Nationals Baseball: 2017

Monday, August 21, 2017

Monday - super super quickie

I'm not watching the eclipse (well I don't think I can completely avoid it) but I'm otherwise occupied. In quick notes

Strsaburg good! - Great. I want to see him do it twice on a regular schedule before I put it out of my mind and that won't happen next start either (he'll have an extra day off) so it'll be a while before I can assume health but there isn't anything right now that isn't positive. It didn't need to be a great start (though it really should have been) but it was.

Max hurt again! - At this point we're very close to hoping he just doesn't wake up on the wrong side of the bed right before the playoffs right? One is a fluke, twice is a pattern.

Werth and Turner rehabbing - as was pointed out to me Turner is stuck in rehab until the 29th because of a 60 Day DL thing. Werth is stuck in rehab because Kendrick has been real good. We've talked about pushing Kendrick out but Difo has also had a hot bat for a good long while. He does have some bad splits historically and he's not a "PROSPECT" so you'd sit him for Turner but it can be hard to stop doing something that's working. Of course "Oh no we have to sit our great performing back-ups to get back in our respected veteran leader and last year's nearly ROY" is a "problem" everyone would like to have.

OK that's it. Told you it was quick.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Saturday?

Strasburg has been all but put on the mound for Saturday's game. It's still not official. He's not on the probables, but I haven't heard anything about him not pitching. That means the "non official" status is all about getting one more day from someone on the roster before they have to be moved for Strasburg to come off the DL. I'm not reading anything into it.

There could hardly be more favorable conditions for a pitchers return. It's his hometown (he pitches well on the West Coast in general). The weather is good. It's a twilight game (thought to favor pitching - and this year and historically he pitches better during the day). It's against the lowest scoring team in the National League in one of the most run depressing ball parks. He's following Scherzer which means there isn't going to be much pressure on him to eat up innings.This is being gently eased back into the pool, inch by inch.

What am I looking for? Nothing much beyond throw ~90 pitches of decent baseball.  I suppose I'd like to see a higher percentage of strikes, as it was his control that was going that last game.  The velocity isn't an issue. It wasn't one before he left so it shouldn't be now. I mean, don't get killed obviously, but I'm not going to throw up any alarms for a 4 run, 5 1/3 outing where he has good control. Even with such favorable terms, it's still his first game back in the majors, and I still only care that he's healthy, not that he's ready to potentially shut down the Dodgers next week.

Other notes

The Nats are feeling the offensive woes from all these injuries but thanks to the solid pitching staff taking on some weak offenses the Nats haven't felt it in the win column. They've scored 3-3-10-3-3-2-6-3-2-2 runs in their last 10 games, and it took a walk-off grand slam to get that 6.  I'll be curious to see how the Nats hang through the Astros - Mets - Miami - Mil stretch.  Still it's just for curiousity's "what if Bryce doesn't come back" sake. Standing wise you can go ahead and assume HFA for the NLDS and a #2 seed overall. They are up 9.5 on the Cubs, and trail the Dodgers by 13. And if Bryce does come back in time to get back in the swing of things, how the Nats did without him hardly matters. 

Kelley is back and Madson is down. Madson hurt his finger. They are going to sit him and hope it feels better in a week. That's the only good news that accompanies all these injuries. The Nats are so secure that every one that happens they can sit people and let them take all the time they need because there is nothing in doubt. Kelley has been in Syracuse and has pitched to a 1.80 ERA. Sorry that's a typo. I mean an 8.10 ERA. Ouch. Most of that was early damage though. He gave up 5 runs in his first three outings. In his last 5 outings (4IP) he's given up 1 run (a homer of course), striking out 3 and walking none. He's as ready as he'll ever be.

Updating that injury post : Scherzer did come back. The finally are ready for Kelley. Raburn still sits in limbo until roster expansion (maybe)

Werth is still nowhere, last seen jogging bases apparently waiting to see when he can run and it hasn't happened yet. After having the team point to a general time frame and missing that, it's hard to figure when he'll return at this point. That's really the only bad news the Nats have had on the recovery front. Strasburg was delayed an additional week but as we said should be back Saturday. MAT was brought up very early that 3rd week.

Drew is taking grounders and seems to be on schedule for an return sometime this month. Turner is as well but still needs to swing a bat before he can get a rehab assignment. End of the month seems more likely and I'd be surprised if he wasn't with the team by Labor Day weekend. Glover has seemingly gotten the clear to ramp back up but given his current state is probably still a month away. Any setback but the mildest one would probably put him down for the year.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Howie Kendrick - Secret weapon

Howie Kendrick has been on a tear since joining the Nats. .386  with 4 home runs.  That can't last can it? Well, no but It isn't impossible that Kendrick has one last really good season in him and this is it.

Kendrick, we discussed earlier, is a high average guy He hasn't hit over .300 since 2008 but he's had a .291, a .297, a .293, and a .295 since then. The last one was as late as 2015 so the thought he could go not only over .300 but well over .300 isn't that far fetched. Especially given his moderate 33 year old age.

We noted that he didn't have a lot of pop. His career best HR total is 18, second best 13. He's not much of a doubles hitter either - career best 41 but next best 33. But this season... this season is different for a lot of people. The league isoSLG (SLG - AVG, basically pulling the singles out of slugging) was under .140 then last year it jumped to .158, this year it's over .170.  That's not a HUGE difference .140 to .170 but it's the difference between last year's MAT and last year's Werth. The difference between a guy hitting 26 doubles and 17 homers and a guy hitting 28 doubles and 21 homers. A half-step up at least.

Well what if you have a guy that always has made good contact, who always hit the ball hard far more than he hit the ball soft, who tends to put the ball in play and drop him into this environment? Seems like he's ripe to take advantage of that. Maybe not for as much advantage as the guys that swing for the fences all the time* - I'd like him to keep up this bombing if he hit more flyballs - but for getting those frozen ropes to now carry into the gaps? Yes.

Ultimately this may present an issue that we wouldn't have thought but was brought up in the comments. If Kendrick is now a guy who can hit .300+ with reliable doubles power, if he's a guy who can field left moderately well and who is more than an outside threat to steal a base... don't you have to consider starting that guy over Jayson Werth, if he gets back?

The Nats probably won't do that. Werth is more than a player, he's a totem. He's someone the team rallies around and someone the fans identify as the face of the good Nats. This could very well be his last season here. If he's ready, he'll play. And let's not forget Werth has shown he's a smart, adaptable hitter. He would likely take advantage of the souped up balls as well. He was already on pace for 25+ homers in a 140 games or so season before going down. But Werth can't overcome the defense gap that would only be worse with a gimpy foot, and his smart though not all that fast baserunning would be affected as well. It's very likely down the stretch in 2017 that Howie would be the slightly more valuable player.

*This would be an interesting thing to look at. SLG has gone up. Who gets the biggest push? Is it guys with a lot of fly balls or guys with a lot of hard hit balls? It would suggest the guys to pick-up / avoid when something changes in the equipment being used.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Strasburg's coming

Probably.

Today is probably the biggest day - he threw a real 75 yesterday (well actually a real 66 - then another 9 in the pen because A ball isn't exactly a challenge for a guy who could be a #1 in a major league rotation) and felt good. All signs say he could be back this weekend. Feel normal today and I don't see that plan being derailed. Then the real review begins as we watch him for a start or two in the majors as he's forced to go all out for 100 pitches a couple times in a row. That's something we never saw post-recovery last year because he just slid from injury into the post-season. We've verified that about a month is enough to get him back to where everyone thinks he can keep pitching. Now we just have to see that they are right.

Gio Night!

Gio has had his best season for the Nats since his first year here. Why is that? How did someone seemingly declining through age at a slow and steady pace turn things around? Has he turned things around?

The second is a real question because if you look at the first fancy stats we generally look at, FIP and xFIP* and BABIP, it looks like Gio is skating along. The FIP stats suggest a "true ERA" of closer to 4.00 and the BABIP is extremely low and the lowest of Gio's career. This all suggest some extended amount of luck.

Part of that is true. Gio has been lucky. However what that means has changed over the course of the year

Month  ERA  FIP  xFIP  BABIP
Apr 1.62  3.82  4.41  .258
May 4.37  5.85  5.08  .297
June 2.53  3.29  3.85  .221
July 2.14  3.30  3.89  .193

To start the year Gio pitched ok but got very lucky and got great results. In May, Gio pitched terribly but got lucky and looked passable. In June Gio pitched well and got maybe a little lucky. In July Gio pitched well again and his luck again kicked in.

So in the first two months of the year Gio pitched ok to terrible but got SO lucky that he looked fine. Since then, while he's still seen luck drive his ERA down, he's pitched quite well.

Now I keep saying he's lucky but if Gio is generating a lot of ground balls and soft contact - well that could explain a lot and that's on him, not luck.  We'll compare to last year. Ground ball rate? It's down. It's actually the lowest it's been for a few years. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Gio's always been naturally a flyball pitcher and the attempt to become a GB pitcher a couple years ago may not have suited him. His HR/FB rate is a little low, but it always has been. Gio has been a flyball pitcher who's been able to keep the balls in the park. There was thoughts when he came over from Oakland that it was park based but nope it's him. What does this mean? It means that the xFIP up there - which tries to normalize HRs - is probably more off than the FIP which doesn't. Except for May, that's good for Gio.

Soft contract is up a little and hard contact down. about 3 percent for both. That isn't nothing. But there is something else here that I found a bit interesting. Guys are pulling the ball more than ever against Gio and hitting the ball to the opposite filed a lot less. This generally isn't a good sign. It means guys are getting around on your pitches more and probably making more contact in general (K rate, swinging strike rates and contact rates suggest that's true a little bit) but there could be some deep thinking going on here. RHB are now pulling almost 7% more balls than they used to up to almost 46%. They are also hitting over 6% fewer balls to the opposite field. LHB are pulling more balls as well (about 3%) but are hitting more to the opposite field as well - more than 5% more.

What is the overall picture to what's going on here? Gio is getting A LOT more balls hit to the Rendon - Turner - Bryce side of the field than the Murphy - Zimm - Werth Statue park in right.  By my quick and dirty calculations he's gone from having like 36% of batted balls going to the "good side" and 29% to the "bad side" to 44% to the good and 25% to the bad. In other words, he's getting more batters to hit the ball where he wants them to toward the better fielders. (One would think)

What's the end conclusion? Well Gio is getting a bit lucky, it's hard to suggest otherwise.  Guys who walk people like Gio does and strike out people like Gio does don't usually flirt with 2.00 ERAs But he is pitching better. He's gone back to being a FB pitcher which is fine for him because he doesn't give up a ton of homers. He's getting more favorable contact, getting fewer hard hits and more soft ones. And maybe just as important, he's driving batters to hit balls to the guys on the field most likely to turn those balls into outs. All in all I can see a pitcher who is throwing, especially in the last two months, like a guy with a low to mid 3.00 ERA should.

I know your natural instinct is to say "So he's a 3.40 ERA guy. Great. So a #3 type maybe, probably a #4" but remember. We WILDLY overrate how good pitchers should be by their rotation spot.  A 3.40 ERA is good enough for TENTH in the NL in qualified pitchers. I won't say Gio is pitching like we'd want a #1 to pitch, but he could be some teams #1 and he's certainly pitching like a #2.

Can this continue in the playoffs? I'm not sure. You want a guy like Max who can impose his will on the other team not just get them to hit it to a certain side or in the air and hope they don't hit it too hard. Playoff teams usually can hit it hard enough. However there are far worse pitchers to throw out there, including 2016 Gio. If he can keep this up for another two months, I'll want to see if he can GB to SS and lazy FB a team to death in the NLDS. 

*These are different ways to pull out luck from the ERA. Things like HR rate and BABIP tend to bounce around for pitchers and a run of luck (bad or good) with these can make your ERA really not represent the talent behind the throws. This tries to normalize those values and see how a pitcher would do then. It's imperfect, because it doesn't take into account a guys personal ability to keep these things down (which does exist) and things like home park, but it's good for a quick look at how much luck a pitcher may be skating on. A BIG gap (say 1.5 runs) and a history of BABIPs that go against what a pitcher is doing now? You'd be wise to start with "He's been affected by luck" and then use a deeper dive to try to prove otherwise.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Monday Quickie - Down but not out... well out for now

There was one over the weekend story and that's the injury to Bryce. For those of you who think negative lines of code have been insert / d into my programming, let me tell you that I was firmly on  the "who knows, let it play out camp" and reviewing the footage of the Eaton injury said "Oh. It doesn't look like that".  I went on to hazard a guess that it wasn't a tear and he wouldn't be out for the year. I also noted I know basically nothing other than what was said above and my opinion is close to worthless.

But it turns out that Bryce doesn't seem to be hurt that badly, that the MRI shows no major ligament or tendon damage, and while the timeline is still fuzzy, there is certainly potential for him to be back for the playoffs. It could be even sooner but let's be honest, few of us care whether he's back August 20th or September 20th.

This isn't to say "I'm right." This is to say "That is where the (admittedly sparse) evidence suggested the most likley outcome is (based on my low-informed opinion)" I am giving the same sort of take when I speak about Strsaburg who's about to pitch in Potomac tonight. Ideally he will go 5 innings and throw around 75 pitches. If he feels well he could join the Nats in time to pitch against San Diego on Saturday. He was hurt on July 23rd and would return to pitch on August 19th. That's fairly close to a month which is what a calm review of the initial injury seemed to suggest as the most likely scenario based on the admittedly sparse evidence fed into the low-information opinion producing me.  We can disagree but I'm not crazy here.

So what does the Bryce injury mean? A lot. The Nats are an offensive juggernaut. That is how they win games. They are second in baseball in runs scored per game (to Houston) well past 3rd place Colorado. We are used to the Nats being led by their arms, and backed up by a very good offense.  Here's a quick ranking

YEAR : SP ERA RANK, RP ERA RANK, RS RANK
2012 : 1 3 5
2013 : 6 11 6
2014 : 1 2 3
2015 : 6 6 3
2016 : 2 2 4
2017 : 3 15 1

Now obviously the relief pitching is now better than 15th. But is it dominant? Probably not. And the starting pitching isn't dominant either as a whole. No, what's carrying the team in 2017 is the offense.  Bryce isn't the offense by himself as he was kind-of sort-of in 2015, but he IS the best offensive player the Nats have. He was hitting  .326 /  .419 / .614 at the time he went down. You don't replace that. Guys like Stevenson, Goodwin, Kendrick, might catch a good week or two but eventually the Nats will feel it.  MAT is back and Werth could be coming back. That may help but they aren't Bryce. Rendon is a great bat. He's not Bryce. Zimm is having a decent August holding off some decline fears. He's not Bryce. They will score fewer runs. They will lose more games.

Will that matter? For the next 7 weeks - hell no. They are up by 14 games. The next best team in the NL East sits at 4 games under .500. They could literally take off two weeks, forfeit the games to give their team a rest, and it wouldn't matter.  After that it most certainly will. To win as it has in the regular season the Nationals need Bryce Harper.

This isn't to say a Bryce-less Nats team couldn't survive, even thrive in the playoffs. Even without Bryce the team is games above .500 and you put that kind of team with a Max level starter in the playoffs and it can win. But it'll probably have to win in a different fashion than it has been all year long.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Straction Day

Actions speak louder than words. However, what happens when you have limited access to the actions?

Over the past... now 18 days, there's been a growing argument on how to view the injury situation with Strasburg. I tend to advocate a reaction that is more "action based". Set your view and wait until you find out about some action that may alter it. Most on the other side have gone with a more "word based" reaction. Let the team set the view and don't let your own opinion get in the way because there are unseen actions taking place. Neither is wrong and have certain strengths and weaknesses. You can appear foolish if you follow my way if things are quickly settled in a way contrary to how you thought they would. On the other hand, following the other way may make you seem foolishly naive, if the source of the information, even if they are the best available source, is unreliable - either by choice or chance.*

In this particular case, my way has proven pretty strong. Strasburg's injury resembled last year's injury so assuming that it would follow a similar path and need perhaps a month away from starting, seems to be the way it will eventually turn out. All the while the team has sent out a string of milquetoast positivity, suggesting that Strasburg's return is closer than it has turned out to be.

There were another set of words yesterday from the team, but finally there may be actions behind them that we can hold on to.  Rizzo said Strasburg could be pitching right now and they are just being cautious with him. In itself, pretty meaningless. Rizzo said the same during Strasburg's recovery last year. Strasburg pitched again and said he "felt really good" yeseterday. Again, in itself pretty meaningless as he said that earlier in this injury recovery . But the actions yesterday (and hopefully today) matter.

Yesterday Strasburg pitched a simulated game, an important step on the road to recovery. This is much more than a bullpen session where you throw 30-40 pitches and see how he feels. Instead, he throws a simulated inning, sits, comes back and does it again, throwing probably 50 or so pitches with that important break, cool down, and return added in. If this goes well then he should be in line for a real recovery start, my guess would be Sunday or Monday, in the minors and then back with the team in the majors for a start at the end of next week. Not ultimately the best case scenario, which I had pegged at missing 3 starts, but close as he'd miss only four I think.

That's the next action we need to see. And while I consider the words to be pretty meaningless we could hear something important today.  At the tail end of July Strasburg through a bullpen session they thought went very well. They said if he felt well the next day he could just miss one start. This was followed by conspicuous silence. There was a similar feeling coming from the team yesterday. If we hear that Strasburg is on track for a recovery start today (or maybe tomorrow) then everything lines up. We've seen the actions we want, and we've gotten the words we want, and if he's moved somewhere we get an important set of confirming actions. If we don't hear anything today or tomorrow, well I'd be worried. I'd still have to see Strasburg not be assigned anywhere, or regress in his recovery, before I take it back down but it would be a bad sign.

So keep your ears to the ground today. It just might tell us whether to renew worries, or to get ready to set them aside.


*To be honest - most times these different approaches arrive at the same place because really we're both just waiting for confirmation on the type of injury from the team. It's only in these types of unclear situation where the differences can become apparent.  And really it's not like either side is ALL action or words. It's a mix for both, just what takes precedence is different.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

On Nicknames

Back in 05/06 some of us internet followers of the Nationals had what we thought was a great idea. Saddened by the seeming lack of modern nicknames in the vein of those of old, we would try to bring them back by giving a new young star player a nickname reminiscent of one he'd receive in the pre-war era.  So Ryan Zimmerman, he of the German last name, was christened "Dutch" Zimmerman.

Now it is not surprising at all that this didn't take off. A few dozen people on the internet (at best) are going to have a tough time making something like this into an on-the-field reality. However, what was surprising was the unearthing of a group of people who found the idea of fans giving a player a nickname extremely offensive. "NO!" they said "He already has a nickname! It is ZIMM! and it was given to him in the CLUBHOUSE! How dare YOU think you can name him!" Honestly I still don't know what to make of it.

That is the truth though. Most players do get their nicknames through the clubhouse and since writers don't stand between us and them nearly as much as they used to, the "Sultan of Swat"s and "Sey Hey Kid"s of old have been replaced by "Mac"s and "Jonesy"s   They are utilitarian unimaginative nicknames much like, well regular nicknames. Thomas becoming Tom or Tommy isn't the height of inspiration.

A weekend in late August we'll see the Nats featuring a bunch of nicknames on the back of their jerseys and it gives us a good cross-section of the different types of nicknames around a baseball team.

The most common is the last name shortening. This usually takes one of three forms; the "straight-shorten", the "shorten and add an s", and the "shorten and add a y sound".  You see two of these types for the Nats

Straight-Shorten
Daniel "Murph" Murphy
Stephen "Stras" Strasburg
Ryan (ed note - sigh) "Zim" Zimmerman 
Sean "Dooooooooo" Doolittle* 
Chris "Heis" Heisey

Shorten and add a y sound  
Matt "Wiety" Wieters
Jose "Lobi" Lobaton
Matt "Albie" Albers
Matt "Gracey" Grace - case where your last name is only one syllable thus can't be shortened

Another popular nickname derivation is combining the first initial with a shortening of the last name. Think A-Rod. The Nats have their share of these as well.

First Initial - Shorten Last name 
Brian "B Good" Goodwin
Edwin "E Jax" Jackson
Tanner "T Ro" Roark
 
Others name and initial plays are seen as well. The shortening of the first name, like the last one. Basically your traditional nickname.
Anthony "Ant" Rendon
Oliver "Ollie" Perez

The use of the last initial or both initials
Joe "Joe B" Blanton
Joe "JR" Ross
Gio "Double G" Gonzalez
Jayson "Dub" Werth

Or both first name shortening and an initial!
Michael "Mikey T" Taylor

All of this is very standard and typical. We also have simple nicknames based on some physical attribute, like "Shorty". This can be a bit more creative but a lot of times it's putting the adjective "little" or "big" in front of things. Nats are a little better here though with an actual comparison for a nickname from their injured CF.
 Max "Blue Eye" Scherzer
Adam "Mouse" Eaton

Last we get to a group of standard nicknames that are around the game. For baseball some are limited to Little League ages, like "Slugger" while some carry on.  Drew's one of these guys
Stephen "Dirt" Drew.

Finally we get the interesting ones. Ones that come from somewhere other than the obvious derivations.

Bryce "Big Kid" Harper - I've never heard this before, but actually it's been out there  Here's Ian using it in 2015. There's a Span tweet with it too. Seems like it caught on in clubhouse around that time.

Trea "Triple T" Turner - This isn't an initial thing (His middle name is Vance). It could be as simple as "He hits triples" (led the team last year despite playing only 73 games - still leads team this year)

Koda "Bear" Glover - Koda is a Cherokee word for "bear" or so they say.

Shawn "BAK PAK" Kelley - no clue

Adam "Donnie" Lind - also no clue

Ryan "Blest" Madson - Near as I figure this is not a nickname but a religious call out.

Enny "Hernandez" Romero - So you guys know how Hispanic surnames work, right? No? Read this a little ways in. Anyway Enny's full surname would be Romero-Hernandez so this is a shout out to his mother's side.

Wilmer "El Lindo" Difo - Translates to something like "The Good Looking Guy"

Ryan "Bobby" Raburn - This is the most involved one as it is a reference to THE FAN, a baseball movie from about 20 years ago. It was trash but the baseball star played by Wesley Snipes was named Bobby Rayburn.  So there you go - obscure pop culture reference for you, but probably a pretty familiar one inside baseball where I imagine they watch nearly every baseball related movie.

Also I'd be remiss to not acknowledge, some people don't have a nickname. Or don't want to use their nickname. So we end with that guy
Howie "Kendrick" Kendrick

My guess is that if he has one, it's not a name-based one. Howie is a good informal sounding name to use in a clubhouse and "Kendry" or "Kends" or stuff like that doesn't sound all that good.

*It's more imaginative in the spelling but guys just call him "Doo" I'm sure.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Monday Quickie - Good news, bad news, good news

The Nats were 6 outs or so away from losing 2 of 3 to the Cubs. That wouldn't have been a terrible outcome, probably the expected one playing another talented team on the road. However, it would have left the Cubs 5.5 games behind the Nats for HFA in the NLDS, continued the momentum of the Cubs, and would have set up the narrative for the time being. Instead the Nats rallied back took the game and put the idea that the Cubs might catch the Nats record on the back-burner. It could still happen. Seven and a half games in under 3 months is far from unheard of, especially when you are being chased by a souped up former champion. But as of today that's not the story. The story is the Nats setting themselves as the clear 2nd best team in the NL.

The story is the bullpen, as we got a taste of what are likely going to be the roles for the pen going forward (despite the attempts to tell us there are no roles). Kintzler to Madson to Doolittle. They pitched 5 2/3 innings in the series, seeing this order twice giving up 3 hits, 1 walk, and striking out five. Most importantly they gave up no runs. I don't personally have 100% confidence that any one of these guys isn't going to give up a couple hits, maybe a run in any outing. These aren't shutdown guys. But I do have confidence that if one does falter, the other two are likely going to be able to deal with the problem created. The Nats pen has been less an issue of individual failures, which happen, than cascading ones. A bad outing leads to a deficit that never seems to go away. The pen puts the Nats 3 behind, the Nats get back 2 runs, but the pen gives one right back. The Nats looks set up with the heart of the order for the ninth but the pen gives up 3 in the top of the inning. And so it goes. It's that kind of feeling that I don't have anymore, the helplessness of feeling the game was constantly teetering on the edge of unrecoverable disaster after the starter existed. That's gone.


The bad news? Strasburg is not listed among the Nats next 4 starters which means Strasburg is missing his next start. That's three. Does it mean doom and gloom? No but it means that we were right to think the injury was more serious than they let on. Given that anyone still want to doubt that we are probably right that the injury, which seemed to resemble last years, will take on a similar path to that one? Anyone want to doubt that the best case has Strasburg pitch sometime this weekend - after about 3 weeks off - and the worst case has Strasburg missing over a month. Anyone want to doubt that even when he pitches again it's basically a huge question mark how many starts he can go because we never actually saw that tested last year?


The other good news? Max is pitching tonight. He could have pitched yesterday but like we said Friday, that would be trying to sneak in an extra start by moving the rotation up taking advantage of the day off. It's a good idea normally, but with Max a bit hurt, letting the rotation continue as normal and giving him one extra day of rest seems a lot smarter. Assuming all goes well, and you have to think it will given the nothing we've heard about his neck since, the doomsday scenario of having Strasburg AND Max gone for the playoffs is officially back to being just another thing up to the fates, rather than something precariously close to being real.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Weekend

The Nats are 6.5 games ahead of the Cubs for HFA in the NLCS*. Yes, I'm assuming the Cubs win the Central. I think given the fact that they've stretched out their lead to 5.5 1.5 games already, they tried to get better while the Brewers stood pat, and, well, they are the better team, makes that the safe bet.  The Nats play the Cubs in a three game set. Any sort of Nats win... I won't say it will seal up HFA but it just as well might. 7.5+ games with under two months to go is a tough ask.  Not impossible mind you, but really tough.  5.5 or less though, that can happen. Two games do make a difference.

In this important series the Nats won't have Strasburg as he misses his second start after initially being noted as "may not even miss his next start", Gio (paternity), and Scherzer (giving an extra day). So the team has it's work cut out for it but good luck I say.

If you are worried by Scherzer not pitching this game don't be. It could have gone either way, with him likely to pitch because it keeps the 4 days off schedule, but possibly not pitching because if you go in order per game Monday would be his start with an extra day off.  So why not give him an extra day off and let him pitch at home if that's not even really doing anything crazy?  I would.

Anyway post away as the Nats try to keep the surging Cubs at bay.  They've won their World Series so now they are definitely full of themselves bad guys easy to root against. Go Nats.


*Nats are 12 games behind the Dodgers so forget about that.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Injury Updates -

You know, the Nats weren't shut out for the first 86 games of the year. In the last 20 they've been shutout 4 times. Also in the last 20 they've scored 10 or more four times.

As the Post notes, just when you thought it was safe to go back to the bullpen, Enny Romero is probably off to the DL. What we assumed was back issues, something he's dealt with recently in his career, the word is it's forearm "tightness".  Neither is good but forearm tightness could be really bad. Whether you liked Enny or not, he was certainly in the rotation of guys that could be brought out at some point in games that were still in question. So his loss would hurt.

Since we're talking about injuries - where does everyone else stand?

Strasburg - "elbow impingment" - Waiting to throw an "intense" bullpen session before returning.  He threw a regular bullpen and they liked what they saw, suggesting he could make that next start, but have back-pedalled since then.

Scherzer - "stiff neck" - Had been dealing with it before the Marlins game but thought he could get through it. Expected to make next start as of today. Will see a chiropractor. Hey, whatever works for you.

Turner - broken wrist - Down in Florida starting recovery, but only at soft toss, some fielding now. No timetable on return though original thinking of late August seems to be still target.

Werth - broken toe - Has sloooooowly gotten back to baseball activites. He starting hitting about a week ago, started running on treadmills a day or two ago. Will start doing some simulated game action soon. If that goes well should see a couple minor league games before heading back up to the majors. So could be late next week if nothing derails plan.

MAT - oblique strain - began rehab in Potomac. 3 games in and everything seems fine. Dusty suggested that Werth might be back before MAT so they may take it slow with Taylor, but early indications make it seem like sometime in the next two weeks is a certainty.

Koda Glover - rotator cuff inflammation - began throwing again in early July but just recently got back to 90 feet.  Still on flat ground.  A return in August seems unlikely, but September hasn't been ruled out.

Shawn Kelley - rehabbing in Syracuse. In two appearances has given up a home run in each one. Expect Nats to wait until he gets 2-3 good outings in a row to bring him back. Could be as early as early next week.

Joe Ross - Tommy John - had surgery in mid-July. They thought it went well.  Should be back sometime next season but maybe 2019.

Adam Eaton - torn ACL - said a couple months ago he was "ahead of schedule" but nothing uttered since. Given even then the suggestion was 2017 was still out the silence suggests there's no reasons to change anything up. 2018.

Stephen Drew - abdominal strain - Just placed on the DL recently. Was not performing well so there's no real hurry to get him back. Expectation probably has him moving from 10 day to long-term if Kendrick and Difo keep looking good, and Turner's rehab goes as expected.

Ryan Raburn - shoulder - Does it really matter? Could have returned yesterday.  Do you see him? Raburn will be back from the DL whenever the Nats think they need to bring him back from the DL.

For those lazy - if all goes well here is the return timetable

WITHIN A WEEK
Scherzer - presumably next start
Kelley - whenever they feel he's ready
Raburn - if they care to 

WITHIN TWO WEEKS
Werth - late next week
Strasburg - supposedly he'd make his next start around late next week as well
MAT - probably early the week after that

AUGUST
Drew - if they want him he should be ready to go
Turner - maaaybe at the tail end of the month

SEPTEMBER
Glover - remains a possiblity

2018
Eaton - should be back for start of season
Ross - current TJ rehab cycles suggest we'd see him very late in 2018.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Wednesday quickie

What!? You got two good posts to start the week. Don't be greedy

Max goes out last night. It highlights how precarious the Nats situation is but it also highlights how precarious most series hopes are. Each team has one or two pitchers whose injuries would dramatically tip the odds against them. Each team has a handful of batters who, if out for the playoffs, would have them scrambling to replace that production. Before the trade deadline there's usually only one or two guys out there able to match a real star type player.  After the trade deadline there usually none. At this point it's up to the fates.

You can and you can't blame Rizzo, so both sides should be happy.  You can because, like we've talked about, betting on the Nats having 4 healthy and good rotation arms seemed like a risky bet. Chances seemed likely that Strasburg will be hurt OR Gio would crash OR Roark would never get it going. Given that, bringing in another "playoff caliber" arm would have been nice. This doesn't mean a Darvish or a Gray. It could mean a Lance Lynn or an R.A. Dickey. There's still time for a deal like this - veteran guys with large deals often can pass through waivers - but Rizzo missed one chance to make it happen.

You can't because no one expected Max to go down and you can't make up for losing the 2nd best pitcher in baseball. Whatever Rizzo would have done would not have fully compensated for a Scherzer season-ending injury.  Luckily that didn't happen so this argument is moot but we got a glimpse of what that would be like and it would be BAD.

So while the Nats are cruising to an NL East title and this weekend will be looking to solidify home-field advantage during that series, they are cruising like a sober person driving home at 3AM on January 1st, hoping that nothing out of their control wrecks their drive.


Tuesday, August 01, 2017

The big bet

Make no mistake. Despite not trading any of their Top prospects the Nats were one of the biggest gamblers at the trade deadline. But instead of betting on a player coming in, or players developing, they bet on an arm. They bet the season on Strasburg's arm.

If Strasburg is healthy, the Nats had arguably their best trade deadline ever. After years of limiting themselves to that one piece* to make themselves better, the Nats brought in four pieces. They brought in three quality arms to shore up a bullpen that had blundered and injured itself to worst in the league. They brought in a quality bat to hopefully bolster the bench, but potentially play a starting role if injured players recover slowly. With the players returning from injury over the next few months the Nats could be the weakness free team they looked like they could be at the start of the year.

If Strasburg is not healthy, then despite doing all that, this trade deadline was woefully inadequate. Losing their #2 arm, they would need another starter for the playoffs and they didn't get one. What makes it worse is that Darvish, as a rental, was rather affordable and could have been had without losing Robles or Soto. Instead he goes to the best team in the National League, shoring up a potential playoff opponent.

Was it a good bet? Well there are actually two bets going on. On the first one, strictly on Stasburg's arm, we have no idea. We aren't talking to Strasburg in confidence. We aren't talking to his doctors. We aren't scouting his bullpen session. We have to assume it is a good bet. We have to assume with all that knowledge, they have a strong confidence (90%? 95%?) that Strasburg is fine**. Because if not, why would they roll with this gamble? If they think that there's like a 35% chance he's done for the year and they didn't make a move, I mean, that's fire-able right?  We don't know if it's a good bet or a bad one, but logic makes us assume it's a good bet.

The second bet is a larger one about the staff. The Nats would like to have four starters for the playoffs. Max is a given. Second best pitcher in the majors the past few years. Healthy. You assume he's one. The other three are all question marks though. You have to question, even before the injury, if Strasburg would make it to the playoffs given his limited innings in the past two years. You have to question if Gio, having his best season since 2012, is real in the face of the decline that his recent pitching history has shown. You have to question if Roark, having his worst season as a starter, is going to bounce back before the post-season starts. You have questions with 2-4 (and no real #5). That all three of them will go negatively is next to impossible. But that any one of them will is a good possibility.***

The last two are in direct opposition to eachother. If you like going with recent performance then you like Gio but hate Roark. If you like going with history then you like Roark but hate Gio. Either way there isn't a consistent train of thought - other than "good things happen to the Nats!"  - that would have you thinking both those will go the Nats way. Unlike the specific bet on Strasburg's current arm health, we can get a feel about whether this is a good bet or not. Is it smart to bet on Strasburg's general health, Gio's continued success, and Roark resurgance?  My take is no, it is not. I think it is the smarter move to bring someone in who you think could pitch in the playoffs. 

That's just off the last bet. Couple in the extra odds, whatever they may be (they ain't 0%), from the first bet and that just adds to this feeling. For me, by the time we hit the trade deadline, I felt pretty sure the Nats should have brought in another starting arm. They didn't. So the Nats roll with what they have.

I'll admit, even though I felt that way, I understand it still really comes down to that first bet. If Strasburg is good to go then it probably doesn't matter. The Nats will have a killer 1-2 and their #3 will likely be a "good all season" Gio or "strong finish" Roark. Either way you probably aren't going to write off the Nats because of the starting pitching just because the #4 starter doesn't look good. You just hope they don't NEED that G4 win.

TRADE

Who is Brandon Kintzler? He's a proven closer! Sort of. He's saved games for the Twins the past season and a half so make that into whatever you want. He lives by inducing soft-contact ground balls for easy outs. He's pretty good at it, among the tops at both GB% and Soft%. The added benefit of being a good GB pitcher is that he doesn't give up a lot of home runs, either. Top it off with effective control and you have a very solid reliever. The downside is that he strikes no one out so in some respect success is up to the BABIP gods. Also we need to consider the defense behind him.  Looking at the past 3 years of D stats as a general guide - Mauer is passable at first, Dozier is ok at second, Polanco currently average at SS, Sano below average at third.  When Adrianza plays he's a very very good defender.  So it's an average bunch in general.  The Nats? Zimmerman and Murphy are among the worst fielders at their positions. On the flip side Turner/Difo has been good and Rendon is a gold glove candidate. It's a tale of two halves.  What that will mean for Kintzler I'm not sure but it's likely lefties will get a few more hits and righties maybe a couple more outs.

Who is Tyler Watson? HS late round draft pick. Looked very good in rookie/low A with control and strikeout stuff. It got people thinking there could be something more here. However his brief stint in A-ball last year and continuing this year show a guy a little too hittable. Why did the Twins take him then? Beacuase he's young and he's got good stuff and good control. That's not necessarily a combination you see every day. It's kind of the basis for a good pitcher though really he's not a prospect and a longshot at best.


*Now last year that did mean one expensive piece so the money put up this trade deadline was similar to at least last year. About 4 million this year to 3 million last.  I'm not going to argue if you want to say that this deadline actually had the same driving approach (spend $X) but just went at it a different way. 

**personally I don't see how they could feel this way given his history but I'm not a professional. 

*** Math time! If you give each a 10% chance of negative then the chance all three happen is .10*.10*.10 or .001 or one in a thousand.  Not good. Don't worry about it. The chances any of the three happen? It's the opposite of the chance that none of three happen so it's 1 - (.90*.90*.90) or 1-.73 or .27 or 27%. Add in the chance that any two happen and you have about a 30% chance of needing another arm. And that's with 10% negative odds which I think are kind of low.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Howie doin?

The Nats season is a hard one for those that like drama. The Nats opened the season going 21-9 and taking a 6+ game lead. They went a mediocre 30-27 over the next two months... and gained two games in the standings. The rest of the NL East has made the Nats drive to a division title a race against themselves.

But now, after weeks and weeks of fun but kind of meaningless feeling baseball, finally we are at the part of the season that matters. We are to the trade deadline, where the Nats may, or may not, shore up their team for the playoffs. After this will come the positioning of August and September, getting players healthy and potentially fighting off the surging Cubs for home field in the NLDS. The Nats went into the trade deadline with three potential tasks.

The undeniable one, the one they HAD to do, was address the bullpen with at least two arms. They did that right away.  The other ones were more questionable. In a perfect world they would add a top half of the rotation starter (to compensate for the 4/5 troubles they've had this year and cover for the potential Strasburg injury), a proven closer (because - you know they don't have one), and a solid corner OF (to cover the injuries of MAT and Werth, and give them a great bench if/when these guys return). Of course in a perfect world these would cost nothing as well.

In the real world it was more realistic to hope for MAYBE one or more of a fair back of the rotation guy (to fill-in as necessary at the back of the rotation and save some pen arms), another bullpen arm (because Doolittle is an injury risk), and a decent 4th OF corner OF type.

Well the Nats did get the last thing done, bringing in Howie Kendrick for McKenzie Mills.

Why did the Nats need Kendrick? Well Jayson Werth last played on June 3rd. He's just now swinging the bat and still has to run and throw. He's a few weeks out at best. MAT last played on July 6th.  He's up to playing catch.  He could be back soon if he feels good swinging. Six weeks is a good guess for an oblique. But even back to health an oblique injury is an easy one to reinjure because you use it for everything and can't really compensate for it. Chris Heisey strained his groin, putting himself out for some extended period and he was also hitting .162 with 1 homer this year.  Ryan Rayburn is out too! In short - a lot of OF options were not looking good.

That's why they needed an OF. Why Kendrick? A few reasons. He's a rental and the Nats, for the most part, want a rental for this spot. They like Bryce, Eaton for two of their OF spots and are probably looking to let MAT try and hold off Robles for the 3rd OF spot next year. They aren't looking for an ok OF with another year. The Phillies were willing, for the right prospect price, to eat the remaining 3 million or so of Kendrick's salary. This is something the Nats like more than other teams it seems. Kendrick can play multiple positions. He was a 2nd baseman, and a good one, for a long time but the Dodgers (and the numbers) saw something in 2015 that made them think his time there was at an end. He shifted to the outfield and became a pretty decent outfielder. He's put in time at first and third as well. It's not necessarily what you want to see - Kendrick playing something other than OF - but it's nice to know he can do it in a pinch. This is especially true with Stephen Drew facing an uncertain amount of time off due to injury. Plus he's not a bad runner making him a PR option as well.

But the most important reason is Kendrick can still hit. He had a little bit of a down year last year but otherwise has been a dependable bat all his career. At just 34 (birthday about 3 weeks ago) and hitting so far this year, you'd have to feel good that this year is not the year when it all goes away. He's an average hitter - and by that I mean he hits for average with just enough patience and power to make him a positive player if he can hit above .280 which he has done 9 out of the last 11 seasons. He's exactly the type of reliable contact bat you like to have on the bench, put the ball in play, move a runner over, that Raburn and Heisey are not.

Sounds great! What's the downside? Well he's been hurt a lot this year, missing seven weeks earlier this year and he's just coming back from missing a few days after getting hit in the hand. This isn't terribly new. He missed 40 games in 2015. 30+ in 2013. He'd mostly missed the big injuries but now the little ones are adding up. Also like I said, if he can hit above .280 he's fine. The further he goes under that the less value he has at the plate. A .260 Kendrick is... well... it's where you'd be saying "Difo hit pretty well this year. Let's stick with him".   Also his lack of patience and power means he has a very specific role coming into the game. He's not giving you a long bomb or working a tough walk. He's hitting the ball in play.

Of course if he didn't have these flaws he wouldn't be a 4th OF on a contender would he?

The downside is basically the downside with any player you get at the trade deadline. If he doesn't do what he's good at, he doesn't have much value. The good news is that Kendrick is good at a few things. Runs well, fields well, contact hitting. So if he doesn't contact hit - yes he's a minus at the plate - but it doesn't make him a useless player.  He can still contribute. It's a very nice pick-up in my opinion.

What did the Nats give up for this very nice pick-up? McKenzie Mills. Who is McKenzie Mills? Well he's one of those "high school guys given more time" that we talked about at the end of last week. He was drafted, and after a poor rookie league stint was brought up Low A. He did so poorly they dropped him back to Rookie League. If he were a 23 year old college guy that would be the end of it. but he was only 19, he had the size that teams love (6'4" 200+), and he was left-handed.  So Mills got another go at low-A and what do you know? He improved. Not enough to get you excited but enough to move up and see what he could do in A-ball. What he has done is found himself. His big issue was always walks.  To give you an example of how bad it was, when he improved himself in 2016  by cutting down his walks a TON they went all the way down... to over 4.5 per 9 IP. (If you don't know that's BAD).  This year that number is down under 2 and his strikeouts, never impressive before, are up over 10.

Did the Nats give up a gem? Perhaps. The trend is what you want to see and this year has been good. But he's a ways off and whatever he's done to make this improvement has made him prone to the long ball. He's still got to prove things in High A. If he does that then you can start to worry that maybe something special got away.  And I mean that very literally. If he has a similar season to this one, next year in High A, you can START to worry about this. That's it.

What's left for the Nats? Some targets for that back of the rotation and another pen arm are gone now. But we'll see. With news of Strasburg probably sitting out a second start coming out yesterday maybe we see something more dramatic than we would have expected a couple of weeks ago.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Our former guys

Just as a thought exercize I wondered how this below philosophy applied to guys the Nats already got rid of in trades?

Jesus Luzardo - age target for league which is great considering he had surgery. Impressive stats but so little to work with (20 IP) and so far down (rookie). All talent based

Sheldon Neuse - When Nats traded him he was a solid player in A-ball* not quite a prospect but perhaps rounding into one.

So Nats didn't really give up much here in terms of minor leaguers.  Oakland has kept Luzardo in Rookie as part of the recovery year and moved Neuse up to High-A where he is younger and can become a real prospect if he succeeds there (too soon to tell)


Jeffrey Rosa (for Enny) -  He was an old rookie league player with mediocre stats.

Nats got Enny for nothing.


Dane Dunning - First round draft pick who looked good in Low A and seemed ready and willing to be aggressively moved up in 2017 as per usual.  Very early and in low minors but it was what you wanted to see.

Lucas Giolito - A true PROSPECT taht begin to hiccup a little in AA in 2015 as a 20 year old but still was way young. Despite not getting production there moved up to AAA in 2016 and performed well. Still a PROSPECT but the spectre of that overall mediocre AA performance was hanging over his head. That was 100+ innings saying he's being pushed beyond his current limits. 

Reynaldo Lopez  - Another PROSPECT, and another one with production issues. This time at High A in 2015 at 21. A little older than Giolito but responded better in 2016 to AA and AAA. He had a jump in K-rate in AA that was very promising, but it went right back down in AAA. Still a PROSPECT but with maybe only a year before age would force a downgrade.

These were legitimately two PROSPECTS and another guy who easily could be one in 2017. What you could say though is both the PROSPECTS were having production issues. It could be they were just young and going to get over it, but it could also be them hitting their level. Doesn't matter if you are major league good or AA good you should still look really good in low A.  Since then Dunning looked real good in A-ball but has stalled a little in High A, keeping him in the prospect range rather than something more special. Giolito has seen things start really badly and then leveled out to adequate. Age keeps him as a PROSPECT, he's still two years under to low range for AAA, but he's looking far more AJ Cole than Stephen Strasburg. Reynaldo Lopez hasn't quite put it together but he's put up another solid year especially recently (In last 6 games - 1.96 ERA, 0.927 WHIP, Opp OPS .547, three of his four double digit K games this year) You may not be feeling ace but you'd have to say he's still a PROSPECT who should see major league time this year so who knows?


Max Schrock  (for Rep) - A guy who you could honestly say made himself into a PROSPECT though you didn't see that in rankings. 21yo in High A with an .826 OPS.

By production arguably a better get than either of the guys the Nats gave to Oakland this year. This is where scouting diverges from me. Both those guys were essentially high draft picks, loved for talent and what could be. Schrock was a mid-range draft pick who had to perform to raise any eyebrows. Where as I accept what I see on the field, scouts are more dubious about these types.

As a waiver trade part - Schrock didn't play much for Oakland last year. This year they pushed him to AA and he's continued to perform, hitting .316 with an .816 OP in AA. He's still under the radar but he's a 22yo hitting well and fielding well in AA. He's done nothing production wise to say he's not a PROSPECT. Anyone saying something else is clinging to three year old scouting reports saying he shouldn't be able to be doing what he has been doing.


Taylor Hearn (other part of Melancon deal) - propsect who was kind of a young Enny. Great swing and miss stuff but when he didn't have it he was hittable and gave up bombs and walked too many. Kind of an outskirt prospect.

So he was more than a throw in to the deal, but less than a vital part. He was the change, where as Rivero was the dollars. The type of guy that gets thrown around in deals alot because he's interesting enough to tip the scales, but not vital enough to worry about losing. The Pirates seemed to say "don't worry about control. Just worry about not being hit" and it worked wonders in A-ball. However on his promotion to High A this year he's not quite as K-dominant and he needs to either be that or work on his walk-rate. Still a prospect up a level so that's good but needs to step up next year to keep it that way.


It's an interesting mix here. The Nats either paid too much for Rep or too little for Doolitte/Madson. I think Schrock and Giolito play into my hands - about production being paramount to talent. But Lopez is seemingly an age / time case where the talent guys can say that his natural skill just needed some more innings to catch up.

Also it shows these are decent guys that the Nats are giving up in terms of prospect value. However it should also show you that really only the best PROSPECTS are the guys you HAVE to protect. There's a lot of questions for anything else.


*Nationals Propsects does NYPL, Low A, High A.   I do Low A, A, High A. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Our guys

A couple days ago someone brought up on Twitter the possibility of getting Felipe Rivero. Oddly a Pirates fan jumped in and claimed the Nats didn't have enough to get Rivero. That the asking price vaguely guessed at recently (3 Top 30-60 prospects in a deal with the Dodgers) was too low and that it would take FOUR Top 100 prospects to get Rivero, starting with a Top 15 one. Nevermind that Rivero has plied his trade as a dominant closer for all of 4 months. Nevermind this was way out of line with the vague deals offered for Osuna, a far more established young closer arm with only one fewer year of control. Nevermind that what he was saying was the Felipe Rivero, FELIPE RIVERO, should bring back arguably the greatest haul of prospects in baseball history. He believed it.

Of course Dodgers fans hated that original deal too. They felt it was far too much. And this is the dance we go through every year, specifically at the trade deadline. Our guys are too good. Your guys aren't good enough. Of course all any of us have is our opinions and as guys who probably have seen a few games at best of any of these players our opinions aren't going to be as good (we hope) as the scouts and the GMs that do this for a living. Still we can try to inject a little realism into the proceedings.

You are going to find other takes on these guys and you should! But here's how I like to think about prospects. They shouldn't be bad. This seems obvious but a lot of people are willing to overlook something poor thinking it will get better. I think prospects can improve but going from terrible at some point in the minors to good in the majors? You better be a 19yo in AAA. Which brings me to the second point. You should be young for your level. What does that mean.  Here's a good chart, courtesy of Nationals Prospects  In my opinion, if you are a prospect you should be doing well at the lowest end of these ages. If you are a PROSPECT you should be doing well below these ages. You can certainly develop into a useful player otherwise but with each flip of the calendar those chances diminish quickly. Also you do need to factor injuries into this. Injuries delay progress that the prospect could be making and would be making. Assuming he gets back to health he should just pop back up, behind the original schedule but still there.

A couple more points. I value production at AA and AAA far far far more than I do below that. I am close to dismissive of A and Low A performance unless it is just incredibly impressive. Because of this I probably undersell the youngest prospects. Also I forgive pitchers and catchers a little on the age, but just a year. I hate big strikeout totals for hitters and low strikeout totals for pitchers as those guys can be killed at the major league level. Finally, I don't see defense. Like I have no idea, so I rely on what I hear completely from other places. There really isn't an option for those that aren't going to see dozens of minor league games.

So that's how I look at things. The thing to understand is that everyone has their level at which they stop being a productive player.* We can use how they are doing currently to estimate that but you don't really know until they move up and prove it (or don't) on the field. That's particularly true the younger you go, when there still may be some noticeable physical changes, but it holds pretty much up through your mid/late 20s. Players learn and grow, but in the end everyone has a ceiling.

This is where I stand. It's not perfect but it seems to work ok. You should certainly trust guys who spend more time on this more** but you're here so on to the Nats best prospects.

Victor Robles - He's done everything you want. Dominated GCL to start, and since then he's been hitting while being below the usual low end at each level. Hit at A ball at young 19. Hit at High A at young 20.*** Doesn't strike out too much. He does seem to need time to adapt when moved up. His first 40 games at high A weren't great. He's not hitting well in AA now. But he's so young that this can't worry you at all. He's basically one step - hitting well in AA from being considered for a major league trial. If he hits at AA before year's end he probably starts 2018 in everyone's Top 3. Everyone loves his defense as well. He may not hit for power but you are almost as sure of Robles' likelihood at being a productive major leaguer as you can be for a minor leaguer.

Erick Fedde - injury (TJ) slowed down development so aggressively moved through system to get him back on prospect track and he hasn't given any good reason not to - performing at least ok at each stop. He's currently at where he should be to still be a "prospect"- 24 in AAA but is not having a great go at it. It's not as bad as is ERA would have you believe and the IP are very low. However the drop in K rate, which was never lights out, does give you pause. Ideally you'd like to see him finish the year strong, or have a good 2018 in AAA where he's hitting expectations. Failing that he'll start looking like a back-end of the rotation command guy.

Juan Soto  - Similar to Robles but a smidge younger. Great GCL performance at an old 17. Hitting in A ball at an old 18. Unfortunately now he's injured. It's likely his performance in 2018 will suffer because of this (that's just typical) leaving him likely in High A in 2019 as well. The good news is that he'll still be in PROSPECT age range then. His defense and speed are in question but if you like low minor stats he's a better hitting prospect than Robles was at that point. Like I said I want to see dominance at these lower levels and that's pretty much what you see here. Nine strikeouts in 109 PAs? It's a big gamble to let him go. At the same time he still hasn't performed above A-ball and with the injury being a 2020 call-up would be an optimistic goal. He's just about to be a big name in the prospect world but he's nowhere near an immediate help.

Carter Kieboom - He was nothing special in rookie ball but blossomed as expected in A-ball at an old 19 making him a PROSPECT. He hits for more power than most at this age, and has managed to cut down on his strikeouts, which looked problematic last year, despite the move up. Both those are encouraging signs. But he's been out since May with a hamstring injury. Seems like most people aren't sold as him as a shortstop which diminishes his value a little bit, and leg injuries this early in development can't help. At this point with the varying minor league performances and the injury he's interesting but I wouldn't pencil him into any future lineups just yet.

Andrew Stevenson - Kind of like Robles light. He's wasn't as young going through levels. Was a young 23 before he got past AA. He didn't hit as well. He's a little more strikeout prone. He doesn't hit for any home run power which you'd like to see by this age. But he's been good eventually at each level, he doesn't strike out too much, and he's fast. People like his range in CF but not his arm too much. I tend to think the high reliance on average will bite him in the majors as the defense improves and the K's go up. And first he has to prove himself in AAA which he hasn't. I'm feeling very strongly that he's a 4th OF type but given his age he's got a couple seasons to prove me wrong. That's his positive right now - still has potential.

Wilmer Difo - Hitting solidly since being put into a starting role. Minor league numbers though have never been impressive. He's a prospect who's generally been floating on by being young without ever being that good. Any strong feelings seem to be based on a good 20 games in High A with the bat as a young 23 year old. He is a great contact bat, but he doesn't walk and the power never developed to the point where it's a big strength. It's hard to believe he will ever really hit in the majors consistently although at a young 25 now there's still a chance. He's fast enough that that can be considered a plus. I've seen his defense. It might be good but it's not going to carry him to a starting position.

Brian Goodwin - Too old to be a prospect now. A good example to look at about hitting a level. In A ball - on the low end of the age range hit great, so was moved up to AA and was briefly a PROSPECT in my mind. but never really got it in AA. Stuck out way too much. Nats tried to keep him a PROSPECT with a move to AAA as a 23 year old but he was close to awful there. Back to AA he went and then back up to AAA the next year more to write him off than anything. He hit better in AAA but not great, he was still on that border where you might expect K issues in the majors and he was no longer young. Despite being a PROSPECT in A ball, his level seems to be around AA/AAA. That's not to say he couldn't hang in limited ABs in the major leagues but he's not much more than a throw in.

Other guys

Pedro Severino - has been PROSPECT young for his level all the way up. Has also been a terrible hitter all the way up with the exception of his very brief time in the majors last year. I have a hard time being excited about a guy who has literally never hit in the minors.

Austin Voth - the reason, at least production wise, to be wary on Fedde. Had a productive year in AAA last season on the lower end of the age range but didn't strike anyone out. This year that's gotten worse and he's just been bad across the board, so much so he's now been demoted.  Granted Fedde is a better prospect - he's got much better control. We could look at AJ Cole here, too. Arguably a better prospect than Fedde by production at points and people did like him. But it seems apparent his level is AAA


What does all the above mean? To me it means Robles is a guy you could build any deal around. But that makes him a guy you'd have to be very careful about including. And for the Nats - who need OF help next year probably, I don't see how they trade him. Soto would probably be that type of "any deal" target too if not for the injury. That almost to me, makes him the perfect guy to deal. You have to LOVE what you've seen so far. It's a star track. But it's also a star track way at the beginning and almost certainly slow to arrive. Let someone else ride it out and get some help you can count on for the next few years.

The other guys I don't see any reason why not to stuff them into any deal. Fedde is the hardest one but not because of expected future performance. Instead it's because of a lack of usable starting pitching depth for the Nats. He's arguably it. That makes him unlikely to be traded, unless there is another SP coming back. Kieboom's the only other one that should give you any pause but there's so little to judge there that I don't see how you can get hung up on it. He's just a question mark. The rest aren't even that and should probably not bother you in the least to move.

Have at it. 


*This is true for major leaguers as well. The thing is there is nowhere for major leaguers to go. No Super Major Leagues to be bumped up to. So for me the biggest jump, and why I'm wary of prospects until I see them, is the jump to the majors. At each level before you have a mix of players, but the best players get cycled out eventually to be replace with another group to look at. At the majors the best don't cycle out. They sit there providing you with the greatest bump in competition you'll see after getting into the system.

**For example I would have undersold Bryce because he was just barely hitting in AA and AAA. It was still REALLY impressive because was 19 in AAA but still I would have wanted to see production

***Oh I forgot! We've talked about this before but birthdays matter. Especially in the minors. Your age is based on how old you are on July 1st. So a guy born on June 28 2000 would be considered the same age as a guy born on July 2nd 1999 despite being a year apart. A year apart is HUGE when you are young. So to point this out. I separate ages into "young" - which is basically born in April/May/June and "old" which is born in July/August/September. 

 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Redux

Since the All-Star break Strasburg has had issues getting loose, despite not pitching in the game. He's showed a distinct lack of command recently.  Strasburg's velocity though remained good so instead of choosing to do an MRI the Nats are hoping just giving him a chance to reset will be enough. It's the prudent thing to do.

Oh sorry. That's not about 2017. That's what happened 11 months ago.

Some people took issue yesterday when I said (on Twitter) that I thought it was obvious that Strasburg's arm wasn't going to hold up. My argument is that last year we saw A B C D and E happen. Strasburg got more rest in the offseason than usual given that he only pitched once for two innings after August 17th. This year we have seen A and B happen. It is not crazy to believe that C D and E will follow. It is not crazy to believe that we will see A and B happen again next year.  The counter argument appears to be little more than "maybe not!"

Do I think Strasburg's career is over? No. Do I think he has to miss the rest of 2017? No. Do I think he will miss as much time this year (about a month) as last? Probably so! Do I think that he will have to have some sort of procedure or otherwise exist as a 3/4 of a year pitcher in the recent future? Seems likely! 

If this were completely another injury; hip, back, neck, finger, than fine. We don't know. But a forearm injury less than a year after a very very similar set of circumstances and another forearm injury? Please. Once is a chance, twice is a pattern. This is a pattern.

Strasburg may be able to last the year, throw in every start, and be reasonably good. But the smart money can't be on that.  The smart money has to be on missed time. The argument should be about how much, not if.


Side Note : Edwin Jackson stinks, but as we discussed Nats will win division. Who the 5th starter is, assuming it's not someone brought in to pitch in the playoffs, doesn't matter. Now should the Nats bring in someone to pitch in the playoffs? I think so. Said that yesterday. If you are on the "Stras will pitch in playoffs and be effective" side - it can be one more pen arm. If you are on the "Stras will miss playoffs" well it's gotta be a starter, right?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Do the targets change?

Prior to this weekend I said I wanted the Nats to get another arm for the pen and to kick the tires, so to speak, on trades that would help them beyond 2018. With Strasburg facing some sort of injury review today has my mind changed?


Yes, yes it has.


Relying on Strasburg, Roark, and Gio in 2-3-4 was already a tenuous positions. Injury, past performances, and more recent performance all cast doubt on their ability to perform at a high level come October. You can't erase doubt, but you can try your best to decrease it. At this point that means going after a long term pitching solution.  And what does THAT mean? Honestly it means Sonny Gray.


A couple weeks ago I had Gray in there with Gerrit Cole and Dan Straily. Why does it end up being just Gray? Well the Pirates don't seem to be inclined to pack it in for the near future and thus would want to keep an arm like Cole. I don't doubt they could be convinced to part with him but given how he's pitched over the past month they are probably looking for a #1 starter type package. Given how he pitched the beginning of the year, teams including the Nats, are probably looking to give up less. As for Dan Straily, well the Marlins don't have any pitching so to trade Straily would be an utterly confusing move. Cheap and good, if you trade him you might as well trade everyone because you aren't competing until at least 2019. I don't think that's where the Marlins are based on the last couple weeks of talk so Straily comes off the table. I think.


Everyone else able to help the Nats going beyond 2018 will involve taking on some part of a huge salary. I suppose that they could come up with a deal for say a Samardzjia and then agree to a restructuring of it but none of the big contract guys are so appealing that you feel like you are getting a sure thing down the line.


No the answer, if there is to be one, is Sonny Gray. What will it take?


If it's Robles I still balk. As I've explained Robles is a player I'd definitely expect to help the Nats in some manner past 2018. Werth will not be helping past then and Bryce may be gone. Even if he's just an average outfielder you have to hold onto him. That way you can use the cost savings to get someone to help somewhere else. True, you (should) like Gray to be more impactful. Bird in the hand and all. But between a pitcher I feel really good about for 2018-9 and a AA hitter I feel pretty good about through the mid 2020s, I gotta side with the latter.


If it's anything else I probably bite. But being honest, if it's anything else there's a good chance another team could outbid the Nats.


This is where I stand today, not knowing what's up with Strasburg. A "issue of routine" could swing my head back toward the 3rd pen arm being most important. While I still would feel iffy about the playoff rotation, if Stras is healthy you can't ask your team for much more than a Max/Stras 1-2 + competence in a series. And while I would want Nats to look at help going forward, there's always the offseason. Anything worse than that - anything missing time and the above holds.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Monday Quickie - Next problem up

The Nats won yesterday and the bullpen performed quite well, providing multiple innings and only giving up a couple of runs. The day before that they sealed the deal, a little shakily, in a one-run win. The game before that, with no margin for error they eventually blew the game with a run in the ninth.

All in all it was a series performance you'd probably take every time from the pen.

13IP, 10H, 3ER, 7BB, 16K.  That's an ERA of near 2.00 and an acceptable WHIP of 1.31

Of course there is a problem hidden in these stats - the Nats bullpen had to throw 13 innings instead of the ~9 you hope for over a series.  What happened? Well I'm sure you know what we're getting at but I don't want to gloss over the first thing that happened. Max went bad for a couple of innings.

Max started his game giving up back to back to back home runs. Over the next 11 batters he'd give up another 4 hits (2 doubles), a walk, a couple of line outs. He turned it around and ended his day striking out the side in the 5th but you can't help but wonder if there's something more here. If it wasn't for Sunday this would be the story going into the week - keeping an eye on Max's next start to make sure this was just one of those blips that happen during the course of a long season.

What happened Sunday was Strasburg left the game after 2 innings. He was a little wild, giving up 3 walks int he first two innings and reaching 3 ball counts which each of his last four batters. Still, it's something pitchers usually work through as a test of how to make it work when you don't have your best stuff.  Strasburg though took himself out, so you knew it wasn't just being off. It was confirmed later that he had an problem with his forearm. The positive spin was it was just precautionary, but let's look at just the facts.

Stephen Strasburg has only pitched 127 and 147 innings the past two seasons. He is at 121 for 2017 right now. At the end of 2016, Strasburg had to stop pitching because of a forearm issue, missing most of September and the playoffs.  He had mentioned that since the All-Star break he hasn't felt comfortable. (Reminder : he did not pitch in the ASG) He was worried enough about it yesterday to pull himself from a game just 50 pitches in.

Put that all together and you have good reason to worry. About what exactly? Well my first thought is a repeat of last year. Some sort of forearm strain that requires at least a month of rest. If that's it then you hope he's ready to go say... Labor Day weekend. You hope he gets right back to pitching how he has been. You hope that jumping right back into the major league schedule doesn't break him after a couple of starts*. 

If you are a pessimist of course the response is Tommy John. That would be terrible given the limited success of the second surgeries. But there wasn't the usual indications in his velocity or breaking pitches that this was the issue.  If you are an optimist, its just an issue of routine and some time in his next couple of starts his arm feels where it should be and at worst he has a couple more short outings.

I'll stick with my guess right now - he'll be out for a month or so. But I will add GET A GOD DAMN MRI.

In other news - Enny Romero was also pulled with back issues. That is what got Enny to the DL last year so now it's a persistent problem. Enny was kind of getting some nice praise from fans recently but his season has been one very good month (June) and two and a half bad ones (April, May, July). To me, he's no more reliable today, than he was at the beginning of the year. That doesn't mean he doesn't belong in a major league bullpen. It means though that he should be your last or second last option, working through his issues and trying to max out that talent in innings that don't really matter.

I assume we'll hear today whether he's out or not. You can't really sit on a bullpen injury. Especially this pen


*Remember even though he was deeemed ready enough last year for maybe the NLDS and probably the NLCS he never pitched. So he had all off-season to nurse the injury. We don't really know the effect of coming back in a month to it.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Going for it ^= ALL IN

OK it appears that yesterday's post was read as a plea for the Nats to go all in. I'd like to say I don't see where you were getting that - but I can totally see where you were getting that. This is what happens when you run through one draft and a quick editing check. I was hoping that saying that I didn't think the Nats should trade Robles would clarify that point but apparently not. So to clarify

I wasn't saying :
"OMG LOOK AT THE PRECARIOUS SITUATION THE NATS ARE IN FOR 2017! AND THE FUTURE BEYOND 2018 FEELS COMPLETELY UNCERTAIN!!!

THEY NEED TO GO ALL IN!!! LAST CHANCE!"

I was saying
"OMG LOOK AT THE PRECARIOUS SITUATION THE NATS ARE IN!  AND THE FUTURE BEYOND 2018 FEELS COMPLETELY UNCERTAIN!!!

It would be advisable if they address at least one of the three potential 2017 issues with a trade prior to the playoffs because while the chance all three come to bear is very unlikely, the chance that one does is not that far-fetched. Better to reduce the odds by attempting to eliminate one. Also, while looking into these issues, I would like it if I saw news that the Nats were addressing them in a way to deal with that uncertain future. I would love it if they could manage to address these issues without mortgaging the future in any significant way."

To put it into practical terms :

Fedde and Soto for Alex Cobb and Jay Bruce? RUN AWAY

Fedde and Soto for Sonny Gray and Andrew McCutchen? I'm listening. Doesn't mean I think this is available or that the Nats would do it but I it's the type of thinking that I want to hear the Nats are doing. Longer term thinking (which I think they do) not necessarily tied to payroll (which I think they are hesitant about)

Hope that makes my point a little clearer.

Another thing I want to note : Somewhere in the comments was a "With Werth gone the Nats have that money (21 Million) to fix some problems"  Well... no.  We can even ignore the Doolittle/Madson costs for now. Murphy is making 5.5 million more next year - 15.5 Million left. Bryce is making 8 million more. 7.5 million left. Eaton is making 2 million more. 5.5 Million left.  Do you want Adam Lind back? Of course you do. He mashes righties. He's due to make 4 million more. It's all gone pretty much! OK so you let Lind walk. Well then, you don't think Rendon (5.8 Million) and Roark (4.3 M) and MAT (580K) won't eat up 5.5 million in arbitration raises? (Spoiler: They will)

And like I said that's before you consider the 12 million that Doolittle and Madson will cost next year.  Oh and did I mention the best part? I didn't. Here it is.  That 21 million of Werth money is only coming off the books for luxury tax purposes. Werth actually deferred 10 million of his 2016 salary to 2018 so they are only paying 11 million less.

Basically the team you see today? That's the team that will be there in 2018 with some fringy edge changes, unless the team makes a deal or adds more payroll. But it's a good team! A playoff team.

And as for 2019 being cloudy, that's just the truth. The fact that after 2012, that 2013-2015 was pretty clear, and 2016 wasn't completely cloudy is the exception. Often you can't go more than a year or two at the best and feel confident. Three years feeling really confident and one sort of four years out? That's crazy! So 2019 being cloudy doesn't mean anything. It's typical. It's not bleak, it's cloudy.  You know what? 2017 was cloudy during 2015. Then Trea Turner kept developing like you'd hope. Then Joe Ross was unexpectedly good to finish year. Then Murphy was signed and magically became an MVP. Then Strasburg signed an extension. Suddenly, by May of 2016, 2017 (and really 2018 too) were pretty clear. It can happen just like that. 

So this is not gloom and doom. This is Nats are in a good spot for this year and next and there is the standard uncertainty about the future, which Rizzo and luck worked through once, beyond that.The Nats remain in a good position. I'm hoping Rizzo works and the Lerners pay now to make that true for 2019 and maybe beyond.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Going for it

Last year the Cubs traded for Aroldis Chapman. Some people didn't like the trade. It's too much. They didn't need him. They were young and good and would be in the playoffs for years to come so why bother?

Fast forward to 11 months later and the Cubs had to streak just to get within three games of the Brewers and are even further out of the Wild Card.

Chances are fleeting. Nats fans should know this. In 2012 they were presented with an amazing situation where due to luck and skill all this talent coming from drafts, trades, and free agent signings coalesced to create what seemed like would be a four to five year window of dominance. To best take advantage of that time frame the Nats sat down Strasburg, saving his arm for the inevitable need in the future. But then the Nats managed to make the playoffs only twice in the next 4 years and even when they did Strasburg was never the tipping point. They won the division with ease and Strasburg made no impact in the playoffs.


The offense, with Werth and Turner and Eaton all currently out, has collapse potential. It would probably take an injury to one of the big three but that wouldn't be unusual as all have recent injury history. The starting pitching, only going 3 deep now and reliant on a Strasburg who hasn't gone beyond 150 IP in a few years and a oddly competent Gio Gonzalez, is worrisome for a playoff set. The relief pitching, was so bad that bringing in two very good arms only gets you back to the point where you probably need one more arm.  There are still fixes to be made, if not for starters able to win you a division, then for depth that keeps the team able to compete in case of some bad luck.

You can do the playoff dance again. Get in see what happens. Technically that's your best bet. Nats are all but in now and no longer have a gaping wound on the mound in the late innings. There are no pressing needs. But we don't know what 2018 brings*. We REALLY don't know what 2019 will brings.**  I'd have loved to see the Nats make another move or two. Seeing the deal as it went down, it's obvious Robertson was there for a song. Did they let it pass by because of the money? Because they feel they are done?

I'm not advocating selling Robles. Never have (I don't think). He's too good and at this point they need him to come up next year. But there's no one else I feel that way about in the pen. Make some moves. Get some guys who should be good for this year and next and make a full play at the WS title you want before the chances inevitably fade away.


*Really I feel next year is more about the NL East than the Nats who should mostly be similar. It's very likely they don't get the performances from Gio, Zimm, MAT, Lind, that they did in 2017 and Werth could be gone, but a healthy Eaton and Turner likely keeps the offense chugging along as one of the better ones in baseball, and Madson and Doolittle here for another year means the pitching will likely be solid. 

**This has the look of the year they will come down, although 2017 had that look too before the Max signing, Stras re-signing, and Murphy becoming a superhero. At this point Gio is gone (always season staff reliable even if I don't trust him for big games), Madson gone, and I wouldn't be surprised if they let Doolittle walk with his injury history. Murphy could be gone - though re-signing is possible. One one hand - this marriage seems to be fruitful for both. On the other, he'll be 34 in 2019. And the big one, Bryce could be gone. Also at this point Max/Zimm are 34. You are really hoping Robles is a star, Turner is a star, they've re-signed someone and that something else has come along. Or the NL East is still garbage.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Second half worries

I was going to do this on Friday but it would have interrupted the trade stuff and I wanted to get that out of the way. The Nats have a pretty clear run at the NL East title but that does not mean that they don't have any worries. In fact if you squint hard you can find a worry anywhere.


Catcher - These guys stink. Wieters is hitting a measly .245 / .295 / .377  and since the end of April is "hitting" a "robust" .219 / .246 /.313. That's nearing "Inaugural Guzman" territory. Making things worse is Wieters is not good in the field either making him a complete failure. Making things worse than that, Wieters' god-awful last few months are still better than Lobaton who's hitting .140 / .202 / .267

First base -  Zimmmerman's montlhly OPS's
April : 1.345 (AMAZING!!!)
May : .905 (ALL-STAR!)
June :  .791 (Solid Starter, though maybe not at 1B)
July : .631 (RIP)

Zimm doesn't field well anymore so if he's not hitting he's not helping and he's not helping right now.

Second base - Daniel Murphy got injured last year. It could happen again. This is also the worry for Third base (Rendon) and Right Field (Bryce)

Shortstop - Trea Turner is out and Stephen Drew (.273 / .309 / .386 - eh) and Wilmer Difo (.258 / .336 / .325 - bleh) are in. Drew is a roll of the dice and Difo hasn't hit well since A+ ball. But you can't also just wait it out because coming back from a broken wrist is not easy. Turner had been hitting better but he still wasn't generating the same power as last year and the wrist means he's unlikely to do so this year either. So BEST case is he comes back healthy and is a good Singly Joe.

Left Field - Where is Jayson Werth? In the midst of capping out the contract with one more miracle year, Werth hurts his toe and is never seen again. As he's aged Weth has been more prone to injury and has found it harder to come back from them so expect that if he comes back he won't be the hitter he was to start the year.

Center Field - MAT looked to be finally settling in to at least a passable starter, if not better and then suffered an oblique injury and will be back who knows when with an injury recovery bat. His replacement Goodwin has shown flashes of impressive play but is hitting .227 / .324 / .420  since becoming a starter. Those aren't starter numbers.

You may ask - if all these guys suck so much why are the Nats crushing it right now? Well Number one - Reds.  Number two - here are how Rendon, Bryce, and Murphy OPS'd that series.  2.107, 1.524, 1.500.  "Great" you say. "but three guys alone can't do all that damage." You're right. There are other guys hitting really well the past four games. Their names are Adam Lind, Ryan Rayburn, and Chris Heisey. Want to depend on those guys?

Starting Pitching - The Nats don't have a 5th starter and Roark had a terrible June that ended with him being strategically punted out of the rotation for a cycle or two.  It is completely reasonable to worry that he won't have any better a second half.  Strasburg has two numbers associated with him you should remember - 24 and 23. These are the number of starts he has made the past two years. Gio has been pitching well but we're all waiting for the other shoe to drop on him.  Max? Well I suppose he could explode on the mound.

Relief Pitching - The Nats finally have some arms! Doolittle and Madson should be good. But it's relief pitching so they'll throw like 20 innings and there's no guarantee they have to be good. And neither of them were closing games for the Athletics this year. That's not a high bar to jump over. So great stats or not, neither of them might be suited for a closer role either. Despite saving 30 games, the A's did not like Madson as closer. Doolittle is great but has thrown 74 innings in 2 and a half seasons and is probably best used judiciously.  There's room for improvement even from here for sure.


Did I properly satisfy the pessimists and nay-sayers? Good.

Now for the optimists - Who cares about this!? The Nats are going to win the division. Enjoy the baseball or go to sleep for two months. Either way it's the Nats in the playoffs back to back for the first time ever and anything can happen once you get in. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Mad, Son because they do little? Not anymore

The Nats made a deal to fix the pen.  How excited should you be?  Pretty excited.

The Nats are getting two great arms. Both Doolittle and Madson are having great years and have been consistently very good in recent history.

2017 Doolittle : 0.656 WHIP, 0.8 BB/9, 13.1 K/9
2017 Madson : 0.788 WHIP, 1.4 BB/9, 8.9 K/9

2015-6 Doolittle : 1.101 WHIP, 2.2 BB/9, 10.3 K/9
2015-6 Madson : 1.125 WHIP, 2.4 BB/9, 7.5 K/9

A lefty in Doolittle that is death to left handed batters (no hits to LHB this year) A right hander in Madson who is killer to righties (.177 / .226 / .253). Both though good against all batters. It's hard to see a downside with what the Nats are getting.

Of course we can try.  For Madson the worry would primarily be his age. Madson will be 37 soon and has already missed seasons worth of time due to a Tommy John injury. That was a few years ago and Madson has been fine since returning in 2015, but you still have to think of him as an old arm with a TJ surgery in the bank. That's not the best combination. We all saw how Joe Blanton dropped off a cliff dramtically and he didn't have the elbow history.  For Doolittle it's injury that should concern you. He has missed time in each of the past three seasons with the dreaded shoulder problems. So far rest has been enough to get him back on track but eventually it won't be. The other thing that might be an issue with Doolittle is that he wasn't all that good a righties last year. Both are over performing as well.

Those are the negatives. For Madson's age it's something to think about but hard to see how that's going to matter now 60% into 2017. I think it he was going off a cliff he would have already.  As for Doolittle, yes, that has to always be on your mind, but right now he's healthy and that's what matters most. His RHB numbers were never terrible so he doesn't have to LOOGY it unless he performs worse than usual. And while these two might, probably should, perform not as well as they have been, that really means they should be good to very good instead of great. There isn't much of a downside here for 2017.

So the Nats got two good arms. What did they give up?  Well Blake Trienen for one.  Based on the news from yesterday everyone lives Blake as much as the Nats did. He does have great stuff. High 90s heavy fastball. That's killer. His BABIP and LOB percentages suggest a bit of bad luck.  Last year Blake was one of the better middle relievers in the game.  He's not being paid and under control till 2021 (though he is older at 29).  Treinen could be very good.

Then again that's ignoring the elephant in the room, Treinen's history of pitching worse in more important situations. If the A's can't fix that the best you can hope for is one of the better 7th inning men in the game and that's not really worth all that much.

Sheldon Neuse is an overall talent who can do it all. Field, hit, run, pop. The question is if this jack of all trades can do any one thing well enough to be impactful. Luzado was a legit prospect who was Tommy Johned into a Nats bargain draft pick. He just came back and has been good but it's real early, he's real young and it's real low level.

Neuse reminds me of Max Shrock, the guy the Nats traded the A's for Repcynski last year. They are early in careers and still on the development path they should be. If they keep on that path, they will become useful pieces. If they surprise, and at this stage/age it's still certainly possible, they could be keystone players.  Luzardo is more of an "all or nothing" lowest of the low ball players.* It's the gamble Beane is taking.  Instead of taking the Billy Burns - guys you know are bench players or middle relief arms today - you take a chance to get something more.  But with players that you like to still be something even if they aren't.  It's sound strategy for a middle reliever.

For those that want to add Sonny Gray to the mix, a Sonny Gray would need something more. Something closer to a Robles or Soto. This will be true of nearly any starting pitcher that's not a FA next year or who the Nats aren't eating a large contract for.

This is exciting because the Nats needed multiple bullpen arms, at least two preferably three, and they've already gotten their two without giving up major prospect pieces. For those hoping they can add David Robertson this leaves that possibility completely open.  For those hoping they can add another rotation arm, this leaves that open as well.

Could it all fail? Sure. Anything can. But this is a far more sounder plan than relying on two talented guys that ended 2016 injured and a guy with one good year of middle relief in his history. When they all failed it was surprising. If Doolittle and Madson did it would be shocking.


*However give me lefty starters with stuff if you are giving this type of player because I like these guys transitioning into bullpen arms. Luzardo is this type