Nationals Arm Race

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

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State of the Nats at the halfway point

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Harper's run production in the middle of the order should spark this team now that he's back.  Photo via fansided.com

Harper’s run production in the middle of the order should spark this team now that he’s back. Photo via fansided.com

When Bryce Harper was reinstated from the D/L on 6/30/14, an interesting situation occurred:  The Nationals were at full strength for the first time, all year.

That’s right.  With Doug Fister starting the season on the D/L, even those who think that the team was at “full strength” for the first 7 innings of the first game (that’s how long it took before a Nationals offensive starter got hurt) aren’t quite right.  This team has been hampered and has been covering for injuries to its best available squad since the first day of the season.  Here’s a review of the tale of the injury tape for the ideal 25-man roster of this team so far in 2014:

  • Doug Fister; strained shoulder 3/23/14, missed 34 games
  • Wilson Ramos: broken hand on 4/1/14, missed 32 games
  • Scott Hairston; oblique strain on 4/6/14, missed 26 games
  • Denard Span, concussion on 4/12/14, missed 7 games
  • Ryan Zimmerman, broken thumb on 4/13/14, missed 44 games
  • Bryce Harper: torn thumb tendon on 4/27/14, missed 56 games
  • Adam LaRoche: strained quad on 5/11/14, missed 14 games
  • Gio Gonzalez, shoulder strain on 5/18/14, missed 27 games
  • Ramos again, this time a hamstring strain on 6/11/14, missed 14 games

2/5ths of the rotation and 5/8ths of the starting offense have at one time or another been on the shelf so far this year.  More than 250 games lost.  Ironically the oldest player on the team (Jayson Werth) has been one if its healthiest (he’s only missed 4 games this year).  And (knock on wood) there hasn’t been a single bullpen injury, likely one of the main reasons the Nats bullpen is among the best in the game this year.

The Nats (at the time of this writing) sit 1/2 a game out of first behind nemesis Atlanta, but have several reasons to be optimistic about catching them:

  • The Nats have a +39 run differential right now, while the Braves have a zero run differential.  That means that the Nats should be 9 games above .500 (according to pythagorean records) while the Braves should be a .500 team.  The Nats have been unlucky while the Braves have been quite lucky.  You could expect these situations to reverse themselves over the rest of the season.
  • The Nats are just 2-7 in extra inning games and 9-13 in one-run games.  You’d normally expect both of these W/L records to be near .500 and is likely the real reason behind the above run differential issue.
  • Despite the heart of their batting order missing dozens and dozens of games, the offense is not doing half bad: the Nats as a team are 8th out of 15 in the NL in WRC+, 8th in runs scored, 8th in wOBA, 10th in batting average, and are 10th in homers despite Zimmerman having just THREE on the year.
  • While the Offense treads water, the Pitching has been fantastic.  Our starters are 5th in the NL in ERA, 1st in FIP, 2nd in xFIP, 2nd in SIERA.  The bullpen has been equally as good (a huge improvement over last year):  2nd in NL ERA, 1st in FIP, 6th in SIERA.
  • The starters lead the NL in FIP despite Stephen Strasburg‘s “struggles;” ironically despite his having a .500 record an a 3.70 ERA he has the best FIP of any Nats starter.   He’s just been victim of circumstance while he pitches.   Blake Treinen has been fantastic covering in the rotation, and the team has found an excellent 5th starter in Tanner Roark.  Games that were “thrown away” time and again last year by Dan Haren and a litany of poor-performing minor league call-ups have been handled with aplumb this year.

Where do we go from here?

The Nats schedule from here on out eases significantly; as of the time of this writing the last three months look like this:

  • July: 10 of 25 games against teams with winning records right now
  • August: 12 of 28 games against teams with winning records right now … and that includes teams that very well may have losing records by the time we get to them.
  • September: Just 9 of 27 games against teams with winning records right now, including the final 11 against Marlins and Mets teams likely to be playing out the string with 40-man call-ups from AAA and key young arms sitting due to inning limits.

For this Nats fan, its hard to see the same struggles we saw last year; I see a team finally getting their squad back together, having a solid July and perhaps a dominant closing to the season to fulfil its promise.  I like where this team stands right now (even with the tepid split in Chicago last weekend) and look forward to the next few months.

Pitcher Wins on the FA Market – 2014 edition with bWAR

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Kershaw's new $30M/year contract will be tough to live up to.  Photo via wiki.

Kershaw’s new $30M/year contract will be tough to live up to. Photo via wiki.

One of my pet projects of recent years has been to track “major” Starting Pitcher free agent contracts and then to do analysis of how they turned out, on a Dollar per Win basis.  This post is an updated version of this analysis to determine some of the “best” and “worst” free agent contracts ever awarded to starting pitchers.  It is updated for 2014 from last year’s version of the post by my putting in all the 2013 data for pitchers, plus putting in the significant 2014 FA contracts.  And, per requests I have added in bWAR and $/bWAR for analysis (though, as we’ll soon see, $/bWAR can be tricky to interpret for really poor performing pitchers).

The raw data spreadsheet is available in Google Docs at this link, or along the side of this blog window in the NAR Creation links section.  I havn’t cut and pasted any of the data here because the spreadsheet is too “wide” for the blog; I suggest opening it up in a separate tab while reading this post.

Data Taxonomy/caveats: For ease of analysis, I depend on the Average Annual Value (AAV) of the contracts as opposed to trying to figure out exactly how many wins were earned in which year of a varying contract amount.  Therefore (for example), Gio Gonzalez‘s contract may have only paid him $3.25M in 2012 but I’m using the full AAV of $8.4M for the purposes of the analysis (it would just be far too difficult to calculate each pitcher’s dollar per win on an annualized basis otherwise).  This analysis focuses heavily on dollars per pitcher Win, despite the known limitations of the win stat.  There is also dollars per Quality Start and now dollars per bWAR (baseball-reference’s version of WAR).

Here’s some interesting facts, that come out of this analysis (some of these points can also be seen at the amazing Cots Salary database, now at Baseball Prospectus, and are confirmed in my spreadsheet tracking the same):

Largest total Starting Pitcher Contracts ever signed

  • Clayton Kershaw‘s new 7yr/$214M deal signed this past off-season.
  • It beats out the previous record holder (Felix Hernandez‘s  7 year, $175M extension) by nearly $40M in total value.
  • CC Sabathia (7yrs/$161M in 2009) was the longer-time previous record holder before that.
  • Zack Greinke (6yr/$147M)  and Cole Hamel‘s 6yr/$144M contract deserve mention.
  • Masahiro Tanaka signed one of the biggest ever deals (7 year $155M) before he ever threw a MLB pitch.

Largest Single-Season AAV

  • Kershaw’s new deal finally beats out Roger Clemen‘s long standing single season record 1yr/$28M deal in 2007 as the largest AAV pitcher contract.  
  • Justin Verlander‘s new deal gives him an AAV of $28M, a 10% jump up from the $24-$25M/year threshold deals we saw a number of pitchers sign in the last couple of years.

What are some of the Worst Deals ever made?  Lets talk about some of these awful deals on a $ per win or $ per bWAR basis.  Most of these contracts are well known to baseball fans and are commonly thrown around when talking about the worst historical FA contracts, but they’re fun to revisit.  Thanks to the bWAR inclusion, a number of new/more recent contracts now pop up on this list.

  • Kei Igawa‘s 2007 deal with the Yankees, which was 5yrs/$20M but included a $26M posting fee, is generally speaking the worst $AAV per Win contract ever signed.  Igawa went 2-4 in 13 starts over the life of this 5 year deal, equating to $23M per win for his team.  He made exactly one quality start, meaning the Yankees paid $46M per QS.He spent the last two seasons of this contract buried in AAA.   For their $46M, the Yankees got a combined -0.6 bWAR out of Igawa.
  • Chris Carpenter signed a 2yr/$21M extension in St. Louis before the 2012 season that seemed like a good deal at the time; unfortunately for both sides Carpenter hurt his shoulder, only made 3 starts in 2012, went 0-2 and contributed a -2.3 bWAR in that time.  So his dollars per win is infinite and his $/bWAR is uncalculatable.  I still rank Igawa’s deal as worse though since it cost his team more than double the dollars, and since Carpenter’s troubles were injury related while Igawa’s was mostly due to performance.
  • Jason Schmidt‘s 3yr/$47M contract with the Dodgers.  Schmidt made 10 total starts and went 3-6, equating to $15.6M per win.  He totaled a -0.5 bWAR during this 3 year contract.
  • Oliver Perez made just 21 starts (and got 3 wins in the duration of his 3 year/$36M contract with the Mets.  He was released in March of 2011, the final year of the contract, causing the Mets to eat $12M in salary.  The Nats picked him up and carried him on their AA roster all year before dumping him as well; he’s now trying to remake himself as a loogy and is in Arizona’s bullpen.
  • Matt Harrison‘s current deal (so far) has been pretty expensive for the Rangers: for $11M in salary in 2013 they got just two starts and two bad losses before he hit the D/L and missed the remainder of the season.  He still hasn’t returned.  Odds are he recovers and has a chance to earn this contract, but you never know with shoulder injuries (though to be fair the injury that cost him 2013 was a ruptured disk in his back).
  • Tim Lincecum‘s recently completed 2yr/$40.5M contract was pretty ugly for San Francisco; he went 20-29, had just a 43% Quality Start percentage and contributed -2.3 bWAR over those two seasons for his $40M.
  • Barry Zito signed a 7yr/$126M deal.  In those 7 years he went 63-80 and contributed just 3.0 bWAR in the lifetime of the contract.  That’s $42M per win.  By way of comparison, Tanner Roark‘s 5 weeks of effort for the Nats last summer totaled 2.0 wins.
  • Mike Hampton‘s injury plagued/ill conceived 7yr/$121M contract resulted in two full missed seasons and just a grand total 3.0 bWAR of value.
  • Edwin Jackson and Dan Haren both managed to put up negative bWAR for their 2013 seasons (for which they were both being paid $13M a piece).  But those are just one-year deals; they aren’t the multi-year disasters that these other contracts can be.
  • Chan Ho Park signed a 5yr/$65M deal with the Dodgers; for those $65M the Dodgers got precisely 0.2 total bWAR in 5 seasons.  That’s right; for that money they could have fielded a 4-A pitcher and gotten comparable value.  Park was 33-33 during that time and missed significant time with injury.
  • Darren Dreifort (6.1M/win and 0.2 bWAR in 5 seasons), Russ Ortiz (4.7M/win and -3.2 bWAR in 4 seasons), Carl Pavano ($4.4M/win and 0.4 bWAR in 4 seasons), and Carlos Silva ($4M/win and -0.7 bWAR in 5 seasons) all had pretty infamous contract disasters too.

How about some of the Best Contracts ever signed?  Lots of players have signed small one year deals and won double-digit games, so those really cannot count.   Starting with an arbitrary floor of a $50M free agent contract, here’s some of the best value FA contracts ever signed:

  • Pedro Martinez: 7yr/$92M, during which he went 117-37 for the Red Sox for a $786k/win total.
  • Justin Verlander‘s 5yr/$80M deal from 2010-2014 will be a steal for Detroit: he’s already contributed 25+ bWAR and is at about $888k/win.  The same probably will not be said about his mammoth $140M extension.
  • Mike Mussina went 92-53 in his 6yr/$88.5M contract for $961k/win.
  • Chris Carpenter‘s 4yr/$50.8M deal from 2008-2011 was a steal for St. Louis: He may have missed some time but he still went 44-23 during that contract, contributed 13.6 bWAR and his $/win number was just $1.1M.  He’s the only guy who appears in both the “best contracts” and “worst contracts” section in this post.
  • Mark Buehrle‘s 4yr/$56 deal from 2008-2011 resulted in about a $1M/win and just $3.2M/bWAR, great value for his team despite his mediocre looking 54-44 record.
  • Jered Weaver, Yu Darvish, and Hyun-Jin Ryu deserve  mention here; they’re all in the early stages of their long-term contracts and are easily providing value in terms of $/win.

So what does this data mean?  Here’s some conclusions when talking about Dollars per Pitcher Win.

  1. Up to perhaps the mid 2000s, if you got about one (1) pitcher Win per million dollars spent on a player in the Free Agent market that you were doing great.
  2. Now, if you’re getting anything under $1.5M per win, you should be happy.  Especially if you’re paying an ace $25-$30M/year.
  3. Anything over $2M/win is usually considered a bust.  Nearly every contract in the $2M/win in AAV and above has been mentioned and criticized as being a bad contract; the list of “worst ever” above starts at $4M/win and goes higher.
  4. If you pay a starter anything more than about $25M/season,  you’re really going to have a hard time getting value back.  There’s only been a handful of 20-game winners over the past 5 years or so, but paying a starter $24M like Greinke is getting is almost certainly going to be regretted at some point.  An injury or a lost season completely blows the $AAV/win.
  5. It illustrates more clearly than anywhere else the value of a top-notch, pre-Arbitration starter.  Take Clay Buchholz for example; in 2010 he was 17-7 while earning the league minimum of $443k.  That equates to $26,059/win on the same staff that was busy paying Daisuke Matsuzaka $2.06M per win (when adding in the $52M posting fee).  Buchholz has struggled with injuries since then, but teams that  lock down and depend on these pre-arb starters save untold amounts of FA dollars as a result.
  6. This analysis is nearly impossible to do across baseball eras because of the general inflation of contracts and especially because of the bonanza of FA dollars being thrown out there right now.  Pedro Martinez at the top of his game signed a 7yr/$92M deal.  Imagine what he’d get today?  It could be three times that considering how good he was in comparison to his counterparts in the mid 90s.  He was coming off a 1997 season in which he struck out 305 batters, had a 1.90 ERA, a 219 ERA+ and won the Cy Young award.  So going forward a general $1.25M/win is a more accurate barometer for whether or not a pitcher has “earned” his contract.  But there’s no easy way to draw a line in the free agency sand and say that before yearX $1M/win was a good barometer while after yearY $1.25M/win is a good barometer.
  7. A caveat to the $1M/win benchmark; there are different standards for obtaining wins.   If you sign a $3M 1 year deal and then subsequently go 3-12 with a 6.00 ERA … while it looks like you reached the $1m/win threshold in reality you were, well, awful.  This analysis only really holds up for major FA contracts paying in excess of $10M/year.

And here’s some discussions on Dollars per WAR, since we’ve added that in for this 2014 analysis.

  1. The general rule of thumb is that “wins” in terms of WAR “cost” is somewhere between $6M and $7M on the open market.  Did $6M/win work out in this analysis?  Yes and no; it is sort of difficult to do this analysis with players badly underperformed.  Take for example John Danks: he’s two years into a 5yr/$65M contract where he’s gotten hurt in both seasons and has just 7 wins and a 0.7 bWAR.  Well, $26M in total salary paid so far for 0.7 bWAR equals a $37M/war figure.  Well that’s not quite right.
  2. The best you can do is look at player-by-player examples.  Johan Santana‘s 6yr/$137.5M contract cost his team $9M/bWAR.  That’s unquestionably bad.   Cole Hamels went 17-6 in 2012 on a 1yr/$15M deal, which turned out to be just $3.2M per WAR for his 4.2 bWAR season.  That’s great.
  3. The $/bWAR analysis gets worse if the bWAR is negative; our own Dan Haren came in with a -0.01 bWAR for 2013; how do you decide how much the Nationals paid on a dollar-per-bWAR basis for Haren?  If you divide 0.01 into his $13M salary you get a non-sensical -$1.3 billion figure.

 


Lastly, for comparison purposes, here’s the above analysis looks for the 2013 Nationals pitching staff.  Keep in mind that the $/win figures for pre-arbitration pitchers vastly skew the analysis (apologies if this bleeds off the side of the browser screen)

Last Name First Name Total Value (includes guaranteed $) $$/year AAV Contract Term Years Into Contract Starts QS QS % W L $ per start $ per QS $ AAV per win Total bWAR $ per bWAR
Strasburg Steven $19,000,000 $4,750,000 2009-13 5 75 46 61.3% 29 19 $316,667 $516,304 $818,966 8.5 $2,794,118
Gonzalez Gio $42,000,000 $8,400,000 2012-16 2 64 43 67.2% 32 16 $262,500 $390,698 $525,000 7.9 $2,126,582
Zimmermann Jordan $5,350,000 $5,350,000 2013 1 32 21 65.6% 19 9 $167,188 $254,762 $281,579 3.7 $1,445,946
Detwiler Ross $2,337,500 $2,337,500 2013 1 13 6 46.2% 2 7 $179,808 $389,583 $1,168,750 0.1 $23,375,000
Haren Dan $13,000,000 $13,000,000 2013 1 30 15 50.0% 10 14 $433,333 $866,667 $1,300,000 0.0 (0 war)
Maya Yunesky $8,000,000 $2,000,000 2010-13 4 10 1 10.0% 1 4 $800,000 $8,000,000 $8,000,000 -0.8 ($10,000,000)
Karns Nathan 490,000 490,000 2013 1 3 0 0.0% 0 1 $163,333 (0 QS) (0 wins) -0.4 ($1,225,000)
Jordan Taylor 490,000 490,000 2013 1 9 3 33.3% 1 3 $54,444 $163,333 $490,000 0.0 (0 war)
Ohlendorf Ross 1,000,000 1,000,000 2013 1 7 3 42.9% 3 1 $142,857 $333,333 $333,333 0.9 $1,111,111
Roark Tanner 490,000 490,000 2013 1 5 4 80.0% 3 1 $98,000 $122,500 $163,333 2.0 $245,000

The counting figures for Starts/QS/Wins/Losses are cumulative for the life of whatever contract the player is on.  So for Strasburg, he was basically in the 5th year of his original 5 year deal, hence the 75 total starts in those 5 years.

The 2013 Nats have $AAV per win and $/bWAR mostly on the good side:

  • Yunesky Maya and Nathan Karns both contributed negative bWAR for 2013, so their numbers are meaningless.
  • Taylor Jordan and Dan Haren both came in at zero (or close enough to it) bWAR, so their numbers are also meaningless.  Well, not “meaningless” in Haren’s case: basically he gave the team replacement performance for his $13M in salary; the team could have just called up a guy from AAA and let him pitch all year and gotten about the same value.  Thanks for the memories!
  • The best $/win guy was Tanner Roark, who got 3 wins for his MLB minimum salary … and that’s not even taking into account the fact that Roark’s 2013 salary probably should be pro-rated for this analysis.
  • The worst $/win guy was  Maya; who demonstrated yet again that his $8M contract was a mistake.
  • Nearly the entire staff has $/win values under the “you’re doing well” threshold of $1M/win.  And nearly the whole squad is doing $/bWAR well below the $6M/bWAR range.

 

The Nats should just move Detwiler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nats Major & Minor League Pitching Staffs vs Predicted 2014 edition

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At the end of the 2013 season, I put out a slew of season rotational reviews and then predicted where everyone would start in 2014.

We’re a month into the minor league full-seasons and the rotations are already mostly established (with D/L trips and slight movement as noted here).  So lets do a little navel gazing and take a look at my predictions versus the actuals before we lose too much identity with the makeup of these four full-season pitching staffs from opening day.

As always, Luke Erickson and nationalsprospects.com, the Nats Big Board and the tireless work by “SpringfieldFan” is much appreciated here.


MLB Dec 2013 Prediction

  • MLB Rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez (L), Zimmermann, Fister, Detwiler (L)
  • MLB Bullpen: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Stammen, Blevens (L), Ohlendorf, Roark
  • MLB out of Org: Haren, Duke (L), Abad (L), Krol (L), HRodriguez

MLB April 2014 Actual Opening Day Staff

  • MLB Rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez (L), Zimmermann, Roark, Jordan
  • MLB Bullpen: Soriano, Clippard, Storen, Stammen, Blevens (L), Detwiler, Barrett
  • MLB D/L: Fister, Ohlendorf, Davis
  • MLB notables Out of Organization: Haren, Duke (L), Abad (L), Krol (L), HRodriguez

MLB Discussion: A late spring injury to Doug Fister obsoleted the 5th starter competition, giving both Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan spots (for now; Roark has “won” the 5th spot thanks to a better April now that Fister is ready to come back).  The biggest news during spring training was the Ross Detwiler “demotion” to the bullpen, but the Aaron Barrett victory over the likes of Christian Garcia and Ryan Mattheus was also notable.  Injuries to Ross Ohlendorf and Erik Davis cleared out bullpen competition, and an early spring training chest injury to Mattheus also made it difficult for him to break camp with the big league club.

Nothing new here: we’ve talked this to death already :-)  Lets move onto the four full-season minor league squads.


AAA Dec 2013 Prediction

  • AAA Rotation: Rosenbaum (L), Jordan, Karns, Young, MLFA or two
  • AAA Bullpen: Barrett, Mattheus, Garcia, Davis, Cedeno (L), Robertson (L), Delcarmen, Alfaro, Stange, Herron (AA?)
  • AAA Release candidates: Meyers, Lehman
  • AAA out of Org: Maya, Tatusko, Clay, Mandel, Torra, Broadway, Crotta, Lowe, Kimball, Accardo, Bramhall, Romero (L)

AAA Apr 2014 Actual opening day

  • AAA Rotation: Rosenbaum (L), Tatusko, Treinen, Hill, Poveda
  • AAA Bullpen: Mattheus, Garcia, Cedeno (L), Robertson (L), Delcarmen, Madrigal,  Roenicke, Stange
  • AAA D/L: Meyers, Davis (mlb 60 day d/l)
  • AAA cut/released/FA:Young, Broadway, Maya, Mandel, Clay, Kimball, Crotta, Torra, Lowe, Crotta,  Accardo, Bramhall, Romero (L)
  • AAA Missing: MGonzalez (L), Laffey

AAA Discussion

Technically I got 2/5ths of the AAA rotation right to start the year: Rosenbaum and a MLFA in the form of Omar Poveda (technically an acquisition but still…).  Karns was traded to obtain our (now) starting catcher Jose Lobaton.  Jordan of course started the year in the majors, but I think he’ll end up back here for a good portion of the season.  Young was granted his release and immediately signed in Seattle to fill one of their rotation spots.  The team resigned its own MLFA in Ryan Tatusko to return and he seems set to be in the rotation for now, but he’s more of a swing-man/org arm and he likely makes way for a starter when needed.  The big surprise is the unexpected promotion of Taylor Hill; he featured in AA but I thought he’d start out there.   Brad Meyers stays in the organization but is “missing” for the time being: he may be headed for the D/L but as of this writing has no assignment.

In the month since opening day, we’ve seen both Mike Gonzalez and Aaron Laffey make their way to Syracuse to cover for the subsequently injured Rosenbaum and promoted MLB-bullpen-covering reliever of the day (Cedeno, Treinen, Barrett and Mattheus have all already spent time on the shuttle between Washington and Syracuse).

In the bullpen; our prediction looks decently correct; 6 of the 8 Syracuse opening day members were called.  The outliers: MLFA signings Warner Madrigal and Josh Roenicke.   Predicted members Erik Davis instead sits on the mlb 60-day D/L, and Alfaro is in the AA squad.   Pat Lehman sits on the AA D/L for now.

AAA “Star Power” summary: So, as has become typical AAA isn’t so much about finishing off prospects as it is about holding spare parts.  In the rotation we had zero 40-man roster players at this point, and really just Blake Treinen features as a potential up-and-comer (with possible future apologies to Taylor Hill of course …).  The bullpen has just three 40-man roster arms (a loogy in Xavier Cedeno, and two injury reclamation projects in Christian Garcia and Ryan Mattheus).   Eventually we should see some culling of this roster when the team needs to find spots for Gonzalez and Laffey in particular.  Syracuse fans may not be getting the best pitching staff out there to cheer on.  


AA Dec 2013 Prediction

  • AA Rotation: Cole, Hill, Solis (L), Schwartz, Treinen (AAA?)
  • AA Swingmen: Gilliam (swingman)
  • AA Bullpen: Benincasa, Mirowski, Holland,  Swynenberg, Grace (L), Bates, KPerez, Spann (L)
  • AA release candidates: Perry, Selik, Demny, RMartin
  • AA out of Org: Broderick, Ray, McCoy, Frias, Holder, Bray

AA Apr 2014 Actual

  • AA Rotation: Cole, Schwartz, Rivero (L), Gilliam, Purke (L)
  • AA spot starts/swingman: Dupra
  • AA bullpen: Herron, Holland, Grace (L), Mirowski, Alfaro, Bates, Espino
  • AA dl: Demny, RMartin, Solis (L), Lehman, Perry
  • AA cut/released/FAs: Broderick, Ray (traded), Bray (L), McCoy (L), Karns (traded), Frias, Holder, Selik, Swynenberg (ret)
  • AA missing: KPerez

AA Discussion

We got some of the rotation correct; A.J. Cole and Blake Schwartz.  We technically got Hill and Treinen correct … just under-valued where the organization would put them.   And lastly Sammy Solis would be in this group had he not suffered a late-spring back injury; for the time being he’s in XST but is on the “missing” list here.  I had Rob Gilliam as the AA swing man anyway; he would likely make way for Solis once he comes back.  The two additional names are Matthew Purke (who surprisingly to me starts the year in AA) and newly acquired Felipe Rivero.  

We got most of the bullpen right: 5 of 8 predicted.  The outliers: Ryan Perry remains in the organization but sits on the D/L; personally I thought he may get released.  Gabriel Alfaro was a MLFA who slots into the bullpen, as was Zach Jackson (who should have been in AAA to begin with and has already been promoted).  Benincasa starts in high-A again and Gilliam is pushed into the rotation.   Recent acquisition KPerez remain missing, along with several other middle relief arms.  Spann started the year two levels lower than I thought he should have in Low-A but currently sits in Potomac.

A couple of long-serving names are now out of the organization; I was surprised to see Cameron Selik in particular being released; I always liked him for some reason.  Its tough being a middle relief RHP with so many of them getting drafted year after year.

AA Star Power summary: A few very important names to the organization sit in AA: top pitching prospect A.J. Cole sits here and will be looking to push for a AAA promotion.  Sammy Solis had rumblings of being turned into a Loogy in Spring Training; now he just needs to get healthy.  Matthew Purke’s destiny remains at a cross-roads thanks to a horrible start to his 2014 AA campaign.  And newly acquired/40-man member Felipe Rivero sits here, hoping to show as a decent bounty for the Nathan Karns trade.  These three guys all sit on the Nats fast-depleting 40-man roster … and they represent 33% of ALL the 40-man rostered players in the Eastern League.


High-A Dec 2013  Prediction

  • High-A rotation: Purke (L), Anderson, Mooneyham (L), Encarnacion, Bacus, Turnbull (bullpen?) (L)
  • High-A swingmen: RPena (swingman), Dickson (swingman)
  • High-A bullpen: Wort (AA?), Holt (AA?), Fischer, Henke, Mendez, Harper (L), Davis, Thomas (L)
  • High-A release candidates: Dupra, Rauh (starter?), Meza (L)
  • High-A out of org: Pineyro, Hawkins

High-A Apr 2014 Actuals

  • High-A Rotation: Rauh, Rpena, Mooneyham (L), Encarnacion, Lee
  • High-A spot starts/swingman: Dickson, Simms, Spann (L)
  • High-A bullpen: Benincasa, Henke, Harper (L), Mendez, Self,
  • High-A cut/released/FA: Smoker (L), Broderick, Ray (traded), Holt, Wort, Applebee (ret)
  • High-A missing: Fischer

High-A Discussion

I thought the team would start Purke in high-A again; instead he is struggling in AA.  I thought Dixon Anderson was old enough to merit the move to high-A; instead he still sits in Hagerstown repeating the level.  And Kyle Turnbull remains on the low-A D/L for now.  Otherwise the High-A rotation prediction looks pretty good: we hit on Mooneyham and Encarnacion, we hit on RPena and Dickson and Bacus as swingmen or starters (they all now sit in those roles in some capacity or another thanks to injuries).

The bullpen predictions are all over the place; both Wort and Holt were released, not pushed higher.  Fischer remains missing.  Benincasa is lower than I thought he’d be.   Dupra and Rauh (who I thought were in jeopardy of getting cut) not only have kept their spots but have been pushing for promotion, which is great to see.  It does go to show that its kind of difficult to do these predictions the lower you go.

High-A Star Power summary: Honestly there’s not a ton of big-time prospect names on the High-A staff.  Mooneyham was a high draft pick but has more or less struggled thus far in his pro career.  Encarnacion could be an up-and-comer in an organization that has struggled to develop its DSL graduate talent lately.  Otherwise the Potomac staff is filled with mid- to late-round college draft arms, older for the level at this point, and likely playing for their careers this year thanks to the higher-end talent sitting in the Hagerstown rotation right now (read further).


Low-A Dec 2013  Prediction

  • Low-A rotation: Giolito, Johansen, Voth, Lee (high-A?) (L), Orlan (L)
  • Low-A swingmen: Suero (swingman), Selsor (swingman),
  • Low-A bullpen: Self (high-A?), Ullmann, Pivetta, Simms, Hollins, Napoli (L), Bafidis (L), Valdez, Walsh (L), Aries
  • Low-A release candidates: Joyce, Waterman, Boyden
  • Low-A out of org: McKenzie, Smith

Low-A Apr 2014 Actuals

  • Low A Rotation:  Giolito,  Johansen, Voth, Pivetta, Anderson,
  • Low A spot starts/swingman: Suero, Anderson,
  • Low A bullpen: JThomas (L), Walsh (L), Cooper, Hollins, Ullmann, Silvestre (L), Sylvestri, Simms, Spann
  • Low A dl: Turnbull, CDavis, Estevez,
  • Low A cut/released/FA: Meza (L), Pineyro (traded), Selsor,  Boyden, Waterman, Aries
  • Low A missing: Orlan, Napoli, Bafidis, Aries, Joyce, Valdez

Discussion

The big three starters in Hagerstown were easily predicted (Giolito, Johansen and Voth).   Lee and Anderson switched places in my predictions (both starters, wrong teams) and Orlan is stuck in XST.   Pivetta was pushed to the rotation after pitching in relief last year.   And then a slew of the Hagerstown arms are participating in a “dual starter” system where by the starters generally have been going 5 and the relievers/spot starters going the other 4 each night.  So the team is getting lots of looks at these pitchers on an extended basis.

This system means there’s really not a “bullpen” being developed in Low-A, which is just as well; I’d rather have 8-10 starter candidates to choose from for higher levels than just 4-5 with guys already being pushed to being short-inning relievers in Low-A.

Unfortunately, we see that a slew of guys have already been cut here who appeared on last year’s rosters.  And, there’s a ton more players currently sitting in XST waiting to compete with June 2014 draft picks in the short-season squads.  Lots of churn here.

Low-A Star Power summary: look no further than the big three starters: they represent 1st, 2nd and 5th round draft picks.  Throw in Pivetta (a 4th rounder) and the team has a ton of vested interest in this rotation.


Phew; that’s a lot of players. I can’t wait to see how the staffs work out this year.  I don’t expect much in the way of commenting on this post; it was one of those drafts sitting in my admin screen that I thought i’d finish off and publish to get it out of the way :-)

Minor League Rotation Review – April 2014

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Austin Voth was great last year and has been good this year.  Photo via mlbdirt

Austin Voth was great last year and has been good this year. Photo via mlbdirt

We’re a month into the minor league season and nearly five turns through each minor league system rotation, so lets take a look to see how our starters are doing.

As with the major league rotation review, I’ve assigned grade letters to roughly judge each start done by our minor league staff, and then i’ve tacked on their overall stats for context.  Note that I generally give grades to those that get the starts in games, as well as those who pitch “starter length” outings.  You’ll see this much more frequently in the low-A section, where Hagerstown clearly has a “two-starter” system going for many of its guys; one guy will throw 5 innings, then the next guy throws 4.  So nearly the entire Hagerstown roster is getting “starter grades” right now.  I should also caveat that this analysis is “scouting the box score” analysis; I’ve not had a chance to see any of these guys in person, so I can’t comment on the luck factor involved with anyone (stats versus ability) other than inference analysis between ERA and FIP.

For each team I’ll list the current rotation as best as I can make it, then have a second section where we list the guys with spot-starts or who were in the rotation but are no longer (D/L trips, promoted, demoted, etc).  Then we’ll discuss, and then list those guys who are pushing for promotions and those guys who are in jeopardy of getting demoted (or, worse, released).

(Note: I wouldn’t be able to do this data tracking or this post without the great daily work by Luke Erickson at www.nationalsprospects.com.)  All stats here are as of 5/2/14, which means I grabbed one May start’s worth of stats for a couple of guys here and there.


AAA/Syracuse:

Pitcher Start Trend Line W/L ERA Whip FIP K/BB Ratio # of innings Apps/Starts
Roenicke A (3ip),F,B 0-2 5.84 1.54 4.10 7/7 12 5/3
Tatusko A/short,B-,B+,A,B 1-3 2.36 0.83 3.87 15/7 26.2 5/5
Treinen A-> upandback,C/short,B+ 0-0 0.87 1.16 3.58 8/5 10.1 3/3
Hill A,A+,C,A,C 3-1 2.35 0.91 3.68 29/4 30.2 5/5
Poveda F,F,A,F 1-3 9.82 2.07 5.13 12/10 18.1 4/4

 

Laffey A (took Treinen’s spot),A+,D+ 2-0 1.80 0.67 1.92 14/2 15 3/1
Rosenbaum D,A,C-,D/inc (injury)->D/L 1-1 4.50 1.35 4.18 9/5 20 4/4

Rotation Discussion:

A month in and the Syracuse Chiefs are mired in last place (though to be fair, only 3 games separate the entire division).   Opening day starter Danny Rosenbaum is already on the D/L with a possible torn UCL, possibly the latest in an epidemic of Tommy John surgeries throughout baseball (there’s been at least 14 MLB pitchers to go under the knife for this already in 2014 and quite a few more minor leaguers; I have a draft post on this topic coming).  His replacement in the rotation is journeyman and Ian Desmond-relative Josh Roenicke, who has struggled in his spot-start duties.  However, Roenicke isn’t the least effective starter in AAA; that distinction goes to late spring training acquisition Omar Poveda, who has gotten pretty well battered so far in his four starts.  One of these two guys likely is making way for recently demoted Taylor Jordan (well, assuming Jordan even makes it to AAA anytime soon; Doug Fister‘s return is complicated by the Nats needing another starter in-between; Jordan likely is sitting in AAA limbo until tuesday 5/6, then will settle into the AAA rotation).

Meanwhile, we’re seeing excellent springs so far out of Ryan TatuskoBlake Treinen (albeit in a SSS thanks to his being bounced up and down out of the Nats bullpen), Aaron Laffey and especially Taylor Hill.  Hill’s excellent 29/4 K/BB ratio stands out, as well as his sub 1.00 whip so far in 5 starts.   I think its fair to say that nobody expected him to have rocketed up the system like he has, given the fact that he was a college senior draftee with limited bonus and limited leverage.  I think its also worth noting Tatusko’s production in a swing-man role; quite similarly to his trade-mate Tanner Roark, he continues to produce at an advanced/MLFA age … could he be another “found gold” pitcher in our upper farm system?

We should also note that we have yet to see Brad Meyers, who remains on the D/L and has only thrown about 6 professional innings since 2011.

Bullpen Notables

The Syracuse bullpen has seen plenty of traffic to and from the majors: Aaron Barrett started in the majors and has seen time in Syracuse.  Ryan Mattheus and Xavier Cedeno have already both been up and back.  Nobody in the pen has much more than about 10 innings pitched, so we won’t make too many rash judgements.  So far Christian Garcia looks decent; his 12/2 K/BB ratio in 10 innings is promising but he currently sits on the D/L with an unspecified injury.   Meanwhile Daniel Stange has struggled with his control; he has 10 walks in 12 innings.   We’ll talk more about bullpen guys deeper into the season.

Most Deserving of a promotion: Hill and perhaps Laffey, both of whom are pitching dominantly right now.   But neither are 40-man guys, and that (especially for Laffey) hurts him.  Laffey as a starter in AAA has been great, but he might be more useful as a lefty-match up guy.  Cedeno has been getting the MLB-bullpen covering call-ups but if Laffey was on the 40-man instead, it probably would have been him instead.

Most in Jeopardy of a demotion/release: Poveda for sure; his cash-only acquisition isn’t looking promising considering that a rotation spot is needed soon for Jordan.  Roenicke needs a couple of good outings to get his numbers up; with only 12 innings its hard to pass too harsh a judgement.  But, with very little push from the current AA rotation, its hard to see a reason why the organization needs to make a move anytime soon (see the next section for more).


AA/Harrisburg:

Pitcher Start Trend Line W/L ERA Whip FIP K/BB Ratio # of innings Apps/Starts
Schwartz F,F,B+,F,D+ 0-4 6.08 1.99 5.1 15/10 23.2 5/5
Rivero D-,B,B-,F,B+ 1-4 5.06 1.69 4.85 13/9 21.1 5/5
Gilliam F,B-,D,A 0-0 5.09 1.36 6.05 13/9 17.2 5/4
Purke F,D,F,F 0-5 9.30 2.11 6.55 14/13 20.1 5/5
Cole B-,A,D,F 2-1 3.63 1.57 2.82 16/4 22.1 5/5

 

Dupra B+ 1-0 0.00 0.9 4.35 3/3 3.1 1/0
Perry F -> d/l 0-0 5.63 1.5 3.07 6/3 8 5/0
Jackson A -> promoted 0-0 0.00 0.52 2.01 7/0 7.2 5/0
Bates B 0-0 5.68 1.66 2.97 12.2 6/0

Rotation Discussion:

Well, there’s not much joy in Harrisburg in terms of the rotation right now.   The team is already 7.5 games out of first and is in dead last in the Eastern League.  Four of the five starters in Harrisburg are, well, just awful right now.   I should note that the stats above do include one extra start for Matthew Purke; it didn’t help his cause.  Newly acquired Felipe Rivero has not acclimated well to Harrisburg, to say the least.  Blake Schwartz has not adjusted well to the jump to AA after his excellent season in Potomac last year.  The one bright spot seems to be A.J. Cole by ERA/FIP, but he’s still putting an awful lot of people on base (1.57 whip).

Sammy Solis remains on the AA D/L, along with a handful of other long-serving names in this organization (Paul DemnyRafael Martin and Pat Lehman).

Bullpen Notables

Zach Jackson already earned his promotion via 7 scoreless innings, though to be fair he really should have been in AAA to start (he’s a veteran minor leaguer and has been pitching at the AAA level for nearly a decade).  Matt Grace is faring well thus far, as is Richie Mirowski, while Gabriel Alfaro needs to get his control under control (he’s got 9 walks in 11 1/3 innings).

Most Deserving of a promotion: none of these guys are pushing for a promotion, now that Jackson is back in AAA where he belongs.

Most in Jeopardy of a demotion/release: You have to think that Purke may be in jeopardy of being coverted to relief at this point.  Alfaro was a MLFA signing out of the Mexican league and may not be long for the organization if he keeps pitching this badly.   Gilliam was a throw-in to the Gio Gonzalez trade and is old for the level; he may get pushed out if someone from Potomac makes a case for promotion (which, thankfully for him, has yet to be the case; read on).

 


High-A/Potomac

Pitcher Start Trend Line W/L ERA Whip FIP K/BB Ratio # of innings Apps/Starts
Rauh B-,F-,C+,C- 1-1 4.43 1.57 4 15/7 20.1 5/4
Rpena F,D,F/inc,A-,A- 2-0 6.43 1.48 5.71 5/8 21 5/5
Mooneyham F,C-,A-,D/short,B- 2-1 3.32 1.63 6.71 7/19 19 5/4
Bacus A+,A+,A (into rotation for Encarnacion) 1-1 2.08 0.69 4.7 15/3 17.1 6/0
Simms (newly promoted; no Apr starts)

 

Dickson B+,F,B+,A 0-2 6.23 1.38 5.37 21/7 21.3 7/0
Encarnacion C+,B,F,D- ->d/l 1-2 4.00 1.94 5.88 14/12 18 4/4
Lee F-,F-,D,A -> d/l 0-2 10.05 1.74 2.33 23/8 14.1 5/4
Fister B (rehab) 0-0 0.00 1.5 2.16 3/0 4 1/1
Dupra A+,B+,A,A-> promoted 3-0 0.53 0.71 1.31 23/1 17 5/0

Rotation Discussion:

Potomac is sitting in 1st place easily with the rest of its division struggling so far.   But Its hard to see how they’re doing it with a rotation putting up numbers like this.  The only guy getting starts for Potomac in April with a respectable/impressive FIP was Nick Lee, and he’s on the D/L.  But even Lee’s numbers look completely weird: he had a 10 (ten!) ERA in his 14 innings, but an astounding 23 ks in 14 innings.  His numbers are completely spiked by two successive awful outings and he currently sits on the D/L with an unspecified but hopefully short-term injury.  Dakota Bacus earned his way into the rotation with a series of excellent long-relief outings; he replaces the also-injured opening day rotation starter Pedro Encarnacion, who himself struggled with his control (12 walks in 18 innings) before hitting the D/L.  Otherwise there’s not much notable in the Potomac rotation to talk about: Brett Mooneyham‘s advanced numbers show just how bad he’s really pitched; he currently has a 7/19 K/BB ratio in 19 innings.  He has more than twice the number of walks as he has strikeouts!  That’s not a recipe for success long-term.

Kylin Turnbull remains on the Hagerstown D/L, continuing to be a complete 2011 draft-day disappointment.

Bullpen Notables

The best reliever in Potomac thus far this season has already been bumped up; Brian Dupra posted a nifty 23/1 K/BB ratio and earned his way to AA.  Robert Benincasa already has 5 saves with good numbers.  Derek Self has great numbers and has given up just three base-runners in 10 innings thus far.  So the Nats are getting some great relief.  Gilberto Mendez hasn’t walked a guy yet and is one of the youngest guys in the league, so he’s clearly holding his own after posting a 0.91 ERA in low-A last year.

Most Deserving of a promotion: Outside of Dupra, its hard to pinpoint someone that really is pushing for a promotion out of this squad right now.  Bacus is pitching well but he’s just got a month of high-A experience; lets see how he does for a half season.  I could see the late-inning crew of Self, Benincasa and Bryan Harper possibly getting moved up sooner than later.  But none of the starters really are making a case for promotion right now.

Most in Jeopardy of a demotion/release:  Clearly for me the guy in trouble is Mooneyham; you just can’t be walking that many guys and have as little swing-and-miss capabilities to counter-balance  your wildness.   Before his injury, Encarnacion was struggling with his command too; I can see him back in low-A.  Lastly Ronald Pena just is not fooling anybody right now; he’s got just 5 Ks in 20 innings and would be in more jeopardy if there weren’t other candidates ahead of him to replace at this point.

 


Low-A/Hagerstown

Pitcher Start Trend Line W/L ERA Whip FIP K/BB Ratio # of innings Apps/Starts
Pivetta A,A-,F,F,B+ 3-2 4.57 1.48 4.36 13/10 21.2 5/5
Voth A,D,A-,D/short 0-2 2.91 1.38 2.7 26/10 21.1 5/5
Giolito D-,A+,A,C-,C- 1-0 2.95 1.22 3.62 24/11 21.1 5/5
Anderson A,A+,F,D- 3-0 6.33 1.36 4.98 13/6 21.1 5/3
Johansen B,B+,F,C- 2-0 5.21 1.53 3.84 17/11 19 4/4

 

Suero D,A,B,A 3-0 1.20 0.88 3.53 13/2 21.2 5/0
Cooper B,A+,D 2-0 2.81 1.31 2.57 11/1 16 5/0
Jthomas  A+,A- 1-2 2.53 1.22 4.51 4/5 10.2 5/0
Ullmann B+ 0-0 0.00 0.8 2.67 9/2 10 4/0
Hollins A- 2-0 4.35 1.74 3.86 9/7 10.1 8/0

 

Silvestre B+,inc (inj)->d/l 0-0 3.00 1.33 2.24 7/2 6 2/2
Simms A,A,A,A+->promoted 0-0 0.98 0.82 2.05 20/2 18.1 5/0
Spann B+,A-,B+,B+->promoted 2-0 1.20 1.13 2.77 15/4 15 4/0

 

Rotation Discussion:

Hagerstown is taking the South Atlantic league by storm, leading its division by 5.5 games already.   And they’re getting some great pitching.  The team clearly seems to be doing “combo starts” with some of its guys: that’s why someone like Wander Suero has as many IP as the 5 guys in the “rotation.”  So, when it comes to judging starts nearly the entire staff in Hagerstown has “start length” outings to assign grades to.   I like what I see out of Austin Voth so far, and Lucas Giolito is clearly holding his own in full-season ball (both these guys feature more than a K/inning, which is great to see especially out of the undersized Voth).  Meanwhile we’re seeing some worrying wildness out of Jake Johansen, which will not quell the “he’s too big to be a starter so he’s destined for the bullpen” crowd.

Bullpen Notables

John Simms (11th rounder in 2012) and Matthew Spann (booty for the team’s sticking its nose into the David DeJesus waiver situation last year) have both already forced promotions thanks to excellent results.  Otherwise there really isn’t much in the way of a traditional “bullpen” in Hagerstown to talk about.

Most Deserving of a promotion: I’d say Voth and Jake Walsh, who older guys who are mowing guys down in Low-A and may need to be challenged by better/older hitters.

Most in Jeopardy of a demotion: One of the older guys on this staff (Dixon Anderson) isn’t putting up the numbers he needs to be putting up as a college senior 2011 draftee in low-A.  Youngster Nicholas Pivetta is also struggling with the jump to full-season ball out of JuCo and may be dumped back to XST at some point.  But it should also be said that we’re kind of squinting for bad performances out of the Low-A squad; both these guys’ numbers are better than practically anyone in AA right now.

 


Top Prospect Review

From a trending perspective for our top 10 prospect arms (in rough order of their typical rankings on prospect lists):

  • Giolito is succeeding so far, though isn’t as dominant yet to be pushing for a promotion to High-A
  • Cole is holding his own and is the best AA starter right now, but again isn’t entirely pushing for a AAA promotion just quite yet.
  • Solis has yet to appear thanks to a late spring training injury.
  • Rivero has really struggled since his arrival
  • Johansen has shown some wildness and not as much swing-and-miss stuff as he did in short-season ball.
  • Purke has been awful and it may be time to move him to the Pen.
  • Voth has been excellent and is probably the closest to a promotion.
  • Barrett and Treinien have both earned promotions to provide MLB cover, and when in AAA have been effective
  • Jefry Rodriguez is in XST and didn’t make a full-season team.

Conclusions:

So far, I must say i’m a bit disappointed in the performance of the AA squad, but its great to see the promise of the Low-A squad.  I’m slightly worried about how our closer-to-the-majors top prospect arms are looking; lets re-visit in a month and see how it looks.

 

Nats Starter Matchup Analysis – April 2014

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Strasburg's K/9 is amazing so far in 2014. Photo unk via thewifehatessports.com

Strasburg’s K/9 is amazing so far in 2014. Photo unk via thewifehatessports.com

Ok people, how about getting back to talking some baseball, not arging whether or not we need to fire the manager after 28 games.  :-)

Here’s a monthly feature that I like to do, breaking down the Nats rotation performance and analyzing matchups for the previous month.


Starter “Grades” for the MLB Rotation:

Grade Taxonomy; these are just quick and dirty short hand judgements on the starting stat line for each starter’s performance.   Here’s a rough starting point  for how grades are assigned:

  • Grade A: 6-7+ innings, zero earned runs.
  • Grade B: 6-7 innings, 1-2 earned runs.
  • Grade C: 6 innings, 3 earned runs and run-of-the-mill numbers of walks/hits and strikeouts.
  • Grade D: 4-5  innings, 3-4 earned runs
  • Grade F: 4 or fewer innings, more earned runs than innings pitched.

In each letter grade case, adjustments slightly up or down are made based usually on hits+walks and/or Ks (or lack thereof).   More Ks may push the grade to an N+, a slew of extra hits/walks may drop the grade to an N-, where N is the letter grade division.

(Note: I won’t repeat this each month; it is just for explanatory purposes for the first post of the year in this series).

By way of example; the team had three “A+” outings in April:

  • Strasburg’s 4/10 win over the Marlins.  Line: 6 2/3s, 1 run on 3 hits, 1 walk and 12 Ks.   He gave up the run but 12 K’s pushed him to the A+ rating.
  • Strasburg’s 4/25 win over San Diego: 7 shut-out innings giving up 7 hits and a walk with 11 K’s.
  • Roark’s 4/26 shutout over San Diego: 9 innings, 3 hits, 1 walk, 8 K’s.

Here’s the Letter grades for our Rotation in April: (here’s a quick link to the schedule to see each individual game) along with Key Stats lines for the month:

  • Strasburg: C,D,A+,F,B+,A+.  2-2, 4.24 ERA, 1.412 whip, 2.30 fip, 53/12 K/BB ratio in 34 innings.
  • Roark: C+,D-,C,A-,A+.  2-0, 2.76 ERA, 1.163 whip, 3.43 fip, 26/9 K/BB in 32 2/3 innings.
  • Jordan: A-,D-,F,D,B-/inc: 0-3, 5.61 ERA, 1.636 whip, 4.48 fip, 17/8 in 25 2/3 innings.
  • Gonzalez: A,A,D-,A,C-,C+: 3-1, 3.25 ERA, 1.139 whip, 2.90 fip, 38/13 in 36 innings.
  • Zimmermann: A,F,A-,B,C+,A: 2-1, 3.27 ERA, 1.333 whip, 3.09 fip, 35/8 in 33 innings.

Tanner Roark turned around his slower start and has “won” the 5th starter competition, which extended a month into the season thanks to Doug Fister‘s spring training injuries.  Taylor Jordan’s letter grades bely his crummy overall stats; 0-3 with a 5.61 ERA, a 1.63 whip and a 4.49 FIP.  Lets hope Jordan can get it turned around in Syracuse and provide cover for the next injury.  Gonzalez leads the staff in ERA while Strasburg leads the staff in FIP on the back of his amazing K/9 rate (53 K’s in 34 innings for an astounding 14 K/9 rate, which leads the league right now for qualified pitchers).  Zimmerman keeps on plugging away, mixing in good outings with bad ones; lets look for more consistency from him in May.

I think its rather interesting that our three power arms are all seemingly abandoning the whole “pitch to contact” mantra so far; all of their K/9s are above a K per inning.  And Strasburg’s is just ridiculous.  Do you think maybe Strasburg is tired of his defense throwing away outs and he’s just saying, “I’ll do it myself” to some degree?  I think if I had to rank our own rotation in terms of effectiveness I’d go Gonzalez, Strasburg, Zimmerman, Roark and Jordan.  In other words, almost identically to our rotation order.

The team finishes the month 16-12, on pace for 93 wins, despite the injuries to the offense and the generally awful defense so far this year.


Now here’s some Starting Pitcher Matchup analysis.  I track of the opposing starter the team faces each night and ranked them three different ways:

  • Their Rotation Order intra team: the opening day starter for a team is their “#1″ and the other four guys are ranked 2-5 as they appear in the opposing rotation.
  • Their Ranked Performance intra-team: at the time of their series with the Nats, the 5 starters on a team are ranked 1-5 on pure in-season performance.  The guy with the best season stats at that time is ranked #1, the guy with the worst #5.
  • Their Subjective League-Wide “Rank” as a pitcher: a subjective look at whether the opposing starter is a league wide “Ace,” a near-Ace or #2, and the like.

I also kept track on a night-to-night basis a quick opinion on whether I felt the Nats had the Starting Pitching Advantage (or if it was an even-matchup, or if I felt the opposing team had the pitching advantage) and tracked how we did.

Opponent Rotation Order Stats

Starter # Record Opposing Starter in Wins Opposing Starter in Losses
1 4-3 Gee, Fernandez, Weaver, Cashner Teheran (2x), Wainwright
2 4-2 Colon, Wood, Wacha, Cosart Wood, Kennedy
3 3-2 Wheeler, Alvarez, Oberholzer Harang, Lynn
4 1-3 Miller Hale, Richards, Stults
5 2-2 Koehler, Erlin Koehler, Skaggs
5+ 2-0 Hand (2x)

(Note: a “5+” pitcher means a starter who was not on the opening day roster for a team.  We’ll see a ton more 5+’s as more starters go down with injury and are replaced by minor league call-ups).

Not all #1 starters are made the same, nor are #5 starters.  The team actually holds a winning record against opposing team’s #1s and #2s (which you normally do not see), but scuffled against other team’s #4 starters.  Of course, Shelby Miller and David Hale are not ordinary #4 starters, but you’d have liked to have seen wins against the likes of Clayton Richardson and/or Eric Stults.

The team got a great win over Jose Fernandez but lost twice to Atlanta’s ace Julio Teheran.  Not the end of the world, but they need to do better (obviously) against Atlanta pitching.


Opponent intra-Rotation Ranking Stats

Starter # Record Opposing Starter in Wins Opposing Starter in Losses
1 2-4 Fernandez, Cashner Teheran (2x), Wainwright, Richards
2 2-4 Gee, Wood Wood, Harang, Koehler, Skaggs
3 4-1 Colon, Wacha, Koehler, Hand Kennedy
4 4-1 Wheeler, Oberholzer, Miller, Erlin Hale
5 3-2 Weaver, Cosart, Alvarez Lynn, Stults
5+ 1-0 Hand

In other words, the Nats are 2-4 against opposing teams’ best pitcher at the time of the series, 2-4 against the opposing team’s 2nd best performing pitcher at the time of the series, etc.   This is a slightly better way of seeing how the Nats perform against the opponent’s hottest hand at the time.  Notice here that Aaron Harang is given much higher credit for his 2014 performance than his rotation order rank may merit him.

The team (as one would expect) is struggling against the best and 2nd best guys on opponent’s teams, but are beating up on the rest of the rotation.  This is a good sign frankly; you need to win when you go against the other team’s struggling starters.  As the season goes along the team should stabilize and be able to hold its own against the best guys on other teams.


Opponent League-Wide “Rank”

Starter # Record Opposing Starter in Wins Opposing Starter in Losses
1 2-1 Fernandez, Wacha Wainwright
2 1-2 Weaver Teheran (2x)
3 5-2 Cashner, Wood, Colon, Wheeler, Miller Wood, Kennedy
4 3-2 Gee, Oberholzer, Cosart Hale, Lynn
5 2-4 Erlin, Alvarez Richards, Harang, Skaggs, Stults
5+ 3-1 Hand (2x), Koehler Koehler

In other words, the Nats are 2-1 against MLB “Aces,” 2-1 against MLB “near aces” or #2′s, etc.

This table really shows how the team has truly done against the elite pitchers in this league.  We can argue in the comments section about my subjective ranking of pitchers as being #1s, #2s, or whatever.   For comparison purposes with our own team talent-wise, I have Strasburg as a league-wide #1, Gonzalez and Zimmermann as #2s, Fister as a #3, Roark and Jordan as #5s.  Aces are few and far between; you’re far more likely to see a bunch of #4s and #5s on opposing teams.  It is of note that a 5+ starter can be a complete crapshoot; he could be a 4-A pitcher just giving the team innings or he could be the team’s #1 starter prospect and can be as effective as a #2 starter right off the bat.

So far, the team has beaten a couple of aces and had expected losses versus the likes of Adam Wainwright and Teheran.  Slightly concerning is the record against what I consider #5 pitchers in this league, though to be fair Harang and Tyler Skaggs certainly are not pitching like #5s right now.

 


Performace against Expectations by Advantage

By “Advantage” Record Matchups in Wins Matchups resulting in Losses
Wash 10-6 Gio-Colon, Stras-Gee, Stras-Miller, Zim-Oberholtzer, Gio-Cosart, Stras-Erlin, Gio-Alvarez, Stras-Koehler, Zimm-Hand (2x) Stras-Teheran, Zimm-Hale, Zimm-Lynn, Gio-Harang, Zimm-Stults, Stras-Koehler
Even 3-1 Gio-Weaver, Jordan-Wood, Roark-Wheeler Jordan-Skaggs
Opp 3-5 Roark-Fernandez, Roark-Cashner, Gio-Wacha Roark-Teheran, Jordan-Wood, Roark-Richards, Jordan-Kennedy, Jordan-Wainwright

In games where I thought Washington had the clear starting pitching advantage head-to-head, the team went 10-6.   I’ve listed the match ups for each case so you can decide whether we really had the advantage.

In games where I thought the pitching matchup was even, the team went 3-1; this is a good sign.  Three of these four matchups involved Roark or Jordan.

In games where I thought our opponent had the clear advantage heading into the game, the team went an expected 3-5.  Most of these matchup involved either Roark or Jordan.

It is interesting to note that Jordan struggled .. but he also had a number of very tough matchups in April.  He had to go against Alex Wood twice, Ian Kennedy, Adam Wainwright and Tyler Skaggs.   For a guy with just a handful of starts, that was a tough slate of matchups.

 


Per-Starter Matchup Listing:

Nats Starter Opponent Makeup Nats Record under starter
Strasburg two Aces, a #4 and three #5s 4-2
Gonzalez an Ace, three #2s, two #3s 5-1
Jordan an Ace, three #2s and a #5 1-4
Roark three Aces, a #3, a #4 3-2
Zimmermann two #3s, two #4s, two #5+s 3-3
ttl for month: 16-12

So, as discussed above, Jordan has had some tough matchups.  But Roark had to go against three staff Aces in April and still came out with a winning record.  Despite a couple of shaky outings the team was 5-1 when Gio pitched.  Lastly we can see that Jordan needs to be replaced; the team was just 1-4 in his outings and you’d have to think that they wouldn’t have a losing record when Fister throws.


April Conclusion

The Nats have beaten up on weak teams and faltered against good teams.  And it only gets tougher from here; they’ll face Philadelphia’s 1-2-3 in order in early May, then entertain Los Angeles and their two Cy Young winners.  Later on this month they visit the cavernous Oakland stadiums and go up against three different playoff calibre teams in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Texas.  Lots of good pitching matchups to be seen.

Pujols 500th home-run ball haul: enough?

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Too bad he probably goes into the HoF in an Angels uniform.  Photo: unknown via fantasyknuckleheads.com

Too bad he probably goes into the HoF in an Angels uniform. Photo: unknown via fantasyknuckleheads.com

As I watched soon-to-be-demoted-as-soon-as-Doug-Fister-can-return-please-hurry-back Taylor Jordan give up the second moon-ball home run to Albert Pujols on the night, I thought to myself, “wow, I wonder what i’d hold out for if I caught his 500th home run?”

Here’s the answer, thanks to Scott Allen and the DC Sports Bog on WP.  The guy who caught the ball is giving it back to Pujols for … nothing.

Now that I have a kid, I’m sure i’d want some cool stuff for his memory books.  I’d at least want a custom-message signed ball (that’s my goal one-day, to head up to cooperstown with a bunch of 50s and 100s in my pocket and hit the circuit of Hall-of-Famers on the signature series for custom-signed baseballs).   In total, I’d probably settle for some signed jerseys and baseballs and what not.  I mean, hey, that ball may have been worth thousands on the auction market, but its better karma to just return it to the hitter, right?

Oh, and since this is a Nationals blog, supposedly focused on pitching, all I have to say about this team can be summed up in some bullet-points for now:

  • 6.23: that’s Jordan’s current ERA.  And unlike Strasburg‘s “unlucky” high ERA (Stras’ FIP is a miniscule 2.58, the best on the team, proof of why you should probably ignore both ERA and ERA+), Jordan’s clearly not an effective starter right now.  I think the 5th starter competition is over, especially after Tanner Roark‘s excellent outing the night before … which was completely wasted by…
  • Tyler Clippard, who may not have bad numbers so far but boy he has struggled.  You just can’t have a 1.5 whip as an 8th inning/high leverage guy.  Maybe its time to switch him and Drew Storen in the bullpen pecking order (you know, since so far he looks basically unhittable, giving up just 2 baserunners in 7 1/3 innings).
  • 8-1: that’s the Nats record against crummy teams.
  • 3-9; that’s the Nats record against “good” teams so far.  I sense a pattern.

I’m kind of concerned right now.  It doesn’t really help that the teams’ #2 and #4 hitters from opening-day are on the D/L.  But it also doesn’t help that, once again, Mike Rizzo‘s vaunted “lead-off” hitter Denard Span is barely batting above the frigging mendoza line yet continues to be plugged in at lead-off, where he can maximize the damage he does to run expectancy as he scuffles along with his sub .300 OBP.  How long before Matt Williams just sticks him at the #8 spot where he should have been most of last year and starts using hitters at lead-off who can, you know, hit?

 

 

Nationals 2014 Walk-on music review Part 2: Pitchers

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Part 1 was the Hitters.  Here’s the pitchers.

Note: I’m going solely on the research of others here; I’ve only been to one game so I cannot personally confirm the walk-up music of all these players.  Here’s the team official list of each player’s 2014 walk-up music, and here’s Cheryl Nichols/DistrictSportsPage’s research on this year’s walk-up songs.

Relievers have historically had some memorable walk-up songs; Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera both came to be known for their music and the songs became anthems for the players even before they emerged from the bullpens.  Somehow I don’t think any of our current relievers are headed that way; our closer has a rather “unique” song (story below) and isn’t nearly as dominant as these two hall-of-fame bound guys.

Here we go.  As with part 1, my non-scientific/tongue-in-cheek opinion of each guy’s song is listed.

Starters

  • Stephen Strasburg – Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes.  Great choice; this song was the unofficial anthem of a recent European Championships soccer tournament and its somewhat chilling to hear an entire crowd hum the intro notes.  Lets hope this happens with Stras.  Grade: A
  • Gio Gonzalez: unknown?  Nichols only has his batting music (Trophies by Young Money & Drake).  Last year he was  House Party (feat. Young Chris) by Meek Mill, which I’m ambivalent over.  Grade: Inc
  • Jordan Zimmermann – Hell On Wheels by Brantley Gilbert.  Country, blech.  Plus how am I inspired to cheer after hearing this song?  Grade: C
  • Taylor Jordan – Collide by Skillet.  Good sound, kind of like a newer Linkin Park.   But, not very obvious to the masses.  Grade: C+
  • Tanner Roark – Kickstart My Heart by Motley Crue.  Like it; old school, not an obvious Crue selection either.  Grade: A-

Relievers

  • Rafael Soriano – El Rey de Monticulo —”The King of the Mound” by Ediseuri Concepcion Mejia (Story behind song).  Nichols links to a WSJ article explaining this song, which has custom lyrics just for Soriano.  Understandable why he uses it.   Grade: B
  • Tyler Clippard – Ready or Not by The Fugees.  Eh.  Sorry, he’ll never beat  ”Peaches” by the Presidents of the United States of America.  Never should have gone away from it.  Grade: D
  • Drew Storen When the Lights Go Out by The Black Keys.  This as opposed to what the official team site believes he’s playing for himself (“Bad Company” by Five Finger Death Punch).  I’m not as big of a fan of the Black Keys song, but I like the Bad Company remake by FFDP.  Grade: C
  • Craig Stammen – Eye of the Tiger by Survivor.  Classic sports anthem, how can you beat it?  Grade: A
  • Aaron Barrett – This Is What It Feels Like (W&w Radio Edit) by Armin van Buuren Feat. Trevor Guthrie.  Wow, never thought I’d see a major leaguer going deep into techno/trance and pulling AVB out.  Excellent.  Grade: A
  • Jerry Blevins – Sympathy for the Devil by The Rolling Stones.  Another great, classic song, appealing to the older crowd.  Grade: A-
  • Ross Detwiler – Wherever I May Roam by Metallica.   My kind of music; he had to stay away from songs from the same artist made more popular by other guys.  This is kind of a unique Metallica offering, a deeper cut but still has recognition.  Grade: B+
  • Blake Treinen – unknown; he hasn’t returned home yet.  Can’t wait to see this guy throw .. and hear what song he’s listening to.  Grade: Inc

I seem to be a bigger fan of the pitcher’s walk-up music than our hitters.  Biased?  Probably.

I’m inspired by the AVB choice from Barrett.  If I was doing a song right now i’d probably pull from the same genre.  Check out:

  • Ready, Steady, Go from Paul Oakenfold; try not to be thrown off by the incredibly weird video; this song was used in one of the Bourne movies (played during a car chanse scene) and the beginning of the song would be perfect for a walk-out.
  • Where’s your Head At from Basement Jaxx: you may have heard this before; it did get some play domestically.  Basement Jaxx is a UK-based band that almost never comes to the states: my brother and I once flew to London for a weekend to see them play at Wembley arena.  Ah, the days of being single :-)
  • Superstylin from Groove Armada; a band you’ve probably never heard of but they rock.  Saw them at 9:30 club a decade ago and I don’t think they’ve been back to the states since.  You’ll recognize another of their hits, “I See You Baby,” a remix done by Fat Boy Slim that was sampled by the inveterate show MTV Cribs for years and years.  I could pull this song off too.
  • Lastly, perhaps i’d figure out something to play from DC-based Thievery Corporation to get the home-town angle, but their stuff is mostly so down-tempo that it’d be hard to find a sample that made sense for walk-up music.   Click here for an example; “Lebanese Blonde from their 2000 album The Mirror Conspiracy.

Ok, that was a serious tangent from baseball.  :-)  Maybe i’m trying not to think about some looming storm clouds for the team right now.  You know, a 5.00 ERA for our starters, a ton of injuries, the most errors in the league, getting our hats handed to us by Atlanta so far … and the Cards and their rotation coming into town for a potential 4-game beat-down unless our guys can figure out how to keep runners off-base.  Last night’s win over Jose Fernandez and his sick stuff was a great help though; if they can get to Fernandez for 3 runs, they should be able to hang with St. Louis’ hurlers.  Lets see.

 

 

DC-IBWA pre-season predictions for Nats 2014 individual leaders

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Happy Opening day!

Every season David Nichols (editor in chief of DC Pro Sports Blog) organizes the unofficial DC Chapter of Nats bloggers to do some surveying about will happen, and then a post-mortem about what happened.

For 2014; here’s how the DCIBWA members voted in total.

And here’s how I voted:

1. Who will lead the Nats in home runs in 2014?  Hard not to go with the kid Bryce Harper.  I’ll predict he manages to stay healthy, stop running into walls, and hits 32 bombs out of mostly the middle of the order.  Last year’s leader was Ryan Zimmerman, who I like for 20-25 homers again but not as many as Harper.

2. Who will lead the Nats in RBI?  I’m going with Ryan Zimmerman here, mostly because I feel like he’s going to be the beneficiary of many guys getting on base ahead of him and will have plenty of RBI opportunities.  Last year’s leader was Jayson Werth by a hair; something tells me he’s more of a table-setter this year (a #2 hitter) rather than a middle of the order bat.  I could be wrong though.  (Insert obligatory argument about lineup construction and dazzle us with your proof of why your best hitter should be batting 2nd while the 3rd place hitter should be one of your lesser batters…)

3. Who will lead the Nats in stolen bases?  I’ll go with 2013 leader Ian Desmond again; Denard Span is the obvious choice here but he seems to have lost a step.  All in all, speed on this team seems to be lacking on this team; will Matt Williams be a more- or less-aggressive manager on the basepaths?

4. Who will lead the staff in wins?  Stephen Strasburg, who I feel is destined for a break-out season with no leashes and no afterthoughts of his injury.  He’s two years removed from TJ recovery; when 2013 staff wins leader Jordan Zimmermann was in his 3rd year back he went 19-9 and got Cy Young votes.  I predict a 20 win season for Mr. Strasburg, some serious consideration for a Cy Young, and a significant arbitration fight next off-season.

5. How many games will Ryan Zimmerman play first base?  I’ll go with 10-12, maybe fewer.  Perhaps once a week he’ll go over to the other corner.  Something tells me that Adam LaRoche in a contract season will step it up and make it really tough to take his bat out of the lineup.  And something else tells me that Zimmerman may return to his plus-defense now that his shoulder issues are seemingly behind him, and we’ll be talking about how we can stick with him at 3rd for the long haul when the season is over.  (I may be eating my words on Zimmerman here; he’s already shown some air-mailing tendencies during Spring; such a shame that his arm is affecting his overall defense so badly).  For what its worth, Zimmerman has played a grand total of 2 innings at first this spring.

6. Who starts more games: Ross Detwiler, Taylor Jordan, Tanner Roark, Ross Ohlendorf?  Tanner Roark.  The winner of the 5th starter spot will pitch to a relatively non-descript league average for months, while the loser (Taylor Jordan) toils in obscurity in Syracuse, waiting for Roark to fail or someone to get hurt.  Ross Ohlendorf‘s trip to the 60-day D/L means he’s likely a non-factor for the first half, and Ross Detwiler‘s trip to the bullpen looks permanent.  (When I wrote the first draft of this in Mid Feb, it was Detwiler).  Even given what has transpired at the end of spring (Fister’s D/L trip meaning both guys are in the rotation), I feel like Roark is going to stick when Fister comes back.

7. Who will get more at bats for the Nats this season: Danny Espinosa or Jamey Carroll?  Danny Espinosa obviously, since Carroll has already been released.  But even in my first draft of this post in Feb, I was predicting that Espinosa would win the backup middle infielder battle with Jamey Carroll.  I just didn’t think the team was ready to punt on a former 20-home run guy with superior defense.

8.  Which minor leaguer are you most interested in keeping tabs on this season?  Instead of copping out and saying an obvious name from our consensus top 3 prospects (Giolito, Cole and Goodwin), I’m going to throw out a couple other names that really intrigue me.  Matt Skole lost all of 2013 by virtue of a freak injury but impressed last year; i’d like to see him bash his way into consideration for a call-up.  I’d like to see what 2013 draftee Austin Voth can do in a full season; I like this guy as a sleeper, a potential Tim Hudson-esque mid-rotation starter who doesn’t get a ton of credit because of his size but suddenly is posting double-digit wins for your team.  I’d like to see what Matthew Purke does this year; the shine is off this guy; I’d really like to see him put himself back into relevance with this organization.  Like everyone else Stephen Souza has really elevated his status; what can he bring to the table if he gets an opportunity?  And lastly we now know that fireballer Blake Treinen is in the AAA rotation; is he a behind-the-scenes important piece of rotation depth for this farm system now?

9.  Who will reach majors first: Sammy Solis, A.J. Cole, Lucas Giolito or Matt Purke?   Well, this one is easy to me; Sammy Solis is on the 40-man, is 25, and is already being talked about as being a potential loogy in 2014.  After that I’d predict Purke (also by virtue of  his 40-man placement); if Purke shows the team something or anything this year, he could earn a Sept 1 call-up to help in the pennant race.  After that say Cole since he will be put on the 40-man this coming off-season (if not before) and then Giolito last; he’s not rule-5 eligible til 2016 and would have to pitch his way into relevance before then (much like Taylor Jordan did in 2013).

10. How many all-stars will the Nats have? Who?  I’ll predict three: Strasburg, Desmond and Harper.

11. Total wins and what place in the division?  94 wins, 1st place in division.  This could trend higher with every new Atlanta injury.

Essay: What should be the single most important development for the Nats this season?

Hitting in the clutch.  The 2013 team to score 80 fewer runs than the magical 2012 team despite a lineup that seemed better on paper.  A lot of this regression was due to the drop-off in bench production, but an awful lot of it was due to coming up weak in the clutch.  In high-leverage batting situations (as defined by fangraphs), the Nats were dead last in 2013.  This team needs to do better all the way up and down the lineup.  We need Harper healthy.  We need Span producing like he did in September.  I’d like to see something better out of LaRoche in 2014.  Give us that and all these great pitchers will look that much better.

 

Ask Boswell 3/24/14 edition

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Should this man be on this team?  Photo Nats official 2014 via rantsports.com

Should this man be on this team? Photo Nats official 2014 via rantsports.com

Despite there being just a scant week until games start … i’m at a loss for content here!  Fear not; Mr. Tom Boswell always chats on mondays.  Here’s the 3/24/14 edition.  This was a monster chat; he took questions for 3.5 hours.

Q: Steven Souza just had a monster spring: Does he need a year at Syracuse or can the Nats use him now?

A: Some guys here love Steven Souza.  But he’s an outfielder in a system that already has 5 multi-million dollar outfielders under contract, so he’s not going to break camp with the team.  He’s  yet to play above AA and could use some seasoning against the near-MLB quality AAA starters.  But the Nats didn’t put him on the 40-man roster for the heck of it; you have to think he’s going to feature this year to cover for injuries.  He needs some positional flexibility.  He’s listed as a third baseman as well; another position we don’t really need any cover for right now.  Souza’s problem is that he’s a corner player (LF/RF/3B/1B) on a team with a bunch of them already.  So he’s going to have to out-hit a starter to get ABs.  Boswell says the same thing I do about not ever playing above AA.  Lets see how he does in upstate NY in April.

Q: Is Moore going to lose out on his spot to Peterson?

A: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if a guy already is on the 40-man (Tyler Moore), then the odds of someone who is NOT currently on our (full) 40-man (aka Brock Peterson) beating out an established 40-man player AND dislodging an existing guy off the 40-man roster seems rather remote.  Besides, are we even sure Moore is making the 25-man roster at this point?  The team already has 5 OFers and needs another guy who can play middle infield, not a guy who can only play a corner.   Peterson is a 1B/OF type, much as Moore is.  Maybe this is all a precursor towards moving Moore to a team that covets him (Houston).  Boswell agrees that Moore is “on the bubble” and then notes that 1B competition after LaRoche is gone will be quite interesting.

[Interlude: someone asked a question about what "Cybermetrics" was.  WAR, OPS and WHIP].  Boswell answered it well, getting in his own dig at WAR while he was at it.

Q: Will Lobaton’s throwing arm add to an already-weak area?

A: Maybe; but I’m not sweating the throwing arm mechancis of our once-a-week catcher.  I’m more worried about whether Doug Fister is going to be ready for 4/1.  Boswell points out that Lobaton’s pitch framing is one of the best … and that if your backup catcher has just one weakness then you’re doing a-ok.  

Q: Who’s the 5th starter going to be?

A: Now I’m flip-flopping again, trying to read the tea-leaves, and I’m guessing Taylor Jordan wins it.  Ironically it will come down to Tanner Roark‘s flexibility; he’ll head to the pen to be the 7th man and he’ll be happy about it.  If Roark were to win the spot, Jordan would be heading to AAA to keep starting and we’d be basically auditioning a kid in the #7 spot (since it seems like Ryan Mattheus is heading to the D/L and Christian Garcia just hasn’t shown he’s got the stuff).  I’m ok with this configuration.   Boswell uses my previous arguments in saying that Roark deserves it and should have it on merit.  We’ll see.  

Q: Are you worried about the back of the Nats bullpen with Storen and Soriano’s shaky spring training stats?

A: Yes.  Short Sample Sizes, Spring Training stats, blah blah.  Soriano has looked awful, Storen not much better.  The Bullpen was the weakest part of this team last year and these guys are making too much coin to be just so-so.  Problem is, if Soriano blows a bunch of saves and loses the closer job, you might as well just release him because his non-closer splits show what a moper he can be.  This is an area to keep an eye on early in the season.  Boswell seems to think Soriano will be fine but worries about Storen.

Q: Are the Nationals vindicated in “Shutdown gate” now that Medlen is going in for a second TJ?

A: Phew,  I tell you this is a topic I’ve avoided because I want to keep my blood pressure down.  But others have certainly chimed in on it (Ted Leavengood at Seamheads.com opined on 3/18/14, as did Thom Loverro in the WashingtonTimes on 3/13/14 and Rantsports.com’s less than cordial website posted its own opinion in the same timeframe).  You’ll notice that nowhere in this list are the blowhards at NBCSports’ HardballTalk, some of the more loud and ardent critics of the Nationals 2012 decisions.  I wonder why; its like it is in the Newspaper business; nobody notices when you print a retraction of a 20-point headline and bury it on page 12 a few days later; all people remember is the headline.

I think honestly my opinion is in line iwth Loverro’s; we won’t really know if the Strasburg plan or the Medlen plan is really “the best” course of action until both guys are retired.  If Strasburg breaks down again, he’ll be in the same place as Medlen.  Yes the Nats plan looks better now that we have Strasburg going on opening day and the Braves will be lucky to have Medlen back and healthy this time next year.  But it still doens’t prove anything about pitcher mechanics and proclivity to injury (another topic that makes my blood boil; people just spouting off internet theories about biomechanics and presenting themselves as experts on the topic … another topic for another day).

An important note from another questioner on the same topic: all four guys going in for their 2nd TJ surgery this spring (Medlen, Brandon BeachyPatrick Corbin and Jarrod Parker had their first TJ surgery AFTER both Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann‘s surgeries.  The Nats approach seems to be more and more vindicated by the year.

Boswell doesn’t really bite at the offer to say “I told you so” but offers a link to a paper at NIH on the topic.

Q: Does Espinosa beat out Rendon?

A: No.  Yes Espinosa is superior defensively; you don’t need the second coming of Mark Belanger at second.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Did Rick Shue really make that big of a difference on this team?

A: Looking at splits both pre- and post- Rick Eckstein/Rick Shue hiring/firing, you would be inclined to say yes.  Was this causation or correlation?  Who knows.  Boswell doesn’t address the second part of a two-part question.

Q: Is the game of baseball headed for disaster thanks to big market dominance, over-emphasis on the teams in the 4 biggest cities and declining popularity?

A: I sense this questioner has a bit of bias.  Yes baseball’s ratings are miniscule when compared to Football’s; ask yourself how Football’s ratings would look if there was a game every night.  Baseball attendance dwarfs any other sport and is rising.  There’s national emphasis on “national” teams sure … but I’ve heard cogent, well put arguments that baseball itself is now basically a regional sport.  A strong sport with strong local ties that don’t translate nation-wide.  As compared to the NFL, where if the superbowl is Green Bay vs New England people tune in because they associate those teams with their star quarterbacks, not with their geography.

The thing that I worry about is the incredible revenue disparities we’re starting to see.  I do believe that the RSN monies that large market teams are pulling in will eventually give way to some sort of small-market owner revolt as the playoffs become the same teams year after year.  Sort of like what we see in European Soccer leagues.  Nobody wants to see that.

Boswell notes some stats about attendance, calls the game booming and also repeats my “regional points.”

Q: How important at the two early-season series versus Atlanta (April 4-6 at home and then April 11-13 away)?

A: I’d like to be a cynic and say something pithy like, “a game on April 5th counts the same in the standings as a game on September 30th.”  But in this case, I think a new manager, a weakened rival and a team that got its *ss handed to them last year by Atlanta will want to make a statement.  It could be damaging if the Braves somehow come in here and take 2 of 3.  Boswell does talk about the opportunity to put pressure on the Braves early.

Q: Is this the year Strasburg puts it all together?

A: It seems like it; he’s in the same place Zimmermann was in 2013 in terms of surgery recovery; I’d love to see him win 20 games.  Boswell drinks the kool-aid and then points out the excellent Adam Kilgore piece in the WP a few days ago on Strasburg; its worth a read.

Q: Who do you think has the most upside between Brian Goodwin, Eury Perez and Michael Taylor? Are the Nats still high on Destin Hood? 

A: A prospect question!  I’d go Goodwin, Taylor then Perez at this point. But if Goodwin plateaus again this summer Taylor will surpass him.  I think Perez has peaked as a late-innings defensive replacement/pinch runner at this point and may be trade-able/DFA able sooner than later.  Hood’s time with the organization is running out; he’s entering his 7th minor league season after hitting just .224 with no power in AA last year.  I’m thinking he’ll repeat and then hit free agency.  Too bad.  Boswell doesn’t sound like he likes any of these guys.

Q: Between the Morse trade (Cole, Krol, Treinen), the Guzman trade (Roark), and the Capps trade (Ramos), plus a few others, it seems like the Nats have made some really good trades. Umm, please tell me that the people who scouted these players before any of us had heard of them are well compensated.

A: Yeah, the Nats pro scouting squad has definitely done some great work as of late.   Boswell notes that scouts are not paid a ton … but that the Nats raided other teams for quality guys by giving them more respect and input in this org.  

Q: Every year the number of pitchers requiring Tommy John surgery seems to be higher than the year before. It has to be clear at this point that the innings limit (alone) is not the answer. When does baseball finally figure this out?

A: Well, what’s the answer then?  You can look at literally every pitcher and find a fault or two with his mechanics; this guy has the “inverted W,” this guy subluxes his shoulder, this guy’s arm isn’t in the right position when he lands, this guy’s arm is too high, this guy’s arm is too low.  Nobody can define what “perfect mechanics” are.  I started pulling up video/images of the career MLB leaders of innings pitched and, guess what, those guys don’t have perfect mechanics either.  Don Sutton?  7th all-time in baseball IP and basically 2nd if you take out knuckleballers and dead-ball guys … and he has a perfect inverted-W in his motion.

What is the answer?  I wish I knew; i’d be the most in-demand pitching consultant on the planet.  When fully 1/3rd of major league pitchers have had Tommy John surgery, and that numbers seems to be rising, maybe the answer is found by looking at the evolving role of pitchers.  Velocity is king now: 30 years ago if someone threw 90 it was special; now its mediocre.  Relievers especially; think about how power arms in the bullpen are coveted now.  Is it possible that the answer to all these arm issues is simply that guys are just trying to throw too hard these days?  That’s not much of an answer though.  We can talk about youth development, over-throwing as kids, AAU/travel leagues and 10year olds going from playing 18-20 little league games to 45 travel-league games a year.  But I’m not sure that’s entirely it; baseball recruits from the Dominican Republic basically did nothing for years except play sand-lot baseball from sun-up to sun-down and that doesn’t seem to affect their longer term injuries….

Or does it?   I wonder if there’s any correlation to the “nature” of a players youth development versus future injury?  American system versus Japanese versus a developing latino country like Venezuela/Puerto Rico or the D.R.?  Excellent post topic.

Boswell totally punts on the question; maybe since there’s no real answer.

Q: Given what Souza has been doing lately, should we focus less on “age appropriateness” in the minors?

A: No.  I think Souza is the exception, not the rule.   If you’re in  your mid 20s and you’ve yet to succeed beyond high A … that’s pretty indicative of what your ceiling may be.  Simple as that.  Boswell points out that Roark is 27 and is a classic “late bloomer.”

Q: Does the news that Scherzer and Desmond declined long-term deals portend eventual trouble for the likes of Strasburg and Harper?

A: No; i think those guys were already going to be trouble.  What’s the common denominator here?  Two words: Scott Boras.  Scherzer == Boras client.  Strasburg?  same.  Harper?  Same.  Desmond isn’t a Boras client but he’s gotta be looking at some of the monster SS deals out there and saying, I’m going to hit the FA market to see what’s out there.  Can’t blame him.  The 2016 off-season is going to be an interesting one for this team.  Boswell mentions the Elvis Andrus contract, as I have many times, as a game-changer for Desmond.