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What is the benchmark for a “good” or “bad” draft?

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Will Fedde make the 2014 draft a "success?"  Photo via chicagonow.com

Will Fedde make the 2014 draft a “success?” Photo via chicagonow.com

The title of my previous post was pretty simple: “Nats 2014 Draft == failure.”  And it resulted in a rather spirited debate in the comments about the 2014 draft, the 2008 draft in hindsight, etc.

In that debate, I postulated my benchmarks for judging whether or not a team’s draft was “good” or not.  Here were the six guidelines I stated for judgement, going round by round/section by section in the draft:

  • a. 1st rounder: future MLB above average regular to all-star
  • b. 2nd rounder: future MLB regular
  • c. 3rd-5th: expect at least one future MLB player in at least a backup/bullpen role
  • d. 6th-10th: hope for at least one player to reach the MLB level.
  • e. 11th-20th: hope for at least three players who matriculate to AA or higher
  • f. 20th and above: hope for one-two players to matriculate to AA or higher

Lets go back through all 10 Nats drafts and see whether these guidelines hold up.  For each of the 6 requirements, we’ll give a quick “yes/no the condition was met” for each year.  Critical to this analysis is the Nats DraftTracker XLS, milb.com and baseball-reference.com for searching for old players.  Also useful is the Baseball America executive database, which populated the staff in charge of each draft.

Editors Note post-posting: I’ve added in the total known bonus amounts, per suggestion in the comments.  Data taken from the Draft Tracker.  Actual figures are likely higher because most bonus figures past the 10th round are unknown (but likely minimal).  Also per good suggestion, I’m adding in the draft position for context, since its far easier to get a future all-star if picking in the top 5 versus later on.


2005: Owner: MLB.  President: n/a.  GM: Jim Bowden.  Scouting Director: Dana Brown.  Drafting 4th overall.  Total Bonus $ spent: $3,990,500

  • a. Yes: 1st rounder Ryan Zimmerman: MLB above average regular (former all-star)
  • b. n/a: we had no 2nd rounder; forfeited for Vinny Castilla
  • c. Yes:  4th rounder Justin Maxwell turned into a 4th outfielder.  No 3rd rounder.
  • d. Yes: 6th rounder Marco Estrada has turned into a decent starter (albeit for someone else after we released him)
  • e. Yes: 11th rounder John Lannan and 12th rounder Craig Stammen turned into MLBers, far above expectations here.  18th rounder  Tim Pahuta had long ML career for us, playing 3 years at AA.
  • f. Yes: 33rd rounder Ryan Butcher was a 6yr MLFA who left the org but now has MLB experience with Atlanta.  No other 20th+ round draftees made it out of A-ball, but Butcher’s MLB matriculation makes up for it.

2005: Success, inarguably.  6 guys matriculating to the majors is a winning draft, especially considering the lack of a 2nd or 3rd round pick, the ownership confusion, and the budget restrictions put on the team.


2006: Owner: MLB.  President: n/a.  GM: Bowden.  Scouting Director: Brown.  Drafting 15th overall.  Total Bonus $ spent: $5,222,000

  • a. No: 1st rounder Chris Marrero looks like a 4-a guy at best and 1st rounder Colten Willems never made it above A-ball.
  • b. No: the team failed to sign 2nd rounder Sean Black and 2nd rounder Stephen Englund never made it out of low-A.
  • c. No: none of their 3rd-5th picks made the majors.  The highest one of these guys got was 5th rounder Corey VanAllen, who did pitch in AAA after passing through the rule-5 draft and finished out his 6-years with the org.  VanAllen is in Indy ball in 2014.
  • d. No: they didn’t even sign their 7th, 9th or 10th round picks.  The closest they got to a MLBer here was 6th rounder Zech Zinicola, who played at AAA for quite a while, was rule-5 picked and returned, and now sits in Baltimore’s AA team.
  • e. Yes: 12th rounder Cole Kimball made it the majors briefly, while 17th rounder Erik Arnesen, 18th rounder Adam Carr and 13th rounder Hassan Pena all toiled in AAA for several years. 
  • f. Yes, sort of.  We’re all well aware of the success of 41st rounder Brad Peacock, but he was picked under the “draft-and-follow” system that no longer exists.  So while yes it was a 41st round pick, in our current system Peacock wouldn’t have been picked at all and/or wouldn’t have signed but would have been picked the subsequent year based on his great first-college juco season.   Of the rest of the 20th+ round picks, one guy had a couple months in AA (26th rounder Brett Logan) to serve as a backup catcher; he hit .102/.170/.122 in 20 games in 2007 and was released.

2006: Failure: 3 guys who have MLB appearances but near zero impact for this team.  Peacock enabled the Nats to get Gio Gonzalez but I think we see now that Peacock wasn’t the driving prospect in that deal (now that Derek Norris has made an all-star team).

For as much as went right for the team in the 2005 draft, it went wrong in 2006.  Was the lack of signing their 7th, 9th and 10th round picks evident of “fiscal restraint” demanded by the other 29 owners?  Clearly to me, the focus on HS drafted personnel in this draft has Bowden’s hands all over it, and almost none of them panned out in the slightest.

 


2007: Owner: Ted Lerner group.  President: Stan Kasten.  GM: Bowden.  Scouting Director: Brown.  Assistant GM/VP, Baseball Operations: Mike Rizzo.  Drafting 6th overall.  Total Bonus $ spent: $7,619,300

  • a. No: The team went one-for-three on its first rounders: Michael Burgess got to AA in his fourth pro season but never further, was flipped for Tom Gorzelanny.  Josh Smoker‘s failure has been well documented here.  But Ross Detwiler, for all the complaining about his usage and role in this space, did make the majors and looked like a good 4th starter (in 2012).  I still believe he could start in this league and is better than a long-man.   However, the condition is that a first round pick turns into a successful regular, and this crop failed in all regards.
  • b. Yes.  2nd rounder Jordan Zimmermann is now a 2-time all-star and is probably the best 2nd round pick the organization has ever had.  His successes make up for their other 2nd rounder Jake Smolinksi who has made his MLB debut but not until he became a 6-yr MLFA.
  • c. Yes.  4th rounder Derek Norris made the 2014 all-star team for Oakland.  3rd rounder Stephen Souza has debuted in the majors and looks quite promising (albeit blocked) for our AAA team.  5th rounder Brad Meyers toiled for us in AAA for years before being released this spring after a long injury recovery.
  • d. Yes: 10th round pick Patrick McCoy made it to AAA for us, signed with Detroit as a MLFA and debuted this year.  We should note for the record though that 6th rounder Jack McGeary was paid as if he was a low-1st rounder and failed pretty spectacularly here.
  • e. Yes: 20th rounder Jeff Mandel was a long-serving org arm at AA and AAA.   11th rounder Bill Rhinehart was looking like a find, appearning on Nats system prospect lists for a while and getting to AAA before getting flipped for Jonny Gomes.
  • f. Yes: 28th rounder Boomer Whiting made it to Syracuse before getting released in 2011.   48th rounder (!) Kyle Gunderson was flipped for Logan Kensing in 2009 and made it to Miami/Florida’s AAA squad before getting released.  

2007: Success: despite the 1st round failures and the McGeary disaster, the breadth of success in the other categories and the production of the remaining guys weighs out.


2008: Owner: Lerner.  President: Kasten.  GM: Bowden.  Scouting Director: Brown.  Assistant GM/VP, Baseball Operations: Rizzo.  Drafting 9th overall.  Total Bonus $ spent: $4,766,500

  • a. No: as is well documented, the Nats failed to sign 1st round pick Aaron Crow.
  • b. No/Inc: 2nd round pick Destin Hood has already passed through Rule-5 waivers once, but has found himself in 2014 and is hitting great for Syracuse (2014′s AAA line: .308/.353/.502).  It does make one wonder if he’s worth adding to the 40-man once the season is over to keep him; he’s finishing his 7th pro year and is in line for minor league free agency.
  • c. Yes: 3rd rounder Danny Espinosa has his critics, but he’s at least a MLB backup or possibly more.  5th rounder Adrian Nieto has stuck with the White Sox after getting plucked in the Rule-5 draft last year and hasn’t been half bad.
  • d. Yes: 10th rounder Tommy Milone has shown his capabilities as a MLB starter.  d. 6th-10th: hope for at least one player to reach the MLB level.  6th rounder Paul Demny remains in the system (on the D/L in Harrisburg) but doesn’t seem like he’ll go much higher at this point.
  • e. Yes: 16th rounder Tyler Moore has put in meaningful at-bats for the Nats for a few years now.  And 19th rounder Steve Lombardozzi looks to be a solid utility/backup infielder in this league for years.  Lastly I wonder if the team gave up on 15th rounder J.P. Ramirez too soon; he was paid like a 2nd round pick but was released prior to his MLFA period.  He may have only made it to high-A, but his last season was somewhat decent.
  • f. No: as far as I can tell, nobody of note came in rounds 20 or above from this draft.

2008: Failure: How would you judge this draft?   We failed to sign the first rounder, which for me is a huge negative.  The second rounder may or may not ever debut in the majors, which is also for me a huge negative because of the huge prevalence of 1st and 2nd rounders on MLB rosters.  But we got four (5 counting Nieto) other MLBers out of the rest of the draft, including some very deep-dive picks that you rarely find (Moore and Lombardozzi, aside from Peacock, are the two lowest round picks to ever make it to the majors for this team).


2009:  Owner: Lerner.  President: Kasten. GM: Rizzo.  Scouting Director: Brown.  Drafting 1st overall.  Total Bonus $ spent: $18,806,000

  • a. Yes: no arguing about either first round pick here: both Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen have pitched at all-star levels in their careers.
  • b. No: 2nd Rounder Jeff Kobernus may have made his MLB debut, but he’s nowhere close to being a “regular” in the majors right now and doens’t seem to be trending that way either.
  • c. No: 3rd round pick Trevor Holder was a gross over-draft (albeit with known reasons; the team committed an *awful* lot of money to the first two guys on this list) and was released in 2013.  4th rounder A.J. Morris looked quite promising for us, was flipped in the Gorzelanny deal, and this year is pitching effectively for Pittsburgh’s AAA squad after being taken in the minor league Rule-5 portion last off-season.  And the Nats failed to sign their 5th rounder.  So even if Morris pans out as a MLB-capable player, he’s doing it for someone else.
  • d. Yes: 9th round pick Taylor Jordan was effective for the team last year and may yet figure in the team’s plans despite his mysterious D/L trip right now.  And 6th round pick Michael Taylor has rocketed up the prospect lists for this team, is crushing AA pitching right now, is on the team’s 40-man roster and may very well get a look as 2015′s starting center fielder.
  • e. Yes: 12th rounder Nathan Karns made the org look quite intelligent when he gave spot starts in 2013 after rocketing up the farm system after finally recovering from arm issues.  I wonder if the success they had with Karns was the first impetus for Rizzo to take more gambles on high-end-but-injured arms.  13th rounder Patrick Lehman has bounced around as an org arm for years.  11th rounder Juston Bloxom played a couple years in AA before getting released this year.  16th rounder Sean Nicol is splitting time between AA and AAA this year.   Finally, I wanted to note something I never knew before studying this: the Nats drafted Marcus Strohman in the 18th round out of HS; this is the same Strohman who went in the first round three years later to Toronto and who is currently holding down a rotation spot for the playoff-pushing Blue Jays.  Wow.  He’s listed as a SS on the draft-tracker but clearly is a MLB-calibre starter.
  • f. Yes: 22nd rounder Danny Rosenbaum has been Syracuse’s “ace” for three seasons now.  And a slew of guys drafted in the 20s stuck around for years as middle relievers (Mitchell Clegg, Matt Swynenberg, Evan Bronson, Rob Wort, and Shane McCatty).  You just can’t ask for more out of your picks in rounds 20-30.

2009: Success: I’ll take a couple of misses in the 2nd and 3rd rounds given the amount of talent they picked up in the middle and late rounds.  Great draft.  6 guys who have debuted in the majors with at least another one likely coming soon.


Note: from 2010 onwards, most of the judgement calls are still “in progress.”  We’ll use projections and “small sample sizes” to pass judgement.  It is what it is.  Feel free to criticize in the comments about using projections and national pundit scouting reports to make judgements.


2010:  Owner: Lerner.  President: Kasten.  GM: Rizzo.  Scouting Director: Kris Kline.  Drafting 1st overall.  Total Bonus $ spent: $11,413,200

  • a. Yes: 1st rounder Bryce Harper has turned into everything the hype suggested.  Fun fact; when he went on an rehab assignment in Potomac, he was the 2nd youngest guy on the roster.  Remember that when you criticize the guy for not being better than he already is: if he was “playing by the rules,” he’d be jsut finishing his junior year of college.
  • b. No/Inc: 2nd rounder Sammy Solis has been one injury issue after another.  He missed all of 2012 with Tommy John, came back slowly in 2013, but now sits on the AA D/L with another “elbow” issue.  He was protected on the 40-man roster last fall, but you have to wonder what’s to come of him.  He’s finishing his 5th pro season and he’s got exactly one start above A-Ball.
  • c. Yes/Inc: 4th rounder A.J. Cole was paid like a late first rounder, and after some struggles he’s really come onto the scene this year.  He was already really young for AA and “solved” it, and is now in AAA holding his own.  The other guys in this category are less impressive: both Rick Hague and Jason Martinson are repeating AA and not really hitting well enough to push for promotions.  This could be a side-effect of the huge amount of money committed to Harper and Cole.
  • d. Yes: 9th round pick Aaron Barrett went from unknown/unrecognized prospect to the Nats 40-man roster last fall to being lights-out middle reliever in the major league pen this year.  As a 9th round college senior pick.  8th rounder Matthew Grace may be next; after toiling as a mediocre starter, he became a reliever in 2013 and has been lights out in AA and AAA this year.  And he’s not just a LOOGY: 56 IP in 33 appearances and he’s given up just 6 ER in that time.
  • e. Yes: 15th round pick David Freitas, after getting traded to Oakland for Kurt Suzuki, got traded again to Baltimore and now is in AAA.   12th round pick Robbie Ray has made his MLB debut for Detroit after going over in the Doug Fister deal.  11th rounder Neil Holland toils in the Harrisburg pen admirably.
  • f. Yes: 23rd rounder Colin Bates and 26th rounder Christopher Manno both are in the Harrisburg pen.  22nd rounder Cameron Selik made it to AA before hitting his ceiling and being released earlier this year.   And 32nd rounder Randolph Oduber is a starting OF in Potomac with decent splits and a shot of moving up.

2010: Success: It may have been a no-brainer to take Harper, and it may have been an example of the “checkbook” winning in their picks of Cole and Ray, but you have to hand it to this team; they bought two high-end prep guys out of their college and they’re both looking like huge successes.   And they got a MLB servicable reliever out of a college senior sign who they paid just $35,000 in bonus money.  Great work.


2011: Owner: Lerner.  President/GM: Rizzo.  Scouting Director Kline.  Drafting 6th overall.  Total Bonus $ spent: $11,325,000

  • a.  Yes: 1st rounder Anthony Rendon was on everyone’s “all star snub” lists this year, while their other 1st rounder Alex Meyer remains one of the top pitching prospects in the game and seems likely to debut later this year.   Their supp-1st rounder Brian Goodwin remains on every pundit’s prospect lists even if he seemingly has been passed on the organizational “future starting Center-fielder” depth chart.   There’s no chance the team leaves him exposed in the upcoming rule-5 draft, so he’ll have at least three more years to prove he belongs.
  • b. n/a: forfeited for Adam LaRoche signing.
  • c. No/Inc: Right now our 3rd through 5th picks are looking iffy; 4th rounder Matthew Purke was paid like an upper first rounder and has been a massive disappointment.  Right now he’s recovering from Tommy John and faces an uncertain future.  4th rounder Kylin Turnbull has gotten lit up in high-A this year, his second crack at the league.  5th rounder Matt Skole may be the most promising of the bunch; he crushed 27 homers in his first season of full-season ball only to miss all of 2013 because of a freak injury.  Can Skole continue developing and make the majors on a full-time basis?  Can Purke at this point?
  • d. Yes: With the call-up of 6th rounder Taylor Hill earlier this year, this category is met.  Which is good because the rest of the 6th-10th rounders from this year are struggling.  Two are already released/retired, one is MIA and the lone remaining active player (Brian Dupra) is struggling as a starter/swing-man in AA.  But Hill is a huge win; a college senior draftee on minimal bonus rocketing through the minors and forcing his way onto the 25-man roster.
  • e. Yes/Inc:  It is far too early to fully judge this category, but it is looking promising despite the fact that the team failed to sign SIX of its ten picks beween the 11th and 20th round.  11th rounder Caleb Ramsey is already in AA.  16th rounder Deion Williams is on the mound (not a SS as in the Draft Tracker) and is struggling in short-A.   18th rounder Nick Lee is struggling in Potomac this year but has shown a huge arm and seems like he’ll eventually convert to loogy (especially considering his undersized stature); I can see Lee making it far as a matchup lefty reliever with swing-and-miss stuff.  The lone failure at this point is 12th rounder Blake Monar, sort of inexplicably released after a decent 2012 season in Short-A.   
  • f. Yes: 30th round pick Bryan Harper earned his way to Harrisburg.   45th round college senior pick Richie Mirowski also made it to AA, where he wasn’t half bad last year, though at the moment he’s back in Potomac.   And there’s three other players drafted in the 20th or higher who are active on Potomac’s roster this year and who may get moved up.   Decent production out of the bottom of this draft so far.

2011: Projected Success: As discussed before, I believe the selection of Rendon was a “no-brainer” based on a unique set of circumstances that occured on draft day, but credit the management team for having the stones to pick him when other GMs didn’t.   I’m sure the Mariners (especially) would like a re-do on that draft (they picked 2nd overall, got soft-tossing local product Danny Hultzen, who was sidelined last year with all sorts of shoulder issues and is no sure bet to ever make it back.   They rolled the dice with Purke and so far seem to be losing, but Purke was himself a 1-1 talent at one point (remember, he had his $4M+ deal with Texas pulled thanks to MLB-stewardship at the time) and was probably worth the risk.   I’d like to see Skole reach the majors in some capacity before declaring this draft a full success.

 


Note: from here onwards, everything is a projection and is based on scouting the stat lines.  I’m going to sound negative where others sound positive and vice versa.  Hey, its better than writing nothing.


2012: Owner: Lerner.  President/GM: Rizzo.  Scouting Director Kline.   Drafting 16th overall.  Total Bonus $ spent: $4,503,500

  • a. Yes/inc: 1st rounder Lucas Giolito (so far) has shown himself to be at full speed post TJ surgery and is mostly in the top 10-15 of every professional scouting pundit’s list for best prospect in the entirety of the minors.  He’s got a #1 starter ceiling, a huge frame and three plus pitches.  He’s projecting to be everything you’d hope for from an upper first rounder.
  • b. No/inc: It is hard to squint at 2nd rounder Tony Renda at this point and project him as a future “MLB regular.”  Sure he’s hitting .297 in Potomac, and sure his numbers at the plate have not varied much in his three pro seasons.  Unfortunately he’s vastly undersized and he has no power in a time where pro middle infielders are expected to provide serious pop.   Maybe he can forge a career like Jamey Carroll or like a Jose Altuve, but the odds are against him.  I don’t mean to discount the guy because he’s 5’8″ but we all know there’s a significant bias in the industry towards undersized guys.  Heck, a pitcher is considered “short” if he isn’t 6’2″ these days.
  • c. No/inc: So far the guys picked 3rd-5th are also struggling.  3rd rounder Brett Mooneyham‘s struggles are well documented here.  4th rounder Brandon Miller continues to show great power but has missed much of this season with a hamstring injury (he’s on rehab in the GCL as we speak).  Lastly 5th rounder Spencer Keiboom suffered a blown UCL that basically cost him the whole 2013 season.  He’s got great numbers in low-A this year but is two years too old for the league.  Keiboom’s talents more centered on his defense than his bat, so he may still push forward as a future backup catcher.  But until he does, this category falls in the “no” side.
  • d. Maybe/inc: The leading hope for some MLB success out of our 6th-10th round picks right now resides in one of two middle relievers: 7th round pick Robert Benincasa or 9th round pick Derek Self.   You never know; one of these guys could turn into the next Aaron Barrett.  8th round SS Stephen Perez made the all-star team this year in Potomac and could feature as a future utility infielder.  The team has already released its 6th round pick Hayden Jennings, and their 10th rounder (local Rockville product Craig Manual) was a college senior catcher who is backing up other catchers in the system for the time being).  He may continue to hang around but unless he gets a starting gig he’s going to get replaced by someone newer.
  • e. Yes/inc: 17th rounder Blake Schwartz has already made it to AA, where he struggled and he now sits back in Potomac (where he was great last year, go figure).  11th rounder Brian Rauh got a spot-start in AA last year but has bounced in and out of the Potomac rotation this year.  16th rounder Ronald Pena is working his way off injury but faces a long road to move up thanks to a lack of swing-and-miss stuff.   The team has already released four of its 11th-20th round picks; the remaining out-field players (12th rounder Carlos Lopez and 19th rounder Bryan Lippincott) both seem to face long odds as college senior draftees still residing in the low minors to even make it up to AA at this point.  To be fair, Lopez missed most of 2013 with an unknown injury, so we’ll give him a slight pass.   Lippincott sits in XST right now.
  • f. No/inc: 33rd rounder Mike McQuillan has hung around and currently serves as a utility guy/bench player for Potomac.   A couple of relievers remain on squads: 29th rounder Leonard Hollins is hurt but is on a full-season squad, and 30th rounder Robert Orlan was with Hagerstown to start the season but is back in Auburn.   The rest of the 20th round and up guys features carnage; eight college senior draftees already released to go along with 10 unsigned (mostly high schoolers) picks in the later rounds.  One unsigned pick looks interesting; all-american freshman UNC player Skye Bolt may be a big-time 2015 draft pick.   But otherwise, I’m predicting that we dont’ get even a AA player out of the last  20 rounds of this draft at this point.

2012: Projected Failure: Frankly, this is looking like it may be a one player draft.  At this point, I don’t think you can look at *any* other player in this draft and project even a bench/fringe 25-man roster guy besides Giolito.  Now ask yourself: if Giolito fulfills expectations and becomes an “ace,” a top 15-20 arm in the majors while the rest of this draft basically becomes high-A and AA filler, does that change your opinion of the draft success/failure?


2013: Owner: Lerner.  President/GM: Rizzo.  Scouting Director Kline.  Drafting 30th overall.  Total Bonus $ spent: $2,678,100

  • a. n/a: No 2013 first rounder thanks to the supurfluous signing of Rafael Soriano.  As noted at the time, the Nats missed out on players like Sean ManaeaRyan Stanek or Ian Clarkin, all of whom were available at the time of their lost 1st rounder.  Manaea in particular has flourished, rising up prospect list charts and sporting a healthy K/9 rate in high-A this year.  I’d like to call this in and among itself a failure (given my reservations about paying for saves in general), but have to admit that Soriano has been pretty durn good this year.
  • b. No/inc: 2nd rounder Jake Johansen thus far has not lived up to advance billing in his first year in full-season ball.  He’s averaging just 4.5 innings per outing and sports a 5.00 ERA and less than a K/inning.   I can understand the difficult adjustment to pro ball, but I don’t get how his vaunted velocity and size combination aren’t resulting in more swing-and-miss.    He’s given no indication that he can avoid what scouts have been saying all along (that he’s destined for the bullpen), he’s way too wild and way too hittable.
  • c. Yes/inc: the Nats collection of 3rd rounder Drew Ward, 4th rounder Nick Pivetta and now especially 5th rounder Austin Voth are making this management team look very smart.  All Voth has done since forcing his promotion to High-A is give up 10 hits and ONE earned run in 33 innings over five starts.  That’s just ridiculous.  And he’s doing it while maintaining a 36/5 K/BB ratio.  There’s zero reason for him to still be in Potomac at this point.  I don’t know what Voth’s ceiling is, but its getting pushed.
  • d. No/inc: Thanks to the new CBA’s rules, most 6th-10th rounders are throw-away/college senior picks these days.  So it’ll be awfully hard to depend on one of them turning into a 25-man roster guy.  The best bet out of this draft will be having either 6th rounder Cody Gunter or 7th rounder James Yezzo eventually matriculating to the majors.  The other guys in this category were 15k bonus college seniors, one of whom (9th rounder Jake Joyce has *already* been released).  Do we think either Gunter or Yezzo projects as a major leaguer?  Not right now: Gunter’s struggling in short-A for the 2nd year in a row and Yezzo is an undersized 1B showing little power.
  • e. Maybe/inc: Right now the pickings for the guys taken 11th-20th look pretty slim too.  Three were senior signs who have already been released and we failed to sign our 16th round pick Willie Allen (though can’t fault the Nats for that: doing research on him for last year’s draft review showed all sorts of inconsistencies with him, including whether he’s even still playing baseball in college).  But 11th rounder John Simms is looking like a great find; he’s already in the AA rotation and holding his own (though you could argue it was out of need, not performance).  Among those left, 10th rounder Brandon Middleton and 15th rounder Isaac Ballou are starting and playing well in Hagerstown, 12th rounder Andrew Cooper is strugging in low-A, 13th rounder John Costa has yet to debut for the team thanks to TJ surgery, and 17th rounder Geoffrey Perrott was a senior catcher who got a grand total of 13 at-bats in 2013 and has remained in XST so far thisyear, perhaps to serve as a bullpen catcher for others remaining in Viera and perhaps because he was hurt most of last year and may still be recovering.  If Simms continues to rise and we get a couple more longer-lasting prospects out of this crew, we’ll convert this to a success.
  • f. Maybe/Inc: The Nats picked seven college seniors in the 21st round or above and so far they’re all with Hagerstown.  Middle infielders Cody Dent (22nd rounder) and Willie Medina (31st rounder) both hit in the .220s last year, are hitting in the .220s (or worse) this year, and seem like they may not last the season.  However the pitchers in this bunch are looking better and better.  28th rounder Joey Webb has a 2.53 ERA, 30th rounder Ryan Ullmann has as 3.10 ERA and got a high-A up-and-back call-up, and 34th rounder Jake Walsh dominated Low-A and earned a call-up to Potomac.  Only 29th rounder Michael Sylvestri seems to be in trouble among these senior signs; after struggling in Short-A last year, he gave up a ton of runs in 6 mid-relief outings and is currently in re-assignment purgatory.  What of the non senior-signs?  24th round pick Matthew Derosier is struggling in short-A and 23rd round outfielder Garrett Gordon seems like he’s a bench player in Auburn.  But a revelation may be 25th round prep draft pick Travis Ott.  He holds a 2.10 ERA through 6 starts in Auburn despite being quite young for the league.  So, the trend seems good that we’ll get value out of the bottom part of this draft.

2013: Projected Failure: Sorry to say; no first rounder, a middle reliever out of your 2nd rounder, perhaps a 5th starter out of the 3-5 rounds, and some org filler from the bottom of the draft?  How many players from this draft do you realistically project to make the majors?


2014: Owner: Lerner.  President/GM: Rizzo.  Scouting Director Kline.   Drafting 18th overall.  Total Bonus $ spent: $4,149,900

  • a. Maybe/inc: 1st rounder Erick Fedde may project as a MLB rotation guy, but he’s not projecting as an ace level arm.  So if he comes back from surgery 100%, if he keeps moving up the chain, if he makes the majors and if he has an impact we’ll give this a yes.  Lots of ifs.
  • b. n/a:  we failed to sign our 2nd rounder Andrew Suarez.
  • c. Maybe/inc: The hopes here fall on 3rd rounder Jakson Reetz and 4th rounder Robbie Dickey, since our 5th rounder was a senior lefty out of non-baseball powerhouse Duke.   How do we dream on Reetz and Dickey?  Maybe Reetz turns into our next Derek Norris while Dickey turns into the next Austin Voth.  Lets hope so, because both so far have had rather inauspicious starts in the GCL (Reetz batting .220 and Dickey posting an ERA in the 12s).   To be fair Reetz is a kid and Dickey isn’t much older, so we have a long way to go before passing true judgement.
  • d. No/inc: We failed to sign the 8th round pick Austin Byler (and from reading the tea leaves, it didn’t seem like we were ever even close).  Our 7th, 8th and 10th round picks were low-bonus college seniors with little hope of advancing.  So this category falls squarely on the shoulders of 6th rounder Austin Williams, who looks ok so far in Short-A.
  • e. Far too Early: most of these guys who did sign are 15 games into short seasons.
  • f. Far too Early: most of these guys who did sign are 15 games into short seasons.

2014: Not promising: An injured first rounder, no 2nd rounder, really just a handful of non senior-signs elsewhere in the draft.  As I opined in the previous post discussion, I just don’t like the looks of this class.


So.  5200 words later, I think I actually like my guidelines.  I think though that the new CBA forces teams into making a bunch of “throw-away” picks in the 6th-10th rounds, so my criteria needs to be adjusted downward for that category in the last few years.  Otherwise I think it holds.

What say you?

Editor’s Post-posting thoughts.  Based on the analysis above, the franchise has 5 successes and 5 failures (or projected failures) in ten drafts.  After up and down drafts the first four years, we had three straight successes in 2009-2011, but now I feel like we’ve had three successive failures from 2012 onwards.  Here’s a sobering thought about those successes and failures: lets talk about bonus money spent.

  • In the 5 drafts I call successes, the team spent (chronologically): $3,990,500, $7,619,300,  $18,806,000, $11,413,200 and $11,325,000 in bonus money.
  • In the 5 drafts i’m calling failures/projected failures: $5,222,000, $4,766,500, $4,503,500, $2,678,100, $4,149,900

See a pattern?  With the exception of the unbelievable 2005 draft, the Nats have had successes when spending big money and failures when they don’t.  Maybe its just that simple.

I think, to be fair, it is also worth nothing the three distinct “eras” of Nats draft philosophy:

  • Era 1: 2005-2008: MLB hamstrung budgets and Lerner penny pinching era.  2 successes, 2 failures.
  • Era 2: 2009-2011: Lerner’s realize the Tampa Bay way: spending through the draft is the best way to acquire talent.  3 successes
  • Era 3: 2012-present: the new CBA spells out draconian draft bonus policies.  3 failures.

Era 1 may be just the way it used to go; sometimes you’d get wins in the draft, other times you’d strike out.  Era 2 was the glory years of Nats drafting, though the cynic may point out that picking three consensus 1-1 talents and spending 8 figures in bonus money wasn’t that hard.  Era 3 is more troubling: why has this management team not done better in the CBA/limited bonus era?

 

Written by Todd Boss

July 23rd, 2014 at 10:52 am

Posted in Draft

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The Nats should just move Detwiler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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).

Read the rest of this entry »

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.