Nationals Baseball: November 2013

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Carving up the lefties

Before you take off for the best holiday of the year let's be clear in the fact that while the Nats would love to get a reliable lefty for the pen, it may not happen. Why is that the case?

This is why.

Javier Lopez hasn't been worth 4.3 million in any year in his career (although you could probably argue it for last year - which good for him on the timing!) He's old. Older than me! And yet he gets a nice fat contract. What will the more reliable and younger Boone Logan get? At least that. What do the Nats want to pay? Not that.

They'll look. They'll kick the tires. They'll offer fair deals. Problem is fair deals are not going to get it done. They need to overpay for lefties and they may not do it. That's why they are talking about Solis so much. As we talked about in the comments, it's not really about leverage on deals. Lefty reliever will get theirs. It's about getting you fans ready for what might happen when Rizzo can't pull the trigger on an overpay. Are you ready?

Thanksgiving Menu - for those interested.

Turkey, sour cream mashed potatoes, glazed root vegetables, cranberry sauce, sweet potato casserole, dill rolls, sausage stuffing with sage and dried cherries, pumpkin pie, cranberry handpies

Monday, November 25, 2013

Monday Quickie - the Haren the Hound

Dan Haren is off to LA. Good for him. The Nats really couldn't re-sign him even if his 2nd half was decent. Bad contracts are like bad relationships. You get a pass on it once, but if you go back to him/her and it's bad again your friends start thinking "well you brought it on yourself". With a contract you get a pass on an injury riddled under-expectation season as part of the game. Bring him back and he fails again, fans start thinking "this GM doesn't know what he's doing, does he"?

Its been a quiet month for the Nats. Promotions and Minor league signings have been pretty much it.  And that's ok. Rizzo doesn't usually move a light speed. I can't think of any big pre-Thanksgiving moves. The Span trade (Nov 29th) was the earliest that I see. Haren and Werth were both signed in the first week in December. Gio deal was near Christmas. LaRoche - Jan 7th then the 8th. Soriano was signed mid January, about when Morse was traded in his time frame. Edwin Jackson - February. Honestly signing Chein-Ming Wang might be his biggest move before the holiday season starts.

While no news isn't good news, it's expected news. Just the way Rizzo seems to operate and honestly what has it cost him? Not much.

Anything else we should remember about Rizzo?

He's loathe to give out extra years for the sake of signing someone (Werth excluded). FA pitching signings (Jackson, Haren) were both one year dealies. Didn't want to give LaRoche a third year when that would have cleared up 1st base super early in the FA process. Didn't give in to Prince's demands. What it could mean: Moves might be late in the contract period where he can get a deal. (Burnett for a year + option?) Expect him to stick to his evaluation on any FA signings. Which in my mind makes the Cano dream unlikely, also makes guys looking to be overpaid like Choo & Ellsbury very unlikely for whatever crazy "he moves here" domino game you had in mind. Hasn't yet given a long term pitching deal out so guys like Jimenez, Santana, Garza are extremely unlikely unless they fall into that deal zone mentioned above.

He has been willing to deal. Dealt for Gio and Span giving up decent prospects to begin with. That's a good sign now that the minors have a few decent arms that could bring something back. The Gio deal wasn't with his guys, though, nor top-notch propects either. The Span deal wasn't a slam dunk win. And while the minors have a few decent arms, that's pretty much all it has so to deal means to empty out the minors again. Will it make him gun-shy on another deal? Might not know for a couple years because one deal-less off season isn't exactly telling. What it could mean: SP trade could be coming. Don't give up on the Price dream just yet. However don't bet on it because that is really a minor league system dumping for the Nats. Scherzer, if still on the market might be more possible. Are there any dark horse candidates? Yovani Gallardo. If the Brewers realize they aren't winning now he sort of fits what the Nats like. Jhoulys Chacin is also an interesting case. Gio like contract left, but not as good a pitcher so potentially not as costly a deal.

He can surprise you. Signed Soriano to "strengthen a strength".  You can say it didn't work out or you can imagine if Storen pitched the same way and Soriano wasn't here. So what kind of similar move could he make? What it could mean :  I don't see a big splash deal, just because I don't see any of the BIGGEST position player names falling into 2-3 year contract territory like Soriano did as a closer. But if people shy away from a Nelson Cruz? Or if Granderson finds himself with no home and it's closing in on February? With a deep middle in the class, I could see him making a deal for an OF and letting Matt Williams figure out how to use that talent.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Middle of the Pack Nats

Commenter Cass brought up something interesting the other day. On the current fangraphs projections for the 2014 season the Nats are decidedly middle of the road, 18th in the majors. Yes, understanding that it's WAY early and this does not factor in free agency that hasn't happened yet (so all free agents are nowhere right now) is there some underlying truth here? Are the Nats not very good?

Well, first of all there is a lot of things that will help you assuage your fears. While the Nats are figured to be 18th overall right now, that's still 8th in the NL and decidely closer to the best NL team (6 games) than the best AL team. In other words, the NL itself has no standout teams in projection so it's not like the Nats have lost before the season even started. Even better they are just a smidgen behind the Braves in this projection. Given the current talent levels that sounds about right to me. The Braves are better, but not by more than a couple games. A couple games can easily be undone over the course of the season by random luck (although you'd much rather have it undone in the offseason by savvy signings).

Also projections like this are notoriously... flattening. Look the best team in the NL last year won 96 games, the worst won 62, but in the projections for next year the spread is 88 to 72.  A 34 game spread is now 16 games. This doesn't mean that the projections are wrong, just that the idea of projecting has a fundamental flaw. This is something we've discussed before. Seasons are often decided by injuries, break-outs, and crashes. These are things that can't be projected with any accuracy. You know they are going to happen. You can sort of pinpoint teams that may have an edge (young talent with room to improve) or a big flaw (35+  talent, or relying on guys who may have had fluke seasons) but that only gets you part of the way there. The rest is unknowable but it happens every year. (Doesn't mean you don't try to put yourself in the best position though. It's easier to get to 95 wins if you are starting from an expected 90)

Ok so the above says - don't worry the Nats are in the playoff hunt and given their general reliance on young talent would be a better bet to overperform on that win total than underperform. Where exactly do I think the projections are guessing low?

Ian Desmond : Projection 3.0 WAR.  (2013: 5.0, 2012: 5.0)
You can tell this is at least a 3 year projection by the fact that they've pretty much discounted Ian's defensive improvements over the past 2 seasons. Also they only have him playing 130 games, which he has beaten by at least 20 in 3 of the last 4 years.

Jordan Zimmermann; Projection 2.5 WAR (2013: 3.6, 2012, 3.4)
Projections seem to hate ZNN. It's a much milder way than the way they hated Lannan, but it turns someone who has been a #2 type pitcher the past 3 years into a #3. I can't see the reasoning behind this one.

Where do I FEEL they are guessing low?

The Pen (Soriano, Clip, Storen):  Projection 1.0 WAR  (2013: 1.1)
Ok that's not a big drop and it can be entirely explained by a drop in IP projected but still last year was the least valubale year for Clippard and Storen since 2009 and Soriano's least valuable closer year ever. One of these guys alone might get 1.0 WAR next year.

Jayson Werth: Projection 2.2 WAR (2013 : 4.6)
Ok I don't think he'll hit like he did last year and I do agree his fielding will still suffer but a big part of their projection is him playing only 118 games.Factor in 30 or so games and better hitting and that's a whole win they are underselling him.

Bryce Harper: Projection 3.9 WAR (2013 : 3.8)
This is all just gut feeling. If Bryce is going to be that special talent he should break out sooner rather than later. I think he is that special so I'm feeling breakout.

Is there anyone I think they are too optimistic on?

Adam LaRoche : Projection 1.2 WAR (2013 0.6)
In fewer plate appearances! No I think last years LaRoche is where he stands now.  That's not good, but over the course of the season you can swallow it. For one more year.

The top of the rotation - not that they will pitch worse but they have Stras, Gio and ZNN pegged for over 550 IP, which means no major injuries. I always assume a major injury when it comes to pitching, but I guess it'd be unfair in this exercise to predict that for the Nats.

All in all, like I said before I like the Nats chances to beat what they are projected for here, more than go under it and if you factor in what I think are under estimates and over estimates, I have them*better than the Braves and in the thick of the WC hunt.

*Caveat being that I haven't look at every NL team. Might be if I look at the Braves I think they are underselling some guys there too. Or overselling a couple. Really all I'm saying is that the Nats aren't a base .500 team - more a base 85 win team right now, with strong potential to beat that.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Great Expectations

In the 2+ years since coming back from injury Stephen Strasburg has been one of the 10 best pitchers in baseball. Even ignoring the strong finish from 2011 only bumps him down to a Top 15 and he's at least two years younger than all but 2 names above him (and there are only 2 in that range in the next 14 below him).  He's a clear #1 pitcher in his prime with likely a half-decade minimum of All-Star level performance ahead of him. 

And Nats fans don't like him.

What Bryce Harper has done in this first two years in the game is amazing. Before the age of 21, when the vast majority of players are still in the minors or college, he's put up a .272 / .353 / .481 line. Only four players in the history of the game have done better in a comparable number of PAs by that age. Even expanding out to age 21, the numbers that produced at that level are miniscule and the list is overrun with Hall of Famers. Ted Williams, Eddie Mathews, Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson, Hanke Aaron, Ken Griffey.

And Nats fans are ready to turn on him unless he puts up a MVP type year in 2014.

I really hate fans sometimes.

Expectations are a tricky thing. If either Bryce or Strasburg had failed, or at least slowed down their ascent, in their minor league stints, it's likely that we would have written off those "generational talents" evaluations as wishful thinking. It happens all the time. Guys look good in HS or college, but they hit some hitch on their way up and either need some time to work on it or worse, can't overcome it at all. Neither Stras or Bryce really hit a hitch though. They were able to breeze through the minors and make it to the majors on schedule, if not before. Because of that they carried their whole "future Hall of Famers" expectations with them.

The kicker is they haven't even failed to live up to those lofty goals just yet. Bryce, because of his young age is still arguably on target for greatness. Strasburg, when looking at age, isn't that far off either, thanks in large part to the fickleness of pitching. Yet fans hate. 

In large part I think it's because they not only have failed to live up to the outsized expectations, but we're, kind of amazingly, seeing others players reach those levels. There hasn't been anyone this young and phenomenal as Bryce since A-Rod... except for Mike Trout.  In the decade since Mark Prior teased everyone with his ability, only King Felix and the burning out Tim Lincecum had shown themselves to pitch as well as Strasburg has at this young an age... but right at this instant Clayton Kershaw is doing it, Chris Sale and Madison Bumgarner are a "better than Stasburg 2014" from separating themselves from him, and guys like Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez have that potential.

Bryce and Strasburg are no longer just fighting to reach expectations that have only been met by a select few in 100+ years, they are now fighting to match someone who is looking like one of the great young players of all time, and possibly the best group of young pitchers we've seen since before the War, the first one. (we'll see - pitching has lots of ways of disappointing you)

This is all amusing and infuriating to me at the same time. The Nats have two of the best players under the age of 25 in baseball today and yet it feels like because it's not THE two best players under the age of 25 that it's some sort of failure. Really? Is that how some people look at the game?*.

Arrrrr. This is frustrating. I think this way of thinking is just so stupid and really kills any enjoyment from the game. It's "World Series or Bust" on a career level. But maybe you like viewing the world like this so I'm in a quandry. I guess we'll agree to disagree, and I'll agree to call you stupid every few months.

*Of course it is. There are like 80 college football programs that think that they can compete for a national championship like every 4 years with the right coach and support.  That's not to mention the ones that feel they should compete on that level MORE OFTEN. Fans are stupid and unreasonable. It's part of the fun for some.  

Monday, November 18, 2013

Monday Quickie - really quick

Could Span be traded? Could Rendon?


There you go. The Nats don't seem to be actively looking to deal anyone. They like the team as is BUT they may want to acquire a big time bat or a big time pitcher. If that's the case they know someone might have to be dealt. And they are ok with that.

Who is not on the trading block? Bryce, maybe Strasburg. There's probably a bunch of other guys they prefer not to deal (ZNN, Gio, Desmond, Giolito, Ramos) and guys they probably can't deal (Zimm, Werth) but you never know. The last thing you want to do is say "This guy is not on the trading block" then have an offer come in that you want that sends that guy out the door. So, like the Nats are doing, you don't commit to anything.

If that deal comes, I'm want you to understand something. It's extremely easy to overrate your own talent.  Here's your November warning.

"With Adam LaRoche having a bad season at the plate, do you think the Nationals will end up trading him along with possibly Danny Espinosa and others to the Rays for Price?"

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  Who are the "others"? Rendon, Ramos, and Giolito? HAHAHAHAHAHHA

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sammy Solis in a few moments

Just yesterday I said Sammy Solis isn't a real threat to pitch in relief for the Nats. Today Zuckerman says "IN YOUR FACE!" 

So which is it? Ignoring for a moment the elephant in the room that is the fact that Zuckerman actually talks to people on the team, what do all we know in cold hard facts lead us to believe?

He pitched well in Single A.  He was limited a little bit coming back from injury, which is why he only logged 60 innings in 13 starts (14 appearances) but he did throw up some decent numbers - 3.32 ERA, 1.307 WHIP, 3 homers.

But he didn't pitch great or anything. 1.307 is good, but it's nothing special. Ian Krol put up a 1.317 in the majors last year. That walk number is too high (2.9) considering he struck no one out (6.2). It's enough to move him up to AA but to expect him to be in the majors soon?

Plus he's old. He turned 25 in August, a couple weeks after Strasburg did.  How would you expect Strasburg to pitch in Potomac? Solis should be doing well in Single A where you are looking for 22/23 year olds to shine.

Of course, because he is old the Nats might want to push it. There is no reason to wait on Sammy to see what develops because in two more years he'll be 27 going on 28. That's not prospect age anymore and for the majority of players, it's the point where you start to decline.

And he is left-handed. We don't need to go over why the Nats want a lefty in the pen, do we?

But he didn't show any proclivity toward getting lefties out last year. Again, Single A lefties hit .284 / .333 / .432 off him. Not that that means anything definitive in the majors but it's something.

Of course he pitched much more impressively in the AFL. 29 IP, 2.17 ERA. His K/9 number was up to 9.0 and his BB/9 was down to 2.1. Those are the numbers you want to see.

Grain of salt though - guys strike out more often in the AFL than in Single A. At least this year, once every 4.16 AB to once every 4.61 AB. That's could explain a bit of the K increase.

Though they also walk more too.  So that control increase is impressive.

Still AFL stats are so limited does it really say anything for a pitcher? It was only 30IP, which is just a good month. Pitchers with 19+ IP and ERAs under 3.00 the past few years:

2012 : Kyle Kaminski, TJ House, Justin Marks, Robbie Erlin, Seth Blair.
2011:  Terry Doyle, Steve Johnson, Danny Hultzen.
2010: Marc Rzepczynski, Eric Hurley, Ryan Verdugo.

The guys in bold are the guys that would pitch in the majors the following year. Two notes : RZ pitched in the majors before the AFL, so I wouldn't count him, but Hultzen really could have gotten called up by now. He's legit. So let's say 3 out of 10?

This is all pretty pointless, to be true. All that matters is that when Solis starts pitching in AA does he do well or not.  If he does, he gets moved up. If not, he doesn't. But if you want me to bet on it, I'm thinking Sammy doesn't help the major league team in 2014. And if the Nats are thinking about it as anything other than Plan D, well I don't know that I trust what they are doing.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Do the Nats see what I see?

So we've reached the end of the positional review and what did we learn? Just like going into 2013 the issues are at the fringes. With the exception of maybe platooning LaRoche, it's all bench, bullpen and back of the rotation. Does it seem like the Nats agree?

Pen : The talk right now is all LHRP.  Javier Lopez is the hot guy right now, the team and Lopez expressing mutual interest. Boone Logan has also been named. I'd be fine with Logan. I'd hate Lopez. Allow me to explain.

In the relief discussion a few commenters mentioned that the LHRP is not only just "getting out lefties" but taking advantage of batters with really bad split numbers. If Ryan Howard hits .300 vs RHP and .100 with no power vs LHP then it would be silly to NOT bring in a lefty to face him. I can't disagree. My issue comes with the idea of the LOOGY though. Having a guy in your pen that only exists for the situation above, who cannot get out righties, is limiting. He can't really be used in trash time. He can't really be used to give you an inning. If the pen gets stretched during a couple of days, he's not really any help.

Enter Javy Lopez :
2013 RHB v Javy : .296 / .361 / .444
2012 RHB v Javy : .417 / .500 / .479

Yikes. That's a one-trick pony right there.

It's not that you can't carry a guy like that. You can. But you better be super confident in the rest of your pen because this is a two batters over 3 nights kind of guy. Are you that confident that Storen has cleared up his issues? That Soriano isn't on the way down? I'm not and thus would prefer someone that isn't as limited

An intriguing suggestion has been floated around that Sammy Solis, minor league SP prospect, could spend some time in the pen as a lefty specialist a la what the Cardinals might do.  I'm thinking that's just tossed out there for negotiating with real targets. Sammy's LHB stats against last year was .284 / .333 / .432. In single A. That's not someone you want in your major league pen.

Bench : There will be a replacement for Tracy and Hairston will be back. Assuming the Tracy replacement is good then the Nats are already in better shape than they entered 2013. A new back-up catcher has at least been discussed. Given Ramos' injury history I think this is critical and Jhonatan Solano isn't going to cut it. Lombo and Moore will also be back. The question of course is why the hell Moore is back. Yes he hit .344 / .375 / .459 after coming back but like usual it was a hot start into a cold nothing, .250 / .308 / .417 over the last 15 games. The history with Moore is that his hot streaks are very hot but they are not sustainable and over the long haul he just can't compete at the major league level at the plate. Given that he contributes in no other way, and the plan of using Moore utterly failed last year, it's baffling to me why Moore would be back. I'll guess we'll have to see how much truth there is to this assumption

Starting Pitching : This bothers me more because I really get the vibe that the Nats are looking at not adding anyone to this staff. They probably will add somone, but going into 2014 thinking Roark and Jordan and Detwiler, etc. etc. is going to cut it... I just don't see how a team that has WS aspirations would believe that was a good strategy.

Their has been talk of Price (YES!) or Scherzer (OK!) or others but really those sound more like "If there's a favorable deal out there of course we do it" which isn't how a team should think during its window. With the WC situation changed the way it has, it's no longer enough to sneak in and let luck carry you to a title. You need that window wide open, even if it's briefly rather than open a crack for a long time.

Of course, again, all conjecture. I like that the Nats are looking to make changes where they are necessary in the pen and the bench. I don't like how in SP (which is more important) they seem pretty amibvalent.


Trade Span? Nope. Just Scott "Sherry Lewis" Boras speaking through John "LambChop" Heyman trying to drum up interest or apparent interest in Ellsbury. Nats deny this rumor straight up. I don't see it being true at all.

Tanner Roark & Taylor Jordan are not Tommy Milone & Brad Peacock.

Friday, November 08, 2013

If I ain't closing, I ain't posing... as a decent relief pitcher.

Rafael Soriano will start next season as the Nats closer. He is not their best reliever. Taken together this is actually a GOOD thing, because it allows better relievers to be freed up to pitch in higher leverage situations (one would hope) while Rafael, a good arm but no longer a great one, can handle any pressure that may develop in the 9th.

Except what happens if/when Rafael struggles? It's coming, you know. His fastball speed is on a strict downward slope. From 93.4 to 92.8 to 92.3 to 91.4 last year, and that's because he's getting older. He'll turn 34 in about a month and he can no longer dial it up to the levels he had in the past. The K numbers show a stark drop from 2012; 9.18 K/9 down to 6.89 last year. There's a word for  fastball heavy pitchers that can't dial it up past 90. Retired. 

So far he's been able to weather this issue. He's been able to give out fewer base on balls. 4.12 BB/9 to 3.19 to 2.30. That's a massive improvement. In 2012 he was a slider / fastball pitcher, using the former to set-up the latter. In 2013, in part because the slider was not in itself an effective pitch for him, he started using his cutter again, a pitch that he could make effective. The results however were not the as good as 2012. Two years ago the slider (82.9 MPH) provided a sharp contrast to his waning fastball (92.3). The cutter (~91) does not. As we talked about with Dan Haren early in the year, velocity differences can help keep a hitter off balance. Not having them can be an important aspect to a decline in performance.

Another thing to note is that his contact rate went up to 81.5%. For the most part he's not making hitters swing and miss. That would be ok if he had now become a GB pitcher, but no, he actually gave up slightly fewer GBs than he did last year. Even with the drastic decrease in BB, he's seeing more baserunners because he's giving up more hits. The WHIP is up from a great 1.167 to a still very good 1.230.

The picture being painted here is pretty clear. Soriano is getting older. As he does he's losing his fastball and he's trying to compensate in a number of ways. He's a decent enough pitcher that he's held on across 2-3 years of decline, but it looks like it's starting to catch up with him. Unlike in 2012, he didn't really have an answer last year and he was a bit of bad luck away from being rocked. His improved control has allowed him to keep enough baserunners off the paths so the hits he gives up won't matter as much but there is only so much more room for improvement there. Soon, perhaps very soon, this is going to blow up.

So what, you might say, just move him off of the closer spot if it happens. In fact, as I noted yesterday, the Nats would be glad to, because they are potentially in line for a big guaranteed 3rd year if Soriano finishes out enough games*. Sorry, but that's the other issue with Rafael. He's a petulant little brat who can only perform in certain situations. The last few years bear that out

SV SIT : 3.42 ERA, 1.215 WHIP
NS SIT : 5.54, 1.462

SV SIT : 1.82, 1.014
NS SIT : 3.44, 1.582

SV SIT : 3.31, 1.163
NS SIT : 2.55, 1.415

The numbers are pretty clear (2013 may look murky but the drastic difference in WHIP should tell you it's luck that he managed a 2.55 ERA in non-save situations) and they are backed up by any interview you might have seen with Soriano. He imagines himself a closer, nothing else. Put him in the game when he is not due for a save and as we all saw this year, watch him pitch with all the interest of a teenager watching a Biology filmstrip (do they still do film strips anymore? I'm 1000 years old)

This is a huge potentially unresolvable issue hanging over the Nats head going into 2014. Soriano will be the closer. He performed well enough to keep the job and he's getting paid a ton of money. But he could easily fail out of that spot and if he does that he could very well be completely useless as he pouts his way through one subpar outing after another. The Nats would then have an 11 million dollar millstone around their necks. The Lerners likely wouldn't let Rizzo cut him (nor would Rizzo's ego) so they'd basically be carrying one useless arm in a pen that may not be able to afford that luxury. 

Of course this is all conjecture. He could figure out a way to pitch better, or just repeat the mix-and-match, just good enough that you might not notice he's on the cliff year he put together in 2013. For Nats fans that's what you gotta hope for because the potential is here for a messy end to Soriano's tenure as a Nat.

*It would be tight regardless if we are just looking at regular season, but his vesting option might include postseason. I couldn't find anything on that.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Offseason Position Discussion : Relief Pitching

Presumed Plan : Soriano will pitch the 9th, Clippard the 8th, Storen in the 7th mostly. Stammen will be part of the mix as well. Beyond that it's a guessing game with Krol having a good shot and Ohlendorf in long relief if he doesn't secure a starters spot. It's likely that another, more experienced lefty will be brought in to round out the relief corps to give Matt Williams some flexibility.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan
Soriano gets the ninth more by default. He's not bad (3.11 ERA, 1.230 WHIP), he gets the job done (6 blown saves - perfectly average for closers). Plus he's making a ton of money to close. Clippard was one of the best relief pitchers in the game last year, so he gets the presumably next most important role. Storen struggled early in the season but sported a 1.40 ERA & 1.03 WHIP after coming back. Ohlendorf was a pleasant surprise, sporting a 2.86 ERA in relief before moving into a starters role. Stammen was quietly effective.

These guys are all righties so at least one other lefty is needed.  Krol, a decent prospect who pitched ok last year, would seemingly get the nod over Abad (pitched worse, older) and Xavier Cedeno (limited look last year and bad history). However one lefty is not enough, especially given that Krol struggled at times and may not be reliable. An important part of the 2012 pen was Sean Burnett. Since the pen did worse without that type of player, it seems logical enough to bring in another. They like JP Howell but he's in a good spot with the Dodgers and is likely to resign. Maybe Javier Lopez or taking a chance with Eric O'Flaherty?
As for the other names out there, Mattheus might have pitched himself out of a spot. Roark and Jordan, who got some relief play, would only figure in if Ohlendorf won the starter's role and left the long relief spot open. Otherwise back to AAA to get starter's innings. Erik Davis likely didn't impress enough to force himself in.

Problems with Presumed Plan :
The main issue is one that isn't going to be overcome. It's using your best pitchers in forced roles in the 8th and 9th innings, meaning they are going to miss out on a bunch of important spots in the 6th & 7th for important spots in later innings that never come. See Me.

Soriano, already a malcontent, is starting to slide in ability as he gets into his mid 30s. Storen is kind of a headcase. Ohlendorf's pitching was good last year but he was also lucky and pitched way better than he has in the recent past so it's tough to see that happening again. Clippard... well I can't find anything really wrong with him, though he could easily sport an ERA a whole run higher. Krol is at an unreliable age and no one else has stood out in terms of looking like they might be a lights out reliever that the Cardinals made it seem like every team needs.

The free agent pool is pretty deep but you will be paying a lot for a reliever, which given the amount of innings thrown, doesn't make pure sabrmetric sense.

My take :
While eventually it'll be done, it's a lot to ask to expect the Nats to be the ones to break from the accepted way of using bullpens cemented over the last 30 years. What's most important is that the pen is filled with decent arms that don't hamper the managers ability to do what he wants to. The Nats presumed plan covers this.

I don't like Soriano, but for one or two more years he might be ok. And don't worry, if he struggles he will lose that closer role, because the Nats can avoid a guaranteed option if he doesn't finish 62 games this year (he finished 58 in 2013). I like Storen and I think the Nats do too. He could be trade bait I guess, but the relief corps isn't that deep. Clippard may in fact pitch 3.50 but with a ton of innings that will still be valuable. Stammen is kind of an undercover hero.

After those 4 it's less clear to me. I think Ross is due for a collapse, but he pitched well enough last year to earn a chance and assuming they sign a SP, they now have long relief depth that I feel ok about with Jordan and Roark. Krol isn't great but he's 22, and as the last arm in the pen he makes me much happier than H-Rod did. The key will be getting that 2nd lefty. A bold manager could work around having one lefty.  Clippard has historically been very good vs lefties so you could use a LH early and still have Clip for lefty heavy lineup portions in the late innings. Unfortunately managers rarely see past "Lefty hitter coming up! I need a lefty pitcher!" so that 2nd lefty is needed. Off the top of my head I do like Boone Logan, but that's probably biased by the amount I've seen him pitch.

Sure it'll be costly to sign one of these guys but who cares about cost effective winning. Wouldn't you rather have 93 wins for 150 million than 90 for 100?  It's nice to prove you are smart but in the end winning is all that matters, no matter how it's achieved.

Outside the Box Suggestion :
No lefties if Krol doesn't make the team. Good pitchers should be expected to get everyone out. I don't know why it would be thought otherwise. Think about it this way, you want guys who can get lefties out. There are righties that can do that at the fraction of the cost of what it's going to take you to sign a lefty relief specialist. Sign Tim Stauffer (career .251 / .315 / 402 v lefties, .190 / .248 / .281 vs LHB last season as a full time reliever) and take a chance on Jesse Crain (just a good pitcher when healthy) and tell Matt Williams that you have 6-7 good arms in there, if you can't figure out how to get a couple lefties out then someone else should be managing.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Monday Quickie : Starting Pitching Comments

Let's get into it starting with one managing comment. (Side note : I have to admit I liked what I heard from Matt Williams. At least he's singing it. Now will he bring it? Again we're talking a month or so into the season before we can really know what type of manager he is for 2014)

Do you really think managers make little difference?

Yep. Even if I didn't, I think the effects of managing can be hard to pin down.  So better to say - since you can't show that you can rely on it, you can't expect managerial changes to make big differences. (obviously some terrible situation are exceptions). You just hope it seemingly works out.

Why did you say ZNN went back? He pitched better! 

My fault completely I guess I stopped paying attention to ZNN at the end of the year. I can admit my mistakes. He did pitch arguably better, though I'd argue more "he pitched within error to how he pitched the year before". Either way he certainly did not pitch worse.

One thing to note though is that my statement was predicated on the ERA bump. Of course ERA is a little wonky as a predictor, but his ERA last year was more in line with how he pitched than his luckier 2012. In other words, we're not likely to get a "runs given up" result much better than 2013. He pitched better AND the results matched up better. So 2013 is ZNN, 2012 is ZNN with some luck. (forget Wins and losses for this)

What about Haren? He came around.

No, and it's all about appearances really. Rizzo wouldn't actually be making the same mistake twice if it didn't work out again. In 2013 he made the mistake of paying 13 mill for a injured star hoping for one last great year. The 2014 mistake, if it happened, would be paying say 8 mill for a dependable veteran pitcher whose newspaper stats and bad start covered up a decent year. But still it would totally FEEL like he made the same mistake twice because the pitcher in question didn't change, just the situation around him. Gamble on a losing horse  once and your loss can be forgiven. Gamble on it again and people start really questioning your decision making. (If Haren was the only option maybe you do it, but he isnt so why bother?)

What about trading Strasburg? 

Yikes. Well ok, if you aren't going to sign him then I can see your point. Pitchers are fragile and his value could go down so deal him now when teams think they might be getting something really special instead of say a borderline #1. Ok, well do you think you are really going to get fair value for him? You'd have to get back value that would help now (no prospects) or you'd be hurting this team for a while.Yet you aren't going to trade Strasburg to a team that's a few years away because of his upcoming FA status. So you have to find a team in the hunt willing to deal key players away? Tough gig. Just for funsies here's my opinion on if the other guys would do it.

Trout, straight up - NO! AND DON'T COME BACK!!
Price and Myers - No. Only giving up a year of FA. (Price is a FA after 2 years, Stras 3). One year isn't worth Myers' future value for a team that has had offensive issues
Greinke and Kemp - Hmmm. If only to get that Kemp deal off the books (but then the Nats have it.). Do this deal, sign Tanaka. That's a hell of a staff to cover for a potentially anemic offense.
McCutchen and Liriano - Doubtful. The combination is right (the off player being one they probably don't need for the future) but Cutch is the face of the team, a Top 3 all around player, and on a reasonable deal. 
Votto and Chapman - In a heartbeat if they were smart. Votto's deal is loco and Chapman has been marginalized. They don't really need SP so they could then flip a SP to get a decent Votto replacement (or resign Choo move him to first and sign/get a decent CF), but teams are rarely this imaginative.
Goldschmidt and Miley - No. Goldschmidt is under a nice deal for longer than Stras. It'd be a tough call on a deal Goldy for Stras straight up. Ask for a decent young cheap SP as well and it's an easy no.

Side note : research shows Braves didn't balk on trade of Andres Thomas to Pirates for Barry Bonds. If it really took place seems like Pirates balked, as they should. They maybe wanted Blauser but Braves didn't want to deal him. But we're getting to 2nd level conjecture here.

What about Freddy Garcia on a minor league deal? 

Anyone on a minor league deal is a good sign (barring something like Simontacchi attempting a comeback) It's a super low risk move.


Too much money. He was better but only good and there's going to be a "remember when he was even better? Maybe he can do that again." cost to his contract.

If you can get 5 good starters why go with a 4 man? 

Well you wouldn't. Like you said - if the average of the 4 man is much better than that 5th it's worthwhile. Remember it's 7-8 starts you are keeping from Stras, Gio, & ZNN EACH. Even for the Nats, who have a glut of guys that look like decent 5ths, I'd say they get alot more from 21-24 more starts from this Top 3.

What about using more pitchers - let match-ups dictate the 5th guy? 

Like a pitcher platoon? I like it. Pitchers will probably balk at it - everyone loves routine. Plus if a guy does really well in a couple starts, even if it is match-up related, and his pitching platoon partner does not, you've created a distraction as everyone asks for pitcher A to pitch more. It could work. It might not be worth the issues that could come along with it. Love to see more of this thinking though.

What about Tanaka? 

Oh yeah I mentioned Masahiro Tanaka briefly in another answer but quickly - he's a 26 year old from Japan who is awesome in the Japan league (a little more normal in the admittedly brief WBC outings) that will likely sign somewhere. The cost will be astronomical for him as the bid (which is a huge part of the deal) isn't a salary cap issue and the contract signed after that is a relative bargain (Darvish is 10 mill a year, for example). Anyway expect that to make the Yankees and Dodgers etc. throw a ton of money, more than the Nats will.

Would I love to see the Nats do it? Absolutely. But again that's in a "no salary limit" world that the Nats should, but don't, live in.