Nationals Baseball

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

5th Spot, who ya got?

The Nats rotation 1-4 is set (as long as everyone makes it out of Spring). Max, Stras, Corbin, and Lester - though probably in a different order to take advantage of the R-L flips.  The 5th spot though, is wide open and the Nats have a lot of options. From one angle - you have 3 former fringe Top 100 level prospects who are trying to break through in the age range where it's possible. That's good. From another angle - you have 3 fringe Top 100 level prospects that who have tried and failed up to this point and now, at the end of the age range you'd give them are go, are taking one last shot probably to fail.

First up is Joe Ross. He gets first shot because he actually succeeded previously, putting up what was a combined very good full season in 2015-2016. But starting in 2016 the next few years would be marred by injury; first the shoulder, then Tommy John, and a lot of bad pitching. Theoretically fully healthy in 2019 Ross was decidedly unimpressive and then he sat out 2020. The recent issues each year he's tried to pitch have been something different.  First too many homers, then striking out nobody, then loss of control.

Next is Erick Fedde.  A super high draft pick with injury questions (his last college season ended with TJ), he healed up his first year and then moved up through the system though not super impressively. Dying for relief help in 2017 they moved him to the pen but decided to move him back to a starting role again. He got a chance at the end of 2017 to show his stuff and it was all bad. Since then he's had varying sizes of cups of coffee in the majors and his results have gotten better each time. Unfortunately he hasn't gotten good and his stats suggest the improvement is more smoke and mirrors than actual progression. While not a guy that gives up a lot of hits he walks too many and gives up too many homers while striking out too few. 

Then we have Austin Voth. Voth was a guy who worked himself into the starter conversation a few years ago by being the best guy available in the upper levels of an admittedly shallow system. His time in the majors has been a roller coaster, bad then good then bad again. The good year had some real improvement all around - more Ks, fewer walks, fewer homers - but it was only 43 IP and the regression back to "normal" in 2020 suggests small sample size more than anything.

The rest is a hodgepodge of worse choices.  Rogelio Armenteros is the name most often brought up. He is a slightly more interesting guy than the ones the Nats had coming into this year actually reaching double digits in K/9 in the minors. Jefry Rodriguez is a familiar name - he's not good. There are a couple "ok AAA starters" and a couple "interesting guys in college who didn't get drafted in the short draft". But anything other than the guys already named would be a shock looking at the talent, or lack thereof. Guys like Cavalli, Rutledge, Henry, and Cate have some talent but are here for the experience not to break into the rotation.  

My take is this is one of the rare instances where you go ahead and use Spring Training to make your decision for you. Usually Spring Training is too short and weird to put any stock in what you see stat-wise. Guys playing 1/3rd games trying to work on particular stuff isn't a major league petrie dish. For every one guy whose power surge or strikeouts look great and then they show it in the majors, there are 10 that don't. But here you have 3 guys you know very well who are about the same age and haven't been particularly good when looking at the whole of the last three years. You can make a case for each;  Ross the one with major league success, Fedde the guy with improving results, and Voth the guy with the most recent actual good major league stint. You can throw in Armenteros as the 4th option - the youngest by a year with almost no major league experience to push you one way or another. But these are all weak cases overwhelmed by everything else you see. There is no good choice here and more importantly, no obvious one. In that case - throw them out there and let the Spring decide. For once that's ok.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Monday Quickie - Strasburg seems fine

 Strasburg hit the mound on Friday. Not a word about anything wrong. All the stories this weekend (here's the Post) about it were about a guy who underwent successful surgery, recovered, started conditioning again, and now is on the last lap. From here what we need to see are 

1) A second ST stint on the mound  (makes sure the "I was doing this all along" isn't all a smoke screen)

2) A first start of the season

3) A second start of the season

Is this bar a little high? Maybe, but I'll remind you that Strasburg has pitched in all or part of 11 seasons. The number of seasons he hasn't missed a bit of time to injury is 2. Two. Out of 11. Sorry, but Strasburg doesn't get the benefit of the doubt here. 

The biggest FA move of recent days is the Mets signing Taijuan Walker.  He's probably not going to become an ace for the Mets.  Remember what we said about Strasburg? Well Walker is like 0 for 7. He's a mess, a talented mess, but a mess. If he can be healthy for a good chunk of the season though that gives the Mets another option when they were already 6 deep. The Mets have been plagued with good on paper staffs ruined by multiple injuries.  The more good arms they load up on, the better. 

Odorizzi is still out there and would immediately kick the Phillies up a half a step (and at a clear #4 they need that half-step) but it appears from all indications they are done.  Another 75% done job by the Phillies management and a likely finish that will represent that effort.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Kieboom & Strasburg. Oh and Max

 Some Spring Training updates... well not really. Some quotes from Rizzo about topics of interest

Max is hurt! He sprained his ankle.  That isn't good!  I mean yes there's the obvious reason - he's hurt, but also two other things I like to talk about when it comes to injury.  First is injuries beget more injuries. You hurt your landing ankle and you try to adjust not to stress it too much. So now you are putting more pressure on your arm to compensate for a lack of drive stepping through. Your arm starts to hurt so you try to add more torque and suddenly your torso is... well you get the picture. It's not a given these things happen but they definitely can.  Second is the fact that Max is old! I'm old! One of the things you notice about getting old is that it takes a lot longer to heal up, even doing things right. That's without the pressure of wanting to get back on the field and the incredible stress that an athlete will subject his body to immediately.  

Anyway - take your time Max. Heal it up right. 

Strasburg should pitch today. Just a bullpen session.  It's gonna happen, since they can tailor this to what Strasburg needs exactly. The questions you should look to be answered - Is he on a mound throwing the normal amount? Does he pitch again in a couple of days.  Answer these in the positive and things are moving as they should for a healed Strasburg and that's great. 

Rizzo defended not moving on from Kieboom just yet with a "everyone thought he was good and some guys start real slow"  In another interview answer I saw him compare Kieboom to Robin Ventura. And it's true Ventura got off to a slow start.  It took him about 60 games not to suck at the plate.  Given that standard Kieboom gets another few weeks to warm up. Honestly I think you could give him half a year. Of course the problem is even if he couldn't hit Ventura was a top notch fielder.  Kieboom is not that. So he's giving you very little if he's not hitting. Ventura also would be about a year younger when he "got it".  It's not a terrible reach but it is a little one and if you are already starting to reach... well if Kieboom doesn't hit relatively soon into 2021 I don't see how you spin it. 


Speaking of defense. The Nats had some of the worst defense in baseball last year.  They did not get better. But they might not have gotten worse and if they can hit better... I guess that's better.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Fernando Tati$

 Last night Fernando Tatis signed a long term deal with the Padres for 100 years and a billion dollars.Ok it could have been closer to 14/340.  Will he be making more or much less than he could have signing this deal now? It's hard to say.  If he's very good for most of those 14 years it'll come out right. If he's great for all 14 it'll be a huge bargain. If he gets injured tomorrow and limps through 8, it'll be a huge mistake. That's the thing with long term deals.

What does this mean for Soto? Well Soto, a few months older, is probably a better hitter than Tatis, and certainly a worse fielder than Fernando who trying to fake it at SS while Soto fakes it in the corner OF. That doesn't come out in the wash. Hitting is more important. BUT I did say probably (and italicized it, you really should have noticed that) and the fact is Soto gave us that clearly better year in 40 games in a pandemic season. How meaningful is that? If Soto is more 140+ OPS+ than 180+ OPS+ that's a big difference between All-Star and having "best hitter ever" conversations for the next decade and a half. 

My guess is that he leans more toward the 180+. There's no flukiness here to his patience or his power. All that I see as a question is where those levels end up being. 40 homers and 150 walks or 30 homers and 110? His average is more up in the air. .350 was quite a bump and definitely could be a small sample size fluke. If he's more a .300 guy than .330... well really that's all finishing touches. See we're arguing .300 30 vs .330 40. It's all good news for Nats fans. 

For Soto though .300 30 means a Tatis like deal. .330 40 means something more. Next year is going to be huge as Juan tries to prove it over the long haul. 

But don't expect something now. The Padres have an ideal situation to sign Tatis long term. They only have one big deal hanging out there with Machado. They have several mid-high deals, yes, but in two seasons that 66 million for Hosmer, Darvish, and Myers becomes 31 for just Darvish and Hosmer thanks to FA and deals that get smaller on the back end. In other words there's 30 million freed up.  They have the best pitching prospect in baseball and along with Darvish have Lamet for 3 more years and Paddack for 4 at arbitration prices and lower. That's a cheap likely good rotation. Cronenworth and Grisham are under control for longer than Tatis was. The wrap up is there is a cheap base here to work with so signing Tatis doesn't hem the Padres in. 

The Nats have three big deals this year (Max, Corbin, Stras) and two of those continue into the future three more years after that. A big deal for Soto make it really hard for the Nats to make additional moves. And they need to because their next most important player, Trea Turner, comes up for FA in two years and they have no real base of good young players, still hoping for Garcia and Kieboom and some pitcher PLEASE to come through. The wrap up here is that they almost can't do it this year because of the payroll they have and it's going to be tough to do it beyond that AND sign Turner. You can finagle the money but if you do you are saying these four - Stras Corbin Turner and Soto are the guys the Nats are paying in 2023 and 2024 and you have to pray that they all are good.

What does Tatis mean for Soto? Another bar is set. This year Soto will show if he's worth more than that bar. Then the Nats will have to make some decisions

Best case? Garcia and Kieboom both develop. Stras and Corbin pitch great. The Nats can sign Soto, say best wishes to Trea and move forward continuing to challenge for division titles and playoff spots

"Worst" case? Garcia and Kieboom both don't develop. Stras and Corbin aren't great. The Nats have to trade away assets hoping to get a set of good prospects to build around Soto and Trea.

Real worst case? The "worst" case but Stras is hurt and Corbin is mediocre. The Nats have next to nothing to deal other than Trea and they can't convince Soto to stick around if they deal him, forcing a catch-22 where they aren't going to get playoff good again without getting very lucky or spending a lot of money.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The Biggest Questions

Every year you enter Spring Training with questions. You like questions like "Which one of our phenoms will win the 5th starter role?" or "Will we have to successfully platoon our OF again or will someone break out?"  Those aren't the questions the Nats have though. The Nats have the questions of a good but not great team and those questions are going to make or break the season. 

The first, and most important, set have everything to do with starting pitching

1) Is Strasburg healthy?  You remember Strasburg didn't sit out last year, it just felt like it. He pitched, got hurt, went off and had surgery. The official word is for carpal tunnel. He's supposed to be ready for ST. We shall see

2) Which Corbin is the real Corbin? Last "year" Corbin threw to a 4.66 ERA and it was mostly deserved.  His history is a guy with as many ace years as middling ones. The Nats signed him for more than one ace year. 

3) Does Jon Lester have one more good year in him?  Lester is going to eat up innings. We should expect that. But if he does it like 2019/2020 that will be 4th/5th starter material.  That's not terrible - you NEED that. But it is not what the Nats were hoping for when they signed him. 

Now we get a non SP question

4) What is Carter Kieboom? He's had a decent amount of time in the majors and has shown nothing. He's shown so little he was offered up as trade bait from a team loathe to trade anyone young and good because they don't have many of those. It's not time to give up on him but the clock is ticking. 

And back to SP 

5) Does Max have a CY year in him?  In 2019 Max got a little hurt and threw a ton of innings.  Last year he put up a good year. But for Max good is off. It was his worst year since at least 2012. The Nats need an ace. With Stras coming back from injury and Corbin a question, Max is the one they are looking to for it. 

And back away

6) Are Schwarber and Bell going to be any good? They both have generally the same profile - potential mashers who are defensive liabilities that have seen better years. If they don't hit, and they haven't in their most recent time playing, things get ugly fast. Presumably their other skill (a little patience) is based off them being able to hit. 

7) Can Trea have another year like last? This hasn't been talked about enough but a big reason the Nats weren't complete garbage last year is that Trea put up MVP type numbers. That'd be nice. A season like he normally puts up would be fine but would leave a big hole behind Soto in guys to be afraid of. 

8) Can Robles hit? Asking because they need him out there to field (we presume last year's dip was the vagaries of small samples) and he really hasn't for most of his time in the majors 

 and finally a fun one

9) Can Soto do what he did last year for a full season? Last year Soto, in about 80% of a season that itself was about 40% a real one so... about 30% a real season was AWESOME. Like "mark this year in the annals of the great ones" type of hitting. Bryce in 2015*. If he does that for a full year... you can carry a team a long way like that.  


Lesser Questions

Who wins the 5th starter role? 

Will Yan Gomes be good or below average? 

How will the bullpen shake out in terms of roles?

Castro for the full year? or will Garcia show enough to knock him out? 


*Imagine seeing two of the best hitting displays of the past generation and neither leading to a playoff spot.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Tuesday Quickie - no news is good news

The NL East has changed very little in the last big moves of FA.  Justin Turner went back to the Dodgers. Paxton back to the Mariners. Mark Melancon over to San Diego. These impactful and potentially impactful players will be doing their work elsewhere. 

The biggest name still on the list is Jackie Bradley Jr, but the teams who could use him aren't interested. The Phillies - with Adam Haseley and Roman Quinn and Scott Kingery maybe? Fighting for the last OF spot have never been in on him. The Mets - with Albert Almora - made a move signing Kevin Pillar signifying they are going with the "throw things at wall" strategy for CF. 

Trevor Rosenthal is another name that could help but once again the team that made the most sense - the Mets have defaulted to signing two AAAA depth arms in Mike Montgomery and Tommy Hunter - despite losing Lugo to injury for at least a little while. Although these are minor league deals they seem to signify the same "We're done, any place else we'll try 5 guys to see if one works out" strategy which almost never works. In theory the Mets and Phllies are still in it but I'm not sure I see it. Kela also went to Padres. Shane Greene? Jeffress? These guys can't be done

 That leaves Jake Odorizzi (and maybe Taijuan Walker if you must) and at least the Mets and Phillies are interested in these guys - however neither is the top suitor. I think it'd be fun if the Nats swooped in and grabbed Walker - who if he can stay healthy would be a great 5 but my guess is he wants a multi-year commitment and the Nats aren't doing that. 

This leaves the NL East as it was - a mess of four teams that talent wise probably sorts out Mets-Braves-Nats-Phillies but could fall any way. Let's see if either the Mets or Phillies try something*

Pitchers and catchers and an abnormal spring with things getting more normal every day.

*If the Phillies signed Odorizzi AND Rosenthal (or a good pitcher I overlooked) I'd have to see if they pass the Nats. They are a pretty solid 4th so I doubt it unless we find out Stras is not ready. The Mets are a pretty solid 1st on paper - but you just have to doubt the Mets.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Reworking "Future Hall of Famer" list

MLB.com put out a future Hall of Famer list that generated some interested conversation. Everyone felt the list was far too deep in that there aren't 40 guys with a legit shot at the Hall active today. Others felt that it was FAR FAR FAR too deep and the list ended with maybe 7-8 guys.  So as a public service I'm going to rework the list. First the no-work part

The absolute no-doubt tier

Albert Pujols, Mike Trout

These are the guys that if they retired today they are in first ballot and no one is thinking about it. There would be a couple snide remarks about Pujols' falling off a cliff and Trout's lack of post-season success but what's there is there and can't be denied 

The gonna get in but enough will vote against 

Miggy, Kershaw, Scherzer, VERLANDER

These guys all have had runs of dominance which spell HoF.  Miggy and Kershaw will probably end up with close to the numbers people like to see (3000 hits for Miggy, Kershaw at 250+ wins). Max won't get there but a 3 Cy Youngs and a Top 5 vote seven years in a row is definitely worthy. Still someone will poke holes - Miggy with the terrible back end. Kershaw with his post-season travails. Max with no career numbers. But they'll get in. Maybe first, likely first, depends on the rest of their careers. Also Verlander fits here (who I forgot to add initially)

The eventually he'll have to 

Greinke

Stats are there and he feels like the type of pitcher that could go another 7 years on guile alone. If he does that he'll move up. Otherwise it'll be a situation where anyone you compare falls short of him and you got to let him in.

 

Also two other no-thought tiers

The catcher tier 

Posey, Molina

Catchers are a different species of player. These are two guys with different skill sets, Posey more the hitter, Molina more the defender, who were arguably the most important player through multiple titles. I'd bet they both get in 

The reliever tier

Chapman, Jansen

Who knows? The voters don't seem to have a good grasp on this yet - maybe in a decade when these guys come up they will 


OK for everyone else this list misses the important point of age. WAR is nice but age at current WAR is a better indicator.  Also pitchers and hitters are different.  So what I did was create an index that lists a low end and high end WAR guess for the age and compared it to each batter and pitcher. These indexes (the Dawson-Pujols and Mussina-Kershaw indeces to be precise) give us an idea of who is on track, who is technically close and who is a joke. 

On track batters

Everyone young (up to 25): Correa, Bellinger (surprised me but he did win an MVP last year at 23), Acuna, Soto and Tatis Jr.  Correa has his own issues with the cheating - we'll find out soon if that's what puts him on here.  There are some Nats fans I know that think the Acuna to Soto comparison is a joke. Soto is a much better hitter, Acuna is a better all around player but not enough to account for the bat difference as of now.  Ultimately though think of this as a Frank vs Mays type thing going on. Acuna may not be Soto but he's no joke so far. 

Lindor - and at his position this bodes well. 

Machado, Bryce, and Betts - Bryce and Manny aren't slouches but Mookie has blown by these guys in the last few years and he has the rings.  He has a real good chance.  Bryce and Manny though are solidly in line and if they stay healthy there is no reason to think they won't have favorable career numbers that get them in. 

On track pitchers

Cole - Being on the Yankees should help him rack up Ws. Some award and some titles though will go a long way or else he's got to keep doing what he's been doing for another whole decade

Technically close batters (within a couple great years of getting into the range)

Votto, Goldschmidt, Freeman, Rendon, Altuve, Stanton, Yelich, Ramirez, Bogaerts, Bregman, Seager

Some of these surprised me - Yelich really crushed it in 18-19 and never has had a bad year. And some are closer (Stanton) than others (Goldschmidt) but all have a chance.  Obviously the older you are the worse your chance. Sorry Votto. You might be the greatest walk machine of this generation but another couple years with your weakening bat and you won't have .400/.500 to fall back on. 

Technically close pitchers

Sale, Bieber, Buehler

Anyone young (Beiber and Buehler) and Sale who was on track until his 2019 Tommy John

Joke batters

Rizzo, Bryant, Story, Arenado

Come up Trevor Story? That's INSANE.  Rizzo and Bryant are two guys who have been good to very good consistently but little more. They'd need to have surprising career changes.  Trevor Story would have to bribe the voters. Trevor Story... HAHAHAHAHAH

 Arenado may be a different case because of his defense, but his offense isn't dominant. 

Joke pitchers? 

deGrom, Strasburg

I put the question mark there because you can in your head easily make a case for these guys being amont the best pitchers in baseball over the last 5 years. The problem is not quality but quantity. deGrom, who's 2 Cy Youngs are probably one away from forcing the issue, didn't have his first full season until he was 27.  Strasburg who has been a very good to great pitcher since showing up - W totals be damned, and who's post-season success demand he stay in the conversation - has two full seasons in his entire career. The back ends are going to make or break these cases.  If they fall apart now they just don't have enough to get in. If they can throw another full half-decade there will probably be too much great pitching to offset not enough good. This is not a good omen for Stras though currently out with an injury. 


Anyone they are leaving out? 

Bumgarner is the only one that definitely should be on this list. Wins are bad but has individual stats and post season heroics

Hamels has late career compiling potential (but he's not on a roster now so that may be it). Nola has a sneaky good start to his career. Maybe he turns a corner. 

Longoria is in that 3rd base hole where positionally he'll rank well but overall the numbers aren't great. He's never been bad though in 13 years. McCutchen needs to stay healthy and rack up numbers - but also has never been bad in a dozen year (and had some great years). I don't like either really but they aren't any worse list choices than Rizzo and Bryant. So I guess I'm saying leave them out)

Matt Chapman is better than Story. Not that he should be in here but he'd be a better choice


Conclusion

This list isn't TERRIBLE.  It could be pared down by cutting out Bieber, Buehler, Tatis Jr (too early) and Story, Rizzo and Bryant at least. 

Out of the remaining, really I'd say Betts, Bryce, Machado, and Lindor are solid bets and the starts from Acuna and Soto are so impressive you have to keep him in. Pitching wise it's like four coin flips in Cole, Sale, deGrom and Stras.