Nationals Arm Race

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

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Nats Rotation Cycle #24: good/bad/soso


Wang looked as good in Chicago as he used to look in this uniform. Photo unknown via

The team went 3-2 in its last time through the rotation, taking a series from Atlanta at home before scuffling with Colorado in Denver.  This time through they finish off the Colorado series and move on to Chicago.


  • John Lannan deserved more than he got after throwing 6 shutout innings on 8/7 (box/gamer).  He walked the leadoff hitter in the 7th and his bullpen conspired to blow the lead and cost him the Win.  Another clear example of how “wins” as a measuring stat for starters is clearly overrated.  Lannan’s line: 6ip+1 batter, 6 hits, 4 walks, 1 run.  Lannan has clearly turned around his season and is putting himself squarely in the Nat’s future rotational plans.  He’s a perfect #4 pitcher and probably sparkles on a good offensive team.  (See notes below for comments on the managing and bullpen performance in Lannan’s start).
  • Chien-Ming Wang looked about as good as you could ask for his 3rd start back after 2 years out of the game, throwing 6 innings of one-hit ball (no-hitting the Cubs through 5) in Chicago on 8/9 (box/gamer).  His sinker was moving well, he kept his fastballs right at the knees, and he humped it up to 93 on occasion (if you believe the stadium gun).  He had 11 ground ball outs to 4 flyball outs and needed just 81 pitches to complete 6 innings.  Apparently Steve McCatty asked some prior teammates about Wang and discovered that he wasn’t throwing his sinker nearly as much now as he was back in the day, and convinced him to do so going forward (aside: how is it possible that a pitcher “forgets” what made him successful??)   Coincidentally, despite pitching so well I agreed with Wang’s removal; in the 6th inning he was starting to lose control of his fastball and it was rising up, exactly what a sinker-baller doesn’t want.  A great start though, and a great sign for the future.


  • Unfortuantely Livan Hernandez was scheduled for his “bad” outing in his continuing Jekyll & Hyde season, and his bad was pretty bad.  He gave up 9 runs (7 earned) on 9 hits in 3 and 2/3 innings to take the loss on 8/6 (box/gamer).  The Nats bullpen didn’t help much either with each of the relievers struggling in one way or another (see notes).  Perhaps we can just skip Livan’s “bad” outings?  Or, I’ve got a better idea; we can remove him from the rotation since he’s giving the team less than a 50/50 chance of even being competitive in games right now.  Ben Goessling reported on the same topic, surmising that Livan’s rotation spot is in serious jeopardy with the team wanting to see youth in September.  One of the Nats blogs  highlighted a fantastic stat; look at Livan’s splits in his Wins versus Losses: in 6 wins he has a 1.25 era and a sub 1.00 whip.  In 11 losses? A 5.84 era and a 1.6ish whip.  His performance in 7 No-Decisions looks almost identical to his performance in losses.


  • Jordan Zimmermann should have done better against the Cubs on 8/11 (box/gamer), giving up 4 runs on 9 hits, 2 walks in 6 2/3 innings.  He looked fantastic through 6, but gave up a single and back to back homers in the 7th to blemish his line and tag him with the loss on the night.
  • Ross Detwiler continues to look like he’s destined for the bullpen, giving up 3 runs on 7 hits and 2 homers in 5 innings on 8/10 (box/gamer).   The homers were cheap (Wrigley is a major hitter’s park) but 7 hits to go with 2 walks is just too many runners for a medicore-to-bad offense to overcome.

Relievers of Note and other News

  • Here’s your Washington Bullpen in the 8/6 game: Gorzelanny (4 hits in 2+ innings), Coffey (3 runs and 3 hits while retiring just one guy), Burnett (2 inherited runners, both scored), and Rodriguez (2 hits and 2 walks in one IP).  What are the odds that any of these four guys feature in 2012?  All four of them now feature ERA+ in the mid 80s (indicating their pitching about 15% worse than the MLB average) and they seem to be getting worse as the season rolls on.  The question fans have to be thinking about is Mike Rizzo‘s ego in these deals: Coffey was a 1-yr FA and won’t be missed, but the other three guys represent the bounty we have remaining from Rizzo’s 3 major trades since arriving here.  Will Rizzo admit that these moves didn’t work out and not force bad players to continue playing?  We’ll see.
  • Is it just me, or was Davey Johnson‘s pitcher management in the 8/7 game just ridiculous?  Lannan sits on 6 shutout innings and is allowed to bat in the top of the 7th.  He makes a feeble ground-ball out as expected.  Lannan goes back out to the mound for the bottom of the 7th, walks a guy and is yanked.  Why was he allowed to bat then!??  Clearly Johnson already had Lannan’s replacement warming up; why not actually, you know, try to score a run instead of giving a sub .100 hitter another at-bat?  Why do you have power bats on your bench?  Then, in a textbook example of a bullpen actively *trying* to blow a game; Mattheus promptly gives up a hit (yet earn’s a “hold” for his work !?), Clippard comes in and fails to cover 1st base on a grounder to Morse (yet somehow Morse is given the error on the play !?), then gives up another hit to tie the game.  Clippard’s reward for this performance?  The victory in the game.   A frustrating game to watch as a fan, and I can’t imagine what Lannan was thinking after throwing 6 dominant innings.
  • Stephen Strasburg‘s first rehab start review: 31 pitches, 26 for strikes, throwing mostly 4-seam fastballs with the occasional curve but apparently no 2-seamers and few changeups.  The opposing hitters caught on and tagged him for a few hits (including a solo-homer), but the hits aren’t that concerning (once it became clear in the opposing dugout that they could sit fastball, it becomes considerably easier to hit a guy).  He topped out at 98, sat in 96-97 range on the fastball.  He was quoted as saying his fastball “wasn’t there yet” but that he has to “start somewhere.”  Sounds like a good start to me.  His next start has been announced: Friday August 12th in Potomac.  Potomac has to be happy about (finally) getting a major Nats prospect to play there… Here’s the story from his 2nd rehab start: all good.
  • Wang’s no-hitter effort was eventually broken up by pinch hitter Tony Campana‘s sharply hit grounder to Morse.  But before that, he attempted a bunt and missed.  Breaking the unwritten rules of baseball, you say?  Bunting to break up a no-hitter is almost always a no-no … except that Campana is clearly a guy who bunts probably every third at bat.  If its part of your game, then its fair game.

Nats Trade Moves & Thoughts


Previously I posted that I thought the Nats should trade pretty much everyone they could, given their current spot in the standings.  How’d they do?

Here’s the moves.

  • Acquiring Jonny Gomes: reviewed here.   We picked up Gomes for two minor leaguers that were either blocked (Rhinehart) or long shots (Manno).
  • Trading Jerry Hairston for a decent AA outfielder in Erik Komatsu.  Honestly I was a bit surprised Hairston was moved, given his valuable multi-position coverage for this team this year.  Komatsu wasn’t a BA top10 prospect for Milwaukee, but they did rate him as being the Brewer’s best hitting-for-average prospect in the pre-season.  He has a good pedigree (Cal State Fullerton product) and is doing well in AA this year.  He seems to be another attempt to build the outfielder pipeline that has been pretty poor, and has left the team continually struggling for a quality center fielder.
  • Trading Jason Marquis for a low-minors shortstop in Zach Walters.  Walters was spoken well of by his former U  San Diego teammate Sammy Solis, and has been hitting well this season (albeit he’s playing in low-A as a college draftee).  Some advocated against trading Marquis; not I though, figuring that Marquis was going to draw a decent prospect from somewhere.

In my “what I’d like to see the Nats do” post a few days ago, I basically advocated trading everybody we could.  Clearly having Laynce Nix and Ivan Rodriguez on the DL (either current or recently) prevented them from being trade candidates, and moving Livan Hernandez probably would have left a massive veteran leadership hole in the pitching corps.  We DFA’d Matt Stairs (not that he was ever going to be a trade candidate), and I’d guess that both Rick Ankiel and Alex Cora could still be waiver-wire trades made closer to the post season.  The one move that remains a surprise is not trading Todd Coffey, a decent right hander out of the pen that surely could have shorn up someone’s bullpen for a low-level prospect.

In the “non-move” category, I’m glad we didn’t move Drew Storen for Denard Span as was frequently mentioned in trade rumors leading up to the 7/31 deadline.  Honestly i’d rather pursue BJ Upton in the off season for a higher-ceiling guy.  Clippard is valuable but is a reliever, and despite the tendency of fans to overvalue their own relievers, the return didn’t seem to be worth the disruption to the bullpen.

I’m guessing a few of these expiring contract guys may be post waiver-wire trade possibilities, but all in all I’m happy with the moves and non-moves.  I certainly don’t agree with the pundits who are labeling the team “losers” in the trade market.

Boswell, er I mean Sheinin’s 7/25/11 chat questions, answered

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Is Davey Johnson up for the task at hand? Photo unknown origin.

I whiffed on the last couple of Boswell’s chats, finding time enough to read them but not to write a 2000 word missive in response.  Boswell’s on vacation this week, so here’s Dave Sheinin covering for him and doing a chat.

As always, I paraphrase the “questions” for levity and clarity, and I answer each question myself before reading Dave’s answer.

Q: Has the game passed by Davey Johnson?

A: Camera shots certainly seem to catch Johnson in an “old man” stupor from time to time.  I don’t think Baseball is like Football in that older generations of coaches can’t compete b/c the game has passed them by.  But I don’t sense that Johnson is really that in tune with the game right now.  The team has swooned since he took over, he has lost more than his share of 1-run games (fairly or unfairly set at the foot of the manager).  In reality this is a longer-term answer, meaning we’ll only be able to tell after he runs the team for a while.  Sheinin says that whoever replaced Riggleman was destined for a fall, and that he’s ok with everything Johnson has done thus far.

Q: Is Strasburg going to hit Potomac during his rehab trip, or are they gonna get screwed over again?

A: Good question; I’d say this time he appears for Potomac at some point, as the Nats had Wang travel up and down the system to get starts on his regular rotation.  There doesn’t seem to be a need to keep Strasburg out of Potomac’s awful outfield.  Sheinin agrees.

Q: How would you handicap the odds of the following trades happening by the deadline: 1. Nats trade Marquis 2. Nats trade Livan 3. Nats trade Clippard 4. Nats trade Desmond 5. Nats trade other(s) 6. Nats acquire Colby Rasmus 7. Nats acquire BJ Upton 8. Nats acquire Michael Bourn 9. Nats acquire other CF.

A: I’d put them in this order of most likely: 1, 5 (Coffey), large gap, 3, 2, 7, 9 (Span), 8, 4, 6.

I think Marquis and Coffey are definitely moving.  I don’t think anyone would want Livan.  I have a hard time thinking that the team is going to move Clippard or Desmond.  Rasmus probably goes elsewhere.  Bourn is a lesser version of Upton, so we’d probably want Upton over anyone else.

Sheinin thinks that the most likely players to get traded is Coffey, and doesn’t think Marquis is going anywhere.

Q: Do you think Riggleman intentionally left the team at its “high-water” mark?

A: Absolutely.  Riggleman was frustrated by the lack of communication from his boss (Rizzo), frustrated by his lame-duck status and probably was reading the tea-leaves that he’d be let to just play out his contract and let someone else enjoy the spoils of his work in 2012.  So he gave the team an ultimatum at the time that best suited his negotiaitons.  Rizzo called his bluff and Riggleman walked.  I know most believe Riggleman acted selfishly, but I put a ton of blame on Rizzo’s poor handling of the situation.  One conversation probably could have avoided all the negative press that followed Riggleman’s departure.  Sheinin thinks Riggleman knew exactly what he was doing.

Q: Would you trade both Clippard and Norris to get Denard Span?

A: No, I would not.  I think the Nats value the combined value of both those players, both under team control for at least 4 years (Clippard) to at least 6 in Norris’ case.  Span is decent, but for that price i’d shoot for Upton (who has more power and steals more bases).  Sheinin dodged the question, stating that Span wasn’t really in play.  Which he wasn’t at 11am monday, but since then rumors have floated about the Twins and Nats talking about him.

Q: What kind of pitch count will Wang be on?  What would be an expected first outing?

Probably nothing too conservative; he’s been rehabbing for literally a year and a half.  But if he reaches 100 pitches in an outing i’d be surprised.  I think a 5ip 2run outing would be a major success.  Sheinin doesn’t expect much.

Q: What will the team do with Gorzelanny, who seemingly is making way for Wang in the rotation?  DL?

A: The team can’t demote him (options), so they probably demote Detwiler and have Gorzelanny be the new long-man out of the pen.  At least until we trade a starter or someone goes down with an injury.  He may have an “invented injury” all of a sudden and go onto the 15-day DL.  Certainly the team has been shady in the past in the way it handles DL trips, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this happen here.  Sheinin says that teams hide injuries all the time for competitive purposes.

Q: Why is Drew Storen’s name in trade rumors?

A: Good question.  I have a very hard time believing the Nats would consider trading Storen unless it was to obtain someone marquee.  It may be that other teams are asking about him and that news is leaking out. Sheinin does say that relievers are fungible, as I’ve said many times, and you never say never to a trade possibility.

Q: What makes more sense in 2012: Morse in LF or at 1B?

A: Makes more sense: keeping Morse at first and Nix in left and not messing with what has turned into a very healthy middle-of-the-order for this team.  Reality: LaRoche isn’t going to get traded and we don’t want to light $8M on fire, so he’s going back to 1B.  Which means Morse is back in left and Nix is left out.  Sheinin says a lot can happen between now and next spring, like us signing Prince Fielder and making this whole conversation moot.

Q: If you had to bet right now, is Desmond or Lombardozzi starting in the infield next year?

A: I’d bet Desmond starts there and is given one more year to figure it out.  Lombardozzi starts in AAA and if he earns his way up, he earns his way up.  Sheinin agrees, but says that Desmond needs to start producing or risk losing his job.

Q: Why did Riggleman call out Boswell during his departure?

A: Probably because Boswell wrote a ton of not-so-nice pieces essentially proving just how bad a manager Riggleman has been over his career.  You’d probably be pissed as well.  Sheinin thinks that Riggleman’s rant was misguided.

Q: Who starts in CF for this team in 2012?

A: Who knows.  It really seems like this team is in the market for a CF, so right now i’d say its a FA to be named.  I don’t think it will be Ankiel or Bernadina.  Ankiel parts ways with the team and Bernadina battles with Nix to be the 4th outfielder.  Sheinin agrees.

Q: Which team will regret their big contract more?  Werth/Nats, Howard/Phillies, Jeter/Yankees or A-Rod/Yankees?

A: Probably the Nats.  Howard is a big bat in the middle of a talented lineup and it more or less goes unnoticed that he’s not producing at his normal levels in 2011.  The Yankees have so many $40M mistakes that its comical, but the A-Rod contract in particular looks like it will be a massive albatross in a few years (A-Rod is guaranteed $20M in 2017, when he’ll turn 42 mid-season).  Sheinin agrees.

What I’d like to see the Nats do at the trade deadline…


Will Sunday's start be Jason Marquis' last in a Nats uniform? Photo Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

I’m a realist.

The Nats are not going to catch the Braves for the NL Wild Card.  Given that situation, I believe the team needs to cash in on its expiring veterans and trade them.  Some of our vets should go before the 7/31 non-waiver deadline, others probably would pass through waivers (as Cristian Guzman did in 2010) and could be moved for low-level prospects closer to the end of the season.

That being said, as a follower of the minor league rotations and as a fan looking forward to the future of this team, I’d rather see our prospects and “what-ifs” now instead of following guys as they play out the string in August and September.  Here’s a list of moves I’d like to see and who should replace them.

  1. Jason Marquis.  We trade him for whatever he can get and we shoudn’t get too hung up on his return value.  According to mlbtraderumor’s estimates of the current Elias rankings, Marquis isn’t even close to being a type-B free agent, thus he nets us no comp picks at the end of the season if/when he signs elsewhere.  We should trade Marquis and immediately make room in the rotation for one Chien-Ming Wang, who makes (presumably) his last rehab start today 7/24 and needs to immediately come up and join the 25-man roster.
  2. Livan Hernandez.  Some say we keep the old veteran, and I can certainly see that argument.  However, his up-and-down season has frustrated many, and we’ve got a starter in Ross Detwiler who could/should immediately take his rotation spot.  Hernandez, according to the above Elias rankings, believe it or not is right on the cusp of type-B status, which could net a supplemental first rounder for whoever has him at the end of the season.  But that’s a risky proposition; odds are he’d accept arbitration and the guaranteed payday from the offering team, negating the possible comp pick.
  3. Laynce Nix: the slugging left fielder has been a great find for this team, going from minor league signee to starting left fielder.  But, there isn’t going to be room for him in 2012, with LaRoche coming back and Morse likely moving back to left field.  We could keep the outfielder as a 4th, but a player like Rick Ankiel or Roger Bernadina makes more sense as a 4th outfielder since they can play all three OF positions and have decent speed on the basepaths.  We should trade him now while his value is high.  This is complicated lately by his achilles tendon injury, so the odds are that he’s staying put.  Another point against; if Nix goes, who replaces him on the roster?  We don’t really have a ready-made, deserving AAA outfielder that we could call up.  We could bring up Chris Marrero, put him at first and put Morse back in left, a move that doesn’t have any 40-man roster impact.
  4. Todd Coffey: the middle relief righty has struggled lately but still has value for teams looking for bullpen support.  Flip him and bring up the deserving, long toiling and local product Josh Wilkie.
  5. Ivan Rodriguez: the Giants continue to need catching depth, they love veterans and Pudge would have a likely playoff run with a trade.  We could continue with Jesus Flores in a backup role, now that it seems that the word has gotten out that his arm is shot and he’s no longer earning trade value playing full time in AAA.  Of course, as we speak Pudge is on the DL so any trade before the deadline is likely off.
  6. Any one of the rest of our one-year FA backups: Cora, Hairston, Stairs, and Ankiel.  All four of these guys likely pass through waivers and would serve as excellent role players for teams on a playoff push.  Cora and Hairston could be replaced by Brian Bixler or Steve Lombardozzi easily enough, while Stairs or Ankiel, if moved along with Nix, would probably necessitate the return of a MLB-ready outfielder.

Who do I think we should NOT move, unless we get excellent value coming back?

  1. Ian Desmond: his name keeps appearing in trade rumors, with conflicting reports.  Some say we’re “actively shopping” him, others say that he’s a “core piece” and won’t be moved.  We’d be selling low on Desmond, given his precipitous drop in offensive production this year.  However, if the team long term wants to move Espinosa to short and make room for the likes of Lombardozzi or (eventually perhaps) Anthony Rendon, then striking while the iron is hot and people are asking for Desmond makes sense.
  2. Tyler Clippard: I posted on the topic of Clippard’s name appearing in trade rumors earlier this week.  My arguments are there in greater detail; we should only move him if we’re “wowed” by the return.
  3. Drew Storen: can’t see how we’re even considering moving him; he’s under club control through 2015, is a poster child for excellent drafting and quick rise to the majors, and is quickly becoming an excellent closer.  He’s 25/28 in save opportunities as a 23-yr old this year; you don’t trade these guys, you build around them.

Anyone else not already mentioned is either untradeable (Werth, LaRoche), untouchable (Zimmermann, Zimmerman, Espinosa, Ramos), or somewhere in the realm of club-control guys (Bernadina, Lannan, Gorzelanny as examples) who aren’t worth as much to other teams as they are to us.

Lastly, here’s some player targets we’ve heard that the Nationals are interested in.

  1. BJ Upton: Upton is enigmatic to say the least; his numbers put him at a barely greater than average mlb player, but he gets steals and hits for some power and plays a declining CF (don’t believe me?  Look at his uzr/150 ratings drop for 4 straight seasons here, culminating with a negative score for 2011 so far).  Is he the solution for our leadoff/center field spot?  Perhaps.  But I don’t want to give up the farm for a guy we’ll only control for one more year (he’s entering his 3rd arbitration year in 2012).
  2. Michael Bourn: he’s a far lesser version of Upton; far less power but more speed, and 2011 is the first time he’s been above 100 OPS+ in his career.  We’d be buying high for sure.  Somehow he makes more than Upton in the same 2nd year arbitration situation.
  3. Colby Rasmus: i’d love to get him, he’d be a monster in center field.  He’s young, he produced excellently in 2010, and seems to be perpetually in his manager’s doghouse.  The latest  rumors though have him going elsewhere, not to the Nats.  Plus, I’m not quite sure why the Cards would trade him in the first place; the guy’s making the MLB minimum and batting in the middle of their order.

Nats Rotation Cycle #15: good/bad/soso


It is good to have the Face of the Franchise back. Photo unknown credit via

The Nats finally get Ryan Zimmerman back into a suddenly potent lineup, and continue their longest winning streak in several years.  How’d our guys fare heading into the weekend Interleague series with the Orioles?


  • Livan Hernandez pitched perhaps his best game in a Nats uniform on June 15th (box/gamer) against the powerful St. Louis lineup.  A 3-hit shutout.  Three errors and 4 bombs from his improving offense definitely helped, but he would have won this game even with his typical crummy run support.  Game score on the night: 87.  Nice.  (Verlander‘s no hitter on May 7th scored a 90, for comparison purposes).  For a nice overview of the Bill James Gamescore, and a list of the greatest pitching performances in National’s history, read Zuckerman‘s piece here.
  • John Lannan continues to look like a different pitcher than earlier this season, throwing his sixth straight quality start in the St. Louis series finale on 6/16 (box/gamer).  He was denied the spoils of victory though, with Danny Espinosa‘s walkoff 3-run shot giving Burnett a victory.  The win pulled the Nats out of last place in the NL east for the first time this late in the season since perhaps 2005.
  • While not quite as dominant as his past few starts, Jordan Zimmermann threw yet another quality start in saturday 6/18’s game versus Baltimore (box/gamer).  He went 6 1/3, giving up 2 runs on 8 hits for his 9th consecutive quality start.  In that time he’s driven his ERA from 4.55 to its current 3.08, good enough for 12th in the NL as of 6/19.  Can we say “second Ace” yet?


  • Jason Marquis somehow willed his way out of 12 hits in less than 6 innings without giving up a dozen runs, settling for 4 against the Orioles on friday night (box/gamer).  The Orioles certainly did not hit well with RISP, and it cost them as the Nats bats continued to be hot and they extended their winning streak.
  • Tom Gorzelanny‘s return from the DL was poor: he failed to get out of the 5th inning and got pounded by the Orioles to end the Nats 8-game winning streak on 6/19 (box/gamer).  He gave up 10 hits for 5 runs (4 earned) on the afternoon.  No strikeouts for the team’s leading k/9 guy, making you wonder if he’s rushed back from his injury.  His velocity seemed ok and he was pitching to contact … but the Orioles aren’t exactly a weak-hitting team.  We’ll have to hope for a stronger start next time out.

Starter Trends: Lannan and Zimmermann continue their hot streaks, Livan continues his yo-yo-ing of performances, and Marquis gets a win on a day he got hit around pretty badly.

MLB Trends (through gorzelanny 6/19)
Lhernandez         soso,soso,good,bad,great
Marquis                soso,good,good,good,bad
Lannan                  great,good,good,good,good
Zimmermann     good,good,good,great,good
Gorzelanny         good,bad,soso,bad->dl,bad

Relievers of Note

  • Boy its nice to see a bullpen full of shut-down arms.  A quick glance at the ERA+ stats of our bullpen as of 6/19 offers up some pretty dominant figures.  Storen-159, Clippard-197, Rodriguez-219, Coffey-183, Mattheus-infinite (he’s yet to give up a run in two appearances).  Only Balester and Burnett have sub 100 figures.  The ERA+ is a bit deceptive for certain people (for example, Doug Slaten has a 179 figure despite a god-awful WHIP and a horrible inherited runners-scoring track record) but for the most part does a good job characterizing the performance of pitchers over the long haul.

Thoughts on the offense

  • Rick Ankiel can’t seem to catch a break this season, going back on the DL to let a strained rib cage muscle heal properly.  The move was fortuitous for the Nats, who needed to activate Tom Gorzelanny to make his 6/20 start and offers a stay of execution for (likely) Brian Bixler on the active roster.
  • 6 of the 8 starting hitters for this team now feature OPS+ stats > 100.  Only Desmond and Bernadina (who just missed out with a 95 OPS+) are struggling to join the hit parade.
  • More importantly for our power-starved team, with 43% of the season gone we’ve got 4 players on pace to eclipse 20 homers on the season (Werth, Nix, Morse and Espinosa), and Zimmerman may pick up the pace and threaten that same mark.  Espinosa is noteworthy as the team leader, currently on pace for 27-28 homers during his rookie season, from the 2nd base position.  He may become a very valuable player indeed.

Broderick and Rodriguez are officially costing the team Wins


Why exactly was Slaten left in to pitch 2+ innings last night? Photo Getty Images via

There’s no other way to put it, after watching the unfolding of last night’s bullpen meltdown; carrying Brian Broderick and Henry Rodriguez on this team is having the effect of shortening the bullpen from 7 guys to 5, and is costing this team wins by not allowing Jim Riggleman to put in the right guys at the right time.

WP Beat reporter Adam Kilgore put it more politely, calling the carrying of two essentially worthless pitchers an “unusual roster construction.”  You know what I call it?  A GM who is hand-cuffing his manager.

I have complained in this space several times (mostly summed up here in this March 2011 post) about the implications of the Nats having 3 of their 12 pitchers (Tom Gorzelanny in addition to Broderick and Rodriguez) be essentially “locked” onto the 25-man active roster.  Its one of my main criticisms of the Josh Willingham deal in general; see my post for more opinion but to have only a right handed reliever who your manager cannot use in return for your #5 hitter of the past two years is my definition of a trade failure).  Gorzelanny has pitched much better than anticipated and his roster spot hasn’t been questioned (though for me, that wasn’t always the case either).

To say nothing of this plain fact: If you can’t trust a reliever to come into a close game and get outs, then he should NOT BE ON THE ROSTER.  Its as simple as that.  And clearly neither Broderick or Rodriguez currently falls into that category.

What is the answer?  Mike Rizzo needs to do three things, almost immediately:

  1. Invent another “injury” and put Rodriguez back on the DL.  Send him to extended spring, put him back on rehab assignments and tell him he needs to either throw strikes or take a hike.
  2. Call St. Louis’ GM and work out a PTBNL trade for Broderick.  Enough is enough; he projects as a #5 starter (maybe) on a team that has 4 good starters.  Is he really part of the future for this team?  Is he going to be better than any of Detwiler, Maya, Meyers, Solis, or Peacock in 2012?  Because that’s who he’s competing with for rotation spots in 2012 (figuring that at least 3 are already spoken for in Strasburg, Zimmermann and Gorzelanny).  Trade for him so you can option him to Syracuse.
  3. With these two spots opened up, recall Collin Balester and call up Cole Kimball so you can actually have two useful guys in your pen who you can trust.  If you’re so in love with Rodriguez’s power, Kimball throws nearly as hard and has put up far better bb/9 numbers in AAA.  Balester has been in the majors before, put up great numbers in 2010 out of the pen, and can pitch long relief if needed as a former starter.

Its time for Rizzo to acknowledge his errors in roster construction and fix them.

(As an aside: Jim Riggleman is not totally without fault here: per Ben Goessling‘s report last night, “Todd Coffey and Tyler Clippard [needed] a night off and Drew Storen [was] being saved for a lead.”  Why let Sean Burnett stay in to get out one of Atlanta’s best hitters in Martin Prado?  Why not bring in Storen at this point and use him as the “fireman?”  Is it because he’s the “closer” and you save your closer for save situations?  I certainly hope this wasn’t his thinking.  A managers *should* use his best relievers in the highest leverage situations, and last night Storen should have been used to get out of a bases loaded jam against a tough right-handed hitter, instead of leaving in a lefty who has struggled lately.  But, this post is more about roster construction than reliever use, a topic for another day, and a larger issue in baseball in general).

Not a fan of the bullpen management last night


Why leave your best reliever in a game you're winning by 5 runs?

I promise this is not “hindsight is 20-20” analysis; had you been in my basement watching last night’s game with me, you would have heard me yelling all the things I’m about to say.

I have a real problem with Riggleman’s bullpen management last night.  Now, perhaps the off-day on Monday 4/11 enabled all the relievers to get enough rest to enable what we saw last night.

Here’s the sequence of events i’ll be commenting on:

  • Livan Hernandez starts the 7th with a 4 run lead and having only thrown about 75 pitches at the time, but is facing the top of the Phillies order.
  • We see Brian Broderick warming up.  (see comment #1)
  • Suddenly Livan gets into trouble.  We see Tyler Clippard jump up and start throwing.
  • Livan loads the bases, looking as if he had run out of gas.  Clippard comes in and gets out of a bases-loaded jam.
  • We look back and Todd Coffey is warming up.  (see comment #2)
  • To start the 8th (by which point the Nats have scored again, giving the team a FIVE run lead), Clippard comes back out!  (see comment #3)
  • He can’t get out of the inning though, so Riggleman brings in his closer Sean Burnett to get out of an 8th inning jam.  The score is now 6-3 though.
  • The Nats score another run in the bottom of the 8th to make it 7-3.  That’s a 4 run cushion going into the 9th inning.
  • Riggleman leaves Burnett in!  (see comment #4).   Burnett gives up another run but finishes the game, getting a save for his troubles. (see comment #5).

Comments in order:

  1. Ok, I was happy to see Broderick warming up.  This was the perfect game to bring him in; a 4 run lead on a colder night when the Nats seemed frisky.  Unfortunately, Livan got into trouble so quickly that Clippard had to be pushed into service.
  2. Why did Coffey warm up?  He clearly wasn’t going to come into the game, since the dangerous hitter in the Phillies lineup is Ryan Howard, and Slaten is the loogy.
  3. Why did Clippard return for the 8th inning??  Coffey had warmed up, as had Broderick.  You have a 4 run lead.  I suppose the reasoning was because the meat of the Phillies order was coming up.  But its a 4 run lead with 2 innings to play; the odds of a team coming back from that deficit are relatively small (remember, teams score 0 or 1 runs in an inning and no more a very large percentage of the time; 86% per this 2007 study).
  4. See point #3: why bring back your closer, who you’re going to need for the next 6 days, with a 4 run lead in the 9th inning??
  5. General point about the uselessness of the save situation: Burnett came into the game in the bottom of the 8th inning and allowed 2 of the 3 base-runners he inherited to score.  That’s the definition of a failure as a reliever.  Then, given a 4 run lead in the 9th he allows another run but eventually closes out the 9th and gets a save.  Yes, by virtue of the bases being loaded with a 5 run lead, the tying run was on deck therefore it was a save situation by definition.  But how exactly was his performance on the night worthy of any “positive” statistic whatsoever?  I have a post coming up about the use of relievers in general where I touch on the definition of the Save, and this game highlights everything I can’t stand about the stat.

In summary, in a game where the Nats held the lead by 4-5 runs most of the night, we pitched 2 of our 3 best relievers, both throwing more than an inning.  Burnett threw 28 pitches, enough for 2 innings.  We also warmed up Coffey and Broderick (which may not show up in the box score but they certainly were throwing).  We never bothered to use our LOOGY against one of the most susceptable lefty-lefty matchup hitters in the league (Ryan Howard).  We have two more games against the Phillies, games in which we face their two aces and certainly would expect the games to be closer.  Does this mean that Clippard and/or Burnett won’t be available later this week because they pitched on tuesday?  Wouldn’t you want to save these guys for better opportunities?

Written by Todd Boss

April 13th, 2011 at 10:43 am

Nats Rotation Cycle #1: good/bad/inconclusive


Lannan has the only W for the rotation thus far. Photo:

A major league team’s rotation cycles somewhere between 33-34 times a year.  As I did with the Spring training games, I will try to do a good/bad/indifferent each time through for the pitching staff.  I’ll focus more on the starters but will mention the relievers as is merited.


  • Livan Hernandez‘s opening day start (running blog/gamer/box score) may have gone down as a loss, but it was a pretty nifty gem.  He gave up two runs on four hits with no walks in 6 1/3 on only 77 pitches.  He retired 15 in a row after a 2nd inning homer given up to Jason Heyward.  He may have gotten the loss but it was a quality start for sure and he probably pitches a complete game if the Nats could score.
  • John Lannan goes 5 complete for the win in the 2nd game of the season (blog/gamer/box score).  Its amazing what a little run support will do for a guy.  I do agree though with Steven from FJB, who criticizes the decision to bring Lannan back after an hour’s rain delay just so he can pitch the 5th and get the W.  Why would he have possibly had Lannan return after an hour’s delay?  That’s why you have long men in the bullpen.  That should have been Broderick or Gaudin in to re-start the game.
  • Jordan Zimmermann‘s first start of the season (running blog/gamer/box score) was promising: 2er in 6ip and finishing those 6 innings in just 84 pitches.  Not very many Ks though (only two through six) for a strike out pitcher.  Perhaps he was pitching to contact.
  • Sean Burnett: apparently our new “closer” for now.  He’s pitched pretty effectively in limited opportunities.
  • Jason Marquis: his 4/5 start (gamer and box)was the first game that I have gotten to see.  And I thought he looked pretty good.  He went 6 1/3, gave up 6 hits and 0 walks and was efficient all night (he was only at 78 pitches when he got removed).  He only had 2 ks but was throwing lots of strikes.   His fastball showed around 90 with great movement and he got lots of groundballs (11 grounders and 5 fly balls).  The middle of the Marlins order had his number but he controlled the rest of the squad.


  • Doug Slaten: three games and three failures in the Loogy role to start the season.  Gotta do better.  Your job is to get the lefties out.  He may not have given up an earned run yet but his whip is a nifty 12.00 through three games.
  • The Bullpen on 4/3/11.  Broderick, Gaudin, and Coffey‘s 4/3/11 performances.  Not.  Good.  Notice that these three guys are all brand new to a very good bullpen last year.  I’m not panicking, but i am saying.  Balester may have his ears burning if (especially) Gaudin can’t get it done.

Possibly Concerning

  • Storen seems to be getting his confidence back.  But he cannot be giving up two hits and a walk in the 9th inning of a tied game (as he did on 4/5).  He’s not getting any Ks either, and we need his k/9 ratio to be up in the 8.5-9.0 range.

Pitching Summary:

We’ve had four starts and gotten 3 “real” quality starts (plus Lannan on his way to a 4th when a rain delay caused his night to be shortened).  You cannot ask for much more out of your starting rotation.  Last year our first four starts went like this:

  • Lannan; 3 2/3ip, 7 hits, 3bbs and 5 runs.
  • Marquis: 4ip, 8 hits, 3 bbs and 6 runs.
  • Stammen: 5ip, 9 hits, 4 runs.
  • Mock: 3 1/3ip, 4hits but FIVE walks and 2 runs.

For the record, that was 17 runs in 16 innings over 4 days.  Our first four starts in 2011 elicited 23 2/3ip and just 7 earned runs.  Quite the turn around.  Too bad the team couldn’t score any runs and went 1-3.

Thoughts on the offense

We’re getting great production out of our stars (Zimmerman has a 1.406 ops through 4 games and Werth is at .945).  Ramos is mashing the ball and Espinosa is 4/10 so far.  The rest of the team?  Bad.  Until last night the lead off  hitters were 0-for-the-season and Riggleman is already swapping players around to put Espinosa at leadoff (a pretty good decision if he can handle it).  Ankiel is 1/12 (but that “one” is a mashed homer, which St. Louis fans are probably cackling about, since they continually warn Nats fans that this is exactly what Ankiel does).  They’ve only scored 10 runs in 4 games (6 of them in their sole win) and definitely need to show better run support.


Great starting pitching to go with little run support.  I hope this isn’t the story of the season.

What would the Nats look like without FA signings?


Commenter Mark L, in response to my statement that (paraphrased) the 2011 Nationals cannot afford to keep rule 5 picks on this team, pointed out that the team really has little chance of competing in 2011 and thus it is really the perfect time to be keeping and testing rule5 guys.

In theory I agree with this premise w.r.t. keeping rule 5 guys.  We’re not going to win the pennant in 2011.

I think in reality though the team has gone mostly backwards since arriving here in 2005 and cannot afford to ever seem as if they’re not trying to make progress.  I blame a lot of that on Bowden’s obsession with former Reds and tools-y players who became such a nightmare to integrate as a team that Acta had to be scuttled as a manager in favor of the more old-school Riggleman. The team lost the entirety of good will and excitement that came with a new stadium and the Lerners as owners had to be shocked at how quickly they destroyed their season ticket base (most observers believe they’ve lost more than half their season ticket holders just from 2009!). So the team is just not in a position to play for the future any more; they have to appear to be improving the team even marginally for the next few years to put themselves in a better position financially.

If the team was really playing for 2013 (as, say, the KC Royals clearly are), they’d never have even brought in the likes of Ankiel, Coffey, Hairston, basically every mid-career veteran and go completely with a lineup of prospects and these rule5 guys.   Arguably they wouldn’t have spent the money on Werth either.  What would the 25-man roster really look like without any FA signings?  Lets take a look:

  • Catchers: Pudge, Ramos (remember, they *had* to get Pudge b/c of the state of their catcher depth pre 2010).  If you like, you can replace Pudge with someone like Flores or even Maldonado, since Norris is not ready for the majors in 2011.
  • Infield: Marrero, Espinosa, Desmond, Zimmerman backed up by Gonzalez and Lombardozzi.  This would have required a serious leap of faith on the readiness of Marrero for 2011, and we’d be rushing Lombardozzi to the majors.  Perhaps we would have replaced Lombardozzi with Bixler.
  • Outfield: Bernadina, Morgan, Burgess, Morse and CBrown.  I know Burgess was traded, but perhaps the team keeps him and installs him in right field knowing they wouldn’t have Werth.  Perhaps Burgess and Morse compete for right field and we bring up newly acquired CBrown as the 5th outfielder.
  • Starters: Maya, Detwiler, Livan, Lannan, Zimmermann.  I leave Livan in here if only because we signed him to such a sweetheart deal.  If we don’t count Livan, we’re looking at someone like Stammen, Mock, Detwiler or Chico in that 5th spot.  Or perhaps we use Broderick as the 5th starter instead of putting him in long relief.
  • Relievers: Storen, Clippard, Burnett, Slaten, Broderick, HRodriguez and Carr/Kimball (with ERodriguez on DL).  Our bullpen would have hard throwers at the back end and we’d immediately give AFL hero Kimball or Carr a shot.

Of this active roster, 17-18 would be on pre-arbitration salaries and the total payroll would probably be in the $28-30M range for the entire team. It’d be the “right” thing to do but the town would absolutely howl in protest.

I dunno. I go back and forth as a fan. Part of me says screw 2011, play the kids, see what they can do this year and regroup for 2012 when you can have a very good Strasburg-Zimmermann 1-2 punch to go along with general improvement across the rest of our younger guys.  The other part of me says that incremental growth in terms of wins and respectability for this team is just as important in terms of attracting free agents and enabling the team to make a quick leap in a couple years. If this team can win 75 games this year, Strasburg comes back and probably improves the team 5 wins just by himself, we acquire an incrementally better #3 pitcher and hope that Maya, Detwiler and our rising AAA guys become real major league options. If you’re a 81 win team a couple of key free agent signings coupled with the natural rise of our core up and coming players can improve the team 10-12 wins very quickly. Suddenly we’re a 90 win team and still have a manageable payroll to augment and take the next steps to rise above Atlanta and Philadelphia in the division.

That’s “the plan,” right?

What to do with Brian Broderick?


Brian Broderick on Media Day. Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images North America/

Commenter Mark L asked whether or not I was “ignoring” rule-5 draftee Brian Broderick‘s performance thus far when considering the bullpen competition in response to a post previewing the Nats 3/15/11 game against the Mets.

I don’t know if i’m “ignoring” Broderick’s performances thus far … I just have a reaaaaaaly hard time believing he’ll be on the 25-man roster based on the inflexibility of keeping a rule5 guy, given the roster inflexibilities we already have with several other players.  Here’s my reasoning:

  • We have 3 guys who already essentially HAVE to stay on the 25-man roster because of a lack of options: Clippard, Burnett, and Henry Rodriguez.  Two of these guys are bullpen mainstays and would have been there anyway, but the acquisition of Rodriguez has complicated matters for the team.  As mentioned before, he showed up late for spring training and has not necessarily looked fantastic so far.  If we could possibly find a way to DL him if he’s not ready to go on April 2nd (“tired arm?”) , a lot of problems would be avoided.
  • We have a 4th guy in Coffey who signed a major league deal and has enough service time that he could (and probably would) refuse a AAA assignment, so he either stays on the 25-man roster or we light his $1.35M on fire.
  • We have to have a loogy; Slaten seems almost certain to be that guy.  I guess you could argue that we really don’t need a loogy, that Burnett could be that guy or even Gorzelanny if he gets bumped out of the rotation.  But Burnett’s value is not as a one-out guy and Gorzelanny is a starter.
  • Storen is supposed to be “the closer.” He may be struggling this spring but there’s nothing about his 2010 performance that says he does NOT deserve to be in that position for this team. Admittedly he does have options and can be sent down but i’d be awfully mad if we sent a first round draft pick down so we could keep some untested minor leaguer on the active roster.

So, if we keep Broderick, he’s the 7th guy in the pen and has to stay there all season.

That’s your 7 spots essentially wrapped up. So now here’s the rest of the picture and why this could become rather complicated for the team:

  • If Gorzelanny struggles in the starter’s role, he has no options and would have to go to the bullpen. Who makes way?  We can’t really cut Gorzelanny out right without admitting that the move backfired greatly for the team, having given up 3 decent prospects just a few months ago.
  • If we want to use Gaudin, who has looked great so far in spring training, he’d have to be first added to 40-man (and then we’d have to drop someone else or move them to 60-day dl). And then he’s more or less stuck on the roster too; he’s got 5+ years of service time, no options and can reject an assignment back to AAA. Based on the fact that he signed a minor league deal with us, one could assume that he is ok with starting the season in AAA, but other teams have scouts too and might be taking notice of his achievements so far.  However again, if Gaudin is the 7th guy who makes way for him?
  • Balester: he certainly performed well last year; 28ks in 21 ip in the same role we’re talking about here.  Before the rule5 draft I had him locked into that long-man role. Has he done anything this spring to cost him this spot?  No but he has one more minor league option and may lose out nonetheless.
  • Stammen; he clearly can give you innings since he’s always been a starter, and his advanced stats last year were not THAT bad. But he too has options and seems to be pitching his way to AAA this spring.

Honestly, I think what the Nats need to do is make a deal with StL, trade them someone for Broderick and then stash him at AAA til you need him. Return him to the starters role where he was 11-2 last year in AA and maybe we’ve found a real cheap 5th starter for the future.