Nationals Arm Race

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

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Nats Individual Award voting over the years

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Rendon's 2014 5th place MVP result is the highest ever for a Nat.  Photo Nats Official via espn.com

Rendon’s 2014 5th place MVP result is the highest ever for a Nat. Photo Nats Official via espn.com

While we wait for the Rule-5 results, I thought i’d throw a fun little post out there.  Inspired by James Wagner‘s blog post last week (and subsequent newspaper filler two days later), I decided to dive into the subject of Nats award-receiving seasons.  Anthony Rendon just finished 5th in NL MVP voting, the highest ranking ever for a Nats player.  And three of our five starters just got Cy Young votes.

Using baseball-reference.com’s award pages as a source, here’s the history of every Washington Nationals player who has received any voting whatsoever in MVP, Cy Young or Rookie of the Year races.

MVP Races

year Rank  Name  Tm  Vote Pts  1st Place  Share  WAR 
2014 5 Anthony Rendon  WSN  155 0 37% 6.5
2014 18 Jayson Werth  WSN  9 0 2% 4
2014 19 Denard Span  WSN  8 0 2% 3.6
2013 13 Jayson Werth  WSN  20 0 5% 4.9
2012 6 Adam LaRoche  WSN  86 0 19% 4.1
2012 16 Ian Desmond  WSN  15 0 3% 3.4
2012 20 Gio Gonzalez WSN  8 0 2% 4.7
2012 24 Ryan Zimmerman  WSN  7 0 2% 3.9
2012 30 Bryce Harper  WSN  2 0 0% 5.1
2011 19 Mike Morse  WSN  5 0 1% 3.4
2010 16 Ryan Zimmerman  WSN  18 0 4% 6.2
2010 21 Adam Dunn  WSN  9 0 2% 2.4
2009 25 Ryan Zimmerman  WSN  2 0 0% 7.3
2006 6 Alfonso Soriano  WSN  106 0 24% 6.1
2005 14 Chad Cordero WSN  21 0 5% 2

There’s only been three top-10 MVP performances in franchise history: Rendon’s sneaky good 2014, Adam LaRoche‘s 6th place 2012 finish, and Alfonso Soriano‘s 40-40 season in 2006 (also a 6th place finish).   But it is kind of indicative of the balance on this team that *eight* different players have received MVP votes over the course of the last three years, and seven of them seem likely to suit up for the 2015 team.  No, a 17th place MVP finish isn’t really that impressive … but it is recognition that someone thought you were a top 10 player in the league that year (the MVP ballot goes 10 deep), and that’s worth recognizing.

Cy Young Races

year Rank  Name  Tm  Vote Pts  1st Place  Share  WAR  W  L  SV  ERA  WHIP 
2014 5 Jordan Zimmermann  WSN  25 0 12% 4.9 14 5 0 2.66 1.07
2014 8 Doug Fister  WSN  5 0 2% 4.5 16 6 0 2.41 1.08
2014 9 Stephen Strasburg  WSN  3 0 1% 3.5 14 11 0 3.14 1.12
2013 7 Jordan Zimmermann  WSN  21 0 10% 3.7 19 9 0 3.25 1.09
2012 3 Gio Gonzalez  WSN  93 1 42% 4.9 21 8 0 2.89 1.13
2005 5 Chad Cordero  WSN  1 0 1% 2 2 4 47 1.82 0.97

As we mostly know, Gio Gonzalez‘s 3rd place finish in 2012 (which included a first place vote amazingly) was our closest Cy Young candidate.  Amazingly, the team didn’t have a pitcher even garner a Cy Young vote from 2006-2011.  It was quite a dry stretch for hurlers.

Rookie of the Year Races

RoY
year Rank  Name  Tm  Vote Pts  1st Place  Share  WAR 
2012 1 Bryce Harper  WSN  112 16 70% 5.1
2011 4 Wilson Ramos  WSN  6 0 4% 1.8
2011 6 Danny Espinosa  WSN  3 0 2% 2.8
2006 2 Ryan Zimmerman  WSN  101 10 63% 2.9

Finally we have a winner!  Zimmerman was a justified 2nd place in 2006 (he lost to Hanley Ramirez).

Not much analysis here, just recognition of the balance of talent we have on this team and how hard it is to win one of these awards.

Gold Glove Awards versus Defensive Metrics Review for 2014

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Alex Gordon was one of the best defensive players in baseball, by any measure in 2014.  photo 365rundown.com

Alex Gordon was one of the best defensive players in baseball, by any measure in 2014. photo 365rundown.com

Last year, I created a little spreadsheet upon the announcement of the Gold Glove winners, to see how they compared to various defensive metric leaders (2013 xls link here).  And I threw in the “Fielding Bible” award winners, since that has now taken over as the “accepted” list of the year’s best defensive players, thanks to the Gold Gloves continuing to pick inexplicable players (this  year’s repeat “I cannot believe he won” player again being Adam Jones).  But, as we’ve seen, the Gold Gloves are getting better, and the days of picking someone like a statue-esque Derek Jeter and/or a nearly permanent DH in Rafael Palmeiro seem to now be over.

So, now that we’ve announced the 2014 Gold Glove winners, lets also look at the league leaders in various defensive metrics.

This data is in the following spreadsheet for 2014 on Google Docs.

First, your 2014 Gold Glove winners: bold are also Fielding Bible winners, and red are the most egregiously bad selections.

Pos AL GG Winner NL GG Winner
C Salvator Perez, CLE Yadier Molina, STL
1B Eric Hosmer, KC Adrian Gonzalez, LAD
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS DJ LeMahieu, COL
SS J.J. Hardy, BAL Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Kyle Seager, SEA Nolan Arenado, COL
LF Alex Gordon, KC Christian Yelich, MIA
CF Adam Jones, BAL Juan Lagares, NYM
RF Nick Markakis, BAL Jason Heyward, ATL
P Dallas Keuchel, HOU Zack Greinke, LAD

As with last year, the league still remains obsessed with Adam Jones despite his possessing negative defensive rankings across the board.  Kyle Seager wasn’t “bad” but wasn’t nearly as deserving as Josh Donaldson.  The only other real “bad” selection was Molina, not because he’s not a great defensive catcher (he is), but because he missed a ton of time and there were better options in the NL this year (namely, Jonathan Lucroy).  Otherwise every Gold Glove winner listed here was deserving.

Repeat Gold Glove winners from last  year: Molina, Hosmer, Pedroia, Hardy, Simmons, Arenado, Gordon, and Jones.  So, 8 of 18.

Here’s the 2014 Fielding Bible Awards, which (if you’re not aware) is a Bill James-driven website that uses a committee of national writers to select the winners (the site is here and you can read about their methodology).  Bolded are also GG winners:

Pos 2014 Fielding Bible Winner
C Jonathan Lucroy, MIL
1B Adrian Gonzalez, LAD
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS (repeat)
SS Andrelton Simmons, ATL (repeat)
3B Josh Donaldson, OAK
LF Alex Gordon, KC (repeat)
CF Juan Lagares, NYM
RF Jason Heyward, ATL
P Dallas Keuchel, HOU
Util Lorenzo Cain, KC

They selected Lucroy over Molina, and Donaldson over Seager.  They’ve also added a 10th position for “Utility,” to recognize the excellent work of Lorenzo Cain playing multiple outfield positions.

Now, here’s the league leaders by various defensive stats.  The links to get any of these leaderboards are in the Google xls.  First: UZR/150.

Pos AL UZR/150 NL UZR/150
C
1B Albert Pujols, LAA (9.3) Anthony Rizzo, CHC (8.2)
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS (20.4) DJ LeMahieu, COL (11.0)
SS J.J. Hardy, BAL (15.4) Andrelton Simmons, ATL (18.4)
3B Josh Donaldson, OAK (13.3) Todd Frazier, CIN (8.9)
LF Alex Gordon, KC (22.6) Christian Yelich, MIA (14.1)
CF Jackie Bradley JR, BOS (22.6) Juan Lagares, NYM (25.3)
RF Nori Aoki, KC (7.7) Jason Heyward, ATL (20.5)
P

I like UZR as a measure and use it often. UZR/150 somewhat standardizes the scores across a 150-game average to represent the figure for a full-season for apples-to-apples comparisons.  A good number of these leaders also earned Gold Gloves and/or Fielding Bible awards.  Josh Donaldson was the clear AL 3B leader.  Otherwise there’s a lot of similarities to the lists we’ve already seen.  I was surprised as heck to see Albert Pujols on this leader board.

For a quick point of reference to the above scores, the BEST UZR/150 of any Nationals player this year was Anthony Rendon‘s uZR/150 of 4.6 while playing 3B.  Span and LaRoche (our two GG finalists) both scored *negative* UZR/150 scores … perhaps an indictment of their nominations in general as being based on reputation and not actual on-field performance this year.

Next: DRS; Defensive Runs Saved.  Some like this stat a lot; I struggle with it because single plays (like an outfielder reaching over the wall to take away a homer) result in huge swings in the numbers on plays that aren’t necessarily the hardest to make.

Pos AL DRS NL DRS
C
1B Chris Davis, BAL (8) Adrian Gonzalez, LAD (12)
2B Ian Kinsler, DET (20) DJ LeMahieu, COL (16)
SS J.J. Hardy, BAL (10) Andrelton Simmons, ATL (28)
3B Josh Donaldson, OAK (20) Nolan Arenado, COL (16)
LF Alex Gordon, KC (27) Christian Yelich, MIA (13)
CF Leonys Martin, TEX (15) Juan Lagares, NYM (28)
RF Kole Calhoun, LAA (2) Jason Heyward, ATL (32)
P

Dustin Pedroia had one of the highest UZR/150 ratings in the league … but he was not the top-rated 2nd baseman in the AL.   We have our third different AL center fielder in three lists.  Otherwise this is a pretty good list.

Next: FRAA: Fielding Runs Above Average, a Baseball Prospectus measure that attempts to remove the bias present in zone-based data and also tries to factor in the tendencies of the pitcher on the mound (ground-ball guy, fly-ball guy,

Pos AL FRAA NL FRAA
C
1B Steve Pearce, BAL (7.7) Adrian Gonzalez, LAD (11.4)
2B Jason Kipnis, CLE (9.5) Chase Utley, PHI (6.9)
SS Alexei Ramierez, CWS (8.1) Jean Segura, MIL (23.6)
3B Kyle Seager, SEA (20.5) Nolan Arenado, COL (14.3)
LF Alex Gordon, KC (12.2) Khris Davis, MIL (6.6)
CF Jacoby Ellsbury, NYY (12.0) Ender Inciarte, ARI (11.0)
RF Kevin Kiermaier, TB (8.3) Jason Heyward, ATL (26.4)
P Dallas Keuchel, HOU (6.7) Tyson Ross, SD (3.7)

Interestingly, Jean Segura shines highly here (the supposed “best defensive player in the league” Andrelton Simmons only scored a 10.0 in FRAA).   And this stat really favors the play of some random players: I had no idea who Kevin Kiermaier or Ender Inciarte were before doing this post, nor did I know what position they played.

Adam Jones scored a -8.1 FRAA; ranking him 1187th out of 1212 players for 2014.  I’m not kidding.  That’s how bad a selection for the Gold Glove Jones was.

Last stat: Baseball Reference’s Total Zone Fielding

Pos AL Total Zone Total Fielding NL Total Zone Total Fielding
C Salvator Perez, CLE (12) Wilson Ramos, WAS (8)
1B Steve Pearce, BAL (13) Justin Morneau, COL (11)
2B Jonathan Schoop, BAL (16) Anthony Rendon, WAS (12)
SS J.J. Hardy, BAL (14) Jordy Mercer, PIT (21)
3B Kyle Seager, SEA (23) Chase Headley, SD/NYY (18)
LF Alex Gordon, KC (25) Khris Davis, MIL (13)
CF Lorenzo Cain, KC (18) Billy Hamilton, CIN (14)
RF Kevin Kiermaier, TB (12) Jason Heyward, ATL (30)
P

Check it out: our own Wilson Ramos is on this list as the “leader” for the NL.  Which, no offense to Ramos, makes you question at least the catcher rankings for this stat.  Rendon also factors in for his partial season at 2B.  But overall, this seems like the least reliable defensive stat.

As mentioned above, both our GG finalists (LaRoche and Span) seem to have been nominated on reputation only; neither of them appeared near the top on any of these statistical measures (unlike last year, when Span at least was a leader in Total Zone)

Did I miss any good defensive metrics?  Do you have one you like more or less than these?  I know there’s other stats out there; I can update this analysis with more of them.


So, how did the Gold Gloves do this year in selecting the most deserving winners?  Pretty good.  Alex Gordon was the AL leader for left fielders in every stat.  I think they picked the two correct short stops.  Catchers are difficult to measure.  They absolutely screwed up the AL Center fielder (though to be fair; there were four statistical measures presented and four different AL center field leaders.  Excellent defensive players who jump around (Lorenzo Cain, Ben Zobrist) make the awards somewhat challenging in some cases.

2014 playoff team payroll analysis

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An annual post done at the end of each season.  Here’s 2013′s version.

Money can’t buy me love.  And, in baseball, more and more we’re seeing that Money also can’t buy playoff spots.  Of the ten teams that made the 2014 MLB playoffs, only half of them were among the top 10 spenders in terms of opening day payroll (payroll numbers courtesy of Spotrac.com).  Here’s the full list:

Team SpotRac Opening Day Payroll SpotRac Opening Day Rank Final W/L W/L Rank Playoff Status Payroll/Record Delta
Los Angeles Dodgers $232,899,930 1 94-68 4 NL West -3
New York Yankees $194,460,757 2 84-78 13 -11
Philadelphia Phillies $177,729,966 3 73-89 22 -19
Detroit Tigers $163,285,500 4 90-72 5 AL Central -1
Boston Red Sox $155,912,125 5 71-91 25 -20
San Francisco Giants $148,589,474 6 88-74 8 NL WC -2
Los Angeles Angels $146,647,750 7 98-64 1 AL West 6
Washington Nationals $133,319,078 8 96-66 2 NL East 6
Toronto Blue Jays $133,070,557 9 83-79 14 -5
Texas Rangers $131,657,214 10 67-95 28 -18
St. Louis Cardinals $112,768,000 11 90-72 5 NL Central 6
Atlanta Braves $112,658,731 12 79-83 16 -4
Arizona Diamondbacks $112,298,833 13 64-98 30 -17
Cincinnati Reds $111,694,938 14 76-86 21 -7
Baltimore Orioles $104,045,833 15 96-66 2 AL East 13
Milwaukee Brewers $103,397,967 16 82-80 15 1
New York Mets $96,554,970 17 79-83 16 1
Colorado Rockies $94,079,071 18 66-96 29 -11
Seattle Mariners $91,739,642 19 87-75 11 8
Kansas City Royals $90,837,000 20 89-73 7 AL WC 13
San Diego Padres $90,361,600 21 77-85 18 3
Chicago White Sox $89,792,166 22 73-89 22 0
Chicago Cubs $89,046,356 23 73-89 22 1
Minnesota Twins $85,465,000 24 70-92 26 -2
Cleveland Indians $84,809,134 25 85-77 12 13
Oakland Athletics $80,360,900 26 88-74 8 AL WC 18
Tampa Bay Rays $76,746,916 27 77-85 18 9
Pittsburgh Pirates $71,929,833 28 88-74 8 NL WC 20
Houston Astros $50,032,900 29 70-92 26 3
Miami Marlins $44,136,900 30 77-85 18 12

As you may have already surmised, the “delta” column to the right quickly shows which teams were badly over or under performing their payroll ranks.  Specifically:

  • Boston, Philadelphia, and Texas are three obvious teams that badly underperformed their payroll.  We’re all well aware of Philadelphia’s problems: too many long term contracts given out to guys in their 30s, locking that franchise into transactional inertia for the past few years.  Texas suffered from injury problems that were beyond ridiculous; they ended the season with 10 players on the 60-day D/L, used 15 different starters and no less than *40* pitchers on the year.  Fourty different pitchers!   Texas started the year with $130M payroll and finished with a worse record than their in-state rivals Houston, who have been *not* trying for years.
  • Arizona is a sneaky under performer, but also merits discussion.  Ownership finally has admitted that the brain trust that has been running players out of town for 50 cents on the dollar for years because of “character” or “make-up” issues has, well, not worked (see Justin Upton, Trevor Bauer most famously, but also see the moves that jettisoned Tyler Skaggs, Ian Kennedy and Brandon McCarthy in the same vein).  Gone are former GM Kevin Towers and the on-field managerial staff who has valued “grit” over “capabilities” for years, led by Kirk Gibson.  However, now running the show in Arizona is a newbie GM Dave Stewart whose accomplishments during his brief front-office experience in Toronto were not exactly well thought of by his former staff-member Keith Law.  Nonetheless; they’ll have the #1 overall pick in 2015 thanks to their ineptitude, and a chance to put some depth into a middling farm system.
  • The three teams who have already replaced their GMs this off season (Colorado, Atlanta, Arizona) all were on the under-performing list.  Colorado had the second worst record with a mid-sized payroll but has replaced its odd executive structure from within (which some pundits think will lead to more ineptitude).  Arizona’s odd choices are discussed above.  Atlanta’s GM switch is surprising to me (as i’ve mentioned before) and seems to be the result of an odd power-struggle going on within the Atlanta executive suite.  How do you fire a guy who constructed a team that has gone to the playoffs three out of the last five years on a budget immediately following a season when he lost 3/5ths of his starting rotation to injury before the season began?

How about on the “good” side?

  • Three of your four WC teams are among the smallest payrolls in the game.  Oakland, Pittsburgh and Kansas City rank 26th, 28th and 20th in 2014 payroll.  Also worth mentioning as overachievers are Cleveland (who missed out on the AL wild card by a game), Baltimore (who won 96 games with the 15th ranked payroll) and (of course) Miami (who sported the lowest payroll *by far* but still won 77 games).  Miami in particular seems like it is ready for another boom and sell-off cycle; they have a good team without the services of its best pitcher nearly all year; one or two more acquisitions and/or successful call-ups could have Miami competing for a divisional title again, and soon.
  • Washington Nationals: 8th highest payroll, 2nd best record.  That’s certainly good news.  Our opening day payroll of $133M may have been on the high side to some observers, but the team lived up to its reputation.
  • The Angels bashed their way to the best record in the league on just the 7th highest payroll, ironically, considering the over-spending they’ve been accused of in the past few years.  Don’t worry though; the Angels payroll will begin to have its own issues when Trout’s $30M/year contract years hit.  $30M a year.

What happens next year?

  • The Nats may be holding steady; LaRoche‘s $12M and Soriano‘s $14M salaries go away, but huge increases to Desmond and Zimmermann‘s salaries in 2015, stepped-up increases for Gonzalez and Span (who I’m assuming we’re going to exercise for 2015), and arbitration cases for a number of key and expensive players (Fister, Strasburg, Ramos, Clippard, Storen) will probably  more than make up for the $26M coming off the books.
  • The Phillies, to my constant amusement, already have $127M committed to just nine players for next year.  They’ll continue to be a top payroll, bottom performer for at least two more years.
  • The Yankees, who dipped underneath $200M for 2014 thanks to a gift-wrapped Bud Selig suspension for Alex Rodriguez and an equally generous $14M payoff from the cubs to take Alfonso Soriano off their hands, have $161M committed next year for just 10 players, with five of those players each earning north of $20M a year.  Wow.   Plus, they stand to lose their closer, two of their five SPs (Kuroda and McCarthy), and several position players to either FA or retirement.  They could be a train wreck again next year.

 

 

NLDS Post Mortem

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Not Aaron Barrett's finest moment. Photo via lockerdome.com

Not Aaron Barrett’s finest moment. Photo via lockerdome.com

So, if you told me that the Nats would lose the deciding NLDS game because Matt Williams chose to work the 7th inning with Matt Thornton, Aaron Barrett and then Rafael Soriano as the savior, I would have asked you, “was everyone else in the bullpen dead?”

Instead of going to war in a tie game with any of his three longest serving and most effective relievers (i.e., Craig Stammen, Tyler Clippard or Drew Storen) he went with a waiver claim, a rookie, and a deposed starter with an ERA after the all-star break north of 6.00.

I get bringing in Thornton to go against the first two lefties in the 7th; why the hell do you leave him in to face the Giant’s best hitter in Buster Posey?

When Posey inevitably singles to put guys on first and second with one out … clearly the key point in the game and the post-season … why do you bring in a frigging rookie instead of your #1 shut-down, high leverage reliever (Clippard)?

Was anyone really shocked when Barrett walked the next guy to load the bases?  Was anyone then subsequently surprised when he overgripped, overcome by the moment and bounced a mid 90s fastball to the fence?   Wilson Ramos looked like an amateur trying to “block” that pitch, stabbing at it backhanded like someone who’s never caught before, but whatever.  The damage had already been done.  If it wasn’t a wild pitch, it would have been a deep ground out, or a sac fly; the run expectancy of bases loaded with one out is more than 1.5.  I won’t even go into the little league IBB wild pitch; the poor guy was clearly still thinking about the run he just gave up and the weight of the team’s season was on his shoulders.

For the record, you’re not going to win a ton of games where you get just four hits.  Gio Gonzalez once again proved he wasn’t up to the task, and the Nats were lucky to get out of the 5th without giving up a run (also a bases-loaded, one-out jam that Tanner Roark mostly created on his own but also mostly got out of thanks to a ballsy 2-0 changeup to Pablo Sandoval).

No, the story of this game and this series can be summarized with the following list of lines for the 4-game series:

  • Leadoff hitter Denard Span: 2 for 19 with one walk.
  • #3 hitter Jayson Werth: 1 for 17
  • #4 hitter Adam LaRoche: 1 for 18
  • #5 hitter Ian Desmond: 3 for 18.

All of those hits?  Singles.  No power, no driving the ball from the heart of the order.  Basically, the top half of the Nats lineup played four games of automatic outs.  Hard to win like that.  The bottom half of the lineup wasn’t much better: Cabrera was just 3 for 15 though with two clutch hits and Ramos was just 2 for 17 in the series and was a guaranteed weak ground-ball to shortstop every time.

You’re not going to win games when your 3-4-5  hitters get 5 combined hits in four games, none for extra bases and none driving in any runs.  Did you know that Anthony Rendon was 9-17 with a walk and scored ZERO runs in the series?  He was on base TEN times in four games and never scored.  That’s a huge indictment of the middle of the Nats order.

The only hitters who showed up in this series were the two youngest regulars on the field; Rendon and Harper.  With three homers and a double in four games (driving in four of the 9 total runs the team scored), Harper showed once again why it was folly that he was batting 6th.  He drove in exactly four runs; had he been batting with Rendon on all the time, he may have batted in double that and we’re talking about a different series.

Its a bummer; the Nats offense picked a really crummy time to shut down, to make Ryan Vogelsong look like a staff ace.  And they’re out in the divisional round for the 2nd time in three years despite being the #1 seed.  Tim Hudson: you have your answer.

DC-IBWAA 2014 Poll results and my vote

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Each year, David Nichols of the District Sports Page blog does a great job getting all the Nats bloggers to participate in pre-season and post-season polls, voting on awards for the team for the year.

For 2014, here’s his post-season awards as voted on by us nerd bloggers.  2013′s post-season poll results and my post here.

Here’s how I voted and why.

2014 DC-Internet Baseball Writers Association

POST-SEASON ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS BALLOT

 

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

Award by Award:

  • Team MVP: Have to go with Rendon; easily leads the team in WAR (by a nearly 3-win margin in bWAR over Werth/Span in second place).   Werth continues to steadily hold on to his skills and contribute well into his mid 30s, while LaRoche put up a great contract year performance.
  • Starter of the Year: No argument here: Zimmermann was the best starter on the year.  Fister‘s advanced stats don’t like him (his FIP is above 4.00) but he gets results.  And Roark remains the best “found gold” the Nats have had in terms of prospect matriculation since the likes of Brad Peacock.
  • Reliever of the Year: Storen‘s great bounce back  year has to put him in the lead, followed closely behind by Clippard.  Still think the Soriano acquisition was worth it?  I have him 3rd here just by virtue of his first half … and because the rest of the relievers were either long guys (Stammen, Detwiler), matchup loogies (Blevins, Thornton) or guys who spent more time in AAA than the majors (Barrett, Treinen).
  • Hitter of the Year: Rendon, Werth obvious top 3 guys, but I like what Span‘s done this year in terms of jacking his average up.  Another classic contract year performance.
  • Slugger of the year: I just went with the team leaders in homers 1-2-3.  You would have thought that Harper would be here by now.
  • Defender of the year: looking at the various advanced stats, I ended up with Rendon for his excellent work at 2B and 3B, then Harper (an excellent UZR/150 in left on the year).  Span has a negative UZR/150 in center on the year, but passes the eye test.  I’ll be curious to see how he ends up looking in the other defensive metrics.  So he gets 3rd place essentially because there’s not another regular who has a positive UZR/150 on the team.
  • Comeback player: Storen makes the most sense … his comeback has been two years in the making.  Roark isn’t really a comeback guy as much as he’s a “making the most of his chances guy.”  Neither is Barrett honestly; but there’s not a good example of someone who was hurt or really came out of nowhere to make this team better.
  • Humanitarian: Honestly I only know of two guys on the Nats who actively do humanitarian/charity stuff and that’s Zimmerman and Desmond.
  • Minor League Player of the Year.  As discussed in the comments of another post recently, for me “Minor League Player of the Year” is a completely different list than the subtitle offered of “Minor league player most destined for big league success.”  POTY for me this year went Souza, Taylor and Giolito, while the top 3 prospects in our system probably are Giolito, Cole and Taylor.

Additional Questions

1) Of the players on the current active roster (or DL), which players do you think will not be part of the organization next season?

Pitchers: Blevins, Mattheus, Ohlendorf, Soriano, Detwiler

Out-field players: Solano, Cabrera, LaRoche, Frandsen, Span, Hairston, Schierholz

I’m guessing the team declines Soriano’s option, non-tenders Ohlendorf, Mattheus and Detwiler, and DFAs Blevins after his poor season.

Of the positional players, the team won’t exercise its options on LaRoche or Span, will have to end up DFA-ing Solano (and perhaps others; I havn’t done my options analysis yet) due to having no more options, and will let veteran FAs Frandsen, Hairston and Schierholz hit free agency.  I think Cabrera is going to command too much money for the team to realistically consider him.

2) Will Ian Desmond or Jordan Zimmermann sign a contract extension before they hit the free agent market?

No.  Both will go to FA.  Desmond to the Yankees to be the next Derek Jeter, Zimmermann to highest bidder.

3) Who was the biggest pleasant surprise on this year’s team?

Rendon’s advancement and central role on the team.

4) Who was the biggest disappointment?

Zimmerman’s continued inability to stay healthy.  A close second is Harper’s injury riddled season and struggles.

5) Who is your favorite professional Nats writer?

Mark Zuckerman #1.  After him, i’ll go with Adam Kilgore 2nd and Byron Kerr third.

6) Which is your favorite non-professional Nats blog or writer?

Luke Erickson; sorry to see him take a step back.  My #2 probably is NatsGM Ryan Sullivan, #3 Luigi de Guzman of Natsradamus (when he infrequently posts).

State of the Nats at the halfway point

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Harper's run production in the middle of the order should spark this team now that he's back.  Photo via fansided.com

Harper’s run production in the middle of the order should spark this team now that he’s back. Photo via fansided.com

When Bryce Harper was reinstated from the D/L on 6/30/14, an interesting situation occurred:  The Nationals were at full strength for the first time, all year.

That’s right.  With Doug Fister starting the season on the D/L, even those who think that the team was at “full strength” for the first 7 innings of the first game (that’s how long it took before a Nationals offensive starter got hurt) aren’t quite right.  This team has been hampered and has been covering for injuries to its best available squad since the first day of the season.  Here’s a review of the tale of the injury tape for the ideal 25-man roster of this team so far in 2014:

  • Doug Fister; strained shoulder 3/23/14, missed 34 games
  • Wilson Ramos: broken hand on 4/1/14, missed 32 games
  • Scott Hairston; oblique strain on 4/6/14, missed 26 games
  • Denard Span, concussion on 4/12/14, missed 7 games
  • Ryan Zimmerman, broken thumb on 4/13/14, missed 44 games
  • Bryce Harper: torn thumb tendon on 4/27/14, missed 56 games
  • Adam LaRoche: strained quad on 5/11/14, missed 14 games
  • Gio Gonzalez, shoulder strain on 5/18/14, missed 27 games
  • Ramos again, this time a hamstring strain on 6/11/14, missed 14 games

2/5ths of the rotation and 5/8ths of the starting offense have at one time or another been on the shelf so far this year.  More than 250 games lost.  Ironically the oldest player on the team (Jayson Werth) has been one if its healthiest (he’s only missed 4 games this year).  And (knock on wood) there hasn’t been a single bullpen injury, likely one of the main reasons the Nats bullpen is among the best in the game this year.

The Nats (at the time of this writing) sit 1/2 a game out of first behind nemesis Atlanta, but have several reasons to be optimistic about catching them:

  • The Nats have a +39 run differential right now, while the Braves have a zero run differential.  That means that the Nats should be 9 games above .500 (according to pythagorean records) while the Braves should be a .500 team.  The Nats have been unlucky while the Braves have been quite lucky.  You could expect these situations to reverse themselves over the rest of the season.
  • The Nats are just 2-7 in extra inning games and 9-13 in one-run games.  You’d normally expect both of these W/L records to be near .500 and is likely the real reason behind the above run differential issue.
  • Despite the heart of their batting order missing dozens and dozens of games, the offense is not doing half bad: the Nats as a team are 8th out of 15 in the NL in WRC+, 8th in runs scored, 8th in wOBA, 10th in batting average, and are 10th in homers despite Zimmerman having just THREE on the year.
  • While the Offense treads water, the Pitching has been fantastic.  Our starters are 5th in the NL in ERA, 1st in FIP, 2nd in xFIP, 2nd in SIERA.  The bullpen has been equally as good (a huge improvement over last year):  2nd in NL ERA, 1st in FIP, 6th in SIERA.
  • The starters lead the NL in FIP despite Stephen Strasburg‘s “struggles;” ironically despite his having a .500 record an a 3.70 ERA he has the best FIP of any Nats starter.   He’s just been victim of circumstance while he pitches.   Blake Treinen has been fantastic covering in the rotation, and the team has found an excellent 5th starter in Tanner Roark.  Games that were “thrown away” time and again last year by Dan Haren and a litany of poor-performing minor league call-ups have been handled with aplumb this year.

Where do we go from here?

The Nats schedule from here on out eases significantly; as of the time of this writing the last three months look like this:

  • July: 10 of 25 games against teams with winning records right now
  • August: 12 of 28 games against teams with winning records right now … and that includes teams that very well may have losing records by the time we get to them.
  • September: Just 9 of 27 games against teams with winning records right now, including the final 11 against Marlins and Mets teams likely to be playing out the string with 40-man call-ups from AAA and key young arms sitting due to inning limits.

For this Nats fan, its hard to see the same struggles we saw last year; I see a team finally getting their squad back together, having a solid July and perhaps a dominant closing to the season to fulfil its promise.  I like where this team stands right now (even with the tepid split in Chicago last weekend) and look forward to the next few months.

Nationals 2014 Walk-on music review

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At the home opener, when Nate McLouth came to bat we were stopped in our tracks by his walk-up music: “Kyrie” by 80′s band Mister Mister.  My wife and I immediately thought this was a rather odd choice.

It made me wonder: should we critique every one of the Nats’ batter’s walk-up songs?  Of course we should!

Thankfully, the team lists each player’s 2014 walk-up music for us on their official MLB.com page.  And, here’s some research by fellow blog DistrictSportsPage on this year’s walk-up songs (and 2013′s walk-up songs) for comparison purposes (note; the official website list isn’t accurate according to those actually listening to and Soundhounding the songs).

Here’s some thoughts on each player’s selection (we’re only going on their primary/1st at bat selection).  We’ll list this in the rough batting order and then tack on the bench guys.  And I’ll give my personal, baseless, unscientific “grade” for the song from a crowd-involvement and song-selection standpoint.

Starters

  1. Denard Span: “Gotta Have It” by Kanye West/Jay-Z.  Fitting song to start; last year he used a selection of hip-hop songs, but not really a big crowd involver.  Grade: D
  2. Bryce Harper: “Flower” by Moby.  A repeat from last year.   Interesting selection for the young Harper; he doesn’t seem to be the typical Moby fan, but the song is catchy and unique.  He also uses a slew of different songs from many other genres for subsequent at-batss.  Grade: B-
  3. Ryan Zimmerman: “This Is How We Do It” by Montell Jordan.  His 2014 actual song differs from the official website; I like this pick.  A familar song, if not a big sing-along song.  Grade: B-
  4. Adam LaRoche: “The Only Way I Know“ by Jason Aldean and Eric Church.  Also fitting; LaRoche is a ranch-owning, game-hunting good ole-boy.  And he’s buddies with the singer Aldean.  So he continues to use his songs as he did in 2013.  Grade C+
  5. Jayson Werth: “Warehouse“ by Dave Matthews Band.  This is the crowd-favorite where everyone calls out, “Wooh!” after each interlude.  Of course, I can’t figure out where in the song that occurs from the video.  Werth also uses “Werewolves of London” periodically (of course).  Brilliant.  Grade: B+
  6. Ian Desmond: “One Sixteen“ by Trip Lee (feat. KB & Andy Mineo).  Does not seem fitting for him, but clearly he likes this genre of hip-hop/rap since his alternates from last year are by and large the same kinds of songs.  Unfortunately for Desmond I’m a middle-aged white guy and can’t stand modern hip-hop.  Grade: D
  7. Anthony Rendon: “No Competition“ by Bun B. Feat. Raekwon & Kobe.  Eh.  Don’t like it, don’t get it.  I will say this: I liked his song from last year moreso (“Still D.R.E.“ by Dr. Dre/Snoop Dogg, which you’d recognize if you ever saw the movie Training Day).   Grade: D
  8. Wilson Ramos: Wepa“ by Gloria Estefan.  I’m not sure if he’s still using this (its a holdover from 2013) since he got hurt so quickly, but its got a good dance beat and latino flavor.   No offense to Lobaton’s selections, but lets hope we’re hearing more Gloria Estefan sooner than later.  Grade: B.

Bench Guys

  • Nate McClouth: “Kyrie” by Mister Mister.  Man, I’m sorry. I know Michael Morse made retro 80′s songs hip with his selection of “Take On Me” (by the way, being in the stadium when 40,000 people were “singing” gave me goose-bumps that I still get thinking about it to this day), but this song is awful.  You gotta find something else.  How about some Kenny Loggins or the Top Gun theme, if we’re stuck in the 80s?  Grade: F
  • Danny Espinosa: “Outside“ by Staind.  Big fan, especially after his 2013 choice as well (from Cage the Elephant).  Grade: B
  • Jose Lobaton: “Mi Chica Ideal“ by Chico & Nacho.  Fast, catchy.  Can’t argue with it.  Grade: B
  • Kevin Frandsen: “Snow (Hey Oh)by Red Hot Chili Peppers.   You’ve heard this song, even if you have no idea who RHCP is (hint: they were a serious underground 80s sensation but are now totoally mainstream and played the Superbowl Halftime show this year and actually wore clothes!)   I like it; even if it seems a bit slow-paced.  Grade: B-
  • Tyler Moore: “Drivin’ Around Song by Colt Ford feat. Jason Aldean (at least according to the Nats website; he hasn’t had a home AB yet).  We see Moore’s heritage here; Mississippi born and bread.  Loves his country music.  Grade: C
  • Scott Hairston: “Blue Sky“ by Common.  Not my cup of tea; not really a crowd-engager either.  Grade: D
  • Sandy Leon: I have no idea; has anyone seen an at-bat by him yet?  They never got his song from last year either.  Grade: Inc

What would I use as walk-up music?

Not that I’ve ever thought about this in my life or anything.  But i’d definitely go with something from my head-banging days in high school.  I (fortunatley or unfortunately depending on your point of view) grew up in the 80s, so we listened to glam rock, heavy metal and the like.  I’d probably go with one of these three options:

  • “Home Sweet Home” by Motley Crue (who is on their farewell tour this summer; tickets going fast!)
  • The Final Countdown” by Europe (simply because this is a huge running joke amongst my friends and my wife and I)
  • Something harsh from Metallica.  I’d have to do some digging for a good riff that wasn’t already taken by someone more famous like Mariano Rivera.  :-)

 


I’m tempted to do this same analysis for the pitchers … and maybe I will.  But for some reason “walk on” music for pitchers isn’t as meaning ful.  Well, except for Tyler Clippard‘s epic “Peaches” walk-up song by the Presidents of the United States a few years back.  Ok, we’ll do a part-2 of this post for the pitchers…. stay tuned.

 

Ask Boswell 3/24/14 edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Who’s the 5th starter going to be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Does Espinosa beat out Rendon?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Ask Boswell 2/18/14 Edition

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Lots of questions about Mr. Williams.  Photo Nats official 2014 via sportingnews.com

Lots of questions about Mr. Williams. Photo Nats official 2014 via sportingnews.com

Washington Post columnist Tom Boswell must be in heaven: he’s at Spring Training, in 80 degree weather, talking baseball.  Here’s his 2/18/14 WP chat edition and how i’d have answered his baseball questions.  He did an extra long session, doing an hour and then coming back for even more questions, so this is a huge post.

Q: Which Nat is most and least likely to benefit from Matt Williams’ detail-oriented approach?

A: I’ll take the easy way out on this one: I’ll say that the rookies are most likely to benefit and the veterans are least-likely.  But that’s probably not very fair because it assumes that our vets will automatically have a hard time adjusting to a new voice.  In reality, Matt Williamspedigree as a player is going to shut just about any veteran up; name one player on this team who has accomplished anything close to what Williams did as a player?   I mean, we’re talking about a guy with multiple All Star appearances, multiple Gold Gloves, multiple Silver Sluggers, a couple near MVP seasons, more than 200 post-season at-bats spread across 5 post-season trips, three trips to the World Series and one ring.  He also played in two specific games that are both counted among the best games of the last 50 years (Game 7 of the 1997 World Series and 2001′s Game 7 of the World Series).

That’s a heck of a lot of accomplishments.  Who in their right mind is looking him in the fact and doubting his wisdom about anything?

Boswell points out a number of guys who are “introverts” who like the structure, mentions Rafael Soriano as a possible problem child … but then also notes Soriano lost a ton of weight and is playing for a contract, so he doesn’t expect any issues.  Fair enough.

Q: Where can I get good details on the Nats spring training schedules in Viera?

A: CSN’s Mark Zuckerman posts a great intro-to-spring training on his Natsinsider.com blog each year.  Here’s parts 1 and 2, focusing on the Nats baseball Complex and the Town of Viera.  Boswell speaks highly of watching bullpen sessions.  Can’t blame him; man I want to do Spring Training sometime!

Q: What does the Yankees signing of Masahiro Tanaka do for the Yankees season?

A: Not much in my opinion.   Despite Tanaka’s pedigree and $175M paycheck, he’s being touted by his own team as a “#3 starter.”  That’s a heck of a lot of money for a #3 starter.  Now in reality scouts liken him to a young Dan Haren (in terms of his repertoire), but he’s still not nearly in the same Ace class as the most recent Japanese import Yu Darvish.  Plus he’s got to deal with the inevitable adjustment to this country, a new language, 10,000 obnoxious NY beat reporters, the food, the city, and that pesky 4-days of rest schedule we have here for our starters.

As for the Yankees chances in 2014 in general, check out their current depth chart: Their rotation is set to be Sabathia (coming off an awful year), 40-yr old Kuroda, TanakaIvan Nova and David Phelps.  Does that sound like a 95-win rotation?   Here’s their infield: Mark Teixeira (15 games last year), Brian Roberts (77 games last year), Derek Jeter (17 games last year), and Eduardo Nunez (90 games last year).   Does that infield inspire confidence?  What makes anyone think that infield is lasting even a quarter of the season without a major injury?  Plus, Buster Olney or Jayson Stark recently mentioned this factoid:  ”No team has ever in the history of the game had a winning season starting a shortstop as old as Jeter.”    Yes the Yankees made some significant signings (Beltran, Ellsbury, McCann).  But I don’t think its enough to make up for what’s going to happen to their infield.  I think years of overpaying for FAs and being unlucky in their player development has caught up with the Yankees in a big way and they’ll be lucky to be a .500 team this year.  Boswell points out that PECOTA has them as 82-80.   And then he drops a scary subtle hint saying that Ian Desmond has already declined an $85M deal and may have his sights on becoming the next Yankees long-term shortstop.  Ouch.  Thankfully the timing doesn’t quite work out; Jeter retires after this year and the Nats have Desmond locked up for two seasons.

Q: Can you go into the stadium and see the view from your seats before committing to a Season Ticket?

A: No idea, but I’d bet the answer is yes.  We could do that before, you know back when I was a season ticket holder, pre Nats stadium, pre kids, pre getting-royally-screwed-in-the-new-stadium-relocation game.  Boswell assumes yes, and posts an answer confirming it from another fan later on who did exactly this.

Q: Why is the name Redskins such a hotbutton while the Braves gets almost no press?

A: (I couldn’t resist this question even if not entirely about Baseball): Probably because one name is a slur and the other is just a noun.  In a politically correct world no person-indicating moniker would ever be used as a team nickname … but then again you can get rather ridiculous (is “Padre” and the drawing of a priest with a goofy smile swinging a bat offensive to the clergy?  I’m of Irish descent; what if I said that the Notre Dame “Fighting Irish” is offensive to me because of my culture?).   Plus, frankly, I don’t get why little Danny Snyder won’t just frigging change the name; I mean, how many gazillions of dollars of new merchandise sales would he get if he re-branded the team?  Why is he so obstinate about this issue?  Every time he posts some dumb letter defending the name it makes him look more and more like a little rich whiny fan-boy who grew up loving the team despite being too sickly to actually play, and now he’s clinging to an iconic symbol of his youth.  As if it was a ratty security blanket.   Boswell talks about cultural change and social progress and hints that he’s going to post his official opinion on the matter soon.

Q: Has Jeter’s retirement caused TOO much media attention?

A: Honestly, I don’t feel like it has; at least not as much as the questioner, who whined about all the coverage and news items related to Jeter.  Perhaps its because he’s gone up against the Olympics and NBC’s force-fed human interest coverage machine that I havn’t noticed.

Olympics Rant/Tangent: Seriously; I thought I had seen it all with NBC’s ridiculous coverage over the years of figure skaters as “athletes” … now the coverage of these silly snowboarders has surpassed it.  I’m sorry; if your “sport” requires judges who take into consideration your “style” or your “costume,” then it isn’t a sport.  ”Team skating?”  ”Ice Dancing?”  Why not just have a frigging spinning contest or see who can coast the longest on one skate or some other useless reason to award a few more gold medals?  In my opinion, if there isn’t a score or a race to a finish line or one man versus another in a contest … you’re not a sport.  Nothing against figure skaters specifically; what they do is amazing, requires elegance and strength and years of training.  But so does Ballet; why is one an olympic sport and the other a performance art?  All those cirque-de-soleil performers?  Why isn’t that an olympic sport too?

Tangent/Rant off.

I think we’ll all be pretty frigging sick of Derek Jeter once August and September rolls-around.  Yeah he’s a great player, first ballot hall of famer.  But so are about 20-25 other guys playing right now.  I agree with the questioner’s rant about the over-coverage of all things Yankees.   Boswell points out that Jeter’s career WAR is one spot above Bobby Grich, so as to temper some expectations.  That’s harsh; even I recognize his importance to the game as a surpassing point than just whittling down all his accomplishments to one (dubious) number. 

Q: What is Livan Hernandez’s role on this team?

A: Whatever it is, I think its friggin awesome that he’s in Spring Training representing the Nats.  Kudos to whoever reached out and got him to come help out.  Livan Hernandez may have played all over the majors (9 teams in 17 seasons; that’s tough to do when you’re not a left-handed reliever) but he played the most of it with our franchise.  Boswell’s quoting of Drew Storen‘s description of Livan’s role is awesome: ”His job is life-coach, bleep-talker and being Livo.”   He also notes that Livan can provide some fielding and instruction on holding runners, a sore spot for several Nats starters.

Q: How is Christian Garcia looking so far? Any chance that he goes north with the club?

A: All reports list Christian Garcia as (finally) healthy.  But its telling that the team is already specifically pointing out that “he’s made it further than he did last year.”  It seems like his fragility is almost a running joke on the team now.  Chances of breaking into the 7-man bullpen?  Remote unless there’s injuries.  But if he goes to AAA and pitches lights out, he’ll be first guy back.   If he stays healthy (four words that should be attached to every single sentence ever written about Garcia).  Boswell says that if he’s healthy, he’s on the team.  I have a very hard time believing that; who makes way?  Not Soriano, Storen, Clippard or Stammen.  Not Blevins.  Ohlendorf?  Roark?  Roark’s numbers last fall were *better* than anything Garcia did in 2012 and in 4 times the innings.  Ohlendorf isn’t being paid north of $1M to screw around in upstate New York.  And, none of this takes into account the statements from Williams about liking to have two lefties in the bullpen… If it were me, I’d want to see Garcia pitch at least a month straight without hurting something on his person.  

Q: How would you grade Rizzo’s off-season?

A:  Pretty frigging good.  Fister: fantastic acquisition.  McLouth; not too bad, should help.  Lobaton: looking better and better, considering the pedigree i’m hearing about the two guys thrown into the deal (Vettleson and Rivero).  I don’t think his lack of acquiring a better lefty will hurt; Sammy Solis is impressing and could contribute immediately, newly acquired Rivero apparently has some stuff, and there’s still the likes of Cedeno and a couple other AAA guys who we could use.  Boswell says A- … and then tells a tid-bit about the Grant Balfour deal that fell through.

Q: Why are the Nats pitchers so bad at holding runners on?  Is this something they’re working on this Spring

A: Why?  beats me.  Maybe a better defensive catcher will help in that category.  They definitely seem to be working on it this spring as noted in the above Livo question.  Boswell doesn’t really answer the question but then uses this question as a segue into talking about Williams’ anger issues.  Random.

Q: If Ryan Zimmerman is going to play some first base … what the heck is Tyler Moore going to do?

A: A decent question, but which assumes that Tyler Moore is anything other than a bench bat.  And it assumes that Adam LaRoche is going to platoon.  I know plenty in the blogosphere want that to happen … but this is a contract year, and the last time couple times LaRoche faced a contract year he played pretty durn good.  Meanwhile, Moore seems like the kind of player who could use a change of scenery and a trade to a team with more playing time.  Boswell likes his swing.

Q: Is team improvement correlation or causation to a hitting coach change, like what happened last year with Eckstein’s firing?

A: You ask me, i’d say its correlation/coincidence.  It isn’t the hitting coach facing 95 mph fastballs.  But I’m no professional.  Boswell can’t figure it out either.

Q: Did they really need another catcher when they had both two young options and Synder as a proven vet? Why waste a pitching prospect with a high upside for a backup catcher who can’t throw out runners, already a major problem. Did Rizzo get taken by the Rays?

A: Sounds to me like this question-er is overvaluing the potential contributions of our catching prospects Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano, is incredibly overvaluing what Chris Snyder still brings to the table, and is overvaluing Nathan Karns and what is ceiling seems to realistically be.  Oh, and he’s undervaluing the prospects we got in return (both of which are in our top 14 according to mlbdraftinsider.com’s recent post).  I like the move, it fixes a hole for the team and gives a couple of prospects to shore up a thinned system, all for a guy who I think we all liked in Karns but who likely faces a ceiling of a reliever.  Boswell notes the need for a “real” backup catcher and notes that the team traded from depth.

Q: Have the Braves taken a step back this offseason and are really counting on BJ Upton to do anything on offense this year?

A: Yes and yes.  McCann is a  huge loss.  Tim Hudson may not “seem” like a loss given the Braves pitching depth, but he was their opening day starter in 2013 and was their bulldog staff leader (if not an “ace” in the literal sense of the word).   They also let go Paul Maholm, who gave them a ton of decent innings last year.  They’re depending on Brandon Beachy to come back healthy and on the rest of their young rotation to contribute.  Otherwise they did little this off-season other than extending a couple of guys.   As far as BJ Upton, what choice do they have but to run him out day after day at this point?  Same as Dan Uggla: those two guys are getting paid a ton of money and will be given every chance to prove themselves.  Boswell agrees.

Q: How often have you seen baseball players take a hometown discount?

A: Not very often: Roy Halladay took a bit less so he could play for Philly … because their spring training complex is in the same town as his full-time home.  Hard to think of obvious other players off-hand.  The asker questioned whether Jordan Zimmermann would consider less money to play for his “hometown” Brewers … without really considering the fact that Milwaukee is a cheap-skate franchise and will *never* come close to paying the 9-figure deal that Zimmermann probably earns in two years’ time.  Boswell doesn’t really answer the original question, just notes that so far our FA players are going for the money.

Q: In your opinion, who will end up being the fifth starter? Detwiler, Roark, or Jordan?

A: Ross Emery Detwiler, for the same reasons I pointed out in my 2014 Staff Projections post in late december.   Quoting myself from that post:

Why am I predicting Detwiler will win the rotation spot?  Partly because of options (Detwiler has none while Roark, Ohlendorf and Jordan all do), but partly because I’ve sort of come back around on him after looking more closely at his 2013 season.  He had a decent to good 2012; he posted a 118 ERA+ and even if his advanced FIP/SIERA didn’t indicate he was quite that good, he was still more than a servicable 5th starter.  Then in his first seven 2013 starts he was also very good (he had a 2.53 ERA in his first 7 starts and 42 2/3 innings … he got hurt in his 8th start).  The rest of his season was a mess, with him fighting injury and ballooning his seasonal ERA from 2.53 to more than 4.00 in five more starts.   If he comes back healthy to start 2014, why wouldn’t we expect more of the same performance that he had at the start of 2013?  For these reasons, I think Detwiler breaks camp as the 5th starter.

I like Tanner Roark and feel the team is going to find a way for him to be in the MLB bullpen.  I also now believe Taylor Jordan‘s off-season ankle injury will give the team an excuse to keep him in the minors a bit to season him up and maybe even keep some innings off his arm.   So it’ll be Detwiler until he either falters or gets hurt again.  At least we have a ton of options this year to cover for a starter injury.

Boswell says Detwiler as well but writes a ton on othe other guys, including a glowing talk about Roark.  And he throws in this tidbit: Detroit asked for Jordan and Robbie Ray before settling for Ray and spare parts.  Interesting.  

Q: What’s your read on how the last two bullpen spots play out?

A: Also borrowing from my Dec 2013 post, I’ll go with Ohlendorf and Roark.  Ohlendorf as the long-man, spot starter rubber arm guy.  Roark with the hope he continues his magical run of exceptional command and fearless relief.  I know that only leaves on lefty out there, and leaves guys like Ryan Mattheus and Christian Garcia in AAA.  Hey, I could be wrong.   Boswell doesn’t seem to guess.

Q: Do you think the coaches will let Espi continue to be a switch hitter or keep him as a lefty hitter only? 

A: I hope you mean righty hitter only; he is a career .220 lefty hitter but .262 righty. If I was the Nats brass, i’d try him as a righty-only guy.  But by all accounts Danny Espinosa is a bit stubborn and may not be open to limiting a unique skill that he may continue to think distinguishes himself from other competitors.  I continue to wonder just how hurt he was last year … as others have said, it isn’t like Espinosa suddenly forgot how to hit.  Yes he was always somewhat limited as a player, but 20-homer capable middle infielders don’t grow on trees.  Boswell says the team isn’t messing with Espinosa, and that they want to see what he can do in 2014.  Fair enough.

Q: Are you worried about the power (or lack thereof) in the Nats lineup?

A: Not really.  The capability is there across the lineup.  Zimmerman has hit 30.  So has LaRoche.  Desmond has hit 20.  So has Espinosa.  Ramos has 20+ homer capability if he’s healthy.  Werth is good for 25 and has hit 30+ before.  And none of this talks about our best power hitter Harper and what he can do.   Basically the team is a whole bunch of guys with 20 homer capability.   The Nats were T-3th in the NL in homers last year as a team (trailing two teams in offensive parks) and should improve in this category with a healthy Harper.  Boswell just talks about Ramos’ stats extrapolated to a full season.

Q: Is praise of Williams’ approach tacit criticism of Davey Johnson’s?

A: Yeah probably.  That’s why you change managers; to change the message.  I’m not going to disparage Davey Johnson too much here other than to say what i’ve said before; the team needed a new voice.  Boswell points out that Johnson’s 2012 job was fantastic and that there’s “different jockeys for different horses.” I like that analogy.


One last point: there was a question about MASN that Boswell went off on and gave some tidbits, including a shot at Bud Selig.  Its worth the read; click on the chat link and head to the bottom.

Ladson’s Inbox 1/31/14

37 comments

Would this guy look good in a Washington uniform?  Photo unknown via ladodgertalk.com

Would this guy look good in a Washington uniform? Photo unknown via ladodgertalk.com

Nothing like a time-waster for the weekend; Bill Ladson‘s latest inbox plopped Friday afternoon 1/31/14.  Here’s how I’d have responded if someone had bothered to as me these questions :-)

Q: Even though the Nationals are confident with Denard Span in center field and they have strong center fielders in the Minors, is it possible that they might try to get Matt Kemp at the Trade Deadline or next offseason?

A: Matt Kemp‘s name has come up in this blog in the discussion spaces once before in an interesting “what-if” game.  The question as it was posed was this: “Would you, straight up and with no salary relief, trade Matt Kemp right now for Anthony Rendon?”  Think about it; Kemp is owed $127.5M over the next six seasons ($21-$21.5M per season).  He put up MVP numbers in 2011 (many thought he should have won instead of Ryan Braun, even more so after Braun’s positive PED tests) but has floundered with injury and sub-par performances (relative to his salary) for the past two years.  Meanwhile Rendon is getting paid a fraction of what Kemp’s salary is, is younger and has room to grow, but so far has been merely a league average player.  Its a good question: do you run the risk of a $20M boat anchor on your roster, taking up 1/7th of  your salary cap, or do you roll the dice that Kemp returns to his former glory and earns his pay?  Or do you bet on Rendon becoming a significant player cost contained and under team control for another 5 years?

For me, I think you stay away from Kemp.  That’s a ton of money with no guarantee that 2014 will be any different from 2013, and the Nats already have enough pending payroll problems without adding one more $20M player.

As for the question at hand, I see no inclination for Mike Rizzo to make such a move, now or ever.  He spent a lot of capital (our best starting pitching prospect at the time in Alex Meyer) to get Denard Span, he sought him out and coveted openly him for years, and now he has him.  Span’s not going anywhere.  As for next year, we’re in a wait and see.  One of our best prospects is a CF candidate in Brian Goodwin, but he took a step back in 2013.  If Goodwin steps back up in 2014 or doesn’t pan out, we can exercise Span’s 2015 option at $9M and wait for the next best CF prospect in our system (Michael Taylor) to grow.  If neither prospect pans out, we don’t have to worry about it for a few years.  But, at some point you hope this team can grow another prospect to replace an aging $9M free agent with a minimum salary guy.

Ladson basically says what I say, but in fewer words.

Q: The Nationals still have bullpen questions that were not addressed during the offseason. Do you think the Nats will sign another lefty for the bullpen? Or will they use Ross Detwilerin relief?

A: Do we have bullpen questions?  Where?  We got a lefty (Jerry Blevins) and we have another decent lefty option who pitched decently for us last year (Xavier Cedeno).  I’m quite pleased with the state of our back-end guys (Soriano and Clippard), our 7th and 8th inning options (Storen and Stammen), and our long-man options (Ohlendorf and Roark).   Remember; Clippard has great lefty splits, always has.  If our loogy doesn’t work out that well, we go back to using Clippard periodically as a match-up guy.  Or we call up Sammy Solis.  Hell, we could even try Matthew Purke as a bullpen option (he’s on the 40-man after all); scouts are souring on him ever being an effective starter, but his weird motion and shorter stints could help him feature as a bullpen guy.   I think you use Ross Detwiler as a starter until he proves otherwise; as mentioned in this space time and again, Detwiler was effective in 2012, started well in 2013 and got hurt; I have no doubt that if healthy he can start 2014 as he started 2013.  Ladson says similar things about our lefty options.

Q: How is Adam LaRoche‘s health going into Spring Training? He looked as if he lost a tremendous amount of weight last year.

A: Adam LaRoche looked healthy enough in all those shots that appeared of him killing things on the internet over the winter.  Seriously; who knows what the answer to this question is.  But we know he’s aware of the situation and should be taking steps to maintain his strength and weight in 2014.  It is a contract year after all, and he’s shown a proclivity towards having career years in contract years when he needs them to secure his next paycheck.  I can’t see  him “platooning” like a lot of bloggers seem to be calling for, but I can see him being told by management that he needs to maintain his production or he may be banished in phantom DL trips.  Ladson reports that LaRoche was taking an ADD medication, believes he has it figured out, and predicts a Gold Glove in 2014.  Random prediction but sounds good.

Q: Any chance Nationals could bring back Jesus Flores as a backup to Wilson Ramos?

A: Well, Jesus Flores is still out there as a MLFA.  What doesn’t speak well of him is the fact that he was released in May of last year by the Dodgers.  Clearly to me, he’s no longer a viable major league backup candidate.  I can still see the Nats giving a non-guaranteed contract to one of the few remaining veteran catchers to see if one of them sticks as Ramos’ backup, but at this point I wouldn’t be surprised to see the winner of a competition between Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon sticking as the backup.  That being said, both these guys were awful in 2013 in the minors offensively and I don’t have a good explanation why.  Leon seems like the better bet; better history of batting,  younger.   Chris Snyder has had a rough couple years but is still relatively young and has had stretches of decency, if the team wants to go with a veteran backup instead of a rookie.   I dunno what’s going to happen.  On the bright side, Keith Law‘s just-released top 10 for the system (ESPN Insider only) includes one Pedro Severino, giving him relatively glowing grades for his defense.   He’s a couple years away (born in 1993) but if he succeeds in Potomac this year he could be a ready-made Ramos backup sooner than later.  Ladson says the team had a problem with the way Flores called games … hmm, never heard that before.  Ladson also predicts more signings before Feb 1.

Q: I sense a double standard: why give continued chances to Danny Espinosa but essentially shut out Drew Storen? Am I missing something? Similar struggles, but at least Drew fought his way back to the Majors.

A: I’m not sure what “chances” Danny Espinosa is getting at this point, nor am I sure what Storen has been “shut out” of.  The team bought Rafael Soriano, are paying him a ton of money, and he’s the closer as long as he’s here.  That’s that; both Storen and Clippard got pushed down a peg when he got acquired.  Meanwhile, I think its clear that Anthony Rendon is the starter, and Espinosa is playing for a backup role.  Maybe there were just too many quotes taken out of context from NatsFest.  Ladson re-iterates his believe that Espinosa will be traded.