Nationals Baseball: Lazy Friday Post

Friday, February 21, 2014

Lazy Friday Post

Since February started here are the topics we've hashed out here.
  • Standings Projections
  • (not) getting Jeff Baker for the bench
  • to trade or not trade current back-up MI Danny Espinosa
  • trading prospect Nate Karns for back-up catcher Jose Lobaton
  • Tyler Moore's usefulness on the bench
  • Nats draft strategies in relation to their best prospect
bench, back-up, prospect, back-up, bench, draft, prospect. What you don't see is pretty important.  The Nats are settled. Outside of one position all the Nats know the role they play and there is at least some talent at each spot. I'm not trying to hype up the psychology of that. It was pretty much the same last year and that didn't turn out the way we assumed it would. But where the Nats are now is a spot that any GM would like to reach.

What's the one role yet to be defined? 5th starter. Here are the candidates

Ross Detwiler - 28 in a couple weeks - L - 4.04 ERA in 71 innings in 2013. Prior to that racked up a 3.35 or so ERA starting in 2011 and 2012, with a bit of an impressive relief showing in '11 as well.

Taylor Jordan - 25 - R - 3.66 ERA in 51+ innings in 2013, after breezing through A+ (1.24 ERA in 36 innings) and AA (0.83 in 54).  Prior to that spent 4 years "climbing" from Rookie Ball to A ball, showing the tendency to be extremely hittable. But was that the fault of injury? Looked ok in 2011 then needed Tommy John.

Tanner Roark - 27 - R - 1.51 ERA in 53+ innings in 2013, but 22 of those innings were as a reliever. Put up good numbers (3.15 ERA) in AAA. Prior to that spent 5 years moving from rookie ball to AAA as an organization guy, giving each level a lot of mediocre innings.

Now I haven't gone too far into fancy stats (I do believe I told you that this is a lazy post) but based on the above you have three distinct candidates.

Detwiler is the "proven" one.  He was a first round draft pick who has put up good numbers in the majors in the recent past. He also had the worst year last year and is the biggest injury risk coming back off a back injury in 2013 and having hip surgery prior to 2010.  

Jordan is the "prospect". The youngest by over two years his break-out in 2013 carries a bit more weight than it would for an older pitcher, especially considering the relative lack of innings in the minors. He's a groundball pitcher with good control, who if he can ever start missing bats could be a very effective arm.

Roark is the "hot hand". Easily had the best 2013, being unhittable at all levels. Even factoring some luck giving up HRs and hits, the 2013 numbers are undeniable. Unfortunately so are all the numbers leading up to 2013 which strongly suggest fluke, rather than step up.*

Based on just these ideas. Who do you like for the 5th spot?  I've never liked Detwiler that much but think this performance history merits "first crack". After that I like Jordan more than Roark as I'm a bit age-ist when it comes to players. So I've relegated the guy with the best 2013 to middle relief or a AAA starting role.

*If you want to go down a rabbit hole that exists solely in the vacuum of 2013, make your way through this fangraphs piece on Roark. Fascinating, but very potentially nonsense.


JWLumley said...

I don't understand how this can't be Detwiler. Roark is a fringe prospect who happened to have a hot hand last year. The Nats should thank their lucky stars and move on. Jordan is interesting, but I still believe that Detwiler has upside. At times over the last two years, Detwiler has looked dominant, not just good, but outstanding. Even though Detwiler had a 4.04 ERA last year he posted a FIP of 3.66 and his FIP and xFIp numbers the years before were basically around 4. What the Nationals have in Detwiler is the best 5th starter in baseball and sure he might get hurt, but that's what Jordan is there for. Roark belongs in Syracuse or on the Astros. He had a nice run, but the peripherals and scouting reports all suggest that it was Zach Duke-esque.

Sirc said...

"What the Nationals have in Detwiler is the best 5th starter in baseball"

That's bold.

I'd rather have Drew Smyly, or Bronson Arroyo, or Tony Cingrani, or Taijuan Walker. And maybe this is a "the grass is always greener..." outlook, but I'd also be willing to trade all 3 of our potential fifth starters plus some more to have any one of the above pitchers.

I would probably also take Ryan Vogelsong, Jaime Garcia, or Chris Capuano. Vogelsong I'm not 100% sure about, but he has been much more consistent than Detwiler has.

I mean, if Detwiler pitches 170 innings that equal the best 50 innings he's previously thrown, then I'd chuck out that second list. But I'd still trade him and the other three guys for anyone on that first list.

blovy8 said...

Yeah, I think Detwiler will get the nod, but he really will need something besides excellent fastball command to hold onto the job. I think eventually, a palmball, forkball, circle change, or whatever will be just enough. The biggest surprise would be Det getting 180 innings.

I also don't really buy the linked rationalization for Roark's success. That's fine for last year, but scouting reports, film, etc. will probably bring that guy back to the pack. I do think his aggressive approach and above-average secondary stuff really sets him up to be a good guy to fill in whatever bullpen role is necessary. He doesn't have to post a sub-2.00 era to be valuable.

I also agree that Jordan has the most upside. His FIP numbers are pretty consistent throughout the minors. His high groundball and low HR rate seemed to follow him to the majors, and might be sustainable to an extent. He was a bit unlucky with stranded runners in that small sample too. Getting 140 innings in last year, means he's pretty much ready for a full season. I think he might actually pick up a few strikeouts since his swinging strike rate is decent. He's pretty much doing what you'd expect after a rehab, so being 25 doesn't bother me. He's certainly doing better than Solis and Purke.

Chinatown Express said...

Does it matter that Detwiler would (probably) be more valuable in the 'pen? He's a lefty, which we could use. He's also more-or-less a one-pitch guy, and that profiles better for the pen than for the rotation, doesn't it? Are you willing to take a slight, purely notional downgrade (from Detwiler to Jordan) in the fifth starter spot in exchange for a potentially significant upgrade in the pen?

blovy8 said...

It's better to have seven starters than five though. I'd rather have Detwiler, Jordan, and Roark for less than half the price of Arroyo.

The big, new problem is the Braves raising the price on extensions. Given that framework, Desmond holding out makes more sense.

JWLumley said...

@Sirc Really? You'd take Bronson Arroyo and his 4.5-5.0 FIP over Detwiler, even though Arroyo is 36 years old? I think Ruben Amaro may have a job for you.

Taijuan Walker and Tony Cingrani are not 5th starters, sure they might get the 5th start of the season for their teams, but they're not the 5th best starters on said teams and they're still prospects. Sure, I'd take Lucas Giolito over Detwiler too, but that's kind of like comparing apples and tire irons.

Mike Leake is the Reds 5th starter and I'd rather have Detwiler. Ramirez, Paxton and Maurer are the Mariners 4th and 5th starters, Walker is probably their 3.

Chas R said...

It will be interesting to see if Roark can carry his hot hand into Spring Training. He was terrifically dominant last year, kept the ball down, gave up very few HRs, got ahead quickly on batters, and was consistently aggressive. I think the job should be Det's to lose and give that he's a lefty, would be a good fit in the rotation.

It's good to have these kind of problems!

Anonymous said...

Start with Detwiler. Once he gets hurt, move up Jordan and keep him there...move Detwiler to the pen when he gets back.

Sirc said...

What Nats fan isn't crossing his fingers and toes everytime Detwiler goes out there? Whether it's that he's at all effective, or gets through 5 without injuring himself, we all hold our breath when it's his turn to pitch.

That's why I made the list I did. I want young with upside or old and reliable in a 5th starter.

To speak to the OP, of the available 3 I'd probably pick Detwiler as fifth starter and send Jordan to AAA and Roark to Siberia. If the bullpen isn't as sound as we hope, and if Jordan pitches well at Syracuse (once the ice melts) then I'd like them to move Detwiler to the pen and promote Jordan.

I really don't see any future as a starter for Ross Detwiler. Can you really survive 170+ innings while throwing one pitch 90% of the time? Maybe.

But he's 28, so maybe he can figure things out, stay healthy, and shut me up forever. I'd be glad for it, I truly would.

It's all just speculation.

Donald said...

@Sirc -- to be fair to Detwiler, he has two pitches, a two-seamer and a four-seamer. They act a bit different so he can be relatively effect if he mixes them up. But I agree with the gist of your argument. He's going to need another pitch to be a starter. He's been working a bit on his change and he used to have a curve but lost it a few years back. You'd think that he'd be working constantly on developing something new, so it must be a lot harder than it seems to add a new pitch.

Anonymous said...

What would the rangers give us for Roark?

Matt said...

Anon - Guzman back? (All joking aside, that was a totally under-appreciated trade by Rizzo. He unloaded an expensive asset which was out of baseball the next year for a pitcher who actually threw 60 innings at the MLB level).

NTPNate said...

Adding a cutter should help Detwiler's case. In any event, nice to have 6th and 7th starters who aren't Yunesky Maya.

Anonymous said...

Okay, let's look at it from an organizational long-term perspective. I'm thinking the #5 spot, particularly with this rotation, is a showcase spot. The best thing for the Nats would be for Ross to take the job and be outstanding into July. A first round pick, coming into his own.....gets traded for prospects because that spot in the rotation at that point won't be what determines the second half plus of the year. Hell, a second guy (Jordan, Roark) pitches a couple of great weeks after that and you flip him, too. They're not top of the line material. We have lots of #5 starters. Personally, I love Detwiler and have since his pro debut but the money says he's gone. Unfortunately, I believe Z's gone, soon, too. So in a year or two, we are banking on Giolito and, assuming Fister was worth it, still have a badass 1-4 rotation.

Chaos....and yes, NTPNate. No more MAYA!

Sirc said...

I believe that Fister and Jordan Zimmermann both become free agents at the same time, in 2 years.

Donald said...

It's a minor question, but in regard to the 5th starter, the Nats open the season at the Mets and then host the Braves. With a day off during the Mets series, do you pitch Fister, #5, Strasburg against the Braves, or Fister, Strasburg, Gonzalez? It's obviously super early in the season, but sweeping, or even taking 2 out of 3 helps make a statement that 2013 is past. Of course, the Braves have the same question to answer with their rotation in this series.

Zimmerman11 said...

So here's the downside to having all your regular spots settled... it means you can't move on a deal like Nelson Cruz for 1 year, 8million dollars to the Orioles. Maybe its okay and Span will have a good year with the bat and offset the difference with his glove. But Span/Harper/Werth... what's the over/under on how many games they play this season? Cruz is 33, so we know how Harper feels about him, and then there's that pesky draftpick again... but do we have the richest owners in baseball for nothing?

It makes bargain hunting difficult when you're "good" everywhere... it makes improving the team harder. When are we going to see some "all-in" moves? It would be different if they were at least locking up our young players the way ATL has... but if they want Ted to win a WS ring, they should be reaching into their pockets.

BTW I love having Livo in camp... deifinitely a benefit for the younger arms to have him around...everyone really. Hopefully he sticks around in some capacity.

John C. said...

Picking up Nelson Cruz "on the cheap" would cause the Nats to forfeit the #18 pick in the draft, to much less effect than picking up Rafael Soriano. That's not an "all-in" move, that's a "stupid" move. I'm glad the Nats didn't jump in; heck, I'd be surprised if they considered it for a nanosecond.

It was much less of a problem for the Orioles, because they had already forfeited their first round pick (moving the Nats up one slot, btw) to sign Jimenez. The pick they forfeited for signing Cruz was around #55 overall.

Zimmerman11 said...

From ESPN:

Nelson Cruz vs. off-speed pitches
Last 4 Seasons

2013 .344 42.4% 48.7%
2012 .401 35.2% 41.7%
2011 .491 33.2% 39.6%
2010 .512 30.1% 36.9%

I just made a knee-jerk reaction to the Orioles suddenly spending the Nats' MASN money on free agents... I just want to see the owners and MGT doing everything they can to make the team better. Rizzo pulled off a great trade to nab Fister and hopefully that and improved health (knock wood) are enough to get the Nats back in contention.

Strasburger said...

Harp - I agree with you on pretty much everything you said. I think Ross should get the first crack at it, but I get the most excitement from Jordan. I think he can be a solid #4 or #3 in his career down the line if he can bring his game up a notch. Detweiler just seems to be so fragile, but as fifth starters go... he is pretty strong.

However, I don't think that that fifth rotation spot is the only one up for grabs.

Second isn't completely won for Rendon. The team has been explicit about this. Clearly he is the overwhelming favorite and front runner, but I am truly hoping that danny has an incredible spring so that he wins the starting spot. Anthony has plenty of time to start in the bigs, and I think last year was an anomaly due to injury for Danny, and he is so much fun to watch on D.

Ollie said...

Seconding the Danny-love---I still think he can put together a couple All Star seasons. Maybe the competition and [knock on wood] health bring out the best in him. I think this team would be stronger with Espinosa starting with 2012-type production and Rendon coming off the bench as a frequent pinch-hitter/super-utility guy who gets ~300 ABs and 30-40 starts at second and third this year.

Anonymous said...

I think if they were to boot Rendon (and I don't think it's likely) he'd go back to AAA to get more reps and prep for 3rd in the post-ALR days as I imagine most of is suspected the original plan pre-2013 was.

BenDen said...

Sorry I'm late to the party everyone.

@Sirc - Been said by a couple others but you hardly compared apples to apples. No way I'm giving up Det and 2 others for Arroyo's last 2 years of average life. Cingrani and Walker are much higher on the depth charts than 5th, so Smyly may be your only fair comparison (and I'd grant that I'd rather have Smyly than Det). Vogelsong maybe too but he's past arbitration and goin for 5mil/year. So if you're on the fence between those two I pick the control/salary option.

@RestoftheBoard - Can't believe there's so much Danny love. He showed above-average power in one year. His walk/strikeout (pre or post injury) are terrible, his ISO dropped considerably last season (I'll grant you injury if you want it). So most optimistic expectation is a return to .240/.300/.420 against Rendon's .260/.330/.420. Using the average of projections (in fact they predict espi worse) the difference between the offensive runs created is about 37 runs (69 for Rendon - 32 for Espi). So "watching his defense" needs to account for 37 runs for it to even be a conversation, and the highest total he's achieved in a season is 5 defensive runs saved. You have to be in Simmons/Lugares territory for defense to be a contributing factor in your overall value. The difference between Espi and "average" MLB defenders just isn't enough to make up for his bat.

Strasburger said...

Danny is a ++ defender. Arguably could easily be top 5 in the league on defense at his position. The only reason, after last season, that he is in the conversation at all is because of his defense. His power sloped outrageously because of injury, but even when he wasn't injured his coaching staffs were always pushing him to pull it the other way and hit for power. This season he has resolved to hit for contact and put balls in play, so I will withhold judgement until I see if that adjustment makes a difference. For a team that had near to or the worst defensive infield last year, and committed as many errors as ours did, defense would be a priority I would think.

Also... he can pack a huge lip and make the defensive plays he does (not actually reinforcing my argument, just impressive, in general)

I like Anthony, a lot. I just think Danny has more to offer in the now if we can get him going.

John C. said...

I also don't get the Danny love. Sure he's a good defender - but how much better than Rendon? After eight games at 2b in the minors, Rendon posted a +6.6 UZR/150. He visibly and obviously improved as the season went on. To assume that Rendon is not going to continue to improve now that he's actually had an offseason to work at the position is pretty silly.

And as BenDen noted, even under that silly hypothesis, Espinosa would have to be historically great at defense to make up the offensive deficit. Espinosa's good defensively. He's not that good.

And just as the defensive difference is narrowing, the offensive difference is likely to grow. Rendon was the best hitter in college the year he was drafted. The only reason that he slid to the Nats was injury concern. Rendon's bat has lived up to that level, too. Even in the majors last year his production was league average but his strike zone judgment and batted ball profiles were excellent.

Ollie said...

You Rendon>>Espinosa guys may well be right. I remembered him trending more positively (pre-injury) at the plate than was actually the case.

Still think you're selling Espinosa's bat a *little* short (if he's healed up--admittedly a big if). His two years starting and healthy he hit:

.236 .323 .414 and .247 .315 .402.

Given that he's entering his prime (soon to be 27) there's some reasonable potential--not necessarily likelihood after the smoldering tire fire of last season but potential---that he could improve on those numbers.

But I also remembered Rendon tailing off more than he did (admittedly because I stopped regularly watching last season in July--moved out of MASN country). His August and September stats are better than I thought.

I've always been a shade pessimistic about Rendon for some reason though. It's not rational but somehow I always thought he'd be more Detwiler than Zimmerman in terms of his performance:draft pick ratio. Maybe the injury concern with the ankles---playing 2B could be rough in the longterm.