Nationals Baseball: January 2011

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Re-entry post

Do not trade Gorzelanny! (well... don't trade him just because) And don't make him a long reliever. The idea that there isn't room for him in the rotation is nonsense. There is room for him. There isn't room for someone else. Like someone with more injury concern, older age, worse stats, and/or no history of pitching a full season. It's not like Gorzelanny is awesome or anything but it's easier to make a case for him in the rotation than it is for Maya, and maybe Lannan... or Marquis... or even Livan.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Education of Mike Rizzo

The more I think about the Gorzelanny trade the more I like it. Last year the Nats were going to open the season with a rotation like this

Marquis (presumed healthy)
Lannan (presumed healthy)
Detwiler (unproven)

with the other two spots filled in from some combination of : Scott Olsen (retread), Shawn Estes (retread), Miguel Batista (retread), Aaron Thompson (unproven), Craig Stammen (unproven), Garrett Mock (unproven), Shairon Martis (unproven), Matt Chico(unproven), Collin Balester (unproven), J.D. Martin (unproven), Chein-Ming Wang (mid-season injury return), Jordan Zimmermann (mid season injury return) and Stephen Strasburg(mid-season call-up, technically unproven). That's a lot of arms! Surely something good will come of these, right?

When Detwiler went down, in came Livan (retread), but you saw how the season progressed. The Nats never did nail down that #5 spot and when Marquis and Lannan both went down with injuries things got bad.

This season the Nats are slated to open with a more defined rotation of

Livan (presumed healthy - upgrade from "retread" since last year was good)
Marquis (major injury in 2010)
Lannan (major injury in 2010)
Zimmermann (major injury in 2009)
Maya (untested)

with pretty much the same jokers you see above gunning for a role if someone fails, replacing Olsen with Luis Atilano (unproven), and changing Strasburg's status to (mid season injury return). Well dammit if this year didn't look that much more secure than last year. Sure the injury returnees should be fine, but I'd bet one of them isn't and there's no guarantee Maya will make it. Add in a Livan collapse and within a month the Nats could be scrambling for 3 pitchers again.

There are a lot of question marks and as last year showed, just because something isn't a question at the beginning of the year doesn't mean it won't be at some point. Rizzo saw the rotation really needed another arm and tried to get a number 1, because, well... why not? But failing that he didn't just pack it in and say "we'll go with what we got"... well actually he DID but then he made the deal, which I hope shows he's learning. There is value in security and bringing in Gorzelanny gives the Nats more security that a healthy major league caliber arm will be filling a rotation spot. It may not be flashy but it's an important step in being a respectable team.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Coffey and Hairston

The Nats have brought in Todd Coffey and Jerry Hairston (Jr. lest you think the Nats signed some 60 year old for promotional reasons. Is Minnie Minoso still alive? Yes, yes he is.)

Since the comparison is being drawn, I feel necessary to note that Todd Coffey is NOT Matt Capps. Capps was a young reliever who had one bad year and several good ones. (the Nats were able to snatch him up because the bad one was his last one). Todd Coffey is an older reliever who has had one good year and several blah ones. Todd Coffey won't bring in Wilson Ramos (in fact Matt Capps shouldn't have brought in Wilson Ramos, so again - good job Rizzo). He's the guy you bring in in a scenario where you need a strikeout but don't mind a walk. Could he be the closer or the set up guy? Sure, I guess. But I think we all hope the Nats view closer as Drew Storen's job to lose, and Sean Burnett has earned the set up role.

Normally I don't like signings like the one for JHJ. He's done as a major league hitter. He doesn't walk or hit for power or hit for average. You don't want those guys playing a lot. However Hairston's positional experience is a benefit for the Nats. JHJ can play infield or outfield, he can run pretty well (though I wouldn't have him steal) and he can lay down a bunt. He can in essence fill 3 different roles in the modern bench - utility infielder, 5th outfielder, and pinch runner/bunter. It's often that the 3rd one overlaps with one of the other two roles, but to have all three overlap gives the Nats extra flexibilty. Hopefully the Nats use this advantage to keep an extra good bat on the bench (though I fear it'll just let them keep 3 catchers in the majors, though if that means Ramos and Flores I guess that's a good bat).

Monday, January 17, 2011

He's Number 1! He's Number 1?

They say it comes in threes. Lee! Greinke! Gorzelanny!

Ok ok enough with the jokes. Is Gorzelanny any good? Well a quick look says he's 28 and lefty. That's a good start. Basically he walks too many guys. His strikeouts have been ok the last 2 years, he doesn't give up too many homers, doesn't get hit too hard, but he walks too many guys. Did I mention he walks too many guys?

On one hand if the Nats can get him to stop walking too many guys he could be a nice little #4/#5 guy, giving the Nats a puncher's chance every time out. On the other hand, I'm sure both the Pirates and Cubs have been trying to get this to happen the last 5 seasons. Pitching coaches, thy names is Hubri, or something like that less mangled. Baseball wouldn't be baseball if teams didn't think they could be the one to get the guy to reach his potential. (I tell you some team is going to STEAL with Nick Johnson this year - and then some team is going to sign him to a moderate 2 year deal and watch him play 50 games over 2 years)

What this really tells you is two things:

1) The Nats think Burgess' acceptable AA stint last year was a fluke - and given the number of Ks I'd tend to agree.

2) Rizzo isn't THAT excited about the rotation, is he?

Update - I took a little longer look at the prospects and quick read : AJ Morris is 24 and has yet to throw a pitch in AA. With no awesome stats, he's facing an uphill battle to the majors. Graham Hicks is young but has yet to be good even at the lowest levels. These are more organizational depth guys. Really the trade comes down to how much you like Burgess.

Rizzo waves white flag on pitcher search

The Nats pitchers ARE pretty awesome, right?

We all know that Rizzo is just cutting his losses, playing up what he has now to make up for the fact he never got that rotation anchor he knew the team needed. Still, the best "everything goes right" case does seem possible, doesn't it?

Livan repeats last year, Lannan and Marquis pitch similar to they have in years that were not 2010, Zimmermann breaks out and has a solid season and someone else (looks like Maya is Rizzo's favorite) rounds out the rotation.

Nothing in here is crazy. There's no #1 in this case but there are 4 guys I'd say at least #3s, maybe a #2 depending. That's a solid rotation and with a decent bullpen (possible) and a good offense (less likely), the Nats would be a good team (like high 70s wins). The problem is the worst "everything goes wrong" case seems equally as likely...

Livan reverts back to his "retirement tour" form, Lannan and Marquis suffer through injury recovery and are passable at best, Zimmermann never gets back on track, and all those other pitchers are barely rotation worthy.

Again, there is nothing here that's "sign Pudge to a 2-year deal for tons more money than anyone was going to offer" insane. In this case you have no #1s, #2s, or really #3s. Maybe a #4 type guy or two but it's mostly rotation filler. In this case with a bad bullpen (not likely but bullpens are random) and a bad offense (certainly possible), the Nats would be a terrible team (like low 60s wins).

Of course, nothing ever goes completely right or completely wrong. Aim for somewhere in between and you have the most likely scenario, but at this point Rizzo's got to roll with what he's got on hand and he knows it. Nats fans might as well be optimistic about it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Livan might be opening day starter, also Woozle Wuzzle

Is this what passes for Nats' news nowawadays?

Hmm and what does Rizzo know about available starting pitching that no one else knows? If he really has a chance it must be a deal and it must be for a team that is giving up on 2011 already. But what team is that? And what pitcher? Wandy Rodriguez? Fausto Carmona? What will that take... I believe Rizzo is still trying to get to Point B, hasn't point B become Shangi-La by now?

Sunday, January 09, 2011

A failure of goals, not of actions

With Garza going to the Cubs, it is very tempting to call the off-season a failure. Mike Rizzo set goals for the off-season and it seems impossible to envision a scenario where the Nats actually achieve those goals. Where is that "top of the rotation" starter going to come from now?

But I find it hard to be angry with Mike Rizzo for this failing. The fault was not in his actions. He made moves and offers that could have easily brought in the players he wanted. The fault was in his... let's say, overly optimistic point of view.

It's a point of view that I would have probably had. Imagine this. You are appointed GM. You have carte blanche to spend money and to do what you wish with a decent roster of young talent. You have an offseason where you know Cliff Lee is available. You don't think you can get him but you know you can put up a competitive offer. You see Brandon Webb is available. Sure he might be coming off of injury and his arm is still weak but he wasn't a guy that needed to K people to be successful. He was a groundball machine and you are building a team to field ground balls. You hear that Zack Grienke is probably going on the market. You've got a young reliever and one of two young MIs that can be dealt plus a couple of interesting young arms. If you fail to get all of those, well there's Jorge De La Rosa, who is your type of groundballer and who might be special outside of Colorado, and there's Javy Vazquez, who isn't your type of pitcher but he is the type that can put up that special type of year, and the Rays have to deal one of Shields or Garza, who could really benefit going from the AL East to the NL. Why wouldn't you think you could pick up someone who could be labeled "top of the rotation" in one way or another?

You are going to let Adam Dunn walk (you need someone to field those ground balls) but you have the money to go out and get Derek Lee or Carlos Pena. They aren't guarantees to match Adam Dunn's production over the next few years but as a bet to have their combinations of offense and defense help the team almost as much Adam would have next season? That's not a bad gamble. Why wouldn't you think you could have an offense no worse than last year with a better defense?

Of course, it one thing for me to think this, but really Rizzo shouldn't have. He should have known that there are 20 or so teams every year going after the same guys with the same resources. Maybe he could get one of these guys above but even two is a stretch. (And because really outside of Lee and Grienke, it's hard to call those other guys "top of the rotation")

It's not a fault to try to reach an impossible goal, but it is a fault to do it in public. It makes it look like you don't know what you can and cannot achieve. It also sets up fans for disappointment. But I can't be angry with this type of fault. He did everything he could to make it real. He put up fair and honest offers. It just wasn't to be. It almost couldn't be.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Adam Average... the Nats hope

It's official. The "AdamLarocheEra Begins" text is scrolling on the bottom of Nats highlights. Two years, 16 million or something like 33% Adam Dunn, which is about right. The general feeling on Adam Laroche is that he's an average player. Are the Nats resigned to two years of averageness, or could they get something special? (or could it all blow up in their face?)

(I'm not discussing fielding here. Adam has the potential to be very good, he also has the potential to be average. For any particular year its hard to say. let's just admit he'll be better than Dunn would have been and move on)

First we need to understand the type of player Adam is. He's not the type of player that takes a free base. His walk rate is near the bottom of the barrel for first basemen. However, that doesn't mean he's a hacker. His 3.99 pitches seen per plate appearance is a perfectly acceptable number. Instead, he's a hitter when push comes to shove wants to hit his way on base. He's been good enough with his average and power that it's worked for him so far, but can it conitnue? A look at the last 3 years can tell us a little :

2008 .270 / .341 / .500 122 OPS+
2009 .277 / .355 / .488 122 OPS+
2010 .261 / .320 / .468 106 OPS+

2008 and 2009 Adam is a good batter. 2010 Adam is an average batter. 2008 and 2009 Adam is worth paying for and could be a surprising boon for the Nats. 2010 Adam is replaceable and won't really do anything special for the Nats. Which Adam is more real? Was 2010 an aberration like 2007 seemed to be, or is it the start of something bad?

Looking back farther doesn't tell us much. 2007 was again close to average, 2006 was his best year. His age (30) would lean toward him becoming average, but it's not like a couple good years at 31 and 32 are unheard of. So onto the fancy stats...

BABIP (batting average ball in play) should be pretty stable.
[Career] .315. [Last 3 years] .308 -> .328 -> .330

Adam might have been tiny bit lucky last year (though I wouldn't worry about it). The key is he certinaly was not unlucky here.

How is his K-rate?
25.0% 24.8% -> 25.6% -> 30.7%

OK well here's something. He's striking out a lot more. My first thought is that it could be an organizational thing since it only shows up last year. The D-backs were a very all or nothing type team (at least that's what we heard from the liberal media). If that's the case then maybe moving to the Nats would give Adam a real chance at a bounce back year. How can we tell? Well one way is to look at the GB/FB breakdown. Adam's GB/FB rate should move a bunch if there was an approach change last season.

Anything going on with his GB/FB rate?
0.94 0.87 -> 0.81 -> 0.86

Hmm that actually seems pretty stable. (in case you are wondering real early in his career he was more of a ground ball hitter but he's been more of a fly ball hitter for a while) No clear answer here.

While we're looking at hit-type epercentages, let's look at his LD%
20.5% 20.5% -> 21.6% -> 18.2%

Uh oh. That's a concern. It's not necessarily that he was striking out more becuase he was trying to drive homers last year. He wasn't hitting the ball as square. Can we find (a possible) reason why?

We can look at if he's changed the pitches he's swinging at. Let's take a look at his O-Swing% (swinging percentage on pitches outside the strike zone)
23.6% 22.6% -> 22.7% -> 28.1%

Well there we go. It looks like Adam is swinging at a lot more pitches outside the strike zone. This is way higher than any number he had put up in his career.

Any other numbers here of interest?

Contact %
77.5% 81.3% -> 75.2% -> 74.1%

Those last two numbers are ones to be concerned about as well. He's made less contact the past two years than he has ever in his career.

This is getting pretty long and number heavy. Now that I have a path, let's move on with the work not shown. When we parse it a bit more he's making contact less on pitches inside the strike zone, and as we saw above he's swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone. Is he being pitched to differently? Yes. He's also saw less fastballs last year than he had in a while. The way I read this is that he's having trouble hitting anything not straight in the zone. To make up for it, he probably chasing fastballs outside the zone which inherently are harder pitches to hit. A little more research is needed to see for sure and this is just one way of reading it, but it feels right on the surface.

The good news is that because there seems to be a change in pitches thrown to Adam, I don't think he's necessarily slipping all that much. He's just been figured out in a way. This means he's not likely to crash. Guys aren't going to start throwing him 50%+ off speed junk. He's not Wily Mo Pena. But it would also means that he's unlikely to bounce back with a surprise year, unless he can start hitting those off-speed pitches.

I think he's stuck as an average player. It's not bad, but it's not what the Nats and Nats fans are probably hoping to hear. He's expensive 2-year filler, with the best bet for him helping the Nationals is for Adam to have a couple of great defensive seasons. Possible? Sure. Likely. No.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

O's get Lee, Nats get depressed

No Lee for the Nats as Peter Angelos remembered he hadn't screwed with the franchise in a few months. Derek signs with the Orioles.

For those keeping score at home this means after the surprise huge-in-a-couple-ways Werth signing the Nats struck out on getting guys they really wanted Carlos Pena, Brandon Webb, Zack Grienke, and Derek Lee. They also missed on less than 100% runs at Javy Vazquez and Cliff Lee (technically true! You can't deny it!).

Who could have known the big splash the Nats made at the beginning of the hot stove was the sound of the team jumping off a bridge?

Now the team is resigned to bringing in Adam "The Rock" LaRoche on a 2-year deal. That's fine. It fills a hole that needs filling. It doesn't make any long term commitments so if everything goes perfectly and the Nats are ready to compete in a year or two, they can still make a big time deal for someone knowing Adam is (or will be soon) coming off the books. I'm not enthused about LaRoche himself. I'll go into more detail if he signs, but I think the step back during a healthy year at his age is a bad sign. Still I think he'll be average over the two years so... whatever.

What the Lee signing really means is that any hopes for a suprise 2011 is gone. Oh they could make a shocking run to 78 wins or something but I can't see a way they would meaningfully be in a playoff race. Hopefully Rizzo will see this and accept it.

What does that mean? Back off Pavano. Sure he fills a hole but he's expensive, old, and has a history of injury. You sign him if you feel good about 2011 or 2012, and that shouldn't describe the Nats now. Instead see what late 20s early 30s year old pitcher you can wrangle in late January for a cheap guaranteed 2011 deal and an team option for fair-if-average 2012. Maybe Chris Young, maybe Brad Penny, Maybe Jeff Francis (though I see him signing for more). If you can't do that - run with what you got. No Millwoods or Daviseses unless you are looking at an extremely cheap one-year deal.

It also means if the LaRoche deal falls through you don't sign anyone to start at first. If you want to bring Kotchman in fine, as a spot-starter and defensive replacement. But Casey and pretty much everyone else left does nothing for the mythical 2013 Nats so there is no reason to bother signing them. Put out the guys you got, cross your fingers, and hope for a surprise year that can help you lure another piece for 2012 where if the Nats are lucky, Strasburg, Harper, and this signing all combine to give the Nats a true jump in talent.