Nationals Baseball: What now?

Thursday, September 08, 2016

What now?

Strasburg down. Let's assume the worst right now - TJ surgery back in 2018. What does that mean?

Immediate concern

Can the Nats lose the East? 

Well, I imagine it's technically more likely today than yesterday but more likely than "practically impossible" is still pretty close to "impossible" Nats have 23 games left, Mets 22. If the Nats go say... 9-14, which would be a pretty amazingly terrible finish given the team talent level and the competition, that means the Mets have to go 17-5 just to tie. In other words it would take an epic meltdown combined with an epic surge to make it happen.  Perhaps if there were 6-7 H2H games left, perhaps, but there are only 3.

What happens to the rotation? 

Oh god. I don't know. Joe Ross is likely a couple spins in the rotation away from returning and they don't even know if they want him to come fully back as a starter, or take a more cautious approach. Giolito is having mysterious velocity issues (seemingly not injury related) and Lopez is a four inning pitcher against teams from outside Atlanta. My guess is AJ Cole remains in because they don't care if he burns up through 100 pitches, and Mat Latos slides in at 5 until Ross is back. Once Ross is back he'll nominally be back in the rotation but likely very limited. I wouldn't be surprised if he goes 3-5 innings for the three starts he might have with someone else piggybacking him. For the playoffs? Depends on how all these guys do but Gio Gonzalez Game 3 starter is pretty much set now.

How badly does this effect the Nats playoff chances? 

I didn't look at any odds, but I imagine they take a significant hit. Moving from Strasburg to Gio you are replacing a 1.104 WHIP guy, 11.2 K/9, 2.93 FIP with a 1.303 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, 3.86 FIP.  It's a clear step down if not more. Plus you are adding in whatever mix in Game 4 that wouldn't have even pitched in the playoffs normally. That's a step down too.

Does it kill the Nats chances? Not at all. They are still 4th in the NL in runs scored and have one of the clear best pitchers in the game today in Max Scherzer as their number 1. They also have a #2 that's having his 2nd great season in 3 years. They have a bullpen loaded with good arms. This is still a very good team.

Down the line concern

Gio's definitely back now, right? 

100% But we thought that before and honestly I wouldn't worry about the 2018 option. If he's pitching enough to hit 180 he's likely pitching well enough you are ok with another year of him at the back of the rotation.

Strasburg just signed a big contract! That isn't good is it? 

No it isn't. There are two issues here. First is that the Lerners have bumped the budget up one time, in 2015, complained all the while, and immediately knocked it back down by 25 million. It doesn't seem likely that they'd be willing to spend the money necessary on a player that would help make up the gap that Strasburg will leave in 2017.  Not to mention that number hanging over every year until 2023 (and beyond - thanks to the Nats creative payroll schedule). If the Lerners are committed to that 130-150 range, and Strasburg is never a Top 3 rotation guy again, it could be an albatross creating a hump the team can't get over.

Even if they were that type of ownership though, there is not a pitcher out there who fits that bill. It was a weak class to begin with which is why it was a surprise Strasburg signed. Now the best they can hope for is fighting with others for a year of RA Dickey or 2 of the never healthy Rich Hill. Doug Fister? There are a couple of players that would make a difference Cespedes, Bautista, Encarnacion. Cespedes would have to be the main target as he could go into center and have Turner move to shortstop (sorry Espy - no carrying of you anymore). But the other two would require making Zimm a sunk cost on the bench as well - something I don't know if the Nats are prepared to do right now.

Could they trade for someone? 

Sure but it'll cost you.  The White Sox, for example, balked at deals for Sale or Quintana (both great targets) when the Red Sox wouldn't include Jackie Bradley Jr.  He's not a great player yet but he's close a 26 year old who has decent patience, good fielding, very good power, and is hitting .272 in the majors. Sort of a young Werth. Difo and Cole ain't cutting it. Maybe Robles, Lopez, plus? I'd do it - you only have so much Scherzer time left (as much as we actually know about arms) and maybe so much Bryce time left too, but I understand the hesitation. That especially true of the Nats, an organization that seems to be aiming for consistent general success that needs a consistent feed of young talent.

So the window is closed?

Not at all. Thanks to being in the NL East the Nats have some leeway. The Mets can't stay healthy and it's not like they are getting younger. They also could easily lose their two best hitters (Walker and Cespedes) in the off-season. Right now they are a hard team to peg - you could have them at 90 wins or 70 wins next year given circumstances and I couldn't disagree. The Marlins are the up and comers but still need to get that rotation sorted out to be a real threat and as we've noted - there is little in free agency. Also the Marlins farm system is terrible so trades for anyone other than a back of the rotation guy you might get one-year lucky on are not happening. The Phillies would have been a hip choice because of some decent young pitching that could all blossom next season ala the 2012 Nats, but Nola is suffering elbow issues, and no one else looks ready to fill in that 3rd spot, let alone 4 or 5. Plus Maikel Franco turned from a prince to a frog this year and took what little offense they had with him.  This is a team that has all the pieces...except the stud bat and star pitcher. The Braves aren't close.

Short version - not for 2017 and it's too early to look beyond that right now.

What's the success rate for 2nd Tommy Johns? Can we count on Strasburg at some point?

With more guys getting these surgeries and the techniques improving, it's a moving target. There's reason to believe that what was a ~75% success rate for 1st surgeries is closer to 90% now. Mind you that "success" is defined as back pitching in a major league baseball organization in some capacity, but that's something. I'd imagine 2nd TJ probably tracks below that, but not too far.  So the problem isn't really if he can get back from it. I think there's a good chance he will. Instead, it's who he is when he gets back and that is far less promising. I'll spare you the details but most of these guys, even after TJ #1, put up fairly short uninspiring careers. Granted it depends on where you start from and Strasburg isn't a AAAA type hanging on. But odds are very good he's not a #1 anymore when he gets back, and pretty good he's nothing.

So no, you can't. Sorry.

Any good news? 

The Nats will win the East in 2016. They will make the playoffs, possibly with HFA in the NLDS, and at that point anything can happen. 2013 and 2015 should have taught you (and the Nats) but in case it didn't - ride out every season as if this may never happen again, because honestly it might not. The Nats have a chance in 2016, a better chance than the 20 teams not in the playoffs and the 4 wild card teams blowing their best starter on a one-game playoff. Don't let that fact get away from you.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for finally addressing Giolito's velocity. I was under the impression, before he came up, that his fastball was sitting in the 95-98 range. I have seen only seen him top out at 94 maybe a handful of times throughout all his appearances so far.

Carl said...

The forward required winning percentage for the Nats and the Mets' opponents (I need a nifty name or acronym for this) is down to .333. Yeah, even with the Strasburg situation, the division is a done deal.

Crazy idea: if Stras had a second TJ and came back, would it make sense to make him a closer rather than a starter? Would that be any better for his ongoing health? Yeah, kind of a waste for a guy with that many good pitches to pitch out of the pen, but a) he'd be amazing at it and b) maybe it would keep him from getting hurt so much. I have no idea, really, just throwing it out there.

Carl said...

Oh, and if Cole keeps pitching well, there's your playoff 4th. Get Ross back up to pitching three innings, and then have him as a long man if Gio or Cole go out and implode.

Anonymous said...

Why there is so much focus on velocity. Focus on accuracy. That's what is blowing up these arms. Look at Mets' Colon at 43

Clip&Store said...

I'm most surprised about Ross. At first it seemed like maybe just a few weeks or so.. No big deal made. Now it's almost the end of the year and we're still waiting for him! With SS it's almost felt like he's been a ticking time bomb. I mean ever since he had his first tj so young and came back not as dominant as before, it seemed like destiny. Then again maybe it's all the Kerry wood comparisons we heard back then influencing me..who knows

Rob Evans said...

Good lord I'm depressed now :-(

Sammy Kent said...

(I'm just copy/pasting my post from earlier this am.)

15. The Mets keep winning as well. Can't put any distance between us, and they're coming here for three next week. We really need to win two of those and put this thing on ice.

Nice to see Stephen Drew back and contributing. Unfortunately I think everyone's mind is on the other Stephen. With the Nationals' anemic (I'm being nice) hitting the best chance to advance in the playoffs--should we make it-- was to have a rotation that could hold the other team to one or two runs at the maximum. You can't count on Gio for that, but you can reasonably think that Scherzer, Roark, and Strasburg can at least put you in a position for three wins in any series if you can just get a run or two across in their games. Without Stras, and not knowing if Joe Ross will be any more effective if and when he returns, and not confident that A.J. Cole can keep the advantage of being unknown for very long, my stomach is sinking low. We'll probably win the division, but if the news is bad on Stras, the post-season really is in the hands of the offense more than the pitching. That would make Norman Vincent Peale pessimistic.

Anonymous said...

Ross has to be the playoff 4th. I know the Nats didn't think they had time to stretch Ross out. Its a nice luxury if the choice is Ross versus Gio, but if the choice is Ross versus Cole/Lopez/Giolito, than there is no choice, it has to be Ross. He might not be completely stretched out for game 4, but hopefully he'll be ready for a subsequent series.

Chinatown Express said...

Sammy: What anemic hitting? The nats are 8th in the majors in runs scored, 10th in OPS. They're not a world-beating offense, but they're better than average.

Anonymous said...

"Sammy: What anemic hitting? The nats are 8th in the majors in runs scored, 10th in OPS. They're not a world-beating offense, but they're better than average"

Before the Braves series, the Nats were struggling over the past two weeks, failing to capitalize on pitchers with ERAs over 5.

JE34 said...

@Sammy - the Mets have won 8 of 10, and haven't really gained much ground. Still 8.5 back. When you hold a substantial division lead, the turning pages of the calendar provide the ice.

The Nats offense is not anemic. Trea Turner alone is a transfusion rich in red blood cells.

(I prefer to reserve all my bitterness for football season. My team hasn't been in the NFL playoffs since Bill Clinton was in the White House.)

Harper said...

Anon @ 8:01 - bc velocity and accuracy gives you star pitchers. Accuracy alone, if you are a good pitcher in approach, might give you a Colon-esque career but the line between success and failure is razor thin and it gets real hard for most to stay healthy once you hit your late 30s. That's why we see a couple of these guys, not a couple dozen

Anonymous said...

Here are some of the awful starters the Nats have faced of recent and the runs they scored against them:

Date Opponent Pitcher ERA R
08/31/16 PHI Adam Morgan 6.5 2
08/29/16 PHI Jake Thompson 9.78 2
08/28/16 COL Chad Bettis 5.29 2
08/26/16 COL Jeff Hoffman 13.5 3
08/25/16 BAL Ubaldo Jiménez 6.94 1
08/24/16 BAL Wade Miley 5 2
08/18/16 ATL Robert Whalen 7.31 1

Nats certainly have hitting talent - Turner, Murphy, Harper, Rendon, Werth, Ramos. But of late, it hasn't translated into runs. Hopefully the offensive fire power displayed in the Braves series is the start of an uptick in offensive production.

Dusty's Toothpick said...

Man I am "distrasaught" about about this. Strasburg just keeps being Strasburg...amazing until he falls apart. I can't take this!?! I feel like it was a few days before Christmas and my dog died or something. Like we will still be having Christmas and it will be great but it just won't be the same��.....I know he was having some real problems when he was on the DL but do you think that much time off got his arm accustomed to not pitching at the elite MLB level? My instinct says even if the shoulder was fine everything else was just getting soft with that time off....

John C. said...

First of all I don't assume the worst - but apparently in baseball fandom I'm rare in that respect. I get that the assumption of the article IS the worst case scenario, so to play along a bit:

It doesn't seem likely that they'd be willing to spend the money necessary on a player that would help make up the gap that Strasburg will leave in 2017.

Essentially moot, since there are no pitchers available to make up that gap. You know who the "best" pitcher on the market is likely to be? Rich Hill - effective pitcher, but he turns 37yo in March, wasn't actually good until last year, and has recurring blister problems. Yikes.

With all the hand wringing over Giolito's velocity, I'll note that according to Giolito it's because his mechanics are off ( This is not surprising; he's a 21yo pitcher who is 6'6", and taller pitchers frequently have problems with consistency in their mechanics and results. So writing him off is not more valid, and probably less valid, than when we wrote off A.J. Cole, Ramos (remember all the calls to trade/cut Ramos and pay through the nose for Weiters or Lucroy last offseason?) or Werth (any of the many, many times that he's been written off here).

Harper said...

I didn't want FROGGY to miss the NL Wild Card tie response and in case that's of interest to anyone else

Froggy - Fun question! I could go into it deeply but the reality is this possibility is not as interesting as it could be. If all 3 are tied in H2H2H records vs eachother it goes into some stuff but all three CAN'T be tied bc Mets/STL played eachother 6 times, while STL/SF, Mets/SF was 7. So SF will play one more game overall and can't be tied with STL/Mets in this scenario. They are either in or out.

After that it becomes a two team tie (if SF is out - which is actually more likely in this scenario given H2H2H records right now) The Mets - STL would go to simple H2H (tie), then intradivision (STL leads 33-26 vs 30-27). If that ends up tied it's NL games at which point STL would take it bc they only won 8 interleague games and are done, while the Mets, who are not done, have already won 9.

Harper said...

JC - No reason to write off Giolito, you're right. But given he has issues today - I feel ok writing him off as effective for the rest of this season and question if he can be effective early enough in 2017 to make a difference. We still have little reason to think he can't be a good to great starter. Again the biggest stat for Giolito right now is 21. A normal prized starter is dominating college at that age, not trying to break into the majors. He's well ahead of the typical schedule so if he's not ready until 2018 - so be it. Still a little ahead probably.

I hope you aren't "writing on" Cole after 3 games given what 2 1/2 years of AAA ball have shown us. Could he be effective rotationally? Sure, but I'm not betting on it. And what about writing off Moore? Lombo? Haren? Fister? Bernandina? Eury Perez? H-Rod? Detiwler? Corey Brown? Marrero? Kobernus? etc. etc. etc. It'd be stupid for Giolito right now - but writing off is generally the right move. This is true whether you are writing off due to extended minor league performance at an advancing age (Cole), overall age and injury (Werth), or extended major league performance and injury (Ramos) A handful of counter examples don't change that fact. The Werths are the exceptions - far far from the rule

Anonymous said...

It's just that Nats fans hope all the exceptions are Washington Nationals.

Harper said...

Hey - it's not like every team gets to have 3 exceptions of the same level. Someone is going to get 2 stars or 6 total and someone is going to get screwed. So... Hope Away!

Anonymous said...

Dr. Max Scherzer says Stras told him it didn't feel like the injury that required TJ did. This has false hope written all over it, but I can take some of that right now.

DezoPenguin said...

Given the large number of elbow injuries that do not require Tommy John surgery, I don't think it's necessarily wrong to hope.

2nd TJ would indeed be worst-case scenario, because not only does he miss this year and at least most of next (and maybe lots longer, see, eg: Zack Wheeler), when he comes back he might be Kris Medlen, as Harper points out.

But there are plenty of other possibilities ranging from "MRI negative, just a twinge from throwing too much too soon, probably shouldn't have worked out yesterday" to "see you in 2017, Steve, and better hope Cole turns into Tanner 2.0 (and Roark keeps right on being Tanner 1.0) if we want to have any shot in the playoffs" that aren't worst-case.

(Also, as far as picking up Gio's option, yeah, this is even more obvious than before. "Keep adequate-to-good #4ish starter with a history of health at market rate" is kind of a no-brainer anyway.)

Harper said...

DP - I've done some cursory research so I'm currently as qualified as a normal non MD sports injury expert on radio/TV and come up with these possibilities

Triceps tear/strain - out for year, but recovery could have him back next spring if he didn't tear it. If he did - it would be a TJ like timetable. Not necessarily a worry to repeat though

Acute Bursitis - unlikely as the acute form is usually impact based (you hit it - it swells) but maybe triggered? This might resolve itself quickly but we'd generally have to watch every start in fear in that sense.

Chronic Bursitis - I don't think so - I've had it. Exercise actually makes it feel better though not well (sore when resting) but then again I don't try to throw a ball 98 MPH. Probably put him out for year but I guess if they thought it wouldn't make it worse (and I can sort of see that) they could shoot him up and go? He'd just have a hell of a inbetween start time and post-season recovery

Pinched nerve - not a great diagnosis. Basically your nerve has either lost it's sheilding or moved to the wrong place. If it's the former you can rest, stretch, etc. but it's always just sitting there. If it's the latter you can have surgery and move it but that seems touch and go. The nerves supposed to be where it is.

There's my Nick Riviera expert Wheel of diagnoses. Please add your own experiences with any of these until we get an actual real medical diagnosis that matters

Dr. Obvious said...

The MRI & Radiographs, when compared to the ones taken right before his contract extension was signed, should make a diagnosis as relatively straight forward as possible through the miracles of modern medicine. Everyone relax, hold your breath, panic and expect the worst, or whatever your preference happens to be until the actual diagnosis is returned from the Nats medical staff.

No matter what it happens to be, I would be fairly confident the diagnosis/prognosis will be accurate and we can start estimating our timelines expected return dates with confidence. So that is one relative positive...

Mythra said...

@Harper - Bone Spur. Could pitch through it or have it scoped. Scoped is 6 weeks or more recovery, thus end of season result.

Bone Chip - More serious than the spur. Usually requires longer recovery due to larger incision. Back for Spring or pitch through it and hope it doesn't flare up or damage tissue in the elbow.

Inflamed scar tissue from first TJ - Similar to tendonitis or bursitis. Painful, but can be worked through. Sometimes very deep tissue massage can work it into less pain, but usually that needs done during rehab from original surgery.

Elbow Tendonitis - Hurts like hell, but usually gets better with movement. Have this and shaking my arm like Stras did after pitches last night sometimes helps.

All these are in the 'hopeful' category, but chronic in nature and will impact every season going forward (except the surgical solutions for spurs/chips).

SM said...

Thanks, Dr. Nick--If I Kill You, You Don't Pay!--Riviera!

John C. said...

To be clear, I'm not making assumptions that A.J. Cole has become a cornerstone prospect or anything. But last offseason and through the early part of this year there were fans who did write him off, and even suggested that the Nats jettison him to make room for this guy or that guy. Possibly even for Matt Skole! Now there's a lot more optimism about him. Which is fine, I guess - I think that it's fair to say that he's justified his spot on the 40 man roster and earned a chance to come to camp next year and compete for a chance to be legit rotation depth. The difference is that I didn't write him off in the first place, so I'm not really changing my view now.

Predicting doom for teams and players is always the short cut to feeling smart, because 29/30 teams fall short every year and, sooner or later, every player really IS done. So you're bound to be right eventually.

Anonymous said...

Strained flexor mass . . . (the Nationals hope).

Dr. Obvious said...

"Nationals head athletic trainer Paul Lessard just addressed media and said that Stephen Strasburg's MRI was clear with respect to his elbow ligaments, but that Strasburg has a strained flexor mass. Lessard said that the injury isn't related to the elbow soreness that sent Strasburg to the DL last month, and that it isn't necessarily season-ending."

Ok, so it is another typically unclear diagnosis... There are no Miracles from Modern Medicine!

steven hamilton said...

I read that Andrew Miller had the same thing last year (and of course, he turned out fine), and most of the time, "a flexor-pronator mass strain is treated with rest from pitching for several weeks to give the tendons time to heal. Ice and physical therapy can also be helpful to decrease the athlete's symptoms. As the pain improves, the pitcher will be started on a long toss program prior to returning to full pitching."

So, I wonder what their plan will be now...?

Froggy said...

I don't feel smart for stating the obvious, and A J Cole isnt 'terrible' but he is at best a AAA pitcher. If one thinks he will match up better against LA, SF than he does against the Phillies they are simply dispensing with reality.

Froggy said...

Strained Flexor Mass...

If he were a rugby player he would ice it, and take extra motrin and wash it down with two additional beers. Then play the next day.

Pain is temporary, Glory lasts forever.