Nationals Baseball: Offseason Position Discussion : Starting Pitching

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Offseason Position Discussion : Starting Pitching

Presumed Plan :  Strasburg, Gio, and ZNN are set in stone. The fourth and fifth spots are up in the air right now, with Detwiler, Roark, and Jordan presumably fighting it out for the last two spots.  Other potential starters would be the surprisingly decent Ross Ohlendorf and the organization's favorite upper minors pitching prospect, Nate Karns.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : While Strasburg supposedly hasn't reached his potential, he's a top 10 pitcher in the majors, 6th in WHIP, 4th in Ks,11th xFIP.  Gio and ZNN both took a half step back this year, but that still leaves them as Top 25ish pitchers, with expected ERAs in the 3.25-3.50 range. They all pitched 180+ innings and ended the year seemingly healthy. 

The Nats really liked the way Detwiler pitched in  2012 and he started 2013 with an ERA under 3.00 before getting injured. Tanner Roark was remarkable to end 2013 sporting an ERA under 2.00 with fantastic control. Taylor Jordan wasn't as amazing (3.66 ERA) but pitched well enough to hold down a rotation spot. Ross Ohlendorf surprised the team with his equally decent performance (3.52 ERA as a starter). Nate Karns has the best raw stuff, unhittable in the minors with only one WHIP over 1.2 at any stop despite a bit of wildness. Among these 4 or 5 (depends on what they do with Ohlendorf who could get a big bump in arbitration) it seems like they could find 2 rotation worthy arms.

Problems with Presumed Plan :  Strasburg had surgery again, this time removing bone chips. Is he going to be ready to go at a high level to start the year?  There were questions about whether Gio and ZNN really were those #1 like pitchers they showed in 2012, and 2013 seemed to answer that question with a no. At 28 in 2014, they are getting to an age where they might start losing some zip on their fastballs.

All of the five other guys have issues. Detwiler will also be 28 next season, has had 2 major injuries, and what amounts to a little more than one full good season of pitching in his favor. Plus his pre-injury pitching in 2013 had luck going his way as much as skill. Both Roark and Jordan have a history of much more questionable pitching prior to 2013, with WHIPs over 1.30, suggesting that this past season could have been a fluke. Roark especially got a lot of breaks in his stint. Ohlendorf (31 next year) also got lucky and has a long history of major league stats (5.10 ERA) backing up the thought that he's a mediocre pitcher. Karns was unable to translate minor league success to the majors, with the guys at the top finding his pitching easy to whallop. Does he have a fastball that is fast enough to dominate AAA guys, but flat enough that major leaguers will kill it?
 
My take : You can't argue with Strasburg, Gio and ZNN. Even if Strasburg isn't STRASBURG he's still easily a legitimate #1 starter in the majors. Even if Gio and ZNN are regressing, they are still good pitchers and give the Nats a Top 3 that is among the best in the majors.

It's after this that the plan falls apart. The idea that the Nats can go into 2014 with this bunch and expect to win is scary to me. Sure you could find two guys out of this group but let's look at what you have here really. A middling major leaguer who pitched over his head (Ohlendorf), a former top prospect who looks like he will never be consistently healthy enough to even see if he can reach his potential (Detwiler), a never was prospect who very possibly had a miracle season at a somewhat advanced age (Roark), a never was prospect who very possibly had a miracle season, though admittedly at a younger age where it is more likely to be real (Jordan), and a B prospect who has great stuff but may not have the command to translate that into major league success which is about the most common thing you will hear about pitching prospects (Karns).

I think they could end up with two guys out of this group who were good enough to be #4/#5 pretty easily. Maybe even better than that (I like Karns' stuff as much as the Nats do and Jordan, given age & surgery & no big luck in the majors, could also be real) but it's a maybe situation. What if they pick the wrong guys out of the gate? What if it's July before they figure out who is good? What if, god forbid, one of the big three get injured? What these five guys give you is not two starters to rely on, but depth behind the Top 4 guys you really like.

I don't think there is any question they need a fourth reliable major league arm for this rotation. Ideally, with Gio and ZNN possibly slipping, Stras' surgery, and the spectre of "no major injuries to these guys in over 2 years" it would be someone of their caliber. A top 2 type of guy. With the Nats not looking for a long term solution (none of the FAs are better/younger than their own guys, and they got a couple low-minor arms that could be looking to break through in late 2014 or 2015) they need a short term deal. I see three ways to go. My preference would be for Hiroki Kuroda. Back to the NL, almost certain to take a 1 year deal, still incredibly effective. Also possible is taking a small chance on Tim Hudson. I'm not sure the Braves will give up on him, or that the GA boy wants out of Atlanta, but he's still good when healthy and even though he's been bit by the injury bug he's still pitching more than half the year. If the Nats want to go really crazy with gambles there's Josh Johnson. He has familiarity with the NL East and is just two years removed from being a special pitcher. At age 30 he's not so old that you give up on him completely. If you really like the "Detwiler, etc." group than this is a good bargain gamble to take.

Outside the Box Suggestion :
It's about damn time someone went back to a 4 man rotation. I'm serious. A lot has been made about pitching health these days but when it comes down to it there is a decent argument to be made that the pitches matter more than the innings, meaning the wear and tear is all about the individual outing rather than having only 4 days of rest. Sure, we've seen guys on 3 days fail in the playoffs, but that's a real questionable thing to base a decision on. You are talking about guys pitching differently come October, at their most worn down, than they did all year long and doing it against what is likely one of the better lineups that they could face. Pitchers went on 3 days rest for 50 years. Those guys weren't special. We weren't tougher back then.

I think the ideal situation would be to do it with guys in their late 20s-early 30s who have a history of lack of injury. Their bodies aren't growing anymore, but they aren't at the point where they are completely breaking down either. Keep them on a nice pitch count and let them go.  Strasburg doesn't quite fit the mold, but Gio and ZNN do in my mind. Add a say... Ricky Nolasco and run with it.

It's something that should really be trotted out by some team, but I doubt anyone has the guts to do it. 

22 comments:

Donald said...

Would you trade Giolito, Solis (or Cole) and Karns (or Jordan) for David Price? Do you think three good prospects like that get the deal done if they throw in some more AAA guys like Brown or Perez?

cass said...

Pitchers back then didn't throw as hard as pitchers do now, though. Even in the pitch f/x era, velocity has been rising every year. I'm not sure the current standards of pitching could be maintained with a 4-man rotation.

I do think that pitchers are treated too much like porcelain - the idea that they are too fragile to run the bases or field a popup (?!) seems insane - but I don't think we're going back to the days of a 4-man rotation.

I think it makes a ton of sense to get another free agent pitcher. Keep our other guys stashed at AAA as depth.

Also not sure Strasburg is quite a top 10 pitcher. I had thought he was, but I was looking at stats yesterday and he was something like 17th in FIP-. Most of the adjusted states dinged him. Plus he didn't pitch enough innings to accumulate much in the way of WAR. And I say this as a Strasburg fan/believer.

Harper said...

Donald - that's an intriguing offer. Seems like too much at first but then might seem like too little. Giolito is a good prospect but hasn't even hit regular A-ball yet. Solis was a top guy but got injured and hasn't fully gotten back - is going to be 25 and maybe just starting AA. Karns is a classic "if they can master command" guy, who are a dime a dozen but a bit better than that.

I'd do it. Honestly. I think Price AL-> NL could flirt Cy Young.

cass - It's possible you're right. But I'd love to see someone try.

IP will ding Stras until he gets over 200. I say Top 10 because I have conifdence in his repetition, 11th in FIP- past 2 years, tied for 2nd since he came in. Other guys may pass him in a given year but I can't think of 10 guys I'd rather have.

Anonymous said...

I think it's imperative they sign a free agent starter. Kuroda seems to be the wisest choice. Is it realistic to believe that the Nats will outbid the Yankees (meaning, is it realistic to believe the Yankees will be realistic about their chances next year and come to understand that Kuroda won't make them a playoff team?) Josh Johnson is really intriguing. Unlike 2013, when in retrospect the play would have been to try and get 200 innings at 4.00 ERA rather than make a play for someone like Haren who was risky, the depth suggests we can weather the storm if JJ breaks down or is ineffective. I would be happy with any of the 3 you mention. Do you have a 4th choice?

Do you think the Nats will begin the year with guys like Karns and/or Jordan in the bullpen (the Cardinals method for young starters)? Younger, cheaper, and potentially more effective than Clippard (who just has to break down at some point, doesn't he?)

Wally said...

With Stras, I think there needs to be some digging into why he was down ~1 WAR while pitching ~25 more IP? The easy answer is strikeouts were off (11.13 v 9.39) while BABIP improved/got lucky (.311 v .263) (albeit GB% is up nicely), but what do those trends say about future expectations for him? But I think that the answer is still a #1, when all is said and done. I'd try to throw a 5/$100m extension at him this offseason and see if he bites.

It might be heresy, but I'd give some thought to trading JZimm, if a playoff bubble team thinks that he could front their rotation. They can't extend everyone, and they might be able to get a surprising return for someone like him in his prime with two years of control left. Wait until Price is traded and then talk to the losers. Maybe Texas or Oakland pony up something remarkable, like Addison Russell and Jarrod Parker. But either way, I think that they are looking for another pillow contract SP. My preference would be Hudson (I assume that Kiroda is NY or Japan).

Btw, I think Giolito is going to get rated as a top 10 prospect (overall). I am not saying that he deserves it or will turn out that well (I have no idea), just a hunch from some snippets of buzz that I have seen in various places (plus a lot of top prospects from last years moving up).

Harper said...

Anon - Yankees are in an interesting bind as they'd LOVE to get under the salary cap to reset those penalties (just under the cap mind you) but A-Rod's contract makes it hard. (Actually A-Rod, Tex and CC make it hard but they swallow the Tex and CC deals as usual business - deals that sign them to 37 old but you can imagine useful if healthy - Arod's deal has him paid until 41). Still you think they'd try to get Kuroda as he seems very amenable to 1 or 2 year deals (he wants to pitch in Japan again before finally retiring). I expect they keep him but Nats should still make a play.

4th choice? Maybe Bronson Arroyo. You start to skirt the "not much better than the five". Arroyo is better (or at least less variable and expectedly durable) but may want 3 years, I'd have issue giving him two. If you can wait him out until 1 that would be a definite go (or 1 with a cheap payout team option). I like snagging Jon Garland on a minor league deal for Org depth. Didn't pitch as bad as ERA would suggest.

Haven't bullpenned starters yet, doubt they do it now.

Wally - the WAR thing is about the peripherals but you can read those as you like. Less Ks so less dominant or going for easy grounders more? Would the latter explain drop in BABIP? If you want it to.

Trading ZNN is always there but I've said before I think Stras is the one they let walk (Bryce being up to him - they'll try to sign him) If they want to sign ZNN I say do it now. He could be a 20 game winner, ERA under 3.00 next year. Price goes up.

John C. said...

What have you got against Jordan Zimmermann? The way you post, it's like he took a step back. His stats either stayed about the same or got better. He posted a higher FIP and xFIP, lowered his WHIP and his BB/9, and posted a higher bWAR and fWAR than he did in 2013. The heck with his W/L record, JZ was borderline great this season.

Kuroda is not coming to DC, in part because he's going to get a qualifying offer from the Yankees. Do you really want to flush a first round pick for one year of Kuroda? Besides that, if he's not pitching in NY it's going to be in Japan. When he left the Dodgers it was pretty much pitching in NY that convinced him not to go back to Japan. And even if the Yankees don't get a "get out of dumb contract free" on A-Rod from the Commissioner (and that's the smart money), they have already waffled on beating the luxury tax this season.

I'm also on the Josh Johnson train, on a one year deal with a low guarantee and beaucoup incentives. If he's not able to win a spot, jettison him and go with Detwiler, Roark, Jordan, Ohlendorf and Karns to fill out the last two rotation spots.

John C. said...

For "higher" FIP and xFIP, read "better" FIP and xFIP. Kthxbye

Anonymous said...

Detwiler is the key to the whole situation with the Nats. If they feel he is healthy, then you have have plenty of options for the fifth starter, with some good fall-back options as well. But would we want to go into the season with Roark and Jordan at nos. 4 & 5? Probably not.

Price would be a *huge* risk unless you've got an extension pretty much worked out before you make the trade, a la Gio. Price would probably cost a package along the lines of Giolito, Goodwin, and Skole. I might trade those guys for Giancarlo Stanton, but not for Price.

Top-tier free agents: all would probably cost too much, and tie up a roster spot for too long, for a team with a number of quality starters within a year or two of seeing DC. None excite me that much to risk a five-year contract for an arm on the down side of 30.

The lower-tier free agent options aren't that great. Josh Johnson--6.20. There's just no way to put a positive spin on that. I'd be more in the Hudson camp, but I can't see him leaving Atlanta. Does J. Santana have anything left? I don't think Arroyo does. Kuroda faded down the stretch, and age will catch up with him sooner or later. Then there's Colon, the ageless wonder. At least he might come for a one-year deal.

There is a starter out there who went 1.44 in his last four starts and 3.52 in the second half. He struggled early so should come at a discount. The name's Haren. (BOO, BOO!) Sorry, couldn't resist.

Whether we sign someone or not, and particularly if we don't, there's going to be a heck of a competition in the spring for one (or two) rotation spots: Roark, Ohlendorf, Jordan, Cole, Karns, Hill, Solis, Ray, Purke, and I'm sure I'm forgetting some others. Giolito probably wouldn't be thrown into the fire yet, but it would be fun if he was. Guys will be fighting for mound time. Could be fun. It will also give the powers that be a good look at the pecking order for the next couple of years to come.

Anonymous said...

I'm intrigued by the thought of trading Strasburg. I'm not saying "do it," just intrigued. What would it take? Most teams don't even have enough to make it worth discussing.

Just for argument's sake, here are a few deals that could start a conversation:

Trout, straight up. The Halos desperately need pitching, and Stras is a SoCal dude. We could even throw in Span.

Price and Myers

Greinke and Kemp

McCutchen and Liriano

Votto and Chapman

Goldschmidt and Miley

And I'm not sure I'd be that excited about any of them, except the one for Trout. Bryce and Trout in the same OF for the next 10-15 years. Wow.

Anonymous said...

In the mid-to-late 1980s, the Braves had a SS named Andres Thomas whom they thought had great potential, both at the plate and in the field. Reportedly, the Pirates once offered a skinny OF named Bonds in exchange for Thomas, but the Braves thought so much of Thomas that they declined the deal.

"Oops" doesn't even begin to cover it.

I thought of this story when reading the previous comment (although Stras is already better than Thomas ever was). This is the last offseason where Strasburg still has near-max "potential." If he fulfills it all and turns into the next Verlander, then the deals proposed above probably wouldn't bring enough to the Nats. But if he repeats 2013 or even regresses a little, the Nats are stuck. His trade value will plummet. The most likely scenario will be somewhere in between, but his trade value would still go down.

What's the call on this? I honestly don't know. It's one of the toughest calls Rizzo & Co. will have to make for the future of the franchise. Other teams might not value Stras as highly as the Nats do, but it's likely that at least a few do. If Strasburg's "potential" could net one or two of the best established players in the game, it would be tempting to go in that direction.

Anonymous said...

In the mid-to-late 1980s, the Braves had a SS named Andres Thomas whom they thought had great potential, both at the plate and in the field. Reportedly, the Pirates once offered a skinny OF named Bonds in exchange for Thomas, but the Braves thought so much of Thomas that they declined the deal.

"Oops" doesn't even begin to cover it.

I thought of this story when reading the previous comment (although Stras is already better than Thomas ever was). This is the last offseason where Strasburg still has near-max "potential." If he fulfills it all and turns into the next Verlander, then the deals proposed above probably wouldn't bring enough to the Nats. But if he repeats 2013 or even regresses a little, the Nats are stuck. His trade value will plummet. The most likely scenario will be somewhere in between, but his trade value would still go down.

What's the call on this? I honestly don't know. It's one of the toughest calls Rizzo & Co. will have to make for the future of the franchise. Other teams might not value Stras as highly as the Nats do, but it's likely that at least a few do. If Strasburg's "potential" could net one or two of the best established players in the game, it would be tempting to go in that direction.

Donald said...

@Anonymous -- I think a lot of this decision depends on how much the Lerners are willing to spend. If they are comfortable extending Strasburg, Harper, Zimmerman and Desmond then they probably don't make that deal. If they figure there's no way they can keep them all, then I think Strasburg may be the most likely to leave, in which case you do think about one of those trades.

Anonymous said...

I would like to see the Nats sign Freddy Garcia to a minor league contract. I watched him pitch in Norfolk when the O's had him hidden away down here, and he pitched well for the Braves down the stretch. Should be a relatively inexpensive insurance policy.

Anonymous said...

How about Ubaldo Jimenez? He just declined an option with the Indians to test the market again, after a bounceback year. Did he not bounce back enough for the cash he's likely to get, or is he just too much $$ for the role the Nats would need him to fill?

nicoxen said...

@harper

The idea of a 4 man rotation is fascinating. It has wide reaching implications.

If, as evidence suggests, that the amount of pitches thrown in previous starts is more important than days of rest, then limiting total pitches becomes even more important. This would mean less innings pitched per start. Which means the bullpen becomes even more important. The need for premium relievers would increase.

It could also generate a push towards playoffs style bullpen management during the regular season, where managers value matchups over old-school bullpen roles such as set-up man and closer.

However, I think one flaw in the 4 man idea is that 4 is better than 5. 4 is only better than 5 if the fifth starter is significantly worse than the average starter in the 4 man group. What if if you could secure 5 or even 6 high caliber starters? Would a great 5 man rotation be any worse than a great 4 rotation?

blovy8 said...

I can't argue with your conclusions, except to say that I think Zimmermann has slightly more value than you give him credit for, because his style is likely to give a team more quality innings. I'm ok with the 7-9 innings having good relievers, but the 5-6 get iffy. Maybe this is the club prepared to handle that with all the sixth starters, but I'm dubious that Strasburg will ever get to be the innings horse that #1 status requires while he's here. Stras and your three best relievers in game one of a playoff series is a great strategy(same for Gio), but Zimmermann is pretty good to have around so you have a better chance of not burning them up. Well, providing it's not the Cardinals.

I don't like the shoulder recovery betting line, but Santana would be a pretty interesting gamble. The homer numbers for he and Josh Johnson are disturbing though. Josh Johnson can feature as good a stuff as anyone available, and maybe the bone spurs really were to blame, but that's the gamble you face when getting established talent cheaply.

My outside the box thing would be the opposite and keep six guys who can start and think about matchups more. What are the odds of Detwiler pitching a whole season? Why not take the Whitey Ford idea from Casey Stengel and pitch him only against certain teams? Plug in another guy and give him extra rest, maybe find out if you can do that for Ohlendorf or whatever rehab arm they sign. Use Jordan, Roark, Karns, etc. when the matchups dictate or someone wears down gets a minor injury. Kind of a modified 2012 Showalter AAA shuttle perhaps. Someone's bound to look like a real starter eventually.

Anonymous said...

I was surprised that the outside the box idea didn't include Masahiro Tanaka who should be posted this year. The Nats have not been attached to any top end foreign players, but Yu Darvish got a 6 year 60 million dollar deal. That is a pretty good ROI in this marketplace.

I also realize that there is an expensive posting fee that goes on top of that, but that is a one time fee. So maybe it would mean you don't extend Z'mann and Desmond this off season, but it could also give you greater flexibility in the future if it pays off.

John C. said...

It's going to be tough to get Tanaka; the Dodgers and (especially) the Yankees are expected to go hard after him. The Yankees desperately need pitching even if they re-sign Kuroda, and the posting fee not vounting for luxury tax purposes would be vital for their quest to reset the tax to zero.

Anonymous said...

I don't think hard and expensive are the same thing.

However, the new posting system is changing to give the player some input on where he goes. So maybe he would rather play somewhere else.

Richard Parker said...

From your previous post about the importance of managers, what would you say about Miller Huggins? He basically built the Yankees, right? And turned Ruth around when he was about to make himself a farce. What happened to the Yanks and their great team the season after Huggins died suddenly? They finished 16 games behind Philadelphia. Just a thought about the importance of managers. Yes, the game is a bit different today, but I still think the relationship between the manager and the players is a lot more important than you assume.

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