Nationals Arm Race

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Check-in on Traded-away Prospect Arms

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Dunning now in the Texas rotation. Photo via mlb.com

The Nats are well-known for their heavy emphasis on pitching in drafts, and then for using said pitching depth as “currency” to acquire talent to build their roster. The team has traded away more than 20 prospect pitchers in the last 5 years, ranging from recent MLB debutants to rookie-league wild-cards.

I thought I’d be interesting to check in with some of the arms we’ve moved over the past few years.

Part of me does this as a “wouldn’t it be nice if we had kept them…” motive, since not all of these trades were really ones I would have made. But nearly all of these trades contributed in one way or another to the 2019 title … so I have to temper my criticism. In the end, you’d rather have a title than a prospect. But, choices have been made over the years and some of those choices look better or worse in retrospect.

These are listed in order of MLB impact of the traded away talent, not chronologically (this list does not include all the MLB arms we traded away in the 2018 missing the playoff purge; this is mostly about trading away prospects).

  • Lucas Giolito; Traded to Chicago White Sox (along with Lopez and Dunning) for Adam Eaton in 2016. Eaton gave the team 4 injury-filled years and a combined 2.7 bWAR. Giolito is now the #1 starter for the White Sox and was an all-star in 2019, but it took him several years and multiple mechanical changes to get there.
  • Jesus Luzardo: traded to Oakland in 2017 (along with Treinen and Neuse) to acquire Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle. Luzardo rose to be one of the best prospects in the game ahead of the 2020 season, now Oakland’s #2 starter as a 23yr old. Madson and Doolittle served as valuable back-end bullpen pieces, though Madson did not make it to our title-winning season and Doolittle lost his closer job by 2019 and is pitching elsewhere. This is the kind of trade i wish we made less of; you should be able to grow relievers from your farm system, not trade away future #2 projected starters for a combined 3 seasons of varying production.
  • Dane Dunning was the 3rd of 3 ranked prospects in the 2016 Chicago/Eaton trade. He hovered in the top prospects list for several years, had TJ surgery, debuted with some success in late 2020 for the White Sox, then was flipped to Texas in 2020 for Lance Lynn, and is now featuring in the 2021 Texas rotation as their 5th starter.
  • Taylor Hearn: was the 2nd of 2 prospects in the 2016 Pittsburgh/Melancon trade. He was subsequently flipped by Pittsburgh in 2018 for Keone Kela, and debuted for Texas in late 2019. Since, he has been an 7th/8th inning reliever for Texas with some effectiveness.
  • Austin Adams, traded to Seattle in 2019 for Nick Wells after we DFA’d him. Pitched effectively for Seattle’s bullpen in 2019, then traded to San Diego in Aug 2020 for a package of players. Pitching in middle relief for San Diego in 2021. Wells has done basically nothing for this team, while Adams has at least continued to pitch in the majors and does beg the question … why couldn’t he do for us what he has managed to do for Seattle and San Diego?

Summary: well, you’d have a pretty nice start to a rotation right now with Giolito/Luzardo/Dunning. But it took years to get there for these guys: these were players who were traded 4-5 years ago. And the guys we got in return (Eaton, Doolittle) were key parts of the 2019 title team.

Minor league arms traded in last 5 years still in minors:

  • Reynaldo Lopez was the 2nd ranked of 3 prospects in the 2016 Chicago/Eaton trade; he was a full time rotation starter in 2018 and 2019 for Chicago, but got beaten out for the rotation in 2021 and is in AAA. Interesting how many thought Lopez was the “prize” of that trade … now he’s like 7th on their rotation depth chart.
  • Wil Crowe: traded to Pittsburgh (along with Eddy Yean) for Josh Bell. Crowe made the opening day 2021 roster for Pittsburgh, but was optioned after one poor outing. Likely projecting as a 4-A type starter, and future analysis of this trade will have to remember that Pittsburgh was in a salary dump mode when evaluating whatever Crowe and Yean become.
  • Jefry Rodriguez, traded (along with Johnson and Monasterio) to Cleveland for Yan Gomes in 2018. Pitched for a couple months in the Cleveland rotation in 2019, hit free agency in 2021, signed MLFA with Washington in 2021, likely in AAA. Probably safe to say the Nats are coming out on top of this move.
  • Taylor Guilbeau: traded to Seattle for Roenis Elias in 2019. Pitched for Seattle MLB middle relief in 2019 and 2020, DFA’d and outrighted in Feb 2021. Elias got lit up, got hurt and was essentially useless for us.
  • Trevor Gott; traded to San Francisco in 2019 for cash after we DFA’d him; he pitched for SF’s bullpen for two years, was DFA’d and outrighted in Feb 2021. Once again, like with Adams … how is it that Gott couldn’t break our crummy 2019 bullpen but then pitched effectively for another organization immediately upon his exit from Washington? its like Blake Treinen all over again.
  • Pedro Avila was traded to San Diego for Derek Norris in 2016; he rose in the ranks and debuted briefly for San Diego in 2019, then was subsequently DFA’d and outrighted; he remains in their minor league system and projects for AAA in 2021. Norris was originally drafted by DC, and they wanted to get him back. But he only lasted another 3 months with the team, getting released in spring training 2017 before catching on with Tampa for one more season.
  • Aaron Fletcher: traded to Seattle for Hunter Strickland in 2019. Likely in AAA in 2021. Strickland … wasn’t good for Seattle in 2019 and he wasn’t good for us either.
  • Mario Sanchez: traded to Philadelphia for Jimmy Cordero in 2016. Hit MLFA in 2018, came back to Washington, projected AA in 2021. Cordero was crummy for us, then got DFA’d, selected and was gone.
  • Yohanse Morel, traded (along with Gutierrez and Perkins) to Kansas City for Kelvin Herrera in 2018. Likely in High-A in 2021.
  • Kyle Johnston: traded to Toronto for Daniel Hudson in 2019. Likely in High-A in 2021. Hudson closed out game 7 of the 2019 World Series; enough said.
  • Tyler Watson, traded to Minnesota for Brandon Kintzler in 2017. Likley in High-A in 2021. Knitzler was (possibly) scapegoated in the infamous clubhouse blowup mid 2018 and was dumped for pennies on the dollar in 2018.
  • Ryan McMahon; traded to Minnesota for Ryne Harper in 2020; Likely in Low-A in 2021. Harper has really yet to do much, so this is a show-me trade.
  • Eddy Yean; traded to Pittsburgh (along with Crowe) in 2020; projected to pitch in GCL or Low-A in 2021.

Summary: I see several really good moves here, a couple that didn’t work out as well for the Nats, and some that are preliminary. About what you expect when you’re trading prospect arms.

Minor League Arms traded in the last 5 years who are now apparently out of baseball.

  • McKenzie Mills: traded to Philadelphia for Howie Kendrick in 2017. Struggled in AA in 2019 for Philadelphia, released in big Minor league purge in June 2020 and out of baseball. This was a prime example of the Nats selling high on a guy; Mills blew that summer, going 12-3 for the 2017 season, then never replicated that success and was out of baseball two years later. Odd that the team didn’t try to pick him back up after his 2019 release.
  • Jeffrey Rosa; traded to Tampa Bay for Enny Romero in 2017. Struggled for Tampa’s GCL team in 2018 and was released.
  • Mick VanVossen, traded to Chicago WS for Ryan Raburn. struggled in high-A in 2017, likely released that off-season (he has no stats since 2017).
  • Felipe Rivero, traded to Pittsburgh (along with Hearn) in 2016 for Mark Melancon. Changed his name to Felipe Vazquez, replaced Melancon as Pittsburgh’s closer and was dominant, a 2-time all-star in 2018 and 2019. However, he was arrested on child sex abuse charges at the end of the 2019 season and faces multiple felonies in multiple states. As much as I hated this trade at the time (we gave up two solid players for yet another veteran closer since our team for reasons inexplicable cannot home grow closers ourselves), I think we’re all happy to have dodged a bullet w/r/t what Rivero/Vazquez became.

Did I miss anyone?

Opening Day Starter Trivia 2021

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Kershaw gets another opening day start in 2021. Photo via wiki.

Every year I update this long-running XLS for this increasingly anachronistic relic of tracking Opening Day Starter honors for teams.

After this year’s opening day, which was delayed for nearly a week thanks to the Nats Covid outbreak, here’s some cool trivia:

  • Most Opening Day StartsActive Leaders:
    • Justin Verlander remains the current leader with 12, though he’s out for the season with injury.
    • Clayton Kershaw made his 9th opening day start after missing a couple in a row, making him the pitcher with the highest number that is still actively making opening day starts.
    • Felix Hernandez and Jon Lester have 10 and 8 opening day starts respectively, but neither
    • After these guys, the players with the most are Madison Bumgarner (7), Max Scherzer (6) and Julio Teheran (6).
  • Current Leading Consecutive streak:
    • both Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola are on a consecutive opening day start streak of 4 starts.
  • Number of first-time Opening Day Starters in 2021: Just 7. This is after 18 last year.
  • Number of Opening Day Starters who now have exactly two opening day starts: 14 of the 30.
  • Most surprising opening-day starters in 2021:
    • Chad Kuhl: well someone had to pitch opening day for Pittsburgh, who may lose 115 games this year.

Historically, here’s the all-time record holders:

  • Most Ever Opening day StartsTom Seaver with 16.  Tied for 2nd place with 14 is Jack Morris, Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton
  • Most Consecutive Opening Day StartsJack Morris, all of whom’s 14 opening day starts were in a row.

Hope you enjoy this useless trivia!

Nats 40-man Options status

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Nearly every year we talk about the Options status of the 40-man, and what it means for spring training. And this year is no different; nearly every year the options availability (or lack of them) helps drive some edge-of-the-roster decisions and the team ends up keeping players at the expense of others, often times in stark contrast to fan-perceived value or merit of inclusion.

Here’s a run-through of the Options status of the current 40-man roster. I have uploaded my Options Analysis annual spreadsheet to the Big Board; it is one of the 2021 tabs. Direct link here. The online XLS has a ton more information than we show here: it has updated Service time, first added to 40-man, known years optioned and some notes.

I divide the Roster into 5 categories of players on the 40-man:
– Vets who can refuse demotion (5 or more years of service)
– Players with Options available but who are MLB Entrenched
– Players with Options Available, jeopardizing 25-man roster status
– Players with Options almost guaranteed to be used in 2021
– Players with No Options left (the main analysis of this post).

For completion, here’s a quick run-through of all the categories:

Category 1: Vets who can refuse demotion (5 or more years of service)

We have 13 such players for 2021: Scherzer, Corbin, Gomes, Strasburg, Harris, Castro, Hudson, Harrison, Schwarber, Lester, Zimmerman, Hand and Avila.

Interesting tidbits about this group:
– Castro, Zimmerman and Avila never once burned an option
– Schwarber just got his 5 years of service time last season.
– Zimmerman earned 10&5 rights in 2015, and Strasburg earned it last year.
– Of this group, only Hand actually burned three options. Then, he didn’t make the Miami team out of spring training in 2016 so they had to DFA him; San Diego claimed him and he began to flourish from there.


Category 2: Options Avail but are MLB entrenched

We have 7 such players for 2021: Turner, Soto, Robles, Suero, Rainey, Bell, and Finnegan.

You may quibble perhaps with Finnegan being called “entrenched” but for now, his 2020 season has him being a lock for the pen in my book.

Interesting tidbits about this group:
– Turner and Bell will reach 5 years of service time in 2021, which means they would be able to refuse an option.
– Neither Soto and Finnegan has ever been optioned.
– Turner’s 2015 nonsensical call-up ended up burning the team dearly; he achieved Super2 by just a few days and the Nats have been on the hook for millions more than they “needed” to spend.

Category 3: Options Available and not a lock for the 25-man roster.

I count 5 players in this category for 2021: Kieboom, Clay, Garcia, Fedde, and Harper.

Each of these players needs some discussion.

  • Kieboom, by all accounts, is being handed the 3B job. The team did not pursue a replacement, Castro wants to play 2B, and the job is his. I suppose it is still possible that the team finds a new 3B and sends him to AAA, where a lot of people think he needs to be. But for now, he’s in this category instead of the one above.
  • Clay signed a MLB contract with the team in the 2020 off-season, somewhat oddly in that he had zero MLB service time at that point and was a MLFA. I wonder if the team “beat out” another suitor by promising the 40-man slot. Either way, I do not favor Clay to make the team coming out of Spring Training.
  • Garcia could theoretically make the 25-man roster as our backup infielder … but i’d much rather see him in AAA playing full time. His slash line was not that impressive last year (but better than Kieboom’s … hence why some are wondering what the heck the team is doing). For now, i’d send him to AAA.
  • Fedde got a 4th option thanks to some timing issues … and i’ll bet the team uses it in 2021. Which means Fedde will be in AAA as a 28yr old and service time in four different MLB seasons. That’s got to be a bummer to him. And to make matters worse he may not be the first spot starter called upon, thanks to an option-less player we’re about to talk about.
  • Harper was solid in 2019, awful in 2020, and I think his options flexibility will mean he starts the year in AAA in lieu of one of the MLFA/NRIs we’ve signed this spring. But he should be back up eventually to provide injury relief cover.

Category 4: Players with options who are almost guaranteed to be optioned out of Spring Training.

I count 11 guys in this category: McGowin, Barrera, Noll, Braymer, Armenteros, Adon, Antuna, Fuentes, Hernandez, Romero and Bacus.

Lets take these guys by category:

  • Adon, Antuna and Fuentes: just added to the 40-man, not yet expected to contribute at the MLB level.
  • McGowin, Braymer, Armenteros and Romero: i’d want this to be 4/5ths or 4/6ths of my AAA rotation. I do not consider these players serious contenders to the 5th starter role, but I do think the team may be looking at the two lefties (Braymer and Romero) as relievers going forward. I’d rather see if they can cut it as starters and provide more value. Armenteros is a wildcard; he has certainly shown he can succeed as a starter in the minors and his release by Houston was somewhat surprising. I’m guessing he pitches excellently in AAA and could be a surprising call-up mid-seaons.
  • Noll: honestly i’m not sure why he’s still rostered at this point; instead of calling him up last year they started a 19yr old’s service time clock. Eventually they called him up and he got a grand total of three starts. He’s my “first guy off the 40-man if we need space” candidate right now.
  • Barrera: you have to have a backup catcher on the roster and he’s it.
  • Hernandez sits on the 40-man after a late-season call-up, but he seems to have no spot on this team. he’s 2nd behind Noll in “next guy to get DFA’d.”
  • Lastly, Bacus seems to be an afterthought reliever on the roster right now, and is not favored to beat out several MLFA NRIs for the 2021 roster.

Category 5: Players out of options.

We have 3 players out of options for 2021: Ross, Voth and Stevenson.

  • Joe Ross is the current leading 5th starter candidate.
  • Voth (along with Fedde) are the leading competitors for said 5th starter job, and the odds on circumstance to occur is this: Voth loses the 5th starter job but “looks good” in spring training, which leads the team to either carry him as the 8th reliever or to invent a soft tissue injury and stash him on the DL for a few weeks. If Voth does NOT look good in spring training, he’s a DFA candidate come 4/1/21.
  • Stevenson has proven his worth as a plus defender, 4th outfielder type and his 2020 allowed the team to move on (finally?) from Michael A. Taylor this off-season. He’s out of options, but it doesn’t matter b/c he’s the bench OF.

Post Publishing Update 3/23/21: an Arbiter has just ruled that Erick Fedde does NOT have a 4th option, meaning that he’s now out of options and would have to be exposed to waivers if he doesn’t make the 2021 opening day roster.

Rizzo gets his 4th starter in Lester

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Lester to feature the curly W in 2021. photo via Grantland

One of our most obvious roster gaps heading into the off-season was a veteran 4th starter, and today Mike Rizzo got his man.

Jon Lester. 3-time World Series winner, cancer survivor, noted wine aficionado, signs a one-year $5M deal with the ubiquitous mutual option that is never mutually agreed to, to be our 4th starter for 2021.

Lester joins an esteemed list of “veteran 4th starters signed to pillow contracts” under the Rizzo regime. To wit:

  • 2010: Jason Marquis (though to be fair he signed a 2 year deal to probably be more than our 4th starter).
  • 2011: Chien-Ming Wang
  • 2012: Edwin Jackson, the first of the “real” 4th starter FA assassins
  • 2013: Dan Haren
  • 2014: Doug Fister
  • 2018: Jeremy Hellickson
  • 2019: Anibel Sanchez

To be fair here, Fister was of course a trade acquisition, and was much more than a 4th starter, but his acquisition, plus Scherzer signing and the eventual rise of home grown products like Roark and Ross led to several years without a need to pursue the veteran 4th starter. Not surprisingly, they made the playoffs 3 of 4 years in this timeframe … inexplicably missing the playoffs in 2015 in a season I hand squarely on the incompetence of Matt Williams. But I digress.

Clearly Rizzo’s strategy in building a rotation goes like this: splurge for the top of your rotation, sign a veteran for your 4th starter, let the kids compete for the 5th starter. What I’d LIKE it to be is, grow a couple of stud starters, pair them with your $30M/year guys, and dominate. He’s had had a slew of misses in the 1st round in the last decade, gave up too early on others (ahem Giolito), and now seems to have put their eggs into the Cavalli/Rutledge basket. Lets hope.

Anyway, back to this post. What do I think of the Lester signing? Well…. i think he’ll be a great clubhouse guy. But i’m tempered on what I think he can provide on the field, unfortunately. Lester went from being an #1/#2 kinda guy to being a #4 starter right starting with the 2017 season. He saw a sustained bump in his WHIP starting in 2017, which he somehow danced around in 2018 to put together a smoke-and-mirrors 18win season where his FIP was a full point higher than his ERA. This run of luck came back to bite him in 2019, in the form of a .347 BABIP that ballooned his ERA to ugly territory. 2020 was a wash; he was bad across the board, which could be a pretty bad sign for 2021.

Now he’ll be in his age 37 season with a whole lotta mileage on his known torn UCL elbow. He’s also famous for his inability to keep runners on first base … which will put pressure on his catchers. Gomes is pretty decent at caught stealing percentage (.305 pct in 2019, which was 6th or 7th or so of “regular” catchers in the league), but who knows about whatever backup we pick.

Do we think Lester is a bounce back candidate? Can he flourish when he’s not “the man” in the rotation? How much does he have left in the tank? All interesting questions. At the worst case its a very small price tag to take that gamble.

Payroll implication; not a heck of a lot. $5M doesn’t really change anything else the team might be doing, which makes this a positive. I now have their projected 2021 payroll at $181M, leaving them a shade under $29M left to work with. Notably, they have about $11.5M in deferred dollars this year, plus their “real” 2021 payroll (i.e. actual dollars heading out the door versus cap space dollar figure) is another $9.5M … so that’s $20M of money that the Lerners may be removing from consideration … which means they only want to spend about another $9m. Maybe. Just throwing that out there; there’s a real versus cap space payroll consideration here as the team starts to see a lot of its deferred dollar contracts catching up to them.

My conclusion; proceed with caution. I would have liked to roll the dice with another candidate on the FA market.

Strasburg done for season; is this the dagger that ends the Nats in 2020?

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Will Crowe gets the call.   Photo via SportsTalk

Will Crowe gets the call. Photo via SportsTalk

Word today that Strasburg is having surgery on his wrist and is heading to 60-day DL, effectively ending his season.  Wil Crowe becomes the latest Nats top-10 prospect (behind Kieboom, Garcia, Romero ) to get called up this season and attempt to keep the team afloat.  By most rankings, the Nats current #1, #2, and #4 prospects are now active (plus wherever you think Romero ranks, anywhere between 10 and 14 on most boards).  Suddenly its looking like a youth movement in Washington.  (side note: our farm system is going to be dead last next year if all these guys exhaust rookie eligiblity).

Is Strasburg’s injury unsurpassable for this team?  Eh, probably not; he was already hurt but in his absence the team is sputtering along playing about .400 ball.

Of course, in the 2020 crazy season, .400 ball only puts them like a game out of the wild card.  Eight teams out of the NL make it, meaning that ST Louis (currently sitting at 7-8) is in playoff position.  So the Nats at 9-13 are … 1.5 games back?  My math is a little fuzzy on “games back” logic right now given differing numbers of games played.  So a weekend sweep suddenly rockets the team back into play off position.

The larger question is this: The Nats are losing piece after piece, and I wonder how long they conintue to hold on.  Both lefty relievers are done, their #2 starter done, their FA second baseman signing done.   They were already down a 5th starter thanks to Joe Ross‘ opt out.  I mean, i’m glad to see all these prospets coming up; its great to be able to actually see these guys play.  But man, can this team hold on?

Luckily for the Nats … the “class” of the division (Atlanta) is just 4 games ahead, and themselves seem to be falling apart too.  Maybe its a race of attrition until October.

Written by Todd Boss

August 22nd, 2020 at 3:19 pm

Holy Cow Romero has been called up!

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Romero gets the call. Photo via milb.com

Romero gets the call. Photo via milb.com

 

I first saw this tidbit on Keith Law‘s chat today and was kind of shocked.  Then i confirmed it via the nats transaction page; Seth Romero has been called up.  Thanks to a spate of injuries and ineffectiveness-driven-dl trips (ahem Sean Doolittle), the Nats bullpen suddenly has zero left handers, and Romero has reportedly been impressing the Nats brass in Fredericksburg.

So he’s up.  Big board updated as well as the Draft tracker for all our still-signed draftees (everyone is now either Washington, Fredericksburg or XST for 2020).

So, part of me is not entirely surprised at this move … despite his limited minor’s experience, he’s rule-5 eligible this coming off-season (as is all the rest of the college-aged 2017 draftees, most notably Wil Crowe), so it seemed  highly likely that the team would be adding him at some point anyway.  He’s far enough past the deadline to ensure an extra year of control.  And they have a need.  I suppose they could have tapped a few of the other options they have in Fredericksburg (Matt Cronin and Nick Wells are both lefty and both relievers) … but having Romero up seems to give a higher-ceiling guy in the pen.

I gotta say; quite a turn of fortune for Romero after all he’s gone through.  Can’t wait to see him throw against real MLB hitters.

this by the way makes for the following roster chagnes:

  • 28/28 on active roster: Freeman, Doolittle to DL, Harris back, Romero called up.
  • 38/40: Romero added to 40-man
  • 57/60 on extended; no change here.

Written by Todd Boss

August 13th, 2020 at 2:02 pm

Opening Day Starter Trivia 2020

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Verlander makes his 11th career opening day start, tying him for the active lead. Photo via sporting News.

Verlander makes his 12th career opening day start, putting him in the clear lead. Photo via sporting News.

Every year I update this long-running XLS for this increasingly anachronistic relic of tracking Opening Day Starter honors for teams.  But it does make for some good trivia questions.

After this year’s opening day, which involved few fans and

  • Most Opening Day StartsActive Leaders:
    • Justin Verlander makes his 12th career Opening day start, double the next closest competitor now.
    • Next closest are two veterans, each of which who has 8 career opening day starts, neither of which made 2020 opening day starts (Clayton Kershaw and Jon Lester).
    • Special mention of Felix Hernandez, who is technically active with the Braves but is not on their 40-man roster.  He has 11 but seems like a longshot to make another.
  • Current Leading Consecutive streak:
    • 3; shared by Verlander, Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola
    • Julio Teheran had a streak of 6 broken this year; he signed with the Angels in the off-season
  • Number of first-time Opening Day Starters in 2020: 18 of 30
    • Soroka, Alcantara, Hendricks, Woodruff, Musgrove, Flaherty, Marquez, May, Paddock, Milone, Eovaldi, Morton, Giolito, Bieber, Boyd, Heaney, Montas, Lynn
    • This is easily the highest number of 1st time opening day starters since I started tracking this.
  • Most surprising opening-day starters in 2020:
    • Tommy Milone getting the opening day start for Baltimore.  Just crazy.
    • Sonny Gray getting his 3rd career opening day start, 5 years after last getting one for Oakland.
    • Johnny Cueto getting his 5th career opening day start, also 5 years after his last.
    • Trevor May, who gets a last minute spot start filling in for the injured Kershaw.  The rich keep getting richer out in LA; he was more than adequate, quite a showing for a guy who would normally be in AAA yet could clearly make nearly every other rotation in the league.

Historically, here’s the all-time record holders:

  • Most Ever Opening day StartsTom Seaver with 16.  Tied for 2nd place with 14 is Jack Morris, Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton
  • Most Consecutive Opening Day StartsJack Morris, all of whom’s 14 opening day starts were in a row.

Hope you enjoy this useless trivia!

MLB Rotation Ranks heading into 2020

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Scherzer: the #1 on the #1 rotation. photo via wp.com

Scherzer: the #1 on the #1 rotation. photo via wp.com

Every off-season I find myself meticulously tracking Starting pitching movement, with a working XLS that attempts to quantify the rank of every rotation in the majors.

Before we get too further into the pre-season, and these ranks start to get obsoleted as we find out that some starters are going to head into surgery or to the DL, i wanted to get this out there.

Previous years of doing this

  • 2019 Cubs #1, Nats #4.  Probably overvalued Cubs, undervalued the Dodgers, Rays and Astros.
  • 2018: did not do the analysis, but Houston led the league in ERA, FIP, fWAR
  • 2017: Cubs #1, Mets #2.  Cleveland and LA Dodgers really the best.
  • 2016: Mets #1, Cardinals #2.  Mets and Nats ended up being the best on the season.
  • 2015: did not do the post.  Cubs, Nats, Dodgers the best.
  • 2014: Cards #1.  Nats ended up being the best rotation by most measures.
  • 2013: Nats #1, Tigers #2.  In the end, Detroit really was the best rotation.

Here’s my rankings of the Starting Rotations of every team in the majors.

Raw data, which includes a ton more detail including movement, starters still out there, and color coding indicating whether i think a pitcher is a #1, a #2, a #3 or lower is here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1gztFB_MIkVLd-Bzw9SuSYJxE709eHOPAsAZL8nzsiPw/edit?usp=sharing

Notes: i have these roughly grouped for discussion.  Each of these groups of rotations are in the correct order, but are relatively close enough that if you wanted to argue within the grouping I wouldn’t probably push back too much, but i’d put any of the teams in one group ahead of any team in the next group.

1. Washington:  Max Scherzer Stephen Strasburg Patrick Corbin Anibal Sanchez Joe Ross
2. Texas:  Corey Kluber Lance Lynn Mike Minor Kyle Gibson Jordan Lyles
3. Los Angeles Dodgers:  Clayton Kershaw Walker Buehler David Price Julio Urias Alex Wood
4. New York Mets;  Jacob deGrom Noah Syndergaard Marcus Stroman Steven Matz Rick Porcello

Yes, i’ve got our home team #1.  I think the top 3 are all three Aces (meaning, they’re all among the top 15-20 arms in the league), and the Nats are the only team that can make that claim.  Texas has completely remade their rotation, adding an ace in Kluber, adding the back-end of their rotation via FA this off-season and I really think they’re in a position to make some noise.  LA comes in third, and yes I still have Kershaw as an “Ace” for now, but Buehler is probably the best arm of the bunch.  the Mets are a speculative #4; is Snydergaard really an Ace?  What happened to him last year?  If he returns to form, the NL East becomes that much more difficult to navigate for all the teams involved.

5. Tampa Bay:  Blake Snell Charlie Morton Tyler Glasnow Yonny Chirinos Ryan Yarbrough
6. Houston:  Justin Verlander Zack Greinke Lance McCullers Jose Urquidy Rogelio Armentos
7. Philadelphia:  Zack Wheeler Aaron Nola Jake Arrieta Zach Eflin Vincent Velasquez
8. Cincinnati:  Sonny Grey Luis Castillo Anthony DeSclafani Trevor Bauer Wade Miley
9. Atlanta: Mike Soroka, Mike Foltynewicz, Cole  Hamels, Max Fried, Kyle Wright

Tampa is a hard one to rate, b/c of their use of the “Opener” so much.  Houston takes a hit by letting Cole go and replacing him with someone who I couldn’t pick out of a lineup.  I think Cincinnati’s rotation may prove to look quite mediocre if Grey and Bauer in particular don’t produce.  Atlanta has five talented guys who all could step up and make them really tough to beat, so watch out.

——

 

10. Oakland:  Sean Manaea Frankie Montas Mike Fiers Jesus Luzardo Chris Bassitt
11. St. Louis:  Jack Flaherty Dakota Hudson Miles Mikolas Adam Wainwright Kwang-Hyun Kim
12. New York Yankees:  Gerritt Cole Luis Severino Masahiro Tanaka J.A. Happ Domingo German
13. Toronto:  Hyung-Jin Ryu Chase Anderson Matt Shoemaker Tanner Roark Shun Yamaguchi
14. Minnesota:  Jake Odorizzi Jose Berrios Kenta Maeda Homer Bailey Randy Dobnak
15. San Diego:  Chris Paddock Garrett Richards Drew Pomeranz Zach Davies Dinelson Lamet
16. Cleveland:  Mike Clevinger Shane Bieber Carlos Carrasco Aaron Civale Adam Plutko

Oakland could look a lot better fast if Luzardo lives up to his #2 starter hype.  Its also noteworthy that no matter where you rank Oakland’s rotation pre-season, they produce.  I think i had them in the bottom five last year and they won 97 games with a bunch of #4 starters.  So who knows.  The Yankees are #12, which also seems amazing for a 103 win team that ADDED perhaps the best right hander in the game … but they fall off fast AND they seem to have lost Severino for the season (which is not accounted for here), so they may be actually worse.  Toronto’s got 3 new starters and some unknowns: is Ryu going to be an Ace or a 4th?  Cleveland is the lowest team with an “Ace” in the rotation

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17. Arizona:  Robbie Ray Luke Weaver Mike Leake Merrill Kelly Alex Young
18. Milwaukee:  Brandon Woodruff Adrian Houser Brett Anderson Freddy Peralta Eric Lauer
19. Chicago Cubs:  Kyle Hendricks Yu Darvish Jon Lester Jose Quintana Alec Mills
20. Boston:  Chris Sale Eduardo Rodriguez Nathan Eovaldi Martin Perez Matt Hall
21. Chicago White Sox:  Lucas Giolito Dallas Keuchel Reynaldo Lopez Carson Fulmer Gio Gonzalez
22. Colorado:  Jon Grey German Marquez Kyle Freeland Antonio Senzelata Jeff Hoffman
23. San Francisco:  Jeff Samardzija Johnny Cueto Tyler Beede Kevin Gausmann Drew Smyly
24. Los Angeles Angels:  Shohei Ohtani Julio Teheran Jamie Barria Andrew Heaney Dylan Bundy

this is a logical stopping point (the #24 ranked Angels) because this is clearly the end of teams that are “trying” in 2020.  And you might push back on the notion that some of these teams are even trying (Boston, SF, etc).  Its still kind of amazing to me that the White Sox are ranked this low, given the pedigree of their prospect-laden rotation and the fact that they added a recent cy Young winner in Keuchel this past off-season.  Boston takes a hit as we hear that Sale may start the season on the DL.  Lastly what to make of LAA?  Is Ohtani goign to compete and be an ace?  If not they need production from a bunch of #5 starters or else they waste even more of Trout (and now Rendon‘s) careers.

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25. Seattle: Marco GonzalesYusei Kikuchi Justus SheffieldKendall GravemanJustin Dunn
26. Pittsburgh:  Chris Archer Joe Musgrove Steven Brault Trevor Williams Mitch Keller
27. Kansas City: Danny DuffyBrad KellerJake JunisMike MontgomeryJesse Hahn
28. Detroit:  Matt Boyd Jordan Zimmermann Daniel Norris Spencer Turnbull Ivan Nova
29. Baltimore:  John Means Alex Cobb Asher Wojciechowski Dean Kremer David Hess
30. Miami:  Sandy Alcantara Caleb Smith Jose Urena Jordan Yamamoto Pablo Lopez

All 6 of these teams i have as actively “tanking” in 2020, so not surprisingly they’re the bottom 6 rotations.  A couple of these rotations don’t even have what i would consider even a #3 starter, and among all 6 of these teams I only see two acquisitions this off-season that project into their rotations.  Miami, the lowest ranked rotation, made its sole starting pitching acquisition of the off-season a rule-5 drafting of our own former prospect Sterling Sharp, which is pretty telling.  Baltimore has added a bunch of depth but it all projects as just that; depth.  4-A or minor league starter depth.

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That’s it.  What do you think?

 

Starters as mid-relievers Strategy finally blows up

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Corbin did not like pitching in relief. Photo via Arizona republic

Corbin did not like pitching in relief. Photo via Arizona republic

The Nats had been getting lucky using Starters as middle relievers for years in the playoffs … and last night finally their luck caught up with them.

Here’s a history (dating to our first playoff series in 2012) of using starters as middle relievers on their “throw days:”

  • 2012 NLDS Game 4: Jordan Zimmermann pitches the 7th, strikes out the side.
  • 2012 NLDS Game 5: Edwin Jackson pitches 1 inning, throws just 12 of 23 pitches for strikes, walks 2, gives up a hit and was lucky to escape only giving up 1 run.
  • 2017 NLDS Game 5: Max Scherzer throws 1 inning, gives up 3 hits and a walk, gives up 4 runs (2 earned) to blow the lead in the deciding game.
  • 2019 Wild Card: Stephen Strasburg throws 3 shutout innings to bridge the gap between Scherzer and Daniel Hudson.
  • 2019 NLDS Game 2: Scherzer strikes out the side in one inning of relief of Strasburg
  • 2019 NLDS Game 3: Patrick Corbin falls apart, give sup 6 runs in 2/3rds of an inning on 4 hits and 2 walks.

So, not exactly a proven strategy time and time again.  Its hit or miss really.  And, frankly, I might exclude the Strasburg effort because it was always set to be a multiple-inning effort; the rest of these appearances all fell into the “throw one max effort inning on my starter’s in-between starts throw day” type outing.

This post may seem like hindsight is 20/20 criticism of the strategy … but its pretty easy to ask this simple question: if this is such a great strategy, then why don’t we see it done in the regular season?   I mean, we know the answer really (you don’t want to tax your starters and just add on useless middle relief innings; that’s what relievers are for) … but that’s also my point: this is what relievers are for.   You’ve got 8 guys in the frigging bullpen for the sole purpose of getting past the end of the night … but we can’t trust a single one of them now?  Is this now when the chickens come home to roost for the fact that Mike Rizzo cannot build a bullpen?  Is this the end result for a team that’s literally traded away 20 starting pitching prospects in the past few years, any one of whom could have been a home-grown relief alternative?

It looks amazing when Scherzer blows everyone away … but then it looks foolish when he coughs up 4 runs in a series decider.

So now we’re going into Game 4 … and I’ll bet dollars Davey Martinez is planning on throwing Strasburg in the 7th again (but I sure hope not if he’s going in game 5).

I think my bigger criticism of the strategy last night was the early yanking of Anibal Sanchez.  He left the game on 87 pitches, having struck out 9 through 5, and given up one run on 4 hits and 2 walks (both of which were in the first inning).  I realize he’s facing 4-5-6 for the third time … but this is the same guy who retired 20 straight Dodgers earlier this year.  If he gets through 4-5-6 then he’s got the bottom of the order in the 7th and you go to the bullpen then.  Why pull him?  I think that’s the “over managing” that irritates me most.  Its the same over managing that led to Zimmermann getting pulled at 8 2/3rds in the playoffs (and the Nats losing).  Different managers, same issue.

Look, at the end of the day, maybe it was inevitable that the potent Dodgers lineup blasted its way to a 10 run outing.  But the Nats had the early lead and had an effective starter on the mound.  I just don’t like deviating from whats working until you have to.

I like our chances in Game 4 behind an amped-up Scherzer … but who likes Corbin on the bump in game 5 now?  Have the Dodgers figured him out?  It sure seems like it.  His MO seems to be to throw 91 on the black, then bounce sliders to get you to chase; well if you don’t swing at balls that bounce in the dirt … you have a good shot of walking, as we’ve now seen displayed pretty frequently in the post-season.

I’m now hearing rumors of no Corbin game 5; instead Strasburg.  Uh, sign me up!  28 post season innings and 2 earned runs.  Yeah; throw that guy.  but we have to get there first.

 

Nats Annual Mid-Season Bullpen overhaul; 2019 edition

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Come on, you know every blog post about Strickland has to lead with this photo right? Photo via Star Tribune

Come on, you know every blog post about Strickland has to lead with this photo right? Photo via Star Tribune

Another year, another mad scramble at the trade deadline to fortify the bullpen.

So, how does this year’s moves look?

Honestly … pretty good, all things considered.

  • Acquired: Hunter Strickland, Daniel Hudson, Roenis Elias
  • Traded away: Taylor Guilbeau, Elvis Alvarado, Aaron Fletcher, Kyle Johnston
  • 40-man Moves to make room: DFA Javy Guerra, Michael Blazek and move Jonny Venters to 60-day DL.
  • 25-man Moves to make room: Guerra, Blazek and one tbd as of this writing
  • Salary acquired: just $1.233M per Mark Zuckerberg , thus staying under the Luxury tax.
  • Mid-season prospect rankings of traded away assets per MLBPipeline/Baseball America/Fangraphs:
    • Taylor Guilbeau: #15 on MLB/#14 on BA/#20 on Fangraphs
    • Elvis Alvarado: unranked on all three
    • Aaron Fletcher: #21/#19/unranked on Fangraphs
    • Kyle Johnston: #27/#21/unranked on fangraphs

So, I’ll take these moves.   The team traded from strength (college-age pitching prospects) to acquire a position of need, and got some decent control with a couple of them to boot.  Irrespective of the underlying stats of these three guys … they’re upgrades over the two guys DFA’d and/or the guys who still remain in the bullpen with seasonal ERAs that start with a 4 (Wander SueroTony Sipp), a 5 (Matt Grace) or a 6 (Kyle Barraclough, mercifully already demoted to AA).

Strickland has been  hurt all year, and saw  his 2019 numbers take a dive from 2018, but for his career he’s still a solid player and is a good gamble.  I’m guessing whatever remnant remains of the clubhouse stemming from his ridiculous and immature plunking of Bryce Harper will talk it out and move on.   Elias’ time as Seattle’s closer has also left his numbers in decline versus last year, but he’ll step into a different role here and won’t have as many high-leverage spots.  Hudson (who was born in Lynchburg and went to ODU in Norfolk) has an interesting career, was once a very promising starter for Arizona before missing an entire season due to injury.  He was featured prominently in Jeff Passan‘s book The Arm since Hudson had to do two Tommy John’s in two years … but he’s been healthy since (relegated to the bullpen).

It seems to me that the new bullpen lineup (assuming all healthy), will go like this:

  • Closer: remains Doolittle
  • Setup/8th inning: Strickland and Elias
  • 7th inning: Rodney, Hudson, Rainey
  • longer relief: Suero, Grace/Sipp

It remains to be seen who gets optioned back; Suero has been solid for a couple of weeks, Rainey has given up just one run this month, Grace has scuffled, Sipp had treaded water, so it remains to be seen.

Will these moves win the Nats the Pennant?  Hardly.  Despite their decent form as of late, they’ve picked up just 1.5 games on Atlanta and seem to be competing for the WC.  Atlanta drastically improved their bullpen, getting better, more expensive assets, and Philly made moves to improve their rotation (moves the Nats couldn’t do b/c of salary cap issues).

Which of the traded assets am I most bummed to see go?

  • Guilbeau had a fantastic year in AA, has struggled a bit in AAA in SSS and could feature as a MLB reliever for some teams.  He’s in his 5th pro season, has already been rule-5 eligible for two years, but may still be more than an org-guy.  A nice turnout for a 10th round pick.
  • Elvis Alvarado: a lottery ticket, 20-yr old recently converted pitcher who’s been in the GCL “rotation” this year and has more walks than IP.
  • Aaron Fletcher: a fantastic 2018 14th round pick who has shot up the Nats system this year, blowing away both Low-A and High-A and currently holding his own more or less in AA SSS.
  • Kyle Johnston: Probably the most pedigree’d player moved, a 6th rounder in 2017 who has been in the Potomac rotation all year, pitching pretty well.

I think I was most interested to see how Fletcher turned out, then to see if Johnston could make the jump to AA next year.  Guilbeau may have already peaked as an org guy, and Alvarado is 5 years away.

Thoughts?

 

Written by Todd Boss

August 1st, 2019 at 11:41 am