Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for August, 2010

The race for the 2011 Draft pick; 8/24/10 update

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Updated 8/24/10.  Arizona falls into a tie for 3rd with Seattle.  Washington still in a tie with KC for 7th but are playing (and losing) to the 6th place team this week in a home series.  Oh, and the St Louis Cardinals are coming to town for a 4-game set that probably ends up with a home series loss.  5th draft pick here we come!

1: Pittsburgh 41-84
2: Baltimore 44-81
t3. Arizona 49-76
t3. Seattle 49-76
5. Cleveland 50-74
6. Chicago Cubs 52-74
7t. Kansas City 53-72
7t. Washington 53-72
9. Houston 55-69
10. Milwaukee 59-65

Written by Todd Boss

August 24th, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Posted in Draft,Nats in General

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Never leave town when Strasburg pitches

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“Never leave town when Strasburg pitches” is the general lesson learned this past weekend.  If you do, be ready to return to 100s of blog postings, rants, old-school comments from Ron Dibble, and other opinions.  Its official today, Strasburg heads to the DL with a strained flexor tendon.  The umpire of the game says he heard an audible pop and Strasburg really looked like he was in some serious discomfort. One MRI inconclusive, so now they’re going with a reactive-fluid injection to more clearly see the damage.

All I can say is, the two words “Tommy John” seem to be in play here.

If there is a silver lining, it may be one of the following observations:

– If the nats shut him down for the rest of the year (and honestly, they really should at this point), he’s still gotten in enough innings to show some progress for the year (55 in the minors, 68 in the majors).  Certainly he did not hit the team goal of 150 combined innings … but then again 150 would put him into “Verducci Effect” territory.

– This move easily allows us to bring up Jordan Zimmermann, who has been just killing minor league hitters during his extended rehab, without having to sit one of our established starters (though, I still maintain that Stammen was unfairly demoted from the rotation; look at his advanced stats on fangraphs and you’ll see he’s basically our 2nd best starter behind Strasburg).

We’re moving forward with a rotation of LHernandez, Olsen, Lannan, Marquis, and Zimmermann for now.  Detwiler seems done for the  year.  I can see Olsen possibly getting dumped (and saving a few $100k starts) to make room for Maya in a couple weeks.  Wang continues to be MIA.

Obligatory Clemens post, post-indictment

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Every other blogger and pundit on the net seems to have pipped up about Roger Clemens recent federal indictment on charge of perjury for lying to congress.  So here’s my take:

What a mess.  Others have stated it the same way that I would.  The hubris of an athlete assuming that he is above even congress is really amazing.  In some ways I hope Bonds and Clemens go to jail to pay for their crimes.

In other ways, I wish that the syndrome of “middle aged white sportswriters eviscorating baseball players for destroying the records of their boyhood heros” would just pass.  Yes, every home run record from the mid 90s to the early 2000s is a joke.  Yes, the career record now held by Bonds is tainted.  McGwire is getting tepid HoF support despite being a significant hitter *before* the advent of Steroids.   Sammy Sosa‘s records now look just shameful (especially when combining steroid usage with his corked bat suspension).  And you know what?  There’s nothing we can do about it.

Alex Rodriguez probably will go down as the greatest hitter to ever play the game.  And a serious candidate to overtake Willie Mays as the greatest 5-tool player of all time.  Yet his admission of steroids use will taint his legacy just like every other player who comes up for Hall of Fame voting over the next 5 years.

I tried to think of a comparison.  Swimming records that fell with regularity with the use of (now banned) body suits.  Perhaps track and field records which still stand from systematic drug usage in the 80s by eastern bloc athletes?  How about Baseball pitching records before/after the deadball era.  Or how about pitching records from 1968, the year before the mound was lowered and Bob Gibson posted a 1.12 era (and somehow had NINE losses??).  Aren’t these records still in play, with the discussion topic that immediately follows?  How about the infamous “astericks” homer record by Roger Maris, put in place to protect the legacy of Babe Ruth by somehow discounting the amazing accomplishments of Maris.  Nobody talks about that now.

But it will never go away.  We are baseball fans, and iconic “numbers” now are ruined.  755.  61.  Nobody knows what the most touchdown passes thrown in a season is and nobody remembers that “number” like you know 61 homers or 755.  And we’ll continue to talk about it for the rest of our lives.

Written by Todd Boss

August 20th, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Nats Transactions for today …

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Nieves out for the birth of his kid, so wonder kid/future Nieves replacement Wilson Ramos (booty in the Matt Capps trade) comes up and gets a start today.  Ironically (and potentially an omen) Ramos gets #3, which has been Flores‘ number since he was picked up in 06.  Hmmm.  Doesn’t bode well for Flores’s future here.

Willingham to the DL, done for the year but coinciding with Morgan‘s return.  So we’ll be throwing out an outfield of Bernadina, Morgan and Morse for the time being.  Not bad.

But I did see an interesting note that the Rockies are getting ready to flat out release Brad Hawpe.  Why?  Partly because they know they can’t resign him in the off season and are wary of offering him arbitration.  But mostly becuase he’s underperformed this year and the Rockies want to play a up and comer named Eric Young Jr. Either way, his numbers are not THAT bad, i hope we sign him just so we could offer him arbitration and get the draft picks (he projects as a type A) or even if he accepts arbitration he’s better than Morse in right field, right?

Probably though, he signs on with a contender to be a 4th outfielder.

The race for the 2011 Draft pick; Nats now tied for 7th

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Hey there happy nats fans!

A tough loss last night (witnessed by our friend droopy) puts the nats now into a Tie for 7th overall draft pick next year!

And, with a tough 3-game away series coming up in Philadelphia (where we face Halladay, Kendrick and then Oswalt) we might be creeping up further still.  My goal is the #3 spot (we’re only 4.5 games behind Arizona for that).  Baltimore and Pittsburgh flipped spots at the top of the board by virtue of a 2 game swing recently.  It’ll be hard to catch them.

Current 2011 draft order

Updated 8/19/10

1: Pittsburgh 40-80
2: Baltimore 42-79
3. Arizona 47-74
4. Seattle 48-73
5. Cleveland 49-71
6. Chicaco Cubs 50-71
(6a will go to Arizona for failing to sign Barret Loux)
7t. Kansas City 51-69
7t. Washington 51-69
9. Houston 52-67
(9a will go to San Diego for failing to sign karsten Whitson)

After Houston, there’s a 5 game gap to a cluster of teams like Milwaukee, Oakland, Detroit and Florida that probably will stay.  So the top 9 are worth tracking.

How about Arizona?  Probably looking at the #3 and #7th picks next year, in a pretty deep draft.

Written by Todd Boss

August 19th, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Who has the best Playoff Rotation?

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In a short series (if you went to a 3-man rotation in the playoffs, as lots of teams do), who scares you the most?


  • Philadelphia: Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt
  • Boston: Lester, Beckett, Buchholz.  tough.  If they were all performing that is.  Beckett seems off this year.
  • NY Yankees: Sabathia, Burnett and Hughes; this was supposed to be Vazquez but once again the best rotation that money can buy, didn’t.
  • St Louis: Carpenter, Wainwright and Garcia.  Wow.
  • San Francisco: Lincecum, Cain and Zito/Sanchez/Bumgarner; again, that’s tough.
  • Tampa Bay: Price, Garza, Shields (with Sonnanstine/Hellickson thrown in there).  Scary tough, which is why they’re beating out the Red Sox right now.

For my money, it has to be Philly slightly followed by St. Louis.  How is that team gonna get beat this off season?  Of course, they have to MAKE the playoffs for it to matter.  Ironic that the 3 best rotations in the AL are all in the east.  Chicago’s is decent but more veteran laden.  Texas’ starts with Lee and ends with a guy who was playing in Japan this time last year (Colby Lewis).  I don’t think Minnesota’s guys are scaring anyone.  How scary is it that Toronto has two guys with one-hitters this year (Marcum, Morrow) but is buried in FOURTH place in the AL east.  That’s a tough division.

Does lineup protection exist?

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I was reading Zuckerman’s blog posting today and the subject of “batter protection” came up in the comments.  Specifically, a reader rather forcefully said that “lineup protection is a proven myth.”  I know there are some reports out there (Bill James) that claim it is a myth (here’s a link to an article with 3 myth-proving reports).  But I counter instead that “baseball protection is so difficult to really measure that hard core statisticians end up discounting it.”  Here’s a “protection exists” link for comparison purposes.

My thoughts are these: You can’t just look at pure baseball outcomes, compare them to the quality of the following hitter, and make a blanket judgement like this.  You can’t measure a pitcher being “careful” and you can’t measure a hitter purposely trying to make something happen knowing that he’s being pitched around.  Will Carroll at BP did a study of Matt Kemp‘s at bats before /after Manny Rodriguez providing protection and found that the number of fastballs and strike zone pitches were the same … but then concluded somehow that the significant change in the number of curveballs faced was somehow NOT a result of the hitter but instead was just the vagarities of the pitchers being faced.  Really?  You don’t think somehow that the same hitter suddenly getting a ton more curveballs (which are more difficult to adjust to and drive for most hitters) is meaningful?

You also can’t tell me, as baseball fans, that a #8 hitter hitting with two outs and with the pitcher to follow is going to get ANYTHING decent to hit.  The opposing pitcher is always going to be willing to pitch carefully to the batter, force the batter to hit the pitcher’s pitch, expand his own strike zone knowing that you have a 50% chance of a punchout (and usually about an 85-90% chance of an easy out in general) sitting in the ondeck circle.

I have two supporting pieces of evidence right here on the nats.

1. Ryan Zimmerman hit for an OPS+ of 107 and 102 the two years prior to Adam Dunn‘s arrival.  Once Dunn is hitting in the 4 spot, Zimmerman’s last two year’s OPS+ are 133 and 150.  In 2008 Zimmerman’s cleanup hitter/protection was usually Austin Kearns or Lastings Milledge, not the 40-homer hitting Dunn.

2. Look at Ian Desmond‘s splits hitting in the #2 hole versus #8.  .Hitting #2 he’s *significantly* better than hitting #8.  Why?  You think maybe its because he’s got boppers behind him at #2 but a pitcher or a cold pinch hitter behind him at #8?

Olsen’s $250K start ends oddly…

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Scott Olsen‘s 12th start of the season eventually ended in a 10-2 nats loss last night, though that scoreline wasn’t totally his fault.  Strange start for Olsen, who absolutely cruised through the first 5 innings (one hit and one HBP through five, lots of groundball outs, very few hard-hit balls).  He was sitting at around 60 pitches and looked like he might put up a solid 8 inning start.  Suddenly the top of the 6ths starts pinch-hit homer, then a triple, then a walk of Heyward (hardly someone you can blame pitching carefully to with a guy on third and none down).  And he gets the hook!?

Why?  Why give him the hook after two guys hit good balls in a row.  So that a guy we signed on a minor league contract earlier this year (Peralta) can come in, let both inherited runners score on back to back doubles, and ruin the game for Olsen?  That was unproductive.  Sometimes I think Riggleman over-manages and over thinks his situations.

Olsen now sits at 3-5 an ugly 5.14 era and 1.44 whip.  But his advanced stats look better.  FIP=3.51 and xFIP=4.07, which is actually 2nd best of any starter we’ve used more than once the rotation (behind Strasburg).  His BABIP is .320, meaning he’s slightly unlucky on balls in play.   He’s had three horribly games on the year that have destroyed his era/whip numbers.  But he also had a string of 4 games and 25+ innings with 2 earned runs allowed.

I think Olsen’s spot in the rotation is safe for now, but either he or Lannan probably gets the hook when we bring up Maya for a few spot starts.  But at least he’s earning a contract tender in arbitration proceedings in the off season.

Written by Todd Boss

August 18th, 2010 at 9:05 am

Greatest Draft yet for the Nats…

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Bryce Harper‘s last minute signing for something not quite as stratospheric as was requested by Boras ($6.25M bonus, $9.9M 5year contract) caps off a phenomenal draft for the Nats.  Going in, pundits were giving the team little chance to sign 4th rounder AJ Cole or 12th rounder Robbie Ray (both high end HS prospects with strong college commitments).   Even 2nd rounder Sammy Solis would be tough; his injury history knocked him out of the 1st round and there is always a chance with such guys that they’ll stick around for their senior year to increase their draft status (this is exactly what happened with our 14th rounder Timothy Smalling, a SS from Va Tech.  He has a shoulder injury, meaning he dropped from the 10th round and the nats weren’t offering 10th round signing money.  He’ll play his senior season and try to increase  his value).

In the end, the nats got 25 of their first 26 round draft picks to sign.  They paid overslot for Cole, far overslot for Ray and got them in the fold.  I say bravo to the Nats for ignoring the edicts from the Commissioner’s office to pay slot money (this the same commissioner who basically ran the team into the ground between 2002 and 2004, somewhat leading to our current predicament today in terms of lack of talent from those drafts), preferring instead to spend more money than ever before to get commits from players who can change the course of the franchise.

Great day today.

One last note.  I realize we’ll have this “signing day dance” no matter what actual calendar day is selected, and certainly this is a better system than what existed before a signing deadline day was picked (before, the benchmark was whether a player had begun to attend classes at whatever college they committed to, which led to all sorts of shenanigans and really wasn’t fair to Div-I programs who had a guy on campus ready to attend classes then suddenly was playing rookie league ball in florida 2 days later).  But the next collective bargaining agreement HAS to move this date up.

High end guys like Harper, Sammy Solis and Cole have now basically wasted an entire pro season of development because they knew they could squeeze more money out of teams by waiting til the end.  Plus, MLB “asks” teams to delay announcing over-slot deals so that there’s not a feeding frenzy of agents going “well player X got $2M so my guy should get $2.1M” all summer.  Here’s the current major dates on the GM baseball calendar:

  • The draft is held the first week of June (June 5-7 this year)
  • The all-star break is usually the 2nd week of july (this year it was july 11-15th)
  • And then the (non-waiver) trade deadline is July 31st.
  • The current draft signing deadline is 8/15 (unless it falls on a weekend, then its pushed out like it was in 2010).

From a GM perspective, a ton of work leads up to the trade deadline so you can’t put it between the all star break and the end of july.  Why not put the trade deadline somewhere in the first week of july?  The 2 weeks immediately following the draft are spent signing the low-end/college senior prospects already; once that is done why not just play the Scott Boras dance, get the kid signed by July 7th, and have the kid playing by mid july?


Written by Todd Boss

August 17th, 2010 at 9:12 am

Strasburg getting back into the groove in 2nd start back

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The “10th day of Strasmas” was today, as wonderkid took the mound against the Arizona Diamondbacks to finish off a quick homestand.  Coincidentally, the Nats have now “overtaken” the Astros for the 8th draft pick, but it’ll be hard to maintain this pace.  He didn’t look bad but he didn’t look that good either.

Strasburg went 5 innings, gave up 5 hits, 7ks, 0 walks, 3 runs but only one earned and was lifted in-between innings sitting on 85 pitches.  The two unearned runs were due to the 3-base error Strasburg himself committed by letting a throw to first sail down the RF line, scoring a guy from 1st and putting that runner on 3rd with one out (scored on the next pitch by a routine flyball).

Most of the hits were weaker.  Reynolds had a seeing eye single through the middle, Montero had a jammed soft flyball into center, and Drew hit another relatively innocuous ball up the middle.  Chris Young turned on a fastball pretty well, hitting a sharp line drive into left but got stranded.

The best hit ball of the night was LaRoche, who has been incredibly hot lately, absolutely unloading on a 2-0 fastball that Strasburg left up and over the plate.  LaRoche’s ball was the kind of ball you swing through and don’t even feel the contact on the bat.  Definitely a mistake to a guy who made him pay.

Strasburg’s first pitch registered 101 on the TV gun (impressive considering that normally he eases into it).  He had good velocity most of the night, he had control of his curve, and he threw his change up well.  All in all, an unlucky error cost him 2 runs to blemish an otherwise pretty good line.  I think the Nats are babying him a little bit and should have let him pitch the 6th.  If he gets to 105 pitches, it isn’t the end of the world.  I’d rather see the guy stretched out to 105 than yank him at 85.  There was no pressing pinch hitter need in the bottom of the 5th either.

Editor’s Update: Apparently Strasburg was lifted mostly in part due to the 10 minute delay caused by Arizona law protesters who took to the field.  Strasburg cooled off too much as a result and Riggleman didn’t want to risk it.

As far as the game goes, Willingham hit a 2 run bomb to tie it up and get Strasburg off the hook for the loss.  Zimmerman absolutely killed a ball in the 6th to give the Nats the lead, and Clippard/Burnett/Storen closed it out for the win.

Bottom Line; not the greatest line for Strasburg and no W on the board, but he looked good and he only really had two hard hit balls off of him all night.  Looking good.