Nationals Baseball: 5th starter was always likely to be a problem and that's ok

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

5th starter was always likely to be a problem and that's ok

The Nats suffered their first defeat last night and it was because AJ Cole was beaten into submission. The Nats perennial starting prospect - one of the rare four time Top 100 prospect list players a testimony to both his talent and his inability to develop it - gave up 10 hits (2 homers) and 3 walks in 3 and 2/3rds which lead to 10 earned runs. Not quite a Jeremy Guthrie but not that far off.

Having THIS bad a game is uncommon for AJ but he's never really shown promise in the major leagues. Just using Game Score as a general guide his career is littered with mediocre starts that would barely hold onto a 5th spot for most rotations. In the Nats rotation, where 1-4 might be the best 1-4 in the majors, such a drop stands out even more.

It's not like the Nats didn't understand they may have a 5th starter problem. They brought in three major leaguers who might have fit the bill for other squads with Tommy Milone, Edwin Jackson and Jeremy Hellickson. It's that the Nats didn't care. This is part of the plan.

The Nats will likely let Gio walk at the end of this year which frees up one rotation spot. Roark is set to be a free agent the year after that. Like it or not, the Nats have to get a bearing on the guys they think could help them before 2021 and the best way to do that is to give them real time in the major league. Erick Fedde, the TJ surgery guy, is the guy they like the most. Scouts loved his arm out of college and he showed decent progress in the minors. However, Fedde has options left and the Nats are a team driven by options. AJ Cole, with no options left, by default has to be the first player tested. He's also the oldest (not old though - 26) and the first to be arbitration eligible (2020). Despite being around seemingly forever, AJ only has 18 major league starts under his belt, just over half a season's worth and a low number to make a judgement on, especially given his usual blah, but not awful, outings. Another month or two with similar results and he gets relegated to long man duty and then Fedde gets his shot.

Because this is Fedde's first real go, he may not get a full chance of like 5+ starts. They might see something they don't like and send him back down more quickly. If that's the case expect the Nats to turn to one of the FA guys to soak up innings until the trade deadline, when the Nats will have to make a decision. Having four good starters seems like enough, but it's a long way from the end of July to the playoffs. Plus Gio doesn't seem to be able to replicate any in-season success in the post-season. This doesn't mean they have to trade for someone. It does mean though that Cole works out or Fedde works out or one of the FA guys look sharp or else they should probably trade for someone.

So this isn't a failing - it's a plan. The Nats will probably win about 60% of their games with the other four starters. That alone is about .500 baseball. If they can play .500 ball when the 5th starter is on the mound - that's another 15 wins or so and a 96 win season. That should be plenty of wins. In the meantime they can figure out what exactly they may need to do in FA and trades over the next two years. Do they need no starters, one or two?

So is this nothing to worry about? Well no, I wouldn't go that far. Having a AJ Cole for your 5th starter shows about where your pitching depth lies. I like Fedde better so I won't say that Cole is the tops of the depth, but he's probably #2. That means the Nats starting pitching depth for 2018 is  pretty weak. So an injury to another starter could have a big impact, the better the pitcher the bigger the impact. But this is true for almost every franchise in baseball. Teams don't run 6-7 good starters deep. So I can't blame the Nats, unless they run into injury problems AND fail to address them at the trade deadline. But that's for later.

So while you may not like to see AJ Cole out there understand it's part of a larger goal and it's actually a side benefit of having such a good team. They can afford to check out Cole and Fedde and still feel confident in making the playoffs. Now if Cole throws up another middling 8+ starts and then we see him AGAIN, well then you can start getting mad. But let's hope we don't see that.

Other notes:

Bryce is awesome

The Nats bullpen lacks a real long man and that can be a problem. For one, Matt Grace, the defacto one, is both not very good and not really a long man, used for ~1 inning stints for most of the past year. But because he was out of options the Nats wanted to keep him in the majors and the best way to justify that was to try to stretch him out into 2+ inning guy. I'm not convinced. But you might have noticed that Grace didn't even pitch last night. That brings us to the second point, if Grace is your long man then Grace has to be available for the 5th starter games. No exception. Martinez pitched Grace for no real reason two days ago - his third night in a row - meaning he couldn't go yesterday.  It's not hard to make sure the one long man you have isn't on a required day of rest the day your worst pitcher takes the mound. Rookie manager mistake. Don't let it happen again. 

16 comments:

Brian said...

Long man out of the pen is where the Nats should be breaking in their mid-level SP prospects. Have a guy like Fedde be the long man out of the pen with an occasional spot start.

Anonymous said...

disagree you want fedde to build up innings. One of the biggest mistakes last year was shifting him from relief to starter and back and messed with his development. let the kid be a starter

BxJaycobb said...

I guess I don’t really follow the logic of giving Cole anywhere close to 8 chances. This is a guy who had a 5.88 ERA....in Syracuse last year. Give Fedde his chance now. Then you can go to Hellickson and Jackson, etc. but like....there is no scenario where AJ Cole is a success. Just like how last year we were originally going to stick with Treinen for like months as the closer, which made no sense....sometimes it’s clear somebody is not good enough to be a starter in the major leagues.

Harper said...

Brian/Anon/BxJ- I don't disagree that Fedde is the best choice but like Anon says they probably need a little bit of time to build him back up / make sure he's ready given their two-month flirtation with "Fedde the 2008 David Price relief type". He'll get his chance don't worry. Given that though - it makes sense to stick with Cole and give him a last chance, more than throw in your whatever FA 5th starter guys

Dusty's Toothpick said...

Rookie manager mistakes are a hot topic right now too! Come on Davey I like ya so far!!!

G Cracka X said...

Hellickson has a May 1 opt-out, so he will need to be brought up before then unless they don't mind losing him.

Robot said...

I'm done with Cole. Bring on Hellickson.

We see eye-to-eye on the subject of Bryce and his relationship to awesomeness.

Jay said...

I'm hoping Cole's starting days for the Nats are over right now. There is talk that the Nats may skip the 5th starter this time through. Hellickson makes another "extended spring training" start Saturday. I wouldn't be surprised if that next start isn't in DC. I have to admit that I can't stand watching Cole pitch. It drives me crazy. He just looks like he doesn't want to be out there the whole time. Looks like he is pouting to me. Plus he shuffled around the bases and didn't run when he actually hit a home run.

JE34 said...

I'd be OK if AJ Cole was openly weeping on the mound, if he was getting guys out and not throwing cement mixers.

If I hit a big league homer, I would *savor* the experience of the trot. I'd go so slowly they would bean me next time up.

If the Braves would stop all this hitting that would be great.

PotomacFan said...

Hellickson will be in the starting rotation by May 1. I predicted this before the season started (you can look it up). AJ Cole will be DFAd. Fedde will build up endurance in AAA. Fedde is the first one up if there is an injury to the starting rotation. Or maybe I should say, "when" there is an injury, or more precisely, when Strasburg gets hurt.

Ole PBN said...

I get the logic w/ Cole, and while I disagree I am not confused by it. But I'm really, and I mean REALLY, not a fan of going through a process only to arrive at the same conclusion we already knew before the process begun. That is what is happening here. The dude is garbage, has been garbage, and will continue to be if he gets an opportunity elsewhere. I don't blame Cole for this either. I blame Nats management for digging up trash out of the dumpster, spitting on it and shining it with a rag, and presenting it as something valuable.

JE34 said...

Hurry back, Daniel Murphy.

W. Patterson said...

Don't know why y'all are knocking Cole. He only has one less win than Scherzer. Or they have the same number of losses, depending on how you look at it.

'course, Cole's ERA is a LOT higher than Scherzer's so maybe there is a difference between #1 and #5 starter . . . Even though the only state that matters is in the W-L column. (I didn't watch either game.)

JDBrew said...

I dunno about calling Cole garbage and that he doesn’t deserve a look. He finished last year okay, and he had shown flashes of being at least a #5 starter. Players do develop sometimes and turn a corner. Before last year we probably all had similar sentiments regarding MAT. But last year happened and suddenly he’s not a HUGE hole in the lineup.

Fries said...

Biggest signing of the year: Rizzo just extended 2 years

Dusty's Toothpick said...

Harper, the one thing that bothers me is the perception that the Nationals are already the NL East champions. I read all the rankings, and see the numbers and the probability of them winning the NL East but losing can be contagious in a club house, especially a clubhouse that has not yet had time to gel. New skipper, Adams, and Montero (usually has a lot to say) and new bench coaches just seems like the Nats should just go for broke right now. The Astros 5th starter, Charlie Morton, could be a 1 or 2 for most clubs and they DID win the series so I feel as that should be the model. Just bring Hellickson up because 10 earned runs is ridiculous and unacceptable for this team. Next day Scherzer gets shelled, just saying.....the mentality should be to be the very best right out of the gate and then if there is a real cushion than you have some time to tinker but lets get out in front!