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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

 


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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

What say you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Written by Todd Boss

July 23rd, 2014 at 10:52 am

Posted in Draft

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The Nats should just move Detwiler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2014 Rotation Rankings 1-30

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Todd Boss

March 10th, 2014 at 9:50 am

Posted in Majors Pitching

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Ladson’s Inbox 11/5/13 edition

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Can Roark win a 2014 rotation job? Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Can Roark win a 2014 rotation job? Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Well, we finally got a manager, so hopefully MLB.com Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson will stop taking “Who do you think the next Nats Manager” questions.  I’m not ruling it out though :-)  Nonetheless, here’s the latest Ladson inbox, dated 11/5/13.  As always, I write my response before reading his and edit questions for clarity.

Q: Will Davey Johnson still play a role in the organization?

A: Who cares?  Does it matter?  Whatever role Davey Johnson could play would have so little significance on the on-field play of the 2014 team that I find it useless to even speculate.  I’m sure the Nats offered him a limited role out of respect, and I’d assume Johnson accepted it as long as it allowed him to go relax in Florida for a while, hoping another managerial job opens up.  Ladson expects he’ll consult to the team and advise on trades and FA signings because he’s such a great “talent evaluator.”  Hey Bill; if Johnson was such a great talent evaluator why exactly did he run Danny Espinosa out for so many at-bats?  Why didn’t he push to make a change in the rotation when it was clear that Dan Haren wasn’t pitching at even a replacement-level?  How come he didn’t see the rising talent that made such a difference in September?

Q: After Stephen StrasburgGio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, how do you see the rest of the rotation shaking out?

A: A good question.  After going into the 2013 season with almost no high-minors starting pitching depth, you have to think the team is going to cover themselves for 2014.  So count on there being more seemingly worthy candidates than roles going into spring training 2014.  The answer to this question may depend on payroll issues: right now Cots has the Nats with about $80M committed for 2014 prior to its arbitration cases, which MLBtraderumor’s Matt Swartz is estimating will run the team another $37.3M (which honestly I think is slightly low).  That’s roughly $117M in payroll before even looking at a single FA candidate.   You could save some of this money with non-tenders or trades (Tyler Clippard at $6.2M is a candidate to be moved), but not enough to get an impact player.

Will the ownership group expand the payroll even more for 2014, knowing their “window” with this group of players is shrinking?  Or will they stay the course and know that nearly $30M of mostly underperforming veteran FAs (LaRocheSpanSoriano) come off the books after next season, allowing them to reload in the FA market towards 2015 and beyond?

If ownership frees up some cash, by trade/non-tender or by expansion of the payroll limit, there are FA pitchers to be had.  I’ve seen more than one pundit with the Nats linked to Matt Garza, but I don’t see it; I don’t think he’s worth what people seem to think he’s going to get (4 yrs/$60M).  More likely is the team going with a modification of the Edwin Jackson/Dan Haren plan and getting a reclamation project in the ilk of Josh Johnson on a one-year/low paying contract with big incentives.

Less predictable is the trade acquisition.  Nobody saw the Gio Gonzalez trade coming until it happened, and something similar could happen now.  The team is in the same position generally this off-season as it was in 2011 in terms of having a slight surplus of closer-to-the-majors arms and bats and could put together a similar package.  If we moved Brad PeacockTommy MiloneDerek Norris and A.J. Cole for Gonzalez in 2011 (or in otherwords, a good-looking starter with great initial call-up numbers, a solid lefty starter who dominated AAA, a decent looking catcher prospect and a high-leverage low-minors prospect) would a similar package of something like Tanner RoarkNathan Karns, Eury Perez and Robbie Ray fetch a #2 starter in the trade market?   Oakland isn’t facing the same issue they were in 2011 with any of its pitchers, so the most likely eager-to-make-a-trade GM in Billy Beane is out.  But that being said, they’re paying Brett Anderson a LOT of money for Oakland’s payroll (roughly 1/6th of their payroll for next year), and he could be moved.  Anderson wouldn’t cost nearly this much in prospects, but would be a huge risk; he hasn’t pitched a full season in years.

Meanwhile everyone knows Tampa is looking to move David Price, but any trade for him has to start with your two best prospects and build from there, and the Nats are just back to the point where the farm system is looking respectable again.  I’m not sure the Nats are going to be willing to give up what the Rays will demand.  The Nats have done business lately with the Chicago Cubs, who may look to move the arbitration-eligible Jeff Samardzija, but they’d be selling incredibly low on him after his poor 2013.  Lastly the Tigers reportedly are considering moving Max Scherzer, who enters his last year of arbitration looking for a big pay day and with Ken Rosenthal reporting that the Nats are his best fit, but I just cannot see purposely moving a Cy Young winner and disrupting a team that continues to be one of the best in the AL.

With no FA acquisitions and no trades, I see a competition next spring that likely sees Ross Detwiler in the 4th spot (no options, theoretically healthy again), Tanner Roark in the 5th spot (he keeps his spot until he shows that his remarkable September numbers are human), Ross Ohlendorf as the spot starter/long man in the MLB pen, and Taylor Jordan-Nathan Karns being the #1 and #2 starters in AAA Syracuse.  Some speculate that Detwiler would lose out to both Roark and Jordan and become a lefty out of the pen … but I don’t see that.  I’m not counting it out, but I don’t see that happening if he’s healthy.

With any significant FA acquisition or trade, you line up Stras-Gio-Zimmermann-New Acquisition and Detwiler to start off 2014, just as you did in 2013.   Roark and Ohlendorf likely work out of the MLB pen and Jordan/Karns still in AAA.   Maybe Karns comes up and works the 7th inning as well, while Jordan remains starter insurance plan #1.

Ladson also mentions Price, also mentions what I do about the difficulties lining up, thinks the Nats will acquire someone for #4 spot and then says Roark has the inside edge on #5 spot, even over Detwiler (who he thinks could move to the bullpen). 

Q: What did you think about the Nationals hiring Williams as manager last week?

A: Well, I guess Ladson had to get in one last question about the managerial situation.  My take: I like the move, I think Matt Williams‘ combination of successful playing career and MLB coaching experience will instantly give him the respect of the veterans and the rookies on this team.   He will get this team in line, he will bring some old-school notions to this team and won’t back down in a fight (as Johnson clearly did with Atlanta all year).  I think he will give this team the spine it lacked and will do nothing but help move the team forward.

One other opinion; I do see some critics who say that Williams’ lack of direct managerial experience at any level hurts him.  I say BS; he was a major league coach for four years, working underneath a successful, respected manager.  He presumably contributed to the decision making process, got to witness first hand how decisions worked out, got to decide for himself how he would have handled situations, and in some ways I think this experience supercedes being a manager of a lower-level ball-club where there’s no egos and just a bunch of kids who you can cower into submission.

Ladson says its too early to tell, but that Williams had a great news conference.  Honestly I didn’t really expect much of an answer here from an employee of MLB.

Q: What is Christian Garcia‘s status? Will he join the Nationals in 2014? He was a great late addition to the bullpen in 2012.

A: He’s finally healthy, and pitching in the Mexican Winter League.  I think the team sees the error of its ways in trying to convert the injury-riddled pitcher to being a starter.  He’s working as a reliever in winter ball, and I hope to see him continue to work as a reliever in the spring.  I’d love to see him earn a spot in the bullpen; lord knows the team could use one more reliable arm in the 6th/7th inning (Ryan Mattheus needs to be on guard; your spot is in jeopardy for 2014).  Ladson agrees with everything I’ve said.

Q: Do you think the Nationals will trade Danny EspinosaTyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzithis winter or sign a couple free agents? I believe they need a lefty middle reliever, a left-handed bat coming off the bench and a veteran backup catcher.

A: Trading any of those three guys after the seasons they had at the plate would be selling incredibly low.  So no, I don’t think any of them get moved unless they’re part of a larger deal.  Espinosa needs to get healthy, learn how to hit left handed, and build trade value.  I believe he can be a valuable player for someone, somewhere, just based on his incredible defense.  But he has to hit better than .150.  Moore needs to return to his 2012 power ways, but I still see him as a useful player who we have no reason to trade; he still has options, he’s still pre-arbitration and thus he’s cheap.  Lombardozzi is the quintessential utility guy; he can play 2nd, 3rd, left, right.  You have to have one of these guys around … and if he can’t hit, it is’t going to kill you.  But when this player gets 300 ABs (as Lombardozzi got last year) … then you have a problem.  This is why the team got Scott Hairston and why they’re likely to give some looks to Zach Walters in 2014.   Maybe the team looks for a cheap veteran to replace Chad Tracy but i’d hope for a bit more positional flexibility.

I can also see the team kicking the tires on a veteran lefty but don’t entirely see the need; Ian Krol may have faltered down the stretch but he was mostly good.  Abad was good.  Cedeno was good.  We have all these guys locked up.  You see who wins a competition and switch them out if they’re ineffective.

Ladson thinks Espinosa is getting traded no matter what, and has played his last game as a National.

Q: Are Gold Glove Awards given with consideration to the offensive stats of a player? Otherwise, how could Denard Span miss out on the award this year?

A: They’re not supposed to be … but we all know old habits die hard and bit players who are awful at the plate often times have a hard time getting a Gold Glove.  Span as it turned out led all NL centerfielders in one defensive metric (Total Zone Total Fielding Runs), but I have zero problem with the NL winner Carlos Gomez.  Ladson says he was “shocked” that Span didn’t win, and then used “# of errors” as a metric.  Poor form Ladson; you need to reference some of the advanced stats in question.  Gomez led the NL in Defensive Runs Saved, one of the two major defensive metrics.  So your argument fails.  Span may have great range, but he wasn’t best in the Ultimate Zone Ratings measurement either.  See the Fielding Awards spreadsheet link to the right to see all the leaders in one place.

2013 Pre-season Rotation Rankings revisited

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Scherzer's dominant Cy Young season brings the Tigers to the top.  Photo AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Scherzer’s dominant Cy Young season brings the Tigers to the top. Photo AP Photo/Paul Sancya

In January, after most of marquee FA signings had shaken out, I ranked the 2013 rotations of teams 1-30.  I was excited about the Nats rotation, speculated more than once that we had the best rotation in the league, and wanted to make a case for it by stacking up the teams 1-30.

I thought it’d be an interesting exercise to revisit my rankings now that the season is over with a hindsight view, doing some post-mortem analysis and tacking on some advanced metrics to try to quantify who really performed the best this season.  For advanced metrics I’m leaning heavily on Fangraphs team starter stats page, whose Dashboard view quickly gives the team ERA, FIP, xFIP, WAR, SIERA, K/9 and other key stats that I’ll use in this posting.

  1. (#2 pre-season) DetroitVerlander, Fister, Sanchez, Scherzer, Porcello (with Alvarez providing some cover).  Scherzer likely wins the Cy Young.  Three guys with 200+ strikeouts.  The league leader in ERA.  And we havn’t even mentioned Justin Verlander yet.  A team starting pitching fWAR of 25.3, which dwarfed the next closest competitor.  There’s no question; we knew Detroit’s rotation was going to be good, but not this good.  Here’s a scary fact; their rotation BABIP was .307, so in reality this group should have done even better than they actually did.  Detroit’s rotation was *easily* the best rotation in the league and all 6 of these guys return for 2014.
  2. (#3 Preseason): Los Angeles DodgersKershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Nolasco, and Capuano (with Fife, BeckettLilly, Billingsley and a few others helping out); The 1-2 punch of Kershaw (the NL’s clear Cy Young favorite) and Greinke (who quietly went 15-4) was augmented by the stand-out rookie performance of Ryu, the surprisingly good half-season worth of starts from Nolasco, and then the all-hands-on deck approach for the rest of the starts.  This team used 11 different starters on the year thanks to injury and ineffectiveness, but still posted the 2nd best team FIP and 5th best fWAR in the league.
  3. (#8 pre-season): St. LouisWainwright, Lynn, Miller, Wacha and Kelly (with Garcia, Westbrook, and a few others pitching in).  Team leader Chris Carpenter missed the whole season and this team still was one of the best rotations in the league.  Westbrook missed time, Garcia only gave them 9 starts.  That’s the team’s planned #1, #3 and #4 starters.  What happened?  They call up Miller and he’s fantastic.  They call up Wacha and he nearly pitches back to back no-hitters at the end of the season.  They give Kelly a starting nod out of the bullpen and he delivers with a better ERA+ than any of them from the #5 spot.  St. Louis remains the bearer-standard of pitching development (along with Tampa and Oakland to an extent) in the game.
  4. (#22 pre-season): Pittsburgh:  Liriano, Burnett, Locke, Cole, Morton (with Rodriguez and a slew of call-ups helping out).  How did this team, which I thought was so low pre-season, turn out to have the 4th best starter FIP in the game?  Francisco Liriano had a renessaince season, Burnett continued to make Yankees fans shake their heads, and their top 6 starters (by number of starts) all maintained sub 4.00 ERAs.  Gerrit Cole has turned out to be the real deal and will be a force in this league.
  5. (#1 pre-season) WashingtonStrasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Haren, Detwiler with Jordan, Roark and other starts thrown to Karns and Ohlendorf).   Despite Haren’s continued attempts to sabotage this rotation’s mojo, they still finished 3rd in xFIP and 5th in FIP.  Haren’s 11-19 team record and substandard ERA/FIP values drug this group down, but there wasn’t much further up they could have gone on this list.   If  you had replaced Haren with a full season of Jordan’s production, maybe this team jumps up a little bit, but the teams above them are tough to beat.
  6. (#11 pre-season) Atlanta: Hudson, Medlen, Minor, Teheran and Maholm, (with rookie Alex Wood contributing towards the end of the season).  Brandon Beachy only gave them 5 starts; had he replaced Maholm this rotation could have done better.  Hudson went down with an awful looking injury but was ably covered for by Wood.  They head into 2014 with a relatively formidable  and cheap potential rotation of  Medlen, Minor, Teheran, Beachy and Wood, assuming they don’t resign Hudson.  How did they over-perform?  Teheran finally figured it out, Maholm was more than servicable the first couple months, Wood was great and came out of nowhere.
  7. (#26 pre-season) ClevelandJimenez, Masterson, McAllister, Kluber, Kazmir.  Too high for this group?  7th in rotation fWAR, 8th in FIP, and 6th in xFIP.  This group, which I thought was going to be among the worst in the league, turned out to be one of the best.  Jimenez and Masterson both had rebound years with a ton of Ks, and the rest of this crew pitches well enough to remain around league average.  They were 2nd best in the league in K/9.  You can make the argument that they benefitted from the weakened AL Central, but they still made the playoffs with a relative rag-tag bunch.
  8. (#9 pre-season) CincinnatiCueto, Latos, Bailey, Arroyo, Leake (with Tony Cingrani).  Cueto was good … but he was never healthy, hitting the D/L three separate times.  Luckily Cingrani came up from setting strikeout records in AAA and kept mowing them down in the majors.  Latos was dominant,  Leake took a step forward, and Bailey/Arroyo gave what they normally do.  If anything you would have thought this group would have been better.  6th in Wins, 7th in xFIP, 9th in FIP.  Next year Arroyo leaves, Cingrani gets 32 starts, Cueto stays healthy (cross your fingers, cross your fingers, cross your fingers) and this team is dominant again despite their FA hitting losses.
  9. (#25 pre-season) New York MetsHarvey, WheelerNiese, Gee, Hefner and a bunch of effective call-ups turned the Mets into a halfway-decent rotation all in all.  7th in xFIP, 11th in FIP.  Most of this is on the backs of Matt Harvey, who pitched like the second coming of Walter Johnson for most of the season.  Wheeler was more than effective, and rotation workhorses Niese and Gee may not be sexy names, but they were hovering right around the 100 ERA+ mark all year.  One superstar plus 4 league average guys was good enough for the 9th best rotation.
  10. (#12 pre-season) TexasDarvish, Holland, Ogando, Perez, Garza at the end.  Texas’ fWAR was the 2nd best in the league … but their accompanying stats drag them down this far.  Despite having four starters with ERA+s ranging from 114 to Darvish’ 145, the 34 starts given to Tepesch and Grimm drag this rotation down.  Ogando couldn’t stay healthy and Perez only gave them 20 starts.  Garza was mostly a bust.  And presumed #2 starter Matt Harrison gave them just 2 starts.  But look out for this group in 2014; Darvish, a healthy Harrison, and Holland all locked up long term, Ogando in his first arbitration year, and Perez is just 22.  That’s a formidable group if they can stay on the field together.
  11. (pre-season #6) Tampa BayPrice, Moore, Hellickson, Cobb, Archer and Roberto Hernandez.   Jeff Niemann didn’t give them a 2013 start, but no matter, the Tampa Bay gravy train of power pitchers kept on producing.  Cobb was unhittable, Archer was effective and Moore regained his 2011 playoff mojo to finish 17-4 on the year.  An odd regression from Price, which was fixed by a quick D/L trip, and a complete collapse of Hellickson drug down this rotation from where it should have been.  They still finished 12th in FIP and xFIP for the year.
  12. (pre-season #21) SeattleHernandez, Iwakuma, Saunders, Harang, Maurer, and Ramirez.  Seattle featured two excellent, ace-leve performers and a bunch of guys who pitched worse than Dan Haren all year.  But combined together and you have about the 12th best rotation, believe it or not.
  13. (pre-season #7) PhiladelphiaHalladay, Hamels, Lee, Kendrick, Lannan (with Cloyd and Pettibone as backups).  The phillies were 13th in xFIP, 10th in FIP on the year and regressed slightly thanks to the significant demise to their #1 guy Halladay.  Lee pitched like his typical Ace but Hamels self-destructed as well.  The strength of one excellent starter makes this a mid-ranked rotation.  Had Halladay and Hamels pitched like expected, they’d have finished closer to my pre-season ranking.
  14. (pre-season #17) BostonLester, Buchholz, Dempster, Lackey, Doubront, and Peavy: Boston got a surprise bounce back season out of Lackey, a fantastic if oft-injured performance from Buchholz, a mid-season trade for the effective Peavy.  Why aren’t they higher?  Because their home stadium contributes to their high ERAs in general.  Despite being 3rd in rotation fWAR and 4th in wins, this group was 17th in FIP and 18th in xFIP.  Perhaps you could argue they belong a couple places higher, but everyone knows its Boston’s offense that is driving their success this year.
  15. (pre-season #16) New York YankeesSabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Nova, Hughes/Phelps Hughes and Phelps pitched as predictably bad as you would have expected … but Sabathia’s downturn was unexpected.  Are  his years of being a workhorse catching up to him?  The rotation was buoyed by unexpectedly good seasons from Nova and Kuroda.  Pettitte’s swang song was pretty great, considering his age.  Enough for them to slightly beat expectations, but the signs of trouble are here for this rotation in the future.   Pettitee retired, Kuroda a FA, Hughes a FA, a lost season for prospect Michael Pineda and other Yankees prospects stalled.  Are we in for a dark period in the Bronx?
  16. (pre-season #29) Miami: FernandezNolasco, Eovaldi, Turner, Alvarez, Koehler and a few other starts given to either re-treads or MLFAs.  For Miami’s rotation of kids to rise this far up is amazing; looking at their stellar stats you would think they should have been higher ranked still.  Fernandez’s amazing 176 ERA+ should win him the Rookie of the Year.  Eovaldi improved, rookie Turner pitched pretty well for a 22 year old.  The team dumped its opening day starter Nolasco and kept on … losing frankly, because the offense was so durn bad.  Begrudgingly it looks like Jeffry Loria has found himself another slew of great arms to build on.
  17. (pre-season #5) San FranciscoCain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Vogelsong, Zito, Gaudin.  What the heck happened here?  Cain went from an Ace to pitching like a 5th starter, Lincecum continued to completely forget what it was like to pitch like a Cy Young winner, Vogelsong completely fell off his fairy-tale cliff, and Zito completed his $126M journey in typical 5+ ERA fashion.  I’m surprised these guys are ranked this high (14th in FIP, 16th in xFIP but just 27th in fWAR thanks to just horrible performances all year).  What the heck are they going to do in 2014?
  18. (pre-season #10) Arizona: CorbinKennedy, McCarthy, Cahill, Miley and Delgado.  Corbin was 2013′s version of Miley; a rookie that came out of nowhere to lead the staff.  Miley struggled at times but righted the ship and pitched decently enough.  The rest of the staff really struggled.  I thought this was a solid bunch but they ended up ranked 23rd in FIP and 14th in xFIP, indicating that they were a bit unlucky as a group.
  19. (pre-season #15) Chicago White SoxSale, Peavy, Danks, QuintanaSantiago and Axelrod.  Floyd went down early, Peavy was traded.  Sale pitched well but had a losing record.  The team looked good on paper (16th in ERA) but were 26th in FIP and 17th in xFIP.
  20. (pre-season #14) Oakland: ColonAnderson, Griffen, Parker, Straily, Milone, with Sonny Gray giving 10 good starts down the stretch.  This rotation is the story of one amazing 40-yr old and a bunch of kids who I thought were going to be better.   Oakland is bashing their way to success this season and this group has been just good enough to keep them going.  I thought the likes of Griffen and Parker would have been better this  year, hence their falling from #14 to #19.
  21. (pre-season #19) Chicago CubsGarza, Samardzija, JacksonWood, and FeldmanFeldman and Garza were flipped once they showed they could be good this year.  Samardzija took an uncharacteristic step backwards.  Jackson was awful.  The Cubs ended up right about where we thought they’d be.  However in 2014 they look to be much lower unless some big-armed prospects make the team.
  22. (pre-season #20) Kansas CityShields, Guthrie, Santana, Davis, Chen, Mendoza: despite trading the best prospect in the game to acquire Shields and Davis, the Royals a) did not make the playoffs and b) really didn’t have that impressive a rotation.  12th in team ERA but 20th in FIP and 25th in xFIP.   Compare that to their rankings of 25th in FIP and 26th in xFIP in 2012.   But the results on the field are inarguable; the team improved 14 games in the Win column and should be a good bet to make the playoffs next year if they can replace the possibly-departing Santana and the ineffective Davis.
  23. (pre-season #23) Milwaukee: LohseGallardo, Estrada, Peralta, and dozens of starts given to long-men and call-ups.  I ranked this squad #23 pre-season before they acquired Lohse; in reality despite his pay and the lost draft pick, Lohse’s addition ended up … having almost no impact on this team in 2013.  They finished ranked 23rd on my list, and the team was 74-88.
  24. (pre-season #13): Los Angeles AngelsWeaver, Wilson, Vargas, Hanson, Blanton, Williams: The Angels are in a predicament; their two “aces” Weaver and Wilson both pitched well enough.  But nobody in baseball was really that surprised by the god-awful performances from Hanson or Blanton (2-14, 6.04 ERA … and the Angels gave him a two year deal!).  So in some ways the team brought this on themselves.  You spend half a billion dollars on aging offensive FAs, have the best player in the game languishing in left field because your manager stubbornly thinks that someone else is better in center than one of the best defenders in the game … not fun times in Anaheim.  To make matters worse, your bigtime Ace Weaver missed a bunch of starts, looked mortal, and lost velocity.
  25. (#28 pre-season) San DiegoVolquez, Richards, Marquis, Stults, Ross, Cashner: have you ever seen an opening day starter post a 6+ ERA in a cave of a field and get relased before the season was over?  That happened to SAn Diego this year.  Another case where ERA+ values are deceiving; Stults posted a sub 4.00 ERA but his ERA+ was just 87, thanks to his home ballpark.  In fact its almost impossible to tell just how good or bad San Diego pitchers are.   I could be talked in to putting them this high or all the way down to about #28 in the rankings.
  26. (pre-season #27) Colorado: ChatwoodDe La Rosa, Chacin, Nicaso, Francis and a few starts for Garland and Oswalt for good measure.  Another staff who shows how deceptive the ERA+ value can be.  Their top guys posted 125 ERA+ figures but as a whole their staff performed badly.  26th in ERA, 19th in FIP, 26th in xFIP.  Colorado is like Minnesota; they just don’t have guys who can throw it by you (29th in K/9 just ahead of the Twins), and in their ridiculous hitter’s park, that spells trouble.
  27. (pre-season #4) TorontoDickeyMorrowJohnson, Buehrle, Happ, Rogers, and a line of other guys.  What happened here?  This was supposed to be one of the best rotations in the majors.  Instead they fell on their face, suffered a ton of injuries (only Dickey and Buehrle pitched full seasons: RomeroDrabeck were hurt.  Johnson, Happ, Redmond only 14-16 starts each.  This team even gave starts to Chien-Ming Wang and Ramon Ortiz.  Why not call up Fernando Valenzuela out of retirement?  It just goes to show; the best teams on paper sometimes don’t come together.  The Nats disappointed in 2013, but probably not as much as the Blue Jays.
  28. (pre-season #18) BaltimoreHammel, Chen, Tillman, Gonzalez, FeldmanGarcia with a few starts given to Gausman and Britton.  I’m not sure why I thought this group would be better than this; they were in the bottom four of the league in ERA, FIP, xFIP and SIERA.  It just goes to show how the ERA+ value can be misleading.  In their defense, they do pitch in a hitter’s park.  Tillman wasn’t bad, Chen took a step back.  The big concern here is the health of Dylan Bundy, who I thought could have pitched in the majors starting in June.
  29. (pre-season #30) Houston: BedardNorris, Humber, Peacock, Harrell to start, then a parade of youngsters from there.  We knew Houston was going to be bad.  But amazingly their rotation wasn’t the worst in the league, thanks to Jarred Cosart and Brett Olberholtzer coming up and pitching lights-out for 10 starts a piece later in the year.  There’s some potential talent here.
  30. (pre-season #24) MinnesotaDiamond, Pelfrey, Correia, Denudo, Worley and a whole slew of guys who were equally as bad.  Minnesota had the worst rotation in the league, and it wasn’t close.  They were dead last in rotational ERA, FIP, and xFIP, and it wasn’t close.  They were last in K/9 … by more than a strikeout per game.  They got a total fWAR of 4.6 from every pitcher who started a game for them this year.  Matt Harvey had a 6.1 fWAR in just 26 starts before he got hurt.  Someone needs to call the Twins GM and tell him that its not the year 1920, that power-pitching is the wave of the future, that you need swing-and-miss guys to win games in this league.

Biggest Surprises: Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Miami and New York Mets to a certain extent.

Biggest Disappointments: Toronto, the Angels, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Baltimore to some extent.

Disagree with these rankings?  Feel free to pipe up.  I’ll use this ranking list as the spring board post-FA market for 2014′s pre-season rankings.

Written by Todd Boss

October 10th, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Posted in Majors Pitching

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Ranking the 2013 Playoff Rotations

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Kershaw leads the best rotation in the playoffs. Photo via wiki.

Kershaw leads the best rotation in the playoffs. Photo via wiki.

Now that the playoff fields are set … who has the most formidable playoff rotation?

Unlike previous rotation rankings posts, the playoffs focus mostly on the 1-2-3 guys.  Your 5th starter may not even be on the playoff roster and your 4th starter usually just throws one start in a series where you can line up your guys, and some teams skip the 4th starter altogether if they at least one veteran pitcher who can all go on 3 days rest (there’s enough off-days in the 2-3-2 format to allow most guys to go on regular rest).  So the focus here is on the strength of your top guys.

Here’s how I’d rank the 10 playoff teams’ rotations, despite the fact that two of these teams will be wild card losers and never get a chance to use their rotations:

  1. Los Angeles: Kershaw, Greinke, Nolasco, Ryu (Capuano left out).  As great a 1-2 combination Kershaw and Greinke are, Nolasco has for stretches outpiched them both since his trade, and Ryu is a #2 starter talent in the #4 slot.  They’re going to be a tough out in any short series where Kershaw gets two starts.  Easily the #1 playoff rotation.
  2. Detroit: Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, Fister (Porcello left out).  Hard to believe that a guy who most thought was the best or 2nd best pitcher in baseball (Verlander) may not even get the start in the first game of the playoffs.  But they’re still the 2nd best rotation.
  3. St. Louis: Wainwright, Miller, Wacha, Kelly (Westbrook and Garcia hurt, Lynn left out).  The knock on St Louis’ current rotation is their youth; two rookies and a 2nd year guy who was in the bullpen all last year.  Are there any innings-limit concerns here that could force a shutdown  It doesn’t seem so at this point?  It continues to amaze me how well St. Louis develops players.  Carpenter and Garcia out all year?  No worries we’ll just bring up two guys in Wacha and Miller who are barely old enough to drink but who can pitch to a 120 ERA+.
  4. Tampa Bay: Price, Moore, Archer, Cobb (Hellickson left out); A tough top 4, if a little young on the back-side.  Moore has quietly returned to this dominant form upon his call-up and gives Tampa a formidable 1-2 punch.  Price has already pushed them past game 163.
  5. Pittsburgh: Liriano, Burnett, Cole, Morton (Rodriguez hurt, Locke left out).  The team previously said that Cole would likely a reliever in the playoffs, but I’ll believe that when I see it; he’s been fantastic down the stretch.  It is difficult to put a rotation headlined by the burnout Burnett and the reclamation project Liriano this high, but their performances this year are inarguable.
  6. Boston: Lester, Buchholz, Peavy, Lackey (Dempster, Doubront left out).  Buchholz just returning mid September after a hot start; could push this rank up.  I don’t necessarily trust the #3 and #4 spots here in a short series, but Boston can (and probably will) bash their way to the World Series.
  7. Cincinnati: Bailey, Cueto, Arroyo, Cingrani (Leake left out, Latos hurt).  Cingrani may be hurt, Cueto has returned to replace the sore-armed Latos.  Leake’s performance may push him over Arroyo if they get there, but the odds of them beating Pittsburgh were already slim after their poor finish and were vanquished last night.  Still, isn’t it nice when you have more quality starters than you need heading into a season, Mike Rizzo?
  8. Atlanta: Minor, Medlen, Teheran, Wood (Hudson hurt, Maholm left out).  If Wood is shutdown, Maholm makes sense as the #4 starter but has struggled most of the 2nd half and finished poorly.  I may have this rotation ranked too low; they’re solid up and down, just not overpoweringly flashy.
  9. Cleveland: Jimenez, Kluber, Kazmir, Salazar (Masterson in the pen, McAllister left out).  How did these guys get a playoff spot?  Amazing.  They’re all solid, nobody especially flashy, and they won’t go away.
  10. OaklandColon, Parker, Griffen, Gray (Milone, Straily left out, Anderson in long relief).  I didn’t want to rank them last, considering Oakland’s record over their last 162 game stretch.  But here they are; on an individual level one by one, they just do not stack up.  The age-less wonder Colon is easily the staff Ace.  The rest of these guys’ seasonal numbers are just not impressive.

These teams obviously didn’t make the playoffs, but were in the hunt until late, and since I had already typed up this content might as well say where I’d have ranked them, had they made the playoffs…

  • Washington: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Haren (Ohlendorf, Roark left out, Jordan shut down)  Perhaps you’d replace Haren with Roark based on September performances;  I just can’t imagine trusting Haren in a 7 game series..  I’d put them about #4, just ahead or just behind Tampa.   Gonzalez and Zimmermann have shown themselves to be oddly vulnerable here and there coming down the stretch, and I just don’t put Strasburg in the same elite category as Kershaw right now.  Too bad months of indifference cost them the 4 games they needed to make up in the standings to reach the WC game.
  • Kansas City: Shields, Santana, Chen, Guthrie (Duffy, Davis, Mendoza left out): Duffy may be a better choice than Guthrie based on small sample sizes.  I’d have put them just behind Cincy at #8 in terms of rotation depth.
  • Texas: Darvish, Garza, Holland, Perez (Tepisch, Grimm left out, Harrison hurt): Great Ace in Darvish (even if he has occasaional blowups), but falls off badly after that.  The Garza acquisition has just not worked out, and the rest of the rotation is good but not overpowering.  I’d put them behind KC but just ahead of Baltimore.
  • Baltimore: Tillman, Chen, Gonzalez, Feldman (Norris, Garcia, Hammel and others left out).  They’d probably be behind Atlanta at #9, only ahead of Oakland/Cleveland.
  • New York: Sabathia, Kuroda, Nova, Pettitte (Hughes, Phelps left out): Kuroda has been the ace of the staff this year, but you’d always lead off with Sabathia (though, had they made the playoffs it would be unknown if Sabathia could even go with his late-season injury).  Either way, this would be behind any other playoff team’s rotation.

Taylor Jordan: Never too soon to think about the future…

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Jordan is making a case for his future with this organization.  Photo via wffn.net/hueytaxi on flikr.com

Taylor Jordan is making a case for his future with this organization. Photo via wffn.net/hueytaxi on flikr.com

I’ll file this as one of the “Patently Obvious” responses that have come out of Mike Rizzo‘s mouth in response to a reporter’s question, but Rizzo went “on record” as saying that Taylor Jordan will “get every opportunity to be in the mix for the rotation next year” per beat reports (this example from Byron Kerr) after Jordan got his first major league victory in Sunday 7/28/13′s 14-1 blow-out of the Mets.

Well, of course he’ll get a chance to compete for the rotation.   He’s pitching a hell of a lot better right now than $13M man Dan Haren, for approximately 1/30th of the cost.  What GM doesn’t want that??

One of the big reasons I started this blog was to talk about the development of Nats minor league pitchers.  Back in the dark days, when the team was spending $15M on the FA market to acquire 5th starters like Jason Marquis, I became convinced that the single most valuable commodity in Major League Baseball (in terms of talent development and acquisition) was the pre-arbitration starting pitcher.   Our farm system had the “Loria/Bowden” holes in terms of player development in the 2007-2009 time frame and for a few years the team couldn’t develop an effective starter, instead relying on guys like Marquis and on other minor league/low-end free agent signings (think Tim ReddingDaniel Cabrera, and the aging Livan Hernandez being examples).   Rizzo came in, put the emphasis on drafting and development, and now the opening day rotation features 3 home-grown guys and a fourth in Gio Gonzalez who was acquired by trading other home-grown guys.

One of my biggest data-collection projects was the information behind my regular “Pitcher Wins on the Free Agency Market” post.   After looking at pretty much every significant FA pitcher signing that baseball has ever had, and calculating salary versus wins, it became clear that teams are historically doing well if they get about one win per $1M spent on a FA pitcher.  Sign a guy for $13M a year?  You hope to get 13 wins out of him.

But this analysis also shows just how valuable the pre-arbitration, cost-controlled starter is.  Consider Clay Buchholz for Boston in 2010; he goes 17-7 in his 3rd active year, earning the MLB minimum of $443,000.  That 17-win capability eventually earned him a $12-$13M/year contract, but while he was getting the minimum he was winning games for Boston for pennies on the dollar versus what it would have cost Boston to purchase that capability on the open market.

Combine this point with the continually dwindling talent available on the FA market these as teams lock up their players earlier and more frequently, and the price for pitching just continues to go higher.  Zack Greinke signed a 6 year $147M contract paying him more than $24M annually last summer partly because he was the only significant pitcher out there.  Grienke is talented, don’t get me wrong, but outside of his unbelievable 2009 season he’s basically pitched like a #3 starter.   Even this year, he’s pitching to a rather pedestrian 103 ERA+, just barely above the league average of adjusted ERA for starters.  Not exactly what you expect for that kind of money.  The 2014 Free Agent Market in terms of pitching is looking equally as bare as 2013.   The best guy out there may be Matt Garza, who again is talented but is also injury prone and not exactly a league-wide Ace.   Get past Garza and you’re looking at inconsistent (Ricky Nolasco or Phil Hughes), injury plagued (Shawn Marcum or Colby Lewis), just old guys (Freddy Garcia, Hiroki Kuroda) and pure wild cards (Tim Lincecum or Scott Kazmir).

There’s a reason Tampa went nearly 8 full seasons without having a Free Agent acquisition start a game for them; they know exactly what it means to develop effective starters, and they have a stableful of them.  Trade away James Shields and Wade Davis?  No problem; just call up Chris Archer and Alex Colome (never mind the rest of their Durham rotation).

So, back to Jordan.  If the Nats can find an effective 4th or 5th starter from their farm system right now, it frees them from the one-year hired gun strategy of Haren and Edwin Jackson.  It gives them the flexibility to continue to allow their best prospects in the lower minors to develop (i’m thinking specifically of A.J. ColeRobbie RaySammy Solis, and Matthew Purke, though Cole and Ray aren’t exactly in the “low” minors anymore with their promotions to AA).  It gives them the depth they did not have this year to cover for a starting pitcher injury.   It gives them time to let Nathan Karns figure out if he’s going to be a starter or a reliever at the MLB level.  It gives them added payroll flexibility can go towards fixing holes in the short term.  Longer term it allows the team to spend money on extending the core guys, or allows them to consider whether the rising price tag on someone like Ross Detwiler is worth paying (much like they cut loose John Lannan last year).  If you’re going to pay market value for Strasburg and Harper, then you’re going to need some low-cost players who can contribute to counter balance the payroll.

Or, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see this either, it gives Rizzo interesting trade chips that he could package with other guys to acquire the Haren/Jackson hurler instead of buying him.

Two years ago we acquired Gonzalez for two near-to-the-majors starters, a surplus catcher prospect and a low-minors/high profile arm.  Right now it seems like we could put nearly the same package together (Jordan, Karns, Jhonatan Solano or Sandy Leon and then a decent arm from A-ball, or maybe even a Ray or Cole) and move them for such a resource.  I wouldn’t put it past Rizzo; Jordan may be looking good right now, but his peripherals don’t project as a “Rizzo Guy.”  Neither did Tommy Milone so he got shipped out; will Jordan be a 5th starter candidate in 2014 or trade bait?

Personally, I’d like to see Jordan succeed.  He’s a great success story; unhearalded 9th rounder coming off an injury that most of us thought was good, but who also thought that finishing the year successfully at high-A would have been a great achievement.  Instead he blows through high-A and AA ball and is now more than holding his own in the majors.

First Look: Taylor Jordan

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Taylor Jordan trades in his minor league gear for a Nats kit for the first time.  Photo via wffn.net/hueytaxi on flikr.com

Taylor Jordan trades in his minor league gear for a Nats kit for the first time. Photo via wffn.net/hueytaxi on flikr.com

As Luke Erickson noted over on NationalsProspects.com, one of the Nats worst-kept secrets was finally let out of the bag when word broke that Nats 2013 minor-league sensation Taylor Jordan was in New York and was going to make his Major League debut on Saturday June 29th.  Starting in place of “injured” and ineffective starter Dan Haren, Jordan went up against one of the worst offensive teams in Baseball (the Mets are dead last in team batting average, hitting just .229 as a team as of 6/29′s game).  Lets review how Jordan did.

At the end of the day, (a 5-1 Loss for the Nats and a “Loss” for Jordan in his debut), Jordan’s line probably betrays how well he pitched on the day.  Jordan was pulled after 4 1/3 innings and was relatively unlucky to have given up the 3 runs (1 earned) that he did.  After a nervous first inning that included a walk and a HBP, Jordan induced one of many ground ball outs on the night to get out of the jam.  He cruised through the 2nd and 3rd innings relatively unscathed before some bad luck and a couple of bad pitches cost him a run in the third.  He got what looked to be a double-play ball to erase one runner who reached by error but the turn was slow (in fairness, a ball deep to the hole in 2nd and a fast runner conspired against the turn).  He then hung a slider against John Buck who hit it sharply to left to drive in the first of his charged runs in the 4th.

Ryan Zimmerman‘s questionable positioning against the Mets’ cleanup hitter Marlon Byrd led to two fielding errors on sharply hit balls that, despite their pace, should have been outs (why is he playing even with the bag there??  Does he really think Byrd is bunting batting out of the clean-up spot?)   Then a little-league sequence in the 5th led to the 2nd run being scored when Ian Desmond‘s attempt to get Daniel Murphy advancing to third led to a second run.  Jordan’s last charged run was on a sac fly/inherited runner allowed to score by his relief pitcher Craig Stammen.

Jordan featured a fastball that was regularly 91-92 but which peaked at 95.81.  He seemed to tire as the game went on; his peak fastballs were all in the first two innings (perhaps he was “amped up”).  His mechanics reminded you of Jered Weaver, with a sweeping cross-body motion that results in plenty of movement on his pitches.  He featured a very plus change-up, which he commanded well and was able to get key strikes on (he had no issues throwing it to lead-off a hitter, or at 2-0).  His slider didn’t move much, but it also featured as a plus pitch when he kept it down.  He was able to locate his fastball well, as best evidenced in David Wright‘s third at-bat against him, where Jordan fooled him badly with a slider, jammed him inside repeatedly and eventually forced a weak ground-ball to the shortstop to retire him in the 5th.  He gave up some sharply hit balls, but he also was very unlucky as a couple of flairs and bloops fell in just behind the infield.

On the day, he gave up 5 hits, two walks, and a HBP against just one strike-out (against his opposing number Dillon Gee, who he retired with another fantastic change-up).  He wasn’t very efficient on the mound, only throwing 48 of 84 pitches for strikes.  He wasn’t “nibbling” per se, but definitely works the corners and missed his spots.  In the 4th and 5th he was constantly falling behind hitters and (as Masn announcer J.P. Santangelo noted) it eventually caught up with him.  He got 9 ground outs to just 3 fly outs to go along with a handful of bloop singles, and to me its clear what his approach is.  Despite pretty decent K/9 numbers so far in the 2013 minor league season (72 Ks in 90 1/3 innings) he’s definitely a guy who is going to rely on location and a sinking fastball to induce grounders for outs.

All in all, in an oft-repeated mantra for 2013 you can’t win if you don’t score.  He probably was pulled when he should have been and isn’t really at fault for the loss (not when your offense only scores one run against a middling pitcher like Gee).  I think Jordan clearly has earned another start and probably sticks around for a while.

One last note: I can’t help but comment on a cynical but possibly true comment I read in one of the other Nats blogs (my apologies, I cannot remember who said it).  Is Jordan’s call-up a precursor to his being included in a possible trade, much as Mike Rizzo featured both Tommy Milone and Brad Peacock at the end of 2011 prior to shipping them off?  I ask this because Jordan doesn’t seem to be the typical Rizzo guy; he’s not going to overpower you, he doesn’t throw mid 90s.  Then again, neither does Haren and that didn’t stop Rizzo from signing him for $13M.

Either way, I look forward to his next outing.  I’m always excited to watch new guys on the mound.

Ladson’s Inbox 4/18/13

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I’m sure there’s going to be some nervous questions with the Nats uneven start in MLB.com Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson‘s latest mailbox (dated 4/18/13).  Lets dive in.

Q: Will the Nationals stick with right-hander Dan Haren for long if he continues to struggle?

A: I would think so.  You can’t judge a pitcher after 3 starts.  But you can start to make changes after about 6-8 starts.  The big concern with Dan Haren right now is clearly his control; he’s missing out over the plate a lot, and he’s getting hammered.  He’s not going to overpower you; he relies on control and command and a sinking fastball.  Right now he’s struggling with all three.  He’s giving up a TON of hits (26 in 13 innings) for a very ugly WHIP.  But he’s not walking anybody (1 walk on the season).

Is he washed up?  That’s hard to imagine; he’s only 32.  His money is guaranteed; will his immense salary give the team pause to replace him?  They didn’t hesitate to send down John Lannan and his $4M salary last spring … but $13M is a different story.

Ladson second guesses the acquisition, which I think is pretty gutless if he’s not on record before with these concerns (which I cannot say that I recall seeing).  Otherwise he says its early and check back in a month.

Q: What is Plan B for Haren’s spot in the rotation?

A: Well now that’s a good question.

Your AAA candidates right now aren’t exactly enticing.  They’re in AAA for a reason.   Yunesky Maya has proven several times why he isn’t a MLB quality player and is playing out the string in Syracuse.  Danny Rosenbaum couldn’t make the Rockies rotation, one of the worst in the game (but to be fair, he’s still a prospect and could turn into a new version of Tommy Milone with some more seasoning).  Ryan Perry hasn’t looked convincing since his acquisition.  Ross Ohlendorf hasn’t looked bad so far this year in Syracuse, but he’s sort of like the 2013 version of Zach Duke, a guy who couldn’t catch on with a MLB team so he’s trying his luck on a ML contract.  Tanner Roark has been awful so far this year and likely gets replaced in the rotation by … Chris Young, who looks to be the #1 call-up option once he’s back throwing regularly, but again, if he was that good, he’d have picked up with another team.  We don’t really have any upper-end starting prospects anywhere in the system right now close enough to be a decent option either.  The best bet even in AA is Nathan Karns and he’s been awful so far  (wish you had Alex Meyer back yet?  3 starts and a 1.69 ERA so far for Minnesota’s AA team).  The Nats have very little starting pitching depth, we all knew it, and Haren’s troubles are somewhat of a nightmare situation for the team.

Ladson says simply that Chris Young is next in line.

Q: Even if Johnson is not worried about Ryan Zimmerman’s throwing errors, do you think we should be worried?

A: Davey Johnson is clearly protecting his player in the media right now.  Ryan Zimmerman‘s arm is a HUGE concern for this team.  He’s getting very close to a Steve Sax/Chuck Knoblock mental state where he literally cannot make any routine throw any longer.  And that’s really bad for this team, which has no place to put him.  The team just had to acquire Denard Span, which pushed the plus-defender Bryce Harper to left, which cost the team Michael Morse.

Lest you think I’m being a “hind sight is 20/20″ hypocrite here, I’m on record pretty plainly that I didn’t think the Span deal was “necessary,” and pointed out a lot of the issues that we now face in terms of players being blocked and of the loss of Meyr.  One of my oft-repeated mantras is that you “can hide players in left and at first base.”  Meaning, you don’t need a gold glover at 1B or in LF if it means more offense.  But that’s not what Mike Rizzo has chosen to do in Washington.  Instead he ran out of town the lesser defender Morse (if you do want a dose of hindsight analysis, Morse is only leading the AL in Homers as we speak and has a 160 OPS+).

Well, now Zimmerman can’t move to first for at least two years, and LaRoche can’t play anything but first base (Morse could at least lumber around left field if he wasn’t on the sac).  Zimmermandoesn’t rate as a 2nd baseman … so Anthony Rendon is seemingly blocked right now.  Nobody’s going anywhere in the outfield … the Nats are locked into this lineup whether they like it or not.

So, yeah I’m worried.

Ladson says he trusts what Johnson says and also thinks that Zimmerman’s shoulder isn’t 100pct.  What!?  Since when has anyone said that?  In fact, all we’ve heard all spring training is that his shoulder is ready to go.

Q: Does Daniel Rosenbaum have a future in the Nationals’ organization, and if not, what do you see the Nats doing with him?

A: We alluded to Rosenbaum briefly above; lets talk about him in more depth.  I think Rosenbaum represents the kind of softer-tossing control lefty that Rizzo doesn’t entirely favor.  He wants a guy who can miss bats, power pitchers with higher K potentials.  Rosenbaum’s numbers in AAA so far look great at a macro level (2 starts, 6 hits allowed an a sterling 0.82 era) but there’s one rather troubling number: only 3 strikeouts in 11 innings.  In AA last year he had 99 Ks in 155 innings.  I just don’t think that’s enough swing-and-miss potential to be effective in the modern game.  Rizzo traded away Milone, who features as a similar pitcher to what Rosenbaum offers, for somewhat similar reasons.

What is his future?  Perhaps continuing to serve as a backup starter in the minor leagues, perhaps serving as trade fodder for the next off-season’s manouverings.  Ladson says the same essentially.

Q: Do you think Johnson should have had Zimmerman play more innings during Spring Training to get comfortable with his throwing motion?

A: The number of spring training innings for established veteran hitters is immaterial; Spring Training is almost entirely so that the pitching staff can build up the arm strength needed to go 6-7 innings from day one.  So, no, I don’t think any change in time played in Viera would have made a difference here.   Ladson agrees.

Q: Why is the bulk of our lineup sitting in the Marlins series (Danny Espinosa, Bryce Harper, Denard Span)?

A: Harper and Span because they had the flu, Espinosa because he got a huge bruise from a HBP.  Nothing nefarious here.  Ladson confirms/agrees.





Nats Franchise Draft history; biggest, best, worst Draft Picks

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Face of the Franchise Zimmerman easily represents the best player drafted in the Washington era (by WAR). Photo team official

This is the Third in a long-delayed series of “Best of” posts, breaking down the transactions of both the club’s General Managers.  Previously:

1. Biggest/Best/Worst Trades in Nats History (March 2012)

2. Biggest/Best/Worst Free Agent signings in Nats History (November 2012).

Here’s Part 3: looking at the Biggest, Best and Worst Draft picks the team has made since arriving here in Washington.

Ground rules for this article:

1. Unlike the trades and free agent posts, assiging “credit” or “blame” for draft picks on the General Manager is not entirely straightforward.  Baseball teams rely heavily on Scouting Directors and their staffs when it comes to the draft, especially once you get past the first few rounds.  So, perhaps for the purposes of this article it is better to talk about the “Reign of Jim Bowden” and the “Reign of Mike Rizzo” instead of insinuating that every draft decision was made by the GM during these times.  Much like the President of the US gets credit/blame when  the US economy as a whole rises or falls (whether or not you’d like to argue that a president’s decisions can influence a multi-trillion dollar economy), so does the GM get the credit/blame for his staff’s draft picks.  Most baseball pundits that I’ve read generally say that the GM/Team Ownership is always directly involved in making any 1st round and supplemental first round picks (because of the money), and will be involved if over-slot bonuses come up in later rounds, but that by the 5th round or so the entire draft is being conducted without the GM’s involvement.  Which leads us to point #2…

2. Related to #1; Mike Rizzo, whom Bowden hired in July of 2006, may not have been the Scouting Director but he certainly had a say in the drafts (coming from a scouting background in Arizona).   I’ll list scouting directors tenure here as well, related to #1 and #2.  But, it probably isn’t going to be entirely fair to the GM to say that such-and-such a pick was “good” or “bad” if it was actually being done by his staff.

3.  It is entirely “hindsight is 20/20″ in nature.  But, it is what it is.  If you draft a 1st rounder who flames out in low-A, he’s a failure.  If you draft a major leaguer in the 21st round, he’s a fantastic success.  Mostly here in judging the “best draft picks” I’m looking for value in later rounds.  As it turns out judging “worst” draft picks mostly will be around first round busts.

Just for review, here’s the tenure period of both GMs:

  • Nov 2004 – Mar 2009: Jim Bowden
  • Mar 2009 – present: Mike Rizzo

And here’s the tenure period of Scouting Directors during our time here in Washington:

  • Mid 2002 – Mar 2009: Dana Brown
  • Mar 2009 – Present: Kris Kline

The quintessential Nats Draft resource is the Draft Tracker Spreadsheet, initially created by NatsFarm.com’s Brian Oliver and now maintained by “SpringfieldFan. ” It has all our draft picks, where they came from and signing bonuses.  A file I’ve kept recently (The Draft Prospects Worksheet) is a file I started to create when the Nats started getting some upper-end draft picks as a way to track who we may take.  Lastly, you can query the entire amateur draft results per team at baseball-reference.com (the link will go to the 2009 draft by way of example).

Jim Bowden Tenure: Nov 2004 – Mar 2009

Bowden’s Biggest Draft Picks (in terms of dollars committed).

  • 2005 1st rnd: Ryan Zimmerman, $2.975M
  • 2007 1st rnd: Ross Detwiler, $2.1M
  • 2007 6th rnd: Jack McGeary: $1.8M
  • 2006 1st rnd: Chris Marrero: $1.6M
  • 2006 1st rnd: Colten Willems: $1.4M

Bowden’s Best Draft Picks

  • 2005 11th rnd: John Lannan out of Siena College.  A durable and servicable lefty starter with MLB average numbers out of a small college in the 11th round is a great find.
  • 2005 12th rnd: Craig Stammen out of Dayton.  He didn’t look as if he’d be successful until his transition to the bullpen, where his arm action and movement have baffled hitters during his shorter reliever stints.
  • 2006 41st rnd: Brad Peacock out of a Florida HS as a “draft and follow” guy (which enabled teams to take late round fliers on good talent, so this isn’t exactly the same as finding a true 41st round player who made the majors, since Peacock likely wouldn’t have been taken without the DDE rules in place and would have been an upper round draft pick the next season he was eligible).
  • 2007 2nd rnd: Jordan Zimmermann out of U Wisconsin Stevens Point (not because of his draft position, but because of the scouting out of such a small school).  Zimmermann survived TJ surgery and now looks like a hidden Ace in the making.
  • 2007 4th rnd: Derek Norris out of a Kansas HS: possibly the best HS player the team has drafted since arriving in DC.
  • 2008 10th rnd: Tommy Milone out of USC.  Rizzo may not have rated him, but he looks to be in Oakland’s rotation for many years to come.
  • 2008 16th rnd: Tyler Moore out of Mississippi State.  Scouts continually have downplayed Moore’s power; I have never read a scouting report on Moore that didn’t focus on “holes in his swing” or “defensive liabilities.”  All he’s done is mash the ball at every level he’s been challenged with in his career.
  • 2008 19th rnd: Steve Lombardozzi out of St. Petersburg JuCo.  Despite his pedigree (his father played in the Majors in parts of 6 seasons), Lombardozzi was lightly pursued and surprisingly signed as a late round JuCo draftee.  He’s scraped his way to the top though and could find himself starting if the team decides to move Espinosa.

Despite the issues at the top of the 2008 draft, it may have been Bowden’s best.  He took no less than 6 guys who now are on 25-man rosters in this league (Milone, Moore, Lombardozzi, Espinosa, and Crow).  2005 wasn’t bad either, with 7 guys that have MLB appearances (though only 3 remain with the team).

Bowden’s Worst Draft Picks

  • 2006: almost the entire draft.  Bowden blew the first 6 picks on high schoolers, the best of whom was Chris Marrero, who has contributed -0.7 WAR in his career thus far.  First round pick Colten Willems flamed out and just gave up playing in the middle of the 2010 season, Stephen Englund was released (but not before earning a 50-game suspension for Amphetemine usage), Sean Black didn’t sign and Stephen King has yet to succeed above A-ball despite being in his his 6th pro season (and, just for good measure, had his own 50-game drug suspension in 2009).  Only one player in the top 12 rounds of picks even played a day in the majors.  Just a complete debacle of a draft.
  • 2007′s high schoolers: Smoker, Souza, Burgess, and Smolinkski: all top 3 round picks, all busts.
  • 2007′s Jack McGeary, who insisted (admirably) on also going to college, but probably at the detriment of his baseball career.  I’m sorry; if someone pays you $1.8M dollars in cash, you probably should work for that money.   McGeary never was able to master anything above rookie ball and was so under-valued by the team that they failed to protect him in the minor league phase of the 2012 Rule 5 draft (where he was subsequently taken by Boston).
  • The 2008 Aaron Crow debacle.  Yes I know that this pick turned into 2009′s Drew Storen.  And yes I know that Crow has now been turned into a middle reliever while Storen has turned into an effective closer.  At the time, this move helped continue the “incompetent” labels that the organization was earning, as Bowden reportedly refused to negotiate with Crow’s agents and failed to do his due diligence before drafting the player.  Who is to say whether Crow’s electric arm wouldn’t have turned into a regular rotation member in our organization (Kansas City doesn’t exactly have a stellar record of developing pitchers).  In the end, getting Storen and also not losing the opportunity cost of missing a year’s development time of a first round pick (by virtue of the rest of the team being so awful) ended up not hurting the team.  But it still goes down as a draft failure for Bowden.

Mike Rizzo Tenure: Mar 2009 – present

Rizzo’s Biggest Draft Picks (in terms of dollars committed).

  • 2009 1st rnd: Stephen Strasburg: $7.5M bonus, 15.1M guaranteed
  • 2010 1st rnd: Bryce Harper: $6.25M bonus, $9.9M guaranteed
  • 2011 1st rnd: Anthony Rendon: $6M, $7.2M guaranteed
  • 2011 3rd rnd: Matthew Purke: $2.75M bonus, $4.15M guaranteed
  • 2011 1st rnd (supplemental): Brian Goodwin: $3M
  • 2012 1st rnd: Lucas Giolito: $2.9M
  • 2011 1st rnd: Alex Meyer: $2M
  • 2010 4th rnd: A.J. Cole: $2M
  • 2009 1st rnd: Drew Storen: $1.6M

As we saw with the Free Agent post, Rizzo clearly had more money to work with from Ownership than Bowden did.  Spending $2M on a 4th round pick (AJ Cole) would have been unheard of in the Bowden reign.

Rizzo’s Best Draft Picks

  • 2009 12th rnd: Nathan Karns out of Texas Tech: Karns got 4th/5th round money in the 12th round but has been bedeviled by injuries until this year.  By now we know what he’s capable of; our organization’s Minor League pitcher of the Year earned a spot on the 40-man roster and could be in line for a 2013 late season call-up.  It could be too-early to tell, but right now this is looking like one of Rizzo’s best.
  • 2009 22nd rnd: Danny Rosenbaum out of Xavier; despite the team not protecting him and losing him in Rule-5, he had come out of no-where to be one of our best pitching prospects.
  • 2010 12th rnd: Robbie Ray out of a Tennessee HS; he had a great debut and has been steadily rising up the ranks.  The team was able to buy him out of a committment to the University of Arkansas by offering 2nd round money.
  • 2010 22nd rnd: Cameron Selik as a U Kansas senior has made it to AA and looks like a great later-round steal, especially for a college senior this low in the draft.
  • 2011 5th rnd: Matt Skole out of  Georgia Tech looks like he could be an excellent hitting prospect and is making it into the top 5 lists of Nationals prospects.
  • 2011 1st rnd supp: Brian Goodwin out of a Miami JuCo looks more advanced than anyone would have thought at this point, and could be pressing for playing time in 2013.  I don’t normally give plaudits for 1st round talents, but the team aggressively pursued and captured Goodwin at a time when it looked like he was heading to UNC.

Rizzo’s Worst Draft Picks

  • 2009 2nd rnd: Jeff Kobernus out of Cal Berkeley.  Perhaps less because of his production (which was mostly poor for his career), but moreso because the decision not to protect him and value your investment in the player, leading to his departure in the 2012 rule-5 draft.  No worries for Nats fans: Rizzo drafted almost the doppelganger of Kobernus in 2012: again taking a 2nd baseman from California in the second round (Tony Renda).  Lets hope it works out better this time.
  • 2009 3rd rnd: Trevor Holder out of Georgia.  A blatant punt on the draft pick to save money, Holder was a college senior with zero leverage and should have been offered closer to $1,000 instead of the $200,000 he got.  Holder has struggled for years in our system.  He did have a decent 2nd half in Harrisburg, so there is hope yet.  But 3rd round picks should have more promise than Holder has shown.
  • 2010 3rd rnd: Rick Hague out of Rice.  He hasn’t lived up to his 3rd round billing yet, though (to be fair) he has struggled with some injuries.

Rizzo’s Too Soon to Tell Draft Picks

  • 2010 2nd rnd: Sammy Solis was looking promising out of U San Diego, but has been side lined by Tommy John Surgery.
  • The 2011 college-arm gamble: Rizzo drafted dozens of college players this draft, stocking the system with experienced amateurs.
  • 2012 1st: the Lucas Giolito gamble won’t play itself out for a couple of years, but it is safe to say Rizzo went “all in” on this player.  A 1-1 talent but damaged goods upon drafting, the team is putting a lot of faith into its experience in dealing with hurlers going through Tommy John.
  • 2011 3rd: Matt Purke got a MLB deal and a whole lot of money, and has done relatively nothing to earn it because of lingering shoulder injuries.  I’m listing him as too early to tell, but the signs are not good.