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Hagerstown/Low-A Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2015

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Austen Williams went 8-1 for the Suns in the first half. Photo milb.com

Austen Williams went 8-1 for the Suns in the first half. Photo milb.com

This is the 5th in the 2015 Pitching staff review series, here’s a review of Hagerstown/Low-A’s pitching staff for 2015.  Other parts of the 2015 series:

For some historical perspective, here’s 2013’s version (featuring Pedro Encarnaction),  2012’s version (Aaron Barrett was the feature pitcher) and 2011’s version (Taylor Jordan the feature pitcher) of this post specifically for Hagerstown/Low-A.  Had I done this post in 2014 I would have “featured” Lucas Giolito, who dominated in 2014 for the suns (10-2, 2.20 ERA).

All stats are courtesy of either milb.com’s Hagerstown 2015 Stats page or via Fangraph’s Hagerstown 2015 page.   Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker since so many of these lower-minors guys are recent draftees.

Note; while its relatively easy to do reviews for the upper levels of the system, once we get lower we’re usually talking about a lot of short sample sizes.  I’ll depend on text from my “draft class” write-ups where appropriate.

Hagerstown Pitching Staff movement throughout the year (* == lefty)

  • Opening Day Starters: AWilliams, Bach*, LReyes, Van Orden, Valdez
  • End of Season starters:  Amlung, Bach*, Lee, Fedde, JRodriguez, LReyes
  • End of Season spot starts/swingman:  MSanchez
  • End of Season bullpen:  Napoli*, Cooper, DWilliams,  Glover, Brinley, KPerez, Peterson
  • Mid-Season promotions: Mapes, Valdez,  Thomas*, Purke*, AWilliams, Orlan*, Walsh*, Rauh, Howell
  • up-and-back: Amlung, AWilliams, Amlung
  • down-and-back: Van Orden, LReyes, Bach*
  • Mid-Season demotions:  Webb*, Ullman, JRodriguez, Dickey, Baez, Johns, LTorres, DeRosier
  • End of Season DL: Estevez, DRamos, JMorales, Van Orden
  • Mid-Season cut/released/FAs: Mooneyham*

Hagerstown starters.  The rotation started the season with AWilliams, Bach*, LReyes, Van Orden, Valdez.  18 guys got starts in 2015.  Here’s an overview of the starters used, starting with the original five starters, going all the way to the rehab spot starts.

  • Austen Williams blitzed the Sally league (8-1 with a 2.10 ERA) and forced a promotion to Potomac mid-season, where he continued pitching well.  See High-A write-up for more.  Outlook for Next season: High-A rotation to start with an eye on quick promotion.
  • Connor Bach: Posted a 6-4, 3.85 ERA with 106/69 K/BB in 110 ip (20 starts) in Low A as a member of the rotation for much of the season.  4.08 fip, .311 babip.  Not too shabby for a 21st round senior sign from a relatively unknown baseball school (VMI).  Perhaps too many walks, but nearly a K/inning in full-season ball portends well for his future.  At the very least he could move up as a lefty specialist.   Outlook for Next season: High-A rotation.
  • Luis Reyes went 6-7 with a 4.82 ERA in 24 starts and 117.2 IP, both leading the Hagerstown squad.  1.42 whip, 4.87 fip.  Reyes signed relatively late for a Dominican player (at age 18) but has steadily progressed out of the DSL and through the short-season leagues.  This was his first stint in full-season ball and at age 20 could be excused for getting hit somewhat hard.  A 72/50 K/BB ratio isn’t promising; he maintained much better K/9 rates in the lower levels.  I figure he’ll repeat Low-A looking to improve his numbers and see if he can regain some of his swing and miss stuff.  Outlook for Next season: repeating Low-A rotation.
  • Drew Van Orden went 5-5, 3.61 ERA for Hagerstown with 47/34 K/BB in 92ip (15 starts), 4.33 fip, .254 babip.  Not a bad season for the under-slot 2014 5th round senior sign, who’s clearly sticking around.  He was mostly a spot starter for Hagerstown this year, getting a bunch of starts during the turmoil of the rotation.  He ended the season on the DL after giving the team 92 decent innings.  His FIP is a bit weak thanks to overall lucky BABIP contact but he has given no reason not to put himself into the discussion for that same role in Potomac next year.  Outlook for Next season: High-A rotation competition.
  • Philips Valdez dominated the Sally league, going 5-2 with a 1.47 ERA and quickly earned a promotion to Potomac.   See High-A write-up for more.   Outlook for Next season: High-A rotation
  • Jefry Rodriguez bounced between Short-A and Low-A again this season, starting in Hagerstown, pitching most of the year in Auburn and ending in Hagerstown.  See the Short-A write-up for more.  Outlook for Next season: Low-A rotation.
  • Mario Sanchez was Hagerstown’s long-man/spot starter all year, getting 8 starts in 29 appearances and posting a 4.86 ERA along the way.  70/18 K/BB ratio in 90.2 innings, 1.28 whip, 4.18 whip, .301 babip.  Sanchez is even  younger than the other DSL grads on this team (he didn’t turn 21 until after the season was over, so 2016 will be his age-21 season).  Good control (nearly 4 strikeouts per walk) but was a bit homer prone (11 homers in 90 innings).  He’s undersized (6’1″) and I wonder if he’s not destined to continue to be this rubber-armed innings eater for the organization.  Its the same way he’s been used all along; few starts but lots of IP per appearance.  I also think he needs to improve his numbers before moving up, and he’s  young enough to repeat a level without really stalling his progress.  Outlook for Next season: Low-A swingman again.
  • Justin Amlung is a bit of an oddity; he’s was a 24-yr old MLFA after getting cut from the Cubs’ high-A affiliate in May of 2015.  The Nats signed him and had him repeating Low-A for his third straight year.  He (like Sanchez) served as a swing-man, getting 19 appearances and 8 starts for Hagerstown, posting a 4.22 ERA along the way.  He had a great 42/7 K/BB ratio in 64 low-A innings, 1.14 whip, 3.70 fip.  He was promoted towards the end of the season and had a nice stretch for Potomac before the seasons’ end.  He was immediately declared a MLFA but has re-signed for 2016.  Outlook for Next season: high-A bullpen/swingman.
  • Matt Purke had 8 starts and 32 IP for Hagerstown during his tour of the Nats farm system in 2015: see AA write-up for more.
  • Erick Fedde evenly split his season between Short-A and Hagerstown.  He was 4-1, 2.57 ERA in Short-A Auburn with 36/8 in 35ip (8 starts), 2.60 fip, .346 babip.  He then got bumped up to Hagerstown where he threw another 29 innings across 6 starts with lesser stats (1-2, 4.34 ERA).  A good  post-Tommy  John debut season for  our 2014 1st rounder Fedde, despite the rather restrictive innings limits put on him; he was limited to just 5ip per start for a total of 64ip on the season between two levels.  Given his mediocre stats in Hagerstown and the Nats historical promotion schedule, he could start 2016 in the Hagerstown rotation with a quick move up to the Potomac rotation.  I could be wrong though; looking at the state of my projected High-A rotation I could also easily see him starting the year in Potomac.  There’s just so many arms competing for the Low-A rotation he may be forced up.  Outlook for Next season: High-A rotation.
  • Andrew Lee posted a 5-1, 1.63 ERA across 3 levels, ending up in Hagerstown where he spent most of his first pro season.  47/10 K/BB in 38.2 innings (16/5 starts), 2.19 fip, .250 babip specifically in lowA where he spent most of his time.  An intriguing arm for sure and more than held his own in 5 Low-A starts.  He’s the fastest riser so far of the 2015 draft class and he’s easily in the mix for the Hagerstown 2016 rotation.  Outlook for Next season: Low-A rotation to start; could be a fast riser.
  • Jose Morales got blasted in two Low-A starts after three quick relief appearances in Auburn, then spent the rest of the year on the D/L.  Not much to glean from his year; is he a starter or a reliever?  He only threw 30-some odd relief innings in 2014; I think he’s being used as a long-man/spot starter arm for now.  I would guess he’ll start 2016 in XST with an eye of hooking on with Short-A again.  Outlook for Next season: Short-A bullpen.
  • Ryan Ullmann got stuck in XST to start the season, hooked up with Hagerstown 5 weeks into the season, got hit hard, was dumped to Auburn, had one appearance and then was summarily released.  Quite a quick downturn of events for Ullmann, who was always going to be a long shot (30th rounder out of a small school).  Outlook for Next season: out of baseball.
  • Other Guys who got starts for Hagerstown:
    • Joan Baez got 3 starts for Hagerstown in June, got hammered, and spent the rest of the year in short-season ball.  See GCL write-up for more.
    • Jeff Howell had two starts for Hagerstown before getting a few more in Potomac as he converted to the mound.  See High-A write-up for more.
    • Brian Rauh had two “rehab” starts for Hagerstown and spent most of the year in Harrisburg.  See AA write-up for more.
    • Robbie Dickey had two starts in Hagerstown before getting dumped back to Auburn.  See Short-A write-up for more.
    • Robert Orlan had one spot-start for Hagerstown; see the reliever section.
    • Wirkin Estevez spent the entire season on the D/L: he’ll compete for a Low-A rotation spot in 2016.

Hagerstown Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps.  We’ll organize relievers by going by IP from most to least.  Anyone with less than 10 IP will get cursory analysis at the end.

  • Andrew Cooper: 2-2, 3.53 ERA with 35/16 K/BB in 63.2 relief IP for Low-A Hagerstown, 3.63 fip, .283 babip.  Improved his numbers across the board while repeating Low-A.  Still isn’t getting the K/9 we’d like to see though.  He’ll be 24 in High-A next year in what probably is a make or break season.  Outlook for Next season: High-A bullpen.
  • David Napoli went 7-5, 4.01 ERA with 62/36 K/BB in 60 relief IP mostly for LowA Hagerstown.  3.57 fip, .289 babip.  He started with Potomac but spent most of the year in Hagerstown, despite turning 25 during the season.  If anything,  his numbers took a step back from his 2014 Hagerstown campaign, and given his age and the glut of arms in the system, time may be running out.  Or maybe not: i mean, he signed for $15k and basically cost the team nothing and eats innings; that kind of guy is useful to have around.  Outlook for Next season: High-A bullpen.
  • Robert Orlan went 3-1, 3.00 ERA with 85/28 K/BB ratio in 72 relief IP between LowA and HighA.  Orlan bounced between Potomac and Hagerstown all season, ending up in HighA with pretty good numbers in a “more than a loogy” role.  Especially impressive is 85 Ks in just 72 ip.  He’s older for these levels, inarguably, but could put himself in a good position by continuing to succeed in 2016.  I see him in the Potomac bullpen again with an eye towards a June promotion to AA when the short-season promotions come due.   Outlook for Next season: High-A bullpen.
  • Samuel Johns went 3-4, 4.31 ERA between LowA and ShortA with 39/17 k/bb in 62.2 relief innings, 4.63 fip, .290 babip in lowA.  He struggled in LowA, but then dropped back to ShortA and was dominant.  Not great, but certainly not bad for a 31st round 5th year senior as compared to what has happened to other 5th year senior signs on this list.  Maybe not the best stuff, but has been effective.  My guess is that he either makes the Hagerstown team next spring or is cut loose, but the fact that he hung around this long gives him some more room to work with.  Outlook for Next season: Low-A bullpen.
  • Kevin Perez threw 36 relatively effective innings for Hagerstown after throwing 18 relatively ineffective innings for Potomac to start the year.  The team signed him as a MLFA early in 2015 after he was dumped out of the Low-A Royals affiliate but I doubt he showed the team enough to stick with him given the number of arms rising out of the short-season rosters.  Outlook for Next season: out of the organization.
  • Deion Williams, went 1-2, 5.46 ERA with 22/18 K/BB in 29.2 relief innings with Hagerstown.  Williams was drafted as a SS but converted to the mound after a year or so.  Since then, he’s struggled, somehow making it onto the full-season Hagerstown roster in June after sitting in XST for two months.  There, he continued not to impress; his career ERA is now 6.12 across 103IP and the three lower levels of the minors.  I could see 2016 being a “make it or break it” year for him; he either makes the full season bullpen or he’s cut.  Outlook for Next season: Low-A bullpen competition.
  • Koda Glover went 1-1, 1.80 ERA across 2 levels, getting promoted to Low-A after just 6 IP in Short-A.  Of course, in those 6ip he gave up just one hit and struck out 11, so it was pretty clear he was over-qualified for the league.  For the season: 38/2 K/BB in 30 ip (19app), 2.44 fip, .288 babips in LowA where he spent most of the year.  38 to 2 (!!)  K/BB ratio in 30 innings.  No wonder he was an over-slot deal; the 2015 draftee is one of the highest rising guys in the class so far.  Glover profiled very well and should be in the mix for a High-A bullpen slot in 2016 already.  Outlook for Next season: High-A bullpen.
  • Brett Mooneyham was 0-2 with a 6.41 ERA in 19 ineffective innings for Low-A Hagerstown before the Nats finally cut the cord and released him on 6/3/15.  Mooneyham was in Low-A for the third successive season, having failed to make the cut in Potomac in each of 2013 and 2014.  You’d have to say that he’s one of the more higher-profile drafting failures of the Mike Rizzo era.  Or maybe not; the team had to go over-slot to sign Giolito and may have skimped for the rest of the draft.  Outlook for Next season: out of the organization.
  • Ryan Brinley went 1-4 1.44 ERA  across 3 levels this year with a 16/1 K/BB in 31.1 ip, 3.85 fip, .292 babip in low-A (where he ended up).  Great 27th round find so far in Brinley, who may not have a ton of swing and miss but certainly seems to have some command (1 BB in 31 innings??).  Could be a nice little middle relief option going forward, someone who can keep his team in games.  I could see him in the High-A bullpen next year based on his command of Low-A.   Outlook for Next season: High-A bullpen.
  • Jake Walsh threw 17 scoreless innings in Hagerstown before getting bumped up to High-A.  See High-A write-up for more.
  • David Ramos threw 13 innings of middle relief for Hagerstown before getting hurt; he spent most of the summer going “rehab” assignments all throughout short-season ball before being “activated” once the full-season was done.  Not much to glean from his season; his ERAs were not pretty anywhere he went.  He’s now 24, in his fourth pro season outside of the DSL and has yet to post an ERA below 6.46 in any of his multiple stops.  Honestly, I’m surprised he made the full-season bullpen in 2015.  I’d guess he’ll take another shot at Hagerstown’s bullpen in 2016 and if he doesn’t make it, he could be facing an April 1 release.  Outlook for Next season: Low-A bullpen competition.
  • Other Relievers who got less than 10 IP for Hagerstown this year:
    • Tommy Peterson: threw 6ip in the last week of the season: see Short-A write-up.
    • Tyler Mapes threw 6 shutout IP before getting bumped to Potomac: see High-A write-up.
    • Joey Webb threw 5 innings early in the season before ending up in Auburn.  See Short-A write-up.
    • Luis Torres threw 3 innings to cover in mid July: See Short-A write-up.
    • Diomedes Eusebio is normally a 1B and threw one inning at some point.

Summary

It was a successful season for Hagerstown hurlers; I count 6-7 guys who earned promotions by pitching well in Hagerstown.  A good number of them should feature in 2016 for either Potomac or Harrisburg.  This didn’t help the Suns much, as they finished both halves right around .500, not quite good enough for a playoff spot.  2016’s staff will have some familiarity to it; I think a good portion of the 2016 opening day rotation will look just like the 2015 end-of-season rotation, mirroring the Nats recent habit of having players repeat levels in overlapping seasons and doing mid-season promotions.

 

Potomac/High-A Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2015

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Tyler Mapes is a great draft story and my pitcher of the year out of Potomac. Photo via nola.com

Tyler Mapes is a great draft story and my pitcher of the year out of Potomac. Photo via nola.com

This is the 4th in the 2015 Pitching staff review series, here’s a review of Potomac/High-A’s pitching staff for 2015.  Other parts of the 2015 series:

For some historical perspective, here’s 2013’s version (featuring Taylor Jordan), here’s 2012’s version (Nathan Karns the feature pitcher) and 2011’s version (Danny Rosenbaum the feature pitcher) of this post specifically for Potomac/High-A.  Had we done this in 2014, we would likely have “featured” Gilberto Mendez for his good work closing.

Note; while its relatively easy to do reviews for the upper levels of the system, once we get lower we’re usually talking about a lot of short sample sizes.  And i’m sure there’s people reading this who saw every pitcher on this post throw in 2015; by all means feel free to comment if you believe i’ve mis-characterized someone here.  Of all the write-ups I expect readers here to have better opinions of Potomac players by virtue of actually seeing them week in/week out, so definitely pipe up.

All stats are courtesy of either milb.com’s Potomac 2015 Stats page or via Fangraph’s Potomac 2015 page.   Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker since so many of these lower-minors guys are recent draftees.  And here’s the Baseball America Minor League Free Agent (MLFA) tracker.  And here’s a list of the official MLB MLFA declarations for 2015, though these are more useful for the AAA and AA squads frankly.

Potomac Pitching Staff movement throughout the year (* == lefty)

  • Opening Day rotation: Pivetta, Rauh, Schwartz, Suero, Spann*
  • End of Season Rotation: Mapes, Dickson, AWilliams, Spann*, Howell
  • End of Season spot starts/swingman: Dupra, Thomas*,  Valdez
  • End of Season bullpen:  Self,   Walsh*, Johansen, Orlan*, MRodriguez
  • Mid-Season promotions: Dupra, Bacus, Suero, Pivetta, Mapes, Giolito, Purke*, Simms, Rauh, Roark
  • up-and-back: Mapes, Spann*, Dupra
  • down-and-back: Thomas*, Rauh
  • demotions: KPerez, Napoli*, Amlung, Orlan*
  • D/L: RPena, Turnbull*, Sylvestre*,  Lopez
  • cut/released/FAs: Mirowski, Henke, Encarnacion, Schwartz (retired), CDavis

Potomac starters.  The rotation started the season with Pivetta, Rauh, Schwartz, Suero, Spann*.  19 guys got starts in 2015.  Here’s an overview of the starters used, starting with the original five starters, going all the way to the rehab spot starts.

  • Nick Pivetta was your opening day starter, and by the end of the season he had gotten promoted and traded.  He earned his promotion, going 7-4 with a 2.29 ERA in 15 starts for Potomac.  He was not as successful upon his promotion to AA, but that was still enough to catch the eye of Philadelphia and be the bounty for them ridding themselves of Jonathan Papelbon‘s ego and contract.  If he was still with the team, he would have been the ‘featured” player above and not Mapes for his dominant season in High-A.  Outlook for Next Season: Philadelphia’s AA team in Reading, where he gets to go against Harrisburg and all his old teammates a few times a year.
  • Brian Rauh threw 7 excellent High-A starts before getting promoted to AA, where he spent most of the year.  See AA write-up for more.  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation or bust.
  • Blake Schwartz had three High-A starts, struggled, and retired.  After a fantastic 2013 season in Potomac, he just never could make the jump to AA and (not that I’ve ever talked to him or anything) perhaps got discouraged after not really progressing further up the chain.  Outlook for Next season: retired, out of baseball
  • Wander Suero pitched pretty effectively for Potomac in the first half in a swingman role, getting 16 appearances and 5 starts and posting a 2.41 ERA, 1.20 whip, and a 3.27 FIP.  Not much in the way of swing and miss though; 39/18 K/BB in 56 innings.  After moving up, he struggled in AA but inched up his K/9 rate while focusing more on middle relief.  No reason to think he can’t compete in AA in 2016, and is still relatively young (he turned 24 just after the season ended so he’ll still be 24 all next year).  Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen, perhaps High-A bullpen again if he gets squeezed in a numbers game.
  • Matthew Spann bounced between High-A and AA all year, posting mid 4 ERAs in both places.  See AA write-up for more.  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
  • Reynaldo Lopez led the team in IP and starts for 2015, going 6-7 with a 4.09 ERA in 99 IP across 19 starts.  His stats: 4.09 ERA, 1.22 whip, 2.95 FIP and 94/28 K/BB in those 99 innings, all as a 21-yr old.  It isn’t hard to see why Lopez is highly ranked on “top 10” lists for Nats prospects; he more than held his own in High-A as one of the younger hurlers in the league.  The team held him back in XST for a few weeks to keep innings off his arm.  While most scouting reports think he’ll eventually end up in the bullpen (no third pitch, iffy mechanics, big arm), he’s obviously worth giving more chances to stick as a high-velocity starter (in the same vein as Yordano Ventura for example).  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
  • John Simms threw an excellent half season for Potomac before getting bumped up mid-season; see AA writeup for more.  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
  • Lucas Giolito threw an dominant half season for Potomac (86 ks in 69 innings) after being kept in XST for the first 5 weeks of the season (so much for those pre-2015 interviews where he proclaimed that he had no innings limits, eh?) before also getting bumped up mid-season; see AA writeup for more.  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
  • Austen Williams blitzed the Sally league and forced a promotion to Potomac mid-season, where he continued pitching well.  In High-A he was 4-6 with a 2.59 ERA, 1.09 whip, 3.22 fip and 41/17 K/BB over 63 high-A innings.  The 2014 draftee is looking like a nice little find.  There does seem to be a bit of fortuitousness in his numbers (.253 BABIP and a delta between his ERA and FIP), so I could see the log-jam in the AA projected rotation keeping Williams back in Potomac for the first half of the 2016 season.  Outlook for Next season: High-A rotation to start with an eye on quick promotion.
  • Philips Valdez dominated the Sally league and earned a promotion after two months.  In Potomac he bounced in and out of the rotation, getting 10 starts across 22 appearances and posting a 3.77 ERA in High-A.  Other numbers: 1.44 whip, 3.26 fip, 48/25 K/BB in 59 High-A innings.  Valdez has been around for a while; this was his *seventh* season in the Nats organization.  He just turned 24.  But he has relatively few innings on his arm; just 260 IP across those seven seasons (he missed the entirety of 2012).  He’s looking like he could be a low-profile decent starter going forward, though he may run out of time in the system before the team is faced with a tougher decision on how to keep him.  For now, I think he repeats High-A to start, is tried out as a full time starter, and we’ll see if he can push forward to AA in 2016.  Outlook for Next season: High-A rotation
  • Tyler Mapes so far is a pretty good 2014 draft success story; he was a 30th round *senior sign* out of Tulane who was basically unhittable in Short-A last year, threw 6 clean innings in Low-A and was bumped up to High-A (the first 2014 draftee to get promoted that high) after just a couple of weeks.  Once in Potomac, he continued to pitch well in a swing-man role; 30 appearances, 8 starts, a 2.38 ERA across 90 innings, 1.22 whip, 2.78 FIP and 75/17 K/BB over 96 innings in High-A.  Not too shabby.  If it were me, I’d push him right to AA and stick him in the rotation, but as noted before I’m projecting an awful lot of starters to be in that Harrisburg rotation right now.  I’m curious to see how things shake out for someone like Mapes; he didn’t last to the 30th round as a favor to the Nats; is there something limiting in his capabilities that will cause him to suddenly top out like a lot of late-round senior signs?  We’ll see.  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
  • Ian Dickson was hurt the first half of the season and finished 2015 the exact same place he finished 2014: in the Potomac rotation with decent to effective numbers.  2015 totals for Dickson: 3-3, 3.60 ERA in 12 appearances/8 starts.  We see a problem though: 31 ks and 39 (?!) walks in 40 innings in Potomac this year.  Wow; that’s a walk an inning.  He never saw this kind of walk rate before, so hopefully its just a remnant of whatever injury kept him out the first half of the year.  Nonetheless, he seems like he’ll be back in Potomac a third year until he can solve his walk rate issues.  Outlook for Next season: High-A rotation.
  • Dakota Bacus began the season in Potomac, had 5 starts and 8 appearances and got bumped quickly to Harrisburg, where he played most of the season.  See AA write-up for more.
  • Jeff Howell is a pretty interesting player.  He’s a career minor league backup catcher, having toiled in the lower minor leagues since 2005.  He signed on with Washington in 2012 and hung around as a backup between the levels for a couple of years.  Then suddenly, at the age of 32, he decided to try his hand on the mound.  Perhaps he was inspired by other Catchers-turned-Hurlers like Jason Motte.  He (presumably) hung out in XST for most of the season learning how to pitch, then threw a couple of games in the Rookie league, then for Hagerstown, then finally for Potomac at season’s end.  He struggled once he got to Potomac, giving up 9 runs in 13 innings but more importantly walking 17 guys while he was there.  He’s now a MLFA and one may think that he’d re-up with Washington since we’re the ones who gave him a shot.  We’ll see how the off-season goes.  He may choose to pitch elsewhere where he can be guaranteed a rotation spot (a tough one in our system, since we’re completely overloaded with arms from pitching-heavy drafts over the past few years).   Outlook for Next season: continuing his conversion to pitcher in another organization.
  • Others who got starts in Potomac for 2015:
    • Matt Purke got three brief starts in Potomac before settling in Harrisburg for the year; see AA write-up for more.
    • Rehab starts for Potomac in 2015: Barrett, Roark, Janssen and Carpenter (though technically Roark’s were not rehab but “stretching out” starts).

Potomac Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps.  We’ll organize relievers by going by IP from most to least.  Anyone with less than 10 IP will get cursory analysis at the end.

  • Justin Thomas was the bullpen leader in IP for Potomac in 2015, throwing 57 innings across 28 games, posting a 3.43 ERA, 1.21 whip, a 2.84 FIP and getting 50/18 K/BB in those 57 innings.  He’s a lefty but was used more as a long-man, not being limited to just short stints.  He’s looking great considering his limited draft pedigree (senior sign out of a small college in the 21st round) and I see no reason not to keep bumping him up the chain.  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
  • Jake Johanssen was 1-7 with a 5.44 ERA, 1.81 whip, 4.69 fip with 48/27 K/BB in 48 relief innings for Potomac.  Johanssen was our top draft pick in 2013, has already been “demoted” from a starter to the pen, and now seemingly can’t perform in a relief role either.  Where do you go from here with him?  You and I know that his large bonus is a “sunk cost” and shouldn’t dictate his usage, but teams don’t seem to see it that way.  Just look at how long the Nats kept Brett Mooneyham around after it became clear he wasn’t capable of performing, even at lower levels of the minors?  I see Johanssen repeating High-A and trying to get his career back on track.  Outlook for Next season: High-A bullpen.
  • Derek Self seems to be taking a step back in his career; after posting a 1.69 ERA through half a season in Potomac last year, he more than earned a promotion up to AA where he more than held his own.  However after just 14 innings in AA this year, he got dumped back to Potomac, thus repeating High-A for the third straight year.  He was solid again; a 4/1 K/BB ratio in middle relief, but where is his Nats career going at this point?  Obviously he needs to be in the AA bullpen next year, but you could have also said that last year and it didn’t work out.  There’s going to be a lot of AA bullpen competition; if he gets squeezed out does he get cut in 2016?  we’ll see.  Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen competition/Release Candidate.
  • Brian Dupra is in a similar boat as Derek Self; he’s now 27 and spent most of his third successive year in Potomac.  He was promoted mid-season to AA but didn’t last long after getting hit hard.  Final Potomac stats for 2015: 2.79 ERA in 42 mostly later bullpen innings.  I think he’s going to be in a similar situation as Self this coming spring; if he cannot cut it at AA (and there’s plenty of competition for that bullpen), he may get cut loose entirely.  Not that it should matter, but it should be noted that Dupra was a senior sign for limited bonus money out of Notre Dame in 2011, so it could be a “make the team or get cut” situation.  Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen competition/Release candidate.
  • Cody Davis was struggling early in the season, with a decent ERA but ugly peripherals (4.55 fip, 10/15 K/BB in 21 ip) and was released towards the end of June as upwards player movement started to need bullpen spots.  The undrafted MLFA signing from 2011 played parts of 5 seasons for the system but seemed to fall apart this year as he repeated High-A.   It does not look like he picked up anywhere and may be done.  Outlook for Next season: out of baseball.
  • Manny Rodriguez only threw 21 innings between two different D/L stints this year, and then was released soon after the end of the season.  It seems that the team believed he never recovered from the injury that cost him two full seasons early in his minor league career.  Outlook for Next season: out of baseball.
  • Jake Walsh threw 17 scoreless innings as a late-inning/closer in Low-A before getting bumped up to High-A in July.  From there out he posted a 3.66 ERA in 19.2 innings across 9 appearances with a 19/10 K/BB ratio.   There’s something odd going on with Walsh; why was he even in Low-A to start 2015?  He posted a sub-2.00 ERA across low- and high-A LAST YEAR, yet didn’t start in Potomac nor get considered for the AA rotation despite being a senior sign in 2013.  He now holds a CAREER 1.65 ERA and seems to me to more than have earned a shot at a look at a higher level.  Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen.
  • Kevin Perez spent the 2nd half of the year in  Hagerstown after struggling early on in Potomac: see Low-A write-up for more.
  • Robert Orlan spent most of the season in Hagerstown but posted a 2.20 ERA in Potomac in 16.1 August innings:  see Low-A write-up for more.
  • Justin Amlung, similarly to Orlan above, spent most of the season in Hagerstown but posted an excellent 1.84 ERA in Potomac in 14.2 July and August innings:  see Low-A write-up for more.
  • Other Relievers of note who had less than 10 IP for Potomac this year:
    • David Napoli had 8 IP for Potomac before getting demoted to Hagerstown:  see Low-A write-up for more.
    • Matt Purke threw 7 IP for Potomac during his tour of the Nats farm system in 2015: see AA write-up for more.
    • Erik Davis threw 3 re-hab IP in 2015; see AA write-up for more.
    • Tanner Roark threw one 4Ip start during his “stretch out” minor league stint; see MLB write-up for more.
    • Brenden Webb, normally an Outfielder, threw a 3Ip mop-up game (really?  they couldn’t find ONE reliever out of the 32 guys who threw innings for Potomac this year?)
    • MLBers Aaron Barrett, Casey Janssen and David Carpenter each had some re-hab innings; see MLB write-up for more.
    • A few guys spent the entire year on the D/L: Ronald Pena, Kylin Turnbull, Hector Sylvestre: all are looking at repeating Potomac next year if/when healthy.

Summary

Potomac certainly saw a lot of churn in its pitching staff; 32 total pitchers used (19 different starters including rehab starts by relievers).  Their leading IP was Lopez, who didn’t even hit 100 IP on the year.  There were at least 6-7 arms who earned their promotions to AA mid-season, a great sign for the rising tide of pitching talent in the system.  Lots of guys with ERAs that start with a “2” in the season-ending stats.  It didn’t help Potomac in the standings; they finished both halves several games under .500 and out of the playoffs.  This will create quite a competition for the AA staff next year: my projections at this point show at least 6-7 rotation candidates, 8-9 bullpen candidates and another 3-4 guys who are right at that age where they may be summarily cut if they don’t make the AA team in 2016.  Harsh, but good for the Nats, who could use all the bullpen help they can get.

Syracuse/AAA Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2015

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Espino probably had your best overall season out of the AAA staff. Photo via milb.com

Espino probably had your best overall season out of the AAA staff. Photo via milb.com

After skipping the minor league pitching staff reviews in 2014 (that silly thing called work interfered), I’m back for 2015.  I’ll be reviewing the six minor league levels and the major league levels going from high to low.  In this series, we have already published the MLB version for 2015.

For some historical perspective, here’s 2013’s version (featuring Tanner Roark), here’s 2012’s version (featuring John Lannan) and 2011’s version (featuring Tommy Milone) of this post for AAA Syracuse.  In the missing 2014 post I likely would have “featured” either Taylor Hill or Rafael Martin.

All stats are courtesy of either milb.com’s Syracuse Stats page or via Fangraph’s Syracuse Stats page.   Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker.  And here’s the Baseball America Minor League Free Agent (MLFA) tracker.  And here’s a list of the official MLB MLFA declarations for 2015.

Syracuse Pitching Staff movement throughout the year (* == lefty)

  • Opening Day Rotation: Cole, Jordan, THill, McGregor, Billings
  • Closing Day Rotation:  Espino, Bleier*, McGregor , THill, Jordan (Cole 9/1 callup)
  • End of Season Swingmen: Walters, Billings
  • End of Season bullpen:   Runion,  Gutierrez, Harper*
  • 9/1 promotions: Solis*, Martin, Grace*, Cole
  • Mid-Season Promotions: Rivero*,  Ross, Treinen
  • Up-and-back: Martin, Grace*, Cole, Jordan, THill, Solis* (not counting 9/1 call-ups)
  • Down-and-back: Bleier*, Runion
  • Demotions: Spann* (was up for spot start), AWilliams (up for spot start),  EDavis, Demny,
  • DL/restricted: Swynenberg
  • Cut/released: Delcarmen, Lively (Japan), RHill*, Simmons, Meek (Korea), Valverde (opt-out), Fornataro

Syracuse starters.  The rotation started the season with Cole, Jordan, Hill, McGregor, and Billings.  It finished the year with Espino, Bleier, McGregor , THill, Jordan and Cole.  Here’s an overview of the starters Syracuse used, starting with the original five starters.

  • A.J. Cole was Syracuse’s opening day starter in 2015.  On the year, he was 5-6, 3.15 ERA, 1.18 whip, 3.90 FIP and 76/34 K/BB in 105.2 innings.  Cole got yanked up and down a couple times on the year, with one ill-fated spot-start for the major league team where he looked completely out of his depth against Atlanta (not exactly the ’27 Yankees).  His K/9 is down, BB/9 is up from his stint in AAA in 2014, though his BAA improved significantly.  I’m struggling not to write him off; after all he’s only 23, he’s still listed in or near the top 100 prospects in all of the minors, and he still could have value.  I just don’t think its going to happen with the Nats.  He’s been pushed down on the starter depth chart and (save an injury) has no chance of making the 25-man roster in 2016.  So is there value in having him pitch another year in upstate New York?  I could see Cole getting flipped to a team that could use a cheap 5th starter candidate.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse’s opening day starter again, unless moved.
  • Taylor Jordan was 5-6, 2.95 ERA, 1.15 whip, 3.41 FIP and 61/27 K/BB in 103 IP.   He’s slipping further and further away from a rotation job that seemed rather likely after his 2013 sterling debut.  His AAA numbers were pretty good this year but he got lit up in his one 2015 spot start (to be fair, it was against Toronto and the best offense in the majors).  His margin for error is just so much lower because he doesn’t get the K/9 that other guys do.  Unlike Cole though, Jordan doesn’t necessarily wow the scouts and may be tougher to move.  I think he plays out his options string as a AAA starter with occasional big league cover and then gives it a go in another organization.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse rotation again.
  • Taylor Hill was 3-10 with a 5.23 ERA, 1.62 whip, 3.85 fip and 70/29 K/BB in 118 IP.  Not a good year for Hill, who got a handful of mop-up bullpen gigs in late May/early June and wasn’t entirely impressive while doing it.  See all that we’ve said for Cole and Jordan, but lower expectations a bit more.  I have Hill near the top of my “guys to get DFA’d to make room on the 40-man roster” at this point and he needs to figure out what changed between 2014 (2.81 ERA) and this year (5.23 ERA, both at Syracuse).  We won’t really know if he’s getting pushed out of the rotation until deeper dives into the AA rotation.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse rotation/release candidate.  1/6/16 update: Hill was DFA’d on the 40-man to make room for Stephen Drew: we’ll update in this space when his roster status is finalized.
  • Scott McGregor (boy I have a hard time typing that w/o remembering the old Baltimore Orioles hurler from the mid 1970s) was 6-6 with a 4.04 ERA, 1.43 whip, 4.67 fip and 63/35 K/BB in 107 IP split between starting and relieving.  He started in the rotation, having signed as a MLFA in June of 2014 originally then re-upped with the Nats over last off-season to continue his role as AAA 5th starter/long-man.  But his performance slipped considerably this year.  I don’t see him listed on the MLFA tracker so its possible he’s signed through 2016 with the team, so we’ll assume he’s reprising his role again in 2016.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse long-man/spot starter
  • Bruce Billings was 8-5 with a  3.63 ERA, 1.26 whip, 3.23 fip and 90/28 K/BB in 121 IP.  The MLFA produced well in a season spent in a similar role to McGregor; 4th/5th starter who made way for prospects as they got moved up but who eventually spent most of the year in the rotation.   His numbers are about what you’d expect for a veteran minor leaguer/classic AAA org guy; he’s declared again and will look to build on his decent 2015 with an organization where he has a better shot at getting called up.  Outlook for next season: in AAA for another organization.
  • Paolo Espino had a nice season, getting promoted up from AA and giving Syracuse 20 starts of 3.21 ERA, 1.15 whip, 3.68 fip pitching (88/19 K/BB in 117 AAA innings).  The 2014 MLFA signing (as with McGregor) stuck with the team for 2015 and could be an interesting piece going forward.  Question is; is he a MLFA for this upcoming season?  My records and research disagree with each other: he’s *not* listed in the BA MLFA tracker nor is he on the official MLB declared MLFA list (links at the top), but the drat tracker says he’s a MLFA.  I’ll assume our private files are not better than MLBs and assume he’s still under team control.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse Rotation.
  • Richard Bleier was 14-5 with a 2.57 ERA between AA and AAA this year.  65/16 K/BB in 171 IP.  Bleier had a nice season, working his way out of AA and finishing the year in the AAA rotation.  His K/9 is shockingly low given his stat line, perhaps why he’s not likely to draw much attention from the team’s executives on 1/2 street.  He’s a declared MLFA already for 2015 and likely plies his trade elsewhere next year.  Outlook for next season: in AAA for another organization.
  • P.J. Walters was acquired mid-season from the Dodgers for cash: for the Chiefs he threw 60 innings of 5.35 ERA and got 5 spot starts towards the end of the year.  52/23 K/BB in his 60 innings for Syracuse on the year.  Walters has significant MLB experience, with 152 IP across several organizations dating to 2008.  He’s yet to really have a decent MLB stretch thought, and his AAA numbers are starting to look just as bad.  Given the team’s dearth of RH bullpen depth options though, I think its safe to say they’ll keep him around to see if he’s an option to consider.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen.
  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there:
    • Joe Ross had 5 starts before getting called up to the majors.  See MLB write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: Nats #4 starter.
    • Matt Swynenberg had exactly one AAA start of 3 innings this year before spending the rest of the year on the restricted list, which usually indicates retirement.  We’ll see if he gets an official release this coming off-season.  Outlook for next season: retired/out of the organization.
    • Mitch Lively had 2 spot starts but was mostly a reliever; see the reliever section.
    • Sam Runion and Eric Fornataro each had a spot start but were primarily relievers; see the reliever section.
    • Matthew Spann, James Simmons and Austen Williams each got called up to AAA from lower levels to provide exactly one spot start.  See High-A for for Spann and Williams, AA for Simmons writeups.
    • Strasburg and Fister had one-two rehab starts for Syracuse in 2015.

Syracuse Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps.  We’ll organize relievers by going by IP from most to least.  Anyone with less than 10 IP will get cursory analysis at the end.

  • Rafael Martin was Syracuse’s closer for a good portion of the season, getting 12 saves in 50 IP across 46 games.  We discussed Martin at length in the MLB writeup but will repeat our prediction here.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen/MLB reliever depth.
  • Eric Fornataro was a waiver claim last off-season, then DFA’d off the 40-man roster before the season started.  He then failed to impress, posting a 5.54 ERA in 50 innings before getting released in July.  Outlook for next season: in another organization/out of baseball.
  • Matt Grace had a 2.40 ERA in 48 IP and spent a decent amount of time on the MLB roster (17 ip across 26 appearances).  See MLB writeup for more.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen/lefty reliever coverage.
  • Evan Meek posted a 2.15 ERA across 37.2 innings in the early part of the year, effective if a bit wild (33/19 K/BB in those 37 ip) and, after not getting consideration for a call-up, asked for his release to sign with a Korean team.  Outlook for next season: still in Korea or with another Organization.
  • Sam Runion posted a 2.91 ERA in 65 IP across AA and AAA after getting picked up in June of 2014 as a MLFA.  1.43 whip, decent K/9 rates, just not enough to get a sniff at a MLB call-up.  Just a classic org guy who is a MLFA this year and likely plies his trade elsewhere next year.  Outlook for next season: MLFA, re-signed per BA ML transactions so AAA bullpen again (updated 12/29/15)
  • Mitch Lively was in basically the same boat as Meek; put up good numbers (2.31 ERA, 0.97 whip, but wasn’t called up and decided to go overseas.  He was released on 6/17/15 so as to sign with a Japanese team.  He posted a 6.75 ERA in 16 games in Japan; not sure what the future holds for him.  Outlook for next season: still in Japan or with another Organization.
  • Juan Gutierrez was signed off the AAA waiver wire in August 2015 and threw 34 mediocre innings (3.47 ERA)for Syracuse down the stretch in a classic “we need someone to pitch innings for us to finish the season” move.  He’s a MLFA and likely keeps on moving for 2016.  Outlook for next season: in another organization.
  • Jose Valverde signed a month into the 2015 season with a typical veteran MLFA contract that guaranteed an opt out after a couple of months if the big club didn’t use him.  Valverde closed effectively for Syracuse until July, when he opted out.  He did not sign elsewhere for 2015.  He’s playing in the DWL but I wonder if he’s done; his last two MLB stints were both ugly.  Outlook for next season: in another organization/out of baseball.
  • Manny Delcarmen had an 8.14 ERA in 21 IP across 18 appearances before getting released in early June.  He played out the rest of the season in Mexico.  Outlook for next season: in another organization/out of baseball.
  • Rich Hill signed as a MLFA late in the 2015 spring from the  Yankees, pitched decently as a middle reliever in Syracuse and likely had an “out clause” forcing the team’s hand, who released him in late June.  He picked up with Boston, pitched well for their AAA squad, got promoted back to the majors, pitched lights out in 4 starts in the end of the season … and signed a $6M contract to pitch for Oakland in 2016. Go figure.  Did the Nats miss the boat here?  This isn’t the first time they’ve had a guy in their AAA rosters who went on to have significant success for another club (Colby Lewis, Marco Estrada, Chris Young).  Maybe they should have given Hill a 40-man job while they were trying out everyone else in late May/early June.  Maybe you could say the same thing about a whole bunch of the MLFA MLB-experienced veterans who passed through Syracuse’s roster in 2015.  Outlook for next season: Pitching for Billy Beane out in Oakland on a $6M deal.
  • Other Relievers who appeared in AAA of note (not including Rehabbing MLBers): Outlook for next season for all of these guys seems the same: either continued “org guy” middle reliever or minor league free agent in another organization.
    • Solis, Treinen and Rivero each had a nominal amount of AAA innings: see MLB writeup for them.
    • Demny and Davis spent more time in AA than AAA: see Harrisburg write-up.
    • Everyone else not mentioned had 5 or less IP in AAA and were mostly in other levels.

Summary

34 different hurlers passed through the Syracuse locker room this year.  Phew.  And it seems like a huge percentage of them have already churned out of the organization, looking for their next stop.  I guess this is the way AAA teams go these days.  We may see more MLFA veteran arms coming into the system for 2016 given the number of guys they’re losing.

Its hard to say whether we really learned much from the AAA staff this year; the team kind of already knew what it had with its highest-end prospects in AAA (the likes of Cole, Jordan and Hill).  Almost the entire bullpen was veteran MLFAs who likely won’t be back, most of whom never got a chance to contribute to the major league team in its time of need in 2015.

Nationals/MLB Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2015

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Scherzer will always have his no-hitters from 2015. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Scherzer will always have his no-hitters from 2015. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Here’s the first in a 7-part series where we delve into the pitching staffs from start to end, from the majors all the way to the GCL.  We start with the rotations, review all the starters and then hit up the relievers.  We try to predict as we go, which I’ll summarize at the end with a big “2016 predictions” piece.

Here’s 2013’s post and then 2012’s post.  We never got to 2014 as I was switching jobs and this series takes a ton of time and I couldn’t do it.

All stats are courtesy of either Baseball-Reference page or via Fangraphs page.  Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker as always.

Washington starters.  The rotation at the beginning of the season was Scherzer, Zimmermann, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Fister.  By the end of the season it was basically the same, with Roark replacing Ross who had replaced Fister.

  • Max Scherzer: 14-12 with a 2.79 ERA, 0.918 whip with 276/34 K/BB ratio in 228.2 IP (33 starts).  Look at that K/BB ratio again: that’s more than 8 strikeouts for every walk for a power pitcher.  His season also included two no-hitters (both of which easily could have been perfect games) and a one-hitter, and by one measure (Game Score) his season-ending 17-K no-hitter was nearly the best pitching 9-inning performance ever.  If you needed another excuse to ignore W/L records, just look at Scherzer’s record on the year given his peripherals.  But even given his season on a macro level, some were rather disappointed in Scherzer because in August, when the chips were down and this team collapsed, he was 0-3 with a 6.43 ERA in 5 starts.  Nonetheless, Scherzer more than earned his salary in 2015 and I see no reason not to expect similar results in 2016.  Outlook for next season: 2nd straight opening day start.
  • Jordan Zimmermann: 13-10, 3.66 ERA, 1.205 whip with 164/39 K/BB over 201.2 IP (33 starts).  His ERA was a point higher than in 2014, his WHIP was 10% higher and his FIP was inflated to a very un-Zimmermann 3.75 level.  Not exactly the walk year season he was hoping for.  Nonetheless, Zimmermann should make out like a bandit on the FA market, where he occupies the lead spot in the 2nd tier of FA pitchers and should do just fine.  Unfortunately, it seems like his time in DC is up; we don’t know the size or length of the contract extension he turned down, but it seems obvious that the team didn’t give him what he and his advisers thought he deserved.  He’ll be oft-mentioned in the coming weeks as he finds a new home and it’ll be a shame to see him go.  Outlook for next season: pitching for another team: Signed with Detroit for 5yrs/$110M.
  • Stephen Strasburg: 11-7, 3.46 ERA, 1.107 whip with 155/26 K/BB in 127 IP (23 starts).   His end-of-the-year numbers don’t look nearly as bad as the debacle that his season really was.   He had a 6.55 ERA through his first 10 starts, then missed most of June and July with two separate D/L trips.  Upon his return, he was awesome, dropping his season ERA from 5.16 to 3.46 thanks to 9 quality starts (out of 10) and 5 double-digit strikeout games.  But, the damage was done; he was awesome down the stretch in a series of games that ended up being meaningless.  On the bright side, the Nats likely save a few million dollars in their arbitration case.  Lets just hope that whatever he finally figured out in Aug and Sept continues into next season.  Outlook for next season: Nats #2 starter.
  • Gio Gonzalez: 11-8, 3.79 ERA, 1.423 whip with 169/69 K/BB in 175.2 IP (31 starts).  Another year, another inconsistent season from our #4 starter.  The team was 16-15 in his 31 starts, which makes sense since he had exactly 16 quality starts.  I think at this point Gio is what he is: a decently valued 4th starter who earns his salary and puts up enough value to keep his spot.  The Nats will ride his arm until his contract expires.  Outlook for next season: Nats #4 starter.
  • Doug Fister: 5-7, 4.19 ERA, 1.398 whip with 63/24 K/BB in 103 IP (25 appearances, 15 starts).  MLB’s most underrated starter over the past few  years finally had father time catch up to him, going 4-7 with a 4.60 ERA in 15 starts before the team mercifully pulled the plug.  His average fastball velocity has been dropping, but dropped precipitously this year (down to 86.1) and just was too hittable.  To Fister’s credit, he accepted the move to the bullpen instead of taking the “easy” way out and claiming a D/L trip, and was effective in 17 relief innings to make his season ERA look a little more palatable.  Nonetheless, it was not exactly the way the Nats drew things up.  Fister faces an uncertain future; he went from being guaranteed a Qualifying Offer to maybe struggling to get a guaranteed offer.  In the end, I can see perhaps a west coast team taking a flier on him as a 5th starter with a pillow contract for him to try to regain some value.  Outlook for next season: Pitching elsewhere, hopefully as a 5th starter somewhere.
  • Joe Ross: 5-5, 3.64 ERA, 1.109 whip with 69/21 K/BB in 76.2 IP (16 appearances, 13 starts).  Ross initially got called up to cover for Strasburg’s first injury, and was impressive enough to be the first man in line to replace the suddenly ineffective Fister.  He got another 10 mostly effective starts, getting shut down in early September after two ineffective starts where he was uncharacteristically wild (9 of his 21 MLB walks were in his last 2 starts) as he reached a soft innings limit for the year.  No complaints here; Ross quickly guaranteed his rotation spot for 2016 with his work during the summer and is making the trade where he was acquired looking even more lopsided.  Outlook for next season: Nats #3 starter.
  • Tanner Roark: 4-7, 4.38 ERA with 70/26 K/BB in 111 IP (40 appearances, 12 starts).  The Nats thanked Roark for his “found gold” 5-win 2014 season by acquiring Scherzer and pushing Roark to the all-important long-man/slop innings guy.  Not exactly what Roark probably expected.  He did get 5 starts covering for Strasburg in late May-early June but otherwise was yanked all over the place; sometimes being a one-inning middle reliever, then getting 3+ in a blowout loss, even getting higher leverage innings in the 8th and 9th (he even had a save in May).  When Fister proved ineffective, the Nats didn’t give the slot to Roark like they should have, instead calling up Ross and leaving Roark pitching in relief (their reason was that he wasn’t stretched out).  When it became clear Ross was going to run out of innings, they sent him back to Potomac briefly to “stretch out” and Roark finished the year in the rotation with 6 relatively ineffective starts.  Not the year Roark wanted.  There was an incredibly long-winded article in beyondtheboxscore.com that seemed to point at Roark’s position on the rubber as the cause of all his ills, but i put Roark’s struggles more simply: pitchers are creatures of habit and when you take a starter and suddenly tell him he’s a one inning reliever, you shouldn’t be surprised when he doesn’t immediately perform in that role.  The question the Nats have to face is this: was 2014 a fluke?  Do you pencil in Roark for the #5 starter in 2016 or do you try to acquire his replacement?  Do you have an open competition between Roark and the slew of AAA arms for the spot?  Personally, I’m a Roark believer and think he’ll be just fine if you install him in the rotation and let him work.  Outlook for next season: Nats #5 starter.
  • Others who got 1-2 Spot Starts:
    • Taylor Jordan: got one spot-start in early June, getting pounded by Toronto.  He provided long-relief cover a few times here and there throughout the season but wasn’t used even after being called up 9/1 (perhaps an innings limit?).  See AAA write-up for more.
    • A.J. Cole got one spot start in late April, getting destroyed by Atlanta in the epic 13-12 game.  I was highly critical of this particular call-up at the time, questioning why the start didn’t go to Roark at the time.  Cole got two other mop-up games to make his ERA slightly less awful for the year, but raised serious questions as to his future.  See AAA write-up for more.

Rotation summary: Scherzer was good but struggled when the chips were down.  Zimmermann regressed, as did Gonzalez.  Strasburg was either awful or  hurt most of the season.  Fister was abhorrent.  Roark was wasted.  Yet despite all that negativity surrounding our rotation, the Nats starters as a group were still ranked pretty highly : 3rd in fWAR, 7th in ERA, 4th in FIP.   So, it was still a pretty good rotation but not nearly as good as we thought they’d be upon the Scherzer acquisition.

 


Washington relievers.  On opening day the MLB bullpen was Storen, Treinen, Stammen, Thornton, Cedeno, Barrett, Roark.  By the time it was over, the team had used no less than *20* relievers.  Not exactly how they sketched it out in the off-season.  Lets talk about all 20 guys; here they are ordered with closers first, then descending by IP.  Anyone with less than 10 innings is relegated to the end with generally a shorter write-up.

  • Drew Storen was having a near-all Star calibre season closing, holding a 1.69 ERA with 46/9 K/BB over 37.1 IP and 29 saves.  Then suddenly he was demoted thanks to the Papelbon acquisition.  His numbers post 7/29/15: 7.13 ERA in 17 innings, which culminated with his 3-walk performance in the season-ending Mets loss in early September (his 5th blown save of the year).  Two days later he slammed a locker on his thumb, broke it and was done for the season along with his team.  We’ve argued this one to death; there are people who like to argue that players are machines and they are highly paid to do whatever the team asks of them.  I maintain that this team has tried over and over to replace Storen thanks to a couple of poorly-timed games of ineffectiveness that just happened to occur in the two NLDS series this team has managed to reach, and the “layering” of Papelbon over top of him was the icing on the cake of his Nats career.  I’m sure Storen wants out of town, and I’m sure he’ll be a classic “change of scenery” guy.  Mike Rizzo needs to make it happen.  Outlook for next season: Closing for another team.
  • Jonathan Papelbon was acquired in late July straight up for a relatively low-level prospect (Nick Pivetta), an indication of how desperate Philadelphia was to rid themselves of him.  He pitched a grand total of 23.1 innings in two months, through little fault of his own clearly disrupted the karma of the bullpen, and entirely at fault on his own took offense to Bryce Harper‘s non-defense in the press of Papelbon’s over-reaction and subsequent plunking of Manny Machado in a game earlier in that week and decided that calling out one of the game’s premier hustlers for “not hustling” down the line on a routine pop-up was a good idea.  Fast forward to the umpteenth unnecessary embarrassing moment for the franchise and perhaps the final nail in the coffin of the inexplicably unaware and dense manager Matt Williams.  Fun fact: Papelbon bought a $2.9M house in Alexandria exactly one week before choking his teammate on national TV and getting suspended for the rest of the season.  Good timing.  I know that Harper has “reached out” to Papelbon and they’re all saying this is just ‘brothers fighting” and all that BS, but Rizzo has to be shopping him for whatever he can get for him, upto and including eating the entirety of his $11M 2016 salary.  Many think he’s completely untradeable, but i’m guessing someone will take a flier on him.  Outlook for next season: Closing for another team.
  • Blake Treinen was the busiest guy in the pen this year (outside of sometimes starter Roark that is), throwing 67.2 innings in 60 innings as mostly an 7th/8th inning guy.    He had a 3.86 ERA, a 3.49 FIP, and a 1.389 whip, all incrementally worst in 2015 than the year before.  65/32 K/BB in those 67IP.  Treinen features a mid to upper 90s sinking fastball that has so much movement that TV announcers sometimes think its a changeup, yet still has some really odd splits.  Righties had just a .493 OPS against him on the year … while lefties teed off to the tune of a .934 OPS.  Odd because you’d think that a guy who could throw a fastball that tails away from lefties like Treinen would be more successful.  Another oddity; he had a 5.90 ERA at home and just a 2.33 ERA away.  So basically, if he was facing a righty on the road, he’s your guy.  He has limited his repertoire to just two pitches these days (2-seam sinker and a wipeout slider), and seems so far removed from having anything resembling a third pitch that any thoughts of returning to the bullpen seem long gone.  Is Treinen just a ROOGY (right handed one out guy?)  Do teams even have that?  Maybe his goal for the off-season is to figure out some pitch that is effective against lefties.  He also needs to work on his control; his walk rate of 4.3 per nine just won’t cut it for a higher leverage reliever.  Outlook for next season: back in his 7th/8th inning role.
  • Felipe Rivero, 2.79 ERA, 2.64 FIP, 0.952 whip and 43/11 K/BB in 48.1 relief innings.  Rivero was a revelation for the team this year, converting to relief for the first time in his career and really shining.  He has some serious heat; max fastball of 99.8 and an average of 95.5 from the left side, but really was a two pitch pitcher this season; fastball and slider (fangraphs distinguishes his 4-seamer from his 2-seamer but the velocities are exactly the same; does he throw two different, distinct fastballs?)   Unlike Treinen, Rivero got righties and lefties out at equal clips (.200 BAA for righties, .198 for lefties) and really came into his own in the bullpen.  He’s much more than a matchup-lefty and could be a valuable bullpen member for a while.  Can he return to starting?  Hard to say; does he have a third pitch?  Years of starting in the minors seems to indicate that his future remains in the pen.  Outlook for next season: reprising his 7th inning reliever role.
  • Matt Thornton had an excellent age 38 year; 2.18 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 1.065 ERA in 41.1 relief innings across 60 appearances.  His FIP is much higher than his ERA because he doesn’t rely as much on the strikeout; he had just a 23/11 K/BB ratio in those 41.1 innings.  His splits showed some interesting tidbits: 10 of his 11 walks on the year came against right handed hitters, while he had an 11/1 K/BB ratio when facing lefties.  Thornton is best judged by his performance against lefties and he was excellent; .198/.205/.279, and this is why I’m an advocate of resigning him for 2016.  I’m still kind of baffled by his being waived by the Yankees frankly.  The FA market for left handed relievers is a little busy; I count 20 lefties out there.  But not all of them were as effective as Thornton was in 2015.  Can the Nats re-sign him?  Do they want to?  They do have several in-house loogy replacements to be discussed, if they wanted to save a couple million dollars off of payroll.  Outlook for next season: another season as a loogy, for the Nats or elsewhere.
  • Casey Janssen: when the Nats acquired Janssen, a three year closer for the Toronto Blue Jays, I figured the team’s late-inning bullpen issues were solved.  The loss of Rafael Soriano was inevitable (and, frankly, not really that important given how badly he finished 2014), but the loss of Tyler Clippard was going to be hard to fix.  But plugging in a former AL east closer into the 8th inning role?  No worries.  Well, that’s not quite how it went.  Janssen got hurt in spring training, missed the first 7 weeks of the season … and then underwhelmed once he arrived.  His numbers on the season: 4.95 ERA, 4.05 FIP, 1.150 whip, with 27/8 K/BB in 40 IP.   Perhaps the 4.95 ERA is skewed by a few bad outings: scanning through his game log he gave up 4 runs on 5/30, another 4 runs on 8/31, 3 more the following day (in that infamous St. Louis series) and 2 on 9/27.  So of the 22 runs he allowed all year, 13 of them were in four outings.  Perhaps so, but his job as an 8th inning guy is not to allow these massive rallies, ever.  His fastball velocity has been declining and his 4-seamer sat at just 88.3 MPH on average this year; is that fast enough even if you have pinpoint control and can throw 5 pitches?  Apparently not; Janssen’s struggles were a big part of the bullpen’s struggles this year, a big reason they felt the need to acquire Papelbon, and in crunch time towards the end of the season Williams didn’t trust him to give him important assignments.  The Nats bought out his option year and cut ties with him; the end of a disappointing season together.  Outlook for next season: middle reliever for another organization.
  • Aaron Barrett: started out the year looking good as a key 6th/7th inning righty, struggled starting in May, hit the D/L in June, got lit up on Aug 5th to the point of getting demoted to AAA, at which point he (finally) told team doctors that his arm had been bugging him for weeks (months even).  A quick scan showed a blown UCL and he underwent Tommy John surgery on September 5th, 2015.  Final season stats: 4.60 ERA but a 2.21 FIP, 1.193 whip and 35/7 K/BB in 29.1 innings.  Look; you don’t want to wish ill will on a guy for trying to gut it out, but at what point was his arm issues impacting his performance on the field and costing the team games?  Outlook for next season: on the 60-day D/L for most if not all the season. 
  • Sammy Solis was closer to a DFA than a call-up at the end of 2014, a season mostly lost to injury and lost promise of the former 2nd round pick.  But a slew of injuries forced him into action in the Nats bullpen and he held up, throwing 21.1 innings of 3.38 ERA, 3.46 fip, 1.359 whip with a 17/4 K/BB ratio.  That’s not too bad of a debut, even if it was his age 26 season.  He showed a reverse split interestingly, with lefties hitting him at a .355 clip (righties: .255).  I have a feeling that the team is likely going to look elsewhere for a second lefty out of the pen.  Option number one is probably resigning Matt Thornton, which will relegate Solis to AAA/spare part duty in Syracuse.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen/lefty reliever coverage.
  • Matt Grace; 4.24 ERA, 3.08 fip, 2.00 whip with 14/8 K/BB in 17 IP across 26 outings.  Grace is a nice story, a guy who really came on strong in 2014 and earned his 40-man slot.  But his numbers in his first go-around in the majors were less than ideal.  See Solis’ write up and then add on a little pessimism and you have Grace right now; too many baserunners and not enough ability to get right handers out (.429 BAA) to be trusted as an effective major league reliever right now.  Outlook for next season: As with Solis Syracuse bullpen/lefty reliever coverage.  Except he’s “behind” Solis.
  • Rafael Martin: everyone’s favorite story.  Signed out of the Mexican leagues, shot up the system posting just ridiculous numbers in AA and AAA in 2013 and 2014.  Finally got his shot and had some really odd stat lines: 5.11 ERA, 4.76 FIP, 1.378 whip with 25/5 K/BB in 12.1 major league innings.  That’s right; he had an 18.2 K/9 ratio.  He struck out 8 of the first 12 batters he faced, including a pretty memorable debut where he struck out 5 guys in two innings in Boston in mid April.  He was looking like a made-for-TV-movie story until he took a rough outing in Miami and got sent down … not to be recalled until 9/1.  He threw a bunch of garbage time innings in September and got his ERA back down but kept striking guys out with his upper 80s arsenal.  Why didn’t he get more of a shot when the chips were down and other right handed relievers were struggling in August?  I don’t know.  Honestly, I think he’d make an excellent long-man/middle reliever, the classic “7th guy out of the pen” with his ability to go long and spin the ball in there as a change of pace versus harder throwing guys.  Something tells me though that he’s going to be back in Syracuse as bullpen insurance.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen/righty reliever coverage.
  • David Carpenter: acquired in trade from the Yankees for Tony Renda, threw 6 innings in the majors for the team, got hurt, went to the 60-day D/L with a shoulder issue, outrighted on 11/15/15, refused the assignment and has already signed with Atlanta for 2016.  Not exactly the best return for a former 2nd round pick and slightly surprising he was outrighted while there was still room on the 40-man roster (and still is room as we speak).  Outlook for next season: in Atlanta organization.
  • Craig Stammen: threw just 4 innings before requiring elbow surgery.  A huge blow for a guy who had been a team leader in IP and an effective middle reliever for  years.  He’s arbitration eligible, and the team could not arrive at an equitable deal ahead of the 12/2/15 non-tender deadline, so Stammen was non-tendered.  I have a feeling that if the team still wants him for 2016 and will work out some sort of heavy incentive-laden deal to keep him in the fold (he’s been with the organization since 2005 after all, tying him for the longest tenured player still with the team now that Ian Desmond has declared FA.   Outlook for next season: hopefully back in his 7th inning middle relief role, perhaps pitching elsewhere.
  • Xavier Cedeno: threw 3 innings, gave up 3 hits, 2 walks and two runs, then was inexplicably DFA’d and traded to the Dodgers for “cash.”  The Dodgers then turned around and traded him to Tampa, where he put up a 2.09 ERA in 43 IP in 2015.  What the heck happened here?   We talked about it in this space when it happened, and the quick hook DFA was as inexplicable then as it seems now.  Was this perhaps the first precursor into the questionable bullpen management that plagued Matt Williams all year?  Outlook for next season: a valuable loogy for Tampa.
  • Other Relievers who pitched too few innings for analysis:
    • Taylor Hill: provided 12 innings of bullpen coverage in Late May-Early June: see AAA write-up.
    • Abel de los Santos: added to the 40-man, called up and started his service clock (oh, and burned an option too while they were at it) so that he could throw to exactly eight (8) batters in mid-july before being returned to Harrisburg.  Ridiculous use of resources frankly.  See AA write-up.
    • Position players Clint Robinson and Tyler Moore became the 1st and 2nd position players to ever hurl for the Washington franchise, each throwing the final inning in a blow-out loss.

Bullpen summary: Ugh, what a mess from start to finish.  Under performance, injuries, and a rotating door of guys trying to perform.  By the end of August there wasn’t anyone even worth trusting in that pen, as evidenced in the critical Mets home series where the season was lost.  Even given that, the bullpen as a whole ranked 12th in fWAR, 10th in ERA, 9th in FIP, so it wasn’t really that bad league-wide.  Which surprised me too when I went to fangraphs to pull the data.  Some more telling stats: 7th in the league in Blown saves with 27.  17th in total saves.  17th in Holds.

Pitching summary overall: we expected more, and in the end the performance of the staff and bullpen probably wasn’t the sole reason this team failed to win the NL East.  But it didn’t help.

Operation Bullpen Makeover Status Report

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Welcome to the Nats Mr. Gott. Photo via gettyimages

Welcome to the Nats Mr. Gott. Photo via gettyimages

At the end of the 2015 season, our (primary 7-man not including 9/1 callups) bullpen looked like this:

  • Papelbon, Janssen, Treinen, Thornton*, Rivero*, Fister and Solis* (Stammen, Barrett, Storen on the D/L)

Then half these guys (Janssen, Thornton and Fister) hit the road via Free Agency, already leaving huge holes to fill.  In fact as of just a week ago after this was what our Opening Day 2016 bullpen would have looked like:

  • Papelbon, Storen, Treinen, Stammen, Rivero*, Solis* and Martin as a long-man I guess (Barrett to go to the 60 day D/L as soon as  he’s eligible).

After a flurry of moves in the past 10 days, here’s what we’re looking at now:

  • (Papelbon, Storen) Gatt, Kelley, Treinen, Perez*, Rivero*, Petit

And presumably there’s more work to be done (you have to think we’ll acquire a Proven Closer™ to replace the Papelbon/Storen combo).   But, so far, not a bad week for Mr. Rizzo.

Quick thoughts on each move (in chronological order)

  • Craig Stammen non-tender: discussed at length in the Non-tender deadline preview post comment section.  I didn’t like it for reasons discussed ad naseum, but agree that the team must have decided the risk was too much.
  • Oliver Perez signing 2yrs/$7M: good 2015 numbers in the NL with Arizona, then not so much in 12 innings with Houston.  His LHP-LHB splits are good while righties hit him at an .881 OPS clip in 2015.  I guess that’s as good of a Matt Thornton replacement as we need.
  • Yusmeiro Petit signing 1yr/$2.5M after getting non-tendered by SF.  An odd move by SF; his 2015 regular season numbers were just fine to me.  An ERA+ over a 100, flexibility to go long or go short.  And the Nats certainly remember getting shut down by him in the 2014 NLDS.  A good move for me as a near like-for-like replacement for Stammen (with the exception that Petit can go longer than Stammen could so he could be the long-man as needed).
  • Shawn Kelley for 3yrs/$15M (as reported); three straight years of fantastic swing and miss stuff (11-12 K/9 rates).  Great option to add as an 8th inning guy/eventual setup role, eventually replacing what Casey Janssen never did.
  • Trevor Gott in trade for Yunel Escobar: it seems like an underwhelming return for Escobar on the face of it.  Escobar was our 2nd leading hitter last year and played multiple infield positions.  But his batting average was pretty “empty” (he slugged .415) and his defense was abhorrent (not that he ever should have been playing 3B once Anthony Rendon came back … but that’s another gripe).  I think what it does indicate is the rising cost of good relievers and the fact that Escobar has one year of control while Gott has just 114 days of service time and is thus controlled for at least *six* more seasons, three of which will be at the pittance MLB minimum.  Gott’s numbers as a 22  yr old were pretty good; 125 ERA+, an ERA right around 3.00.  Not a ton of swing and miss so far in the majors but he was a closer in the minors and seems like a good 6th/7th inning guy (in other words, a Barrett replacement for the time being).

This configuration leaves a slew of projected relievers set to start in AAA or on the D/L:

  • D/L: Barrett (60dl), likely lost for the whole year
  • RH middle relievers: Martin, eDavis, de los Santos,
  • Loogies: Solis*, Grace*, Lee*
  • Long Men options: Jordan, Hill, Espino

What’s left to do?

  • Flip Storen for value
  • Dump Papelbon for a couple of pizzas
  • Find a for-real closer; its going to cost some serious stuff, based on the Craig Kimbrel and Ken Giles trades.  Be ready for it.
  • Sign some more veteran relievers for AAA like we always do.

Questions for the group;

  • Do you like the configuration of this bullpen so far?  Assuming we get a for-real closer and dump Storen and Papelbon, would you say that its an improvement over last year?
  • Is this too many new players to gel properly?  Don’t we always hear about how pitchers are creatures of habit and how “Teams” take a while to gel and play well together?  We’re basically throwing out a bunch of guys in that pen who will have never even met, let alone build camaraderie.  Do you worry about this?  Or do you believe that “winning builds chemistry” and that players are just cyber machines who you charge up in the morning with Red Bull and then slot them into their roles and they magically produce?  (If you couldn’t read between the lines in that sentence of sarcasm to tell what I think … well I can’t help you :-)

 

Nats 40-man Option status for 2016

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After Robinson's breakout 2015, does he have to worry about options? Photo via minorleagueball.com

After Robinson’s breakout 2015, does he have to worry about options? Photo via minorleagueball.com

One bit of analysis that we end up doing every year on the franchise, when thinking about potential moves and roster construction, is Options analysis.  I’m posting this now b/c a couple of the guys w/o options are tender candidates, so this may play into the team’s decision on whether to keep them for 2016.

On the odd chance that you don’t know what i’m talking about with Options, here’s some quickie links that help explain the rules: Wikipedia’s baseball transactions, but more importantly an old Keith Law article on the baseballanalysts.com website explains the nuances of optional assignments well.  Basically it goes like this: once you’re put onto the 40-man roster, if you’re not also on the 25-man (or “active”) roster then you are playing in the minors somewhere .. and you are called being on “optional assignment” down there.  In order to protect the hoarding of players, teams can only send 40-man players down to the minors three years before being forced to allow other teams to lay claim to them and put them on their own active rosters.  Each year you are sent down to play in the minors is called an “Option” or an “option year.”

I’ve done this analysis before: here was 2015’s analysis  (where 4 of the 6 out of options guys were gone before opening day) and here was 2014’s analysis noting that Corey Brown and especially Ross Detwiler were going to be problematic; Brown was DFA’d and traded shortly there after while Detwiler stuck around for a whole season prior to getting moved to Texas.

Here’s the current Nats 40-man roster with updated Service times for 2015 as well as a review of Option Status for the 2016 year.  There are a couple guys who seem to have some options limitations going into 2016 that we’ll have to keep an eye on.

First up; Vets who can refuse demotion thanks to having 5 or more years of service time.  The Nats have ten (10) such players on the current 40-man roster:

Player Service Time post 2015 First Added to 40-man Notes
Werth, Jayson 12.102 Nov 2002 achieved 10&5 rights in 2015, not that he needed it
Papelbon, Jonathan 10.064 July 2005 never optioned as far as I can tell
Zimmerman, Ryan 10.032 Sep 2005 never used an option; achieved 10&5 rights in 2015
Escobar, Yunel 8.121 June 2007 Doesn’t look like he was ever optioned after 6/2007 callup
Scherzer, Max 7.079 May 2007
Gonzalez, Gio 6.162 Aug 2008
Stammen, Craig 5.160 May 2009 Less than 20 days in minors in 2010, so no option used
Storen, Drew 5.140 May 2010 2013 option cancelled when recalled before 20 days were up.
Strasburg, Stephen 5.118 Aug 2009 Probably eligible for a 4th based on lack of service time.
Ramos, Wilson 5.047 Nov 2008

Four players achieved the all-important 5th service year in 2015: Stammen, Storen, Strasburg and Ramos.  It wasn’t exactly likely that any of these four were in jeopardy of getting optioned (all four still had options available), but now they definitely cannot be sent down (as Storen was briefly in 2013).

Two guys achieved  the “Ten and Five” rights in 2015: Werth and Zimmerman.  10&5 gives automatic trade protection to the player … but both Werth and Zimmerman have full no-trade clauses anyway, so the 10&5 doesn’t mean much.

Next group: Options Available but are MLB entrenched.  Six (6) guys are in this category in my opinion:

Player Service Time post 2015 First Added to 40-man Option Years Used Options left? Notes
Espinosa, Danny 4.113 Sep 2010 2013 2
Harper, Bryce 3.159 Aug 2010 2011, 2012 1 Did 2010 count as an option year?
Rendon, Anthony 2.130 Aug 2011 2012, 2013 1 Probably eligible for a 4th option eventually if needed
Roark, Tanner 2.055 Aug 2013 3 Optioned on 8/25/15 but then called up 9/4 cancelling the option
Barrett, Aaron 1.144 Nov 2013 2014 2
Ross, Joe 0.094 June 2015 2015 2

In my mind, none of these guys are really candidates to get optioned in 2016 despite having options available to them.  Roark was optioned in late 2015 (August 25th) but then got called right back up on Sept 4th, so (if i’m reading the rules correctly) that option was “cancelled” for being too short.

I have an open question about Harper‘s 2010 option status; does it count as an option year if you sign a major league contract and then get assigned to a minor league team in the same year?  Not that it really matters for Harper (it isn’t like the reigning NL MVP is in danger of getting optioned), and it can no longer happen (MLB contracts were banned in the latest CBA), but its an intellectual issue.  If you have an opinion or insight, please feel free to chime in.  I’m guessing the rules at the time stated that you cannot burn an option the same year you signed, so i’ve not included it as an option year for Harper here.

Next group: Options Available and thus jeopardizing 25-man roster status for 2016: Five (5) players in this category:

Player Service Time post 2015 First Added to 40-man Option Years Used Options left? Notes
den Dekker, Matt 1.033 Aug 2013 2014, 2015 1
Taylor, Michael 1.037 Nov 2013 2014 2
Treinen, Blake 1.065 Apr 2014 2014 2
Solis, Sammy 0.097 Nov 2013 2014, 2015 1
Turner, Trea 0.045 Aug 2015 3 still pissed he was called up so early.

If the season started tomorrow, I’d likely project all five of these guys to be on the 25-man roster, three of them in pretty prominent roles.  den Dekker definitely seems like a guy who may get squeezed to the minors, especially if the team acquires a veteran OF this off-season.

If you want to read more of my rants on Turner‘s call-up, you can certainly find them in the comments sections over the past few months.  In fact, here’s my complaint the day they called him up in this space.  45 days of service time blown so he could collect MLB meal money for a month’s worth of pinch hitting and pinch running appearances while the team flushed away its season.  He started the last 6 games of the season, having only gotten two spot starts in the previous 5 weeks, in an idiotic use of his time for a team that didn’t need or use him down the stretch.  By my calculations, in order to “save” another year of his time, he’d have to start in Syracuse and stay down there for *8 weeks*; 6 weeks to make up for the 45 days of service time and then another two weeks to make sure that the team saves the difference between a full service time year (172 days) and the number of actual days in a MLB season (roughly 183 days).  See that happening?  I don’t either.  So its a moot point and we have lost any shot of extending his stay here an extra year.

Next, the large group of guys for whom Options almost guaranteed to be used in 2016.  Thirteen (13)  in total:

Player Service Time post 2015 First Added to 40-man Option Years Used Options left? Notes
Davis, Erik 1.045 Nov 2012 2013, 2015 1 60-day DL 2014; no option burned but earned 1 full year of service time
Hill, Taylor 0.030 June 2014 2014, 2015 1
Jordan, Taylor 1.047 June 2013 2014, 2015 1
Cole, AJ 0.047 Nov 2014 2015 2
Grace, Matt 0.074 Nov 2014 2015 2
Goodwin, Brian 0.000 Nov 2014 2015 2
Difo, Wilmer 0.051 Nov 2014 2015 2
de los Santos, Abel 0.006 July 2015 2015 2 Kind of a waste of an option year; 6 days service time in 2015
Martin, Rafael 0.048 Apr 2015 2015 2
Severino, Pedro 0.034 Sept 2015 3
Lee, Nicholas 0.000 Nov 2015 3
Kieboom, Spencer 0.000 Nov 2015 3
Bostick, Chris 0.000 Nov 2015 3

The Nats did themselves no favors by letting Davis hang on the active roster all year in 2014, accruing a full year of service time instead of burning an option.  Perhaps in the end it won’t matter; despite all the other RH relievers used last year, Davis never got called up and seems closer to an outright than worrying about where to rent in DC for the summer.  Speaking of RH relievers, the team called up Abel de los Santos in July, let him play for exactly 6 days, then optioned him back.  Davis (if he’s still around) and the two 4-A starters Jordan and Hill probably each burn their final option in 2016 and then force the team’s hand next off-season.  But that’s what we’ll talk about in next year’s version of this post.

In the meantime, here’s the meat of this year’s post: The four players on the Nats 40-man roster who have no Options left and thus have to either be on next year’s 25-man roster or be subjected to waivers prior to the season starting.

Player Service Time post 2014 First Added to 40-man Option Years Used Options left?
Lobaton, Jose 4.138 Nov 2008 2010,2011, unk 3rd 0 no options per mlbtraderumors; can’t tell if optioned in 2009 or 2012.
Moore, Tyler 3.018 Nov 2011 2012,2013,2014 0 86 days on mlb roster in 2014; how does this add to 1.106?
Robinson, Clint 1.028 Nov 2010 2011,2012,2013 0
Rivero, Felipe 0.162 Nov 2012 2013,2014,2015 0 I’m pretty sure 2015 counted as an option year

Now, both Lobaton and Moore are returnees from last year’s version of this post.  Lobaton was always set to be Ramos’ backup and dutifully performed in that role, slashing just .199/.279/.294 in that role.  I’m not entirely sure that either of the catchers on the 40-man roster can supplant Lobaton as Ramos’ backup, but I’m also not entirely sure that Lobaton will even be here in 2016 thanks to his performance.  So his lack of options may not matter; if the team buys another catcher on the FA market or in trade, Lobaton is likely DFA’d soon thereafter.  Moore (as noted in prior posts) has a bigger issue this coming off-season; he’s Arbitration eligible in a season where he was lucky (thanks to a constant barrage of injured players) to have lasted the whole season on the roster.  As mentioned in the previous post; both of these guys are also serious non-tender candidates, which would close the book on them with this team regardless.

Lets talk about the more interesting cases.  Robinson, from what I can gather from his convoluted Cots contract history page, had three straight options burned after getting added in Nov 2010 by his original signing club Kansas City.  After two option years and a scant four PAs in 2012, he was DFA’d and acquired by Pittsburgh, who then DFA’d him themselves at the end of Spring Training 2013.  Toronto claimed him, optioned him, then DFA’d and outrighted him a couple months later without ever appearing for their big club.  He signed as a MLFA with Los Angeles in 2014, got called up, got 9 ABs and then was DFA’d again (because of course by this time he was out of options…).  He played out the string for the Dodgers’ AAA club and then signed with Washington as a MLFA again in 2015.  So, all of that leading to his nice 2015 season for us and for 2016 he’s either going to be with us or against us: no options means he either makes the team or possibly moves on.

The other guy of note is Rivero.  His first two option years are easy.  But his up/down in 2015 may or may not have counted as an optional assignment.  Here was his movement this past season:

  • 3/16/15: Optioned officially to AAA though the minor league season doesn’t start until 4/9/15.
  • 4/16/15.  So that’s roughly 10 days in the minors since the Nats season starts on 4/6/15.
  • Two days later he got sick and eventually went on the D/L (remember the story?  he was throwing up black blood thanks to taking too much Advil)
  • 5/21/15: reinstated from the D/L and optioned back to Syracuse
  • 6/1/15: recalled again; so he was in Syracuse a grand total of 10 additional days.

So, by my count that’s 20 days in the minors right on the nose.  But the rules say that if you spend at least 20 days in the minors, that you’ve burned an option for that year.  So this is pretty close; did Rivero use an option for 2015 or not?  I think he did.  Now, it may not really matter since he really showed some serious cheese for the Nats this year and seems like a lock to be in the 2016 pen, but from an organizational flexibility perspective its nice to have.


So there’s the Options analysis for the team (well, at least the state of the team and its 40-man roster just after the Rule-5 protection additions and prior to any wheeling-and-dealing this coming off-season).  No big decisions to be had, but some concern areas for this year and next.

Feel free to comment if you think i’ve gotten anything wrong in the analysis.

 

2016 Nationals Payroll Projection

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Werth is still the high-man on the payroll. Photo via fansided.com

Werth is still the high-man on the payroll. Photo via fansided.com

So, one big factor in any team’s off-season plan is figuring out exactly what the payroll is going to look like, to figure out what their budget is, and then go shopping from there.  This post goes through the guys we have under contract as we speak to try to do some projections of what we already have committed in terms of 2016 dollars and therefore draw some conclusions about how much FA shopping/veteran salary acquisition we’ll be doing this coming off-season.

(note: all this data is, of course, in a Google XLS for your perusal and/or available as a Link to the right).

The 2015 Nats opening day payroll (according to Cots) was $162,014,559.  This represented about a $25M bump from the previous year and included a significant amount of money heading to Free Agents in the last year of their deals.  Here’s the list of Salary immediately coming off the books from the 2015 team:

Player Current or 2015 Contract 2015 Salary
Zimmermann, Jordan 2yr/$24M (14-15) 7.5 and 16.5 $16,500,000
Desmond, Ian 2yr/$17.5M (14-15), 6.5 and 11 $11,000,000
Span, Denard 5 years/$16.5M (10-14), $9M club opt 15 $9,000,000
McLouth, Nate 2yr/$10.75M (14-15) with opt $5,000,000
Thornton, Matt 2yr/$7M (14-15) $3,500,000
Janssen, Casey 1yr/$5M (15) 2016 optn $3,500,000
Uggla, Dan 1yr/mlb min (15) $507,500
Johnson, Reed 1yr/1M (15) $1,000,000
Fister, Doug 1yr, $7.2M (14) (arb2) $11,400,000
sum –> $61,407,500

So, that’s $61M coming off the books.  I’ve counted the option buyout dollars for the 2016 options of Janssen and McLouth in the 2016 figures, but this is still a significant sum.

So, 61M coming off the books; how much are we committed to for 2016 as things stand?

First, lets look at dollars committed to Existing Veteran Players under Contract:

Player Current or 2015 Contract 2015 2016
Scherzer, Max 7yr/$210M (15-21), half deferred $17,142,857 $15,000,000
Werth, Jayson 7 yr/$126M (11-17) $21,571,429 $21,571,429
Zimmerman, Ryan 6 yr/$100M (14-19)+20 opt $14,000,000 $14,000,000
Gonzalez, Gio 5yr/$42M (12-16)+17,18 options $11,100,000 $12,100,000
Papelbon, Jonathan 4yr/$50M + 2016 Optn (11M, 3M deferred) $13,000,000 $8,000,000
Escobar, Yunel 2yr/$13M (15-16) 2017 optn $5,000,000 $7,000,000
Harper, Bryce 2yr/$7.5M (15-16) $2,500,000 $5,000,000
sum –> $82,671,429

I count about $82M committed to these 7 players for 2016.  I’m only counting Scherzer‘s salary at the $15M for 2016 since that’s what he’s gonna get paid exactly in 2016.  Cots has a whole complicated explanation when it estimates payroll on its site (see this link) by prorating his signing bonus over 7 years and a whole different calculation made for luxury tax purposes, but I think that’s a mistake to use anything other than the actual dollars going out the door in a given year.  The Lerner’s kicked that can well down the road by getting him to agree to defer literally half the money in the deal for the express purpose of keeping its present value down for their budget, so that’s how i’m figuring it here. If you disagree, feel free to argue about it in the comments.

If the Nats can move Papelbon and some of his $11M in salary, all the better, but I figure they’ll likely have to eat a lot of it to do so, so I can’t see this figure moving much with off-season trades.

Next, lets look at the Players Eligible for Arbitration.  I’ve put in some quick guesses/estimates for arbitration figures for these players.  I’ve historically been somewhat conservative in my guesses, so these might be off by a million here or there, but in the macro sense it won’t make that much difference.  If you think i’m wildly wrong about (say) my Strasburg estimate, lets argue in the comments:

Player Current or 2015 Contract 2015 2016
Strasburg, Stephen 1yr/7.4M (15) (arb3) $7,400,000 $12,000,000
Storen, Drew 1yr/$5.7M (15) (arb4) $5,700,000 $7,600,000
Ramos, Wilson 1yr/$3.55M (15) (arb3) $3,550,000 $4,700,000
Rendon, Anthony 4yr/$7.2M ($6M bonus) (11-14)+15 opt (arb1) $1,800,000 $4,000,000
Stammen, Craig 1yr/$2.25M (15) (arb4) $2,250,000 $2,400,000
Espinosa, Danny 1yr/$1.8M (15) (arb2) $1,800,000 $3,200,000
Lobaton, Jose 1yr/$1.2M (15) (arb3) $1,200,000 $1,500,000
Moore, Tyler 1 yr/$0.5182M (15) (arb1) $518,200 $1,200,000
sum –> $36,600,000

So, if we keep all these guys I can see them costing in arbitration about $36.6M.  It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see Storen traded of course, nor would it surprise me to see Moore DFA’d outright, or for the team to acquire another backup catcher and part ways with the light-hitting Lobaton.  But we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.  For now, $36.6M is a good estimate.  Thankfully Strasburg really struggled this year, otherwise his arb-3 figure might be closer to Zimmermann’s last arb figure ($16.5M) than the $12-13 he may eventually get.

Coincidentally on Rendon: did you guys see where he made the Super-2 cutoff on the exact day in terms of service time?  2 years, 130 days.  And that’s exactly what he has.  So, depending on how he plays over the next few years that likely costs the Nats at least $8-10M in salary.  Hey, not my money.  I don’t exactly think the team was actively trying to manipulate his time like they did with Strasburg, so maybe they just don’t care.

So that’s 7 vets and 8 arbitration cases.  That leaves 10 players to fill out the rest of the 25-man roster and they’re all Pre-Arbitration Players:

Player Current or 2015 Contract 2015 2016
Roark, Tanner 1 yr/$0.5296M (15) $529,600 $550,000
Robinson, Clint 1 yr/$0.525M (15) $525,000 $550,000
Barrett, Aaron 1 yr/$0.5142M (15) $514,200 $530,000
den Dekker, Matt 1 yr/$512,972 (15) $512,972 $525,000
Treinen, Blake 1 yr/$0.5128M (15) $512,800 $530,000
Taylor, Michael 1 yr/$0.5087M (15) $508,700 $525,000
Rivero, Felipe 1yr Minor League deal (15) $510,000
Ross, Joe 1yr Minor League deal (15) $515,000
Turner, Trea 1yr Minor League deal (15) $515,000
Solis, Sammy 1yr Minor League deal (15) $510,000
sum –> $5,260,000

If the 2016 season started tomorrow, this is how i’d project the rest of the roster coincidentally.

Even factoring in nominal raises for guys like Roark and Robinson, this still doesn’t even total half of what Papelbon is due in 2016.  Pre-Arbitration players; the best deal in the game!

Here’s the rest of the 40-man roster, who under my projections would be toiling somewhere in the minors on a 40-man roster prorated basis:

Player Current or 2015 Contract
Davis, Erik 1 yr/$0.5089M (15)
Cole, A.J. 1yr Minor League deal (15)
de los Santos, Abel 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Difo, Wilmer 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Goodwin, Brian 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Grace, Matt 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Hill, Taylor 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Jordan, Taylor 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Martin, Rafael 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Severino, Pedro 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Kieboom, Spencer 1yr Minor League deal (16)
Bostick, Chris 1yr Minor League deal (16)
Lee, Nick 1yr Minor League deal (16)

I don’t think Cots counts these guys against payroll because unless they’re on the 25-man roster actively, they’re not necessarily getting paid like it.  I think.  I’m open to suggestion here.


So, where does that leave us?

  • Existing Veteran Players under Contract: $82,671,429
  • Buyouts of 2016 options: $2,250,000
  • Players Eligible for Arbitration: $36,600,000 estimated
  • Pre-Arbitration Players: $5,260,000 estimated

Total 2016 Projected Payroll: $126,781,429.

That’s $35m less than 2015.  So, if you make the argument that the Lerners will keep payroll even with 2015, that’s about $35M of payroll room with which to work.  For some reason I think they’re going to rein back in payroll, so lets call the target for 2016 about $150M.  Not too bad; that should buy what this team needs.

In my “GM for a Day” post in early October 2015, here’s what I put as a shopping list:

  • Bullpen; if a $10M closer is acquired, you off-set the salary a bit with a Storen trade, and then perhaps buy a mid-level veteran RHP for $5-6M/year.
  • Lefty hitters: not much on the FA market that won’t cost you an arm and a leg; we could get creative and move some depth for another $10M outfielder type and use Taylor as a 4th.
  • Backups: Maybe some infield depth in the $5M range.
  • Maybe rotation competition; frankly there’s better things to spend money on, so I think they go to battle with what they have.

So, that’s roughly $25M in acquisitions, right around the $150M target.  That could work.

What do you think?  Sound like a good plan?

 

 

GM for a day (or an off-season): what do you do to this team for 2016?

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Picture at the top of his C.V. that he'll be updating this off-season. Photo Nats official 2014 via sportingnews.com

Picture at the top of his C.V. that he’ll be updating this off-season. Photo Nats official 2014 via sportingnews.com

How about some navel gazing to start the off-season?  2015 was a train wreck, both on the field (the projected opening day line up played together exactly 2 games out of 162 and there were something like 15 D/L trips among the projected starters this season) and off (the Barry Svrluga series at the Washington Post literally made me say “Wow” audibly while I sat alone reading the stories).  What can this team really do to right the ship for next year?

Now, I realize the questions “What *should* they do?” and “What *will* they do?” are two completely separate questions.  I have no idea what they will actually do; its hard to read Mike Rizzo and the Ted Lerner-led ownership group.  We often hear that Rizzo has an “ego” and is sometimes afraid to admit mistakes.  We hear rumors that Lerner is in bed with Scott Boras and has gone over Rizzo’s head to sign players Rizzo may not have actually wanted (Rafael Soriano, Jonathan Papelbon?).  But we’re not blessed with a hidden camera inside the boardroom of the Nationals management offices, so its mostly speculation.  In fact, Svruluga’s stories really led the reader to believe that the Papelbon acquisition was Rizzo’s idea as a consolation prize to acquiring Chapman or Kimbrel.  So who knows.

This post is about what I’d do.  From a front-office/managerial perspective:

  1. Fire Matt Williams.  Sorry, the evidence is too overwhelming at this point.  Here’s some quick qualifications for the manager i’d like to see: able to communicate properly, isn’t a Micro managing inflexible drill sergeant, knows how to read a Run-Expectancy chart, knows how to properly set a lineup, realizes that saves are useless and isn’t afraid to throw his best pitcher when needed, understands that bunting was exposed as mostly useless 10 years ago, is open to new ideas about usage, shifting, matchups and statistics in general, listens to his coaches, understands that sometimes the 23 yr old precocious rookie is actually a better player than the 38 year old vet on an 9-figure deal, and lastly, relates to the frigging players.  Shouldn’t be too hard.  Oh one more thing; I want someone who has actually managed a f*cking major league team before.
  2. I don’t have an opinion on the rest of the staff but would go under the general theory that a new manager wants his own staff in place.  Who knows if hitting coaches, pitching coaches, bench coaches, bullpen coaches and 1st/3rd base coaches have any impact on the players.  Hard to prove one way or the other; if the team hits well, the Hitting Coach is a genius.  If the team can’t hit … the hitting coach gets canned.  I like Steve McCatty … but hey, a new manager deserves his own coaches.
  3. Keep Rizzo, but have a serious talk with him about clubhouse chemistry and roster construction and the clear effects their actions have had over the years.  Its really simple: when a guy who’s been with the organization is given an under-market, professionally insulting extension contract offer and then you give $210M to some outsider … that’s “Baaaaaaaad” for morale.  When you tell everyone you can’t “afford” to keep Tyler Clippard (great clubhouse guy, grown up in the organization, thrown 70+ innings year after year for you) because he makes $8.5M …but then you bring in a clubhouse disaster like Papelbon at $11M to replace your UNION REPRESENTATIVE and all around well liked guy Drew Storen, you may have some downstream issues.  Oh; one other thing: take your ego and throw it away and stop trading away useful bullpen parts like Jerry Blevins because he had the audacity of challenging you in arbitration over $200k.  You either are or are not on a budget; $200k represented exactly 0.125% of the $160M payroll of 2015.  That’s like killing a deal for a $500,000 house over a $625 bill for something or another.  Its nothing and it should not have been a factor in the 25-man roster construction.  That Blevins got hurt for New York or that Felipe Rivero (his replacement) worked out isn’t the point.
  4. Budget: here’s a brilliant idea; if Lerner is “freezing” the budget mid-season, then SAVE SOME PAYROLL MONEY for mid-season acquisitions.  Look what the frigging Mets were able to accomplish this trade deadline by being flexible with their payroll and their prospects; they completely remade that team, bought a clubhouse presence and just raced ahead of the Nats.  (Tangent: For  you “clubhouse chemistry is BS” proponents, can you still tell me with a straight face that the 2015 fortunes of the Mets and Nationals had NOTHING to do with chemistry?)

Now, assuming that the Nats are going to reign back in the budget slightly from their $160M plus payroll in 2015:

  1. Let 8 of the 9 FAs go.  Zimmermann, Uggla, Fister, Desmond, Span, McLouth, Janssen and Johnson.  This frees up approximately $60M in payroll.  You’re going to need some of it in arb extensions (there’s 8 arbitration cases pending though we may trade/non-tender a couple).
  2. I’d try to resign just one of my FAs: Matt Thornton.  I think he’s done a pretty good job as a situational lefty.
  3. I’d offer Qualifying Offers to Zimmermann, Desmond and Span but not Fister.  Both Zimmermann and Desmond turned down significant deals to stay here and have made their beds at this point.  I think the team has made the decision to not allocate money there and go with internal options.  I don’t think any of the three take the QO, not even Span.  Why?  Because Span just hired Scott Boras and Boras will tell Span there’s a long term contract to be had in the market.  Span didn’t hire Boras so he could take a one-year Qualifying Offer (deeper discussion on QOs for the Nats pending FAs was previously done here: To Qualifying Offer, or not to Qualifying Offer (2015 version).
  4. I havn’t done major analysis of Tender/Non-Tender cases yet but the only guy seemingly in jeopardy of a non-tender is Tyler Moore; discussed more below.  Maybe David Carpenter too depending on the severity of his shoulder injury.
  5. Rule-5: this is more about the 25-man roster and not the edges of the 40-man; we’ll do a separate rule-5 post later on.

So, this leaves the 25-man roster looking like this for 2016 as a starting point;

  • Rotation: Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Ross and Roark
  • Bullpen: Papelbon, Storen, Treinen, Thornton, Rivero, ? and ?
  • Inf: Rendon, Turner, Escobar, Zimmerman, Ramos
  • OF: Harper, Taylor, Werth
  • Bench: Robinson, Moore, Espinosa, Lobaton, den Dekker?

What do we need?  In order: bullpen, lefty hitters, backups and maybe rotation competition.  Every projected starter save Harper hits righty right now and that just needs to change.

So, section by section (using the  mlbtraderumors 2016 FA list for reference):

Rotation: Could the team go shopping for a 5th starter?  I like Roark and don’t think his 2013 and 2014 seasons were flukes, but the team doesn’t seem to rate him.  I like Ross as #3 and think he’s locked in based on his performance this year.  Depth wise, we have Giolito who probably will be ready for the rotation by mid 2016; he could see action as an injury call up if need be.  I have little faith in the rest of the upper-minors depth right now.  Cole, Jordan, Hill have all disappointed at the majors and may be traded for other spare parts.  I like Treinen and Rivero … they are both former starters but both have struggled at times and seem likely to stay in the pen.  I don’t think this is a high priority to supplement the rotation but I could see it.  Maybe Voth gets a shot next year if we get shredded with injuries.  Reynaldo Lopez and Erick Fedde are really more like 2017 options unless the Nats get creative and put Lopez’ 100mph heat in the bullpen short term (not the worst idea…)  Rotation wise, I think they have bigger fish to fry and will stand pat with what they have.

Bullpen; Thanks to the ridiculous choking incident, I think the team needs to part ways with Papelbon.  Won’t be easy; he’s due $11M next  year, his performance tailed off badly, he’s proven once again in his third organization out of three that he’s a bad apple, and he has a partial no-trade.  I’m sure his wife will be happy; reportedly they *just* bought a $2.9M house in Alexandria, like the day before he choked his teammate on national TV.  (side note: why would they buy if he was only here for another year??  That just doesn’t seem like the best investment.  Now they have a brand new property that they have to ditch).  Worst comes to worse, they have to release him to eat $11M.

If they part ways with Papelbon, what do they do with Storen?  I think Storen still demands a trade; this organization has jerked him around enough times, has now gotten not one but two higher-paid veteran closers to replace him despite regular season numbers that looked just fine each time.  Problem is: The FA market for “closers” is pretty weak (there’s just one closer on the market: Joaquin Soria); maybe if Papelbon is gone the organization makes right by Storen and lets him reprise the role.  Of course, on the flip side, the trade market for closers should be pretty good as a result and maybe Rizzo can spin some gold like he did with the Matt Capps trade.  If Papelbon leaves, maybe they kiss and make up with Storen and give him a bigger-than-he-deserves arbitration award and makes him happy.

Even if they keep Storen, the team still needs to acquire two good power arms for the 7th/8th inning.  I like Treinen, Thornton and Rivero to reprise their roles (Rivero in particular is intriguing; he can hit 100 from the left hand side, a rarity.  Too bad he doesn’t have a 3rd pitch or i’d be asking why he isn’t in the rotation).  They’ll get Stammen back so that’s a good 7th inning righty.  Barrett may miss the whole of 2016 so he’s not an option.  Carpenter’s got a shoulder injury and was AAA fodder anyway.  They can fill the long man with Roark if he gets replaced in the rotation or someone else like our spare starters (Cole, Hill, Jordan).  They could buy a whole lotta good will with the fans and re-sign Clippard.  How about someone like Jim Johnson, who kind of re-made himself with his closer performance in Atlanta, to be your 8th inning guy?  How does this look like for 2016:

  • Storen, Clippard/Johnson, Treinen, Stammen, Thornton, Rivero and someone like Cole as your long man
  • bullpen depth:  de los Santos, Davis, Martin, Solis, Grace, Carpenter (if he’s ready to go for 2016)

Still kind of thin; how many of those “depth” guys proved they were ready to go in the majors this year?  Are there any guys on the rise in the system who could make sense to push for a spot next year?  How much would you pay for someone like Clippard on the open market?  Maybe we’re going to see some kind of blockbuster trade where we acquire the surplus of arms we need.

Infield: seems rather set; Turner is a ready made replacement for Desmond.  Healthy Rendon at 3B is a 5-win player.  Escobar more than earned his money this year and defensively makes more sense at 2B where he can do less damage.  Zimmerman isn’t going anywhere (except back to the D/L for the millionth time in his career).  Espinosa remains one more year as the backup infielder and the team finds an additional utility guy from within (Difo?) or in the FA market for backup purposes.  Ramos was finally healthy for a whole season … and took a huge step back at the plate; do we try to replace him?  We could go for someone like a Matt Weiters, who hits lefty and addresses a need and flip Ramos for something we need like bullpen or bench depth.

Outfield: Harper and Werth are set in the corners .. .Werth for better or worse.  Is his 2015 the start of his decline or an injury excuse?  He’s got a no-trade and makes a ton of money and seems locked into LF as long as he’s here.  Question marks remain about Taylor; is he a starter or a 4th OF?  I think the Nats will pursue a lefty hitting outfielder, then position Harper in either CF or RF depending on the abilities of the acquisition.  The name Gerardo Parra keeps popping up; they liked him at the trade deadline and could pursue him again.  Or, if Span inexplicably takes the QO, there’s your lefty CF for 2016.  Jayson Heyward is a lefty but doesn’t add much punch and is going to be crazy expensive.

How about a radical realignment: Zimmerman goes to LF to make way for a lefty hitting 1B like Chris Davis; Harper to center, Werth back in RF, Taylor the 4th OF.  That’d give the team another lefty, a ton more power (imagine a lineup with both Harper and Davis?, and would fit in the budget even if Davis gets something like 6/$100M or so.  Or do you say “Davis is a nightmare FA contract waiting to happen when he starts inevitably declining and/or his Ritalin prescription runs out” and not commit money in this fashion?  I could buy that argument absolutely.  How likely is this team, really, to extend Bryce Harper for $300M plus?  Are they saving their pennies for that attempt or are they saying “he’s a goner lets just try to win while we have them?”

Bench: the team got a ton from Robinson and Espinosa this year; they’re both back.  Moore?  Probably DFA’d; he’s eligible for arbitration and there’s likely to be a dozen right handed power hitters who could play a corner and pinch hit here and there.  Look for a cattle call of veteran MLFAs like we did for the lefty 1b/LF position that Robinson won this past spring training.  I think the team likes den Dekker as “speedy backup CF outfielder” guy so he likely returns too.  Plus he hits lefty and really hit well in September.  No reason to mess with Lobaton; he gives flexibility at the plate and is cost-contained as a backup C.

Summary:
Honestly, the core of the team is mostly still intact.  If all these guys were healthy all year and hitting at their 2014 rates, this season would have gone a lot differently.  I think we’ll see a lot of work in the pen and some activity on the fringes, but no major signings and no major trades.  Payroll takes a step back; I can’t tell you how much b/c payroll projections will take time and depend on who gets tendered/re-signed/QO’d, but I could see this team back at $130M heading into 2016.

Does this sound like a winning formula?  Did I miss anything?

State of the Nats at the halfway point 2015

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Per KW’s comment suggestion, here’s a “State of the Nats” at the halfway point of 2015.

Salient key phrase: “Holding On.”  Lets look at some component parts.

Offense

Here’s the full-strength outfield lineup the Nats would optimally like to deploy: Span, Rendon, Harper, Zimmerman, Werth, Desmond, Ramos, Escobar.

Here’s what they lined-up against Red’s ace Johnny Cueto a few days ago: Taylor, Espinosa, Harper, Ramos, Robinson, Uggla, Desmond, den Dekker.  Yeah, its no wonder they wimpered into the night as Cueto threw a 2-hit shutout.  If you’re Cueto, you pitch around Harper (who got a hit and a walk), you attack the rest of the lineup (strike-out prone lead-off hitter Taylor took a hat-trick), and you laugh as you blow through the rest of the lineup (11Ks on the night).

That’s five regulars out, but not just any regulars; the D/L includes your expected #1, #2 #4, and #5 hitters.  Instead they are replaced by a rookie (Taylor), a career minor-leaguer (Robinson), a cast-off veteran failure (Uggla), a career .230 hitter who the team has spent the last 3 years trying to replace (Espinosa) and a 4th/5th outfielder with just a couple hundred MLB at-bats prior to this year (den Dekker).

Frankly, its a miracle the team is in first place.  Only by the grace of Harper’s incredible season does this team manage to stay in games.  For the record, at the halfway point Harper leads the league in bWAR (6.1), OBP, Slugging, OPS and OPS+.  After having a 3-1 K/BB ratio last year, this year he basically has as many walks as strike-outs, one of the primary reasons his average is 60 points higher and his OBP is 130 points higher than it was last year.  Hold your breath that Harper doesn’t crash out and miss a month with some injury like he’s done in the previous seasons.  If he ends the season with this level of an adjusted OPS+, it’ll be one of the 10-12 best offensive seasons in the history of baseball.

Ironically, even given all these injuries the Nats aren’t even close to what some other teams are dealing with; per mangameslost.com, we’re not even close to what the Mets, Rangers, Rays or Oakland has had to deal with.  Though I’d venture to say that perhaps the games lost by Nats players are slightly more “important” than the cumulative games lost by some of these other teams.  I don’t care who you are; if you remove four of the top five batters from any team’s lineup, they’d be lucky to be out of the cellar.

The team has gotten absolutely nothing from presumed bench players McLouth and Johnson (Do you think Rizzo will *ever* buy a 4th outfielder for 8-figures again in his life?).  Guys who should be in AAA are getting starts and (at least in the case of Robinson) holding their own.  We talked before the season about where Taylor should be (on the MLB bench or in AAA getting starts) … well he’s getting playing time, for better or worse.  Instead of worrying about whether Moore was going to get DFA’d to make room, we’re *adding* guys to the 40-man like Burriss to help out.

Rotation

We know about Scherzer.  He’s been amazing, should start the NL All-Star game (of course, he’s scheduled to throw the series ender in Baltimore so we’ll see) and he leads all NL pitchers in bWAR.

What about the rest of the rotation?  Both Fister and Strasburg have missed a  handful of starts, and the Nats have tried a whole AAA-rotation worth of replacements to varying results.  With apologies to “short sample size judgements” I’ll say that Ross was good, Hill has been ok, Cole has been bad, and Jordan has been worse.  Of course, both Cole and Jordan’s delta between ERA and FIP is massive, so their poor ERAs are unlucky to a certain extent.  In the meantime, Ross has a 23/2 K/BB ratio and a FIP of 1.11 in his three starts.  Its safe to say that this person is excited to see what he can do next, and for me he’s at the head of the line for 2016 rotation candidates.

Clearly we know Strasburg has had an off season.  But so has Fister.  And Gonzalez‘ ERA is in the 4’s.   Just how bad is this rotation?  Not as bad as you think; they’re ranked 8th in the league in starter ERA but are 1st in FIP and fWAR.   Last  year they were 1st in all of these categories.  So perhaps we can expect some “progression” in the 2nd half as (hopefully) guys like Strasburg clean up their act and pitch closer to their FIPs than their ERAs.

Bullpen

We knew Rizzo had weakened the bullpen from 2015, which could have been fine had the injury bug not hit.  But the turnover of this bullpen has caught up to the team in some ways.

  • End of 2014: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Stammen, Thornton, Blevins, and Detwiler.
  • As we stand now: Storen, Janssen, Treinen, Carpenter, Thornton, Rivero, and Roark.

That’s a lot of turnover.  Yes Storen has been typically excellent (as long as its not the post-season, he seems to be one of the most reliable closers in the game).  As we speak, the bullpen is 11th in ERA; last year they were 4th as a bullpen.  Janssen’s injury did not help, as it pushed guys into the 8th inning role they weren’t ready for.  And we saw Treinen and Barrett struggle (3.69 and 5.06 ERA’s respectively).  Granted their FIP shows that those ERAs are unlucky … but those are still runs on the board, blown leads, blown saves.  Roark (predictably) has regressed as he’s pitched in practically every role a pitching staff has (long-man, mop-up, spot-starter, rotation guy, middle reliever, setup guy and even a closer).  Luckily the gambler Rizzo has gotten pretty good performance out of scrap heap guys like Thornton and Carpenter, both of whom have given the team good innings.

Will this last?  It better: there’s practically nothing left in the farm system for reinforcements.  Barrett is set to return soon (probably pushing Carpenter to AAA), but the other options in the minors do not inspire confidence.  Martin got shelled (unfortunately; we were all cheering him on after his call-up and his fantastic start).  Grace and Solis were both mediocre in their auditions, and I can’t quite figure out why Erik Davis is even still on the roster.  Maybe the team will try some more waiver claims or trades (Neftali Felix just got DFA’d…) to shore up middle relief.

Streaks

Lets talk about streaks.  As of the time of this posting, the Nats season can neatly be fit into these four periods, and then talk about what spurred the beginning/ending of each streak.

  • The Slow Start: 7-13 from opening day through 4/27/15.  The team came out of the game 7-13, thanks to a sputtering offense and a make-shift lineup still trying to gel.
  • The Comeback: 21-6 from 4/28/15 to 5/27/15: Uggla hits his sole homer on the season to spur a pretty incredible 13-12 comeback win in Atlanta, and the team goes on a 21-6 tear following it.
  • Rotational Worries: 6-13 from 5/28/15 to 6/19/15.  Strasburg lasts just 5 batters on his 5/28/15 start, putting 40% of the rotation on the D/L and throwing the rhythm of the pitching staff off.
  • The Kid dazzles: 12-5 from 6/20/15 to 7/9/15; A long road trip/tough schedule stretch ends with a dominant Ross performance at home 6/20/15, kicking off an easy stretch in the schedule and a mostly full-strength pitching rotation.

Definitely a streaky team so far.  At 7-13, they were 8 games back.  At the end of their 21-6 streak, they were 1.5 games up in the division.  Despite their 6-13 stretch the only lost 3 games in the standings as the Mets faltered equally, and as of 7/9/15 they’re still 3 games up despite getting dominated at home by the Reds.

The team is beating who they should be beating (9-3 against Atlanta, 8-5 against Philly).  And they’ve had some success against other teams that are “good” this year (3-1 against the Yankees, 3-0 against Pittsburgh, and a sweep of San Francisco).  But they’re inexplicably bad against Cincinnati (0-5?), Miami (2-4), and were expectedly weak against the rest of the AL East (a combined 3-7 against Boston, Tampa Bay and Toronto).  I’m guessing they’ll struggle against Baltimore this coming weekend since they sputtered against Cincinnati.

Lets just say that the All-Star break is coming at a pretty good time for this team.

Where do we go from here?

The Nats should be healthier coming out of the all-star break.  And they’ll need it; their July schedule is tough.  They host the Dodgers and the Mets to start, then travel to Pittsburgh, Miami and New York.  That’s a slew of games against good teams and their primary divisional rivals.

In August they host some bad teams (Arizona, Milwaukee, Colorado) but they also do their big West Coast trip (at Los Angeles, San Francisco and Colorado).  They also get a 3-game set at St. Louis that could be an eye-opener for where they really stand ahead of the playoffs.  September features practically all divisional games against teams that should all be completely out of it by then, so I forsee a team in cruising mode.

Playoff Outlook

The Nats remain in 1st place despite all their issues, and their closest rival is putting out a lineup that most AAA teams could beat.  Philly is already 30 games under .500.  Miami is 15 games under .500 and just lost their best player.  Atlanta sits around .500 but isn’t really trying for 2015 and won’t spend to compete.  So I think its safe to say the Nats are winning the division.  I’ll guess the Mets hang around since their pitching is so good, but in the end the Nats win the division by at least 10 games.

If the season ended today, Pittsburgh hosts the Cubs in the WC, St. Louis hosts the WC winner and Washington would be traveling to Los Angeles to open the playoffs.  And frankly its hard to see this changing much between now and October 1st.  I don’t think its a stretch to say that the Nats would be underdogs to both the Dodgers and the Cardinals in a playoff series, not unless Strasburg remembers how to pitch again or the offense gets healthy in time.  Are we looking at another first round playoff exit?

 

 

Is Ross making the Nats re-think their future rotation strategy?

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Joe Ross has been a revalation at the MLB level.  Photo Getty Images via federalbaseball.com

Joe Ross has been a revelation at the MLB level. Photo Getty Images via federalbaseball.com

Joe Ross, who it is fair to say was in some respects the “other guy” in the Tampa/San Diego 3-way trade that netted the Nats presumed future shortstop Trea Turner but cost them Steven Souza and prospect Travis Ott, got a somewhat surprising call-up after the starters covering for Doug Fister didn’t quite give the Nats the performance they were looking for.

Three starts later, two of which were easily defined as “dominant,” is it too soon to think that perhaps Ross is a bigger part of the Nats future than the trio of starter prospects we have stashed in Syracuse?

He looked *really good* last night against a team on an 8-game winning streak.  He was making professional hitters look very, very ordinary with his slider.  His slider was so good, he threw it nearly 50% of the time last night and got an astounding 38% whiff rate.  Average fastball of 93.1, max of 96.8 on the night.  Wow.

Small Sample Sizes, of course.  And maybe you could ignore the 11-K performance against the god-awful Brewers.  But Pittsburgh is was hottest team in the league and was mowed down like little leaguers.

At the beginning of this season, if you asked me what the Nats’ rotation was going to look like in the next three transitionary years, I might have said something like this:

  • 2015: Scherzer, Strasburg, Zimmermann, Gonzalez, Fister with Roark as #1 replacement option
  • 2016: Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Roark and a battle between Treinen, Cole, Jordan and Hill (in that order) for 5th and 6th spots.
  • 2017: Scherzer, Giolito, Gonzalez, Roark, and a question mark.  Maybe Treinen/Cole, maybe a veteran acquired via FA or trade.  Maybe Lopez if he moves up at the same pace as Giolito.  Who knows.

Now?  I think you have to think Ross has jumped to the top of the list in that 2016 rotational battle, maybe even solidifying his spot.   Does a rotation of Scherzer, Strasburg, Ross, Gonzalez and Roark sound good?  Keep Treinen in the bullpen.  Flip spare depth (Cole, Jordan, Hill) for whatever you can get for them, and make room for the next wave of guys (Giolito, Voth, Lopez, Pivetta).

Wishful thinking?  Perhaps.  We love dreaming on pitching prospects here, but give me  your thoughts.