Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for the ‘tom gorzelanny’ tag

2014 Rotation Rankings 1-30

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The ace on the best rotation in the game.  Photo: talksportsphilly.com

The ace on the best rotation in the game. Photo: talksportsphilly.com

Last year, with my excitement over Washington’s Dan Haren signing and my supposition that Washington had the best rotation in the game, I ranked all 30 team’s rotations ahead of the 2013 season.  Then, after the season was done, I revisited these pre-season rankings with a post-mortem to see how close (or, more appropriately, how far off) my rankings turned out to be.

Here’s the 2014 version of this same post: Pre-season rankings of the MLB’s rotations; 1 through 30.  Warning; this is another huge post.  I guess I’m just verbose.  At this point midway through Spring Training there’s just a couple of possible FAs left that could have altered these rankings (Ervin Santana being the important name unsigned right now), so I thought it was time to publish.

The top teams are easy to guess; once you get into the 20s, it becomes pretty difficult to distinguish between these teams.  Nonetheless, here we go (I heavily depended on baseball-reference.com and mlbdepthcharts.com for this post, along with ESPN’s transaction list per team and Baseball Prospectus’ injury reports for individual players).

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Written by Todd Boss

March 10th, 2014 at 9:50 am

Posted in Majors Pitching

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2014 Projected Pitching Staffs and Rotations; entire Nats system

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Mr. Detwiler's 2014 assignment will have cascading effects for MLB and AAA.  Photo Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

Mr. Detwiler’s 2014 role will have serious cascading effects for MLB and AAA. Photo Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

OK here we are.  We did seven comprehensive pitching staff reviews (the GCL review is here, which has links to the other 6 reviews) in order to arrive at this post.

So, without further ado, here’s what I’m predicting for all seven systems right now, absent any more deals (like say for a MLB lefty or another starter or trading a closer to Chicago):

 MLB Level

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

Discussion: the 5th starter competition could shake out so many different ways, that it almost is not worth predicting.  I can see any of the following scenarios playing out:

  • Detwiler gets one last shot at the 5th starter as the incumbent, pushing Jordan to AAA and Ohlendorf/Roark to the bullpen (my current prediction).
  • Jordan wins the 5th starter, pushing Detwiler to the bullpen as a power lefty by virtue of his lack of options.  This would push (likely) Roark to AAA.
  • Roark wins the 5th starter, continuing his blistering sub 2.00 ERA pace from September, pushing Detwiler to the bullpen and Jordan to AAA.
  • Less likely, Karns wins the 5th spot, which pushes Detwiler to the bullpen and Roark & Jordan to AAA.
  • Even more less likely, Ohlendorf wins the spot, which pushes Detwiler to the bullpen but lets Roark stay as the long man/spot-starter.
  • Mike Rizzo shocks us again with another starter acquisition; Detwiler goes to the bullpen, Ohlendorf stays as long man, and Roark & Jordan are in AAA.

Why am I predicting Detwiler will win the rotation spot?  Partly because of options, but partly because I’ve sort of come back around on him after looking more closely at his 2013 season.  He had a decent to good 2012; he posted a 118 ERA+ and even if his advanced FIP/SIERA didn’t indicate he was quite that good, he was still more than a servicable 5th starter.  Then in his first seven 2013 starts he was also very good (he had a 2.53 ERA in his first 7 starts and 42 2/3 innings … he got hurt in his 8th start).  The rest of his season was a mess, with him fighting injury and ballooning his seasonal ERA from 2.53 to more than 4.00 in five more starts.   If he comes back healthy to start 2014, why wouldn’t we expect more of the same performance that he had at the start of 2013?  For these two reasons, I think Detwiler breaks camp as the 5th starter.  Now …. I have zero confidence that he’ll remain healthy enough to keep his spot in the rotation, but that’s a problem for another day.  And a problem for which this team has plenty of coverage.

Another scenario that could affect this predition: Rizzo acquires yet another lefty reliever (latest rumors were about Scott Downs before he signed elsewhere, but I’m sure a trade could be arranged), which complicates any of these predictions because it means one less spot for either Ohlendorf or Roark.  For a team that seems so obsessed with left-handed relievers, we sure have let a bunch of them go in recent years (Duke, Abad, Krol this year, Gorzelanny, Lannan, Burnett and Gonzalez last year).  Maybe we should just hang on to one or two of these guys?  I will say this: I do NOT believe that the Nats will choose Xavier Cedeno and his 6 2013 MLB innings for the Nats over Roark just because he’s left handed at this point.

Personally, I think Roark and Ohlendorf pitched like big leagers last year and deserve to stay in the majors until they prove otherwise.  Ohlendorf’s recent $1.25M deal seems to indicate he’s more likely to stick than Roark, but perhaps the long-man/spot starter competition is open as well.  This pushes previous stalwards in the bullpen (specifically Ryan Mattheus ) to AAA.   I will say this though: if you expect to win, you have to go north with your 25 best guys no matter how much they make or their option status.  And at the end of last year, that undoubtedly included Tanner Roark.  So thats why I’m going with Roark in the pen to start the season.

One other wrinkle; does Rizzo trade one of Storen or Clippard to Chicago, who desperately needs a closer?  This seems less likely, especially for a team that has World Series aspirations, but the truth is this team is paying a LOT of money into its bullpen ($25M and counting), has three closer-quality guys, and potentially a log jam of righties (see the AAA bullpen prediction for more).  I see this as less likely unless Chicago sends back pieces that we really need, but rumors get started because GMs are talking, so maybe this still happens.  But if a guy like that is traded, then that re-opens a slot for the deposed Mattheus or possibly the newly healthy an electric Garcia.   I think these are lesser possibilities and both those guys are pushed to AAA to begin the season.

I’m sure this section garners plenty of discussion; have at it in the comments :-)

AAA Level

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

Discussion

So, the projected AAA rotation has one hold over in Rosenbaum, two “promotions” in Jordan and Karns, and then a whole bunch of question marks.  Is Chris Young healthy enough to pitch this year?  Is Brad Meyers?  Right now i’ve got Meyers as a release candidate, figuring that he hasn’t been healthy in two years and may be finished.  I have to think that the team will give a couple of lower-level free agents minor league contracts to try to pitch their way back into the league, much as they have done with the likes of Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf and Young in the last couple of off-seasons.  There’s plenty of guys out there who may make sense; a quick glance at the current list of free agents offers intriguing names (think of someone like a Joe Saunders or a Barry Zito or an Aaron Harang; do you think these guys are getting guaranteed contracts for 2014?).  I’m predicting that at least one or two of these types of guys get MLFA deals and end up in the AAA rotation, though I suppose at least one guy i’m projecting from the AA rotation could start in AAA.

The AAA bullpen has a couple of MLB-quality arms in Ryan Mattheus and Christian Garcia who we know can contribute at the MLB level but who end up here because of a numbers game at the big club.  The AAA closer likely is Aaron Barrett, newly added to the 40-man and looking to make his mark.  Erik Davis is here, who I kind of soured on last season but his numbers in small MLB samples were good and I think he can contribute in a Craig Stammen sort of way going forward.  We have a couple of hold-over loogies in Xavier Cedeno and Tyler Robertson, the latter of which successfully passed through waivers and was outrighted to Syracuse last month.   We already have three off-season MLFA signings (Gabriel Alfaro, Daniel Stange, Manny Delcarmen) who all project as righty middle relievers, making it seemingly less likely that the team will retain some of its own MLFAs (the likes of Ryan Tatusko and Jeff Mandel being longer serving Nats minor leaguers who pitched decently in 2013).

But as you can see there’s more candidates here than there is room on the Syracuse roster (10 for 7 spots, and that’s assuming that Pat Lehman doesn’t make the cut either).  There will be injuries and D/L stints among these guys, but there may also be some releases next March.

Still, a AAA rotation led by Jordan and Karns (and possibly Ohlendorf and/or Roark if another move is made at the MLB level) leaves Syracuse with a pretty good staff to start the season.  And I like the fact that we have one reasonably accomplished MLB starter (Jordan) waiting in the wings to go along with a guy who might get there soon (Karns), to go with potentially a couple other former major league guys who are working their way back.

AA Level

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

Discussion

We’ll see this trend again and again; despite the fact that the likes of A.J. Cole and Taylor Hill reached AA last year, the organization seems to like seeing these guys “beat the level” a second season in a row before moving guys up.  And so I see these guys in AA again.  Sammy Solis here is no surprise; he’s nearly 26 and has been mentioned as a MLB bullpen candidate already.  Meanwhile for the time being i’ve got Blake Treinen here, repeating the level, but can also see him moving up to AAA.  His numbers were good but not *that* good last year, and I left him in AA assuming that the team will try out some re-treads in the AAA rotation.  Lastly Blake Schwartz gets a deserved promotion after leading Potomac in IP, wins and starts last year.

In the bullpen I think Robert Benincasa is your closer to start, with Richie Mirowski and Neil Holland continuing to put up dominating late-innings relief.  All three guys should be pushing for promotions to AAA.  We’re a little light on lefties here admittedly.  A couple of injury-prone guys in Ryan Perry and Cameron Selik are listed as release candidates in the face of a number of guys meriting placement here.  Paul Demny and Rafael Martin have been around forever and may also be release candidates at this point, but they also could (at least in Demny’s case) convert to relief and try to rekindle their careers.  Lastly, there’s newly acquired Matthew Spann, the bounty for the Nats gambit on David Dejesus near the end of last season.   He’s a lefty who looks like he could start but i’ve got him in the bullpen for now.

High-A Level

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

Discussion

I don’t think there’s too many surprises in this rotation: Matthew Purke leads the line and should push for a promotion mid-season.  If he doesn’t dominate High-A at this point it may be time to think about moving him to the pen.   The same can be said about Brett Mooneyham and especially Kylin Turnbull, two guys who (by now) should have accomplished this level.   Otherwise the rest of this projected rotation are three guys who succeeded in Low-A in 2013: Dixon AndersonPedro Encarnacion and Dakoda Bacus.

In the bullpen, at this point i’m not sure who the closer candidates are to start the season.  Perhaps Greg Holt starts in the role.  Perhaps low-A phenom Gilberto Mendez gets a shot at closing.  Both Holt and Rob Wort may belong in AA at this point; Wort began 2013 there but there’s a lot of relievers in that AA section who would have to get hurt/be released to make room for these two guys right now.  There’s a couple of decent swingmen candidates here in Ronald Pena and Ian Dickson both started for long stretches in Hagerstown and could be useful guys in Potomac.    There’s a lot of names in the mix here for this bullpen; from here on down there could be plenty of releases come the end of spring.

 

Low-A Level

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

Discussion

I like this rotation, a lot.  Two of our best prospects, a third guy in Austin Voth who impressed last year, a guy in Nick Lee who probably deserves a high-A rotation spot and then Auburn’s staff leader in Robert Orlan.  Jake Johansen may find himself needing a promotion quickly, if he’s all that he’s cracked up to be.

The bullpen is going to be tough; basically every college aged short-season guy who pitched well in 2013 is named in this bullpen competition.  There’s a couple of interesting DSL graduates in Wander Suero and Phillips Valdez, some big arms in Ryan Ullmann and Nick Pivetta, and some polished college-aged lefties in David Napoli, Cory Bafidis and Jake Walsh.   I have 15 names here for 7-8 spots; Viera’s extended spring training could be busy this year.

 

Short-A Level

  • Short-A rotation: Barrientos, JRodriguez, Silvestre (high-A?) (L), and then 2013 draftees and/or drop-downs from Low-A
  • Short-A bullpen: DWilliams, Cooper, KRodriguez, Derosier, Webb (L), Spezial (L), 2013 draftees and drop-downs from Low-A
  • Short-A release candidates: Sylvestri, Grisz
  • Short-A out of org: Hudgins, Simko, Dicharry

GCL Level

  • Rookie Rotation: Ott (L), 2013 draftees and DSL graduates
  • Rookie bullpen: RLopez, 2013 draftees and DSL graduates
  • Rookie release candidates: DRamos, MRodriguez

Discussion

Its frankly impossible to predict the short-season squads, since (especially Auburn) they exist to park newly signed draftees.  However, I do see a ton of guys who competed and succeeded in the GCL this year who won’t necessarily make the Hagerstown squad, and I see them forming a good chunk of the Auburn squad.   The rest of the Auburn squad will be populated with upper-end 2014 draftees and losers from the Hagerstown pitching staff competition.  More of the same with the 2014 GCL squad, which was heavily tilted with DSL graduates this year.  The Nats tend to focus on college arms and thus only small college guys are generally put in the GCL in their draft year.

Nats 2013 Arbitration cases; Non-tender candidates and salary analysis

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Ohlendorf's old-school/new-look windup has resurrected his MLB career.  Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Ohlendorf’s old-school/new-look windup has resurrected his MLB career. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

In 2012, the Nats had no less than 10 arbitration candidates once the dust settled on the Super-2 cutoff.  The team cut ties with three of the players (Jesus Flores, Tom Gorzelanny and John Lannan) and then subsequently struggled in areas where Gorzelanny (left handed matchups) and Lannan (5th starter) may very well have helped during hte 2013 season.  We predicted these three non-tenders and mostly agreed with the thought process behind each decision at the time.  This is a complete “hindsight is 20-20″ analysis, but it does go to show that perhaps instead of dumping $11M/year onto a mediocre closer they could have fortified their ranks and kept all three players (who together wouldn’t have totaled the $11M Rafael Soriano got) and perhaps wouldn’t have struggled in these areas for so long.  Or perhaps not.  I digress.

For 2013, the Nats have 8 Arbitration-eligible players.   They had a few other candidates before some demotions (Danny Espinosa, Ryan Perry) and releases (Roger Bernadina and Henry Rodriguez) cleared out potential non-tender/additional arbitration candidates early.  Unlike last year there’s really not much argument about nearly any of our arbitration-eligible players (even mlbtraderumors does not list any Nats in its non-tender candidate list).  Lets take a look at the 8 guys, their 2013 salaries, their 2014 estimates, and discuss.  The salary projections are from Matt Swartz‘s mlbtraderumors model, and I’ll discuss if I think they’re slightly over- or under-representative.  As with all salary discussions, all information comes from Baseball Prospectus’ Cots page.

Player Arb Status 2013 Salary 2014 Swartz Estimate
Jordan Zimmermann Arb 3 $5.3M $10.5M
Tyler Clippard Arb 3 $4.0M $6.2M
Stephen Strasburg Arb 1 $3.9M $3.9M
Ian Desmond Arb 2 $3.8M $6.9M
Drew Storen Arb 2 $2.5M $3.6M
Ross Detwiler Arb 2 $2.3M $2.8M
Wilson Ramos Arb 1 $501k $2.1M
Ross Ohlendorf Arb 2 ? $1.3M

Frankly, the only possible non-tender candidate I see here is Ross Ohlendorf.  He signed a minor league free agency deal with Washington whose terms were never released, so one can only assume it was for the major league minimum or near it.   He went through arbitration once already, earning more than $2M/year from Pittsburgh in 2011 before bottoming out as a starter.  He’s reinvented himself this year though and merits a tender.  Paying anything less than $2M/year for what we got from Ohlendorf would be a bargain.  If the Nats got him for Swartz’s estimate of $1.3M that’d be fantastic.

Speaking of Swartz’s estimates, lets take a look at his 10 predictions from last year versus what transpired:

Swartz’s arb salary model for our 2012 candidates
Player Swartz Estimate Actual Salary
John Lannan $5.0M NT $2.5M
Jordan Zimmermann $4.9M $5.3M
Tyler Clippard $4.6M $4.0M
Ian Desmond $3.2M $3.8M
Tom Gorzelanny $2.8M NT $2.6M
Ross Detwiler $2.2M $2.3M
Drew Storen $1.7M $2.5M
Jesus Flores $1.2M NT ML
Roger Bernadina $1.1M $1.2M
Craig Stammen $900k $875k*

(* Stammen signed a 2 yr/2.25M deal paying him 875k and $1.375M his first two arb years.  After non tenders Lannan signed a 1yr/$2.5M deal with Philadelphia, Gorzelanny signed a 2yr/$5.7M deal that pays him $2.6M and $2.8M and which gave him a $300k signing bonus.  Flores signed a minor league deal).

I’m not sure I’d call Swartz’s model the self-titled “very accurate” based on these numbers.  He was significantly wrong on the three biggest cases the Nats faced last year but proved be much more accurate on the lesser players.   It sounds to me like his system does a great job of predicting arbitration figures for bit players but struggles with significant players.  I also get the feeling that the Nationals are less willing to argue with their players than other teams, after a series of brusing and self-defeating fights over a few hundred thousand dollars under the previous regime (relative pennies, all things considered).

With that in mind, lets do a little arbitration salary analysis for our 8 guys.   The general rule of thumb with arbitration salaries is that they are intended to ramp up the full FA value of the player over the three arbitration periods.   So in the first arbitration year, the salary should be roughtly 40% of the full FA value.  60% in the second year and 80% in the third year.  Players with a fourth year are tricky; generally i’ve just assumed that by the 4th year you’re paying them nearly full FA value (we don’t have any 4th year arbitration cases this year, so we don’t have to guess).  The table below contains the Swartz estimates, then has calculations of the player’s full FA value based on the Swartz estimate, then my own personal estimate of each player’s full FA value, and a working-backwards arbitration salary guess for each guy:

Player Arb Status 2013 Salary 2014 Swartz Estimate Full FA Value based on Swartz Estimate My Est of full FA value Arb estimate based on my full FA value
Jordan Zimmermann Arb 3 $5.3M $10.5M $13.125M $15M $12M
Tyler Clippard Arb 3 $4.0M $6.2M $7.75M $8m $6.4M
Stephen Strasburg Arb 1 $3.9M $3.9M $9.75M $15M at least $6M
Ian Desmond Arb 2 $3.8M $6.9M $11.5M $15M $9M
Drew Storen Arb 2 $2.5M $3.6M $6M $6M $3.6M
Ross Detwiler Arb 2 $2.3M $2.8M $4.66M $5M at best $3M
Wilson Ramos Arb 1 $501k $2.1M $5.25M $8M if healthy $3.2M
Ross Ohlendorf Arb 2 ? $1.3M $2.16M $2.5M at best $1.5M

Lets go player by player:

  • Jordan Zimmermann: 2013 Salary was $5.3M.  Swartz guesses he’ll get $10.5M while I think he’ll get more.  If Zimmermann hit the open market right now you have to think he’s at least a $15M/year guy, and I think the team will have to pay him as such after his 2013 season.   The Nats face an interesting decision with Zimmermann; they clearly waited one season too long to lock him down and he now may cost double what it cost the team to secure Gio Gonzalez‘s services.
  • Tyler Clippard: 2013 salary $4.0M.  Swartz guesses he’ll get $6.2M.  Clippard represents a different arbitration case; by virtue of the fact that Clippard went from being the 2012 closer to being the 2013 setup guy, he’ll have a harder time arguing for additional money despite his excellent season.  Why?  Because arbitration is driven by the same old-school stats (Wins, Saves, ERA, RBI) that drive sabrematricians crazy, and unfortunately Clippard didn’t get them in 2013.  So even though I think he’s a $8M/year closer for a team that gives him that opportunity, he won’t get that value in arbitration.  I’ll be surprised if he gets near to Swartz’s estimate of $6.2M.  Honestly the team should look to buy him out of his last two arbitration seasons and look to move him to a team in need of a closer.
  • Stephen Strasburg; 2013 Salary $3.9M.  Swartz guesses he’ll get $3.9M again?  Clearly something is wrong with his system.  No matter what you think about Strasburg’s 2013 season … by nearly any measure available he’s one of the 10 best pitchers in the game.   If he hit the open market right now I’d guess he’d command at least $20m/year, but for simplicity’s sake I’m putting his FA value at a conservative $15M, which would equate with a $6M valuation for his first arbitration season.   Do the Nats just buy him out of his arbitration figures, much as the Giants did with Tim Lincecum?
  • Ian Desmond: 2013 salary $3.8M.  Swartz guess: $6.9M.  Again, I feel like Swartz is undervaluing a significant player here.  Desmond has now established himself as one of the best shortstops in the game.  If you want a comp, look no further than Elvis Andrus‘s $15M/year contract.  I think Desmond is absolutely worth a 6/$90M deal or higher right now, and I think we’ll see it in his arbitration case.
  • Drew Storen: 2013 salary $2.5M.  Swartz estimate: $3.6M.  Here I think Swartz is right on; because Storen’s not getting saves right now, and because of his crummy 2013, I’ve got his FA value pegged at a mid-range closer cost of $6M/year.  Which puts him right in line for a $3.6M payday in his second arbitration year.  As with Clippard, I think Storen’s value is limited as long as he doesn’t get saves, and the team should look to move him before he gets too expensive.
  • Ross Detwiler: 2013 salary $2.3M.  Swartz Estimate $2.8M.  Frankly Swartz may be over-estimating on Detwiler, based on his 2013 season.  At this point in Detwiler’s career its hard to say he’s any more valuable on the FA market than John Lannan was last year (getting a 1yr $2.5M deal).  Which means that any arbitration award above $2.5M may mean Detwiler enters non-tender territory if he struggles in 2014.  Nonetheless, I think he’ll end up getting just a modest raise and an organizational ultimatum for 2014.
  • Wilson Ramos: 2013 salary $501k.  Swartz Estimate: $2.1M.   Here, despite my thinking that Ramos is eventually going to be more valuable than Swartz’s estimate indicat es, I believe that his number will be about right.  Ramos needs to stay on the field consistently to realize his full FA value, and right now that just hasn’t happened.
  • Ross Ohlendorf: 2013 salary unknown.  Swartz Estimate: $1.3M.  This guess is as good as any; at best Ohlendorf is a $2.5M player on the FA market and even that might be a stretch.  A right-handed long-relief guy isn’t going to command a ton of money.

Total payroll hit: $37.3M if all of Swartz’s estimates come true exactly.  $44.7M if all of my estimates above come true.  Honestly I think my calculated estimates are slightly high in a couple of cases, so I think the arbitration bill will come in at around $42.5M.  Which, by the way, would put 2014′s payroll at around $122M before signing a single free agent.  So think about that and think about what the Nats “real” payroll budget is before thinking that they’ve got some significant signing in their back pocket.

Nationals 2013 post-mortem

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This may be the last time i use Haren's picture in a Nats uniform on this blog.  Photo via Zimbio.com

This may be the last time I use Haren’s picture in a Nats uniform on this blog. Photo via Zimbio.com

They say success has many fathers but failure is an orphan.  Well, here’s a whole slew of orphan-causing problems that befell this team this year.  I started this post months ago, when the team sputtered in July and suddenly sat at 54-60.  None of these bullet points are surprises.  Maybe I forgot some key points; feel free to tack ‘em on.   This is a cathartic, washing my hands of the 2013 season, where so many things conspired to go wrongly.

  1. Davey Johnson, for continued pitching/bullpen mismanagement episode after episode, for seemingly losing the clubhouse (see below), for sticking with severely under-performing players (Espinosa, Haren especially) far, far too long, for failing to react to repeated beanings of his best player, and for generally looking old, tired and out-matched this year at press conference after press conference.  This team needs a new voice, a disciplinarian who will command more respect than what Johnson was commanding from this team.  My vote is for Matt Williams.
  2. Injuries.  Every team has injuries; I’m not going to write some simplistic statement that says “well if we had So-and-So healthy all year we’d have won the division.”   Look at St. Louis: they’re missing Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia basically all year and still won the best division in the game.  I think the issue most people will have with the Nats is the way their players’ injuries were handled.  Bryce Harper missed the whole month of June after several wall collisions finally caught up to him and he was clearly in pain the rest of the season.  Did the team not allow him to get healthy at the end of April?  Meanwhile you have to take serious issue with either the team, Danny Espinosa or both over the handling of his injuries.  What good did it do anyone to allow Espinosa to try to play through the significant shoulder injury he apparently has?  Why has he STILL not had the surgery done to fix it?  It sounds to me like there’s some serious stubbornness on both sides of this fence.  Ross Detwiler looked to be on the verge of a breakout season in 2012 … and now he’s back to being the broken down starter he’s mostly been during his time here.  In his 6 pro seasons he’s not pitched full seasons in 3 of them.   This isn’t necessarily on the team .. but I will ask this: at what point do you go into a season counting on Detwiler to break down instead of the reverse?  It goes to proper roster planning (also mentioned later on).
  3. Bench production, for regressing so far past the mean from last year’s over production.  Did you know that Steve Lombardozzi got more than 300 plate appearances this year with this slash line: .255/.276/.337?  I know you need backup utility infielders, but man, that’s a huge 68 OPS+ hole getting a ton of ABs.  Our opening-day bench of Lombardozzi/Moore/Bernadina/Tracy posted these OPS+ figures in 2012: 82/123/111/111.  In 2013?  69/66/43/55.  Wow.  That’s just a startling drop-off in production.  To add insult to injury Kurt Suzuki‘s OPS+ went from a respectable 95 last year to 64 this year.  Basically every pinch hitting spot or guy off the bench covering for a starter turned into an 0-4 outing.  We know that at least 3 of these 5 bench guys are gone; who will replace them?
  4. Dan Haren.  $13M for one of the worst starters in the game, even given his little August rebound.  The team finished 4 games out of the wild card, 10 games back of Atlanta.   In Dan Haren’s 30 starts, the Nats went 11-19.  In every other pitcher’s starts, the team went 75-57.   That’s a .568 winning percentage, which equates to 92 wins.  Even a #5 starter who gave the team a 50/50 chance of winning on any given sunday would have basically put the team into the WC game.  Haren was just a really really poor FA acquisition who contributed a huge part to the downfall of the team.  I wonder at this point if the Nats didn’t fail to do the proper medical due diligence on Haren; there was a reason the proposed trade to the Cubs fell through and there was a reason the Angels did not give him a qualifying offer.  I fully admit: I was completely on board with the signing, thinking we were getting the pre 2012 Haren.  Wrong; something clearly changed for him after the 2011 season and I wonder how much longer he can stay in the league after his last two seasons.  I’m sure he’ll get another one-year deal for 2014 based on his stronger finish, but another 5+ ERA season may finish him.
  5. Offense in general: The team scored 656 runs on the year.  That’s down fully 75 runs from last year, when they were 10th in the league in scoring.  Had they produced like they did last year in 2013 (about 10th in the league in runs scored and other key indicators),  they’d have scored around 700 runs, probably good for at least 10 more wins (under the rough estimate that it takes about 4 “extra” runs per win).  With 10 more wins … they’re winning the division again (since some of those added wins come at the hands of Atlanta).
  6. Hitting in the Clutch: Ask any sabre-nerd and they’ll tell you that “clutch” doesn’t exist and that all aspects of batting (good or bad) with RISP is merely coincidence (this came up again recently with David Ortiz’ game-changing NLCS homer).  I don’t entirely buy it. I think hitting with runners on base is a skill that can be practiced and honed.  I think there’s importance to driving runners in when you have the opportunity.  I think a batter with a runner on third and less than one out can absolutely look for a ball that he can hit into the air, thus driving in the run.  Anyway: let’s look at how well the Nats offense hit in the clutch this season (see this team-stats split link at tFangraphs).  The Nats team batting average with runners on base is ranked 19th in the league; its wRC+ as a team 17th.  However, change “runners on base” to “high leverage” in the Fangraphs split and you get this: Nats were 29th in high leverage batting average, 28th in wRC+. That’s right: almost dead last in the league in high-leverage hitting for the year.  When they came to bat in situations that mattered, they were one of the worst teams in the league.  Any way you slice it … that’s not “clutch.”
  7. Clubhouse Issues: I know that many readers here get irritated with presumptions of “chemistry” issues, writing comments about how we have no idea what really goes on in the clubhouse.  Fair enough; we don’t need to rehash the argument.  Absent any proof, I believe something might have been amiss.  Reporters have noted the losses of free-spirit Morse and the level headed DeRosa.  The Soriano acquisition brought a known surly loner with behavior problems into a tight knit bullpen and resulted in the chain reaction demotion of two guys (Storen and Clippard) who didn’t necessarily deserve to be demoted.  I believe Harper was fed up with Johnson’s message and was caught on camera more than once clearly ignoring or showing disdain to something he was being told.  To say nothing of the ridiculousness of Harper getting hit over and over without any of his teammates getting his back.   Can a new manager fix this?  Probably.  Can a leadership void fix this?  Definitely.  Perhaps with Jayson Werth‘s great season he can step up in the clubhouse and be the voice of reason moreso than it seems he has been before (either because he was struggling on the field or collapsing under the weight of his contract).
  8. Rizzo’s mis-management of the 2013 roster: Rizzo just had to have his speedy leadoff/centerfielder, and Span underperformed when it counted (I’m on record stating over and over that the team is wasting Harper’s defensive capabilities in left and blocking a power-hitter acquisition by sticking with Span in center.  But what’s done is done).  The opening day roster had no left handed specialists, a move that I quasi-defended at the time but which turned out to be disastrous.  We relied on a MLFA (and frankly, we over-relied an incredibly short sample size) for the long man (Duke) and he failed. We had absolutely no starting pitching depth in the high Minors and got rather lucky that Taylor Jordan materialized out of the thin air of high-A and Tanner Roark suddenly added 5 mph to his fastball and turned into an effective MLB hurler.  We had a $120M payroll but were depending on bargain basement acquisitions in key roles.  That just has to change for 2014.  Don’t go looking to save pennies on the proverbial dollar by non-tendering useful guys (as they did with Tom Gorzelanny last year); do the right thing and lock these guys up.  You had enough to waste $30M on Soriano but couldn’t find the scratch to keep around half of 2012′s bullpen?
  9. Pressure. this team had no pressure last year, and all of the pressure this year.  Nearly every baseball pundit with a blog, microphone or column picked them to win the division (me included), and lots picked them to win 100+ games (me included).  Look at how awfully they fared this year against the NL playoff bound teams:
  • Stl: 0-6, scoring just 8 runs in 6 games.
  • LA Dodgers: 1-5
  • Atlanta: 6-13.  Outscored 73-49
  • Pittsburgh: 3-4
  • Cincinnati: 4-3 but outscored 36-27 thanks to a 15-0 spanking the 2nd week of the season.

When the chips were down, they folded.  Especially against Atlanta, who pushed the team around, continually threw at us, and we had no reaction (that is until Strasburg suddenly had a fit of wildness which some will argue was less about standing up for his players and more about being off that day).   I lay this at the manager’s feet again.  Atlanta has proved time and again (and again) that they’re capable of acting like bullies when it comes to “unwritten rules” of the game, and Johnson let this go unchecked far too long.  A new manager with some balls will put an end to this nonesense, fast.  Sorry to sound crude, but it is what it is.  Johnson had no balls and made his entire team look weak in the face of the Braves.

Yes its great the team had a run in August and September.  What does it really mean?  Their schedule was cake in August and then filled with teams with AAA callups in September.  Who is the real Denard Span?  The guy who hit .235 in the middle of the summer or the guy who hit .303 in September?  Can Werth keep this kind of production up in the face of father time in 2014?  Can LaRoche return his OPS to something better than what a middling 2nd baseman can produce?  Can Harper stop running into walls and stay on the field?

I think the scarier part for Nats fans is the fact that this team is basically going to be the exact same team next year. Nearly every position player, likely the entire rotation (simply replace Haren with a healthy Detwiler), most all of the bullpen. There’s not a lot of holes here, not a lot of wiggle room.   Unless there’s a major trade on the horizon that drastically reshapes the roster, this is your team in 2014.  Can they turn it around and make up the 14 games they declined in the win column?

In summary; which of the above points IS the real issue behind 2013′s disaster?  And how do you fix it?  Because if you don’t address it, then 2014 is going to be the same story.

 

Ladson’s Inbox 8/26/13

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ClippardTyler_landing_masn.com

Tyler Clippard has been one of the few bright spots for the 2013 Nats; why isn’t he closing? Photo Masn.

Excellent, I was just thinking that I had nothing to write about and MLB Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson posted a mailbox.  Honestly, if I had a steady stream of people emailing me questions I’d have a field day.  I’d post so much content my hands would melt from carpal tunnel syndrome.  I’d post 8,000 word columsn like what Bill Simmons used to do.  Anyway.

Here’s how I’d have responded to the questions Ladson took.  As always, I write my answer here before reading his and edit questions for clarity/conciseness.

Q: Given the way Dan Haren has pitched since being activated from the disabled list, do you see any chance the Nationals re-signing him?

A: Nope.  Zero.  Zilch.  They’re not going to make another $13M mistake in 2014, not with the way that Taylor Jordan has pitched.  The Nats little splurge last off-season pushed their payroll into unknown territory, and I’ll bet they bring it back (especially since that pocketbook hit brought nothing but a .500 record).  Dan Haren is more likely to get flipped to a pitching starved contender in the next week (unless the Nats stupidly hold out for too many prospects, as seems to be the case) and will be plying his trade elsewhere next season.  Ladson says no as well but then completely hedges his answer, saying that “things could change” and “we should have more information in the off-season.”   Well, can’t that be the answer to every question?  

Q: Why isn’t Tyler Clippard closing? 

A: Because the Nats stupidly gave Rafael Soriano a $30M deal, and he’s a “big name closer” that someone in this team’s executive heirarchy was convinced that we needed.  I don’t think it was Mike Rizzo; this moves smelled like a fan-boy ownership panic move in reaction to Drew Storen‘s NLCS Game 5 meltdown.  The problem with Soriano, as has been well established in his prior stints, is that he’s a whiner, a clubhouse cancer, and a problem child when he’s not used in save situations.  His track record speaks for itself: look at his seasonal performances when he’s a closer versus when he’s not.  He wore out his welcome in Tampa Bay with probably the most easy-going manager in the game Joe Maddon.  We’ve already learned this year he doesn’t work out with his fellow relievers, sits off to himself, isn’t a part of the team.  Great acquisition guys!

We played in the Diamond Dream Foundation golf tournament yesterday and had the opportunity to play alongside former Baltimore Oriole pitcher Dave Johnson, who now does radio work for the Orioles on MASN.  This same topic came up; why isn’t Clippard closing but more importantly; what are the Nats going to do with Tyler Clippard in this coming arbitration hearing?   Johnson said that the save statistic is what the players wanted to be judged on for arbitration hearings, and now they’re slaves to it.  Clippard is having a fantastic season, but isn’t the closer, and he belives that management isn’t going to want to pay him $5-$6M to be a “middle reliever.”  I’m guessing the Nats try to sign Clippard to a 2-year deal this off-season, buying out his arbitration years.

They’ll never do this, but another option for the team is this; trade Clippard to a team looking for a closer, get prospects back, and then his pay becomes commensurate with his role.  But this would significantly weaken the bullpen going into next year needlessly.  Its only money; if the Nats didn’t learn this from last year’s transactions (letting Tom Gorzelanny walk over a couple of million dollars?  Non-tendering John Lannan to save $5m?) then that’s unfortunate.  I’d rather have had a couple of guys getting a ton of money as insurance policies than a $30M closer for a .500 team.

Ladson pointed out curious reliever usage in the last series and postulates that Davey Johnson may have had enough of Soriano himself.  We’ll see if Clippard closes the rest of the way and how Soriano handles it.

Q: Do you think Mike Rizzo would consider hiring Mike Scioscia as the Nationals’ next manager? Looks like his time in Anaheim may be ending.

A: Absolutely.  If the Angels are dumb enough to let Mike Scioscia go, then I agree with Buster Olney and Jayson Stark, who talked about this same issue on the Baseball Tonight Podcast late last week.  They said that if Scioscia is fired, “he’ll have a new job in 0.2 seconds.”   The Angels aren’t losing because of Scioscia; they’re losing because the GM wanted to spend $400M on aging FA bats in Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton while spending about $5 on starting pitching this year.  (I STILL cannot believe the Joe Blanton contract; how does he get a 2yr/$15M contract after the way he pitched in 2012??).  Ladson agrees.

Q: Considering how well Werth has played this year, are we giving up on Span too soon?

A: Possibly.  Or possibly we were just expressing irritation that Denard Span is playing exactly as we feared he would; posting a 91 OPS+ which is nearly identical to his production in 2010 and 2011.   I’m tired of repeating my own opinion on the matter (we didn’t need Span, we could have kept Harper in center, you’re wasting Harper’s defense in left, we could have used Morse’s power, we didn’t need to give up our best starting pitching prospect, defense in LF and 1B is overrated, blah blah blah).   Ladson says that Span has a “friendly contract” and can be dealt.  Sorry; don’t see that.  Rizzo’s way too egotistical to admit a mistake and deal Span now.

Q: Looking to next year, doesn’t Steve Lombardozzi remind you of Chase Utley at second? And what happens with Tyler Moore as either an outfielder or first baseman? Both of these young guys are too good not to get a real chance at starting for the Nats.

A: Steve Lombardozzi as Chase Utley?  Uh; Utley averaged 30 homers in his peak years and has more than 200 for his career.  Lombardozzi has four.  4 homers in his life.  Lombardozzi is a slap hitter, Utley is a middle of the order power hitter.  Other than that, yeah I guess they’re similar.   As for Tyler Moore I guess the questioner either a) hasn’t seen his seasonal numbers or b) has forgotten that the Nats have guys locked up through 2014 at every position that Moore can play.  Unless there’s an injury, the guy is a backup in 2014.  Ladson agrees with me on Lombardozzi.  As for Moore, Ladson seems to think that the Nats might trade LaRoche.  Really??  Who is going to take LaRoche for 2014?  He’s hitting .238 with barely any power for a first baseman.  Who’s taking that contract and giving us anything of value coming back?  Wishful thinking.

Q: Would the Nationals have interest in signing outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who is a free agent after this season?

A: I would think not; Jacoby Ellsbury is going to want too much money, we have no place to play him, and I don’t think he’s worth the money.  He had one great season, a couple of decent ones and otherwise is a below-average offensive outfielder.    I think he’s a lock to stay in Boston.  Ladson notes that Ellsbury is a Scott Boras client so you never know what’ll happen.

One lesson learned from 2013: you can never have enough starting pitching

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If Detwiler is out for the year, the Nats have a problem. Photo: Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

If Detwiler is out for the year, the Nats have a problem. Photo: Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

We all knew the Nationals had a glaring, acknowledged weakness heading into the 2013 season; almost no quality starting pitching depth in the high minors.  We non-tendered former opening day starter John Lannan in lieu of paying him somewhere between $5M-$6M dollars to toil in Syracuse again.  We non-tendered former starter Tom Gorzelanny despite his excellent 2012 season for us instead of paying him a few millions dollars a year to continue to be the 7th guy out of the pen.  We traded away top starting pitching prospect Alex Meyer to acquire a center-fielder that (in my oft-stated opinion) we didn’t need.  We were blinded by the excellent but short-sample-sized performance of Zach Duke upon his call-up last September and chose to make him not only the sole lefty in our 2013 pen, but the long-man/spot starter as well.

And we talked ourselves into it.

In 2012 our primary rotation made 150 of 162 starts.  Those 12 missed starts were made by Chien-Ming Wang (five starts) in a quickly-aborted glimpse to see if the many millions of dollars invested in his recovery over the past few years were going to pay off (they did not), by Lannan (six) for a couple of mid-season spot starts and his Stephen Strasburg replacement plan in September, and one by Gorzelanny the day after the team clinched the division (editor note: mistakely originally put “pennant.”  Duh).  That’s it; otherwise the rotation was solid, consistent, and one of the best in the majors by any statistical measure.

Was it just hubris that led us to believe that the same thing would happen in 2013?  That our vaunted rotation (which I certainly thought was the best in the majors before the season started) would steamroll through another 150+ starts in 2013 as we marched to the inevitable World Series title?  Maybe so.

The latest blow is the news that Ross Detwiler‘s herniated disk may very well keep him out for the rest of 2013.  Taylor Jordan has been more than ably filling in for Detwiler … but in a familiar twist Jordan is facing an innings restriction limit.  After August 4th’s start he’s got 40 2/3 major league innings in 2013 to go with 90 1/3 in the minors for 131 total on the year.  He only threw 54 1/3 all of 2012 coming back from Tommy John surgery, and this year easily marks a professional career high (he’s never thrown more than 100 professional innings).  He’s going to get shut down, soon (in about four more starts per the Washington Times’ Amanda Comak, which would put him just about at the same 160ip limit that both Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann pitched to the year after their own TJ surgeries).  This leaves the team right back where they were on May 20th, when the whole “find a competent 5th starter” charade started.

Duke failed and was released.  Yunesky Maya got his last attempt at pitching in the majors and was outrighted (a move long overdue in the opinion of many Nats followers).  Nathan Karns got three bites at the apple and returned to AA with a 7.50 ERA.  Ross Ohlendorf gave us a fantastic spot start in a double header last week… and just went on the D/L after not being able to dial it up more than 85mph in his last appearance.  The only other 40-man starter in the whole of the minors is Matthew Purke, currently posting a 6.35 ERA in high-A.

Hey, at least Dan Haren suddenly resembles the 2009 version of himself, having tossed 14 innings oof one-run ball en route to winning his last two starts.  A month ago we were talking about releasing him.

So, what should the team do when Jordan is shutdown?  It sounds to me like in the short term we’ll go back to Ohlendorf as the 5th starter (assuming of course his recent “dead arm” injury doesn’t turn into much more than a quick D/L trip).   However, despite Ohlendorf’s excellent work for us thus far, lets not forget why he was available on a minor league deal in the first place; his ERAs in 2011 and 2012 were 8.15 and 7.77 respectively.  Odds are that he’s not likely to be that effective going forward.

Plus, Ohlendorf’s time in the rotation means the bullpen will need another guy … presumably one that can pitch long relief to replace Ohlendorf.  I’m not entirely sure any of the other relievers on the 40-man but in the minors (Drew StorenErik Davis or Tyler Robertson) fits the bill.  Craig Stammen has absolutely done that role in the past, but I think Stammen’s value to this team now lies in his 7th inning “bridge reliever” role, getting the team from a short start to the 8th/9th inning guys.

If Detwiler is indeed out for the year I think he should be immediately transferred to the 60-day D/L (opening up a spot on the 40-man roster) and I’d like to see Tanner Roark  get a look-see as the long man in the bullpen.  He’s put up very good numbers in AAA this season in a swing-man role and faces minor league free agency this off-season.  Or, I wouldn’t be opposed to keeping Ohlendorf in the pen and giving Danny Rosenbaum a shot at the 5th starter.  He’s been the most effective AAA starter all year and, despite not being that overpowering, could turn into another Tommy Milone-esque lefty starter that we could leverage in trade.  We may not have fantastic depth in the upper minors, but you never know who may suddenly be an effective MLB pitcher (see Krol, Ian).

(Editor’s note: after I wrote this mid-weekend MASN’s Byron Kerr wrote and posted almost identical analysis).

So, while I was out…

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Rodriguez DFA long overdue. Photo via humorfeast.blogspot.com

What a great time to have a 30-hour server outage.  Just as soon as the hammer drops on the Nationals Roster my site went kaplunk and I couldn’t post or host comments.  Grrr.  Moving the site next month to some place more stable.

So, focusing on the obvious, the Nats made a series of moves that some argue were overdue by about a couple years.  Some quick thoughts (since by now everyone’s weighed in so my comments are nothing obvious):

1. Henry Rodriguez DFA 16 walks in 18 innings this year in almost entirely low-leverage situations.  Long overdue move; if you can’t rely on a reliever, you need someone else.  I think the team hung on to him for far too long, and I struggled with  the acquisition to begin with as has often been repeated here.  Will he catch on with another team?  Probably; 100mph fastballs don’t grow on trees.    He can go be someone else’s Steve Dalkowski.

2. Zach Duke DFA: you had to see this coming; the Nats are paying the price for not tendering Tom Gorzelanny and thinking they could get by with Duke in that spot.  I did too; he was decent in AAA and great in September 2012.  But he’s been god-awful this year, and it looks like Rizzo is going to start spinning arms through the bullpen to find someone that can stick.  Unlike Davey Johnson, I don’t believe he’s going to get picked up off waivers and he’ll likely take his AAA assignment.

3. Danny Espinosa to the D/L and then (by assumption of his locker being cleaned out) banished to the minors: it was a-coming.  If he was hitting .230 with power and walks, he could have stuck on.  But you just cannot cost a struggling offense the kind of at-bats he was.  He’s got more than 1500 MLB plate appearances now; is this who he is?  I think Espinosa’s 2013 season may end up with him spending the rest of the year in AAA relearning how to hit before the team has to make a hard decision next year.

4. Anthony Rendon back up and at 2b: had to happen.  He’s ready for the MLB.  He had nothing left to prove by slicing up AA.  Can he play second?  Yeah I think he can; it isn’t rocket science.  If Rendon played shortstop in HS, he can make that transition.  Stick him at 6th or 7th in the order and let him play.

5. Ian Krol: this move came out of nowhere for me.  Suddenly mr “we don’t need a left handed reliever” Mike Rizzo has two of them in his bullpen.  He’s also managed to already call up both guys added to the 40-man roster last fall ahead of the rule-5 draft.  I’m sure both Krol and Erik Davis will struggle here and there, but should hold their own in short stints.

Summary: like the moves.  It is almost as if the Nats fanboy blogosphere got to play GM for a day and rid the team of all its issues in one fell swoop.  The timing couldn’t be better; 6 games against non-descript teams and even more non-descript starters.  Lets hope the combination of new blood and bad opponents sparks this team.

Two months in; Stuck in Neutral

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So my dad calls me the other day and immediately exclaims, “What’s wrong with this team?!?

Today, the season is 57 games old.  Two months old.  Almost exactly 1/3 old.  And the Nationals, the supposed power houses, next-coming-of the 1927 Yankees, the possible 110 win Nationals, are a .500 team.  Actually, a game under .500 with the weekend series loss to Atlanta.

We’ve talked about the Nats early schedule (as has Tom Boswell recently), chock full of 2012 playoff contenders.   But 2013 is a new season and in reality the Nats as of two months in have played the 14th ranked schedule of 30 teams (3 days ago it was 19th ranked … so these rankings move fast).   We’ve talked about the injuries, the offense in general, defense, the bench, Drew StorenDanny Espinosa, and Dan Haren all as contributing factors. A couple of prominent national baseball writers pipped in on 5/31/13 on this topic: Jay Jaffe on si.com and then Rob Neyer on BaseballNation.com, offering some suggestions, possible trades (Ian Kinsler?) and possible call-ups (the obvious Anthony Rendon).

But here’s my scary thought, as proposed to my dad.  What if .500 is exactly what this team is?

The 2011 Nationals finished .500.  The 2012 Nationals surprised us all and won 98 games.  Now the team is back to its 2011 levels.  Is it possible that this was always a .500 team for whom everything went perfectly right in 2012?  All the stars were in alignment in 2012 in terms of hitting, bench play and coming out parties for guys like Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper and Gio Gonzalez.   Now in 2013 are we just seeing all these guys revert to their normal production levels?

Were we just spoiled by the amazing bench production we got last year?  Here’s a quick table (stats as of 5/31/13):

player 2012 OPS+ 2013 OPS+ Career OPS+
Bernadina 113 34 85
Moore 125 27 90
Lombardozzi 83 55 74
Tracy 112 19 97

In other words, all four primary bench guys outperformed their career OPS+ values (mostly by a 25-30% factor) in 2012, and now all four guys are hitting so far below replacement level as to be drastically hurting the club.

I think the answer to the above questions goes along the following, topic by topic:

  • No, this is better than a .500 team.  The 2013 team is absolutely better than the 2011 team that rallied in September to finish 80-81.  The rotation now is leaps and bounds better than the 2011 rotation.  The offense (on potential anyway) is better.
  • This team is by-and-large the exact same team as the 2012 98 win team.  You can quibble about the loss of Michael Morse‘s charisma and power versus the fire-starting abilities of Denard Span at the top of the order, but then you also have to acknowledge the runs-saved so far this season by having an additional plus-plus defender in the outfield.  Haren versus Edwin Jackson?  At least a wash.  Bullpen additions and subtractions?  Perhaps replacing Burnett, Gorzelanny and Gonzalez with just Zach Duke and Rafael Soriano has weakened the bullpen.  Perhaps not, considering Soriano’s pedigree as a closer and its cascading effect on the rest of the bullpen.
  • The bench over produced in 2012 and is underproducing thus far in 2013, per career averages.  A bit of expected regression to the mean should indicate rising bench offensive production from here on out.  It almost has to; there’s just no way that these four guys are going to hit THIS badly the rest of the season.

But, the early season damage as been done.  At this point, just for the team to match its 2012 win total they’d have to finish the season 70-35.  That’s a .667 winning percentage.  That’s a 110-win pace for a season.  The NL Central right now has three teams with better records than either Atlanta or Washington, the two pre-season NL favorites, meaning there may not even be a NL Wild-Card to fall back on.  This team needs to focus on winning the division or there may not be an October.

This sounds like something Yogi Berra would say, but here goes: you have to score to win.  For me, if they start scoring runs and out-hitting teams, the issues we have with defense, the bullpen and injured starters will become secondary concerns.  As we speak, these Nationals are hitting .229 AS A TEAM.  That’s unbelievable.   Almost amazingly bad.  They’re 28th in batting average.  They’re dead last in team OBP (on a pace for a modern seasonal low OBP in fact), 27th in team slugging, 29th in wOBA and 28th in wRC+.

They need Werth back in the middle of the order.  They need a healthy Harper, who hasn’t been the same since the LA wall crash but really hasn’t been the same since hitting the wall in Atlanta in late April (from a tweet by Mark Zuckerman: Bryce Harper’s stats before April 29 collision in ATL: .356/.437/.744. His stats since: .183/.315/.350).  They’re finally getting LaRoche back on track, and Zimmerman is hitting well.  They need to stop giving at bats to Espinosa, and they need Ramos back to help spell Suzuki (he’s catching nearly every game and his offense has bottomed out in the last month).

I’m going under the assumption, by the way, that Strasburg misses at most one start and that Detwiler returns straight away.  I don’t think Nathan Karns is ready for the big time and the team needs to find another spot starter in the short term (Stammen?).

June is here; a weak schedule and an opportunity to get some wins.  If we’re still .500 on July 1st, then we’ll probably have run out of excuses and decided that we are who we are.

Injuries and Idiocy lead to interesting Call-ups

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Unbelievably, Maya gets another MLB shot. Photo Al Bello/Getty Images

Hey, we’ve all been there Ryan Mattheus.

But clearly Mattheus never watched Bull Durham; Crash Davis‘ last lesson to Ebby Calvin ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh involved exactly what Mattheus just did to himself.  If you’re going to punch something … NEVER punch with your pitching hand.

And then in an even worse move, Mattheus hid the injury from his manager until it was too late to call up someone, meaning the team was short a reliever for last night’s SF game (a predictable 8-0 loss as Zach Duke even more predictably got hammered for 7 hits and 4 earned runs in just 3 1/3 innings).

We may even have an issue with Henry Rodriguez, who apparently “grimaced” as he was throwing one of his FOURTY SEVEN pitches last night, a ridiculous amount of pitches for a max-effort guy who should normally be throwing half that in an outing.  Don’t be surprised to see news of him hitting the D/L either.

So, with the bullpen shredded and now devoid of basically anyone who can throw significant long innings for the next couple of days, the team called up Yunesky Maya to provide some cover.  Maya has been awful in AAA so far this year (1-4 with a 5.07 era) but he’s the best option on the 40-man roster for what they need right now.   They’re also planning on calling up lefty Fernando Abad, one of their slew of lefty minor league free agents who has been excellent in AAA this year.   Abad will likely be a one-for-one replacement for Mattheus when he hits the D/L and has earned his way back to the majors.  Abad will require a 40-man move; he will be the 40th guy on the roster.  Maya likely switches places again with Eury Perez once the bullpen can catch its breath.

A better more interesting question may involve the fate of Duke.  He’s been awful this year, barely appears because of it, and when he is called upon to provide the one thing the team needs from him (an effective spot start) he fell on his face.  He’s not given this team anything close to what Tom Gorzelanny gave us for the past few years, and I’m beginning to wonder if the team really made the right decision keeping Duke over Gorzelanny.  Duke only makes $700k a year (versus the 2yr/$5.7M deal that Gorzelanny got from Milwaukee) but with the marginal value of a “Win” on the open market being in excess of $5M these days, have the Nats ended up being penny wise but a pound foolish?

Regardless of the “hindsight is 20/20″ analysis with Duke versus Gorzelanny, I have a feeling we may be seeing another move in the near future; the DFA of Duke and the call up of either J.C. Romero or newly acquired Xavier Cedeno. Both are lefties, both are veterans, both are pitching really well in Syracuse, and both seemingly can do no worse than Duke has done.  This isn’t as exciting as seeing a prospect get called up (for example; Danny Rosenbaum or Erik Davis), but with any more injuries we may get there.

Nats Major & Minor League Pitching Staffs vs Predictions

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First off, this is partly a post of self-flaggelation, to show how far off my various predictions of what the 2013 minor league staffs would look like by doing 2012 season-ending analysis.  Such is the nature of minor league pitching staffs in the modern day; they’re a combination of spare parts, rising stars and hangers-on and they can change rapidly with trades and spring training performances.  Every trade and every MLFA signing trickles down and fouls up predicitons.

Here’s my End of Season 2012 post with predictions for each of the 2013 minor league pitching staffs.   We’ll use that as a basis for the Opening Day 2013 rosters of the four full-season minor league teams.  Just for fun we’ll throw in (and start with) the MLB prediction.  Note that this early in the season we don’t really know who’s shaking out as starters and relievers necessarily for these minor league teams; i’m just going on first week usage right now.  As always, Luke Erickson and nationalsprospects.com, the Nats Big Board and the tireless work by “SpringfieldFan” is much appreciated here.


MLB Nov 2012 Prediction

  • MLB Rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Detwiler, FA or other acquisition
  • MLB Bullpen: Clippard, Storen, Mattheus, Stammen, Garcia, a FA left-hander (possibly Burnett), a FA long-man (possibly Gorzelanny).
  • MLB notables Out of Organization: Jackson, Burnett, Gonzalez, Lannan, Wang

MLB April 2013 Actual

  • MLB Rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Detwiler, Haren
  • MLB Bullpen: Clippard, Storen, Mattheus, Stammen, Duke, Rodriguez, Soriano
  • MLB notables Out of Organization: Jackson, Burnett, Gonzalez, Lannan, Wang, Gorzelanny

MLB Discussion: It wasn’t going to be that difficult to predict the 2013 Nats pitching staff make-up by looking at our staff and their FA status heading into the off-season.  The rotation filled its one spot with Dan Haren.  The bullpen was 5/7ths predicted correctly (if you count Zach Duke as a FA left-hander acquisition).  Christian Garcia‘s injury opened the door for one more season of Henry Rodriguez, and of course nobody could have predicted the Rafael Soriano purchase.  Lastly all 5 of the predicted departures occured, in addition to Tom Gorzelanny being let go.


AAA Nov 2012 Prediction

  • AAA Rotation: Roark, Maya, Broderick, Meyers, Perry
  • AAA Bullpen: Tatusko (swingman), Arneson (swingman), Severino (loogy), Davis, Lehman, Nelo (closer), Martin,  Mandel

AAA Apr 2013 Actual

  • AAA Rotation: Ohlendorf, Roark, Maya,Perry, Rosenbaum ( eventually Young)
  • AAA Bullpen: Tatusko, Mandel,  Davis, McCoy, Crotta, Abad, Romero, Bramhall
  • AAA D/L: Kimball, Bray, Meyers, Torra, West, Garcia (technically XLS), Accardo
  • AAA cut/released/FA: HPena, Mann, Zinicola, Arneson, Atkins, Ballard
  • AAA Missing: none

AAA Discussion

We were 3/5s correct on the rotation, and probably would have been 4/5ths right if Brad Meyers was healthy.  Ross Ohlendorf and (eventually) Chris Young are new faces here, both being former MLB starters who are taking the Zach Duke route of signing on for full seasons as AAA starter insurance for the big club in the hopes of rebuilding value and finding a MLB job for next year.  Brian Broderick is indeed back; its just that he’s starting for AA instead of AAA.  Lastly Danny Rosenbaum was returned to the team after his spring Rule-5 adventure and was put in AAA instead of AA, where (as we’ll see in a second) I would have predicted he would start.  Once Young is ready to go, I see Tanner Roark turning into the swingman/long-man.

On the bright side (pun intended), when was the last time a professional baseball team had TWO Ivy League alumni pitching in its rotation??  Both Young and Ohlendorf went to Princeton.  I wonder if they have NYTimes crossword puzzle competitions instead of (assumedly) video game competitions on off-days in the clubhouse.

As far as bullpen predictions go, next year I’m paying more close attention to who are 6-year free agents.  Arneson, Severino and Nelo were all MLFAs and have either signed on elsewhere or are facing forced retirement.  Tatusko, Davis and Mandel are onboard.  Lehman is (surprisingly?) in AA, perhaps a victim of the numbers game of the Nats signing (and keeping) a number of minor league lefty relievers this off-season.  I would guess, looking at the names in the bullpen, that Erik Davis is the closer but who knows what the usage will be like.  Lastly Bramhall was a MLFA signing over the off-season who just got placed on the AAA roster to replace the injured Accardo.


AA Nov 2012 Prediction

  • AA Rotation: Rosenbaum, Holder, Gilliam, Karns, Grace, Demny (swingman?) or MLFA?  Solis if he’s healthy?
  • AA Bullpen: Frias, McCoy, Selik (maybe high-A again), Holland (setup),  Wort (closer), VanAllen (loogy), Demmin (maybe high-A again), an org arm or two to fill in.

AA Apr 2013 Actual

  • AA Rotation: Broderick, Treinen, Demny, Clay, Karns
  • AA Bullpen: Holder, Frias, Holland, Wort, Barrett,  Krol,  Lehman, Swynenberg
  • AA D/L: Solis, RMartin, Olbrychowski, Selik
  • AA Cut/released/FA: VanAllen
  • AA Missing: none

AA Discussion

We got, well, not much of this right.  Of my starter predictions: Rosenbaum is in AAA, Holder is here but seems to be the long-man right now, Gilliam is hurt, Solis is still on the DL, and Grace is back in High-A.  We do seem to have at least gotten Karns and Demny right.  Broderick was a surprise FA signing, his being a favorite of the Nats organziation per our Rule-5 experiment with him a couple years back.  I’m surprised he’s not in the AAA rotation though.  Treinen was a trade-throw in from the Morse deal and takes a spot in this rotation, while Clay was a 2013 MLFA signing who (surprisingly?) made the rotation over the likes of other candidates.

The bullen prediction is all over the place: We got Frias, Holland and Wort right.  McCoy is in AAA, Selik is on the AA D/L and VanAllen and Demmin were MLFAs who were left unsigned (and per the big board are still unsigned).   I thought Barrett and Swynenberg would be in high-A instead of AA, I (and most others) thought Lehman would be in AAA, and Krol arrived as the PTBNL in the Morse trade.


High-A Nov 2012 Prediction

  • High-A Rotation: Swynenberg, Ray, Meyer (maybe AA?), Schwartz (maybe low-A), Rauh(maybe low-A)
  • High-A Bullpen Competition: Barrett (maybe AA) , Testa, Smoker (loogy), Hill, Meza(perhaps a starter?), Holt, Hawkins, Bates, Mirowski
  • High-A bullpen Release candidates: Olbrychowski, McCatty, Applebee

High-A Apr 2013 Actual

  • High-A Rotation: Ray, Jordan, Cole, Turnbull, Hill
  • High-A Bullpen Competition: Herron, Mirowski, Holt, Hawkins, Meza, Bates, Self, Grace
  • High-A D/L: Smoker, Applebee, Gilliam
  • High-A Cut/FA/Released: Demmin, Consuegra, Samuel, Testa
  • High-A Missing: McCatty, Olbrychowski

High-A Discussion

The Potomac rotation guess was already light; a couple of the guys I was guessing might be in low-A are indeed there (Schwartz and Rauh).  Swynenberg is in the AA bullpen.  Meyer was traded.  Only Robbie Ray returns.  I thought Jordan was going to repeat Hagerstown.   We got Cole back in the Morse trade and bumped up Turnbull from short season (over Mooneyham, interestingly) Lastly Hill seems to have beaten out Grace for the 5th starter spot.

The Bullpen prediction looks pretty good: 7 of the predicted guys are here (Smoker on the DL, Meza, Holt, Hawkins, Mirowski and Bates).  Barrett indeed is in AA.  Testa was released.  Of my release candidates McCatty is in XST, Applebee and Olbrychowski are on the DL.  Lastly both Samuel and Consuegra were off-season MLFA signings who didn’t pan out and have already been released.


Low-A Nov 2012 Prediction

  • Low-A Rotation: Turnbull, Jordan, Purke (if healthy), Monar, Mooneyham
  • Low-A Rotation Competitors: Hansen, Lee (loogy if not), Encarnation, McGeary (if finally healthy)
  • Low-A Bullpen Competition: Anderson, Estevez, Dupra, McKenzie, Henke, Davis, Boyden, Benincasa, Hudgins, Dicherry, Mudron

Low-A Apr 2013 Actual

  • Low-A Rotation: Anderson, Mooneyham, Pineyro, RPena, Encarnation
  • Low-A Swingmen: Rauh, Schwarz, Dupra
  • Low-A Bullpen: Fischer, Harper, Henke, Hudgins, Benincasa
  • Low-A D/L: Estevez, Purke, Simko, Mesa, Weaver
  • Low-A Cut/FA/Released: Kreis, Lucas, Upperman, Hansen, Monar
  • Low-A Missing: Hollins, Hicks

Low-A Discussion

Historically the hardest to predict, the Low-A team.  Of the guesses for the rotation last fall, we only got Mooneyham right.  Turnbull and Jordan were bumped up a level.  Purke is still hurt.  Of the “competitors” the team flat out released Monar and Hansen to my surprise.  Monar was really good in Auburn last year, and while Bobby Hansen wasn’t nearly as dominant as a starter, I thought he’d at least get a shot at being a loogy after so many years in the organization.  Jack McGeary was selected out of the org during the minor league phase of the rule-5 draft.  Lee is in XST limbo right now.

So who are these surprising Low-A rotation guys?  I thought Anderson would be relegated to the bullpen in Low-A; instead he’s the opening day starter.  I thought Pineyro would repeat short-season ball but he made the full-season team.  And lastly I thought Pena was destined for another season in short-A.

Rauh and Schwartz, after I thought they had shots in the rotation in high-A, seem to be taking the roles of “2nd starters” for now, each having gone multiple innings in relief of the starter.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see them becoming full time starters if one of the 5 guys ahead of them falter.

Most of the rest of the predicted bullpen are 2012 signees who are currently amongst a large group of extended spring training guys who will be battling it out for short-season jobs with 2013 signees.   And we seem to have a very large group of them; the big board lists in excess of 30 hurlers who are currently still in the organization, who are not on the D/L officially, but who are not assigned to one of the four full season teams.   That’s a lot of arms for just a handful of spots in short-A and the rookie league after the 2013 draft occurs.

Written by Todd Boss

April 11th, 2013 at 8:41 am

Posted in Majors Pitching,Minor League Pitching,Rule-5

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