Nationals Arm Race

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

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Braves at Nats: this is the 2018 season-deciding series

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Can Milone get another win? Photo: Tom Priddy/Four Seam Images/milb.com

Can Milone get another win? Photo: Tom Priddy/Four Seam Images/milb.com

So, despite winning 5 of 6 over the past week against two teams that havn’t really been trying for years, the Nats …. failed to make up a single game on Philly and head into the Atlanta series 6 games out.

That’s because Philly was also playing a team that isn’t really trying (Miami), and just finished off a nifty 4-game sweep at home.

But hey, at least the Nats scored 3 touchdowns in a game, driving their RS/RA average so far up that now by Pythagorean record they’re leading the division by two games!  You know, in that fantasy world of stat nerds that nobody cares about but which I’ve been guilty of pointing at myself and saying, “See!  they’re just unlucky and will win more soon!”

So here it is.  I’ve already basically written off the season … but hey, maybe if the team plays a 22-7 August … and both Atlanta and Philly scuffle along at .500 … they can get close.  But to play a 22-7 august … they need to take 3 of 4 against Atlanta this week.

Here’s the pitching match-ups they’ll go to war with:

  • Game 1: Max Fried versus Jefry Rodriguez.  Hmm.  Not a good start, having to call up a guy who has now fallen behind Tommy Milone on the depth chart.  I see the Braves jumping out to a quick 4 run lead and the “veteran leadership” packing it in early to regroup for the nightcap.
  • Game 2: Sean Newcomb vs Max Scherzer.  Scherzer will probably be unhittable, but Newcomb nearly threw a no-hitter against the Dodgers his last time out.  I see this as a close Nats win.
  • Game 3: Mike Foltynewicz vs Tommy Milone: Atlanta’s best pitcher in 2018 versus the Nats … #10 starter?  #9?  Foltynewicz has already started against the Nats four times, throwing a 2-hit shutout against them in June (albeit in Atlanta).  Odds are he’ll give up a few runs on the road against the Nats … can Milone keep up his magic show?
  • Game 4: Anibel Sanchez vs Gio Gonzalez.  Sanchez has been pretty good.  Gio has not.   Any guesses how I think this one will go?

So, you squint at these match-ups and … well a series split seems like an optimistic outcome.  Frankly, I could see just winning the Scherzer start and the other starters getting bombed by Atlanta’s youthful, powerful lineup.

The Phillies head to Arizona (tough), then to San Diego (not so tough) … but a 2-2 or even a 1-3 series here could really spell the end of it.

how are you feeling, heading into this series?

 

 

Written by Todd Boss

August 6th, 2018 at 4:33 pm

Strasburg to DL again; is this the official white flag?

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"My Neck hurts." "Oh yeah, something always frigging hurts with you, you snowflake." -- photo via WP

“My Neck hurts.” “Oh yeah, something always frigging hurts with you, you snowflake.” — photo via WP

At some point, you have to stop performing CPR and just call it.

I wonder if we’re at that point.  Today we learned that #2 starter Stephen “the Orchid” Strasburg is heading back to the D/L for what will be his 50th* career D/L trip (* estimated).  I just don’t see how this team goes on the run it needs without one of its best starters.

Even given Tanner Roark‘s wonderful start yesterday, the team (as of this writing) sits at 50-51.  They’re 7 games out of the Division lead, 5.5 games out of the WC, and face a massive uphill climb to make the playoffs.

To get to 90 wins (often regarded in the 2-wild card system as the minimum you’ll need) the team needs to go 40-21 in its remaining games.  That’s a .622 W/L percentage.  I suppose they could go on a 20-7 rampage like they did in May and make it up… but it seems less likely the longer this season goes along.

Of their remaining 61 games…

  • 7 against Atlanta
  • 9 against Philly
  • 7 against the Cubs
  • 7 against the Cardinals
  • 3 more against Milwaukee
  • 3 in Colorado to end the season

So that’s 36 of the remaining 61 games against teams that I think are patently better than us.  And we’ll have to play .622 ball against them AND hold serve against the scrubs we’re playing too.

Oh, and now we’re doing it with, by my count, our #9 starter in Tommy Milone called up.  Scherzer, Strasburg, Gio, Roark, Hellickson, Fedde, JRodriguez, Voth ahead of him in the pecking order.  I’m sure things will go great; lest you forget, Milone’s ERA in 2017 was 8.56 in 27 innings.  Actually, with an ERA like that, he’ll fit right into this team.

So yes, the Braves have scuffled recently and the Phillies are treading water.  And yes our Pythag record shows we’re better than 50-51.  All fair points.  But we’re nearly to August and are still playing .500 ball, with no signs of getting better.

And, as become apparent this week, thanks to the Nats doing such a bang-up job with payroll management this year, they snuck over the luxury tax threshold so the comp pick they’ll get for a once-in-a-generation player leaving next year via FA in Bryce Harper will be … voila!  A supplemental 4th rounder??  Are you frigging kidding me?  That’s all we’ll get by offering him a Qualifying Offer??  Wow, that Matt Wieters contract just keeps looking better and better doesn’t it?  I sure hope Scott Boras enjoys the boat he bought off of that commission that he screwed the Nats out of.  Can someone change the Lerner’s cell phone number so Boras can’t go over Mike Rizzo‘s head to make bad deals any more?

Nats should trade Harper and hope to get a MLB top 100 pick for the rental.  They should also shop around basically every other guy set to leave in FA.  That means Murphy, Gio, Madsen, Wieters, Kelley, heck lets through in Benoit and Reynolds and Adams and all the one-year MLFAs we’ve got too.   Its bargain basement shopping time in DC.  First come, first served.

Will this leadership team admit defeat and make these trades?  Probably not.  They’ll probably do something dumb in the next few days like trade a top prospect for 2 months of a dead-arm starter or a catcher we can just go buy next off-season with the $80M of saved payroll.   They’ll leverage the farm system yet again so they can be an 86 win team instead of an 81 win team.

But I could be wrong.  We’ll see what happens.

ps: I managed to write this whole post without mentioning the manager.  My stance is as clear now as it was the day they let Dusty Baker go, and nothing that Dave Martinez has done has made me think that he was in any way a better choice to manage this team and this set of players in the year 2018.  Any argument about the manager is tough to quantify … i prefer arguments I can back up with stats frankly, so my opinion on his handling of veterans, of Ryan Zimmerman, of the bullpen, of baserunning strategy, of lineup-construction, and of his seeming inability to stand up to the veterans on this team will stay with me.

Nats Pitching depth to now be tested…

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It sounds like its Fedde-time. Photo via minorleagueball.com

It sounds like its Fedde-time. Photo via minorleagueball.com

Well, we can’t really seem to go a season without a Stephen Strasburg injury … and this annual affair hit us over the weekend, with Strasburg looking ineffective, getting pulled, going for an MRI and quickly hitting the 10-day D/L with “right shoulder inflammation.”

This comes on the quick heels of two other SP issues for this team:

  • miracle MLFA off-season signing Jeremy Hellickson yanking his hamstring and exiting precisely one batter into his friday start, also hitting the D/L.
  • Off-season SP depth re-signing Edwin Jackson opting out of his minor league deal and departing the team (he signed with Oakland soon after).

So, it seemed like we could stand the absence of Hellickson thanks to the schedule over the next week and a half (plenty of off-days and no need for a 5th starter), and since his injury is listed as “mild” meaning he may only miss the minimum time … but with the loss of Strasburg we’ll need to reach into our depth.  So who’s getting the call?

(oh, btw on top of this, on 6/9/18 Brandon Knitzler strained his forearm and seems likely to be at least unavailable for a bit, if not on his way to the D/L too, so they’re needing reinforcements stat.  He was officially put on the D/L just after posting this on 6/10/18, resulting in both Trevor Gott and Wander Suero getting their tickets for a DC return…).

We’ve now seen all three of our non-active roster 40-man starters get MLB action this year … and they looked promising enough to have the loss of Jackson or even the presence of Tommy Milone in AAA seem like after-thoughts.  So who gets the call to cover for Strasburg?  Options:

  1. Erick Fedde: got one spot-start this year and looked solid: he gave up 3 runs in 5 2/3rds but pitched a lot better than his stat line.  He hasn’t looked as great for Syracuse; a 4.76 ERA and a 1.48 whip showing how he’s giving up too many base-runners.  Do you believe what you saw in the majors, or look at his AAA line for the year?  His most recent start: in Gwinnet, 5 1/3, 2runs, 9Ks but 10hits allowed.
  2. Austin Voth: has turned his career around, going from “next guy to get DFA’d” to a MLB call-up earlier this year (he did not appear).  His AAA ERA of 4.35 is a bit inflated; he’s giving up less than a hit/inning.  He had two bad outings in a row just after his call up/send-back, giving up 12 ER in 2 innings … but his last out ing (6/6/18) was stellar; 7IP, 4hits, 6Ks, 0 walks, 0 runs.  That’s the kind of stat line GMs like to see.
  3. Jefry Rodriguez: he was thrown into action when Hellickson went down and did awesome: 4 2/3 scoreless innings in his MLB debut.  Can’t ask for more than that.  He’s been good for AA Harrisburg this year; 12 starts, 3.57ERA, a bit wild though (24 walks in 63 innings).  Its interesting that he’s gotten MLB time but has yet to get pushed to AAA; perhaps they’re waiting for the typical Nats mid-season shuffle.  His most recent outing?  6/9/18: 5ip, 1 hit and just 65 pitches thrown (a hint?  why would he have gotten  yanked so quickly?)

You have to think it’ll be Fedde first.  Maybe what they do is promote Fedde, move Rodriguez to AAA.  Then if you need a second starter … it seems like Rodriguez has jumped Voth in the pecking order and is next in line.

It isn’t a very opportune time for this sudden loss of their second ace; their next nine games are AL East interleague play … which will be tough games even though both Toronto and Baltimore are struggling.  After that they get 6 games versus Philly interspersed with five more AL East games (including three at home against Boston) … so this might be a pretty crucial stage for this team.  Lets hope our depth stands up.

Minor League Staffs – one month check-in

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Voth has completely remade his career in less than a month. Photo mlb.com official

Voth has completely remade his career in less than a month. Photo mlb.com official

I havn’t been doing regular check-ins with the minor league staffs for a few years, but I have always maintained little “cheat sheet” notes on the staffs of the levels day in/day out (thanks in no small part to the daily work of Luke Erickson over at Nationals Prospects of course).

It occurred to me, doing updates this week, that the four full season rotations have been about as stable as I can ever remember them this year.  So I thought i’d do a quick swing through the four staffs, with quick notes on who has looked good or bad and what we may see in terms of movement going forward.

Syracuse (stats link here: http://web.milb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?t=t_ibp&cid=552&stn=true&sid=t552)

  • Opening day rotation: Voth, Milone*, Fedde, EJackson, Vargas
  • Current rotation: Milone*, Voth, Fedde, EJackson, Vargas
  • spot starts/swingman: Simms, Goforth
  • bullpen: Collins*, Cordero, CSmith, Miller, Adams, Valdez
  • promotions: Torres, Gott, Suero
  • up-and-back: Adams, Voth
  • demotions: Long,
  • dl/restricted/TIL: Barrett, Satterwhite

Rotation thoughts: A month in and the only change we’ve seen to the AAA rotation was the flipping of Milone and Voth thanks to Voth’s brief call-up earlier this week.  Voth has absolutely re-made his career so far this year, going from possible “first man to be DFA’d” off the 40-man to a guy who is forcing his way into the conversation the next time the Nats need a starter.  For May he’s posted a 0.76 ERA, a 0.68 WHIP, has a 30/3 K/BB ratio in 23 innings and has given up just 13 hits.  Man, is he found gold for a team who has traded away an awful lot of pitching prospects over the past couple of seasons?

The veteran insurance policies Jackson and Milone are both pitching about as I’d expect them to be: Milone slightly better, with better base-runner control, Jackson with more wildness and worse stats.   Erick Fedde has not been either good or bad, giving up a hit an inning and maintaining a 4-1 K-BB ratio but not showing any real dominance.  My guess is that he’ll be sticking in AAA for a while.

The last guy in the rotation may be the most interesting: Cesar Vargas was a low-key spring MLFA signing after bouncing around San Diego’s system last year.  He’s come out in 2018 looking serviceable and might be putting himself ahead of the veterans in the pecking order.

Bullpen thoughtsJohn Simms has looked great in a long-man role.  He’s quietly been serviceable at every level in his journey upwards and you have to wonder if he’ll eventually push for a 9/1 call up.  Most of the rest of the bullpen is too SSS to make real judgements, though we have seen three relievers get pushed to the majors right now (Torres, Gott, Suero) and fourth who was up and is now in AAA (Adams).  Cordero still shows the same issues that have plagued him for a while; he’s got 16/8 K/BB in 11 innings.  Barrett remains  with the system and we hope he can get back to his former self; he’d certainly help out at the MLB level.

Who is making a push for promotion?  Voth

Who is in jeopardy of a demotion (or worse): Smith, Cordero


 

Harrisburg (stats = http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?t=t_ibp&did=milb&cid=547)

  • Opening day rotation: Dragmire, JRodriguez, Darnell*,  LReyes, Estevez
  • Current Rotation: Dragmire, JRodriguez, Long, LReyes, Estevez
  • spot starts/swingman: AWilliams, Darnell*
  • bullpen: Fleck, Guillon*, BHarper*, RMendez, Self,  Ames
  • promotions: Valdez
  • dl/restricted: Brinley, Bacus
  • Missing from 2017: NLee*

Rotation thoughts: The only substantive change in the rotation from the first pass through was to replace Darnell with Long.  Dragmire and Jefry Rodriguez  have both excelled thus far, though Rodriguez’s stats look more like a guy who might be pressing for promotion (more Ks, fewer hits).  Dragmire is showing more of what he displayed last year at AA and he may need the additional challenge of AAA soon.  Estevez and Reyes are not faring as well thus far, with elevated ERAs and WHIPs.  And Long, upon his demotion from AAA, has been poor in his three AA starts, with just 6 punch-outs and a 1.85 WHIP in 13 innings.  Rodriguez seems like the first starter in line for promotion.

Bullpen thoughts:  Austen Williams has looked great since getting moved out of the rotation.  Kaleb Fleck has some interesting stats: he’s got an 18/1 K/BB ratio in 10 innings but has an ugly 5.91 ERA (I’m sure his FIP is like 3 points lower).  Fleck is too good for AA; he spent all last  year in AAA and isn’t proving anything here.  Bryan Harper‘s return from injury is going ok .. he’s got nearly a 2.00 WHIP though.  Long serving Nats farmhand Dakota Bacus got shelled in four appearances and currently sits on the D/L; he had excellent numbers in 2017 but is getting a bit long in the tooth for AA and I wonder if he’s running out of time.  One big name still sits in XST: Nick Lee, who looked promising before injuries derailed his progress.

Who is making a push for promotion?   Fleck, JRodriguez, AWilliams

Who is in jeopardy of a demotion (or worse): Bacus



Potomac

(stats link: http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?t=t_ibp&did=milb&cid=436)

  • opening day rotation: Crownover*, Sharp, Baez, Mapes, Crowe
  • starters: Crownover*, Sharp, Baez, ?, Crowe
  • spot starts/swingmen: Pantoja, Howard*, Guilbeau*, McGowin
  • bullpen: JMills*, Bourque, Klobosits, RPena, Peterson, Rivera
  • demotions: Fuentes
  • dl/restricted: Borne*, Mapes
  • Missing: Romero*

Rotation thoughts: The only change to the opening day rotation literally happened yesterday, with Mapes dropping to the D/L and (likely)  McGowin (freshly taken off the AA D/L and demoted to Potomac) likely to take his place.  Mapes has the best starter ERA … but the worst WHIP.  Crownover may have the nicest looking stat line, with a nifty 28/4 K/BB ratio and solid peripherals.  Perhaps the most important high-A arm may be Wil Crowe and so far he’s more than handling high-A; the 2017 2nd rounder  has a great whip, good ratios and is looking like an excellent draft pick.   Baez and Sharp fill out the rest of the rotation; both showing mid 4 ERAs and not really being good enough or bad enough to comment on thus far.  The one big notable missing name here is Seth Romero, who should be featuring in this rotation as we speak but instead apparently still sits not at XST but at home in Houston.  Its hard to prove the “i told you so” guys wrong when it literally took less than a season for his well-publicized maturity issues to come to the forefront.

Bullpen thoughts:  Some good and some bad in the bullpen; Rivera and Howard have gotten dinged so far, while Bourque, Mills and Pantoja look solid.  Bourque in particular now boasts a 22/4 K/BB ratio in 12 relief innings; like that ratio.  36th rounder Klobosits still looking solid; how exactly was he still around that late in the draft if he’s already succeeding in high-A?

Who is making a push for promotion?  Bourque

Who is in jeopardy of a demotion (or worse): Rivera perhaps


 

Hagerstown (stats = http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?t=t_ibp&did=milb&cid=563

  • Opening day rotation: BHill/Braymer*, Raquet*/Acevedo, Tetreault/Bogucki, Alastre/Troop*, Stoeckinger*/Johnston
  • Current rotation: Troop*, Raquet*, Acevedo, Tetreault, Alastre, Stoeckinger*
  • spot starts/swingman: Johnston, Bogucki, Held, Braymer*
  • bullpen: McKinney, Brasher, Fuentes
  • promotions: Guilbeau*
  • dl/restricted: Howell, BHill
  • Cut/Released/FA from 2017: Engelbrekt (retired)
  • missing from 2017/XST: YRamirez*, DeRosier, CPena, Simonds, Barnett*, Morse, Dickey, WDavis,

Rotation thoughts: It was clear to this observer that the first few turns through the rotation were in the “tandem starter” configuration, with each of the names in the “opening rotation” throwing roughly 3-4 innings each.  That has now settled into the current 6-man rotation, all of which now seem to be getting the lion’s share of the innings each time through.   Of the “starters,” only really Raquet has acquitted himself well, though i’m concerned about the lack of swing and miss in his game (19/8 K/BB ratio in 27 innings supporting a 2.28 ERA and a 1.05 whip).  The rest of the starters are struggling: Stoeckinger hasn’t walked a soul yet in 24 innings … .but has given up 37  hits for an ugly 7.50 ERA.  Tetreault, Alastre and Acevedo  each have ERAs north of 7.00.   Troop and Hill (both 2017 top-10 round draftees) have been less bad but have room for improvement.

The “tandem” starters have been a different story though.  Bogucki and Braymer each have been solid, with Braymer sporting a 23/2 K/BB ratio and a 0.81 WHIP and Bogucki sporting a 20/3 K/BB ratio.  I wonder how long it’ll be before these guys become the “starters” instead of the “finishers.”

Bullpen thoughts: There’s really only a couple of real “relievers” in Low-A, but one of them has been quite solid.  McKinney has a 14/1 K/BB ratio in just 8 2/3 innings and has yet to give up an earned run.

There’s still a slew of guys technically in “XST” or assigned to the Short-A roster who could fill in here, most of whom have prior Low-A experience and could contribute.

Who is making a push for promotion?   Braymer, Bogucki, McKinney

Who is in jeopardy of a demotion (or worse): Acevedo, Alastre


 

That’s a quick run through the systems.  Did anyone want to point out someone in particular who they think needs to be talked about?

Nats 2018 #5 Starter competition

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Is Cole the 2018 5th starter?  Photo AP

Is Cole the 2018 5th starter? Photo AP

Interesting news on 1/11/18: Edwin Jackson has re-signed a split minor league deal  with decent compensation if he makes the major league team ($1.5M plus another $1.4M in incentives).

Lots of rumors about the team eventually buying a more established 5th starter, either on the open market or in trade.  There’s too many names still out there to even begin to discuss, from marquee 8-figure free agents (Yu Darvish) to Nats-favorite Scott Boras clients he’s likely to go over Rizzo’s head about (Jake Arrieta) to trade candidates from rebuilding teams (Tampa, Miami, Pittsburgh and their  valuable arms like Gerrit Cole, Chris Archer, though inbetween the time I started this post and published it, Cole had already been traded to the keep-getting-richer Astros).  Bur for now, we don’t have any of these guys … so we’re still projected for a fun spring training competition.

So, what does the #5 starter competition look like right now?  Basically there’s four primary candidates now in-house and signed for 2018.  Lets rank them in likely order of winning the job:

#1: A.J. Cole

I think right now Cole has the inside track, even given the Milone and Jackson signings.  Cole’s 2018 numbers were decent at the MLB level: 3-5 with a 3.81 ERA even if his periperhals were bad (5.88 fip, 1.50 whip).  His AAA numbers in 2017 were awful (5.88 ERA in 18 starts), but then again the entire Syracuse rotation was awful in 2018.  But, he did show some promise last  year and he’s out of options, so I can’t help but think that he’ll get a shot to stick on the MLB roster until he proves he’s either staying or going one last time.

#2 : Edwin Jackson:

He made an ok case for the job based on what he was able to do last  year.   No, he wasn’t awesome: in 13 starts he was 5-6 with a 5.07 ERA and even worse peripherals (5.88 FIP, 1.4 whip).  That’s about what he did for San Diego in 2016, so It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.   But he’s a known quantity, he throws hard, he never gets hurt.  He also clearly will work in the minors to get another shot at the majors and didn’t sign back up with this team on a whim, so odds are he could get stashed in Syracuse for a bit and wait out his chance.

#3 Tommy Milone: the prodigal son returns to the fold.  Initially sent away in the Gio Gonzalez trade 7 years ago, he pitched well for both Oakland and Minnesota before falling off a cliff in 2016.  His 2017 was not pretty: a combined 7.63 ERA for two different teams.  He also signed a minor league deal that I suspect may have an opt-out if he fails to make the team.  Hopefully not; he did log some AAA time in the last two seasons and may also opt to stick around.  Is it possible he returns to his career form (a 4.37 ERA and a 91 ERA+ figure)?  Maybe; he’d have to do a lot better though to make his case for t he 5th starter.

#4: Erick Fedde; our top starting pitcher prospect and sole arm in AAA or AA (or perhaps even  high-A at this point) which represents a significant draft investment (outside of Mariano Rivera Jr that is … who is already a reliever).  And he did not look ready in his debut last fall.  3 starts. 9.39 ERA … even if two of those starts were against tough competition (home to Colorado, then away vs the Cubs).  Short Sample Size, yadda-yadda, he got knocked around.  He needs more AAA time and you’d have to think he’s starting the year either in XST (if its too cold in Syracuse) or in upstate NY.


So, what about our minor league depth past these four guys?  Honestly: there’s not a ton of depth we can count on in AAA or AA.  The 40-man names are Fedde, Cole, Voth and Jefry Rodriguez.  That’s it.

Here’s a quick glance at our other minor league starters out there who are more likely to be AA or AAA fodder (in rough order of their consideration for the job/likely 2018 assignments)

AAA projected rotation (over-top of those four names above who miss out and who don’t opt out, that is):

  • Jared Long (he may or may not be a MLFA still; rosterresource.com shows him on the Nats roster but milb.com shows him as a FA): if he’s still with us, he showed two years running he was better than AA.  I’d like to see him with a long run in AAA to see if he’s a viable candidate to move up.
  • John Simms: this home grown product (2013 11th round draftee) has earned promotion after promotion and should start 2018 in AAA.  He doesn’t have shutdown stuff, but could be a sneaky candidate for spot starts.
  • Logan Darnell; this 2018 MLFA signing from Tampa had good AAA success several years running for other organizations and seems like a clear AAA arm eater for now.  Can he be more?
  • Austin Voth; two years ago looked like he could be the next Tanner Roark, but a brutal 2017 season got him demoted to AA.  He posted a 3.15 ERA in AAA in 2016; can he get back there?   If not, then he’s in clear danger of being first man off the 40-man roster if a spot is needed.
  • Greg Ross: as with Voth, the Greg Ross train got derailed in upstate New York in 2017, also earning him a demotion.  He re-signed though for 2018 to give it another shot and might start in AAA given past success in AA.

Note: at least one of these names likely gets pushed down, especially since Fedde likely isn’t winning the 5th starter job.  Jackson and Milone as veterans may have opt-outs and are not likely to stick around, but you never know.  And if Cole doesn’t make the team, he’s passing through waivers before he gets to AAA and may not make it.  So the AAA rotation will be in flux right up until 4/1/18.

AA projected rotation (on top of whoever above might get pushed down, likely Ross then Voth)

  • Wirkin Estevez had good AA numbers in 2017 (3.63 ERA in 11 starts after promotion from high-A) and re-signed a ML deal to stay with the organization.   He’s probably first AA starter for a need-based promotion.
  • Tyler Mapes missed all of 2017 after a very solid AA 2016 season; if he’s healthy, he starts here looking to repeat his 2016 performance before getting moved up.
  • Kyle McGowin; our trade bounty for Danny Espinosa has shown two years running his inability to succeed in AAA.  He likely starts in AA again in 2018 given the log-jam in Syracuse.
  • Matt Crownover had a 4.50 ERA in a full AA season; nothing to really prove he needs to move up (especially given his weak K/9 rates), so likely starts in AA again looking for a mid-season promotion.
  • Jefry Rodriguez: the newest member of the 40-man roster, Rodriguez will hope to harness his high-A success from last year at the next step up.

Nobody in AA right now who looks like he could help immediately; Rodriguez though may get some spot-start/double header duty since he’s on the 40-man and doesn’t require a corresponding move.


 

So; are you satisfied with a ST 2018 competition or do you think we need to spend money or prospects on another arm?

Keep in mind; the division is a mess, with Atlanta not really trying, Miami actively getting worse and Philadelphia making curious moves.  Only the Mets will challenge, and their big move this off-season has been to sign Adrian Gonzalez .  So we don’t need a $20M/year 5th starter.  And there’s the luxury tax considerations that keep coming up.

thoughts?

Operation Nats Off-Season; progress Report

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Is Adams our savior?   photo via ksdk.com/Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Is Adams our savior?
photo via ksdk.com/Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

On the heels of the Matt Adams signing, lets get a status update on the “needs” of the team and what they’ve done so far now that we’re past the Winter Meetings.

Needs/Off-season todo list: Here’s what I listed as the team’s “pressing needs” in a 10/16/17 post.

  1. Resolve Dusty Baker situationStatus Update: they whacked him and hired Dave Martinez to replace him.
  2. Should we bring back Jayson WerthStatus update: no update here, in that Werth has not signed elsewhere but the tea leaves definitely seem to indicate he’s moving on.
  3. What do we do at Catcher? Status Update:  Nothing yet; our former backup Jose Lobaton has already signed, penning  minor league deal with the Mets.  Not that he was going to really be an option for us.  We’ve seen some rumblings about how the team is going to manage Matt Wieters‘ playing time, and there’s a couple more options out there at catcher (not the least of which is J.T. Realmuto, who has expressed publicly his desire to be traded now that the new Marlins ownership group has gutted the roster.  I still don’t see any change here in direction; I think the team will stay with internal options.
  4. Will they pursue FA extensions with key players?  Status Update: there were brief rumors of extension talks with Harper/Boras, same with Rendon.  Nothing with Murphy.  So not much.
  5. Do they need to pursue a Starting Pitcher?  Status Updatenot much news here yet; they’ve gotten Tommy Milone to return to the fold, signing a ML deal that I would think includes an opt-out if he doesn’t make the team (but that’s an assumption).  Right now the 5th starter is the winner of an A.J. Cole/Erick Fedde/Milone spring training run-off.  I would expect to see something happen here at some point this off-season.  One complicating factor: Cole is out of options…
  6. What is the Nats 2018 outfield?  Status Update: no news and no trades from depth, so its still looking like Eaton/Taylor/Harper with Goodwin and Stevenson as backups.  They did intimate that Victor Robles will be starting in AAA so that he can play full-time, a decision I fully endorse.  Goodwin in particular got some mention from John Sickels in his prep post for the Nationals farm system, wondering aloud what Goodwin’s numbers would look like with a full season of ABs.  I don’t see that happening here … so I still think there’s a trade coming.  Another complicating factor here: Goodwin is now out of options.
  7. Do the Nats leverage their sudden depth of position players in trade this off-seasonStatus Update: nothing yet here … maybe Billy Beane has been on vacation and he just hasn’t returned Mike Rizzo‘s phone calls for the next big Oakland-Washington trade.
  8. What do we do with the benchStatus Update: so far we’re starting next year with Severino as the backup catcher, we just signed Adams to replace Adam Lind as the lefty PH bench bat.  I still think we need a RH bat to replace the Chris Heisey role, a guy who could play a corner in a pinch.  Otherwise we’re on track here.  Keep in mind; Murphy may not be ready for opening day so right now we’re looking at Wilmer Difo in the starting lineup.
  9. What do we do with the bullpen Status Update: the team re-signed Brandon Knitzler, which I think is a quality move but may also complicate the bullpen.  We now have three relievers who are out of options (Grace, Solis and Romero), all of whom were utilized last year.  If you keep the four guys now signed for big money FA deals along with the 3 out-of-option guys … then you’re leaving in particular Koda Glover in the minors.  Or on the D/L.

So, just 3 of the 9 categories really addressed at this point, though not all 9 categories were really Mandatory to do this off-season.

What does our 25-man opening day roster look like right now?

  • SP: Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark, Gonzalez, Cole
  • RP: Doolittle, Madsen, Knitzler, Kelley, Grace, Solis, Romero.  (4 of these guys have guaranteed contracts, the other 3 are out of options)
  • C: Wieters, Severino
  • Inf: Zimmerman, Murphy, Rendon, Turner, Adams, Difo (likely one more here with Murphy on the 10-day D/L to start the season)
  • OF: Eaton, Taylor, Harper, Goodwin, Stevenson

Does that look like a World Series winning team?

What’s the best Pitching Staff you could make out of Ex-Nats?

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Imagine tis guy in a Nats uniform? Photo via latimes.com

Imagine tis guy in a Nats uniform? Photo via latimes.com

It seems like every time I turn around, I see another ex-Nat pitching against us.  This past weekend our old friend Tommy Milone surfaced with the Mets to help lead his team to victory against us.

It got me wondering; what’s the best pitching staff of ex-Nats you could come up with right now?

Using a quick and dirty reference guide for depth charts at rotoworld.com, and basically going off of memory of who used to be in our organization, here’s my starting five rotation members, how they were connected with us and how we parted ways.

  1. Rich Hill, LA Dodgers.  He of the near perfect-game turned to walk-off homer loss.  Hill was a MLFA signing in March of 2015, threw in 25 games of relief and then was given his release halfway through the season (he probably had an opt-out).  From there, he bounced to Boston before signing a one year deal with Oakland where he suddenly was an all-star starter.  Oakland flipped him to LA, and now he’s the #2 starter basically on the best team in baseball.
  2. Robbie Ray, Arizona.  He was a big-money draft-pick by us before the new rules came in.  Initially seen as a throw-in in the Doug Fister trade, Ray is now the one who “got away.”   Detroit moved him to Arizona in the 3-way Didi Gregorius move, and he’s slowly come into his own.  He made the All-Star team in 2017 and is one of the better starters in the NL this year.
  3. Marco Estrada, Toronto.  This one still amazes me; we drafted him in 2005 and developed him all the way through his 6-year free agency in the minors, with him showing little of what he now shows for Toronto.   After leaving Washington, he signed in Milwaukee and eventually became a solid rotation member for them, but became an all-star in Toronto.  I’m tempted btw to also put in Marcus Stroman, who we drafted out of HS as a short stop in 2009 before he went to Duke, learned how to pitch, and became a first rounder.
  4. Brad Peacock, Houston.  He’s got a 11.9 K/9 rate as a starter/swingman for Houston this year.  We drafted him under the old “draft and follow” rules in the 41st round in 2006, developed him to the majors, then flipped him in the Gio Gonzalez deal.  Oakland then moved him (as they’re apt to do) to Houston in 2013, where he’s pitched ever since.  2017 is easily his best pro season.
  5. Alex Meyer, Los Angeles Angels.  Our second “first round”pick in the 2011 draft (the “Rendon” draft), he was thought to be perhaps too big to start.  Initially the trade bounty sent to Minnesota for Denard Span, Meyer took for ever to develop, got flipped to Los Angeles and took til his age 25 year to even debut in the majors.  Finally in 2017 he’s showed some promise as a starter (though he’s missed time with a shoulder injury).

Honorable Mentions: Doug Fister, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Jordan Zimmermann, Nate Karns,  Tommy Milone, Nick Pivetta, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Vance Worley

Interesting.  When I started this post I thought it’d be deeper.  I struggled to pick the 5th starter over the list of HMs.  Would you take any of the honorable mentions over Meyer or Peacock right now?  Can you think of anyone I’m missing?  Giolito just had a nice start; do you take him over Meyer or these other guys?

Do we have any regrets about any of these guys getting away?  Probably not.  There’s no way we could have predicted what Hill would have become, and Ray was just a baby when he was flipped.  We knew we were giving up talent in Peacock and Meyer … just not knowing how long it would have taken to matriculate.  Estrada’s maturation was totally unexpected too.

As far as the honorable mentions go … i’m completely surprised Fister (and Milone for that matter) is still in the league.  Giolito/Lopez was giving up talent to get talent.  We seem to have dodged a huge bullet with Zimmermann.   Karns has never really been healthy enough to show us what he has.  Pivetta may eventually come back to haunt us, but his 24-yr old season showed he’s not quite ready for the bigs.  Latos and Arroyo are barely hanging on (Arroyo may have already announced his retirement).  Worley pitched against us a few weeks ago and beat us but overall his 2017 has been a struggle.


How about relievers?  Here’s my best seven ex-Nats relievers out there (feel free to remind me if I forgot someone):

  • Felipe Rivero: the big name on this list; he’s exploded onto the scene since being flipped to Pittsburgh in the Mark Melancon deal.  He’s got an ERA+ for 2017 of 345, a just ridiculous.  He’s my ex-nat closer.
  • Blake Treinen: flipped to Oakland in a classic “change of scenery” move and he’s been stellar from day one on the west coast.  Sub 2.00 ERA, 7 saves.  Will he stay at this level?  Hopefully for him, yes.
  • Mark Melancon: I know he’s struggled with injury this year, but he’s only 32 and should have plenty of more success.  I’ll take him as closer 1-A to Rivero on my Ex-Nat staff.
  • Fernando Abad: DFA’d in the 2013 off-season then flipped to our favorite trade partner for a non-prospect minor leaguer, Abad was subsequently stellar for Oakland the following season.  He’s been up and down since, but has also been stellar in Boston’s bullpen this year.  He’s one of my Ex-Nat Loogies.
  • Jerry Blevins: the guy who (I think) Mike Rizzo traded for 50 cents on the dollar because he took the Nats to arbitration in 2015.  He got hurt soon after the trade in 2015, but has given the Mets two very solid years out of the pen since.
  • Craig Stammen: that’s right; he’s not only back but has had a very nice season in San Diego’s bullpen.
  • Yusmeiro Petit: we signed him away from our nemesis San Francisco … and then he struggled badly enough to have his club-option declined.  He promptly signed with the Angels and has been quite effective in 2017.  He’s my ex-Nat long-man.

Honorable Mentions: Tyler Clippard, Matt Belisle, Michael Brady, Ian Krol, Drew Storen, Josh Smoker, Marc Rzepczynski, Zach Duke, Paolo Espino, Abel de los Santos, Matt Purke, Xavier Cedeno.

So, this is a much better bullpen than starting rotation.  Three closer-quality guys at the top and two quality lefties.  Both Stammen and Petit have been good this year.  There’s a long list of honorable mention Nat relievers at this ponit and there may be others who are sitting in AAA right now.

 

 

Nats 2016 Minor League Players of the year; do they matter?

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Lopez 2016 Nats minor league pitcher of the year; will it matter? Photo via wp.com/Mitchell Layton getty images

Lopez 2016 Nats minor league pitcher of the year; will it matter? Photo via wp.com/Mitchell Layton getty images

The Nats recently announced their 2016 Minor League Players of the Year, and then recognized them along with GCL MVP Juan Soto over the weekend.

Rafael Bautista, Reynaldo Lopez, Jose Marmolejos-Diaz and Juan Soto, who all hail from the Dominican Republic and represent the best evidence of the Nats long awaited “rebirth” in that market, were all recognized.  And that’s great.

But how have the Nats Minor League Players of the Year fared in terms of eventual career accomplishment?  Is this achievement a good precursor for MLB success?  Lets dig deeper.

Here’s a list of the Nats declared prospects of the year (i’ve gone back beyond the Nats time in DC since prospects lag in terms of their arrival), along with some quick commentary on where they’ve gone:

  • 2016: Jose Marmelejos-Diaz, Reynaldo Lopez: Lopez had some impact at the MLB level in his first shot, may factor into the post-season bullpen, but is looking at AAA next year unless an injury or trade occurs.  Marmeloejos-Diaz is still too young to pass judgement.  Verdict: too early to tell obviously; Is Lopez going to be an effective mid-rotation starter or (as some pundits believe) is he going to end up being more effective in the bullpen?
  • 2015: Jose Marmelejos-Diaz, Austin Voth: Voth had a solid AAA season in 2016, but was (somewhat surprisingly) not called up on 9/1 despite facing Rule-5 protection this coming off-season.  Has he peaked?  Was he left off of the 40-man for strategic (i.e. trade bait) purposes?   He’s clearly behind three other AAA guys on the depth chart right now with a full MLB roster; what does his future hold?  Verdict: too early but concerns about Voth’s role going forward.
  • 2014: Steven Souza, Lucas Giolito: Souza famously netted the team both Trea Turner and Joe Ross in trade, but has been an injury prone 1-win/year player for Tampa Bay ever since (total bWAR for Tampa: 1.9 in two seasons).  Giolito’s jury is still out; despite his lofty prospect status he struggled on the big stage in 2016 amid reports of mechanical tweaks and struggles.  Verdict: early on Giolito, Souza might be who he is.
  • 2013: Billy Burns, Taylor Jordan: Burns netted the team Jerry Blevins in trade and then had one decent season with Oakland (a 2.8 bWAR season in 2015 that may have had the Nats with trader’s remorse.  However, he struggled badly in 2016, was traded, was sent to the minors, and may not be much more than a defensive outfield bench player.  Jordan had 9 promising starts in 2013, then struggled in spot starts in 2014, blew out his elbow, came back, struggled again in 2015 spot starts, blew out his elbow again this year and was summarily released.  He may struggle to find a team willing to give a 4-A pitcher on his third elbow a shot going forward.  Verdict: one may be done, one may be a 4th outfielder at best.
  • 2012: Nathan Karns, Matt Skole: Karns was a lower-round draft pick with an injury history the Nats took a chance on and he shot through the system, taking just a season and a half to rise from low-A.  The team capitalized on his promise and flipped him for three role players (Jose LobatonFelipe Rivero and Drew Vettleson).  Since, Karns got flipped to Seattle, struggled early and has missed most of 2016 with a back strain.  Skole is a polarizing figure amongst readers here; to me he is a 27yr old AAA power-only hitter who has had three consecutive NRI to spring training (so its not as if the MLB squad doesn’t know who he is).  He’s at the end of his string with the Nats and likely moves elsewhere as a MLFA for next year.  I wish he turned out better; after his fantastic 2012 season an unfortunate injury cost him all of 2013 and he really seems like he’s been playing catchup since.  Verdict: Karns may turn out to be more than he’s shown, but Skole is a 6-year MLFA.
  • 2011: Steve Lombardozzi, Brad Peacock: Lombardozzi made the majors as a 19th round pick (quite the rarity; it usually only happens 2-3 times per draft class), got traded in the Doug Fister deal, got traded again, then released, then picked up by Baltimore, then released again and found himself playing indy ball after getting cut by the Chicago White Sox this past spring.  The Nats picked him up for their AAA team but he possesses a negative bWAR career value as a backup utility player.  Peacock (not unlike Karns) had a brief debut with the Nats before getting used in trade to acquire others (in his case, going to Oakland as part of the Gio Gonzalez deal).  Oakland flipped him to Houston, where he struggled as a starter in 2014 and has been basically a 4-A taxi squad member between their AAA team and their bullpen.  Verdict: both guys ended up better AAA players than MLB players.
  • 2010: Tyler Moore, Tommy Milone: Moore matriculated to the majors and had a fantastic 2012 off the bench (123 OPS+) … and then never matched it.  The Nats traded him for Nate Freiman in a “moving the deck chairs” trade with Atlanta, and Moore spent most of 2016 off a 40-man and on the D/L.  Milone, like Karns and Peacock after him, had a brief and exciting debut with the MLB club before being used as trade fodder for others (he was also in the Gonzalez trade).  He excelled in Oakland’s big park and was then flipped for Sam Fuld to the Twins.  He’s been less successful with Minnesota, getting dumped out of the rotation in 2016 and posting a 5+ ERA this year for baseball’s worst team.  He may be a non-tender candidate and could be on the move again this winter.  Verdict: At best a 4-A slugger and a 6th starter.
  • 2009: Derek Norris, Brad Meyers: Is it interesting that three Nats Minor league players of the year were all included in the same trade?  Norris was a centerpiece of the Gonzalez deal while still relatively a young minor leaguer; he peaked as an All Star in 2014 for Oakland before getting moved to San Diego in the Jesse Hahn deal.  He’s struggled in San Diego, hitting just .186 this year.  Meyers’ career is an injury plagued shame; after a fantastic 2009 he started 2010 just as well before getting hurt.  He returned and had a solid 2011 in AA and AAA but was taken in Rule5 by the Yankees.  He missed basically all of 2012 with injury and was returned as damaged goods, an injury that cost him all of 2013.  By the time he made it back in 2014, he just had nothing left; after 6 starts in Harrisburg the team released him.  Verdict: At least a backup catcher in the majors and an asterick due to injury.
  • 2008: Leonard Davis, Jordan Zimmermann: Davis was named the hitter of the year on the back of a solid year at Potomac … when he was 24 and a year and a half older than the league.  He kept climbing the ranks, hit .250 in Syracuse in 2011 but never got a shot in the majors.  He bounced around indy ball for a copule of years but retired in 2013.   Zimmermann is what we all know him to be: a 9-figure starter and easily the most successful player on this list .. which, not to bury the lede this early, is kind of the point of this article.  Verdict: a AA washout and a #2 starter in the majors.
  • 2007: Justin Maxwell, John Lannan: Maxwell toiled for years as a 4th OF for the Nats in their dark times before getting flipped for a middle reliever in Adam Olbrychowski.  That started his itinerant career, playing for Houston, Kansas City, San Francisco and most recently Boston’s AAA team.  He has now decamped for Korea.  For his career he has a bWAR figure of 2.9, 2.4 of which came in his best season in Houston.  Lannan famously went from Nats opening day starter and Ace during the “down years” to AAA insurance policy in 2012.  After getting mercifully non-tendered in 2012, he played for two different NL East rivals in 2013-2014, and has pitched full AAA seasons in the PCL the last two years.  7.1 career bWAR, most of which was earned during his first two full seasons starting for the awful 2008 and 2009 Nats.  Verdict: two MLB players, both of which had limited impact in their careers.
  • 2006: Kory Casto, Zech Zinicola: Casto was a long-time Nats farmhand favorite, progressing slowly one level a  year and always producing.  He finally made the majors in 2007 but struggled in parts of two seasons and was outrighted off the 40-man after 2009.  He elected FA, bounced around two organizations in 2010 before retiring in July of that  year.  Zincola won the Nats minor league pitcher of the year in a  year when he threw just 32 innings as a closer, an indication of how bad our farm system was in the early years.  He played for years in the Nats system, never making the majors, but interestingly played a full season this year with the independent Sugar Land Skeeters.  Verdict: essentially two career minor leaguers.
  • 2005: Kory Casto, Mike O’Conner: O’Conner became just the second pitcher in the history of George Washington baseball to make the majors (the first being a guy from the 1920s who had exactly one career IP).  He gave the team 20 starts in 2006 and then had a grand total of 15 MLB innings thereafter, toiling for years in AAA.  Verdict: as with Casto, essentially a career minor leaguer.
  • 2004: Ryan Church: a late bloomer who won the Nats minor league player of the year the year he was acquired by destroying Edmonton before getting called up.   By 2007 he was a solid contributor for the Nats and looked like a viable RF option for a few  years.  He got flipped to the Mets in Jim Bowden‘s ill-fated trade for the “toolsy” Lastings Milledge not uncoincidentally just before his first arbitration pay day, played there halfway decently for a year and a half before getting moved to Atlanta.   He signed as a FA in Pittsburgh and struggled badly, and 2010 was his last year in the big leagues.  Total career bWAR: 9.1, most of it in the three solid years he gave the Nats.  Verdict: a MLB regular for a handful of seasons.
  • 2003: Terrmel Sledge: Sledge won the Expos minor league award after an excellent year in AAA Edmonton.   He was solid in 2004 for the big league club but then barely played in 2005 thanks to injury.  That off-season he was flipped in the Alfonso Soriano deal, traded to San Diego a few weeks later, played two non-descript seasons there and then played 5 years in Japan, retiring after the 2012 season at the age of 35.  Verdict: essentially a 4-A player.

 

Summary: 13 years of the franchise naming minor league players of the year (24 total guys) has produced:

  • One legitimate MLB star (Zimmermann)
  • 6 slightly better than replacement Major leaguers: Souza, Milone, Karns, Norris, Lannan, Church
  • 9 basically 4-A players: Burns, Jordan, Lombardozzi, Peacock, Moore, Maxwell, Casto, O’Conner, Sledge
  • 4 guys who never made the majors: Skole (as of yet), Meyers, Davis, Zinicola
  • 4 guys who its too early to tell: Marmelejos-Diaz, Lopez, Voth, Giolito

Not a great track record.  Lots of this is squarely on the shoulders of the early state of the farm system; fair enough.   Its also wise to note that none of the main home-grown stars that the team as developed over the years appears on this list; No Zimmerman, Harper, Strasburg, Rendon, Storen, Cole, Solis, Ray, Espinosa, etc.  That’s because these guys either raced through the minors or just never shined brightly enough at a particular level to earn the award.

Also interesting; look how many of these guys got flipped soon after their being named our POTY: Norris, Milone, Peacock, Karns, Burns, Souza.  Its almost as if the team is trading high on more marginal prospects thanks to their POTY status.  Look at the return in each of these deals; it seems like the Nats “won” the trade nearly every time.

Another interesting side note; while doing this I noticed that no less than four guys from the 2007 draft are on this list: Zimmermann (2nd), Souza (3rd), Norris (4th) and Meyers (5th).  That draft also included future big leagers in Detwiler (1st), Smoker (1st-supp) and Smolinksi (2nd).  and McCoy (10th).  That’s a heck of a draft; all due credit.

 

 

 

Syracuse/AAA Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2015

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Espino probably had your best overall season out of the AAA staff. Photo via milb.com

Espino probably had your best overall season out of the AAA staff. Photo via milb.com

After skipping the minor league pitching staff reviews in 2014 (that silly thing called work interfered), I’m back for 2015.  I’ll be reviewing the six minor league levels and the major league levels going from high to low.  In this series, we have already published the MLB version for 2015.

For some historical perspective, here’s 2013’s version (featuring Tanner Roark), here’s 2012’s version (featuring John Lannan) and 2011’s version (featuring Tommy Milone) of this post for AAA Syracuse.  In the missing 2014 post I likely would have “featured” either Taylor Hill or Rafael Martin.

All stats are courtesy of either milb.com’s Syracuse Stats page or via Fangraph’s Syracuse Stats page.   Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker.  And here’s the Baseball America Minor League Free Agent (MLFA) tracker.  And here’s a list of the official MLB MLFA declarations for 2015.

Syracuse Pitching Staff movement throughout the year (* == lefty)

  • Opening Day Rotation: Cole, Jordan, THill, McGregor, Billings
  • Closing Day Rotation:  Espino, Bleier*, McGregor , THill, Jordan (Cole 9/1 callup)
  • End of Season Swingmen: Walters, Billings
  • End of Season bullpen:   Runion,  Gutierrez, Harper*
  • 9/1 promotions: Solis*, Martin, Grace*, Cole
  • Mid-Season Promotions: Rivero*,  Ross, Treinen
  • Up-and-back: Martin, Grace*, Cole, Jordan, THill, Solis* (not counting 9/1 call-ups)
  • Down-and-back: Bleier*, Runion
  • Demotions: Spann* (was up for spot start), AWilliams (up for spot start),  EDavis, Demny,
  • DL/restricted: Swynenberg
  • Cut/released: Delcarmen, Lively (Japan), RHill*, Simmons, Meek (Korea), Valverde (opt-out), Fornataro

Syracuse starters.  The rotation started the season with Cole, Jordan, Hill, McGregor, and Billings.  It finished the year with Espino, Bleier, McGregor , THill, Jordan and Cole.  Here’s an overview of the starters Syracuse used, starting with the original five starters.

  • A.J. Cole was Syracuse’s opening day starter in 2015.  On the year, he was 5-6, 3.15 ERA, 1.18 whip, 3.90 FIP and 76/34 K/BB in 105.2 innings.  Cole got yanked up and down a couple times on the year, with one ill-fated spot-start for the major league team where he looked completely out of his depth against Atlanta (not exactly the ’27 Yankees).  His K/9 is down, BB/9 is up from his stint in AAA in 2014, though his BAA improved significantly.  I’m struggling not to write him off; after all he’s only 23, he’s still listed in or near the top 100 prospects in all of the minors, and he still could have value.  I just don’t think its going to happen with the Nats.  He’s been pushed down on the starter depth chart and (save an injury) has no chance of making the 25-man roster in 2016.  So is there value in having him pitch another year in upstate New York?  I could see Cole getting flipped to a team that could use a cheap 5th starter candidate.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse’s opening day starter again, unless moved.
  • Taylor Jordan was 5-6, 2.95 ERA, 1.15 whip, 3.41 FIP and 61/27 K/BB in 103 IP.   He’s slipping further and further away from a rotation job that seemed rather likely after his 2013 sterling debut.  His AAA numbers were pretty good this year but he got lit up in his one 2015 spot start (to be fair, it was against Toronto and the best offense in the majors).  His margin for error is just so much lower because he doesn’t get the K/9 that other guys do.  Unlike Cole though, Jordan doesn’t necessarily wow the scouts and may be tougher to move.  I think he plays out his options string as a AAA starter with occasional big league cover and then gives it a go in another organization.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse rotation again.
  • Taylor Hill was 3-10 with a 5.23 ERA, 1.62 whip, 3.85 fip and 70/29 K/BB in 118 IP.  Not a good year for Hill, who got a handful of mop-up bullpen gigs in late May/early June and wasn’t entirely impressive while doing it.  See all that we’ve said for Cole and Jordan, but lower expectations a bit more.  I have Hill near the top of my “guys to get DFA’d to make room on the 40-man roster” at this point and he needs to figure out what changed between 2014 (2.81 ERA) and this year (5.23 ERA, both at Syracuse).  We won’t really know if he’s getting pushed out of the rotation until deeper dives into the AA rotation.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse rotation/release candidate.  1/6/16 update: Hill was DFA’d on the 40-man to make room for Stephen Drew: we’ll update in this space when his roster status is finalized.
  • Scott McGregor (boy I have a hard time typing that w/o remembering the old Baltimore Orioles hurler from the mid 1970s) was 6-6 with a 4.04 ERA, 1.43 whip, 4.67 fip and 63/35 K/BB in 107 IP split between starting and relieving.  He started in the rotation, having signed as a MLFA in June of 2014 originally then re-upped with the Nats over last off-season to continue his role as AAA 5th starter/long-man.  But his performance slipped considerably this year.  I don’t see him listed on the MLFA tracker so its possible he’s signed through 2016 with the team, so we’ll assume he’s reprising his role again in 2016.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse long-man/spot starter
  • Bruce Billings was 8-5 with a  3.63 ERA, 1.26 whip, 3.23 fip and 90/28 K/BB in 121 IP.  The MLFA produced well in a season spent in a similar role to McGregor; 4th/5th starter who made way for prospects as they got moved up but who eventually spent most of the year in the rotation.   His numbers are about what you’d expect for a veteran minor leaguer/classic AAA org guy; he’s declared again and will look to build on his decent 2015 with an organization where he has a better shot at getting called up.  Outlook for next season: in AAA for another organization.
  • Paolo Espino had a nice season, getting promoted up from AA and giving Syracuse 20 starts of 3.21 ERA, 1.15 whip, 3.68 fip pitching (88/19 K/BB in 117 AAA innings).  The 2014 MLFA signing (as with McGregor) stuck with the team for 2015 and could be an interesting piece going forward.  Question is; is he a MLFA for this upcoming season?  My records and research disagree with each other: he’s *not* listed in the BA MLFA tracker nor is he on the official MLB declared MLFA list (links at the top), but the drat tracker says he’s a MLFA.  I’ll assume our private files are not better than MLBs and assume he’s still under team control.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse Rotation.
  • Richard Bleier was 14-5 with a 2.57 ERA between AA and AAA this year.  65/16 K/BB in 171 IP.  Bleier had a nice season, working his way out of AA and finishing the year in the AAA rotation.  His K/9 is shockingly low given his stat line, perhaps why he’s not likely to draw much attention from the team’s executives on 1/2 street.  He’s a declared MLFA already for 2015 and likely plies his trade elsewhere next year.  Outlook for next season: in AAA for another organization.
  • P.J. Walters was acquired mid-season from the Dodgers for cash: for the Chiefs he threw 60 innings of 5.35 ERA and got 5 spot starts towards the end of the year.  52/23 K/BB in his 60 innings for Syracuse on the year.  Walters has significant MLB experience, with 152 IP across several organizations dating to 2008.  He’s yet to really have a decent MLB stretch thought, and his AAA numbers are starting to look just as bad.  Given the team’s dearth of RH bullpen depth options though, I think its safe to say they’ll keep him around to see if he’s an option to consider.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen.
  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there:
    • Joe Ross had 5 starts before getting called up to the majors.  See MLB write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: Nats #4 starter.
    • Matt Swynenberg had exactly one AAA start of 3 innings this year before spending the rest of the year on the restricted list, which usually indicates retirement.  We’ll see if he gets an official release this coming off-season.  Outlook for next season: retired/out of the organization.
    • Mitch Lively had 2 spot starts but was mostly a reliever; see the reliever section.
    • Sam Runion and Eric Fornataro each had a spot start but were primarily relievers; see the reliever section.
    • Matthew Spann, James Simmons and Austen Williams each got called up to AAA from lower levels to provide exactly one spot start.  See High-A for for Spann and Williams, AA for Simmons writeups.
    • Strasburg and Fister had one-two rehab starts for Syracuse in 2015.

Syracuse Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps.  We’ll organize relievers by going by IP from most to least.  Anyone with less than 10 IP will get cursory analysis at the end.

  • Rafael Martin was Syracuse’s closer for a good portion of the season, getting 12 saves in 50 IP across 46 games.  We discussed Martin at length in the MLB writeup but will repeat our prediction here.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen/MLB reliever depth.
  • Eric Fornataro was a waiver claim last off-season, then DFA’d off the 40-man roster before the season started.  He then failed to impress, posting a 5.54 ERA in 50 innings before getting released in July.  Outlook for next season: in another organization/out of baseball.
  • Matt Grace had a 2.40 ERA in 48 IP and spent a decent amount of time on the MLB roster (17 ip across 26 appearances).  See MLB writeup for more.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen/lefty reliever coverage.
  • Evan Meek posted a 2.15 ERA across 37.2 innings in the early part of the year, effective if a bit wild (33/19 K/BB in those 37 ip) and, after not getting consideration for a call-up, asked for his release to sign with a Korean team.  Outlook for next season: still in Korea or with another Organization.
  • Sam Runion posted a 2.91 ERA in 65 IP across AA and AAA after getting picked up in June of 2014 as a MLFA.  1.43 whip, decent K/9 rates, just not enough to get a sniff at a MLB call-up.  Just a classic org guy who is a MLFA this year and likely plies his trade elsewhere next year.  Outlook for next season: MLFA, re-signed per BA ML transactions so AAA bullpen again (updated 12/29/15)
  • Mitch Lively was in basically the same boat as Meek; put up good numbers (2.31 ERA, 0.97 whip, but wasn’t called up and decided to go overseas.  He was released on 6/17/15 so as to sign with a Japanese team.  He posted a 6.75 ERA in 16 games in Japan; not sure what the future holds for him.  Outlook for next season: still in Japan or with another Organization.
  • Juan Gutierrez was signed off the AAA waiver wire in August 2015 and threw 34 mediocre innings (3.47 ERA)for Syracuse down the stretch in a classic “we need someone to pitch innings for us to finish the season” move.  He’s a MLFA and likely keeps on moving for 2016.  Outlook for next season: in another organization.
  • Jose Valverde signed a month into the 2015 season with a typical veteran MLFA contract that guaranteed an opt out after a couple of months if the big club didn’t use him.  Valverde closed effectively for Syracuse until July, when he opted out.  He did not sign elsewhere for 2015.  He’s playing in the DWL but I wonder if he’s done; his last two MLB stints were both ugly.  Outlook for next season: in another organization/out of baseball.
  • Manny Delcarmen had an 8.14 ERA in 21 IP across 18 appearances before getting released in early June.  He played out the rest of the season in Mexico.  Outlook for next season: in another organization/out of baseball.
  • Rich Hill signed as a MLFA late in the 2015 spring from the  Yankees, pitched decently as a middle reliever in Syracuse and likely had an “out clause” forcing the team’s hand, who released him in late June.  He picked up with Boston, pitched well for their AAA squad, got promoted back to the majors, pitched lights out in 4 starts in the end of the season … and signed a $6M contract to pitch for Oakland in 2016. Go figure.  Did the Nats miss the boat here?  This isn’t the first time they’ve had a guy in their AAA rosters who went on to have significant success for another club (Colby Lewis, Marco Estrada, Chris Young).  Maybe they should have given Hill a 40-man job while they were trying out everyone else in late May/early June.  Maybe you could say the same thing about a whole bunch of the MLFA MLB-experienced veterans who passed through Syracuse’s roster in 2015.  Outlook for next season: Pitching for Billy Beane out in Oakland on a $6M deal.
  • Other Relievers who appeared in AAA of note (not including Rehabbing MLBers): Outlook for next season for all of these guys seems the same: either continued “org guy” middle reliever or minor league free agent in another organization.
    • Solis, Treinen and Rivero each had a nominal amount of AAA innings: see MLB writeup for them.
    • Demny and Davis spent more time in AA than AAA: see Harrisburg write-up.
    • Everyone else not mentioned had 5 or less IP in AAA and were mostly in other levels.

Summary

34 different hurlers passed through the Syracuse locker room this year.  Phew.  And it seems like a huge percentage of them have already churned out of the organization, looking for their next stop.  I guess this is the way AAA teams go these days.  We may see more MLFA veteran arms coming into the system for 2016 given the number of guys they’re losing.

Its hard to say whether we really learned much from the AAA staff this year; the team kind of already knew what it had with its highest-end prospects in AAA (the likes of Cole, Jordan and Hill).  Almost the entire bullpen was veteran MLFAs who likely won’t be back, most of whom never got a chance to contribute to the major league team in its time of need in 2015.

Rotation Reviews of your 2014 Playoff Teams

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Will the Nats be staring down Kershaw in the playoffs? Photo via wiki.

Will the Nats be staring down Kershaw in the playoffs? Photo via wiki.

Here we are.  After a crazy trade deadline in July, and an August and September that featured the division leaders (in most cases) solidifying their positions and extending their leads, the playoffs are upon us.

Lets take a look at the rotations of the playoff teams (despite the fact that the four Wild Card teams are just one-man pitching staffs until they win the play-in game).  Who lines up best?  For each team i’ve tried to line the pitchers up one through five, with the 5th guy being the one headed to the bullpen.

(Quick useful links: AL full standings on b-r.com, NL full standings, and post season schedule at MLB.com).

Trade deadline 2014 acquisitions highlighted in blue.  Pre-season acquisitions highlighted in Green for context.

NL Division Champs:

  • Washington: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmerman, Fister, Roark (yes this is how I think it will shake out despite Roark’s great season-long performance; we posted on this separately)
  • St. Louis: Wainwright, Lynn, Wacha, Miller, Lackey (Masterson to the bullpen when Wacha came back)
  • Los Angeles: Kershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Haren, Hernandez, Wright (Beckett hurt, done for year, Ryu coming back, should be ok for playoffs so I’ve inserted him as the #3.  Maholm, Billingsley, Fife hurt all year).

Just look at what the Dodgers have tried to do to keep their rotation afloat in terms of player acquisition over the past couple of years.  I’d like to have their budget.  They will have no less than eleven capable, MLB-experienced starters once they’re all healthy.  Yes Kershaw is unbeatable, but as pointed out earlier this year, they are basically a .500 team otherwise.  Their 4th and 5th starters have been below replacement for much of the past month but they’re getting back Ryu right in time for the playoffs.   St. Louis’ rotation looks just as strong as it has been for the past few years; Wainwright quietly has 20 wins and a 2.38 ERA on the season.  Lynn has been great.  Only Miller has struggled but still has a league-average ERA+.

It is hard not to look at the Nationals’ rotation and claim they’re the deepest one-through-four, despite Gonzalez’s struggles.   I’d take our #4 (Fister) over anyone else’s #4, I think our #3 matches up just as favorably to anyone els’es #3, and Strasburg has a 1.34 ERA in September as the #1.

NL Wild Card:

  • Pittsburgh: Liriano, Cole, Locke, Volquez, Worley (Morton dinged up late Sept, made way for Cole).
  • San Francisco: Bumgarner, Hudson, Petit, Vogelsong, Peavy (Lincecum to bullpen for Petit, Cain out all year)

The NL WC pitching match-up will be Bumgarner-Liriano.  Both teams manipulated their rotations at season’s end to preserve their aces for the coin-flip game.  We’ll do a separate prediction piece.

NL Also-Rans;

  • Atlanta:  Teheran, Minor, Santana, Harang, Wood (Beachy, Floyd, Medlen out all year)
  • Milwaukee: Lohse, Garza, Gallardo, Peralta, Fiers (Nelson and Estrada to bullpen)

The Braves fell so far, so badly in September that they were nearly surpassed by the lowly NY Mets for 2nd place in the NL East.  That’s crazy.  But they still remain here as an also-ran because they were in the wild card race until mid-September.  I still think it is crazy what they were able to accomplish given the starting pitcher injuries they suffered in spring training and don’t quite understand why Frank Wren was fired.  If you want to fire him for his crummy FA contracts so be it; but the man engineered a team that made the playoffs three of the past five years.  Harsh treatment if you ask me.  Insider comments seem to think that Wren lost an internal power-struggle involving Fredi Gonzalez.


And here’s what we’re looking at in the AL:

AL Division Champs:

  • Baltimore: Tillman, Norris, Chen, Gonzalez, Gausman (Jimenez demoted to BP)
  • Detroit: Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, Price, Porcello
  • Los Angeles: Weaver, Wilson, Shoemaker, Santiago, Rasmus, LeBlanc (Richards injured, Skaggs hurt)

It is hard to look at these rotations and comprehend where these teams currently stand:

  • How is Baltimore leading the AL East by 12 games?  None of these guys are a league-wide “Ace.”
  • How is Detroit not pulling away from the AL Central with this collection of arms?  Of course, you could ask this question of Detroit over and again the past few years; with a stacked lineup and stacked rotation they have just barely won their (usually) weak division year after year.
  • How does Los Angeles have the best record in the majors with a non-drafted FA and a waiver claim in their Sept rotation?  Would you favor this rotation over Detroit’s?

I guess it doesn’t matter; these teams have bashed their way to their titles and should continue to hit in the post-season.  Apparently the O’s aren’t going to go with Gausman in their playoff rotation despite his good seasonal numbers.  It may be a case of veteran manager going with the veterans, as Gausman’s numbers are pretty much in line with most of the rest of the Baltimore rotation.  The injury to Richards really hurts the Angels: Weaver may be close to an Ace but Wilson showed he is hittable in the post-season and lord knows what will happen when LA has to throw their #3 and #4 choices.

AL Wild Cards:

  • Kansas City: Shields, Duffy, Ventura, Guthrie, Vargas
  • Oakland: Grey, Samardzija, Lester, Hammel, Kazmir

AL Wild Card looks like a knock-out match-up of Shields and Lester; the A’s burned Grey yesterday to get the win that put them in the playoffs.  Oakland has to be kicking themselves; how did they go from (easily) the best team in the majors for the first half to struggling to hang onto the WC spot?   On paper replacing 3/5ths of the rotation (out with Chavez, Milone, Pomeranz and Straily, in with Samardzija, Lester and Hammel) sounded like a great idea … but to me the team’s chemistry was clearly un-balanced.  At least they held on to the spot and avoiding a one-game play-in against Felix Hernandez.

AL Also-Rans:

  • Seattle: Hernandez, Walker, Iwakuma, Paxton, Young (Elias out for year)
  • New York: McCarthy, Greene, Kuroda, Capuano, Pineda (with Tanaka finally coming back at season’s end.  Nova and Sabathia gone all year with injuries).

All Seattle needed to do was *get* to the wild card game … and they’d have great odds of advancing behind ace Hernandez.  But struggled to the finish line.  Meanwhile Cleveland and New York would have been mentioned here a week ago, but both squads just ran out of time to make comebacks.  I’ll give NY credit: they played 7 games better than their pythagorean record with huge chunks of their rotation gone for the season and depending on guys who’s names I had to look up.

Coming soon; a review of the WC matchups with predictions.

 

Written by Todd Boss

September 29th, 2014 at 8:58 am