Nationals Arm Race

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Rizzo the gambler; how have his injury-risk signings/picks done?

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Rendon was probably Rizzo's best injury gambit. Photo: Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via chron.com

Rendon was probably Rizzo’s best injury gambit. Photo: Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via chron.com

By now, we’ve grown accustomed to it.  Nats GM Mike Rizzo acquires yet another player with a questionable injury past, hoping to find a new market inefficiency and getting a better player in the long term than how the rest of the league valued the player in the short term.  This topic came up last week as the Nats seemingly severed ties with Matthew Purke and we immediately began talking about the wasted bonus money … three days later he re-signed a minor league deal, but he’s still an integral part of this discussion.

This post attempts to go through all of Rizzo’s injury-risk player acquisitions (draft, trade or FA), to see how he’s doing in terms of these high risk acquisitions.  I may have missed out on someone; please let me know if you think someone else merits discussion.  I’m sure there’s deep-draft picks worth discussing in prior drafts that our readers may remember; please pipe up in the comments section.  In each section they’re basically in reverse chronological order.

Draft

  • Erick Fedde, 1st round pick in 2014 (18th overall), RHP from UNLV, $2.5M bonus (over-slot, ~10th pick money).  I reviewed this pick after it happened and maintain the same stance I had in June; I thought Fedde was over paid and over drafted, but (in the Nats defense) the combination of the picks right before us (which included one Brandon Finnegan, who was on the Royals post-season roster) and right after us probably sealed Fedde’s selection.  Verdict: Obviously, it is far too early to tell how Fedde will turn out, so there is no judgement to pass here.  Fedde had the Tommy John surgery in Mid May, so he won’t even throw his first pro pitch until mid next season.
  • Lucas Giolito, 1st round pick in 2012 (16th overall), RHP from Harvard-Westlake HS (CA), $2.9M bonus (well over-slot, equivalent to 7th overall pick slot).  Giolito was rumored to be in the mix for 1-1 in 2012 before a “strain” in his pitching elbow caused him to miss most of his senior year.  This “strain” turned out to really be a “partial tear,” but the Nats saw value in getting a potential 1st overall talent mid-first round.  Giolito rehabbed, threw a few innings, then had TJ surgery on 8/31/12.  Since, Giolito’s rehab went perfectly, throwing 40 innings in 2013 and another 100 in 2014.  Despite his limited workload in 2014, he was named the Nats minor league pitcher of the year and has rocketed up prospect charts.  He currently is the unquestioned #1 Nats minor league prospect and should feature as a top 10 prospect in all of baseball.  Verdict: so far, so good.  They say there’s “no such thing as a pitching prospect,” so the wheels could still come off the bus, but Giolito is trending up and the gamble is looking like it will pay off.
  • Kevin Dicharry, 24th round pick in 2012, RHP from Texas.   Dicharry was good early in his college career but missed most of his college career with shoulder issues.  His pro debut was good enough: a 2.84 ERA in 25 GCL innings in 2012.  He started 2013 in Short-A, got hit hard in 3 outings, and was abruptly released to my surprise.  Verdict: failure … but it’s kind of hard to say that a 24th round pick was a failure for not panning out, even if he was perfectly healthy.
  • Robert Orlan, 30th round pick in 2012, RHP from UNC.  Orlan suffered an elbow injury late in the 2012 college season and was immediately placed on the 60-day DL by the team after they drafted him.  Baseball Prospectus does not have any injury/surgery history, so I do not know what, if any procedures he had done in 2012.  Orlan was decent for Auburn in 2013 but struggled in 2014 and couldn’t make the level jump to full-season ball.  He’s already been relegated to the bullpen and may not be long for the org.  Verdict: not looking good … but again, hard to really pass any harsh judgement on a 30th round pick.  The fact that he has even lasted two pro years makes him a success already.
  • Anthony Rendon, 1st round pick in 2011 (6th overall), 3B from Rice.  $6M bonus, well over-slot at the time.  Rendon’s dropping out of the top 2-3 picks was a huge draft-day shock; we’re talking about a college player of the year who scouts had penciled in as the 2011 1-1 pick for nearly two years.  But nagging ankle injuries in both his sophomore and junior year scared off the teams above Washington, who probably tripped over themselves running to the podium to take him.  We know the rest of the story now; by mid 2013 he was a starter, and he posted a 6.5 bWAR season in 2014.  Verdict: huge success so far.
  • Matthew Purke, 3rd round pick in 2011, LHP from TCU.  Given a $4.15M MLB contract.  The impetus for this post.  Purke was a 1st round pick out of high school, then went 16-0 in his freshman year of college, earning 2nd team all American honors.  Shoulder bursitis cost him a ton of starts his sophomore year, but the Nats gambled on him anyway.  A healthy Purke would have easily been a top 10 pick in 2011, so the Nats got a potential top 10 talent in the 3rd round.  Of course, we know how this story goes from here: Purke could never get going in 2012 and had to have shoulder surgery.  Then he throws 90 decent innings in 2013 … only to drop off a cliff in 2014 before having TJ surgery.  Now he’s out until at least June 2015.  But, as we’ve seen this week, at least he’s not on the 40-man roster any more.  But more time remains to be seen as to whether Rizzo’s $4M gamble can pay off in any capacity.  Verdict: check back at the end of 2015, but not looking great.
  • Sammy Solis, 2nd round pick in 2010.  A herniated disc in his back cost him the entire 2009 season, but he roared back with a solid 2010 to profile as the 2nd round pick he ended up being.
  • Nathan Karns, 12th round pick in 2009, RHP from Texas Tech.  Karns was hurt when he got drafted, and didn’t throw a pitch in 2009 or 2010.  He had to have shoulder surgery in June of 2010.  He finally made his pro debut in 2011, and by 2012 was the Nats minor league pitcher of the year after going 11-4 with a 2.17 ERA across low-A and high-A.  By mid 2013 he was making his MLB debut to provide cover for injured starters.   Karns was flipped to Tampa Bay in the Jose Lobaton deal (also bringing back two decent prospects in Felipe Rivero and Drew Vettleson) and spent most of 2014 in Durham (where he took a step back, posting a 9-9 record with a 5.08 ERA in 27 AAA starts).  Verdict: success for the team, given what he helped acquire, even if he’s struggling for Tampa Bay.  (Thanks to commenter JohnC for reminding me to fully list his trade bounty).

(post-posting thanks to NationalsProspect’s Luke Erickson, who provided the Orlan injury link and reminded me of Solis’ back injury during college).

Trade Acquisitions

  • Denard Span, acquired from Minnesota on 11/29/12 for Alex Meyer.  Span missed a huge chunk of the 2011 season after suffering a pretty bad concussion.  He missed a month in 2012 after injuring his shoulder diving for a ball.  So there was some legitimate injury concerns following Span around, though I don’t recall really discussing it at the time.  I didn’t necessarily like the trade when it happened, but that was more because I thought Bryce Harper could be our center fielder for the next decade.  Nonetheless, after struggling for stretches, Span inarguably was worth every cent of his exercised option for 2015, and though this wasn’t *that* big of an injury gamble, it has paid off.  Verdict: Success.
  • Ryan Mattheus was acquired on 7/31/09 from the Rockies for Joe Beimel, just two weeks after he underwent Tommy John surgery.   By mid 2011 he was an effective middle reliever for the team, and contributed a 1.3 bWAR season in 2012 as a good 6th/7th inning right hander.  In 2013 he broke his pitching hand in a fit of pique and basically never recovered; he lost his bullpen spot to Aaron Barrett in 2014 and, being out of options and not really having that great a season in AAA, was released last month.  Verdict: Success, considering what we gave up and considering that he may still be with the organization had he not punched a wall.  (Thanks to commenter Wally for reminding me of the Mattheus acquisition).

Free Agent Signings

  • Dan Haren, 1yr $13M for the 2013 season.  Haren had missed time in 2012 for a back issue, and had taken a huge uncharacteristic step backwards in performance from 2011.  It was enough so that some thought (including me) the Nats were going to get a bounce-back season and a return to his #2 starter form.  Uh, no.  Haren at one point in the 2013 season was the *worst* starter statistically in the league (the team was just 4-11 in his first 15 starts, and he had a 6.15 ERA when he was summarily sent to the D/L with a soft tissue injury that even Haren himself didn’t know he had).  He bounced back enough in the 2nd half to save his statistical season, but the damage was done.  Verdict: failure of a signing, but to be fair I don’t believe Haren’s issues in 2013 were lingering back issues.
  • Chien-Ming Wang.  Signed a combined 3  years of contracts worth $7M from 2010-2012.  He had shoulder surgery in July of 2009.  He missed the whole 2010 season, most of 2011 too.  But he showed *just* enough in the tail end of 2011 to earn a $4M deal for 2012, where he promptly got hammered.  To make matters worse, the guy whose rotation spot he took (Ross Detwiler) was usually the one coming in to relief him and pretty soon it was apparent the team had gone with the wrong horse.   In the end, Wang gave the team 94 innings and 6 wins for his 3 guaranteed contracts.  Verdict: well, a failure, but didn’t hurt the team as they raced to 98 wins in 2012.  Just cost money.
  • Brad Lidge: he missed most of 2011, his final season in Philadelphia, and the Nats took him on a 1yr/$1M flier.  After overcoming sports hernia surgery, Lidge gave up 12 hits and 11 walks in just 9 1/3 innings before being mercifully released, never to play again.  Verdict: failure, but a good gamble.
  • Christian Garcia was picked up as a MLFA in mid 2011 after the Yankees gave up on him following his third elbow surgery in 5 years.  He was un-hittable in our minor league system in 2012 (he gave up just 31 hits in 52 minor league innings that year), was called up and was effective enough to be added to the 2012 post-season roster.  Unfortunately, Garcia’s injury luck did him no favors: he lost all of 2013 to a partial flexor tear in his arm, and never made it back in 2014, eventually being released in June of 2014.  All that promise, just couldn’t stay  healthy.  Verdict: can’t possibly call a MLFA mid-season waiver claim a failure, no matter how little the team got out of him.  Another good gamble.

 

Conclusion: actually Rizzo looks pretty good here.  His draft pickups have mostly worked out; just Purke stands out as a possible loser.  His only real injury-risk trade acquisition worked out.  Haren and Wang were pretty high-visibility failures … but Lidge and Garcia were low-cost risks that had good upside if they worked out.

Did I miss anyone?

http://m.mlb.com/video/?content_id=7189149&topic_id=8080130

2014 Tommy John Post-Mortem

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Jose Fernandez is (arguably) the biggest name to go down to TJ surgery yet.  Photo via thestar.com

Jose Fernandez was (arguably) the biggest name to go down to TJ surgery in 2014. Photo via thestar.com

When we hit 20 MLB pitchers going under the knife for blown Ulnar Collateral Ligaments (UCL) on the 2014 season, I posted on possible reasons for the epidemic.  By the time the season was over, more than 90 players in professional baseball (and a handful of marquee amateurs, including two first round picks and our own) had gone under the knife for blown UCLs/Tommy John surgery.  2014 was the year of the elbow ligament, no question, in terms of volume and awareness.

This post lists all the major league pitchers who had the surgery this year, with links to the announcements as they happened, along with stills of the pitchers’ mechanics to do a quickie thumb nail analysis of mechanics and whether there’s a relationship to the injury. At the bottom i’ve captured any significant news related to the surgery, MLB being proactive in preventing the injuries, and other TJ news.


First, here’s the complete Tommy John fall-out for the year for major league arms.  According to the great injury tracking links below, no less than 91 players in all levels of pro baseball had the surgery in calendar year 2014, of which 29 were MLB-experienced pitchers.

(data from baseballheatmaps.com, which has detailed Disabled List data).

10 of these 29 pitchers are getting the surgery for the 2nd time.  Wow.

Here’s links to other notable non-MLB pitchers who have gotten the surgery as well in 2014:

  • Jamison Taillon: the Pirates #1 pitching prospect and one of the best pitching prospects in the game.  Diagnosed 4/6/14, surgery 4/9/14.
  • Danny Rosenbaum: Nats AAA starter and long-time farmhand.   Surgery 5/8/14.  Tough for Rosenbaum because he’s a MLFA this coming off-season, now facing a very uncertain future.
  • Miguel Sano: one of the best prospects in the minors, had the surgery 3/12/14.  He’s not a pitcher, and he initially injured his arm playing in the Dominican Winter League, but it still costs Minnesota one of its best prospects.
  • Jeff Hoffman, ECU’s right handed starter and consensus top 5 pick in the 2014 draft, hurt his arm and was diagnosed on 5/8/14.  He dropped 5 places from his likely drafting spot by the Cubs at #4, which cost him about $X in slot dollars.   We talked about whether the Nats (picking at #18) were a likely suitor for him at the time of the injury in early May.
  • Erick Fedde, UNLV’s friday starter and projected mid-1st round pick, was diagnosed two days after Hoffman on 5/10/14.  He dropped perhaps 8 places from his estimated drafting spot of mid 1st round and was picked by Washington.  His injury didn’t really cost him much in slot money thanks to the Nats paying over-slot.
  • Our own Matthew Purke, diagnosed and set for TJ surgery 5/29/14 after really struggling out of the gate this year for Harrisburg.   Purke may face an options crunch by the time he’s done re-habbing, thanks to his MLB deal signed on draft-day.  (Update: the Nats never let him get there, releasing him on 11/14/14).
  • Chad Billingsley having flexor tendon surgery while trying to recover from his 2013 TJ surgery.    This isn’t counted as a TJ, but is noteworthy.
  • Not a pitcher, but key Orioles player Matt Wieters had to have TJ surgery on 6/18/14.
  • Matt Cain dodged a bullet by just being diagnosed with elbow chips, but still had season-ending elbow surgery on 8/5/14.
  • Padres uber-prospect and 2012 first rounder Max Fried went under the knife in mid-august.
  • Yu Darvish didn’t fall victim to the TJ surgery, but an elbow issue is shutting him down in late August, just the latest nail in the coffin of the Rangers’ season.
  • Jonathan Mayo discussion on elbow surgeries and prospects from Mid-Late August.

Here’s quickie images of every MLB starter diagnosed this year as they land to make a quick judgement about their mechanics:

VentersJonny landingHefnerJeremy landing

SkaggsTyler landingJonesNate landingChatwoodtyler landingTanakaMasahiro landing

ArroyoBronson landingBurnettSean landingBellTrevor landingWithrowChris landing

PerezMartin_landingCisnerJose landingFernandezJose landingGriffinAJ landing

 

FigueroaPedro landingNovaIvan landingJohnsonJosh landingMooreMatt landing

 

GearrinCory landingParnellBobby landingDavisErik landingHernandezDavid landing

 

MLB: Spring Training-Arizona Diamondbacks at Los Angeles DodgersRondonBruce landingCorbinPatrick landingParkerJarrod landing

BeachyBrandon landingMedlenKris landingHochevarLuke landingLeubkeCory landing2

Quick and Dirty Mechanics analysis (images in same order as list of pitchers above, which is chronological in order of diagnosis in 2014):

  • Inverted W: Hefner, Skaggs, Withrow, Griffin, Nova, Gearrin, Beachy, Hochevar
  • Sideways M: Ventors, Chatwood, Bell, Burnett, Fernandez, Johnson, Davis, Moylan, Rondon, Parker, Medlen
  • Inverted L: Jones, Tanaka, Arroyo, Perez, Cisnero, Figueroa, Moore, Parnell, Hernandez, Corbin, Luebke

Conclusions? None.  They’re all over the road.  TJ injuries this year happened to those thought to have “dangerous” mechanics and clean mechanics.  TJ injuries happened to the league’s harder throwers (Rondon, Ventors, Fernandez) and its softest throwers (Medlen and Arroyo, both of whom are usually at the absolute bottom of the league in terms of fastball velocity).  Starters and relievers, no discernable pattern.

I think all you can conclude is this: if you throw a lot of innings, you’re more prone to injury.  I know, ground breaking analysis.


Other notable/interesting links I’ve collected on the topic over the length of the season:

  • Yahoo’s Tim Brown interviewed Zack Greinke (published 5/15/14)who says he made a conscious decision to throw fewer sliders, noting that he could really feel it in his elbow after starts where he threw too many.  This tends to support the notion that sliders make a difference.
  • Jerry Crasnick interviewed commissioner Bud Selig on 5/15/14 and Selig said he’s “concerned.”  Great!  On a scale of “Resolve Oakland/San Jose territorial rights” concerned to “Resolve MASN dispute” concerned, I wonder where he falls?  Maybe he’ll form a blue-ribbon committee that can meet for several years without arriving at any solutions.
  • Stephania Bell‘s articles on the spate of TJ injuries: from April and again in May.
  • Nate Silver‘s new blog 538 chimes in in mid-may.
  • Neil Weinberg from Peter Gammons‘ website posts his own theory on 5/16/14 that is basically related to the rise in youth/showcase events.
  • Shawn Anderson from the blog HallofVeryGood.com posts his theory (overuse).
  • An older link to Will Carrol from July 2013 talking about the surgery, how its done, who’s had it and some other great stuff.
  • The American Sports Medicine Institute (led by Dr. James Andrewsreleased a statement on 5/28/14 on the issue of Tommy John surgeries (as pointed out by David Schoenfield and/or Craig Calcaterra in late may and/or Jerry Crasnick on the same day).  Their basic point: don’t throw with max effort.
  • Dr. James Andrews announced that he’s releasing an app to help keep pitchers healthy.   Per screen shots, it will be relatively simple and will have pitch counts, age and rest days calculate a max number of pitchers that a player can throw today.
  • An interesting analysis of Kansas City’s Yordano Ventura after he was diagnosed with a non-UCL related elbow injury in May.
  • Thoughtful piece from Dirk Hayhurst about the quest for velocity and the value of soft-throwers like Mark Buehrle.
  • Danny Knobler special piece to the BleacherReport in June 2014 discussing “child abuse” of kids over-throwing, throwing too much, too hard, too soon.
  • A sleeve has been announced that may help prevent TJ injuries (its called the Motus Pitcher Sleeve).  Dirk Hayhurst subsequently did some research and interviews about the sleeve and offers some thoughts.
  • CBS’s Jon Heyman breaks the news that #1 overall pick Brady Aiken may have an “elbow ligament issue,” thus holding up the signing.  Wow.  As we all know, this turned into a big-time stalemate, the non-signing of Aiken (which cascaded down and cost the Astros their 5th round pick too), possible grievances, possible lawsuits, all sorts of NCAA eligibility concerns, and a whole big black-mark for the Astros organization.  All over $1.5M.  Remember; this is the same team that gave $30M last off-season to 5th starter Scott Feldman.
  • There was a two hour special on the injury on MLB Radio Networks on 7/17/14 that I hope they replay or transcribe to the internet.
  • Bud Selig still awaits the Tommy John study in Mid July 2014.  If its anything like his other blue-ribbon panels, he’ll be waiting a long time.
  • Discussion about youths with UCL/TJ injuries in USA Today on 7/23/14.
  • Study from USA Today on how prep pitchers are avoiding TJ.
  • MLB unveils “Pitch Smart” guide in Mid November to help youth’s understand workloads.  Also discussed by Jeff Passan.

Hope you’ve found this trove of TJ links as interesting as I have.

TJ Surgery epidemic: upbringing, showcases and mechanics

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Jose Fernandez is (arguably) the biggest name to go down to TJ surgery yet.  Photo via thestar.com

Jose Fernandez is (arguably) the biggest name to go down to TJ surgery yet. Photo via thestar.com

Its the biggest story in baseball so far in 2014.   We’ve had nearly 20 MLB pitchers get diagnosed with torn elbow ligaments so far this calendar year.  All of them have or are set to undergo “Tommy John” surgery (also known as ulnar collateral ligament/UCL replacement surgery).  That’s nearly as many as who got the surgery ALL of 2013 and we’re just 6 weeks into the season.  There’s an alarming trend upwards over just the past few seasons of pitchers getting this surgery.  There’s been plenty more minor leaguers (two Nats farmhands in Erik Davis and Danny Rosenbaum have already gotten it in 2014) and already a couple of very high-profile draft prospects as well (including as discussed in this space potential 1st rounders Jeff Hoffman and Erick Fedde just in the last week).

Lots of people are talking about this story, especially some heavy-weights in the baseball world.  A sampling:

  • Dr. James Andrews, perhaps the most famous sports doctor in the world, attributes the growing trend to the rise in year-round baseball competition in the US.
  • SI.com’s Jay Jaffe reviews Dr. Andrews comments and had other excellent stats about the trend in this April 2014 piece.
  • The Washington Post’s Dave Sheinin did an excellent piece in the paper a few weeks ago about the injury, which he attributes to youth usage.
  • Tom Verducci (he of the “Verducci effect”) proposed a solution in a column this week after the Jose Fernandez announcement.  His idea?  Lowering the mound across all levels of the sport.  He draws this conclusion after hosting a very interesting round-table on MLB Network.
  • Jayson Stark teamed up with ESPN injury analyst Stephania Bell and former player Alex Cora to discuss the rise in arm injuries in this ESPN.com video, and they follow Andrews’ theory of year-round pitching.
  • Chris O’Leary, king of the Inverted-W (whether you believe his theories or not, I’ve included this link here) has his own theories as discussed here.  He doesn’t really have much in the way of explanation, just more whining about how every pitcher’s mechanics has something you can complain about.
  • Jeff Passan basically calls out baseball executives for not having any answers.
  • If you want an index of all of ESPN.com’s stories on the topic, click here.  It will have columns, analysis and press releases for individuals getting the surgery.

Some interesting stats about Tommy John surgery:

So what the heck is going on??  Lets talk about some theories.  I’ll highlight them in Blue.

The new “hot theory” is essentially this: Over-throwing at Showcase events, which have become crucial scouting events for kids raised in the United States, are to blame.  Thanks to the rise in travel leagues and select teams, scouts spend less time sitting at high school games and more time at these all-star events.  To prescribers of this theory, it isn’t so much about the amount of innings or pitches that kids throw … its the nature of the “showcase” events and the high pressure situations that those events put kids under.  Kids are throwing year-round, and they’re ramping up max-effort pitches at national competitions multiple times per year, and in some cases out of “season.”  This leads to serious damage to kids’ arms done as 16 and 17 yr olds, which then manifests itself over the years and results in blown ligaments in pro ball.

Do you buy this explanation?  It certainly makes sense to me, but how do you prove this?  And, it doesn’t explain the similar rise in elbow injuries to non-American pitchers.

Is it less about the showcase events and more about the Larger Increase in Youth pitched innings thanks to the rise in Travel Leagues?   This theory also makes some sense to me: thirty years ago kids played an 18-20 game spring Little League season, at best would pitch half those games and that was it.  Maybe they played in the fall too, but there were specific innings limits in place that protected kids.  Now instead of playing limited spring and fall seasons, kids are playing AAU travel teams that play 40-50 games a summer, plus weekend tournaments, plus (eventually) the above showcase events as they get closer to matriculation.  This theory certainly is supported by a startling rise in youth arm injuries, as noted in this 2010 study by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

But, if its “bad” to play more baseball … then shouldn’t we be seeing even MORE injuries from players who grew up in third-world baseball hot beds like the Dominican Republic or Venezuela, where by all accounts kids play baseball from sun-up to sun-down 12 months out of the year in tropical climates?

Interestingly, of the list of 19 MLB players so far who have been diagnosed with a torn UCL (see next section), there’s 4 non-American developed pitchers (Rondo, Nova, Figueora, Cisnero).  4 of 19 = 21%, whereas about 22% of MLB pitchers are non-American developed (my 22% figure comes from this quick study that I did; I grabbed every active MLB pitcher as of early May 2014 and did a quick-and-dirty player upbringing analysis to determine that about 78% of players “grew up” in the current American system of player development).  It is small sample size … but the percentage of american versus foreign developed players are so far exactly in line with the total percentage of each type of player in the larger pool of MLB pitchers.  This doesn’t seem to support either of the two above theories.

We’ve all heard horror stories about pitch counts and pitcher abuse at  high school events in Japan (this came to light over the winter as we looked at Masahiro Tanaka and learned about these Japanese showcase events; this article here at thebiglead.com talks about one Japanese prospect’s 772 pitches thrown over 9 days, and Jeff Passan talked about Tanaka’s own pitch count abuse stories and his average pitch counts as a Japanese-league pro).   Unfortunately there’s not a ton of data available about this TJ theory and Japanese pitchers.  I can find a couple of instances of Asian pitchers getting the surgery (Kyuji Fujikawa in 2012 being the most recent example), but not enough to establish any trends.

But lets state it this way: you can’t have things both ways.  Both these stereotypes about player upbringing cannot be true:

  • Latin American poor youth plays baseball from sun up to sun down 12 months a year, building arm strength constantly, therefore his arm is “stronger” and he’s less suceptible to injury
  • American little leaguer plays limited schedules (18 games in the spring, perhaps fewer in the fall), has closely monitored pitch counts, therefore does not abuse his arm as a youth and thus his arm is “stronger” later in life as a result.

Here’s a list of the 19 MLB pitchers who have already gone under the TJ knife so far in 2014 (data from baseballheatmaps.com, which has detailed Disabled List data).

Of these 19 pitchers, they are evenly split between being starters (10) and relievers (9).  So that doesn’t seem to lend itself to any Starter vs Reliever usage conclusion.

How about Pitching Mechanics?  We’ve all heard ad-naseum about the “Inverted W” and people talking about pronation and timing and elbow lift and etc etc.  Here’s a quick attempt to analyize the mechanics of each of these 19 guys (all photos grabbed as thumbnails from google images for the purposes of demonstration; no copyright infringement intended).

CisnerJose landingFernandezJose landingGriffinAJ landingFigueroaPedro landing

 

NovaIvan landingJohnsonJosh landingMooreMatt landingGearrinCory landing

 

ParnellBobby landingDavisErik landingHernandezDavid landingMLB: Spring Training-Arizona Diamondbacks at Los Angeles Dodgers

 

RondonBruce landingCorbinPatrick landingParkerJarrod landingBeachyBrandon landing

 

MedlenKris landingHochevarLuke landingLeubkeCory landing2

Quick and Dirty Mechanics analysis (images in same order as list of pitchers above, which is choronological in order of diagnosis in 2014):

  • Inverted W: Griffin, Nova, Gearrin, Beachy, Hochevar
  • Sideways M: Fernandez, Johnson, Davis, Moylan, Rondon, Parker, Medlen
  • Inverted L: Cisnero, Figueroa, Moore, Parnell, Hernandez, Corbin, Luebke

But I’ll immediately add a caveat to these classifications; at various stop-points in a guy’s delivery, he may exhibit “good” or “bad” trends.   Maybe some of these “sideways-M” guys are actually “inverted-W” guys.  Maybe some of these inverted-W guys are ok and the stills make their mechanics seem worse than they are.

Nonetheless; there’s no trend among the 19 guys in terms of their mechanics.  In some cases they’re “bad” (Griffin and Gearrin’s look awful) but in some cases excellent (nobody should look at Moore’s mechanics and say they’re anything but clean, nor with Parnell or Corbin).  These pitchers are overhanders, 3/4-slot guys and even side-armers/submarine guys (Gearrin and Moylan).   These guys include hard throwers (Rondon had the 3rd highest velocity of *any* pitcher in 2013) and softer-throwing guys (Medlen had one of the lowest fastball velocities in the majors in 2013).  There’s starters and relievers almost equally represented in this list.

Conclusion; there’s no conclusions to draw from pitching mechanics analysis.  I think all attempts to look at guys’ mechanics and make judgements are useless.  I think (as does Keith Law and other pundits in the field) that the “Inverted W” is nonesense and that “research” posted online by concerned-fathers-turned-self-appointed-mechanics-experts is not exactly trustworthy.  The fact of the matter is this: throwing a baseball over and over is hard on the body.  Throwing a ball is an unnatural motion, and throwing a ball at max-effort will eventually lead to pitching injuries, no matter what your mechanics.  They can be “good” or “bad” according to someone’s pet theory on bio-mechanics and it has nothing to do about whether a pitcher is going to throw 10 seasons without injury or have two tommy johns before they’re 25.

Some historical context for pitching mechanics arguments: the pitcher who has the 2nd most innings thrown in the non-knuckleballer modern era (behind Nolan Ryan) was Don Sutton.  Sutton displayed absolutely *classic* inverted-W mechanicsnever hit the D/L in his career and threw nearly 5,300 innings over the course of 23 seasons.   Walter Johnson‘s mechanics were awful; he slung the ball sideways as he literally pushed backwards away from the hitter at the end of his delivery.  If someone saw Johnson’s mechanics today they’d talk about how over-compensated he was on his shoulder and how he lost velocity thanks to landing stiff and having zero follow through.  Johnson only threw 5,900 innings in his pro career; yeah those mechanics really held him back.  Nolan Ryan was a freak of nature, throwing at that velocity for as long as he did.  The point?  You just don’t know.


Maybe there’s something to the “showcase abuse” theory for some players.   Maybe there’s something to the travel-ball overuse theory for some kids.  But I think the answer may be a bit more simple.  We all know there’s been a rise in the average MPH of fastballs in the majors, both on starters and especially with relievers.  My theory is simply this: kids who “can” throw upper 90s spend all their time trying to throw upper 90s/max effort fastballs 100% of the time, and human arms just cannot withstand that kind of abuse over and over.  In prior generations, kids who “could” throw that hard wouldn’t, or would rarely try to throw that hard, and thus suffered fewer elbow injuries.

Side note: I also firmly believe that we’re “victims of our own success” to a certain extent with respect to modern medicine; 30 years ago would someone have just “blown out their arm” instead of being diagnosed specifically with a “torn ulnar collateral ligament?”  Would some kid in the low minors who hurt his harm even bother to get an MRI?  How much of the rise in these injuries is simply the fact that we’re better at diagnosing injuries in the modern sports world?

Why are these kids trying to throw so hard these days?  Because velocity is king, and that’s what scouts look for.   A kid who “only” throws mid 80s as a 17-yr old is dismissed, while the kid who can throw mid 90s at the same age is fawned over.   Guys like Greg MaddoxMark Buehrle, and Tom Glavine probably don’t even get drafted in the modern baseball climate thanks to the over-focus on pure velocity.

You can talk about upbringing and showcase events and pitch counts and mechanics all you want, but I think it comes down to Pitcher over-exertion thanks to the rising trend of fastball velocity and the human nature urge of prospects and farm-hands to show more and more velocity so they can advance their careers.

What do you guys think?  Do you dismiss the “inverted-W” arguments like I do?  Do you think its all about showcase events?

Fantastic Verducci article on the staggering rise of pitching injuries

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Matt Moore  becomes the 20th TJ surgery so far this year.  Photo AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez via baynews9.com

Matt Moore becomes the 20th TJ surgery so far this year. Photo AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez via baynews9.com

If you havn’t read the latest Tom Verducci article, please do so.  It has some great facts related to the rise in pitching velocity, driven by the rise of travel-league baseball and the overuse of kids’ arms as youth pitchers in show-cases (a completely new and “American” development system, he adds, in that just one of the 20 Tommy John surgeries suffered so far this year was on a non-american hurler).  At least 1/3rd of MLB pitchers have now had the surgery and it seems like that number will only rise.

This past weekend, there was a rather large uproar in the scouting ranks when NC State’s phenom Carlos Rodon was pushed back out on the mound so that he could throw pitches #119 through #134 on the night for his under-performing college team that looks like it may miss the post-season after being ranked in the pre-season top 5 by most publications.  And with good reason; the studies Verducci found show that kids have something like a 36-fold increase in pitching injuries when they throw after reaching a fatigue state.  If i’m Houston, Miami, or one of the Chicago teams … i’m looking long and hard at Rodon right now anyway (he’s regressed badly this spring and has fallen out of the 1-1 discussion), and having him throw 130+ pitches when that’s only happened a few times in the past few years in the pros would scare me.  You’re committing multiple millions of dollars there; you want damaged goods?

Scary stuff, especially if you have a kid out there who’s looking like he’s a stud and is getting a ton of pressure to play multiple travel schedules.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/mlb/news/20140415/tommy-john-surgery-high-school-pitchers-jameson-taillon/index.html

Written by Todd Boss

April 16th, 2014 at 1:29 pm

Ask Boswell 3/24/14 edition

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Should this man be on this team?  Photo Nats official 2014 via rantsports.com

Should this man be on this team? Photo Nats official 2014 via rantsports.com

Despite there being just a scant week until games start … i’m at a loss for content here!  Fear not; Mr. Tom Boswell always chats on mondays.  Here’s the 3/24/14 edition.  This was a monster chat; he took questions for 3.5 hours.

Q: Steven Souza just had a monster spring: Does he need a year at Syracuse or can the Nats use him now?

A: Some guys here love Steven Souza.  But he’s an outfielder in a system that already has 5 multi-million dollar outfielders under contract, so he’s not going to break camp with the team.  He’s  yet to play above AA and could use some seasoning against the near-MLB quality AAA starters.  But the Nats didn’t put him on the 40-man roster for the heck of it; you have to think he’s going to feature this year to cover for injuries.  He needs some positional flexibility.  He’s listed as a third baseman as well; another position we don’t really need any cover for right now.  Souza’s problem is that he’s a corner player (LF/RF/3B/1B) on a team with a bunch of them already.  So he’s going to have to out-hit a starter to get ABs.  Boswell says the same thing I do about not ever playing above AA.  Lets see how he does in upstate NY in April.

Q: Is Moore going to lose out on his spot to Peterson?

A: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if a guy already is on the 40-man (Tyler Moore), then the odds of someone who is NOT currently on our (full) 40-man (aka Brock Peterson) beating out an established 40-man player AND dislodging an existing guy off the 40-man roster seems rather remote.  Besides, are we even sure Moore is making the 25-man roster at this point?  The team already has 5 OFers and needs another guy who can play middle infield, not a guy who can only play a corner.   Peterson is a 1B/OF type, much as Moore is.  Maybe this is all a precursor towards moving Moore to a team that covets him (Houston).  Boswell agrees that Moore is “on the bubble” and then notes that 1B competition after LaRoche is gone will be quite interesting.

[Interlude: someone asked a question about what “Cybermetrics” was.  WAR, OPS and WHIP].  Boswell answered it well, getting in his own dig at WAR while he was at it.

Q: Will Lobaton’s throwing arm add to an already-weak area?

A: Maybe; but I’m not sweating the throwing arm mechancis of our once-a-week catcher.  I’m more worried about whether Doug Fister is going to be ready for 4/1.  Boswell points out that Lobaton’s pitch framing is one of the best … and that if your backup catcher has just one weakness then you’re doing a-ok.  

Q: Who’s the 5th starter going to be?

A: Now I’m flip-flopping again, trying to read the tea-leaves, and I’m guessing Taylor Jordan wins it.  Ironically it will come down to Tanner Roark‘s flexibility; he’ll head to the pen to be the 7th man and he’ll be happy about it.  If Roark were to win the spot, Jordan would be heading to AAA to keep starting and we’d be basically auditioning a kid in the #7 spot (since it seems like Ryan Mattheus is heading to the D/L and Christian Garcia just hasn’t shown he’s got the stuff).  I’m ok with this configuration.   Boswell uses my previous arguments in saying that Roark deserves it and should have it on merit.  We’ll see.  

Q: Are you worried about the back of the Nats bullpen with Storen and Soriano’s shaky spring training stats?

A: Yes.  Short Sample Sizes, Spring Training stats, blah blah.  Soriano has looked awful, Storen not much better.  The Bullpen was the weakest part of this team last year and these guys are making too much coin to be just so-so.  Problem is, if Soriano blows a bunch of saves and loses the closer job, you might as well just release him because his non-closer splits show what a moper he can be.  This is an area to keep an eye on early in the season.  Boswell seems to think Soriano will be fine but worries about Storen.

Q: Are the Nationals vindicated in “Shutdown gate” now that Medlen is going in for a second TJ?

A: Phew,  I tell you this is a topic I’ve avoided because I want to keep my blood pressure down.  But others have certainly chimed in on it (Ted Leavengood at Seamheads.com opined on 3/18/14, as did Thom Loverro in the WashingtonTimes on 3/13/14 and Rantsports.com’s less than cordial website posted its own opinion in the same timeframe).  You’ll notice that nowhere in this list are the blowhards at NBCSports’ HardballTalk, some of the more loud and ardent critics of the Nationals 2012 decisions.  I wonder why; its like it is in the Newspaper business; nobody notices when you print a retraction of a 20-point headline and bury it on page 12 a few days later; all people remember is the headline.

I think honestly my opinion is in line iwth Loverro’s; we won’t really know if the Strasburg plan or the Medlen plan is really “the best” course of action until both guys are retired.  If Strasburg breaks down again, he’ll be in the same place as Medlen.  Yes the Nats plan looks better now that we have Strasburg going on opening day and the Braves will be lucky to have Medlen back and healthy this time next year.  But it still doens’t prove anything about pitcher mechanics and proclivity to injury (another topic that makes my blood boil; people just spouting off internet theories about biomechanics and presenting themselves as experts on the topic … another topic for another day).

An important note from another questioner on the same topic: all four guys going in for their 2nd TJ surgery this spring (Medlen, Brandon BeachyPatrick Corbin and Jarrod Parker had their first TJ surgery AFTER both Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann‘s surgeries.  The Nats approach seems to be more and more vindicated by the year.

Boswell doesn’t really bite at the offer to say “I told you so” but offers a link to a paper at NIH on the topic.

Q: Does Espinosa beat out Rendon?

A: No.  Yes Espinosa is superior defensively; you don’t need the second coming of Mark Belanger at second.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Did Rick Shue really make that big of a difference on this team?

A: Looking at splits both pre- and post- Rick Eckstein/Rick Shue hiring/firing, you would be inclined to say yes.  Was this causation or correlation?  Who knows.  Boswell doesn’t address the second part of a two-part question.

Q: Is the game of baseball headed for disaster thanks to big market dominance, over-emphasis on the teams in the 4 biggest cities and declining popularity?

A: I sense this questioner has a bit of bias.  Yes baseball’s ratings are miniscule when compared to Football’s; ask yourself how Football’s ratings would look if there was a game every night.  Baseball attendance dwarfs any other sport and is rising.  There’s national emphasis on “national” teams sure … but I’ve heard cogent, well put arguments that baseball itself is now basically a regional sport.  A strong sport with strong local ties that don’t translate nation-wide.  As compared to the NFL, where if the superbowl is Green Bay vs New England people tune in because they associate those teams with their star quarterbacks, not with their geography.

The thing that I worry about is the incredible revenue disparities we’re starting to see.  I do believe that the RSN monies that large market teams are pulling in will eventually give way to some sort of small-market owner revolt as the playoffs become the same teams year after year.  Sort of like what we see in European Soccer leagues.  Nobody wants to see that.

Boswell notes some stats about attendance, calls the game booming and also repeats my “regional points.”

Q: How important at the two early-season series versus Atlanta (April 4-6 at home and then April 11-13 away)?

A: I’d like to be a cynic and say something pithy like, “a game on April 5th counts the same in the standings as a game on September 30th.”  But in this case, I think a new manager, a weakened rival and a team that got its *ss handed to them last year by Atlanta will want to make a statement.  It could be damaging if the Braves somehow come in here and take 2 of 3.  Boswell does talk about the opportunity to put pressure on the Braves early.

Q: Is this the year Strasburg puts it all together?

A: It seems like it; he’s in the same place Zimmermann was in 2013 in terms of surgery recovery; I’d love to see him win 20 games.  Boswell drinks the kool-aid and then points out the excellent Adam Kilgore piece in the WP a few days ago on Strasburg; its worth a read.

Q: Who do you think has the most upside between Brian Goodwin, Eury Perez and Michael Taylor? Are the Nats still high on Destin Hood? 

A: A prospect question!  I’d go Goodwin, Taylor then Perez at this point. But if Goodwin plateaus again this summer Taylor will surpass him.  I think Perez has peaked as a late-innings defensive replacement/pinch runner at this point and may be trade-able/DFA able sooner than later.  Hood’s time with the organization is running out; he’s entering his 7th minor league season after hitting just .224 with no power in AA last year.  I’m thinking he’ll repeat and then hit free agency.  Too bad.  Boswell doesn’t sound like he likes any of these guys.

Q: Between the Morse trade (Cole, Krol, Treinen), the Guzman trade (Roark), and the Capps trade (Ramos), plus a few others, it seems like the Nats have made some really good trades. Umm, please tell me that the people who scouted these players before any of us had heard of them are well compensated.

A: Yeah, the Nats pro scouting squad has definitely done some great work as of late.   Boswell notes that scouts are not paid a ton … but that the Nats raided other teams for quality guys by giving them more respect and input in this org.  

Q: Every year the number of pitchers requiring Tommy John surgery seems to be higher than the year before. It has to be clear at this point that the innings limit (alone) is not the answer. When does baseball finally figure this out?

A: Well, what’s the answer then?  You can look at literally every pitcher and find a fault or two with his mechanics; this guy has the “inverted W,” this guy subluxes his shoulder, this guy’s arm isn’t in the right position when he lands, this guy’s arm is too high, this guy’s arm is too low.  Nobody can define what “perfect mechanics” are.  I started pulling up video/images of the career MLB leaders of innings pitched and, guess what, those guys don’t have perfect mechanics either.  Don Sutton?  7th all-time in baseball IP and basically 2nd if you take out knuckleballers and dead-ball guys … and he has a perfect inverted-W in his motion.

What is the answer?  I wish I knew; i’d be the most in-demand pitching consultant on the planet.  When fully 1/3rd of major league pitchers have had Tommy John surgery, and that numbers seems to be rising, maybe the answer is found by looking at the evolving role of pitchers.  Velocity is king now: 30 years ago if someone threw 90 it was special; now its mediocre.  Relievers especially; think about how power arms in the bullpen are coveted now.  Is it possible that the answer to all these arm issues is simply that guys are just trying to throw too hard these days?  That’s not much of an answer though.  We can talk about youth development, over-throwing as kids, AAU/travel leagues and 10year olds going from playing 18-20 little league games to 45 travel-league games a year.  But I’m not sure that’s entirely it; baseball recruits from the Dominican Republic basically did nothing for years except play sand-lot baseball from sun-up to sun-down and that doesn’t seem to affect their longer term injuries….

Or does it?   I wonder if there’s any correlation to the “nature” of a players youth development versus future injury?  American system versus Japanese versus a developing latino country like Venezuela/Puerto Rico or the D.R.?  Excellent post topic.

Boswell totally punts on the question; maybe since there’s no real answer.

Q: Given what Souza has been doing lately, should we focus less on “age appropriateness” in the minors?

A: No.  I think Souza is the exception, not the rule.   If you’re in  your mid 20s and you’ve yet to succeed beyond high A … that’s pretty indicative of what your ceiling may be.  Simple as that.  Boswell points out that Roark is 27 and is a classic “late bloomer.”

Q: Does the news that Scherzer and Desmond declined long-term deals portend eventual trouble for the likes of Strasburg and Harper?

A: No; i think those guys were already going to be trouble.  What’s the common denominator here?  Two words: Scott Boras.  Scherzer == Boras client.  Strasburg?  same.  Harper?  Same.  Desmond isn’t a Boras client but he’s gotta be looking at some of the monster SS deals out there and saying, I’m going to hit the FA market to see what’s out there.  Can’t blame him.  The 2016 off-season is going to be an interesting one for this team.  Boswell mentions the Elvis Andrus contract, as I have many times, as a game-changer for Desmond.

 

 

DC-IBWAA Poll results and my vote

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http://dc-ibwaa.blogspot.com/2013/10/dc-internet-baseball-writers.html
David Nichols does a great job getting all the Nats bloggers to participate in pre-season and post-season polls.  He got 18 voters this time around.  The link above is the results of the post-season poll.  Here’s his post-season survey questions, the poll results and how I answered them and why.

2013 DC-Internet Baseball Writers Association

POST-SEASON ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS BALLOT

 AWARD FIRST (5 POINTS) SECOND (3 points) THIRD (1 point)
Goose Goslin Most Valuable PlayerPlayer most valuable to the success of the Washington Nationals Werth Desmond Harper
Walter Johnson Starting Pitcher of the YearExcellent performance as a starting pitcher Zimmermann Strasburg Gonzalez
Frederick “Firpo” Marberry Relief Pitcher of the YearExcellent performance as a relief pitcher Clippard Stammen Roark
Sam Rice Hitter of the YearExcellence in all-around hitting, situational hitting and baserunning Desmond Span Harper
Frank Howard Slugger of the YearExcellence in power hitting Werth Harper Zimmerman
Joe Judge Defensive Player of the YearExcellence in fielding Span Desmond Espinosa
Mickey Vernon Comeback Player of the YearPlayer who overcame biggest obstacle in the preceding season to contribute on the field Jordan Ramos Werth
Josh Gibson Humanitarian Player of the YearPlayer who meritoriously gave of himself to the community Zimmerman
Minor League Player of the YearMinor league player most destined for big league success

 

Jordan 

Giolito

Burns 

Cole

Souza 

Godwin

  • Goose Goslin Most Valuable Player: Werth, Desmond, Zimmermann.  I went Werth, Desmond and Harper.  I don’t like voting pitchers for MVP; they have their own awards :-)
  • Walter Johnson Starting Pitcher of the Year: Zimmermann, Strasburg, Gonzalez: Same way I voted.  I do like the few side-votes for Roark.
  • Frederick “Firpo” Marberry Relief Pitcher of the Year : Clippard, Stammen, Soriano: I voted Clippard, Stammen and then Roark.  Honestly I did not think Soriano really did that great a job this year.  He had a 0.9 WAR for his $15M salary (with deferred payments).  That just doesn’t cut it for me for a high-end closer.  I want Craig Kimbrel-esque dominance for that kind of money.  Roark on the other hand had a 2.0 bWAR in his limited time on the team.
  • Sam Rice Hitter of the Year: Werth, Desmond, Zimmerman.  I went Desmond, Span, Harper.  I dunno; I guess I got caught up on the definition, which included “baserunning” and “situational” hitting.  I think I just plain forgot how good a season Werth had here.
  • Frank Howard Slugger of the Year: Werth, Harper, Zimmerman: same way as I voted.  Maybe we should have put more thought into it besides just listing the team leaders in  homers.
  • Joe Judge Defensive Player of the Year: Span, Desmond, Ramos.  I went Span, Desmond and Espinosa.  Despite how bad his bat was, Espinosa was still awfully good in the field.  You always forget about the catchers when rating defenders.  I’m guilty here.
  • Mickey Vernon Comeback Player of the Year: Ramos, Werth, Ohlendorf.  I went Jordan, Ramos and Werth.  Remember, Jordan had Tommy John surgery and was buried in high-A to start the season.  That’s a heck of a comeback.  Fair enough on Ramos after his kidnapping ordeal and his injuries.
  • Josh Gibson Humanitarian Player of the Year: Zimmerman, Desmond, Gonzalez.  Honestly I only voted for Zimmerman; do the rest of these guys do events?  Maybe i’m just unaware of what the rest of the team is doing in the charity world, but clearly Zimmerman’s MS causes is well known.
  • Minor League Player of the Year : Giolito, Rendon, Cole: I voted Giolito, Cole and Goodwin, thinking that Rendon was “graduated.”  I have two lines of players because I wasn’t sure how to answer the question at first; was it “3 best prospects” or “3 best minor league players THIS season?”  Because the answer to the latter question clearly is not the same as the answer to the former question.

Survey Questions
1. Which players on the 40-man roster at the end of the season are least likely to return in 2010?    

I said Cedeno, Haren, Ohlendorf, Tracy (which were the top four answers among all the responses) but i’d like to change my mind on Ohlendorf.   I think the team is going to tender him and keep him around as a long man, considering that he can’t refuse an option until mid-next year.  I also think a couple of these random guys picked up on waivers late in the season (Tyler Robinson and Mauro Gomez) may not stick around for the long haul.  These two guys in particular never even got numbers assigned to them.

2. Will the Nats sign Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann to long-term contract extensions before they reach free agency? 

I said “Desmond yes, Zimmermann maybe.”  Honestly, I feel the team can replace Zimmermann from within and may be better served to flip him for prospects if his price tag gets too high.  At some point the Nats are going to have to make tough choices like this (they are not going to be able to give 9-figure deals to everyone on this team who deserves them) in order to maintain their core group and contine to compete.  You already have two 9-figure deals, and you have to think that Desmond, Harper and Strasburg are going to merit them.  can you have a team with that much top-heavy payroll?  Now, if you got Zimmerman for Gonzalez prices (5  yrs $50M or so) then you have yourself a deal.

3. What player was the biggest surprise for the Nats this season?

I went with with Jordan, Roark, Werth.   The group went with Roark, Werth, Jordan.

4. Who was the biggest disappointment?

I went with Haren, Span, LaRoche.  The group went with Haren, Espinosa, Span.  Maybe I didn’t include Espinosa because I already had my doubts on him; frankly he didn’t disappoint me, he met my low expectations for him in 2014.

5. Who is your favorite professional Nats writer?

I went with Mark Zuckerman.  The survey results went Kilgore, Comak, Zuckerman and Wagner.  Coincidentally bon voyage to Comak, who is leaving The Washington Times Nats beat.

6. Who is your favorite non-professional Nationals writer?

I went with Luigi de Guzman, writer of the blog Natstradamus.  He doesn’t write that frequently, but when he does they’re usually thoughtful, well researched opinion pieces.  Though that’s no slight to Luke Erickson at Nationalsprospects.com, whose blog I absolutely depend on to write this blog.  I also really like Ryan Sullivan‘s NatsGM blog and its focus on prospects.  Generally speaking my preference in reading baseball writing on the internet leans towards opinion pieces.  I know that lots of blogs out there try to be replacement newspaper writers/beat reporters.  That’s not what excites me.  I want to see opinion pieces, criticism where criticism is due, etc.  Harper Gordek at Nationals Baseball is one that definitely writes opinion pieces and I look forward to his stuff too.  Unfortunately a lot of these guys have retired (Steven Biel, Chris Needham in particular were always good for a scathing piece when the team deserved it).  I know there’s a couple others out there who write good opinion pieces that i’m forgetting.

Yours truly got one vote!  That’s awesome, to whichever fellow blogger voted for me.

 

 

Season Statistical Review of all Nats 2012 draft picks

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Lucas Giolito still leads the line of the Nats 2012 draft class. Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

Lucas Giolito still leads the line of the Nats 2012 draft class. Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

I recently did a John Sickels style review of all our 2013 draft picks.  And I thought it’d be fun to do the same for our 2012 draft class one year in (see here for the 2012 version of the post).  Lets check in to see how these guys are doing in their 2nd pro seasons.

As always; the Big Board and the Draft Tracker are the two best Nats prospect resources out there.   Thanks SpringfieldFan for doing all that you do.  Stats are pulled from milb.com and fangraphs.com and are current as of the end of the regular minor league seasons.

Finally, at the end of each writeup i’ll put in a color coded trending line (my own opinion) for the player: Green for Trending Up, Blue for Trending steady, red for Trending Down.  


Round 1: (#16 overall) Lucas Giolito HS RH Starting pitcher: 2-1, 1.94 ERA with 39/14 k/bb in 36 2/3 innings, 28 hits mostly in the GCL.  All Nats prospect fans should know of Giolito’s status these days; he has come back from surgery, pitched effectively in the rookie league and was lights out in 3 starts in short-A (one run conceded in 14 innings).  Per comments and scouting reports his velocity is back, he seems healthy, and he could be just a season away from being breathlessly talked about as one of the best prospects in the game.  Should feature in full-season ball (likely starting in low-A with an eye for finishing in high-A) in 2014.  Trending Up.

Round 2(80) Tony Renda, Coll Jr 2B: .294/.380/.405 with 3 homers, 68 walks, 65 Ks in 521 ABs at Hagerstown.  Also was 30 for 36 on the basepaths.   Those are solid full season numbers.  I like that Renda makes a lot of contact; a K rate of just 12% on the year isn’t too bad.  Renda was a young college draftee (he turned 22 in January of this year), so he isn’t necessarily “too old” for Hagerstown.  He will continue to move up the food chain in 2014.  Trending Up.

Round 3(111) Brett Mooneyham, Coll Jr LH starting pitcher: 10-6, 3.19 ERA with 85/54 k/bb in 104 1/3 innings, 67 hits mostly for Hagerstown.  I was worried when Mooneyham couldn’t break the high-A roster, given his age and draft day pedigree.  He started out strong, endured a D/L stint, then dominated towards the end of the season, forcing a promotion.  In high-A?  Not so great; he had three awful starts to close out the season.  Mooneyham continues to “look” like a better pitcher than his numbers; he’s too wild, he doesn’t miss as many bats as you like, but he gets the job done (well, in low-A anyway).  Clearly he’s going to be in the Potomac Rotation for 2014; lets see how he does.  But i’m beginning to question his true “ceiling” in this organization; is he going to top out like a Danny Rosenbaum, a mediocre AAA starter?  Trending Steady.

Round 4: (144) Brandon Miller Coll Sr Corner OF: .255/.317/.457 with 20 homers, 41 walks, 164 strikeouts in 505 at bats splite between Hagerstown and Potomac.   His statline seemed to feature as a power hitting corner outfielder in Hagerstown: 18 homers in 103 games, a homer every 22 at-bats or so.  But then in Potomac he’s hit .300 with a .350 OBP and just two homers in 110 at-bats.  It could be a case of being slightly old for low-A: he turns 24 in a month’s time.  Either way, he really needs to cut down on the K’s; 164/505 equates with nearly a 33% strike-out rate.  That’s going to catch up to him unless he starts hitting 40 homers instead of 20.  Otherwise, he’s done nothing to jeopardize his continued rise up the system for 2014.  Trending Steady.

Round 5: (174) Spencer Kieboom, Coll Jr C: 6 at-bats in 4 games for the GCL Nats in late August; a lost season for Kieboom due to Tommy John surgery undergone in early 2013.  Since he’s not a pitcher, he returned to the field in less than a year’s time.  But he’s lost a year of development and now will compete with 2012 draftee catchers such as Geoff Parrott and rising DSL grads like Pedro Severino for playing time in the full-season A-ball teams in 2014.   Trending Down.

Round 6: (204) Hayden Jennings, HS OF/CF: .248/.313/.343 with 0 homers, 11 walks, 48 Ks in 137 at-bats while repeating the GCL in 2013.  Jennings struggled in his rookie league pro debut in 2012 and repeated the level, improving his OPS nearly 200 points.  He has improve upon a horrible strikeout rate but still is striking out 35% of the time.  That’s really not a good sign for the leadoff/CF guy he seems to project as right now; he needs to show a much higher OBP, put more balls in play, and do more on the basepaths (12 SBs in 44 games).   I think he gets moved up for 2014, but may really struggle in full-season ball.  Trending down.

Round 7(234) Robert Benincasa, Coll Jr. RH relief pitcher: 0-5 with 27 saves, 3.00 ERA with 64/14 K/BB in 51 IP, 45 hits split between Hagerstown and Potomac.  Benincasa has settled into a closer role, getting 10 saves for Hagerstown to open the season before earning a promotion to Potomac about halfway through the season and continuing as their closer.  His K/BB rate stayed high even with the promotion, though his ERA and hits/9 crept up a bit.  He seems set to move up to Harrisburg and could compete with Richie Mirowski for the AA closer role in 2014.  Trending up.

Round 8: (264) Stephen Perez, Coll Jr. SS: .248/.303/.326 with 4 homers, 11 walks, 40 Ks in 107 at-bats in low-A Hagerstown.  Wow; 107 strikeouts in 432 at-bats; 25%.  You just can’t have a 25% strikeout rate for a weak hitting, no power middle infielder.  These numbers were in line with his short-season numbers too.  He’s a college junior draftee from a very good baseball school (U of Miami) in low-A who looks like a draft bust right now.   Trending down.

Round 9: (294) Derek Self, Coll Sr. RH relief pitcher: 4-5 with 8 saves, 4.66 ERA with 49/16 K/BB in 56 IP, 64 hits split between Hagerstown and Potomac.  Self started in Potomac, had a 6.29 ERA in 23 apperances and was demoted mid-season to Hagerstown.  In low-A he had more respectable numbers but nothing eye-popping.  He was a low-bonus college senior draftee who’s struggling to make a mark in a league where he’s one of the older guys out there.  I could see him being a post-2014 spring training cut.   Trending down.

Round 10(324) Craig Manuel, Coll Sr C: .282/.364/.347 with 1 homer, 24 walks, 20 Ks in 170 at-bats mostly in low-A Hagerstown.  He missed a month mid-season, then was mostly the backup to Adrian Nieto in Hagerstown.   Unfortunately, a low-bonus college senior draftee who’s backing up guys in low-A probably isn’t long for the organization.  He may be a victim of the catcher numbers game at some point (though, that being said, the team only drafted one catcher in 2013; maybe he sticks around for a while).  Trending down.

Round 11(354) Brian Rauh, Coll Jr RH starter/reliever: 7-4, 4.50 ERA with 68/34 K/BB in 106 IP, 107 hits split between Hagerstown and Potomac.   An odd season for Rauh; he struggled in middle relief in low-A (posting a 5.21 ERA), then was promoted to Potomac, where he was installed as a starter.  He had 12 mostly mediocre starts (4.22 ERA) before being moved to the bullpen the last week of the season when Brett Mooneyham was promoted up.  Is he a starter?  Is he a reliever?  More time in the system is apparently needed; i’m guessing he begins in the bullpen in high-A next year.  Trending Steady.

Round 12(384) Carlos Lopez, Coll Sr 1B: .296/.441/.407 with 0 homers, 7 walks, 7 Ks in 27 at-bats in low-A Hagerstown.   Lopez went on the 7-day DL in mid-April after just 9 games and never came off.  I cannot find word of his injury.  But with newly drafted James Yezzo in the mix as a 1B-only draftee, Lopez has his work cut out for himself to retain his standing in the organization.   Especially considering that he was a College senior sign who is positionally limited and hasn’t shown much in the way of power at the professional level.  Trending down.

Round 13: (414) Elliott Waterman, Coll Jr LH reliever: 2-0, 2.96 ERA with 13/12 K/BB in 24 1/3 IP split between the two short season teams.  Waterman performed poorly in Short-A last year, did not make a full-season team out of camp, then got hammered again in his early outings for Auburn this year before getting demoted to rookie ball.  He pitched better in the GCL, eventually earning a call-back to Auburn but has not appeared since 8/31/13.  He’s still relatively young (does not turn 23 until November) and he’s a big tall lefty, but he’s putting too many guys on base and not getting enough swing and miss stuff to stick as a situational arm.  He may get one more spring training but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him cut loose if he doesn’t make a full-season team in 2014.  Trending down.

Round 14: (444) Jordan Poole, Juco-2 corner OF: .222/.278/.403 with 3 homers, 6 walks, 40 Ks in 72 at-bats split between the two short season teams.  I’ll repeat this metric: 40 Ks in 72 at-bats.   He struggled in Auburn and then got hurt in late July, missing 3 weeks.  He finished the season in Rookie ball, probably a combination rehab assignment/demotion.   He does feature some pop; his isolated slugging of .441 in Auburn shows some promise.  But that’s a lot of strikeouts.  He’s still very young (he turned 22 just this week) so he will continue in the system.  Trending down.

Round 15: (474) Brandon Smith, OF: Didn’t sign.  Hit .318/.370/.406 as a freshman corner outfielder at Division II Grand Canyon University.

Round 16: (504) Ronald Pena, Juco-2 RH starter/reliever: 4-3, 3.48 ERA with 55/34 K/BB in 88 IP for Hagerstown.  Pena started the season in the Hagerstown rotation, where he stayed mostly until the end of May.   He had a 4.70 ERA as a starter on the season; not good enough given the arms matriculating upwards.  From there he worked the bullpen, where in the same number of innings his Ks were up, his walks down and his hits allowed down.  It seems to me he’s bullpen-bound from here.   Trending Steady.

Round 17: (534) Blake Schwartz, Coll Sr RH Starting pitcher: 13-4, 2.51 ERA with 101/28 in 147 IP for Hagerstown and Potomac.  Schwartz started the year in the Hagerstown rotation and ended it in Potomac, getting the ball for their 2nd playoff game.  After striking out 21 guys in his first 14 low-A innings, he was quickly promoted up and threw 132 additional innings in Potomac.  His ERA was low upon promotion, he fared equally well against lefties and righties.  I’d like to see more K’s, but it is hard to argue with the results.  He had to be in the “player of the year” discussions for the organization.  So far looking like a great find this late in the draft from a small school.  Trending up.

Round 18: (564) David Fischer, Coll Sr RH reliever: 5-0, 4.06 era with 81/52 K/BB in 58 IP for Hagerstown and Potomac.   He got a quick bump up from Hagerstown after just 9 apperances and spent the bulk of the season in Potomac’s bullpen providing longer relief stints every few days.   He hit the D/L in mid August and never came back off of it.  This beanpole (6’5″ 175lbs) clearly has some strikeout type stuff (53 Ks in his 44 high-A innings) but he is also wild as hell (44 walks in 44 innings to go with 8 wild pitches and 5 HBPs in high-A).  It sounds like someone needs to coach Nuke LaLoosh up here.   Trending Steady.

Round 19: (594) Bryan Lippincott, Coll Sr 1B: .273/.346/.434 with 7 homers, 25 walks, 39 Ks in 198 at-bats split between Auburn and Hagerstown.  A small-college senior signee, Lippincott spent all of 2012 in the GCL (where he clearly was “old for the level.”).  In 2013, he waited for short-season to start, then slugged .464 in 44 games for Auburn before getting the call-up to Hagerstown to play for the team during the playoffs.  He struggled in 10 playoff games (understandible; they’re the best teams in the league) but otherwise had a nice season.  He’s seemingly set to compete for perhaps the 1B or DH in High-A for 2014.  Trending Steady.

Round 20: (624) James Brooks, Coll SR SS/3B: Released May 2013; he was a senior sign who played last season mostly in the GCL, save for a 2 week stretch where he went 1-32 in Short-A.  Apparently he didn’t make a team out of spring training and was released just before Short seasons started.

Round 21: (654) Austin Chubb, Coll Sr C: .200/.241/.238 with 0 homers, 2 walks, 12 Ks in 105 at-bats for Auburn.  Chubb was a part-time catcher, splitting time with others in Auburn, and followed up his generally poor 2012 GCL numbers with even worse numbers in 2013.  He had just two walks in 100+ plate appearances?  With no power to show for it?   Chubb may not be long for the organization, despite the positional scarcity.  Trending Down.

Round 22: (684) Will Hudgins, Coll Sr RH reliever: 3-2, 4.41 ERA with 28/21 K/BB in 32 2/3 innings, 25 hits split between low- and short-A.  Suddenly retired July 12th on Twitter.

Round 23: (714) Casey Selsor, Coll Sr LH Starter/Reliever: 0-6, 4.29 ERA with 30/14 in 42 1/3 innings, 56  hits for Auburn.  Selsor was drafted with 2-way capabilities but has only pitched for the Nats.  He started the season in Auburn’s rotation, got demoted to the bullpen after 6 starts, but eventually made his way back into the rotation in some sense by the time the season was over.  He gave up a ton of baserunners, but his babip was high.  Despite a 4.29 ERA his FIP for the year was just 3.15.  So he pitched better than his stats look.   Trending Steady.

Round 24: (744) Kevin Dicharry, Coll SR RH pitcher: 0-2, 14.54 ERA with 4/2 K/BB in 4 1/3 innings, 8 hits for Auburn.  Dicharry pitched very poorly in his first three Auburn appearances and then was released 7/1/13.   Without any knowledge of how well he recovered from the arm issues he had in college, this seems like an incredibly quick release considering how well he pitched (even if he was overaged) last year in the GCL.

Round 25: (774) Freddy Avis, RHP: didn’t sign.  Attending Stanford, where in 2013 he appeared in exactly one game and pitched 2 innings before suffering a season-ending injury.  Google research is spotty, but it seems like he aggravated the same knee which he had ACL surgery on in 2012 and which ended his HS career prematurely.

Round 26: (804) Skye Bolt, RHP: didn’t sign.  Attending UNC, where in 2013 he hit .349/.449/.550 as a freshman starter for one of the best teams in the nation.  That’s a pretty darn impressive slash line for a freshman in the ACC.  Those are 1st round pick numbers.

Round 27: (834) Cody Poteet, RHP: didn’t sign.  Attending UCLA, where in 2013 as a mid-week starter/weekend reliever he was 4-6, 4.84 ERA with 56/31 K/BB in 70+ innings for the CWS champions.  We don’t have advanced stats, but his BAA of .227 seems to indicate his ERA was incredibly unlucky.  He should be a weekend starter for UCLA next season.

Round 28: (864) Hunter Bailey, Coll Sr SS/2B: .182/.265/.205 with 0 homers, 4 walks, 11 Ks in 44 low-A at bats earlier this season.  Bailey was released May 2013.  The jump from GCL to full-season ball proved too much for Bailey and he was cut loose as an expendible backup middle-infielder in a system full of them rising quickly up the ranks.

Round 29: (894) Leonard Hollins, Juco RH reliever: 1-4, 2.91 ERA with 36/16 in 46 1/3 innings, 48 hits mostly for Auburn.   The submariner made a successful jump to short-A out of the GCL, and still has not given up a professional home-run.  All we have to do now is figure out if he’s “Leonard” or if he’s “L.J.” since milb.com and Fangraphs differ in their names for him.  Trending Up.

Round 30: (924) Robert Orlan Coll Jr LH Starter: 1-5, 3.65 ERA with 47/22 K/BB in 56 2/3 innings, 54 hits for Auburn.  Orlan was the leading innings-eater for Auburn in 2013 after missing the whole 2012 season following TJ surgery.   Orlan kept the ball down, pitched better than his ERA shows (3.38 fip) and shows no reason not to continue up the chain and compete for rotation jobs in full season ball next year.  As I said last year, he could be a great sleeper pick.  Trending Up.

Round 31: (954) Michael Boyden Coll Sr RH reliever: 0-0, 4.61 ERA with 15/14 K/BB in 13 2/3 innings, 17 hits for GCL.  14 walks and 17 hits equates with a balloned 2.27 whip for this 23-year old in the rookie league (which means he’s likely throwing against guys 4-5 years younger than he is).  It is hard to understand why he was back in the GCL after having shown he could handle Short-A last year.  Either way, his control issues from last year caught up with him in 2013 and I don’t think he’ll be long for the organization.    Trending Down.

Round 32: (984) Michael Mudron, Coll Sr LH reliever: 1-3, 6.82 ERA with 32/15 K/BB in 30 1/3 innings, 43 hits.   Great K/9 rates for a matchup lefty (reminder: milb.com lists him as a RHP when he’s actually a lefty).  His game-logs show what a weird season he had: of the 23 earned runs he gave up in his 30 innings, 20 of them came in four awful outings, highlighted by his 8/24/13 outing: he gave up 5 hits and 5 walks in an inning and a third, resulting in 6 earned runs.  These factors contributed to his FIP being just 2.77, a huge delta from his ugly ERA.  I’d imagine this stat line makes it hard for higher-ups to evaluate him.  Nonetheless, he should feature in a full-season bullpen in 2014.  Trending Steady.

Round 33: (1014) Mike McQuillan, Coll Sr 2B/3B: .277/.372/.367 with 2 homers, 40 walks, 66 K’s in 264 low-A at-bats (skipping 5 rehab games he did in the GCL).   As with last year, good average and great OBP, but little to no pop.  He missed 2 full months of the season with an injury that I cannot easily google.  Otherwise he continues to profile as an undersized, speedy 2nd baseman with good OBP capabilities.  He’ll move up to Potomac in 2014.  Trending Steady.

Round 34: Jake Jeffries, 2B: didn’t sign.  Attending Cal State Fullerton, where in 2013 he hit .260/.327/.360 as a starting middle infielder.  

Round 35: Corey Bafidis, LHP: didn’t sign but Washington picked him in 2013.  From the 2013 version of this post: Coll Sr LH relief pitcher.  2-0, 2.73 ERA with 22/13 K/BB in 26 1/3 relief innings mostly in Auburn, 18 hits.  He got pushed to low-A too early, settled into short-A where he probably belonged to begin with, and pitched relatively well for 20 innings.   Too many walks for a relief pitcher, though, he’ll have to work on that.   He mostly worked in 2 inning stints and never got any looks at starting.  Trending steady.

Round 36: Max Ungar, Cdidn’t sign.  Attending Division III Denison, where he does not appear to be playing baseball at all.  Seems to have quit the sport.  Was th is a “favor draft pick” to give someone’s friend’s kid some notariety?  

Round 37: Tyler Watson, LHPdidn’t sign.  Threw just 3 2/3 innings over 6 games for Kansas U as a freshman.

Round 38: Jarred Messer, RHPdidn’t sign.  Finished 6-4 with a 2.70 ERA his senior year at Malone University but then went undrafted, and as far as I can tell did not get picked up by either a MLB org or an independent league team.  He seems to be playing in the Ohio Tuscarawas County Class A league, an Adult baseball amateur league.

Round 39: Mitchell Williams, Cdidn’t sign.  Attended the Marion Military Institute in Alabama, for which I cannot find any current stats.

Round 40: Ricky Gutierrez, CFdidn’t sign.  Presumably playing football for U-Conn, as per the Draft Tracker.  I could not find any individual football stats for him in rudimentary googling.


Summary: our top end guys are doing well and we may have some finds in the later rounds.  On the downside, most of the rest of the first round picks are struggling.   Such is the nature of the new draft classes; picks 7-10 are more like 25th rounders while picks 11-15 are more like 6th-10.

Season Statistical Review of all Nats 2013 draft picks

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Jake Johansen led the Nats 2013 draft.  Photo via DBU website

Jake Johansen led the Nats 2013 draft. Photo via DBU website

Last year, minorleagueball.com’s John Sickels started a quick-hit review of every 2012 draft pick with snap judgements and quick stats.  I thought it was a great project, a nice little way to see how the draft picks were faring.  He petered out around the 17th round, and I took up his cause for just the Nationals picks and went through all 40 rounds at this link here.  Apparently 2012’s project was too much work for Sickels; he doesn’t seem to be doing it this year.  So I picked up the torch and did a Sickels-style analysis for all 40 of the Nats 2013 draft picks below.

(Note: stats are pulled from milb.com and/or fangraphs.com; put the player name into the search bar to get his seasonal stats).  MILB has nice consolidated seasonal stats while fangraphs has better advanced stats.  They do not include any playoff stats for those still playing after 9/2/13).

Finally, at the end of each writeup i’ll put in a color coded trending line for the player: Green for Trending UpBlue for Trending steadyred for Trending Down.   This is just my knee-jerk opinion of the prospect status of the player system-wide.  And yes I realize this is their first pro ball season, short-sample sizes, etc etc.

Without further ado:

Round 1: forfeited w/ Rafael Soriano signing, which as I noted in this June 2013 post cost the Nats a shot at one of several highly regarded pitchers drafted just behind our vacated spot.

Round 2Jake Johansen, Coll Sr. RH Starting Pitcher.  1-3, 1.92 ERA with 51/23 K/BB in 51 2/3 innings between Auburn and Hagerstown, 34 hits.  After signing quickly for slot (very quickly, like in 24 hours or so), Johansen joined short-A Auburn and was essentially unhittable through 10 starts.  He was promoted up to low-A, got hit around in two starts and finishes the season with a 1.92 ERA, and a sub 1.00 WHIP.  Johansen outperformed his poor college numbers somewhat, still walks too many batters, and still flashes a dominant fastball.  Scouts continue to believe he’ll end up in the bullpen, but until that situation presents itself Johansen will stay as a starter.  He seems like he’s bound for the opening day start in Hagerstown in 2014.  Trending Up.

Round 3Drew Ward, HS 3B.  .292/.402/.387 with one homer, 25 walks, 44 strikeouts in 168 at-bats for the GCL Nats in the rookie league.  A good average and a great OBP, but where’s the power?  Ward was reported to have a ton of power coming up but his slugging was lower than his OBP.  He produced at a 142 wRC+ for the season, which is great, but I think he needs to show more power going forward.  That won’t be easy in his next stop; the stadium in Hagerstown is old and cavernous with huge walls; you earn every homer up there.  Trending Up.

Round 4Nick Pivetta, Juco RH Starting Pitcher.  1-1, 3.41 ERA with 18/12 K/BB in 29 innings between GCL and Short-A, 28 hits.  Pivetta started 8 games but averaged less than 4 innings a start.   For such a big guy (6’5″ 220) with such a reported fastball (upper 90s in short spurts) I would have hoped for more K’s (18 in 29 innings).   Outlook; bound for Hagerstown but seems like someone who may convert to short relief soon where he can maintain higher velocity in shorter outings.  Trending Steady.

Round 5Austin Voth, Coll Jr RH Starting Pitcher: 3-0, 1.75 ERA with 55/6 K/BB in46 1/3 innings between three levels, 33 hits.  You read that correctly; 55 to 6 strike out to walk ratio for this U of Washington product.   He pushed his way through two promotions on the season, ending up in the Hagerstown rotation.  Another interesting stat: Zero home-runs in his 55 innings on the year.  And these stats were done with pretty normal looking BABIPs; his FIP values were lower than his ERAs in short- and low-A.  He seems like an exciting draft find and should be in the Hagerstown rotation in 2014.  Trending Up.

Round 6Cody Gunter, Juco 3B.   .229/.294/.313 with 3 homers, 20 walks, 62 strikeouts in 214 at-bats for Auburn.   62 punchouts out of 214 at-bats; that’s more than 25%.  With so many Ks and so little power (.084 ISO), I’d be concerned about Gunter’s future at the corner.  Its possible he was just a bit young for Auburn as a 1st-year JuCo grad.  Trending down.

Round 7Jimmy Yezzo, Coll Jr 1B.  .267/.282/.342 with 2 homers, 5 walks, 37 strikeouts in 243 at-bats for Auburn.   Five walks in 243 at-bats??  That shows a pretty significant plate discipline issue.  Yezzo came to the Nats with such a good hitting reputation in a decent baseball conference (the CAA); what has happened?  Drafted as a first baseman, Yezzo needs to show some serious power improvement to continue at a spot which normally is where lesser defenders “end up” to keep their bat in the lineup.  Trending down.

Round 8David Napoli, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher.  1-0, 1.14 ERA with 28/10 K/BB in23 relief innings in Auburn, 16 hits.  He had a very wild reputation coming out of college, but seems to have toned it down at Auburn to become an excellent relief pitcher.   I’m a little disappointed to see him already get converted to relief, but his size and stuff seems to point towards situational lefty anyway.  I could see him in Potomac in 2014 quickly turning into the next Ian Krol.  Trending up.

Round 9Jake Joyce, Coll Sr RH relief pitcher.  1-3, 5.22 ERA with 25/12 K/BB in 29 relief innings in Auburn, 37 hits.  Joyce was unlucky (.381 babip) and his FIP reflects that (3.03 versus 5.22 era), but he still gave up a ton of base-runners (1.67 whip) and a ton of air-outs (0.62 GO/AO on the year).   Given the fact that Joyce was a senior sign for very little money, he could seem rather expendible if he doesn’t start strong in 2014.  Trending down.

Round 10Brennan Middleton, Coll Sr SS/2B.  Did not play an inning in 2013; I cannot find any details of the injury.  There are some reports that he injured his ankle towards the end of his senior season at Tulane; perhaps that injury carried over into the summer.  He signed for a pittance and was not highly regarded; he could struggle to make a team out of spring.  Trending down.

A quick note before continuing: you can see the effect very clearly of the new MLB draft rules by looking at the Nats draft picks here; our 8th,9th and 10th round guys signed for a combined $40,000 so the team could over-pay earlier in the draft.  We got mostly cheap guys, senior signs with zero leverage as we got closer to the 10th round and the production shows.   Then, starting at round 11 (where the slot per pick is a flat $100,000 and the signing bonus cap re-sets) we start to see more significant prospects get signed and coaxed out of remaining college eligibility.  Its almost as if we should treat the 8th-10th rounders as closer to 30th round picks, all things considered.

Round 11John Simms, Coll jr RH relief pitcher.  0-4, 5.70 ERA with 34/7 K/BB in 30 relief innings mostly in Auburn, 41 hits.  His walks were low but hits were high.  His ERA looks ugly but look beyond the top layer and you discover that Simms actually didn’t pitch that badly this year.  A ridiculously high BABIP of .438 contributed to his inflated short-A ERA; his FIP was just 2.38.  Combine that with his 5/1 K/BB ratio and he has the makings of at least a good reliever in the system.   Look for him in Hagerstown or Potomac’s bullpen, where shorter stints should allow him to maintain velocity.  Trending steady.

Round 12Andrew Cooper, Juco RH relief pitcher.  2-1, 3.86 ERA with 16/7 K/BB in 25 2/3 relief innings mostly in Auburn, 29 hits.  Drafted as a project, and so far he’s pitched like a project.  His numbers aren’t bad or great in any direction.  I’d suspect the team knew he needed some complex time so I could see him staying in Viera until next season’s short-A starts up and repeating the level.  Trending steady.

Round 13John Costa, Juco RH relief pitcher.  Did not pitch an inning in 2013; he had Tommy John surgery in March and won’t be healthy until mid 2014.   Likely stays in the complex league until short-season starts, then heads to the rookie league.  Trending down.

Round 14David Masters, Juco SS.  .178/.246/.237 with 0 homers, 9 walks, 33 strikeouts in 152 at-bats for Auburn.  Masters showed little power, little hit tool in general.  He had a wRC+ of just 51 and slugged lower than his OBP.  He’s apparently a genius in the field though.  But, you’ve got to hit to advance.  If he’s the defensive whiz that the scouting reports say, then he may get another shot in 2014.  Note; as others have noted, Masters is a 2nd cousin to Mad Men star John Hamm.  I hope this wasn’t the reason we drafted him :-).  Trending down.

Round 15Isaac Ballou, Coll Sr OF/CF.  .273/.381/.366 with 2 homers, 32 walks, 37 strikeouts in 238 at-bats mostly for Auburn.  Ballou was Auburn’s leading hitter by average and earned a promotion up to Hagerstown, where a 3/27 start dented his seasonal numbers.   No reason not to see him in low-A again starting in 2014.  Trending up.

Round 16Willie Allen, Juco Corner OF from Oklahoma/Newtown, MA.  Did not sign; I cannot find any reason; there’s a link to his hometown paper that seemed to indicate that he was ready to sign and report.   Perhaps something came up in his medicals.  Allen also does not appear to have transferred to a 4-year school.  Interesting question; how did a kid from Boston end up in an Oklahoma junior college program?

Round 17Geoff Perrott, Coll Sr C.  .308/.308/.308 in 12 at-bats for Hagerstown; Perrott was hurt most of the year and is providing late-season cover for the Suns’ playoff push.  A lost season for Perrott; hopefully he gets a chance to prove himself next season.  Trending down.

Round 18Cory Bafidis, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher.  2-0, 2.73 ERA with 22/13 K/BB in 26 1/3 relief innings mostly in Auburn, 18 hits.  He got pushed to low-A too early, settled into short-A where he probably belonged to begin with, and pitched relatively well for 20 innings.   Too many walks for a relief pitcher, though, he’ll have to work on that.   He mostly worked in 2 inning stints and never got any looks at starting.  Trending steady.

Round 19Niko Spezial, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher.  1-0, 3.32 ERA with 21/8 K/BB in 19 relief innings mostly in the GCL, 16 hits.  Spezial started the season with Auburn but got the quick demotion after just 3 1/3 relatively non-descript innings.  A college senior draftee, he did not belong in the rookie league.  Nonetheless he pitched effectively for the record-setting GCL Nats.  Spezial needs to show how he fares against someone his own age, which hopefully he’ll get a chance to do in 2014.  Trending steady.

Round 20Brenton Allen, Coll Jr Corner OF.   .186/.319/.271 with 1 homer, 15 walks, 31 strikeouts in 113 at-bats mostly for Auburn.  A disappointing pro debut for Allen, a 9th rounder out of HS who chose UCLA at the time.   Which makes his signing all the more curious; if he was a 9th rounder at one point, why sign for 20th round money?  Why not go back for your senior season to try to build draft value?  Nonetheless, he seems like he’ll compete for a full season OF job in 2014 but will have to show a better hit tool.  Trending down.

Round 21Justin Thomas, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher.  1-0, 3.13 ERA with 28/3 K/BB in 23 IP split between FOUR levels.  Thomas was well traveled this summer; he started in the GCL, got promoted to Auburn, then again to Potomac before settling back in Hagerstown for the bulk of the 2nd half.   All he did in Hagerstown was post a 21/1 K/BB ratio in 15 2/3 innings.  His ERA was a bit inflated versus his low-A FIP (2.56) and he remains the sole member of his draft class to broach high-A on the year (even if it was just for a game or two).  He’s clearly a leading situational lefty candidate with his control and should feature for Potomac in 2014.  Trending up.

Round 22Cody Dent, Coll Sr SS.  .222/.310/.242 with 0 homers, 19 walks, 47 strikeouts in 153 ABs for Auburn.  A light hitting senior sign middle infielder who strikes out one out of every three times isn’t going to go far in this game unless he fields like Ozzie Smith.   What’s interesting is this: Dent is actually hitting BETTER than he did at Florida this year.  A blogger on fangraphs dug into the numbers and found that Dent had an amazingly low babip his senior year in college.  Trending down.

Round 23Garrett Gordon, Juco Corner OF.  .257/.356/.317 with 0 homers, 12 walks, 27 strikeouts in 101 ABs for the GCL Nats.   We’d hope for some more power here for the undersized Gordon; he’s listed as an outfielder but he caught in high school.  Perhaps he’s considering going back to the position.  Trending down.

Round 24Matt Derosier, Juco RH relief pitcher.  2-1, 2.43 ERA with 20/5 K/BB in 19 relief innings mostly in the GCL, 24 hits.   Derosier may have been a Juco guy but he’s young; he turned 19 in July of this year.  After a brief stint to start the season in Auburn he pitched in middle relief for the GCL Nats, getting at least 4 long enough stints to earn a “grade” in my monthly starter grades.   He posted good, solid numbers, nothing flashy, nothing bad.  A 4/1 K/BB ratio is great.  He’ll move up next year, looking to stick as a younger member of the bullpen in low-A.  One interesting point related to Derosier: despite his young age, he’ll achieve rule-5 eligibility as if he was a college draftee, so he could run out his eligibility when he’s in the very low-minors.   Trending up.

Round 25Travis Ott, HS LH starting pitcher.  3-0, 4.03 ERA with 32/12 K/BB in 29 innings in the GCL, 24 hits.  The rare mid-20s round high schooler who signs, Ott was used as a starter in the GCL and was mostly good all year.  His seasonal numbers were skewed by one bad outing where he gave up 6 earned runs in 1 2/3 innings in mid-July.  This tall, lanky left-hander (6’4″ 170lbs) seemingly has room to grow and is very young; he turned 18 at the end of June.  Looks like the Nats might have a find here.  Trending up.

Round 26Garrett Hampson, HS SS from Reno, NV.  Did not sign; honored committment to Long Beach State (as confirmed by a local media site as well as PerfectGame).  Hampson was a well regarded prospect  heading into the draft (BA had him #84) and may have been a typical casulty of the new MLB draft reality; unless you’re picked in the first couple rounds and will sign for slot, you’re dropping.

Round 27Bryce Harmon, HS LH starting pitcher from Richmond, VA.  Did not sign; honored committment to East Carolina University.  A big lefty clocked 87-91 but recruited by lesser baseball schools (per PerfectGame).

Round 28Joey Webb, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher.  2-0, 1.89 ERA with 25/6 K/BB in 19 innings in the GCL, 13 hits.   A college senior who turns 23 in a few weeks pitching in the rookie league?  The definition of “too old for the level.”  But, Webb comes from a very small baseball school (NAIA’s Menlo College in California) and may not have been ready to compete with a bunch of Division I guys in Short-A.   Webb has almost no baseball pedigree (PerfectGame doesn’t even have a profile of him) so he’ll have to earn it going forward.  Trending steady.

Round 29Mike Sylvestri, Coll Sr RH relief pitcher.  3-1, 5.40 ERA with 14/9 K/BB in 18 innings split between Short-A and the Rookie league.  Sylvestri started in Auburn, got shelled (12 runs in 8 2/3 innings) then threw a shutout in the rookie league (9 2/3 innings, 9 hits, zero runs).   He’s undersized (5’10”, 180) and could have trouble getting out of rookie ball (as evidenced by his short-A experience).  May not be long for the organization.  Trending down.

Round 30Ryan Ullmann, Coll Sr RH Starting pitcher.  3-2, 4.74 ERA with 38/13 K/BB in 49 1/3 innings, 64 h its.  Ullman, like Webb, started in the rookie league being a senior coming from an NAIA (small).   By the end of the season, Ullmann was in the Auburn rotation.  He got 6 starts in Auburn with some up and down results (3 decent, one ok, two bad) that resulted in a 5.30 ERA all told.   You can’t teach size (he’s 6’6″, 230).  Ullmann closed in college and may return to the pen.  Trending down.

Round 31Willie Medina, Coll Sr SS.  .228/.315/.237 with 0 homers, 9 walks, 24 strikeouts in 114 ABs for the GCL Nats.   A .552 OPS playing as a 22-yr old in the rookie league is disappointing.  Medina may struggle to make it out of Viera next spring.  Trending down.

Round 32Pat Boling, Coll Jr LHP: Did not sign, chose to return to U. of Georgia for his senior season.  Bolling missed all of the 2012 season with an injury and redshirted, then had an uneven 2013 season (going from weekend starter to bullpen guy).   Probably looking to either complete his degree or try to compete for a full time starter job a year removed from injury in 2014.

Round 33Andrew Dunlap, HS C/RHP from Houston.  Did not sign.  Honoring a committment to Rice University.  Research on Dunlap finds an interesting story; he apparently went to 3 different  high schools all told (he moved around b/c because at the time he was a catcher and was blocked at the varsity level), was committed to Texas Tech at one point but then de-committed when he decided to become a pitcher and discovered he could hit 95-96 on the mound, transferred again and tried to gain a 5th year of high school eligibility, apparently failed, and had no “team” to play for this past spring.  Nonetheless, he had multiple offers for scholarships (Rice, UNC and U San Diego) before going to Rice.  BA did a Q&A feature on him in Feb 2013, so I’m guessing he was supposed to go much higher than the 33rd round.

Round 34Jake Walsh, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher.  0-0, 1.40 ERA with 17/5 K/BB in 19 1/3 innings closing in the Rookie League.  Promoted to Hagerstown on 9/3/13 to provide lefty bullpen coverage in the playoffs.    He was probably too old and too experienced for the rookie league but showed enough promise to get a two-level call-up for the post-season.  Lets see how he does in 2013, likely as a situational lefty/closer for Hagerstown.  Trending up.

Round 35Lukas Schiraldi, Juco RHP from Texas.  Did not sign.  The son of Calvin Schiraldi, Lukas was a 2nd year All-American Juco pitcher ranked #162 by Baseball America who has decided to transfer to U Texas Austin (like his father) instead of signing.   Understandible; if Schiraldi succeeds for Texas next spring, he’ll come into the 2014 draft as a high-powered college junior with much better earning potential.

Round 36Reid Humphreys, HS SS from Missouri.  Did not sign.  Honoring committment to Mississippi State.  Humphreys was the 2013 “Mr. Baseball” for the state of Missouri.  He is also the brother of the Nationals’ own Tyler Moore, who also was Mr. Baseball for Missouri and also attended Mississippi State.

Round 37Karsten Whitson, RH starting pitcher from Florida.  Did not sign, returning to U Florida for his senior/4th year.   Whitson is an interesting story.  He was San Diego’s 1st round pick (9th overall) in 2010 and was drafted just behind Matt Harvey and just ahead of Chris Sale.  In a move that surprised the Padres, Whitson refused to sign for slightly above-slot money and chose to go to school, turning down a $2.1M offer.    After a great freshman year, Whitson struggled with arm pain his sophomore year and turned to Dr. James Andrews this past spring, performing a “cleanup” surgery on his shoulder to alleviate an “impingement” and costing him the whole season.  Clearly Whitson needs to return to school and complete a full healthy season to regain draft value, so I don’t entirely understand this pick.  Maybe the Nats wanted to see if Whitson wanted to sign and rehab with the team as opposed to on his own (they did something similar with Robert Orlan last year).  But that would have made no sense for Whitson; he’s already in college on scholarship; why would he possibly have signed for round 37 money at this point in his career?

For me Whitson confirms what Keith Law always says when it comes to significant bonus money; take the money; you can always go back to college if you wash out of the minors.  But you just never know what may happen; if Whitson suffers another injury or performs badly next spring, he’ll be lucky to be offered $10k and will really wish he’d have taken that life-changing $2M bonus.  When proposed with this scenario, my wife says “I want my kid to go to college” but the reality is this; that money may not ever be there again, and the kid can always go to college later.  You have to take it if it is there.

Round 38Caleb Hamilton, HS SS from Washington State.  Did not sign; honoring committment to U of Washington.  Seems like Washington’s area scout liked Hamilton, so they made an impression on the kid and drafted him late.

Round 39Robbie Tenerowicz, HS 2B/SS from California.  Did not sign; honoring committment to UC Berkeley.  He looks like an excellent Oakland-area product staying close to home.  Made the Area Code team and was on some all-american lists.  The Nats have drafted two middle infielders from Cal lately (Kobernus and Renda) so perhaps Tenerowicz will be a third in a few years.

Round 40Shaun Anderson, HS RH starting pitcher from Florida.  Did not sign; honoring committment to U of Florida.  Baseball America had a nice little writeup on the 2013 draft’s Mr. Irrelevant.

Great video of Lucas Giolito from GCL

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Giolito's comeback from TJ surgery has been great.  Photo Eric Dearborn via win-for-teddy blog

Giolito’s comeback from TJ surgery has been great. Photo Eric Dearborn via win-for-teddy blog

Courtesy of MinorLeagueBall.com’s John Sickels (who I’ve asked if he’s doing a player-by-player recap of this year’s draftees like he did last year, which I borrowed from for a good blog post last off-season, but have not heard back), here’s a posting with links to the blog BaseballInstinct, which has some good video of Lucas Giolito throwing during his time in the GCL earlier this month.

The videos are set to rather loud music, so hit mute if you’re at work or are annoyed by electronic/techno music.

The videos show POV from behind the catcher and then some from the side, have some MPH readings, have some slo-mo of Giolito’s mechanics for various pitches and at release points.

Observations/thoughts:

– He looks like a bigger kid than the photo above shows.  He has a good pitcher build, big legs, big strong body.  He’s listed as 6’6″ 230 so I’m not sure why I thought he was a little wiry kid.

– His motion looks like a cross between Cole Kimball with perhaps a little Roy Oswalt.  When he lands, his shoulder tilt and arm position are almost identical to Kimball’s, while his arm flail in regular speed seems like a throwback to Oswalt.

– 92-93 reportedly on the gun in these videos; it was from earlier this month, early in his recovery from Tommy John surgery.  But, this is a far cry from the reported upper 90s/100 he showed in high school (speeds per PerfectGame scouting reports).  I’m hoping this was just from a very early game in his rehab and he was holding back.

– Is it just me, or is his curve ball incredibly telegraphed?  His arm position seems way, way higher for his curve than it did for his fastball.  That and his hand position seems to be very simple to pick up.  We talked earlier this season about tipping pitches and I’m guessing this is something they’ll work on with Giolito.  If an amateur like me can see a difference that distinct, then a professional certainly can too.

– Likewise, later in the video his trailing leg finish is incredibly inconsistent.  Sometimes it comes across his body, sometimes he kicks the ground, sometimes it just trails behind.  It seems like he may need some mechanical fine tuning.  Does this make a difference in the pitch?  It’s too late to be a pitch tipping mechanism and could be because he was throwing from the stretch/trying to slide step a bit.

– He gets an incredibly long push-off the rubber (see the side-action video later in the link).  By the time he releases the ball, his foot is at least 12-15 inches in front of the rubber and his arm/release point has to be at least 7+ feet in front of the rubber.  Study the video; he’s 6’6″ and he’s clearly further off the rubber than he is tall.  We talk about how really tall pitchers (think Jon RauchChris Young and Randy Johnson) get an advantage because they’re releasing the ball closer to home, so the pitch looks faster than it is.  Giolito’s mechanics combined with his height give this same appearance.  If you combine this long push-off and the reported velocity he can achieve … wow, that’s a heck of a combination.  There’s no wonder that he was in the mix for 1-1 last year.

Any other thoughts?  I know there are readers out there who discount this kid as a prospect.  But I’ll say this; 10 shutout innings so far after being promoted to Short-A, which is basically a college league.  He’s only 19 and is recovering from injury.   If he starts next season in low-A before his 20th birthday and gets promoted up at some point, he’ll be well on his way to being one of the top prospects in baseball.

Written by Todd Boss

August 30th, 2013 at 10:58 am

Matt Harvey; just unlucky

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Harvey gets a really unfortunate diagnosis.  Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Harvey gets a really unfortunate diagnosis. Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

What happened to Matt Harvey?
One of my friends speculated that his overuse at UNC may have contributed to his very unfortunate torn UCL/possible need for Tommy John surgery and drew a parallel to our own Stephen Strasburg in terms of young phenoms going down.  I don’t recall any accusations of overuse of Strasburg at SD State; in fact Tony Gwynn seemed to be hyper aware of the media outcry if there would have been overuse and handled him very carefully.   His workload in college was carefully monitored, the Nats brought him along very carefully and were hyper sensitive to any slight issues in his first pro years.  And Strasburg got hurt anyway.
UNC has a somewhat dim reputation among scouts for destroying pitcher arms (as does Texas, Rice, and a couple other programs), and you saw some evidence of that in this past CWS (where UNC’s “closer” suddenly was starting games and throwing 100s of pitches during the tournament after being a one-inning guy most of the year).  But Harvey left UNC in 2010.  A long time ago.
UCL tears are often point-source injuries; think about Strasburg’s torn UCL: he did it on one pitch.  Yes he probably “strained” the UCL before then (strain is medical term for “small tear” apparently, as we learned during the Lucas Giolito drafting), but it was very clear the exact moment Strasburg blew it out.  Meanwhile, shoulders seem to be more degenerative over time from overuse.  There doesn’t seem to be any video of a single pitch that blew out Harvey’s UCL, and I’m sure there’s arguments and counter-examples against this, but my observations seem to support this.  One day pitchers are healthy, the next day they have a blown elbow ligament.
What else could have caused Harvey’s injury?
Pitch counts?  Harvey’s game logs this year aren’t egregious: a couple of 120 pitch games (studies have shown that 120 pitches is about the threshold for pitches in the majors before workload effects are demonstratble in subsequent starts).  Lots of games in the 100-110 range.  But that’s to be expected; he’s a big guy, a workhorse, always has been.
Innings thrown?  Here’s a concern area.  96 college innings in 2010, 135.2 in 2011, 169.1 in 2012 and 178.1 in 2013 before this injury.  You generally don’t want guys to increase workloads more than 20% per year (the “Verducci effect,” so to speak)  He increased his workload 28% from college to his first pro year and another 20% from his first pro year to his second.  He was well on his way this year to another 20% increase and was set to be shut down before this injury.  He was definitely a risk for ramping up his innings too fast.
Mechanics: no evidence of any trouble spots; his mechanics have always been clean.  He threw hard but he wasn’t considered a “max effort” guy.  Too bad for the “inverted W” conspiracy crowd; they can’t have another poster child for their internet meme which is usually ignored by scouts and baseball professionals.  (as you can tell, I don’t believe in the inverted W b.s. as being anything other than coincidental.  For every pitcher with an arm injury and inverted W mechanics you can 1) find a pitcher with inverted-W who has NO injury history or 2) find a pitcher with impeccable mechanics who suffers the same type of injuries that the inverted W supposedly caused).
Is it the  Travel-league/year round baseball that prospects these days have grown up in?   If anything, you’d think that year-round baseball would help these kids, not hurt them, by building up arm strength and building up the muscles surrounding the critical points in a throwing arm (ucl, rotator cuff, labrum, etc).  This goes counter to recent advice from Dr. James Andrews, who advised that kids need an off-season from baseball to allow their arm muscles to rest and regenerate from the abuse that pitching causes.  Of course, you could also counter argue it and say that “the arm only has so many bullets in it” and each pitch is one pitch closer to an injury.
The “right” answer is probably some combination of all of the above, as well as genetic bad luck.  Some guys have absolutely perfect mechanics and get injured (Harvey), some guys have perfect mechanics and throw 10,000 innings (say, Nolan Ryan), some guys have crummy mechanics and get away with it for a long time (think Don Sutton or someone like that).
On the bright side; Tommy John surgery is now somewhere between 85-90% success rate.  And these TJ surgeries actually improve the arm action.  An amazing stat was tweeted by Rob Neyer in the wake of the Harvey injury; of the 360 pitchers who have started games this year, 124 have had Tommy John surgery.  124 of 360!  That’s one out of every three major league starters in the game.  Our own Nats experience exactly matches this: of the 9 guys we’ve had start a game this year 3 have TJ surgeries in their history (Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Taylor Jordan).  The surgery doesn’t just repair, it improves the arm stability and strength.  TJ pitchers often come back with more break on their curve because the elbow has been improved.  They don’t just staple the tendon in place; they drill holes in the bones to attach the tendon so its got a stronger bond than what was naturally there.
In any case, it really is unfortunate to see such a great young guy suffer an arm injury so soon.  Hopeful for a full recovery.  The baseball world is a better, more fun place with young aces like Harvey out there every 5 days.