Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for the ‘tom mattheus’ tag

Updated Nats Resource Links and their impact


With the slew of off-season activity nearly complete, I’ve updated some of the tracking worksheets that I maintain related to the Nats roster.  From non-tenders, FA signings and re-signings, trades and Arbitration settlements a lot has changed in terms of the Nats payroll, expected WAR estimates and 40-man options statuses.  All these resources are now updated in Google Docs.  Links (which should also be along the right-hand side of the page):

Here’s the implications that the last few months have had in each case:

Nats WAR Estimate Impact: We last visited this topic on 1/3/13 and I had a 2013 fWAR best case estimate of 57.6, equating to a 103 win season.  Now we’ve replaced Michael Morse‘s 3-win estimate with Adam LaRoche‘s 3.5 win estimate and added in Rafael Soriano‘s 1.2 fWAR estimate and are looking at a fWAR estimate of 59.1 and a 105 win capable team.  As with before, this doesn’t mean i’m predicting 105 wins; i’m saying that if everyone plays to their potential and nobody gets hurt, its hard not to see this being a 105 win team as constructed.

Nats 2013 Payroll Impact: When we last visited this topic on 12/3/12, we were sitting on a 2013 estimated payroll of just $88M.  Since then, we re-signed LaRoche, signed Dan Haren, stunningly signed Soriano and settled a slew of pre-arbitration settlements (most of which seemed to trend higher than MLB’s estimates for the players).  I’m now estimating the Nats 2013 payroll to be $121,823,500 (but see the caveat in the next paragraph).  There are still two payroll figures to be announced/decided: Zach Duke‘s 2013 pay has yet to be disclosed (I’m using an estimate of $1.5M) and Jordan Zimmermann was not able to settle with the team ahead of the filing deadline (i’m using an estimate of $4.9M for him).  The team filed at $4.6M while Zimmermann filed at $5.8M, meaning they’re $1.2M apart at current.  The midpoint would be $5.2M, meaning that the overall payroll could creep even higher and hit $122M.

Coincidentally, I’m not sure how to treat Soriano’s deal from a payroll perspective.  2 years, $28M but as we’ve learned half that money is deferred.  The spreadsheet shows it as a $14M aav contract but he’s only being paid $7M this year.  With the deferred money, the calculated AAV of the contract is only in the $11M/year range.  Cots shows $14M/year right now on its main page, but it hasn’t fixed its internal google XLS’s yet.  I think the right way to go would be to show $7M being paid this year and next, and then when the deferred payments kick in show them as the annual $2M payments that they’ll be.  So maybe the current payroll isn’t $121M but closer to $114M.  I’ll be curious to see how the sites like Cots and Usatoday (the two main sites that publish team payroll figures) treat this contract going forward.

Option Status: We last visited this topic on 11/14/12, before the non-tenders of Flores, Lannan and Gorzelanny, before the Rule-5 additions and before all the signings.   New signings Haren and Soriano are both 5+ year vets so Options don’t matter.  Interestingly, Duke has 6+ years of service time and signed a MLB deal, meaning he cannot be assigned to AAA withouth is consent and/or passing through waivers; the team is clearly counting on him to be in the MLB bullpen the whole year.  The most interesting options cases now belong to Ryan Mattheus and Craig Stammen, both of whom have options and both of whom (despite Stammen’s new 2 year deal) could be affected by the crowded bullpen.  I think we’re all under the assumption that Christian Garcia is starting the year in AAA; he has 3 options to use and may be on the train back and forth often in 2013.  I remain curious as to what the team will do with Carlos Rivero, who hit well in AAA and even better in winter ball, but has no options remaining and doesn’t have a single day of MLB service time.

Lastly (unrelated to the Nats), I’ve updated somewhat my “Best versus Winner” xls with the results from the NFL playoffs over the weekend.  For the 9th straight year in the NFL, the Superbowl winner will NOT be the team that also had the best regular season record.  This year, Denver and Atlanta shared the best regular season record and both were eliminated before reaching the Superbowl.  I keep track of this particular finding for all four major sports and generally have found that very infrequently does the team with the best record in any sport actually take the year end title any more.  Baseball has only seen it a few times in the last 20 years.

I’ve got a draft post that has an overview of all the random documents and spreadsheets that I’ve uploaded to Google Docs over the years (including the 4 discussed in this post).  I”ll publish it during a slow period this winter.

Nats Playoff Rotation & Bullpen Decisions


20-game Winner Gonzalez is our likely #1 starter in the playoffs. Photo Joy Absalon/US Presswire via

The Nats rotation has been incredibly stable this year; only a mid-season experiment with Chien-Ming Wang interrupted a near season-long quintet of starters unmarred by injury or poor performance.  The shutdown and playoff unavailability of Stephen Strasburg is well, well documented, so we won’t talk about him here.  But two important decisions await Davey Johnson in terms of his playoff roster construction: playoff rotation and bullpen construction.  Lets take these questions one-by-one:

1. What is your playoff rotation?  Here’s the evolution of our rotation this year:

  • The year started off with your starters in this order: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Jackson and then Detwiler. The starters went R-L-R-R-L.
  • After the All Star Break, Johnson shuffled the starters and re-ordered them to go Zimmermann, Gonzalez, Strasburg, Jackson, Detwiler (still R-L-R-R-L), ostensibly to give Strasburg a bit more rest and extend his season a few days.
  • On August 3rd (around a double-header) Zimmermann and Gonzalez switched places.  Now you’ve got Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Strasburg, Jackson and Detwiler (L-R-R-R-L).  All three RHSPs are in order, as are the two LHSPs.
  • On August 15th around an off day, Detwiler and Jackson switched places, probably to keep Detwiler on regular rest and probably to fix the aforementioned issue of 3 RHSPs in a row (starters now Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Strasburg, Detwiler, Jackson for L-R-R-L-R).
  • On September 12th, John Lannan replaces the shut-down Strasburg in the rotation.  Now we’re Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Lannan, Detwiler and Jackson for L-R-L-L-R.

If we play out the rotation the rest of the season, barring any more rain-outs or injuries, the starters will be (Starting 9/21):

9/21: Jackson
9/22: Gonzalez
9/23: spot starter Wang, to give the rotation its regular rest.
9/24: Zimmermann
9/25: Lannan
9/26: Detwiler
9/27: Jackson
9/28: Gonzalez
9/29: Zimmermann
9/30: Lannan
10/1: Detwiler
10/2: Jackson
10/3: Gonzalez

At this point I’m going to assume that the Nats will win the division and go straight to the divisional series, which (per MLB’s playoff schedule) starts either Saturday 10/6 or Sunday 10/7.  Which day the Nats start will be critical; if the Nats are the #1 seed they’ll start Sunday; if they’re the #2 seed they’ll start Saturday.

But in either case I think we’re going to see some manipulation of the above schedule, because I think the team wants Gonzalez to start the opener.   And he cannot start an opener on 10/6 or 10/3 if he throws 10/3.   We may see him skipped on 9/28 and then throwing a start 10/1 (which I’d be happy for; that’s the last game I have tix for this year), which would put him on regular rest for either a 10/6 or 10/7 start.

After that though, there’s some decisions to be made.  The NLDS ridiculously gives the lower-seed the first two home games, so I think Johnson may want to have some options available to him for his 2nd, 3rd, and 4th starter (I think its a pretty basic assumption that Lannan is being left completely off the playoff roster; more on this later down when talking about the bullpen options).  Here’s the home/away splits of our 4 likely playoff starters (numbers as of 9/21/12).

Interesting; Zimmermann is far more effective away, Detwiler is far more effective at home, and Jackson is just about the same either way.  This seems to imply that Zimmermann is your best bet to take the 2nd start, away from home, then line up Detwiler-Jackson-Gonzalez (or some combination thereof) at home.

Here’s another take; Johnson likes to play match-ups with certain teams.  Will the Nats opponent factor into the equation?  Assuming the Nats are the #1 seed, your likely wild-card winners right now are Atlanta and St. Louis (its hard to see a scenario where St. Louis loses its current 3 game WC lead in the next 12 days, but it could happen, but for the purposes of this article we’ll assume these two teams hold on).  How do these teams fare against lefty versus righty starters?

  • Atlanta is hitting .247 as a team versus Lefties with an 86 wRC+.  That’s bad.
  • Atlanta is hitting .251 as a team versus Righties with a 97 wRC+.  That’s certainly better than they do versus lefties.
  • St. Louis is hitting .275 as a team versus Lefties with an 113 wRC+.  That’s basically 2nd in the majors behind the uber-hitting Rangers.
  • St. Louis is hitting .270 as a team versus Righties with a 104 wRC+.  That’s roughly a 10% difference in Run Creation.

So, it seems like if we play Atlanta, we want to load up on Lefties while if we play St. Louis we want to load up on Righties.  This would seem to indicate that, if Atlanta is our opponent we’ll want to go Gonzalez-Zimmermann-Detwiler-Jackson-Gonzalez again, meaning Atlanta has to face 2 lefties in the first 3 games plus 3 out of 5.  If we play St. Louis, you’d think that we’ll want to switch up Detwiler and Jackson so that St. Louis gets L-R-R-L-L.  The idea being that once we get home, even though we’re lefty-heavy we’ll have the advantage.

However, with the #1, #2 and #3 seeds far from settled with a week and a half to go, lets also look at the same logic for both Cincinnati and San Francisco, since its conceivable at this point we could be playing either of these teams (use the same links in the Atlanta links above to see these statistics):

  • Cincinnati is hitting .268 as a team versus Lefties with an 107 wRC+.   Both Tied for 6th in the majors.
  • Cincinnati is hitting .248 as a team versus Righties with a 89 wRC+.
  • San Francisco is hitting .268 as a team versus Lefties with an 96 wRC+.
  • San Francisco is hitting .270 as a team versus Righties with a 98 wRC+.

Conclusions?  Cincinnati matches up very well against lefties and struggles against righties, while San Francisco is a pretty well balanced team with no real weakness against either side.

One last factor is post-season experience, of which this group has very little.  Jackson is the sole guy with any post season experience, it being last year with potential opponent St. Louis.  I cannot see Johnson bumping any of the guys who are pitching better than him though, at least in a short series, based on this veteran experience (we’ll revisit this though in a 7-game series, where the identity of the 4th starter is incredibly important, as he only goes once in that series).

In any scenario, I think your first two starters away are going to be Gonzalez and Zimmermann.  After that will depend on the opponent.

2. What is your playoff bullpen?  By virtue of the fact that we don’t need a 5th starter, the team can carry an extra player.  Here’s the bullpen as it sits now, divided into “regulars” and 9/1 call-ups:

  • Regulars: Burnett, Clippard, MGonzalez, Gorzelanny, Mattheus, Stammen, Storen
  • Sept 1 callups: Duke, Garcia, Wang (and technically Lannan).

I think this decision is pretty simple; you keep the 7 “regulars” and add in power arm Christian Garcia, who has been lights out since arriving, as an extra middle-relief guy.  There’s no reason to have minor league starters Duke, Wang or Lannan on the post-season roster; the only function they’d have is as long-men, but the regulars include two such arms already in Stammen and Gorzelanny.

The possibility exists that Johnson will opt for an extra bench guy instead of an 8th bullpen arm, but I doubt he’d choose that route.  Your “extra” bench guys right now are Leon (3rd catcher), Brown and Perez (ofs), and one of either DeRosa or Tracy (technically it was DeRosa who got added off the DL after roster expansion; he likely would have been delayed in the minors had this happened earlier in the season).  I can’t see any reason to keep any of these guys on a post-season roster at the expense of an 8th reliever.  Tracy gets a few ABs a week and can only play 1B, while DeRosa can provide cover at multiple positions and seems to have more value.  I could be wrong though; Tracy continues to deliver timely pinch hits in the clutch (as he did this past weekend).

Man, it feels good to talk about playoff baseball!

Nats Rotation Cycle #24: good/bad/soso


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

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


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


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


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

Relievers of Note and other News

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