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Obligatory Post on the 2018 Hall of Fame class

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Chipper Jones at his retirement game.  Photo via lostthatsportsblog

Chipper Jones at his retirement game. Photo via lostthatsportsblog

Its January, so that means Hall of Fame Ballot time.  BBWAA Writers who were not completely disgusted by Joe Morgan‘s ridiculous letter to the writers should have mailed in their ballots by 12/31/17.

If you still care about Hall of Fame voting, then this post is for you.  Which I do … because its the only such career-recognizing institution for our sport … even if the people running the museum are tone-deaf morons who want to make it harder to get candidates in rather than easier  despite mounds of evidence that the 80s and 90s are vastly under represented in the Hall.  They continue to enrage rationalists by doing thins like shortening the time players are allowed on the ballot, refusing to expand the ballot to allow more candidates and most recently refusing to make all ballots public so dinosaurs can continue to be unaccountable for their awful voting decisions.

Here’s two key links for you, if you’re still reading:

  • Baseball-Reference.com’s 2018 ballot with stats
  • Ryan Thibodaux‘s online tracker of all HoF votes .  Which is great for those who do talk about their votes … but is tough to use as a predictor because generally the non-public votes are more in the Murray Chass category of voting; too few candidates and no consistency over who he picks.

My consideration of candidates, unlike my consideration of a lot of stuff, comes down more to “feel” than it does to stats.  I know Jay Jaffe  has his great JAWS thing that tries to do both peak and longevity.  I know b-r.com has a bunch of metrics per player.  That’s all great.  But it isn’t the hall of stats, it isn’t the hall of WAR.  Its the hall of Fame.  Its the hall of marquee players from their day.  I cannot remember the pundit (perhaps Bill James or Joe Posnanski), but they said something to the effect of if the player didn’t “scare” you when he came to bat, or if you didn’t get excited when the pitcher took the mound … then odds are they weren’t a hall of famer.

I look at the players I’d vote for and … they’re the guys you paid money to see.  They’re the arms that were on the mound and you gave the opposing team little chance.  They’re the sluggers who you wanted up in the 9th inning of a tie game.  That’s what makes the game exciting and that’s the lens I like to use when judging players.  Yeah its subjective and partisan; so is every person voting in the BBWAA.

With my imaginary ballot, here’s how i’d vote.  Since there’s a (ridiculous) limit of 10 players per ballot, I’ll list these players in rough order of voting priority to start:

New to the 2018 Ballot Candidates:

  • Absolute Yes on Chipper Jones, Jim Thome
  • Less emphatic Yes for Scott Rolen
  • Slight pause to consider Andruw Jones, Omar Vizquel, Johan Santana
  • No on everyone else (though there are still some interesting names on that list)

Returning Ballot Candidates:

  • Absolute Yes on Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds
  • More tepid Yes on Vladimir GuerreroCurt Schilling,  Manny Ramirez, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Fred McGriff, Trevor Hoffman
  • Pass on Jeff Kent, Larry Walker, Gary Sheffield, Billy Wagner, Sammy Sosa

Discussions on my opinions from a hypocritical litmus test stand point:

  • Why support Hoffman but not Wagner?   Probably a fair question and probably not supported by stats when you compare all three guys together.  But that’s why its the “Hall of Fame” and not the “Hall of WAR” or the “Hall of Stats.”  Hoffman was more famous than these other relievers.  I always viewed Smith as a good-but-not-great reliever who compiled stats, and I viewed Wagner as an electric and under-rated closer without near the career accomplishments of Hoffman.
  • Why support McGriff/Guerrero but not Walker?  You can make the argument that Walker’s numbers were a product of Colorado … and you can make the alternative argument too.  I think for me the fact that Walker couldn’t reach even 400 homers while playing in the launching pad in Denver is an indictment of his career.  Walker was a fine hitter … but he never inspired the league wide “fear” that Guerrero and McGriff did.  He’s in the “Hall of Good” but not the “Hall of Fame” for me.  Also it is worth noting that McGriff finished his career with 493 homers, but missed months out of the 1994 season at his peak.  Had he eclipsed 500 homers … i think we’re having a different conversation about him.  These artificial numbers (300, 3000, 500) are pretty important to voters.  Guerrero himself was for a time absolutely “the best player in the game,” a title that I don’t think Walker can come close to claiming.
  • Why support Bonds and Ramirez but not Sosa?   Something about Sosa’s career just screams “artificial.”  He went from being a 35-home run hitter to a 66-home run hitter overnight, he has PED suspisions and a corked bat on his resume, and his skills disappeared as soon as testing became the norm.

So, if you include all firm Yeses and more tepid Yeses … I have 12 candidates.  Probably like everyone else who thinks like I do; too many guys for the ballot.  So who do you cut?  Probably I’d trim the ballot to 10 by cutting McGriff and Hoffman.  I keep Manny Ramirez on despite his positive tests because I don’t think there was a better RH hitter during the 1990s.   I support Clemens/Bonds because I just don’t see how you can have a museum that excludes a 7-time MVP winner or a 7-time Cy Young winner, no matter what you think they took or when.

Nats connected candidates:  excluding the Montreal guys, we have two down-ballot guys who will be lucky to get a single vote: Livan Hernandez and Brad Lidge.  So far, zero votes for either guy, no surprise there.

Quick thoughts on the BBHOF tracker results so far:

  • Bonds/Clemens nearing 70% on public ballots, and keep increasing.  I’m glad to see this.
  • Who the heck voted for Johnny Damon?
  • So far, 3 looking like total locks (Guerrero, Jones, Thome) with the odds of Hoffman also going in strong.
  • It seems like both Schilling and Mussina will drastically increase their vote totals this year, also a good thing.
  • I cannot believe how little support Rolen is getting.
  • Likewise, it looks like Andruw Jones may drop off the ballot!  that’s crazy; i realize he fell off a cliff, but he was among the best in the game for many years.
  • Somewhat surprised with Vizquel’s higher totals (28% as of this writing); no i don’t think he’s a HoFamer … but i do think he deserves some consideration.

Care to argue about the HoF?

 

Hall of Fame candidates with Nationals ties (2017 version)

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Pudge's last official team photo.

Pudge’s last official team photo.

Congratulations to a deserving 2017 Hall of Fame class; Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez were all elected through the most recent round of balloting.

This is the Class of 2017 Version of this post: first one was done after the 2014 Hall of Fame class was announced and the voting results made public, and then the next was done after the Class of 2015 was announced.  And here’s the  2016 version of this post, from which all the text for prior ballots is cut-n-pasted.  It is here for your reminiscing enjoyment.

Nats connected names on the 2017 ballot and 2017 eligible:

  • Ivan Rodriguez, aka “Pudge,” who surprisingly signed a 2-year deal with the team after the 2009 season and played his last two years with the rebuilding team, splitting time with the up-and-coming Wilson Ramos and retiring after the 2011 season.  He was part of the rebound years for the franchise but missed out on their breakout 2012 season.  There was some surprise when he got in on the 1st ballot, given his PED suspicions, but I take his election as a sign of the changing times with the electorate.  There’s definitely a difference between suspicions and a real failed test, and inarguably Pudge is one of the best catchers of all time so there’s no reason to keep him out.  Here’s a great link of a video of Pudge finding out he was elected.
  • Matt Stairs, whose name I can’t quite say without cursing, who sucked at the teet of the Washington Nationals payroll for half a season in 2011 before being mercifully released on August 1st of that year.  Stairs now is now a regular in my semi-annual “Nats to Oblivion” posts, last done in April of 2016.  He received zero votes and falls off the ballot.
  • Alex Cora: like Stairs, he signed on as a veteran FA to be a role player with the 2011 Nats and retired after the 2011 season.  Unlike Stairs, Cora wasn’t judged to even be worthy to make the ballot.
  • (As we all know, Tim Raines, Vladimir Guerrero, Orlando Cabrera and Larry Walker all grew up with the Montreal franchise, but never appeared for the team post-move to Washington, so I havn’t included them here.  Cabrera was the closest to appearing in a Nats uniform, getting traded to Boston mid 2004 season just prior to the move).

Useful Hall of Fame links links:

  • 2017 Ballot on baseball-reference.com, with links to vote counts, stats, etc.
  • Full Voting figures via BBWAA.com

This post will let you answer the trivia question, “Prior to Ivan Rodrigiez’s enshrinement, what former Nats player has come the closest to Hall of Fame enshrinement?”  (Answer at the bottom).

We’ll work from most recent to oldest.

2016 Ballot:

Not a single Nats-connected was on the official Class of 2016 ballot.  As it turned out, There’s actually quite a few guys who were *candidates* for the 2016 ballot by requirements, but who didn’t make the cut who also had connections to the Nationals.  In fact, there’s quite a few of them.  Here’s a good list, thanks to the excellent research by Bill from platoonadvantage.com.

  • Ronnie Belliard: Played pretty well for the god-awful stretch of Nationals teams from 2007-2009, posting a nifty 123 OPS+ during the middle season before getting traded away at the 2009 trade deadline for two minor leaguers who never went anywhere (Luis Garcia, Victor Garate).  Stuck with Los Angeles one more season before hanging them up at 35.  Played parts of 13 seasons in the majors but didn’t rate a spot on the ballot.
  • Jesus Colome was an important part of the Nats bullpen during the same 2007-2009 span that Belliard was involved with, getting more than 120 appearances his first two seasons before posting an 8 ERA in 2009 and getting DFA’d in July.  He got picked up the next year by Seattle and got a few appearances (hence why he’s not on the “Nats to Oblivion” lists) and, if you can believe it, is still pitching at age 37 in the independent Atlantic league as we speak.  He did manage 10 distinct years w/ MLB appearances though, so he qualified.
  • Jose Guillen came to Washington with the Expos, played one solid year in 2005, had a season-ending elbow injury in 2006, then bounced around the league for a few more years.  He was active for 14 total seasons but never made an all star game.  He hit 24 homers for the surprising 2005 Nats … and led the league in HBPs.
  • Cristian Guzman signed a somewhat controversial 4yr/$16M contract (it cost the team its 2nd round pick) that started when the team moved to Washington, was god-awful his first year, then had to have shoulder surgery to miss the entirety of 2006.  He recovered his stroke in 2007 and actually made the all-star team in 2008 (our only representative during the dark years) … which was enough to convince our idiot GM Jim Bowden to give him a 2yr/$16M extension to an aging shortstop w/ no power on the wrong side of 30.  Not surprisingly, his OPS dropped 100 points in 2009 and the team dumped him on Texas in a trade-deadline deal after he had lost his starting job to Ian Desmond, netting the Nats two RHPs (one of which Tanner Roark makes this one of the better trades ever consummated by the Nats executive staff).  Guzman played in 15 more games for Texas, batted .152 and never played again.

2015 Ballot:

  • Aaron Boone, who signed a 1yr/$1M FA contract to be a backup corner infielder with the abhorrent 2008 Nationals team.  Boone’s crowning baseball achievement was his extra innings walk-off homer that ended one of the best games in MLB history (Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS between Boston and the Yankees, ranked #6 by MLB’s panel a few years back when ranking the best 20 games of the last half century).  Ironically one of his lowest moments was just a couple months later, blowing out his ACL that subsequent winter while playing pickup basketball, costing him the entirety of the 2004 season and the trust of the  Yankees organization.  He missed 2/3rds of the 2007 season after another left knee injury and the Nats were probably his last gasp shot at extending his career at the age of 35.  He got a decent amount of playing time thanks to the fragility of Ryan Zimmerman and Nick Johnson, somehow got another guaranteed MLB deal the following year, went 0-14 for Houston and was released.  He’s now an analyst with ESPN.  Received 2 votes on the 2015 ballot.
  • Ron Villone signed a minor league deal in 2009 and was quickly added to the Nats active roster, where he appeared in 63 games as our primary one-out lefty.   He pitched the entirety of 2010 on another minor league contract with Syracuse, posting a 6.59 ERA as a 40-year old and never earning a call-up.   In 2011 he was invited to spring training again (perhaps with the hope that he’d join the organization as a coach) but he got cut, then pitched a handful of indy league games for his home-town New Jersey indy league team, got hammered, and hung them up.   He retired having played in 15 seasons for no less than 12 different teams.  In 2012 he took a pitching coach job with the Cubs organization (one of the teams he managed NOT to play for during his career) and has been moving up their organization in that capacity since.  Received Zero Hall-of-Fame votes by virtue of not appearing on the BBWAA ballot.
  • Julian Tavarez signed a one-year deal in the beginning of 2009, started out decently but had an awful stretch that resulted in his DFA in mid July 2009.  He never threw another pitch in organized ball, abruptly retiring considering his mid-season release.  He ended a 17-year career spanning 11 different franchises.  Received Zero Hall-of-Fame votes by virtue of not appearing on the BBWAA ballot.  According to his wiki page, he now resides in a suburb of Cleveland (his original professional team) but does not list any post-career activities, baseball-related or otherwise.  Received Zero Hall-of-Fame votes by virtue of not appearing on the BBWAA ballot.

Both Tavarez and Villone belong to the infamous “From Nationals to Oblivion” club, a topic we revisit on an annual basis.

Note: it is not entirely clear to me why Villone and Tavarez were not actually ON the 2015 ballot; both seem to have the qualifications (10 years of experience and 5 years retired) and both were on previous versions of the “anticipated ballot” at baseball-reference.com, but neither showed up on BBWAA’s official ballot for this year.  Pete Kerzel did a post reviewing “Nats connected” 2015 ballot members when the ballot came out in Nov 2014 and only mentioned Boone.  I include them here since it seems to me they *should* be on the ballot and I’m not sure why they were not (unless someone is passing judgement on the “quality” of HoFame ballot members).  Are they pushed to subsequent ballots for some reason?  If anyone has insight i’d love to know.

2014 Ballot:

  • Paul Lo Duca: one of Bowden’s more infamous signings; he went from our opening day catcher in the 2008 season to being released by August 1st.  The highlight of his tenure here was having his name being revealed in the Mitchell Report just a couple days after signing with us.  After his release, he signed on to finish out the season with Florida, took a year off and attempted a come back in 2010 (signing a ML contract with Colorado but never appearing above AAA).   Hard to believe this guy was a 4-time all-star.  Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.

2013 Ballot:

  • Royce Clayton; signed a contract to be the Nats shortstop during the lean Jim Bowden years, and then was included in the Mega swap of players that headed to Cincinnati in the 2006 season.  He hung around for one more season in 2007 as a backup short stop and retired afterwards.  Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.
  • Mike Stanton was picked up in mid 2005 after being released by the Yankees, and he pitched well enough for the Nats that he was able to fetch a couple of low-level prospects in a late September move to Boston (who was looking for some late season bullpen cover).  The team then re-signed Stanton for 2006, and flipped him again mid-season, this time to the Giants for Shairon Martis.  Stanton toiled a one more season before hanging them up after 2007.   Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.

2012 Ballot:

  • Vinny Castilla: signed a two year deal to join the Nats, timed with their inaugural season in Washington, but was traded to Colorado for SP Brian Lawrence when it became apparent that Ryan Zimmerman was set to man the hot corner in DC for the next decade or so.  Played one more season and retired after 2006.  Received Six (6) Hall-of-fame votes.

2011 Ballot:

  • Carlos Baerga: signed a one year deal as a 36-yr old to join the Nats in their inaugural season and serve as a backup infielder.   Hit .253 in part-time duty and hung ’em up after a 14-year career that can be well described as “journey-man.”   He was an integral part of the early 90s Cleveland Indians as their starting 2nd baseman and a 3-time all-star, and ended up playing on 6 major league teams and spent parts one season in Korea.  Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.

So, outside of Pudge’s election, the Nats greatest Hall of Fame achievement is Vinny Castilla receiving 6 sympathy votes.

We still have to wait a while to see another player with a “W” on their hat in Cooperstown.

 

 

Obligatory Post on the 2017 Hall of Fame class

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"Throw another circle change so you can blow out your elbow!" Photo via zimbio

“Throw another circle change so you can blow out your elbow!” Photo via zimbio

The ballot for the 2017 Hall of Fame class came out in early November 2016, and had 34 names on it.  Baseball-reference has a very  nice page summarizing all the candidates and their career stats.  Since Ballots are due by 12/31, and since this is the beginning of the obligatory holier-than-thou arguments about HoFame balloting, I give you my own holier-than-thou take on it.

Important/Vital link for 2017 Hall of Fame vote tracking: Ryan Thibodaux‘s online tracker of all HoF votes, which is showing some very different trends in 2017 for long-time ballot candidates.  You may have already seen some analysis of the early voting, from Bill James to Buster Olney.  The big shock so far is just how much support both of the major PED-tainted candidates (Bonds and Clemens) have gained since last year.  Some (most?) attribute this to the veteran’s electing of Bud Selig, who presided over the Steroid era and did little to stop it.  The thinking probably goes, “well if Selig is in, he’s just as culpable as the players, so i’m now voting for Bonds/Clemens).

With my imaginary ballot, here’s how i’d vote.  Since there’s a (ridiculous) limit of 10 players per ballot, I’ll list these players in rough order of voting priority to start:

New Ballot Candidates:

  • Absolute Yes on Ivan RodriguezManny Ramirez (and with Pudge, the first “Nationals” connected player to make it!)
  • Less emphatic Yes for Vladimir Guerrero
  • Slight pause to consider Jorge Posada
  • No on everyone else.

Returning Ballot Candidates:

  • Absolute Yes on Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds
  • More tepid Yes on Curt Schilling, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Fred McGriff, Trevor Hoffman
  • Pass on Lee Smith, Jeff Kent, Larry Walker, Gary Sheffield, Billy Wagner, Sammy Sosa

Discussions on my opinions from a hypocritical litmus test stand point:

  • Why support Hoffman but not Smith and Wagner?   Probably a fair question and probably not supported by stats when you compare all three guys together.  But that’s why its the “Hall of Fame” and not the “Hall of WAR” or the “Hall of Stats.”  Hoffman was more famous than these other relievers.  I always viewed Smith as a good-but-not-great reliever who compiled stats, and I viewed Wagner as an electric and under-rated closer without near the career accomplishments of Hoffman.
  • Why support McGriff/Guerrero but not Walker?  You can make the argument that Walker’s numbers were a product of Colorado … and you can make the alternative argument too.  I think for me the fact that Walker couldn’t reach even 400 homers while playing in the launching pad in Denver is an indictment of his career.  Walker was a fine hitter … but he never inspired the league wide “fear” that Guerrero and McGriff did.  He’s in the “Hall of Good” but not the “Hall of Fame” for me.  Also it is worth noting that McGriff finished his career with 493 homers, but missed months out of the 1994 season at his peak.  Had he eclipsed 500 homers … i think we’re having a different conversation about him.  These artificial numbers (300, 3000, 500) are pretty important to voters.  Guerrero himself was for a time absolutely “the best player in the game,” a title that I don’t think Walker can come close to claimin.
  • Why support Bonds and Ramirez but not Sosa?   Something about Sosa’s career just screams “artificial.”  He went from being a 35-home run hitter to a 66-home run hitter overnight, he has PED suspisions and a corked bat on his resume, and his skills disappeared as soon as testing became the norm.

So that gives me 6 “Yes” votes and another 6 less emphatic  “yes” votes.  So i’d have to cull two candidates to fit onto a 10-person ballot.  I’d cut Schilling just on principle for the ridiculousness of his statements lately, and Hoffman on general anti-closer principles.  So my hypothetical ballot is:

  • Rodriguez, Ramirez, Guerrero, Bagwell, Raines, Clemens, Bonds, Martinez, Mussina, McGriff

My prediction on who actually gets elected?  Well, of course the PED issue comes into play.  So three or four of my “Yesses” are going to struggle to get votes.  So i’m guessing that the likes of Pudge and Manny don’t get 1st ballot votes, and Clemens/Bonds will continues to struggle.   But based on there being three candidates that got pretty close last year, i’m going to guess that its a 3-man roster for 2017: Raines, Bagwell and Hoffman.  And that’s a fine class.   The tracker is showing Raines, Bagwell and Rodriguez well in the 75% range, with Bonds, Clemens, Hoffman and Guerrero in the 70-75% range.  Which means that they’ll likely fall short in the end, since the non-public ballots are usually more parsimonious and more narrative-driven.  Hoffman has enough of a narrative to perhaps maintain his 75% range though, so i’m putting him in first ballot (whether or not you think he deserves it).

One great change coming to HoFame balloting; no more secret ballots.  Every idiot who has a ballot and turns in something nonsensical will now have to answer for his vote in the court of public opinion.  Which I think is a great thing; no more sanctimonious votes preventing deserving players from getting their due.

So, who you got in the Hall this time?

 

Ask Ladson 9/23/16

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Turner is on everyone's mind.  photo via wp.com

Turner is on everyone’s mind. photo via wp.com

I know my “Fantasy post-mortem” post didn’t move the needle; luckily Nats MLB.com beat reporter Bill Ladson posted another inbox!  2nd one in two weeks!

Here’s how I would have answered these questions, if I was in a position to have random fans email me questions all the time :-)

Q: Is Trea Turner eligible for the National League Rookie of the Year Award? If he is, he should be the winner.

A: Absolutely Trea Turner is eligible.  Is he going to win?  Uh… better go check the season that Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager just had.  Turner probably finishes 2nd or 3rd.  If I had a vote, I’d probably go Seager, Kenta Maeda, Turner, Trevor Story and then Aledmys Diaz to round out the top 5.  Turner has been awesome no doubt, but Seager is an MVP candidate and did it all year.  If Turner had done what he has been doing for the full season?  Yeah he’d probably be at a Mike Trout level of production and we’d be having a far different conversation about him.  Ladson Agrees.

Q: You said you thought Dusty Baker sticks with slumping players too long, but you didn’t list Bryce Harper on that list.

A: I think its one thing to stick with a slumping player too long when you have a better alternative (or even a possible better alternative) on the bench.  But how do you possibly claim that Bryce Harper deserved benching?  He was the frigging MVP last year; talk about impatience.  And even with his “down” season Harper still has an OPS+ of 117.  Harper has had a really weird season: his month by month splits show him crushing in April, falling off a cliff in May after the walkathon in Chicago, rebounding for a solid June, hitting just .176 in July, rebounding again in August (.934 OPS) and then again falling off a cliff so far in September (hitting just .203 this month).  If the partern holds, he’ll get hot again just in time for the October playoff games :-)

Are the persistent rumors about his shoulder true?  Respected national reporter Tom Verducci has reported it not once but twice, each time with a more vehement denial from GM Mike Rizzo, but his drop off from last year is pretty apparent for all to see.  Certainly it would explain why he’s struggled so badly this year.  Are Rizzo et al denying so as to prevent a competitive disadvantage from being public knowledge?  Probably too late for that.

Ladson agrees; Harper is a different story.

Q: Do you think the 2016 Nationals team is stronger than the ’14 Nationals was?

A: Yes I do.  I think the 2016 rotation(at full strength) matched up better than 2014’s, the bullpen is stronger, and I think the hitting is more consistent with more production across the team.  Now, maybe a better question is, “Which team was better positioned heading into the playoffs?  There the answer is inarguably the 2014 team; the rotation we’ll field in the NLDS is two studs and then two question marks, we really don’t have a shutdown lefty in the bullpen, and two of our best hitters (Harper and Danny Murphy) are hurt.  Not a good time for all these injuries to hit.  Ladson gives the edge to 2014 for similar reasons as I gave.

Q: Being a longtime Expos fan and seeing that you covered them, how would you compare Vladimir Guerrero to Harper?

A: I’ll freely admit that I’m not nearly as qualified to answer this as Ladson.  But i’ll give it an opinion; Guerrero was a better hitter, more capable of hitting whatever was thrown his way.  They were comparable in terms of defense; both had powerful arms and great range.  I give Guerrero the edge in speed on the basepaths, and Harper the edge in power (which is tough to say given that Guerrero hit 40+ a few times and had 449 for his career).  Both players only have one MVP: Guerrero’s came at age 29 as soon as he got out of Montreal.  Harper won his last year at the tender age of 22, and you have to think he’s got more in him.  Ladson gives the edge to Guerrero for now.

Q: With the emergence of Turner in center field, do you think the Nats will bring back both Ben Revere and Michael Taylor next season?

A: Revere no, Taylor yes.  Revere is arb-eligible and is making north of $6M this year; he’s an obvious non-tender this coming off-season.  Taylor is still under complete club control and is not arb-eligible for another year.  I can see the team going one of three ways (as we’ve discussed here at length):

  1. Turner to short, Espinosa traded and we look for a CF in trade or via FA.  Taylor the 4th outfielder.
  2. Turner to short, Espinosa moved, Harper to CF and we get a FA corner outfielder (my preference but not likely to happen).  Taylor the 4th outfielder.
  3. Standing pat: Turner stays in CF, Espinosa stays at short, and Taylor is the 4th outfielder.

In all these scenarios, Taylor is the 4th outfielder.  Is he even the 4th outfielder?  Well, he’s now had 781 plate appearances in the majors; he’s hitting .224 and he’s struck out 248 of those appearances.  Not good.  I’m not sure what we do with him at this point.  Ladson agrees with me on non-tendering Revere, and thinks Taylor needs another year in the minors.

 

Nats Minor League Players of the Year; indicator of future success?

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Souza gets well-deserved recognition from the team.   Photo Nats official/Tommy Gilligan

Souza gets well-deserved recognition from the team. Photo Nats official/Tommy Gilligan

The Nationals on 9/24/14 announced that Lucas Giolito and Steven Souza were named their minor league players of the year for 2014 (announcement made on twitter, h/t to FederalBaseball for the initial posting on the topic).

No surprise for Souza, who sported an OPS above 1.000 in AAA.  I was a bit surprised Giolito got the nod over someone like Taylor Hill, Austin Voth‘s 2-level rise, or especially what A.J. Cole did this year, but you cannot argue with his season all in all.

Here’s an look though at the history of the Nats’ minor league players of the year.  Does earning the award guarantee future success?

  • 2014: Steven Souza, Lucas Giolito
  • 2013: Billy Burns, Taylor Jordan
  • 2012: Matt Skole, Nathan Karns (also BA’s two POTY for the org)
  • 2011: Steve Lombardozzi, Brad Peacock
  • 2010: Tyler Moore, Tommy Milone
  • 2009: Derek Norris, Brad Meyers
  • 2008: Leonard Davis, Jordan Zimmermann
  • 2007: Justin Maxwell, John Lannan
  • 2006: Kory Casto, Zech Zinicola
  • 2005: Kory Casto, Mike O’Conner

I’d say that it is quite hit or miss.  Of the 9 distinct hitters named in the Nats franchise history, I think the only guy you could claim has lived up to his minor league success is Derek NorrisLeonard Davis never even made the majors.  Kory Casto barely did: hitting below .200 in parts of two major leagues seasons before getting DFA’d.  Most of the rest of these guys at best are no more than role players (with “too early to tell” labels on Skole and Souza of course).

Of the pitchers; clearly Jordan Zimmermann has blossomed into the real thing, and a couple of the other names here have turned into serviceable #4/#5 starters (Lannan, Milone).  Perhaps its indicative of just how poor the farm system was upon the team’s arrival in Washington that the first two pitchers of the system were a guy who never pitched in the majors (Zinicola) and another who had a career 5.30 ERA in 35 MLB apperances over several years.  Meyers never came back from a shoulder injury; no shame there.

Before 2005, my information is a little spotty on who the Expos named.  Here’s what I do know:

2004: Ryan Church
2003: Terrmel Sledge
2002
2001
2000: Brad Wilkerson
1999:
1998: Michael Barrett, Noah Hall
1997:
1996: Vladimir Guerrero
1995: Vladimir Guerrero

 

 

Bill Ladson’s 7/21/11 inbox; my answers to his questions

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Is this your 2011 NL Rookie of the Year? Photo: AP via silive.com

MLB Nationals beat reporter Bill Ladson doesn’t do mailboxes that frequently, but when he does I’m sometimes intrigued by his answers.  Lets see how i’d have answered the questions he took in his latest mailbag.  As always, I read the question and answer it myself prior to reading his answer.

Q: Don’t get me wrong, I love Danny Espinosa. But how can you say he’s the “most complete player I’ve covered since Vladimir Guerrero”
A: I like Danny Espinosa and was a fan of his even before he started his 2011 rookie-of-the-year campaign.  A question though: does Espinosa even feature as a typical 5-tool player? Power (yes), Average? (not yet … despite his BABIP being a bit low he’s only hitting in the .240s), but perhaps in the future.  Speed?  12 Stolen bases on pace for about 20.  Defense?  by all accounts yes.  Arm?  Definitely.  So, he’s pretty durn complete.  But, he’s got exactly 3/4 of one pro season under his belt.  A lot has to happen before we start comparing him to one of the better players in the last 20 years (Vladimir Guerrero).  Ladson says he IS a 5-tool player, and that he’s the best defensive 2nd baseman in baseball right now.  Heady statements.  Here’s a list of Uzr/150 ratings for 2nd basemen right now; Espinosa is 5th behind some pretty good defensive players.  Will he stay at 2nd base long enough to gain consideration or take over at short?  See below.

Q: With Mike Cameron traded to the Marlins, do you see the Nationals making a move to get someone like Cameron before the non-waiver Trade Deadline?
A: Mike Rizzo keeps talking about how he wants a center fielder.  BJ Upton and Michael Bourn are names that keep popping up.  But at what point does the team realize it may have a great future center fielder in Bryce Harper and just wait it out?  I wouldn’t want Cameron, an aging player living on his defensive reputation of yesteryear.   Ladson specifically mentions both Upton and Bourn, stating that the Nats are not interested in aging vets.

Q: What is Ian Desmond’s future with the team? Steve Lombardozzi seems like he could be a fit as a leadoff hitter sooner rather than later. Problem is, he plays second base. Could Desi move to left field, or is it more likely he goes to another ballclub? His numbers offensively have not been good.
A: Great question. Ian Desmond has clearly taken a step backwards offensively just at the same time that he’s finally taken a step forward defensively. What should the team do? Live with a plus defender (Desmond believe it or not has a positive Uzr/150 this year, putting him in the upper half of defensive short stops) and his crummy bat?  Or try to improve?  I think the answer may eventually be to transition Desmond to a different role if he can’t be more consistent at the plate.  I’m not sure Steve Lombardozzi is the answer (he very well may be; i’ve advocated in the past for this exact same move) until he proves he can hit at AAA and proves he can hit in the majors.  But we also have Anthony Rendon in the wings and may have to find a position for him as well.  Its a good problem to have; too many good players and not enough spots.  Ladson thinks Desmond is trade bait and is coveted by several teams; we may get our answer in the off-season.

Q: With Michael Morse doing so well at first base, is there any chance they might try and use LaRoche as trade bait?
A: Another great question.  The Nats do have some interesting story lines facing them as they go into 2011. Morse has been a revelation and will be a key part of the team in 2012. LaRoche is signed and is a 25 homer/100rbi guy with plus defense at first, so its hard to believe we’ll sell low on him and dump him this off season.  What would he bring in trade return?  Almost nothing.  My guess is that Morse moves back to left, we flip Nix into a reliever or something, and re-install LaRoche at first. Ladson Agrees.

Q: I saw recently that Chad Cordero retired. I know he left Washington with some resentment toward the front office, but is there any chance the two sides can bury the hatchet and honor Chad with some sort of ceremony thanking him for his contributions? He was a fan favorite who gave everything he had while wearing the curly W. He certainly deserves it.
A: Any resentment Cordero had towards this franchise should have died the day Bowden was fired. But, who knows, he could have blamed the owners for the actions of its employees. Without dishonoring the guy too much, how much of an impact did he really have here? You can argue that Cordero was a flash in the pan, an over-rated player in a position (closer) that is fungible and more or less replaceable with most any bullpen arm. He had a fantastic season the year the team moved here in 2005, and never came close to replicating it before getting hurt.  We spent most of the 2007 season talking about trading the guy.  It’d be like honoring Vinny Castillo in some ways.  Ladson agrees, and says we should think about honoring Frank Robinson first.  Fair enough, but why exactly does this team “need” to honor anybody from the past few years?  What did Frank Robinson do for this team except guide it to consecutive last place finishes?

Q: Do you see the Nationals moving Jayson Werth to the cleanup spot? We know how good Morse and Laynce Nix are, but chances are opposing teams will walk Ryan Zimmerman if those two are behind him.
A: I’m not sure what games this questioner is watching this year, but perhaps this guy has not seen that a) Werth is struggling mightily, b) Morse is hitting the ball lights out, and c) Nix is hitting a heck of a lot better than the average guy. You set your lineup so that you’re not batting 5 right-handed guys in a row but also with a mind towards the roles and capabilities of the players. Werth, Morse and Zimmerman are all right handed guys and should only be put together if you’re facing a lefty. Nix is a great way to break that up but his lefty-lefty splits aren’t that great.  What would be really great is if LaRoche was healthy and producing and in the mix for 3-4-5-6 as well, or if Espinosa becomes the power hitting force that he could be and continues to be a basher in the 2-hole.  Ladson says Werth may move back to #5 but he’s no cleanup hitter.

Q: When will Bryce Harper get promoted to the big leagues?
A: Target Mid June 2012. I think maybe the team gets a wild hair and calls him up this september for some cheap box office gate days. And you can’t blame them; he’s already on the 40-man roster after all. But any days he plays here in september delay the days he needs to sit in the minors so as to avoid super-2 status. Besides, Rizzo has repeatedly said he’s not coming up in 2011. Btw, I don’t believe Harper’s current struggles once promoted to AA mean much. He should have gone to high-a but understand why he skipped Potomac’s ridiculously bad field. He’ll pick it back up and he’ll hit .300 his final month of AA.  Ladson didn’t really answer, just saying that Harper won’t make it up this year.

WS Pitcher Review and Lee’s horrendous Decision in Game 5

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Edgar Renteria buried the Rangers in Game 5. Photo: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images.

(this is a follow-up to a previous posting about the Giant’s World Series victory).

Despite the supposed massive superiority of the American League and its juggernaut payroll teams, a team from the National League (one that barely made the playoffs no less) was crowned WS champion after a rather tidy 4-1 series victory.  The Giants are certainly not a low-payroll team; they started the season with the league’s 9th highest payroll, finished the regular season with the 5th best record and advanced through the playoffs with relative ease (they were 11-4 in the playoffs altogether, losing 2 Sanchez starts, a Lincecum and a Cain start (despite Cain continuing a 22 inning post season no earned-run streak).

Not that it mattered in the end, but game 5 certainly turned on a questionable pitching strategy decision just before the decisive 3-run homer in the 7th.  Cody Ross led off with a single (continuing his amazing post season and certainly buying him FA dollars in the off season).  Cliff Lee made an 0-2 mistake to Uribe who smacked a single into center.  After a fantastic career-first sacrifice/drag bunt by Aubrey Huff, Cliff Lee had runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out.  Lee battled Burrell to 3-2 before striking him out on an outside cutter.  This seemed at the time to be the game-changing strikeout that Lee needed but he quickly fell behind the next batter Edgar Renteria 2-0, missing badly with two curveballs.  Announcer Tim McCarver, often villified as being the master of the obvious, stated very clearly that the right decision upon falling behind 2-0 would be to walk Renteria, load the bases with 2 outs and start afresh with the on-deck hitter Aaron Rowand (a sub in the series and not nearly the threat of Renteria).  Before McCarver could finish his thought, Lee grooved a 2-0 fastball, belt high, down the middle of the plate and the aging, soon-to-be-retired Renteria didn’t miss.  He crushed a 3-run homer and the game was essentially over.  Lincecum pitched 8 complete (giving up a meaningless homer to Nelson Cruz) before oddball closer Brian Wilson blew through the heart of the Rangers lineup (Hamilton, Guerrero and Cruz again) to get the save and finish out the series.

Why does Lee not walk Renteria there?  Why does the pitching coach see the obvious situation, run out to the mound and say, “hey, lets just throw two fastballs a foot outside and start over on Rowand?”  This is the reason MLB teams have bench coaches; to help the manager manage the game.  It was the latest in a series of curious pitching moves (or non-moves) from the Rangers coaching staff.  In reality Lee is a competitor and probably thinks he can get anyone out, at any time, let alone an over-the-hill bounce-around-the league veteran like Renteria.  But, no matter what the quality of the hitter mistakes in Major League Baseball quickly turn into gopher balls.

Overview of all 15 games the Giants played this offseason:

Series/Game # Giants SP Opponent SP Game Result WP LP
NLDS-1 Lincecum Lowe Giants W 1-0 Lincecum Lowe
NLDS-2 Cain Hansen Braves W 5-4 Farnsworth Ramirez
NLDS-3 Sanchez Hudson Giants W 3-2 Romo Kimbrel
NLDS-4 Bumgarner Lowe Giants W 3-2 Bumgarner Lowe
NLCS-1 Lincecum Halladay Giants W 4-3 Lincecum Halladay
NLCS-2 Sanchez Oswalt Phillies 6-1 Oswalt Sanchez
NLCS-3 Cain Hamels Giants W 3-0 Cain Hamels
NLCS-4 Bumgarner Blanton Giants W 6-5 Wilson Oswalt
NLCS-5 Lincecum Halladay Phillies 4-2 Halladay Lincecum
NLCS-6 Sanchez Oswalt Giants W 3-2 Lopez Madson
WS-1 Lincecum Lee Giants W 11-7 Lincecum Lee
WS-2 Cain Wilson Giants W 9-0 Cain Wilson
WS-3 Sanchez Lewis Rangers W 4-2 Lewis Sanchez
WS-4 Bumgarner Hunter Giants W 4-0 Bumgarner Hunter
WS-5 Lincecum Lee Giants W 3-1 Lincecum Lee

SF Starting Pitching Stats in the playoffs (all three series combined)

Pitcher Starts w/l Team w/L ip k/bb era whip
Lincecum 5 4-1 4-1 37 43/9 2.43 0.92
Cain 3 2-0 2-1 21.33 13/7 0 0.94
Sanchez 4 0-1 2-2 20 22/9 4.05 1.25
Bumgarner 3 2-0 3-0 20.66 18/5 2.12 1.11

The cliche for post season baseball has always been, “good pitching beats good hitting” and we certainly saw this in the 2010 post season.  The Giants featured 2 clear “Aces” in Lincecum and Cain, while witnessing a 21-yr old rookie Madison Bumgarner dominate on the sport’s biggest stage.  Only #3 starter Sanchez struggled in this post season (if you can call a 4.05 era against the best teams in baseball truly “struggling”).   The world series featured the league’s best hitting team in Texas, but they were shut down by the Giant’s pitching staff, hitting .190 for the series.

Ironically; what the Giants just finished doing to the Rangers is what most of the baseball world thought the Phillies and their vaunted rotation would be doing.  Yes; the AL has the Red Sox and Yankees and Rays (by most opinions 3 of the best 5 teams in baseball) but the NL has the rotational depth to shutdown $150M rosters.  If the Yankees want to compete next year, look no further than replacing Vazquez with Cliff Lee, turning the ineffective Burnett into a 5th starter (ala what SF did with Barry Zito) and finding themselves a solid #1a Ace behind Sabathia.

How does this tie back to the Nats?  The answer is clear; if you can put together a top notch starting rotation, you can go incredibly far.  Imagine in 2012 this rotation: a healthy Strasburg, a strong and improving Jordan Zimmerman, an impressive young starter in Sammy Solis, a top notch free agent acquisition along the likes of Greinke or a healthy Brandon Webb, and a take your pick from our stable of #5 starters like Lannan, Detwiler or Maya.  These guys can end losing streaks, keep your team in games, throw up quality starts 80% of the time, and turn a league average offense into a post season team.

That’s the “plan” anyway.

The best “5-tool” player of all time? (updated)

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The 400 homer/10 gold glove club question (see post on August 10th 2010 here) spurred a different question into my mind.  Who is baseball’s greatest 5-tool player?  For those of you who don’t know what the 5 tools are:

  • Speed; indicated by stolen bases statistically.
  • Fielding/Defense: indicated by gold gloves somewhat, even though the Gold Glove voting process is known to be bad.
  • Arm: no real statistical measure, just rumors and observations.
  • Hitting for average: career batting average
  • Hitting for power: career homers

My dad and I were talking about this same question and he says the answer is Willie Mays.  And I have a hard time disagreeing with him.   He was fast (338 career SBs), he was a fantastic center fielder (12 straight gold gloves), he was known to have a cannon for an arm, he hit a career .302 with 3283 hits and belted 660 homers.

Who else might be in the conversation?  Lets take a look at some of the candidates:

  • Barry Bonds: Career batting .298, 762 homers, 2935 hits and 514 steals.  8 gold gloves, ending a streak suddenly in 1999.  Which is also probably when he started juicing (his homers per season jumped from 34 to 49 to 73 in 1999-2001).   The only thing Mays had on Bonds was his arm.  Bonds always played left field, where you can “hide” poorer outfielders who don’t necessarily need the range of a center fielder or the cannon arm of a right fielder (to prevent first to third base runners).  But Bonds had significantly more steals and homers (whether or not you discount them).
  • Ken Griffey Jr.: Definitely up there in the argument.  Clearly he was fantastic defensively (10 straight gold gloves) and had a great arm.  Great power (630 career homers).  Only 184 career steals and a lifetime .284 BA with 2781 hits dings him in comparison to Mays.

Here’s some names that have multiple of the tools, but are missing one or two key ones:

  • Babe Ruth: Great power and average combo, he obviously had a good arm starting as a pitcher, but he had zero speed and ate himself so large that he could barely play the outfield.
  • Ted Williams is always an interesting test case for the “What could have been?” question.  He hit .344 with 521 homers and a really good argument that had he not lost 3 full seasons in his absolute prime to WWII (plus most of two others to Korea in his mid 30s) that he’d be closer to 700 homers for his career.  But he was known to be a defensive liability and had only 24 sbs for his career.
  • Mickey Mantle: famously said that “if 40/40 was so impressive, I’d have done it every year.”  And its hard not to doubt him.  Playing in a time when there wasn’t much of a need for him to steal bases, he still ended up with 153 on the career and routinely had 15-20 each season.  He retired with 500+ homers, a career ba of .298, a legendary reputation for roaming centerfield in Yankee stadium and an even more legendary reputation for drinking himself out of baseball prematurely at the age of 36.
  • Joe DiMaggio: one of the best pure hitters of the 20th century.  Career .325 BA, 361 homers.  Lost 3 years in his absolute prime to the WWII and retired incredibly early at 36.  Played a great center-field (his time predates gold gloves).  but very very few stolen bases.
  • Stan Musial: one of the “lost players” of the 20th century, in that it is easy to forget his name when talking of the all time greats.  3600 career hits, 475 homers, career .331 BA.  Great hitter.  Played center field for 20-some years for St. Louis.  But as with DiMaggio, very few SBs.
  • Bobby Bonds: nearly a 40/40 man one year but strikeout rate is so excessive.

How about some more modern players?

  • Paul Molitor another guy to think about.  504 career SBs, .306 BA, only 234 homers but not much on the defensive side, having been mostly a DH for the last half of his career.
  • Alfonso Soriano: his 40/40 season was legendary (there was preliminary talk of him doing a 50/50 season, which hasn’t even been approached), and he’s currently got 309 career homers and 271 career SBs.  A scatter brained hitter though,  defense so bad that he’s barely holding on in left field, and zero arm.
  • Jose Canseco: another 40/40 guy.  462 career homers and 200 career Sbs.  .266  hitter though.  Good arm in right but never a good fielder (remember the infamous ball bouncing off his head over the fence for a homer?).
  • Vladimir Guerrero: another near 40/40 guy.  Probably worth of further consideration; retired with 449 homers, 181 SBs, a career .319 hitter.  But was literally one of the worst baserunners of all time and was poor defensively despite a strong arm.
  • Carlos Beltran: injuries have just killed him; a former speed/power hitter and one of the first mega contract guys.
  • Brady Anderson: most people regard his 50 homer season either a fluke or (more likely) the result of early PEDs.  But the fact remains that only he and Barry Bonds have ever put up seasons which had both 50 homers and 50 sbs.
  • Craig Biggio: 414 sbs, 291 homers, .281 career BA, 4 gold gloves at 2nd base.   2nd baseman though, presumably b/c he never had the arm for Short.
  • Rickey Henderson: obviously fast as the career leader in SBs.  .279 career BA.  He twice hit 28 homers while leading the league in SBs.  One gold glove and two silver sluggers, and a liability as a left fielder.  Maybe not.

here’s a couple “what if” guys, as in what if they hadn’t been injured or otherwise sullied their careers:

  • Bo Jackson: A hip injury picked up while playing his hobby football ended his career basically at the age of 28.  But he was electric.  Who can forget his legendary all star homer, a bomb to dead center that went 448 feet.  Bo never won a gold glove but he played a premium defensive position in Center and certainly had the arm to play right.  He just missed a series of 30/30 seasons, maxing out with 32 homers and 27 steals).  He did not hit for average though, not at all.  Best full season BA was a paltry .272.
  • Josh Hamilton: After well documented troubles with drugs and the law, this former 1-1 draft pick currently is leading the Majors in batting average (.356), has 26 homers, and plays a very very good center field.  He could hit 96 on the gun in high school.  His failing is SBs; only a handful on the year.  But in a league that so often chews up and spits out flash in the pan players, it is refreshing to see Hamilton succeed.  Visual Baseball though discounts both his speed and his range.
  • Daryl Strawberry: had a 39 homer, 36 sb year.
  • Eric Davis: career year in 1987, hitting 37 homers and stealing 50 sbs.  His first 2 full seasons produced a .286/.389/.560 with 64 HR and 130 SB in 147 attempts.  Decent average, great power, great speed, with some clear capabilities in the outfield.

In January 2010, Visual Baseball introduced some really neat visualizations that graphically show each player’s strengths and weaknesses.  I’d love to see a tool that allows people to plug in individual players, but in their analysis two 2010 players popped up as being very close to the perfect 5-tool player:

  • Ben Zobrist: based on his 2009 stats he hit for average (.297) and power (27 homers).  He had 17 steals.  He showed pretty amazing flexibility by playing every outfield position besides pitcher and catcher at some point.  Unfortunately, he’s take a pretty significant step backwards in 2010, sligging nearly 200 points less.  Odd.
  • Carl Crawford: He’s already lead the league 4 times in SBs and has been hitting an average of 13-15 homers a season.  Not nearly Mays-esque stancards but very solid.  .305 Batting average with healthy slugging percentages.  Left fielder though, but his Visual Baseball graph shows significant range and arm.

And finally, something to think about:

  • Alex Rodriguez: 600 career homers, .303 career BA.  300 career steals, a couple of Gold Gloves, and a pretty good arm while playing short.  Posted probably the best ever 40/40 season in 1998 (42 homers, 46 sbs).  Too bad he had to go and juice it up so that his career is forever sullied.

In the end, I’d have to still put Mays, with a shameful shrug of the shoulders when considering both Bonds and Alex Rodriguez.


 

2017 Post-publishing update: this post was initially done in 2010.  There’s several up-and-coming players who are putting their names into this discussion.

Here’s two additional links to consider that were done after this post was published in 2011 at Baseball America.

http://www.baseballamerica.com/online/majors/news/2011/2612208.html

http://www.baseballamerica.com/online/majors/best-tools/2011/2612185.html

My dad and I were talking about this same question and he says the answer is Willie Mays.  And I have a hard time