available, jeopardizing 25-man roster status.”

Player Service Time post 2014 First Added to 40-man Option Years Used Options left?
Espinosa, Danny 3.113 Sep 2010 2013 2
Souza, Steve 0.089 Oct 2013 2014 2

The way things are playing out, I’d have a hard time seeing Espinosa optioned back.  I think he’ll be on the 25-man roster one way or the other, as the 2B starter or as the middle infielder backup who can cover 2b or SS.  Souza represents a more interesting case; If 2015 started tomorrow I’d have him as the last guy off the bench with Taylor in AAA, by virtue of his power in a pinch-hitting role and his flexibility to play all the outfield positions.  We’ll see.

This next category I call “Options almost guaranteed to be used in 2015.”

Player Service Time post 2014 First Added to 40-man Option Years Used Options left?
Barrett, Aaron 0.142 Nov 2013 2014 2
Davis, Erik 1.045 Nov 2012 2013 2
Hill, Taylor 0.007 June 2014 2014 2
Jordan, Taylor 1.005 June 2013 2014 2
Kobernus, Jeff 1.000 May 2013 2013,2014 1
Rivero, Felipe 0.000 Nov 2012 2013,2014 1
Solis, Sammy 0.000 Nov 2013 2014 2
Taylor, Michael 0.024 Nov 2013 2014 2
Treinen, Blake 0.069 Apr 2014 2014 2
Purke, Matt 0.000 Aug 2011 2012, 2013,2014 1*

All these guys are likely to start the year in AAA.  Or lower; Purke will get a 4th option thanks to his MLB deal and his lack of overall professional experience (the rules are sketchy, but basically if you have less than 5 years of pro experience and get optioned 3 times, you get a fourth).  A better question for this team may well be what to do with Purke after next season; he’s yet to get out of A-ball; unless he makes a meteoric rise in 2015 he’s likely through with the team.

The exception here of course is Barrett.  He made the bullpen last year out of spring training but bounced around.  You can absolutely make the argument that he’ll do the same again in 2015 (my own 25-man projections have him in the majors to start as well).  But something tells me he may do more bouncing around.  Will his performance in the NLDS affect him going forward?  Will he have a short memory?  He probably belongs in the previous category (“options jeopardizing his 25-man spot.”)

Now, to the “meat” of the post.  Here’s our 40-man roster residents who have no more options left:

Player Service Time post 2014 First Added to 40-man Option Years Used Options left?
Lobaton, Jose 3.138 Nov 2008 2010,2011, unk 3rd 0
Mattheus, Ryan 2.149 Nov 2008 2009, 2010, 2014 0
Florimon, Pedro Jr. 1.126 Nov 2009 2010,2011,2014 0
Cedeno, Xavier 1.061 Sept 2011 2012, 2013,2014 0
Moore, Tyler 2.020 Nov 2011 2012, 2013,2014 0
Leon, Sandy 1.050 May 2012 2012, 2013,2014 0
Solano, Jhonatan 1.027 Nov 2011 2012, 2013,2014 0

Wow, that’s a lot of guys facing an option crunch.  Lets go player by player:

  • Lobaton seems certain to make next year’s roster as the backup catcher.  No worries here.  (A note: I cannot figure out when his third option was burned; his transaction log is a complete mess.  But mlbtraderumors.com said at one point he was out of options, so i’m going with them).
  • The other two catchers on the 40-man roster (Leon and Solano) seem like they’re dead ducks; they’ve had more than a few opportunities to make an impact in the majors and failed, hence the acquisition of Lobaton in the first place.  Other teams aren’t dummies either; they’re not going to give the Nats much in trade for these guys, knowing they’re both long shots to make 25-man rosters out of spring.  Do the Nats try to sneak them off the 40-man at some point in the fall?  Do they get picked up by someone else if that happens?  Probably; some other team probably would love to have a backup catcher competition with the loser getting DFA’d on March 31st anyway; no big loss.  So what do you do?  I guess you try to package them in trade starting now … or not.  Maybe you keep them both around as bullpen catchers in the spring and DFA them before camp breaks.  Seems harsh but you likely want them around in case Lobaton or Ramos gets hurt in Viera.
  • Mattheus seems like the “first in line for a DFA” at this point.  Awful AAA stats, out of options, wrong side of 30.  Its the harsh tale of middle relievers; he’s not been the same since breaking his hand in a fit of idiocy, punching a wall.
  • We know very little about Florimon, but the team claimed him knowing full well his option status.  Makes me wonder if he’s simply backup middle infielder competition material; make the team or get DFA’d.   Or not; do you break camp in 2015 with a bench like Lobaton, Frandsen, Florimon, McLouth and Souza?  I don’t think Florimon is a starter; his numbers make Espinosa’s look Ruthian.
  • Cedeno has nothing more to prove in AAA; his numbers there were great in 2013 and 2014.  But he’s apparently not as good as Blevins as a one-out lefty.  As with the catchers, i’m guessing he hangs around for spring training in case someone gets hurt, and is designated 3/31.
  • Lastly we come to Tyler Moore.  I think his time with the team is coming to an end.  He’s struggled at the plate two years in a row as a backup player; he’s not going to get starting time for this team.  And if you need a right-handed bat off the bench at this point, wouldn’t you prefer Souza, who clearly has the same kind of power AND can play multiple positions (including center)?   Yes I know Moore is hitting well in winter ball; I hate to sound cynical, but Yunesky Maya was once the MVP of the Dominican Winter League.  We’ve heard rumblings about how Houston may have liked Moore in trade, but that was before they canned former Nats 3rd base coach Bo Porter.

So, if the team needs to shed some space off its roster without consummating a trade … look no further than this last group for the first guys likely to go.  I’d say Mattheus is first to go, followed by Moore and Cedeno.  But these 7 of the current 39 guys are likely to be off this roster by the time opening day rolls around next year.

The end of 2015 spring training could get bloody.  Actually, the end of November just ahead of the Rule 5 draft seems likely to get pretty ugly too.

 

Nats Payroll projections for 2015

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Jayson Werth remains the Nats highest paid player ... but for how long?  Photo via fansided.com

Jayson Werth remains the Nats highest paid player … but for how long? Photo via fansided.com

As we start to debate what the team may do this coming off-season, it is worth discussing the projected payroll for 2015 and the impact it may have on the moves this team makes.

A couple of salient points to start with:

  • The Nats opening day 2014 payroll was somewhere in the $135M range (depending on your source; USA Today had opening day payroll at $133M, Cots had it at $136M).
  • Owner Ted Lerner was quoted in April that “payroll was beyond topped out.”  Which probably can explain some of the cost-savings moves the team made later in the year (acquiring Asdrubal Cabrera and getting the Indians to kick in his salary).
  • The MASN debacle is still not sorted out, meaning the Nats are still operating on a smaller budget than they should be, and the Nats are likely holding down payroll to a certain operating level until they know exactly how much money they can expect out of the deal going forward.

So, based on the above three facts, I’m working under the assumption that the Nats 2015 payroll isn’t going to change much.  The Lerners may be the league’s richest owners, but they’re not running the Nats as a money loser.

Which will make the following analysis kind of scary, honestly, because I’ve got the 2015 Nats payroll projecting at close to $150M.  I’ve posted my work here (a Google xls, also available as a “link” along the right hand column of the blog), so you can see if I made some egregious errors in calculation.  Let’s play along by section to see how I arrived at this number and what I think it means for this off-season.  This accounts for all 39 guys currently on the 40-man roster:

Under Contract for 2015 – 10
Werth, Jayson 7 yr/$126M (11-17) $21,571,000
Zimmerman, Ryan 6 yr/$100M (14-19)+20 opt $14,000,000
Gonzalez, Gio 5yr/$42M (12-16)+17,18 options $11,100,000
Zimmermann, Jordan 2yr/$24M (14-15) 7.5 and 16.5 $16,500,000
Desmond, Ian 2yr/$17.5M (14-15), 6.5 and 11 $11,000,000
Span, Denard 5 years/$16.5M (10-14), $9M club opt 15 $9,000,000
McClouth, Nate 2yr/$10.75M (14-15) with opt $5,000,000
Rendon, Anthony 4yr/$7.2M ($6M bonus)  (11-14)+15 opt $1,800,000
Harper, Bryce 5 yr/$9.9M (11-15) $2,250,000
Thornton, Matt 2yr/$7M (14-15) $3,500,000

Total Payroll for Players under Contract for 2015: $95,721,000

$95M already, and we’re only to 10 players of the 40-man roster.  So much for all that savings we were getting by declining Soriano and LaRoche’s options.  By the way, I am assuming that the team exercises Denard Span‘s $9M option, but not Soriano or LaRoche’s (Update: after I wrote this but before I published, the Nats indeed exercised Span and declined the others).

Arbitration Eligible Players for 2015 – 11 my arb estimate
Fister, Doug 1yr, $7.2M (14) (arb2) $11,000,000
Clippard, Tyler 1yr, $5.85M (14) (arb3) $7,500,000
Strasburg, Stephen 1yr/3.975M (14) (arb1) $6,500,000
Storen, Drew 1yr/$3.45M (14) (arb2) $5,000,000
Detwiler, Ross 1yr, $3M (14) (arb2)
Ramos, Wilson 1yr/$2.095M with $105k incentives (14) arb1 $4,000,000
Blevins, Jerry 1 yr/$1.6M (14) (arb2) $2,000,000
Stammen, Craig 2yr, $2.25M (13-14) $2,000,000
Lobaton, Jose 1yr/$950k (14) arb1 $1,500,000
Frandsen, Kevin 1yr/$900k (14) arb2 $1,250,000
Espinosa, Danny 1yr/mlb min (14) $1,000,000

Total Estimate for all 2015 Arbitration Raises: $41,750,000

The team has 11 players eligible for Arbitration this year.  I’m assuming the team tenders 10 of them, which may be a bad assumption.  Would you tender Ross Detwiler and pay him $3M (or close to it) again?  Would you tender Jerry Blevins?  How about Kevin Frandsen?  Do you think Fister gets $11M after the season he had?

Either way, even if some of guys aren’t tendered, it barely moves the needle here thanks to the expected paydays for the top guys.

Pre Arbitration MLB players – 18
Purke, Matthew 4yr/$4.15M (2.75M bonus) (11-14) with 2 opts $1,037,500
Roark, Tanner 1yr $506k (14) $550,000
Florimon, Pedro Jr 1yr $517.5k (14) $520,000
Jordan, Taylor 1yr $504k (14) $515,000
Davis, Erik 1yr Minor League deal (14) $505,000
Barrett, Aaron 1yr Minor League deal (14) $500,000
Cedeno, Xavier 1yr Minor League deal (14) $510,000
Kobernus, Jeff 1yr Minor League deal (14) $505,000
Leon, Sandy 1yr Minor League deal (14) $505,000
Mattheus, Ryan 1yr/$520k (14) $525,000
Moore, Tyler 1yr/mlb min (14) $510,000
Rivero, Felipe 1yr Minor League deal (14) $500,000
Solano, Jhonatan 1yr Minor League deal (14) $500,000
Solis, Sammy 1yr Minor League deal (14) $500,000
Souza, Steve 1yr Minor League deal (14) $510,000
Taylor, Michael 1yr Minor League deal (14) $505,000
Treinen, Blake 1yr Minor League deal (14) $515,000
Hill, Taylor 1yr Minor League deal (14) $500,000

Total Estimate for all 2015 pre-Arb 40-man players: $9,712,500

I’m guessing on Purke‘s deal frankly.  And i’ve put in some nominal raises for the likes of Roark who did so well this year; he may get more than just a $50k raise.  A few of these players may be DFA’d or released (wait for the post on options status to see just how many of these players are in jeopardy of a late March DFA).  But we’re not talking about a ton of payroll difference if we cut a guy making a split deal worth $500,000.

 


Total Payroll estimate for 2015: $95,721,000 + $41,750,000 + $9,712,500 = $149,183,500.

That’s $149M … way above the number this team sat at on 4/1/14 (which Lerner said was “maxed out”), and that’s before we count LaRoche’s $2M buy-out (not sure if that technically goes against 2014′s or 2015′s payroll).

Oh, and that’s before the team even thinks about any free agents to fill holes.

Maybe i’m a bit too generous with arbitration raises (Clippard from $5.85M to $7M?)  But those estimates aren’t that far out of line with what will happen and combined won’t change the $149M more than a couple million one way or the other.

So, what’s going to happen?  Does this team go into the off-season thinking about shedding payroll through trades?  Food for thought.  We’ve talked in previous posts about flipping the likes of Jordan Zimmermann ($16.5M), Span ($9M), Clippard ($7M estimate) or even Drew Storen ($5M estimate) … maybe the team is thinking of flipping them to save cash and to acquire future pieces.

Thoughts?

NLDS Post Mortem

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Not Aaron Barrett's finest moment. Photo via lockerdome.com

Not Aaron Barrett’s finest moment. Photo via lockerdome.com

So, if you told me that the Nats would lose the deciding NLDS game because Matt Williams chose to work the 7th inning with Matt Thornton, Aaron Barrett and then Rafael Soriano as the savior, I would have asked you, “was everyone else in the bullpen dead?”

Instead of going to war in a tie game with any of his three longest serving and most effective relievers (i.e., Craig Stammen, Tyler Clippard or Drew Storen) he went with a waiver claim, a rookie, and a deposed starter with an ERA after the all-star break north of 6.00.

I get bringing in Thornton to go against the first two lefties in the 7th; why the hell do you leave him in to face the Giant’s best hitter in Buster Posey?

When Posey inevitably singles to put guys on first and second with one out … clearly the key point in the game and the post-season … why do you bring in a frigging rookie instead of your #1 shut-down, high leverage reliever (Clippard)?

Was anyone really shocked when Barrett walked the next guy to load the bases?  Was anyone then subsequently surprised when he overgripped, overcome by the moment and bounced a mid 90s fastball to the fence?   Wilson Ramos looked like an amateur trying to “block” that pitch, stabbing at it backhanded like someone who’s never caught before, but whatever.  The damage had already been done.  If it wasn’t a wild pitch, it would have been a deep ground out, or a sac fly; the run expectancy of bases loaded with one out is more than 1.5.  I won’t even go into the little league IBB wild pitch; the poor guy was clearly still thinking about the run he just gave up and the weight of the team’s season was on his shoulders.

For the record, you’re not going to win a ton of games where you get just four hits.  Gio Gonzalez once again proved he wasn’t up to the task, and the Nats were lucky to get out of the 5th without giving up a run (also a bases-loaded, one-out jam that Tanner Roark mostly created on his own but also mostly got out of thanks to a ballsy 2-0 changeup to Pablo Sandoval).

No, the story of this game and this series can be summarized with the following list of lines for the 4-game series:

  • Leadoff hitter Denard Span: 2 for 19 with one walk.
  • #3 hitter Jayson Werth: 1 for 17
  • #4 hitter Adam LaRoche: 1 for 18
  • #5 hitter Ian Desmond: 3 for 18.

All of those hits?  Singles.  No power, no driving the ball from the heart of the order.  Basically, the top half of the Nats lineup played four games of automatic outs.  Hard to win like that.  The bottom half of the lineup wasn’t much better: Cabrera was just 3 for 15 though with two clutch hits and Ramos was just 2 for 17 in the series and was a guaranteed weak ground-ball to shortstop every time.

You’re not going to win games when your 3-4-5  hitters get 5 combined hits in four games, none for extra bases and none driving in any runs.  Did you know that Anthony Rendon was 9-17 with a walk and scored ZERO runs in the series?  He was on base TEN times in four games and never scored.  That’s a huge indictment of the middle of the Nats order.

The only hitters who showed up in this series were the two youngest regulars on the field; Rendon and Harper.  With three homers and a double in four games (driving in four of the 9 total runs the team scored), Harper showed once again why it was folly that he was batting 6th.  He drove in exactly four runs; had he been batting with Rendon on all the time, he may have batted in double that and we’re talking about a different series.

Its a bummer; the Nats offense picked a really crummy time to shut down, to make Ryan Vogelsong look like a staff ace.  And they’re out in the divisional round for the 2nd time in three years despite being the #1 seed.  Tim Hudson: you have your answer.

Would you have pulled Zimmermann?

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This picture is 2 years old; replace it with a red jersey and you would have thought it was last night.  Photo Andrew Harnik/washingtontimes.com

This picture is 2 years old; replace it with a red jersey and you would have thought it was last night. Photo Andrew Harnik/washingtontimes.com

On his 100th pitch of what I certainly thought was going to be a 3-hit shutout masterpiece to resurrect this playoff series for the Nats, Jordan Zimmermann missed on a fastball up to Giants #2 hitter Joe Panik, issuing his first walk and just the fourth base-runner of the night.

I was not entirely shocked to see Matt Williams trot to the mound, but I also wasn’t happy.  As my wife can attest, I uttered the following phrase: “I think he’s going to regret taking him out.”

Sure enough.  Another Drew Storen meltdown, another blown 9th inning lead that led to the team snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

To be fair; this isn’t entirely about second guessing.  You can quite easily make the argument to put in Storen as thus: Storen has been lights out for the entire year.  The Giant’s most dangerous hitter (Buster Posey) was coming to the plate.  You would rather have Posey going at a fresh Storen than getting his 4th look at Zimmermann (most starters’ third time through the lineup averages inflate wildly, to say nothing of their 4th).  It was righty-versus-righty.

Well, sometimes you can over-think things.  Certainly Tom Boswell feels that way, based on his column this morning.

On the other hand, if the following scenarios had played out, I’m not sure anyone would have argued against the strategy.

  1. After giving up the walk, Williams walks out to talk to Zimmermann, he stays in and gives up the Posey single, *then* Storen comes in and gives up the run-scoring double to Pablo Sandoval.  You’ve yanked the starter after putting two guys on, and you’ve gone to your closer in the highest-leverage situation of his career and he got unlucky.  That’s still harsh on Storen, but more understandable.
  2. After giving up the walk, Williams leaves Zimmermann in like a total old-school manager and watches him subsequently give up the single and then the double, all while his closer warms up in the bullpen.  That would have led to the reverse second-guessing; why leave him in when you’ve got your closer ready to go?

Major league manager; sometimes you just can’t win.  Williams had a quick hook last night.  Don Mattingly had an excruciatingly slow hook two nights ago, letting his ace Clayton Kershaw give up *SIX* hits in the 7th inning of the Dodgers-Cardinals series before relieving him, and then watched his reliever give up a 3-run homer to turn a 6-2 lead into a 7-6 deficit.  That’s “lose your job” kind of decision making (if the Dodger’s don’t get out of the NLDS).

You guys know what I follow and am most interested in; starting pitching.  So you probably know what I would have done; stick with my starter.  But sometimes it isn’t that simple.  So I’m not going to kill Williams for last night.  I do think Storen’s future with this team is in serious doubt; would you throw him again this post-season?  Would you trust him going forward?  Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice …. and I see Storen in a new uniform next year.

I spent 6+ hours watching that baseball game (practically the first time all summer I have watched a game from start to end).  The longer I watched, that more and more looked like it was going to be the inevitable disappointment, as Yusmiero Petit looked like the second coming of Roger Clemens and the Nats hitters looked like a AAA team at the plate for much of the night.  A deflating end to a long night.  Tanner Roark gave up the game-winning homer on a mistake (he missed over the plate while trying to hit the outside corner and Brandon Belt destroyed it), but the offense had more than their share of walk-off opportunities.

The Nats have a long road ahead; they match up with the Giant’s Ace next, have to win 2 straight on the road just to get it back to a 5th game.  Lets see if they have what Tim Hudson implied they may not have: I can’t say it here in a PG blog but it rhymes with “Walls.”  :-)

DC-IBWAA 2014 Poll results and my vote

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Each year, David Nichols of the District Sports Page blog does a great job getting all the Nats bloggers to participate in pre-season and post-season polls, voting on awards for the team for the year.

For 2014, here’s his post-season awards as voted on by us nerd bloggers.  2013′s post-season poll results and my post here.

Here’s how I voted and why.

2014 DC-Internet Baseball Writers Association

POST-SEASON ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS BALLOT

 

 AWARD FIRST (5 POINTS) SECOND (3 points) THIRD (1 point)
Goose Goslin Most Valuable Player
Player most valuable to the success of the Washington Nationals
Rendon Werth LaRoche
Walter Johnson Starting Pitcher of the Year
Excellent performance as a starting pitcher
Zimmermann Fister Roark
Frederick “Firpo” Marberry Relief Pitcher of the Year
Excellent performance as a relief pitcher
Storen Clippard Soriano
Sam Rice Hitter of the Year
Excellence in all-around hitting, situational hitting and baserunning
Rendon Span Werth
Frank Howard Slugger of the Year
Excellence in power hitting
LaRoche Desmond Rendon
Joe Judge Defensive Player of the Year
Excellence in fielding
Rendon Harper Span
Mickey Vernon Comeback Player of the Year
Player who overcame biggest obstacle in the preceding season to contribute on the field
Storen Roark Barrett
Josh Gibson Humanitarian Player of the YearPlayer who meritoriously gave of himself to the community Zimmerman Desmond Ramos
Minor League Player of the Year Minor league player most destined for big league success Souza Taylor Giolito

Award by Award:

  • Team MVP: Have to go with Rendon; easily leads the team in WAR (by a nearly 3-win margin in bWAR over Werth/Span in second place).   Werth continues to steadily hold on to his skills and contribute well into his mid 30s, while LaRoche put up a great contract year performance.
  • Starter of the Year: No argument here: Zimmermann was the best starter on the year.  Fister‘s advanced stats don’t like him (his FIP is above 4.00) but he gets results.  And Roark remains the best “found gold” the Nats have had in terms of prospect matriculation since the likes of Brad Peacock.
  • Reliever of the Year: Storen‘s great bounce back  year has to put him in the lead, followed closely behind by Clippard.  Still think the Soriano acquisition was worth it?  I have him 3rd here just by virtue of his first half … and because the rest of the relievers were either long guys (Stammen, Detwiler), matchup loogies (Blevins, Thornton) or guys who spent more time in AAA than the majors (Barrett, Treinen).
  • Hitter of the Year: Rendon, Werth obvious top 3 guys, but I like what Span‘s done this year in terms of jacking his average up.  Another classic contract year performance.
  • Slugger of the year: I just went with the team leaders in homers 1-2-3.  You would have thought that Harper would be here by now.
  • Defender of the year: looking at the various advanced stats, I ended up with Rendon for his excellent work at 2B and 3B, then Harper (an excellent UZR/150 in left on the year).  Span has a negative UZR/150 in center on the year, but passes the eye test.  I’ll be curious to see how he ends up looking in the other defensive metrics.  So he gets 3rd place essentially because there’s not another regular who has a positive UZR/150 on the team.
  • Comeback player: Storen makes the most sense … his comeback has been two years in the making.  Roark isn’t really a comeback guy as much as he’s a “making the most of his chances guy.”  Neither is Barrett honestly; but there’s not a good example of someone who was hurt or really came out of nowhere to make this team better.
  • Humanitarian: Honestly I only know of two guys on the Nats who actively do humanitarian/charity stuff and that’s Zimmerman and Desmond.
  • Minor League Player of the Year.  As discussed in the comments of another post recently, for me “Minor League Player of the Year” is a completely different list than the subtitle offered of “Minor league player most destined for big league success.”  POTY for me this year went Souza, Taylor and Giolito, while the top 3 prospects in our system probably are Giolito, Cole and Taylor.

Additional Questions

1) Of the players on the current active roster (or DL), which players do you think will not be part of the organization next season?

Pitchers: Blevins, Mattheus, Ohlendorf, Soriano, Detwiler

Out-field players: Solano, Cabrera, LaRoche, Frandsen, Span, Hairston, Schierholz

I’m guessing the team declines Soriano’s option, non-tenders Ohlendorf, Mattheus and Detwiler, and DFAs Blevins after his poor season.

Of the positional players, the team won’t exercise its options on LaRoche or Span, will have to end up DFA-ing Solano (and perhaps others; I havn’t done my options analysis yet) due to having no more options, and will let veteran FAs Frandsen, Hairston and Schierholz hit free agency.  I think Cabrera is going to command too much money for the team to realistically consider him.

2) Will Ian Desmond or Jordan Zimmermann sign a contract extension before they hit the free agent market?

No.  Both will go to FA.  Desmond to the Yankees to be the next Derek Jeter, Zimmermann to highest bidder.

3) Who was the biggest pleasant surprise on this year’s team?

Rendon’s advancement and central role on the team.

4) Who was the biggest disappointment?

Zimmerman’s continued inability to stay healthy.  A close second is Harper’s injury riddled season and struggles.

5) Who is your favorite professional Nats writer?

Mark Zuckerman #1.  After him, i’ll go with Adam Kilgore 2nd and Byron Kerr third.

6) Which is your favorite non-professional Nats blog or writer?

Luke Erickson; sorry to see him take a step back.  My #2 probably is NatsGM Ryan Sullivan, #3 Luigi de Guzman of Natsradamus (when he infrequently posts).

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

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?