Nationals Arm Race

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

Last night in Richmond…


Wood's blast was the highlight of the night for Harrisburg.  Photo via milb

(freely stealing this idea from Luke Erickson and, when Luke attends a game in person as he frequently does).

So, for those of you who don’t know, I’ve relocated to Richmond, home of the SF Giant’s AA affiliate known as the “Flying Squirrels.” I suppose its because Virginia’s capital city has a ton of squirrels flying around (no actually, it was a fan-based naming competition back in 2009). And our own Harrisburg Senators were in town this week for a 6-game series. So I got a chance to see our prospects in action last night.

Here’s my recap.

In rough lineup order from last night (here’s the box-score), a game our team lost 7-6 in a walk-off, which was great for the home town fans but pretty galling for a fan of the National’s team, as they blew multiple leads throughout the night to give away the game.

Hitters first:

  • It only took about 3 minutes for our team to grab the lead 3-0. As the adage goes in Minor League baseball … get there early because you don’t want to miss any action. We missed it of course because, well, when you’re attending a baseball game with kids, the odds of getting there for opening pitch are usually nil. After a Jacob Young leadoff single and a Robert Hassell walk, Trey Lipscomb blasted a ball to left for a quick 3-run lead while we were parking the car.
  • Lipscomb played 2B, has already earned a promotion this year to AA, and has continued to stay hot. He went 3-5 on the night, was a double short of the cycle, is batting 3rd for the AA team, and honestly looks like he could really be a find. We’ve watched Luis Garcia scuffle playing 2B (and looking like he eats big macs every night); Lipscomb is an athletic beast who can play anywhere on the dirt.
  • Young: played CF instead of Hassell, went 2-4 with a walk on the night, was a real spark plug at the top, and made a really nice ranging catch at the wall early on. I like this guy too, and talked about how he may possibly fit into the OF log jam of prospects we have.
  • James Wood has been struggling since getting to AA, but he hit an absolute blast to right field that was awe-inspiring from our 1st-baseline bleacher seats. Phew. Someone’s going home with a dented roof, because he cleared both fences in right and nailed a car in the parking lot. He was only 1-5 on the night, but he did hit the ball hard 3 times.
  • Hassell looked absolutely awful. 0-4 with a walk and three strikeouts. Honestly, not once did he take what i’d call a confident swing. This is consistent with basically his entire Nats career so far. I know he had hamate bone issues, which takes a year to recover from. I know he’s a top prospect and hit while in SD’s system. What the heck is going on here? I mean, was all his production in San Diego’s system due to hitter’s parks?
  • Brady House batted 5th and was “just” 1-4, but it was probably a bit unlucky 1-4. He had a sharp line out to 2B for one out and he blasted a ball to CF that was caught on the warning track for another out. He also looked very, very solid at 3B, making a ton of plays, including a couple of in-between hops that looked tough on the way off the bat.
  • Frankie Tostado played 1B and batted 6th: nothing striking either way.
  • Israel Pineda was free swinging at the plate, waved at a bunch of pitches, had two punchouts. I know his value is behind the plate, but the dude is only hitting .175 for AA right now.
  • Lucious Fox…. looked awful at the plate. 0-4, three strikeouts, and his body language basically screamed “I don’t want to be here.” He’s 26, batting 8th in AA, and I wonder why he’s still on the team. At least he’s DFA’d off the 40man at this point. If we had a more pressing SS prospect, i’d guess that he’d be gone. Lipscomb looks more like a 2B/3B guy, Cluff is an org guy, and high-A doesn’t really have anyone banging on the door.
  • Jackson Cluff could be starting at SS instead of Fox; tonight he DH’d and batted 9th. Ask yourself: if you are batting your DH ninth … is it safe to say you have roster issues? Normally Cluff is at SS, Trey Harris is at DH, and the team shows a bit more pop. That being said, Cluff, did an admirable job table setting, going 2-3 with a walk and easily stealing bases all night.


  • Mitchell Parker got the start on the mound. If you’ve never seen him … his mechanics scream one guy: Clayton Kershaw. He has the same arm stretch straight up to the sky to start, he has similar arm action, a funky delivery, he’s lefty, and he gets a ton of Ks. He had 8 punch-outs in 5IP on the night.
  • Parker gave up a run in the 3rd on this sequence: 10-bounce grounder, balk, Wild Pitch, and then sac fly. So, not exactly helping himself, but also not really getting pounded early.
  • But he then went this sequence in the 5th: bunt single to open (House was literally playing on the grass at 3B and by the time he got to the bunt the guy was rounding first), then another seeing-eye-single up the middle to have 2 on with nobody out, then Richmond’s best hitter blasted a homer to score three and tie the game.
  • Honestly, Parker looked pretty solid on the night. I only saw two really hard hit balls, both by the same guy Shane Matheny who seemed to have a read on him all night. But, as has been a pattern for Parker, he was profligate with his pitches, needing 92 to get through five innings. I still like him as a prospect, even though his ERA in AA is in the upper 4.s
  • After Parker came out, 2021 NDFA Tyler Schoff came in and pitched a neatly effective 6th. A NDFA advancing to AA is a pretty solid outcome; he didn’t have super awesome stuff, but he was effective. He’s looking like that classic middle reliever RHP guy who gets by on movement and who suddenly is pitching in the 6th for the big league club.
  • Malvin Pena pitched the 7th and 8th; he looked like a slightly trimmer version of Lee Smith on the mound. Pena pitched a clean 7th but then went homer-double-RBI single in the 8th to cough up a 6-4 lead and send the home crowd into a frenzy. The single went to Wood, who made a valiant attempt to throw the guy out at the plate and nearly got him. Solid defensive play.
  • So, now its tied 6-6 in the 9th and we bring in Patrick Ruotolo, a MLFA we signed out of the Mexican League in early July and who pitched for this same Richmond team in 2021 for nearly a full season. Now he’s a 28yr old reliever in AA … and he pitched like it. Walk to open the 9th (already a 50% chance of that guy scoring), then a sharply hit single for two-on, none out. Ruotolo did induce what looked like it could be a DP grounder, but it ate up Lipscomb at 2nd and an arguable force-call didn’t go his way. Bases loaded, none out, and the same guy who blasted a homer earlier in the game lofted a deep flyball to CF that easily scored the walk-off run. Not an impressive outing from Ruotolo.

So, that’s the observations from the game. Senators blow leads of 3-0 and 6-4 to lose 7-6. The post-game fireworks were cool though.

Written by Todd Boss

August 20th, 2023 at 9:59 am

24 Responses to 'Last night in Richmond…'

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  1. Great writeup Todd.

    So you’re in Richmond now. I think when you started this blog you were living in No. Va, then you moved to Lynchburg. I’m sure I’m missing some here.

    Last time I saw a game in Richmond the stadium was decrepit. Really bad.

    Luscious Fox, well he did sign for $6 million but has never hit anywhere. His OPS In Rochester was in the 400’s and at Harrisburg is in the 500’s. He has to know the end is near.

    You echo what I’ve been thinking about Hassell, what’s going on?

    Lipscomb, House and Wood look like absolute studs. 2024 will be exciting!

    Mark L

    20 Aug 23 at 4:04 pm

  2. So you’ve laid eyes on two of the guys in the system about whom I’m the most curious: Lipscomb and Parker. Sounds like you’re with me in thinking that Lipscomb could be an everyday 2B in the majors, and/or an option at 3B until House is ready. The demotion of Garcia really seemed to be a neon sign that the job is wide open. (And Garcia is posting about the same empty stat line at AAA that he was in the majors.) Jake Alu is getting a big opportunity now, and Lipscomb is clobbering AA (homered again on Sunday).

    Is Parker a legit starter with an MLB shot? He’s been very up and down at AA, but all but unhittable at times when his control is good. Some of the gurus have thought that he is bound for LOOGY duty. Interestingly, FIP (3.64) argues that Parker is a lot better than his 4.70 ERA.

    Hassell had a little spurt last week but is striking out at a frightening number (three more on Sunday). It sure looks like they pushed him to AA too soon, all the more coming off of injuries. This is definitely a lost season for him, but he just turned 22 this past week, so there’s still time. If and when he does hit, the question will still be whether he can hit for enough power to be a corner OF.

    There’s no question about Wood’s power, just the whiffs. Best case would seem to be that he and House force their way to the majors by mid-2024. They’ll mostly do it by reducing the K’s. Good to hear the positive scouting report on House at 3B. They’ve also got to figure out how to keep him healthy.


    20 Aug 23 at 7:51 pm

  3. Of course 2024 is going to be a curious conundrum: there will be no reason to bring up the star kids and spend a year of serve time if the Nats aren’t in contention, but the Nats may not be able to be in contention if they don’t bring up the kids.

    Frankly, I’m shocked that the Nats are only eight games out of a wild card slot at the moment. The bar to get into playoff contention in the NL isn’t high right now. Two teams currently holding wild cards are only four games over .500.


    20 Aug 23 at 8:39 pm

  4. It’s too bad that you just missed seeing Crews, who got promoted to Harrisburg.

    Regarding Hassell, I’m really beginning to worry about him too. His implosion perfectly aligns with his trade, and the problems he’s exhibiting right now aren’t exclusively related to him hamate injury. He broke his hand in the AFL after the regular season ended, but he’d been struggling long before that. His line between Wilmington and Harrisburg was .219/.311/.281 (he hit .299/.379/.467 with the Padres A+ affiliate right before the trade). There was talk about him re-working his swing around the time he joined the org (I’ll see if I can track down the article/tweet corroborating this, because it made no sense at the time “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and all). Seems like Hassell, who was hyped to be one of the most polished of the prospects we got for Soto, is actually a bit of a reclamation project, and the Nats don’t have a great track record with these sorts of players.

    Consider me slightly worried about Brady House. His .317 average looks great, but it kind of ends there. He’s sitting on an insane .481 BABIP. That’s partly because, as you saw, he’s making really good contact. His 35% line drive percentage is well above average, and the best kind of contact. But his strikeout rate has jumped to 32%, after hovering at 20% in both A and A+. His walk rate is also very low at 6%, which altogether means he’s striking out five times as frequently as he walks. That’s worrying, and a trend that’s gotten worse with each successive promotion this season. And his power has evaporated. He’s yet to hit a HR in AA. In fact, his performance in Harrisburg looks a lot like his “lost” 2022 season in Fredericksburg (’22 A: .278/.356/.375 vs 23′ AA: .316/.365/.392).
    On the brightside, it does seem to be something he’s struggled with and worked through. The plate discipline issues he had in Fburg last season were a thing of the past at the start of this season. Also, he’s only played 20 games in Harrisburg, so it’s still in small sample size territory, and he’ll have time to work it out. It’s just that this is becoming a trend, rather than a one off. With that said, if this is House’s “floor”, it’s pretty remarkable that it’s a .300+ AVG and .750 OPS. But something to keep an eye on.


    21 Aug 23 at 5:13 am

  5. Yes; we were in Vienna until 2018, then in Lynchburg until last fall, now in Richmond. The entire time we were in Lynchburg I only went to a couple of games despite it being 10mins from the house and super easy to get in and out … just didnt’ workout. I’ve been to a couple of Richmond games. The stadium is definitely ooold. And too big; the entire upper deck is tarp’ed over like in Oakland and there’s just way too many seats. They cinderblocked over most of the main concourse to build luxury suites, which makes the concourse/concessions area really suck. There’s really no kids activities; they put a “party deck” deep in the left field line and a picnic area eatery that can’t see the field (which is useless). If you’re in line, there’s no closed circuit feed of the game while yu’re standing there. Lastly, the parking lot basically runs from foul pole to foul pole, so htere’s no room for anything “fun” for the kids out there. So, yeah, they need a refresh.

    Todd Boss

    21 Aug 23 at 10:39 am

  6. FWIW, Keith Law thinks that the Nats may call up Crews to the big club by the end of THIS season. He’s also miffed that they’re skipping Wilmington.

    It will be interesting to see who is playing where in the OF in Harrisburg. Crews, Wood, and Hassell all have considerable experience in CF. The most gaping opening with the big club is in CF.


    21 Aug 23 at 11:17 am

  7. If Crews is in AA, i’m not sure who makes way. Hassell, Young, Crews, Wood all need to play in the field. Best thing to do would be to move someone up; i saw a note that Young had been promoted, but it hasn’t been made official. Perhaps he was traveling on monday and it’ll become official tonight.

    Todd Boss

    22 Aug 23 at 12:27 pm

  8. Boz is feeling giddy about the rebuild:

    He’s pretty harsh about Green, but that’s also my concern. And he doesn’t mention Hassell at all. Seems like a pretty aggressive comp of Meneses with LaRoche. We’ll see. Meneses is probably fine for where they are at the moment, but probably not for where they want to be in 2025.

    Completely agree with Boz that they’re going to have to sign or trade for more starting pitching. There is a lot of it on the FA market this winter.

    Or they just sign Othani and kill two birds with one stone. They’ve certainly got the room in the budget to do it. (Not holding my breath.)


    22 Aug 23 at 2:55 pm

  9. I suspect the spending will wait until 2026. there could very well be a trade before then, ala the Gio deal.


    22 Aug 23 at 3:24 pm

  10. There is zero chance the Nats sign Ohtani for the $50M/year it’ll take. That contract will be awesome for a w hile, but has real franchise-crippling salary risk at hte back end.

    Todd Boss

    22 Aug 23 at 3:30 pm

  11. correction, I meant 2025


    22 Aug 23 at 3:31 pm

  12. They brought in Werth and LaRoche before 2011, and I think they’re at a comparable point in the rebuild now. They also shouldn’t have as much trouble as they did then convincing players that this franchise can win. Frankly, the biggest convincing may have to be with Mark Lerner, particularly with commercial real estate still in the tank.

    I would love it if they could pull off a Gio-like trade, but that would also have to involve a starter of that quality both being available and willing to sign an extension. Failing that, this truly is a great year for FA starters (besides Othani): Nola, Snell, Urias, Kershaw, S. Gray, Stroman, Flaherty, E. Rodriguez, J. Montgomery, Giolito, Paxton, Maeda, Severino, et al. Who will stay good? Who will bounce back? Pay your money and take your chances. You could get two or three of these guys for what you’d pay Othani per year.


    22 Aug 23 at 6:05 pm

  13. my reasoning of waiting one more year is the Corbin contract.


    23 Aug 23 at 10:17 am

  14. The Nats are going to have to spend for pitching. Whether that will come in the shape of money or prospects, it’s going to cost something. While it’s been a good year for the Nats farm, it’s quietly been an unmitigated disaster for our pitching prospects. Cavalli, Henry and Bennett (3 of our 4 top pitching prospects) have all battled injuries. While Susana (the other of the top 4) has had by every metric a disappointing season. Ironically, it may be our pitching depth that will help the team (Irvin, Ferrer, etc.) and not the “real” prospects.

    Among impending free agents, there aren’t any optimal targets. If we sign someone, it’ll likely be on a long term deal (like 5+ years) to coincide with our window of 2025-2028ish. There’s little value in paying someone $20m in 2024 to push us from like 75-97 (our current pace) to 81-81, get one more year in 2025. The problem is that the best SP FAs are rather old: Jordan Montgomery, Blake Snell, Eduardo Rodriguez, Sonny Gray and Marcus Stroman are all 31+, and you tend to not want to lock down SPs to big deals into their late 30s (Yes, I’m referring to you, Stephen). That leaves just Julio Urias and Jack Flaherty as options, but they’ve been wildly inconsistent. Maybe we can luck into a few SP prospects in next year’s draft? Or trade off some of this impending glut of OF prospects?


    23 Aug 23 at 10:38 am

  15. Early in the season, when it looked like the Nats were on their way to another 100-loss summer, I was saying the same thing: the coming offseason is too early to spend. Three things have changed my mind:

    1. The Nats’ 25-20 record across July and August, which has now extended beyond just a “spurt.” And they’re doing it with half a lineup (after trading their top hitter), half a rotation, and half a bullpen.

    2. The sorry state of the NL wild card race. There are two teams currently in playoff slots that are only five games over .500. The Nats are only 7.5 games out, which amazes me.

    3. The multi-level progression of Wood and House plus the addition of Crews. They now have three star-level talents who should be in the majors for at least half of 2024.

    So all in all, they’re WAY closer than I thought they would be when this season started. Plus they have virtually unlimited money to spend.

    I would sign two starting pitchers, one coming off a good year for 4/$80M (with a 5th year if I must) and one a bounce-back candidate for 2/$30M or so. I would sign one big bat, looking possibly at Jeimer if he’d be willing to move to 1B, or Josh Bell if he opts out. Then add about four guys to totally remake the bullpen. That’s maybe $70-75M in spending, and they’d still be $100M under the tax line.

    Is that enough? Who knows? A significant move forward is going to depend a lot on Crews, House, Wood, Lipscomb, et al., which is hard to predict until they’re thrown in the deep end.


    23 Aug 23 at 2:07 pm

  16. And . . . the Othani injury totally reshuffles the free agency landscape. That’s so bad for him, and so bad for baseball. But a 10/$500M contract wouldn’t have been good for baseball, either.


    24 Aug 23 at 8:41 am

  17. Also terrible to see Garrett injured for the Nats. This was a time for a great opportunity for him.


    24 Aug 23 at 9:16 am

  18. Kieboom and Alu need to be in the lineup every day. I wouldn’t bet on either being a starter on the next Nats’ playoff team, but it’s within the realm of possibility—and one or both could be a bench piece. To sit one in favor of Vargas is insane. I don’t have anything against Vargas, but we know the guy is a AAAA player, who will never be more than a bench piece (and many players just like him are available as free agents every year).

    I don’t hate Davey as a manager like many do. But playing guys like Vargas ahead of Kieboom and Alu is his biggest flaw. We need to find out NOW whether either guy can play a meaningful role on a good big league team. We already know Vargas can’t.


    24 Aug 23 at 2:01 pm

  19. Todd may do a separate Stras post. He won’t make the Hall of Fame, but . . . (career ranking, in MLB history):

    Strikeouts per 9: 7th most

    Walks per 9: 12th fewest

    K/BB: 11th best

    WHIP: 22d best

    Hits per 9: 38th best

    Career win %: 41st best

    And certainly one of the greatest postseasons of all time. Career postseason numbers: 1.46 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 11.5 K/9. He went 18-6 in the 2019 regular season and 15-4 in both 2016 and 2017.

    Farewell to one of the greats.


    24 Aug 23 at 5:15 pm

  20. A couple weeks ago, someone shared an interesting article about teams’ draft performance relative to their pick, and somehow the Nats came in around average. I pointed out how other teams near the Nats in the rankings produced significantly better value than the Nats, bringing into question the methodology.

    Well, I stumbled across a Twitter thread from an aspiring baseball data scientist, where he assessed the value of teams’ drafting from 2012-2021. These results certainly align with what I’ve seen.

    This chart in particular measuring total WAR gained by each club from drafted players is somehow shocking but expected at the same time:

    The Nationals have gotten NEGATIVE 2.9 WAR from their drafted players over the past decade. The next worst team, the Padres, have gotten positive 10.9 WAR, while the median is around 40 WAR, and the best team, the Astros, received 113 WAR. This is astounding.

    Ah, but skeptics will argue that we traded away a lot of talent like Giolito, Dunning and Luzardo to keep the big league competitive, and that our drafting wasn’t nearly that bad.

    Not true! If you add all draft picks’ value, the Nats still came out worst by a sizable margin:

    The Nats drafted 26 WAR of talent. The median was in the 60s, and the best team 159!

    There’s a few other charts. WAR from non-first round picks (a proxy for the quality of scouting. Nats are again last by far:

    WAR from players traded away. Nats are in the middle, which isn’t surprising given the mid 2010s propensity to trade away the future for the present:

    And WAR from players acquired. Yet again, Nats are dead last:

    Hope you guys find this as interesting as I did.


    25 Aug 23 at 5:29 am

  21. Hey Todd, just flagging that a comment I posted got flagged for moderation. Probably because there were a few Twitter URLs included.


    25 Aug 23 at 2:33 pm

  22. Post flagging: yeah weird! I just approved it; i havn’t seen a flagged post here, ever?

    Those posts about our drafts are pretty damning. Its great to have numbers to backup what we have perceived.

    Todd Boss

    28 Aug 23 at 2:41 pm

  23. On the Nats’ drafting, I don’t find “hey I found a guy on Twitter who I agree with” to be particularly conclusive. Any more than Rizzo doubters/haters found the analysis that put the Nats in the middle of the pack. Nor do I find it particularly useful in evaluating the recent Nats drafts. In the last 2-3 years the Nats have greatly increased their investment in analytics/technology/player development. Their last few drafts have been showing promise.

    At any rate, if Rizzo and the Nats were so terrible at drafting and they traded away better players than they got back … how the hell do d they win so many games that over an eight year period they were ~2 in MLB (behind the Dodgers)?

    John C.

    29 Aug 23 at 8:46 am

  24. It’s quite possible that the Nats did indeed have a decade of bad drafting and yet still remain good . . . because they did. Todd has had several posts over the years documenting how bad most of those drafts were. When you’re looking at Fedde and Stevenson as the “best” of what the Nats kept from their picks between Rendon and Cavalli, that isn’t much.

    But this doesn’t mean that Rizzo sucks. To the contrary, it means that he did an incredible job to sustain winning for eight seasons without a steady stream of internal talent. Now, he did have a large spending account during most of that time. But he also did an amazing job trading for young talent like Ramos, Turner, and Ross and finding undervalued gems in other organizations like Roark and Finnegan. He gave up a good bit in the Gio trade, but it also proved to be the deal that truly turned the team into winners.

    Rizzo also found a market inefficiency in affordable mid-level talent to fill the gap created by the lack of internally developed players. Some worked out spectacularly (Howie the Legend, Cabrera in ’19), some not so much (Haren and McLouth among others). Sometimes he got lucky, as it was well known that Murphy was at least option #3. Sometimes he didn’t, as he really seemed to think that Castro was going to turn into the next Murphy. Schwarber was a great addition at a good price but ultimately ended up having to be flipped.

    But you can only go so far when the internal pipeline dries up. They were counting on guys like Fedde, Romero, Robles, and Kieboom to be significant pieces in the next wave in the 2020s, but they weren’t. Folks like Howie and Cabrera couldn’t recapture the ’19 magic and got old quickly, and Castro turned into a nightmare.

    Yes, there’s hope from recent drafts, and from completely turning over the developmental folks. But they’re in the hole they’re in now largely because of the lack of internal guys to follow in trace to start the 2020s.


    29 Aug 23 at 3:03 pm

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