Nationals Arm Race

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

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Closer post-mortem 2014

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Francisco Rodriguez screwed my fantasy team this year.  Photo via cbssports.com

Francisco Rodriguez screwed my fantasy team this year. Photo via cbssports.com

This post is somewhat driven by fantasy baseball, where one of the typical pitching categories is “Saves,” and the constant churn of closers has become a huge detriment to most fantasy baseball players.  I’m no exception; this year I drafted who I presumed was going to be the closer for Milwaukee (Jim Henderson), only to watch him be replaced the day before the season started, inexplicably and without warning, by Francisco Rodriguez, who subsequently earned 40+ saves for the guy in my league who vulture waiver-wire picked him up.  (We eventually found out why; Henderson gave up 10 runs in 11 innings before going under the knife for “Labrum & Rotator Cuff Debridement.”  Ugh).

My research shows that just 13 of the 30 teams in the MLB this year started and ended the season with the same closer.  That’s a pretty amazing churn of players.  So I put together a tracking XLS.

Team Switch during 2014 season? 2014 Closer, start of season 1/2 point Closer End of Year Closer Most Saves 2014 full season # Saves for Team Leader in 2014
Ari Addison Reed Addison Reed Addison Reed Addison Reed 32
Atl Craig Kimbrel Craig Kimbrel Craig Kimbrel Craig Kimbrel 47
Bal Yes Tommy Hunter Zach Britton Zach Britton Zach Britton 37
Bos Yes Koji Uehara Koji Uehara Edward Mujica Koji Uehara 26
Chc Yes Jose Veras Hector Rondon Hector Rondon Hector Rondon 29
Cin Yes J.J. Hoover Aroldis Chapman Aroldis Chapman Aroldis Chapman 36
Cle Yes John Axford Cody Allen Cody Allen Cody Allen 24
Col LaTroy Hawkins LaTroy Hawkins LaTroy Hawkins LaTroy Hawkins 23
Cws Yes Nate Jones Ronald Belisario? Jake Petricka Jake Petricka 14
Det Joe Nathan Joe Nathan Joe Nathan Joe Nathan 35
Hou Comm. Chad Qualls Chad Qualls Chad Qualls Chad Qualls 19
KC Greg Holland Greg Holland Greg Holland Greg Holland 46
LAA Yes Ernesto Frieri Joe Smith Huston Street Huston Street 17
LAD Kenley Jansen Kenley Jansen Kenley Jansen Kenley Jansen 44
Mia Steve Cishek Steve Cishek Steve Cishek Steve Cishek 39
Mil Yes Jim Henderson Francisco Rodriguez Francisco Rodriguez Francisco Rodriguez 44
Min Glen Perkins Glen Perkins Glen Perkins Glen Perkins 34
NYM Yes Bobby Parnell Jennry Mejia Jennry Mejia Jennry Mejia 28
Nyy David Robertson David Robertson David Robertson David Robertson 39
Oak Yes Jim Johnson Sean Doolittle Sean Doolittle Sean Doolittle 22
Phi Jonathan Papelbon Jonathan Papelbon Jonathan Papelbon Jonathan Papelbon 39
Pit Yes Jason Grilli Mark Melancon Mark Melancon Mark Melancon 33
Sdp Yes Huston Street Joaquin Benoit Joaquin Benoit Joaquin Benoit 11
Sea Fernando Rodney Fernando Rodney Fernando Rodney Fernando Rodney 48
Sfg Yes Sergio Romo Santiago Castilla Santiago Castilla Sergio Romo 23
Stl Trevor Rosenthal Trevor Rosenthal Trevor Rosenthal Trevor Rosenthal 45
TBR Yes Grant Balfour Jake McGee Jake McGee Jake McGee 19
Tex Yes Neftali Feliz Joaquim Soria Neftali Feliz Neftali Feliz 13
Tor Casey Janssen Casey Janssen Casey Janssen Casey Janssen 25
Was Yes Rafael Soriano Rafael Soriano Drew Storen Rafael Soriano 32

Now, technically the Reds never “switched” their closer; they just knew that Aroldis Chapman was coming back after a brief stint on the D/L.  And the Astros show Chad Qualls in all the positions, but they clearly were going with a committee for most of the season.  So you could argue against those two teams, but that still leaves half the league switching their closer mid-season.  Other teams stuck with the same guy all year (Detroit with Joe Nathan) despite awful numbers (4.81 ERA on the season for Nathan), so you could argue that they *should* have switched.

The Nats were no exception; they started the year with Rafael Soriano, who was one of the league’s best for half the season.  By September, the Nats had dumped Soriano for their *previous* closer in Drew Storen, who then dumped the bed in his only two post-season appearances (blowing the save in Jordan Zimmermann‘s epic 8 2/3 shutout innings, and then allowing two hits and a run in a non-save situation the next night).

What does this mean?  For “real” baseball, not much that we didn’t already know.  Closers are judged mostly on high-leverage short-sample sizes, where one blow-out inning destroys ERA and WHIP numbers for a month.  Its a ridiculous statistic that has far too much credence in the modern game.  And its even more ridiculous that a mediocre “closer” with a ton of saves earns more than a middle-to-late innings reliever with a ton of “holds” and great numbers.  But this is our system.

For “fantasy” baseball, the take away again is kind of known: closers are a crapshoot.  Try to get a couple of “known” closers in the 5th-8th rounds, grab a couple of fliers on people later on, but be sure to be incredibly proactive on the waiver wires in the last week of spring training/first week of the season.  A lot of these personnel changes happened in early April and then stuck the rest of the way through (quick examples being Milwaukee as described above and the New York Mets, who saw presumed closer Bobby Parnell blow out his elbow on practically the first day of the season and have Tommy John surgery on 4/8/14).

 

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).

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Written by Todd Boss

March 10th, 2014 at 9:50 am

Posted in Majors Pitching

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2013 Fantasy Baseball post-mortem

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Verlander just killed me this year.  Photo unk via rumorsandrants.com

Verlander just killed me this year. Photo unk via rumorsandrants.com

My standard disclaimer; this is a whole huge post kvetching about my 2013 Fantasy Baseball team.  If you don’t play fantasy, feel free to skip this 3,000 word missive.  I’ll insert a “jump” line here so that RSS readers don’t have to see this whole massive post :-)

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Nats 2013 Rotation; Best in the Majors?

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Nats 2013 rotation:  Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Haren, Detwiler.

Question: Is this the best rotation in the majors?   David Schoenfield already thinks so.  If not, which team’s would you put up against it?

Last year, this same rotation (with Haren being replaced by Edwin Jackson) was considered a very good rotation, but not amongst the MLB’s elite.  That’s mostly because most baseball people thought Gonzalez would regress leaving the comfy confines of Oakland.  Instead, Gonzales put up a 21 win season, finished 3rd in the Cy Young voting and stunned most pundits with his lowered walk rates.  Meanwhile Zimmermann was getting some minor Cy Young consideration mid-way through the 2012 season before tiring in September; in any case the league-wide recognition for our quiet #3 hurler has been welcome.  Strasburg is who he is; inarguably near the top of anyone’s list of the best pitchers in the league.

Now in 2013, with these established guys continuing to improve, with Strasburg unleashed, and with an established #2 Haren in the fold, is this the best rotation in the majors?  Here’s your competition for “Best rotation” teams (I’ve got these ranked in my rough order of strength):

  • St. Louis: Carpenter, Wainwright, Westbrook, and two from Garcia/Lynn/Kelly/Rosenthal
  • Cincinnati: Cueto, Latos, Bailey, Arroyo and Leake
  • Atlanta: Hudson, Medlen, Minor, Maholm, and one from Beachy/Delgado/Tehran
  • Tampa Bay: Price, Hellickson, Moore, Niemann and one from Cobb/Archer
  • San Francisco: Cain, Bumgarner, Lincecum, Vogelsong, Zito
  • Philadelphia: Halladay, Hamels, Lee, Kendrick, Worley
  • Texas: Darvish, Harrison, Holland, Lewis and probably Ogando barring a FA pickup
  • Detroit: Verlander, Fister, Scherzer, Porcello, Smyly
  • Oakland: Anderson, Griffen, Parker, Milone and one from Straily/Blackley/Ross/Godfrey
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: Kershaw, Beckett, Capuano, Harang and a slew of injuries and question marks.
  • Toronto: Johnson, Buehrle, Morrow, Romero and one from Happ/Laffey/Drabeck/Huchinson/someone

Am I missing anyone?  Here’s some thoughts on these rotations as they stand right now:

  • St Louis‘s rotation was rich enough this year to drop 18-game winner Lance Lynn to the bullpen.   With Chris Carpenter healthy in 2013, with Adam Wainwright recovered from Tommy John, and with the likes of hard-throwing Joe Kelly or Trevor Rosenthal as your #5 starter, this is a scary rotation.
  • Cincinnati’s 5 starters took every 2012 start except ONE (the back half of an August double header).  In today’s baseball landscape, that’s nothing short of amazing.  Mike Leake may not be the strongest #5, but Cincy’s 1-2-3 put up great numbers pitching in a bandbox in Cincinnati.
  • Atlanta‘s found gold in Kris Medlen gives Atlanta enough depth to trade away starters (the Tommy Hanson for Jordan Walden deal).  They have 4 excellent starters and then can pick from 3 top-end prospects for the 5th starter until Brandon Beachy is back from surgery.
  • Tampa Bay has well-known pitching depth, and even with the anticipated move of James Shields they have depth up and down the rotation.  Expect a bounce-back sophomore campaign from Matt Moore and more excellent innings from rising hurlers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer.  They may not be the best, but they’re certainly the most value for the dollar.
  • San Francisco has won two World Series’ in three years with the same core of hurlers, and there’s no reason to think they won’t continue to be amongst the elite in the league.  The question remains though; what are thet getting from Tim Lincecum in 2013?  And, can Barry Zito continue his career rebound?  If the answers are yes and yes, then this rotation is much closer to the top of the list.
  • Philadelphia‘s big 3 are all fantastic, but are showing signs of age.  Roy Halladay only had an 89 ERA+ last year; has age caught up to him?  The drop-off after the big 3 is significant too.
  • Texas bought an ace last off-season in Yu Darvish, has a couple of good arms developed in house in Holland and Harrison, but has been depending on one-off FAs to fill the void.   They need a full healthy year out of their two upper-end arms Alexi Ogando and/or Neftali Feliz to make the leap.  Felix is out for most of 2013 though after getting Tommy John surgery in August.  If they buy a FA this off-season, this rotation works its way further up.  Especially if that FA is Zack Greinke.
  • Detroit‘s rotation in the post season was fantastic against New York, then god-awful against San Francisco.  Why?  What can they change in 2013?  They lose Anibel Sanchez to free agency, but their top three arms in Verlander, Fister and Scherzer are just as good as anyone elses 1-2-3 in terms of cumulative depth.  If they retain Sanchez, this rotation rises in the rankings as well.
  • Oakland‘s slew of young, cost contained and quality starters is the envy of the league.  The only thing that keeps this list from greater acclaim is Oakland’s relative lack of recent success.  Throw in a couple more playoff appearances and Billy Beane can get a sequel to Moneyball published.
  • Los Angeles has an Ace in Clayton Kershaw, a possible near-ace career reclamation project in Josh Beckett, and then a bunch of question marks.  Two rotation stalwarts Ted Lilly and Chad Billingsley remain injury question marks for 2013, and the rest of their rotation right now are league average hurlers.  If they make a splash in the FA market (Greinke?) this rotation could rise in the ranks as well.
  • Toronto: Its not every day you can trade for 4 starting players, including two rotation members.  But thanks to Miami’s salary dump, Toronto finds itself with a significantly improved rotation.  Is it close to league best?  No, probably not.  But if Josh Johnson returns to Ace form, coupled with Brandon Morrow‘s fantastic 2012 performance and Mark Buehrle‘s solid #3 stuff, they have something to build on.

Where would I put Washington’s rotation in this list?  At the top, or very close to it.  Each of our guys matches up well in a head-to-head competition going down the line, with Haren as a #4 starter that you’d likely take 100% of the time over anyone else’s #4 starter.