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WHOseanders and Whatsiglories?

Updated: 2017-01-21T21:13:26.345-08:00


Plop Plop sure. Fizz Fizz? Not yet


The Nats need relief.  Honestly they probably need 2-3 decent arms to have any real confidence that the pen will be good. They aren't likely to get that which means while the pen will probably be ok, there will be a lot more variability on performance, especially on the "oh they could suck" side. That's not to say they should throw up their hands and do nothing if they aren't grabbing all the good arms left. Any single good arm will help reduce variability.  Are there good arms still out there?Quick run through of the more interesting names Greg Hollland - Was fantastic up through 2015 as a closer then got hurt. If he's 2013-14 Holland he's a steal.  If he's 2015 Holland he's good but wild. If he's something worse uh oh. And he hasn't pitched in 18 months so he's a straight up lottery ticket.Sergio Romo - Nats can really complete a set of Giants relievers with him and Javy Lopez (missed out on Casilla though) in FA this year. Romo is the epitome of solid. Last year was a step back and injury plagued but he's still effective. Big drop in FB speed might be concerning.Joe Blanton - reinvented himself as an effective reliever after years of mediocre starting. Hard to read with only 2 relief years to look at but everything seems in order. Jerry Blevins - Outside of arguably unlucky Nats stint has been decent and improving over time. Stikes out a lot more guys now then before. Not a LOOGY. Good against all but hard to see him wanting to come back here after he was unceremoniously dealt because he took Nats to arbitration.Boone Logan - Solid reliever who didn't let Rockies stint mess him up permanently. Really good against lefties, but decent enough against righties to not be LOOGYd. There's some boom potential here if you like guys coming from Colorado.Luke Hochevar - like Blanton but figured it out 5 years earlier. Solid but a little prone to the long ball. Had another arm surgery in off-season after TJ in 2014 so might miss start of season.Tommy Hunter - decent control but no strike outs.  Keeps the ball in the park.Travis Wood - an effective long man. Could develop into a LOOGY as he ages Javier Lopez - Old guy (39) who made living killing lefties while being good enough against righties. Last year took a step back against both. Not at all a K guy and poor control. Big spike in HR/FB last year. Usually that's fluky but again 39.There are actually more decent arms out there than I thought. My guess is the dominoes are waiting for Greg Holland to end up somewhere before falling. If I were the Nats - yes I'd take a gamble on Greg Holland - there's greatness potential there, however unlikely, that isn't with any other arm available. The Nats have effective but lack dominance. I'd also pick up Boone Logan to add another lefty arm that's more LOOGY than Solis or a pick-up like Blevins, but not so LOOGY that he can't be useful in the regular way. Plus I like the way Logan's K's went up and HR went down in Colorado. I think there's sneaky potential for him to be really really good away from Colorado. Although it might take a year to right himself. THEN I'd still pick up whoever is left standing in this group (well not Lopez) come March 1st because you can't have too many arms. That's what I would do. What I think will happen is that Holland will go somewhere then Blanton, Blevins and Logan will all settle in short (and likely that) order. I think they will all get multi-year deals for a few million a year. (I think Holland might get something as long as 4 if you count options) Then the bargain hunt will be on. Like I said Hochevar's injury status will make him a bargain pick-up and he's a Boras client so I think he's the one that ends up here. Another name I didn't mention that might be able to be picked up by the Nats here is JP Howell. He's an extreme groundball guy who pitched very similarly to his 2015 stats but ended up with a worse ERA. He's adding control and sacrificing hits, but since he's a GB guy that's mainly singles. He wasn't effective vs lefties last year but if that was a fluke you've got[...]

Wait, what's going on?


So yesterday a series of what may be unfortunate events happenedJim Bowden tweeted that the Nationals remaining post-season moves could be affected by the cost of their Spring Training complex.Bryce Harper tweeted saying signing Weiters and Holland was more important than building a team store (in pithy millennial tweet talk). Note that both these guys are Boras clients so take that as you will.Adam Eaton tweeted he agreed.Chelsea Janes got on it and wrote something up where the team basically said "No." and the logic of the "No." answer seems to make the most sense.But who knows! You wouldn't think one would affect the other but then again the Lerners are famously penurious when it comes to spending. (Those CHEEEEEEEEEP shouts didn't come from nothing. They came from a fear that the Lerners business spending would manifest in the payroll). So I can't rule it out. Especially with my standard no reporting on the subject because I'm not a reporter. I'll lean though to believing the Nats because I already thought they wouldn't spend more than a few million more. It's not about the Spring Training complex. It's about the plan they likely already had in place.OK so a few million to spend. Where to put it? Today let's say that money is going to a reliever. Who would I like to see?  Do the Nats even need it? Let's answer the second question first. Generally a bullpen NEEDS three guys. I mean yes it needs more because of usage patterns, injuries, etc. but your average ML team can get by with three solid arms and make up the rest as you go along. Do they have that?  Let's look at all the Nationals pitchers that threw... I'll say without looking 35 IP or more last year. Hey that worked out well! Huzzah for me!Anyway gone are Papelbon (35 IP), Rivero/Melancon (49.2+29.2=79.1), Petit (62), and Belisle (46)*.  That's 222 relief inning that have to be made up by someone.  Jesus that's a lot more innings than I thought.Who's back? Perez, who will be a LOOGY type I imagine, although neither his career numbers or his recent numbers suggest he's all that great in that role. If he's not a LOOGY he's likely a blah arm with bad potential. He gets hit hard, and has terrible control. If he's lucky the walks aren't terrible and he K's his way out of jams. But he's not someone to rely on.So that leaves us with Kelley, Treinen, and Solis and ONLY these three. If these three aren't all solid then the Nats don't even have the "sneak by with" level of pen.The good news is Kelley is good. Fancy stat review K rate great. Walk rate great. A little fluky LOB% but not crazy probably balance by a little higher than expected HR/FB. Nothing worrying in type or hardness of hits against. No, this guy passes the solid reliever test, no doubt. Of course the last time we saw him he was walking off the mound in pain grabbing his arm so how much you want to rely on him is a valid question but in the general "1 of 3" sense? I'm good.We've been told for years that Treinen is good but haven't actually seen it in action until last year. Fancy stats have same fluky LOB% though Treinen's high HR/FB rate isn't historically off like Kelley's was. He may just be the type to give up homers. So there's less of a thought that that's balanced. His K rate isn't great. His walk rate is way too high. So how does Treinen survive? A silly high GB rate, almost 2/3rds of all balls hit off him were on the ground and ground balls are hard to hit for XBH. Looking at the type and hardness it seems like Treinen is an on/off type. When he's on - soft grounder. When he's off he'll walk guys and give up a hard hit. Last year he had more "on" outings than "off" but in 2015 the GB percentage was nearly as high (62.7%) and with a little less luck with BABIP and LOB% he was merely ok.  I think it's a stretch to expect Treinen will repeat 2016. But that's not the question. The question is "is he solid"? I'll go with yes. I think he'll fall between 2016 (almost no blow-ups) and 2015 (like a blow-up every 4th time out) and will be solid enough.Wh[...]

What the arbitration awards mean


The Nats settled with everyone avoiding the possible "who can we dump this recalcitrant malcontent for" reaction from the team. That's good because the Nats needed all these players in one way or another. But beyond the fact they signed the actual awards are of interest because of what that means for the payroll.

The Nats expected payroll for 2017, that we were playing with, was set in part with the arbitration awards estimated by mlbtraderumors. They aren't perfect of course but they do a reasonable job. Where did things end up this year?

Lobaton : Est 1.6 M,  Got 1.57 M
Norris : Est 4.0 M,  Got 4.2 M
Roark : Est 6.1 M,  Got 4.32 M
Rendon : Est 6.4 M,  Got 5.8 M

Bryce : Est 9.3 M, Got 13.62 M

If you look at Lobaton, Norris and Rendon - those are pretty close. Rendon is the furthest off - around 10% but he might have been sold on taking a little less since the Nats arguably gave him a little more than they needed last year (2.8 when expectation was 2.5 again). This is all rough though so I consider it close enough.  In total for the three the estimate was 12 million and the Nats put up just over 11 and a half.

The hardest call for these types estimates is often the first call because you aren't working off a normal previous year salary as a base. That's where the Nats were with Roark. He was coming off a year making 500K+. So maybe he got underpaid, maybe he didn't. But any assumed saving they got for getting Roark under the estimate was blown out for Bryce. That's a big difference and the end result is that the money spent in arbitration looks like this :

Total Est 27.4 M,  Spent 29.51 M

That's 2 million more than expected. For an average team that shouldn't matter much but there's a palpable sense that the Nats have a 145-150 million payroll expectation for the 2017 season and right now they are right at that 150 million payroll. (assumes normal salary increases for pre-arbitration players) If the Nats were to bring back Drew and sign another arm... that's at least 5 million, probably closer to 8 if they are trying to keep these deals as one-year things. Are they Nats going to increase their payroll by 10 million over last season? I just don't believe so.

If I'm right the arbitration moves mean that the Nats are in one of two spots. They are going to either/or the last bench spot and bullpen arm - spending ~3million for one but not the other, or they are going to go cheap across the board - the Ackley / Hochevar future I imagined.

We'll see. I've was very mildly surprised last year when the Nats didn't follow-up acquiring Melancon with a dump trade of someone - meaning they added 2.5+M to their payroll.* So maybe they bite and do something similar here. That's all we're really talking about 2.5 or so more than they probably had envisioned as their ceiling.

*I'm sure though they desperately tried to get someone to take Papelbon in a way that took the payroll back down but no one wanted him for anything.

A whole lot of nothing


When the off-season started it was pretty well decided that the free agent class was a particularly weak one. So the excitement that would come, if it did, would probably be through the trade market. And the offseason delivered with a bunch of stuff between Thankgiving and The 13th of December.  Cespedes, Melancon, Sale trade, Eaton trade, Fowler, Chapman, Jansen. Even things only interesting to the Nats took place during this brief fortnightish period. Desmond signs, Ramos signs, Espinosa was traded.

Since then there's been a couple somethings but given the players involved and the general lack of activity it's been a big yawn. We're closing in to Spring and it's time to turn the page on the off-season. I suppose if Bautista and Napoli and Trumbo and Weiters and Hammel all went in a hurry that'd be interesting, but that's not very exciting to begin with and less so for Nats fans when you realize that Trumbo and Napoli are very unlikely to end up in the NL. 

I guess I'm saying I'm bored.

The Nats aren't likely to get a big-name closer at this point. So we're waiting to see what kind of secondary pitcher, if any, they manage to wrangle to DC.  They may or may not be waiting for a bench player - Drew, or perhaps a better 1B/OF alternative (Moss? Lind?). The longer it goes the more I expect a late off-season clearance sale pick up.  Hochevar for 2 million. Ackley on a minor league deal. And that be that.

Eaton was a good deal, probably very good, but all that given away really killed the offseason for a team with a set budget like the Nats.

Hey where's Stephen Drew?


Aren't we supposed to have Stephen Drew back by now?

You may have forgotten but Stephen Drew was not unimportant for the Nats last year. He hit .266 with good pop (8 homers and 11 doubles in 143 ABs) with reasonable defense.  He spelled Danny at short, Rendon at 3rd and Murphy at 2nd, ended up playing 2nd when Murphy's butt got hurt and was the teams most effective pinch hitter.*

So why isn't he back?

Well the last news we heard - 2 weeks ago - was that he could end up with a starting position somewhere.  This makes sense as he would be a better option at SS or 2B then some of the players currently manning those positions. Probably not even half, but some and really just a handful is enough. It would be more playing time and more money than the Nats would dish out.

But this protracted hunt by Drew is hurting the Nats in two ways. First, if he doesn't come back it leaves Difo as the top bench option for the infield. There's no good reason to think Wilmer will be that good next year. Could he? Sure. It's the bench. You have limited at bats. Weird things happen in limited at bats.  In 2012 the Nats got much better performances than one would expect from Lombo, Bernadina, Moore, and Chad Tracy.  But you have to start with the expectation and the expectation for Difo is not great. Last year in AA Difo hit .259, with limited patience and no power. He did hit .276 in the majors, but it's hard to believe 66 PAs as opposed to almost a full season in AA. Plus his AA season corresponds with what he has done for most of his minor league career.  He had a bit of a breakout in A-ball in 2014 followed by an impressive start in High-A in 2015, but by all appearances that impressive start was a fluke of sample size. He's not quite old yet - but he's almost there which means his chances of surprising are growing smaller everyday. Short of it - the bench is worse with Difo there in place of Drew.

The second way this hurts the Nats is something that I presume. I'm guessing we haven't had any movement on the relief front because Rizzo is unsure of his budget. If Drew comes back, it might mean they have only a couple million and he needs to dumpster dive or trade. It might mean they have nothing. If he doesn't come back than surely they have at least some money to spend. Whether that means bargain hunting or competing for the names left on the market I don't know but it means they don't have nothing. That alone would have me expect a signing or move or some bullpen activity.

My guess is we hear nothing from the Nats camp about relief pitchers until Drew is signed or until that last week in January. That's about as long as you can wait on it with pitchers and catchers coming up. You don't want to be the one left on the side of the dance floor or whatever.

So hurry up Drew and either come back or go.  The Nats need to move on and they can't until you decide.

*He had the same number of PH homers and one fewer hit than  Heisey in 18 fewer PH situations.

Nothing Happened - But I can still fill a post!


Hey! We're back so let's talk about what happened in the two weeks we've not been talking about the Nationals!............ and we're done!It's not only been a quiet period for the Nats. It's ben a quiet period for baseball. I'm pretty sure Daniel Hudson was signed before we shut it down for Christmas so after that...Clay Buchholz was traded to the Phillies.  Does this make the Phillies better? Yes, but probably not as much as you think. I do love AL -> NL moves and Bucholz has had some really good years so there's potential there but the most likely scenario is he's fine and eats up necessary front of the rotation innings for the cost of a few dollars and a nothing prospect. Could the Phillies then surprise? Probably not. They were bad in all aspects of the game, so even if their young starting pitching comes together around Bucholz and Hellickson, they still have to solve the pen and get some real offense toghether. I like them for no more than 75 wins. That puts them out of surprise range. They are at least a year away, probably more.Ivan Nova signed with the Pirates.  Good for him. If he pitches like he did in Pittsburgh last year, it's a steal and the Pirates are still in the thick of things.  I like the Pirates to be better than 2016 even trading Cutch. I feel they caught some bad breaks last year and there's potential for that offense. Encarnacion signs with Cleveland. Hey did you know Mike Napoli had sleep apnea? Encarnacion is younger and better than Nap. This should help them keep pace with the Red Sox and starts putting gaps between them and the rest of the Central on paper.  Inciarte extends with Braves.  He's a bit of a slappy Joe, but a good slappy Joe, with great fielding and very good speed. The defense is a big thing because the Braves are still going to play Kemp in a corner. Part of the Braves rebuild. So could the Braves then surprise? Maybe actually. If Dansby Swanson is an immediate impact bat then with Kemp they are immediately a much better offensive team (5th best offense in Aug, best in Sept). The olds will have to come through for them in the rotation, but they threw a lot of terrible junk out there last year. Dickey and Colon should allow them to only put out, if not good arms, then arms worthy of a look.  I think the Braves will be .500 ish and that means they have a shot to surprise.  Tigers re-sign Avila.  I don't have anything to say about this but it's what passes for news during this dry time.Angels sign Revere. One year deal - 4 million.  It was a good thought bringing in Revere (while at the same time unloading Storen). You'd be blind not to see the consistency that led you to believe that at worst he would be "not awful" at the plate and good everywhere else. But then he got injured and presumably never really got healthy and that was that. Revere is not really a player who was very good at a lot. He had no power or patience. His D was allright. His speed is very good, but if he's not hitting singles he's not getting on base and thus his speed is meaningless. Basically that left him as a contact hitter. A bunter, move the guy over type. That's a dime a dozen in the minors. Turned out as bad as it could have. So is it a bad signing? Not at all. As a gamble on a fourth OF I think it's real smart. Off the bench his speed can be used at your discretion. For the Angels he can play a corner OF position (presumably LF) late in the game where he'd probably be perfectly fine. And again - that contact bat is useful off the bench. This is all if he's not healthy.  If he is and can be the.290 contact hitter - even better. That's a very good plug and play guy when the inevitable injuries happen.Brian Dozier's name floated out there. It would fit, despite what some might think. You have to bench Zimm but hey - you probably should bench Zimm. If he can hit his way back then that's a good problem to have. You want [...]

Holiday Q&A 2 : The HoliDay After


Ok so the Nats related stuff is still going on over here. Any non-Nats or non-baseball stuff can be asked over here. I'll be checking this through Christmas and come back with something new the 26th or 27th barring some big move that I have to talk about so feel free to ask away.Do you have any new terrible Christmas movie recommendations/reviews?Oh god yes!  Since Thanksgiving I've added about 15-20 new XMas movies to the list of ones I've seen. Mostly new ones but some old ones, and of course I've watched some returning classics. I'll hold off on any reviews as that could take up pages and hours. Instead I might live-tweet a day and night of watching nothing but Holiday movies.I'll recommend a few but note that these are recommendations based on knowing what you are getting into here. These movies aren't fighting for an Oscar here. In terms of new movies "Married by Christmas" on the UP channel, which my cable guide assures me is a real thing, is probably the best one I've seen this year. It is completely shoehorned into the Christmas movie genre as the plot doesn't need to revolve around it but that'll happen. What is enjoyable about it, and probably biases me toward it, is it goes for actual laughs rather than the "A reindeer ate my hat!" kind of laughs that usually pepper these types of movies. I'm not saying it's a laugh riot. It's a generic sitcom. But in a world of romance movies aimed toward 40 year old housewives that's a big difference.  The best generic one I watched this year, was actually a 2015 premiere I think "Sound of Christmas" on the Hallmark channel. If you want to just hit all the notes of this type of movie this is a fine example of the form. If you've seen that and want something new that fits the bill "My Christmas Dream" (not to be confused with the also new and also acceptable "A Dream of Christmas") with Danica McKellar would be my recommendation.  Sometimes people you recognize from other stuff are just cashing those checks, but the stalwarts of the genre, your Chaberts, your Witts, your Cameron-Bures aren't. McKellar falls in this latter category.  To avoid? Assuming for you it's not "ALL OF THESE HARPER!" I've got a couple. Speaking of cashing checks, Eric McCormack and Kristin Davis do nothing for nobody in "Heavenly Christmas". The "Christmas with the Andersons" movie was unwatchable and coming from me, that's something. If you want to watch a BAD Christmas movie that's fun for being terrible, Haylie Duff's "Christmas Belle" is delightfully stilted, overacted, and filled with shirtless running.Oh if you are into "movies normal people find watchable" here's a post I did a few years ago on what I watch of those. Yankees were pretty good post trade deadline. Do they have a shot at second place in the division? The Yankees have two issues. They weren't all that good last year. There are three other teams in the division were. Let's talk about the latter.  The Red Sox have lost Ortiz but gained Sale and all those young guys have another year under their belt. It would be surprising if the Yankees can catch them given the gap in talent set up.  The Orioles are a mirage managed by a quality manager. Unless Dylan Bundy becomes an ace it's hard to see where they've improved on last year and Jones and Davis could easily be falling into oblivion.  They should be .500+, 81-84 range.  The Blue Jays will lose Encarnacion and Dickey but the latter wasn't that important last year and you get the feeling they can make up the former. It's hard to believe their pitching will be better though as they were best in the AL last year. They'll probably be in the 84-87 range.That gives the Yankees one or two more games to win - if they are better. But are they? They got some 2nd half performances that won't be repeated (Sanchez and Billy Butler hitting like .350!) and lost Beltran but I'd still expect the off[...]

Holiday Q&A


I could keep posting original stuff but that's hard and vaguely sometimes time consuming. Q&As make more sense for the work week leading up to Christmas, at least for me. So ask away in the comments and I'll try to answer in the post at my earliest convenience. For the sake of  not mixing things for people that come here for baseball only thank you very much - I'll put another post up tomorrow for non-Nats / non-baseball Q&A if you are interested in non Nats questions. But what kind of freak isn't interested in Nats questions?How does the replacement of Espinosa at SS by an inferior fielder --- and the knock-on effects on the rest of the positions --- effect the overall fielding of the Nationals. They seemed to be in the top quarter of fielding teams last year. How does this affect their overall competitiveness?Well I guess the first question is how much of an inferior fielder will Turner be exactly. Danny had been one of the best fielding 2B during the 2012-2015 run, but as a SS he was merely very good last year. While that can be a fluke of single year fielding statistics, I can buy it. He's not young anymore and he's probably living on that cannon of an arm. Turner barely played SS in the majors so we have no fancy stats to go on there, but his 2B numbers (still on a very small number of innings mind you) were a tick worse than Danny's when he played there. I can see him matching Danny's range just with pure speed, but without the same arm. The end result my best guess is that Turner will be worse than Danny in the field but only slightly worse than Danny 2016/2017 which is the comparison that matters.  I'd expect the Espy to Danny move  not to effect the defense and the Nats competitiveness all that much. Remember that Rendon at 3B is a top defender which gives Turner some cover in the hole if he needs it. No the left side of the infield should be pretty much the same. What I'd be more worried about is Murphy.  Historically he's not been a good defender but he worked hard and got himself to "not embarrassing" last year though was a step back and I don't see how he move forward anymore. Not only is age working against him, that butt injury is going to limit him in some way I'm sure. With Zimm's D not translating across the diamond that right side of the infield could be a big issue.I'm convinced that if Rizzo gives out though minor league deals to has-been starters that at least one of them will pan out as an acceptable reliever. But exactly how viable is that in actuality?Quick answer : I'm not sure. I'd imagine it's a combination of stuff, age, and effort that turns a former starter into an effective reliever. Looking at the top relievers (I just used fWAR - good as anything for something vague like this) it seems rare for someone to start until around 30 and then transition. A good handful transition very early or never were starters. The rest transition around 25-27. That seems to be the agreed upon "Give up on them starting" age range. So I'd say if you aim for guys around that age with one or two really good pitches you probably have a better shot. But I have no idea how many guys attempt to make this move. I imagine dozens every year. If that's true than the success rate is low. It's probably more viable than sheparding middling minor leaguer relievers, these guys had some sort of major league stuff to get there, but I certainly wouldn't bet the farm on do you think the current configuration of the Nats matches up against the Dodgers and Cubs (likely front runners in the other 2 NL divisions)?The Cubs are a complete team and no one is going to match-up well against them. The Nats could match their offense but things would have to break right (Bryce MVP, Murphy MVP, Turner MVP type of thing). So give the Cubs the edge there. The Nats had the 2nd best starting staff and were more t[...]

Where the Nats stand today


We've spent a lot of the off-season mired in specific moves. Will they re-sign this guy? What trade will happen next? How are they going to get a closer? But now that we've hit the holiday home stretch, it's time to zoom out and look at the Nats as a whole. Do they project out in our heads to be better or worse than the 2016 Nats? By how much? This helps us get a feel for what needs to be done after the New Year when there is only a  month and a half (woo!) before actual players start doing actual things*Likely BetterThe Nats are replacing a full-season of Danny Espinosa, a half-season of Revere/MAT, and a half-season of Trea Turner with full-seasons of Trea Turner and Adam Eaton. Revere/MAT was a disaster and it's hard to imagine anything replacing that half-season that isn't a huge improvement. Danny was at best production-neutral meaning anything positive would be a noticeable change. Turner looks to be a positive player the only question is how much. Eaton should be a positive player even if his fielding in CF is more what we fear than what we hope.Bryce should be better, right? The guy put up a season for the ages at 22 and then hit for his lowest average ever in the majors in the next season. Injuries make the most sense, especially given that he started the season almost exactly the way he finished 2015 and that was with a .228 BABIP.  So the offseason should improve that. At least we'd think so. A full healthy season of Anthony Rendon is possibleHe hit .254 / .341 / .406 in the first half. .291 / .357 / .508 in the second half. It's the difference between average and All-Star. Likely worse The catching situation went from career year Wilson Ramos to hoping a Lobaton/Norris platoon will be successful. Best case Lobaton hits like his .737 OPS line vs RHP in 2016. Norris like his .810 OPS line vs LHP in 2015. That still won't match Ramos' .850 OPS overall for 2016. Worst case it's a giant sucking pit of despair. As usual expect the middle - a small pothole of disappointment.The Nats bullpen has not yet made up for the dropping of the combined arm of a top-notch closer and the 50 IP of better than you think pitching that was traded for said closer. They also haven't replaced the 60 or so innings from Belisle and Rzepczynski. This isn't quite the 2014 into 2015 idiocy of letting 200 IP of your bullpen walk and replacing it with hopes and dreams but it's getting closer. 137 innings of quality relief pitching is out the door, and while no one would ever want it back - 35 innings of sometimes effective relief pitching is gone too with Papelbon. Granted the 2014-15 situation broke when Stammen went down to injury but are you betting against a pitching injury to someone now important to the pen? With Glover and Kelley ending 2016 with issues? You have to make those innings up with quality somehow. Doesn't mean "top notch closer!" Just with quality somehow.Right now the bench is a little worseIt wasn't great last year but it had one really good bat and one very useful one. The useful one, Heisey, is back. The really good one, Drew, is not yet. It may be tough to get him back as he's likely got a chance to start - or play a super utility role - somewhere else. Hard to tell How dead is Ryan Zimmerman? / Can Murphy repeat his 2016? Murphy will be hard pressed to do better, Zimm hard pressed to do worse. But based on eyeballs and stats, repeats of last year are not out of the question. However, these are both singular seasons for these players which immediately prompts a "do it again before I believe it" response. There's a lot of variability here but also no strong reason to predict a likely better/worse swing.  Can Werth squeeze out one more decent year at the plate?I've written Werth off twice and twice he's come back though the last one was last year and the comeback was def[...]

Offseason Position Discussion : Relief Pitching


Man, I thought if I could just wait long enough this might take care of itself. No such luck.Last Year's DiscussionI didn't do one! So there you go. I did say a bunch of times I thought Papelbon would end up being back assuming Bryce was ok with it because they pretty much had no other option. And that's exactly what happened. I'd take some credit but again - no other option.How did it turn out? Not as bad as you thought it would or think it did, but still not good. Papelbon would actually start the season fine. Near the end of May he'd have 13 saves to only 2 blown saves, be sporting a 2.75 ERA.  A respectable 1.22 WHIP and opponents line of .260 / .308 / .356.  There were warning signs though - he wasn't missing bats (6.4 K/9), his FB speed was down and hitters were hitting them hard.  The ERA would jump to 3.28 as the hits would start falling, but he still had luck on his side and was finishing games successfully. In mid June though Papelbon was pulled for a rib injury. There was some hope that the shaky start was linked to this injury and at first we though that might be the case. He was fairly dominant - which he hadn't been all year -  over the next 7 games.  Then the wheels, spinning wildly and moving in directions they shouldn't for most of the season, came off.On July 23rd Papelbon would shakily hold onto a tie against the Padres.On July 24th (3rd day in a row pitching) Papelbon would blow up against the Padres turning 6-6 to 10-6.On July 26th Papelbon would blow a 6-4 lead to the Indians (an error was also involved).On July 28th Papelbon handed a 4-1 lead would put two batters on getting one out before being pulled.His ERA ballooned from 2.56 to 4.41. Just as the trade deadline was coming the answer became crystal clear. Papelbon couldn't be the closer for this team in the playoffs. Melancon was traded for, Papelbon was demoted then released in short order. Melancon filled the role admirably (1.82 ERA, 17 SV, 0.809 WHIP) for the rest of the year.The rest of the pen?  The first half of the year it was a mixed bag.  Guys like Belisle, Treinen and Solis weren't pitching all that well but were getting results. Felipe Rivero had pitched well, but a couple of big run outings made him look bad. Shawn Kelley was good. In the second half of the year, it came together. Treinen and Belisle started pitching more in line with their effective stats. Rivero was traded but Marc Rzepczynski was brought in and perform strongly. Shawn Kelley was very good. The expensive fringes of the pen, Perez, Petit, had issues but Dusty seemed to be able to pull the right switches. Overall it felt like it was a good pen that just needed a good closer to set everything in place. Presumed Plan Earlier I would have probably said the Nats would trade for a closer, but I'm not sure what they have left to trade if Robles is untouchable. They could get a decent set-up man with the right package, a guy that could easily close but fans and the team aren't looking for someone without a track record. At this point I'm going to guess nothing happens in terms of getting a proven closer. Treinen or Kelley is handed the closer role to start the year.Reasoning on the presumed plan The Nats did want a closer but they also have assumed budgetary contstrictions. The Nats payroll was set to increase by 15 million or so just from increasing contracts and arbitration awards - dumping Revere, Espinosa, letting some relief arms walk - only balances that out. The Lerners continue to cry poverty over the MASN deal and are determined to not put money into the payroll that may influence that opinion. That doesn't mean they weren't interested in making a big play for a closer, they seemed to be in on both Melancon and Jansen, but it means they were more interested in sticking to their [...]



Danny Espinosa has been traded. This is a minor tragedy as the thought of singing "Danny Espinosa" to the tune of "Gary, Indiana" will go through my head far fewer times now that he's on the west coast. It's also a shame because as I noted earlier - Danny ain't problem #1. The Nats had the 2nd worst 1B situation last year in all of baseball.  In case you think that's an aberration, the year before that they were in the lower third of baseball. This is a pattern that isn't changing as Zimm and Robinson keep getting further from their primes. And catcher - well there is good reason to believe it won't just be worse next year (how could it not - it was nearly best this year) but potentially terrible.But still Danny occupied a spot that the future of the Nats franchise is penciled into. His secondary and tertiary positions were occupied by players more productive than him. To keep him playing someone had to be out of position, with one exception which we'll get to in a second. And he wasn't a good enough player to start moving things around for.* He's a speed and defense guy with the added skill of HR power. But he can't hit for average at all and he strikes out all the time. That's good enough to start somewhere, but expendable on a contending team. Much easier than accommodating him would be solving the CF issue, shifting Turner to where he belongs, and pushing Danny to the bench or out the door. And that's what happened. I guess Danny could have been kept around on the bench but he supposedly is not a happy camper when sitting, everyone seems to love (former D-back!) Stephen Drew, and you might even get Drew for cheaper than what Danny would cost (5+ mill).  In the end it just wasn't a difficult choice to send him on his way.Who'd they get for him? Two nobodies.  Kyle McGoohan is a starter with stuff that's not particularly missable and with pretty bad control. But he's not old! Austin "Don't call me Kearns. Don't call me Amy" Adams is a reliver with no control who's worked himself through the minors by... inertia I guess. Maybe they figure out what's up with one of these and come up with a good player.  I'm not betting on it. This was a dump trade. But I do believe Rizzo when he says this was in the works for a while. This was a planned dump trade.   Like Gio to the Yankees that's on hold as they decide if they want to spend that money on Jansen or not. The Nats aren't better today then they were Friday but they aren't significantly worse and a Drew signing would make it a wash.  Now if they go with Difo instead... that would be a mistake. It would also be telling.  I've said how the Nats are around budget this year.  Well what I mean is that they are very slightly over, just a few million more than last year. Going with Difo instead of Drew, assuming nothing else happens this off-season would suggest that even that small increase is too much. It doesn't mean the Nats won't spend money in the future - when MASN is figured out, when Werth's contract gets off the books - but it means we know where the Nats will be for the near future and it's not payroll competitive.  Doesn't mean they aren't team competitive, but it keeps the job harder for Rizzo. Oh that's right - the one exception.  Move Murphy to first. Play Danny at second. That's the optimal solution. But the Nats didn't/don't have the guts to do that. (and the fans don't want it either) *of course neither was Yunel Escobar but they did that anyway. [...]

How do I like them


I like Adam Eaton as much as people who generally like Adam EatonI like the fact that he's an all-around player. He basically does everything well... except hit for power. Now, if you ask me what's the most important thing a player can do "hit for power" is probably #1, which is why he's not a quiet superstar in my opinion. But an All-Star caliber player? One with enough skills that if something isn't working he can contribute in other ways? All at an age where severe drop offs in talent would be surprising? Yes. The only way you can think otherwise is if you still evaluate players mainly on the AVG HR RBI set of stats. I think the Nats have solved their CF problem in a good way, allowing them the ability, after this year to go for either a CF or a corner OF, depending on what they see as the best fit. I think they've found their Werth replacement, a productive outfielder who will help the team for half a decade. I like Lucas Giolito less than most with casual knowledge in the Nats but apparently more than most that follow the Nats and their stats at a hardcore levelA lot of people with casual knowledge remember the hype for Lucas Giolito and see his rankings in the minor league Top 100 lists and think he may still be an ace sooner rather than later. I don't. I think the ship of "dominant early 20s starter" has sailed. Oh it's certainly not impossible for later blossoming to occur but 1) typically aces have at least untouchable stuff (if not be completely dominant) throughout development, and 2) the Nats see Giolito as a ticking clock. The TJ arm will go at some point around year 8. If he's more of a Lester (some touchy minor league seasons, took a couple major league seasons to settle in - Ace at 24) well you are now 7 years in on that arm before you get any significant return, if any.On the other hand a lot of people have just given up on Giolito.  The velocity went and he got hit hard in the majors so he stinks.  I don't go that far. Here's a guy that undeniably has all the stuff you could want. He did fairly dominate the low minors at an age that was young for that and had swing and miss stuff in High-A ball just 18 months ago. The transition to AA did cause some issues. More hittable, less swing and missable in 2015. He improved on those a little in 2016 but at the same time became wilder negating those marginal improvements. But if you look more closely he got better as the year went on. In his first 7 games in AA he had four games where he walked 3 or more and 2 games where he walked one. Only one outing giving up a run or less, despite being held to shorter outings (no more than 4 IP) to start the year.  Only one outing striking out more batters than IP. In his second 7 he had two games where he walked 3 or more and 4 games where he walked only 1. Only one outing giving up more than 2 earned runs, despite now pitching 6 innings regularly. He struck out more batters than IP 3 times. He would spend most of the rest of the season bouncing between AAA and the majors but we saw something similar in his longest AA stint of 4 games. The first two games were rough, the next two were very good.I think Lucas Giolito could be thrown in the majors and be a back of the rotation starter today. I think with time (or AAA seasoning) he's going to be a fine middle of the rotation pitcher, maybe a #2. Assuming his arm holds up.I like Reynaldo Lopez less than most. Most seem to think that Lopez could be a decent back of the rotation pitcher and failing that would be a strong reliever. I'm not sure where that is coming from.  Lopez' minor league success has come from being unhittable but not in the "strike everyone out" way. Instead it's in a weird, incredibly low BABIP way. Perhaps there is something to this, an abili[...]

Eaton Back and Forth


The Nats traded for Adam Eaton. The gave up Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and ... let me check... Dane Dunning.  Good, Bad? Let's go over itOK so how good is Adam Eaton? Pretty good. He's a good average hitter (high .280s) with good patience (top 3rd type walk rate) who makes good contact. He has excellent speed on the base paths. He's a plus corner outfielder who has shown a very good arm following shoulder surgery.He's not old (Turned 28 on Tuesday! Happy Birthday!) so you can reasonably expect him to continue to perform for several years and he's making a crazy low salary for someone performing at his level. Only 4 million this year and very reasonable numbers for 4 years after that*.So what's the downside? Well, he has below average power, which can be a tough sell for a corner outfielder. Of course he'll play CF for the Nats so that lessens the power issue but that also lessens his defensive impact. He's likely only an average CF.Is that it for downside? Yeah, probably. He's a very good player who does a lot well and nothing terribly for a minimal cost.But what about the cost? Did the Nats give up too much?Let's take the "no" side first. It is true Giolito was a prized prospect but Lucas had issues this year and apparently the league quickly soured him. The loss of velocity and the lack of dominance in the minors suggest a pitcher that won't develop into an ace and may be looking at another TJ surgery sooner rather than later. Reynaldo Lopez was everyone's new hotness when it comes to Nats minor league starters but the Nats themselves were inclined to see him as a future pen arm rather than a closer. Both pitchers struggled mightily in their first taste of the majors. Dunning is an interesting arm who had a good year in low A (a 1st round draft pick - as were the other two) but would need another good year in 2017 with improved peripherals to make anyones top lists.The flip side is though that Giolito did have that high ranking, Top 7 across the board in back to back years. Scouts are not idiots and everyone was in agreement on his overall potential. While that ace potential may not be reached, it does seem likely that he still becomes an effective rotation pitcher. He was able to seemingly improve over the course of both his AA and AAA stints this year. Lopez didn't have the pedigree of Giolito but showed an ability to compete in AA and AAA, that at the very least suggests he deserves a longer look.  Both these guys are in their early 20s so performance improvements are certainly not out of the question.So the most likely scenario is the Nats gave up two extremely cheap back of the rotation starters, coming into form over the next two seasons with one potentially morphing into an effective reliever for a very cheap more than solid CF, who will effectively help over 5. Seems fair when I think about it.Of course Lito and Lopez have all the upside. It's unlikely Eaton busts out to be a 25 homer guy, but could either of these guys have it click and become special? Yes.  Of course they could also crap out. It's the story for all prop sects but with guys who made lists the idea of a special player isn't the pipe dream it is for most prospects traded.The Nats did need a CF though and Eaton fills that gap cheaply for a long while. That not only potentially frees up money this year - but leaves money available in future years. For those that want to envision a Nationals future with Bryce rather than without that's important.What I see coming next is a series of moves. I see Espinosa traded now that it's settled they don't need him. They can save money and avoid any problems he may have sitting. I see Drew being brought back.  I don't see a reliever signed. That's too much money unl[...]

Where we are so far


The Nats lost out on Sale. This is not that unexpected. I twice almost said something like "Why aren't the Red Sox doing something? They need pitching and can afford to lose a couple prospects." but didn't. What a fool Past Harper was! Turns out the Red Sox were putting something together that featured what might be the consensus #1 prospect going into next year in Yoan Moncada.The initial reaction was very much "The White Sox would want Moncada instead of Robles AND Giolito??!?!" This of course completely ignores the second part of the deal for the Red Sox, Michael Kopech who made as many pre-season Top 100 lists as Nats favorite Reynaldo Lopez. He's a legit prospect, not just a name added. So Moncada+ vs Robles, Giolito+ might draw question marks but Moncada, Kopech+ vs Robles, Giolio+ shouldn't.And yet it still does with some of you doesn't it? You think "That's like two Top 20 guys at worst, Two Top 10 guys at best. Kopech isn't climbing THAT much" but you ignore a basic truth about rankings. The further you get from the middle the more distorted things tend to get. It's not hard picking the best and worst, it's hard distinguishing one middle from another. If you are ranking 100 things it's very likely that the difference between 1 and 2 and 99 and 100 are much greater than the difference between 49-50-51. Now the back end doesn't actually come into play when we're talking about minor league rankings since we're pulling 100 out of thousands. But the top part is there.Think about minor league rankings the same way you think about the draft. The #1 guy almost everyone agrees on. The #2 and #3 are pretty clear, etc. etc. By the time you even get to #10 though fuzziness reigns. Your 10 might be someone else's 7 and another person's 19. And much like a draft I'd bet a lot of money that expected future performance drops off quickly when talking about these lists. This is all just a long winded way of saying if you have Moncada at 1 and Giolito at 5 and Robles at 15 you are likely saying you like Moncada A LOT more than Giolito who you like A LOT more than Robles. If Kopech was at like 50 in this scenario I'd bet his expectation would be a lot closer to Robles than Robles' expectation would be to Moncada's. And that's the reason the White Sox take the deal.Now Barry noted this morning that Lopez might have also been thrown in. To me that does give the Nats the edge.. assuming there's still that "+" there. We've never heard of others though. And if you are going Moncada, Kopech+ vs Robles, Giolito, Lopez well I can see sticking with deal #1. Is that too much for the Nats to deal for Sale? Honestly probably not. If you get Sale you are assuming then your rotation is set for three seasons. Scherzer, Strasburg, Sale, Ross, Roark. None would have to go anywhere before Sale and Roark would be up for FA after 2019. What happens to Lopez and Giolito in the mean time there? Probably just get dealt for someone else. Yeah I know - they'd be great depth! But at some point being depth just serves to hurt their trade value, getting older and not getting any experience. Better to trade sooner rather than later. And if you are thinking "well Lopez moves to the pen!", congrats, you've likely decimated his value and put him in a new position where he may not succeed. I'm sure it would happen that way, him being shifted to relief, but you can't assume he'd just click become a dominant reliever. It doesn't work that way. The other deal the Nats lost out on was for Melancon. He got a lot of money 4/62 from the Giants. It's too much money. The Nats don't ever spend too much money. That is great but it can also be a problem. We've noted before how it's super easy to go from terrible to bad, easy to[...]

Sale of the Century


You ever watch that game show? Jim Perry's greatest work. Don't bring none of that Card Sharks around here. Anyway Nats have gone from being THIS CLOSE to getting Andrew McCutchen to being THIS CLOSE to getting Chris Sale. Why the movement? Well a couple reasons. First the Pirates wanted Robles for McCutchen but the Nats didn't want to give up Robles for McCutchen. I disagree but it is their right. They will give up Robles however, and potentially Giolito as well, for Sale.  What's the difference? Well with Sale you aren't hoping for a bounce back year. He was good last year. Cutch wasn't. Also Cutch has two bargain years left. Sale has three bigger bargain years left, when you factor in the premium on pitching. In short you are likely to get more from Sale, at a lower price, for longer. That's the difference."Great", you say "but we don't need another starting pitcher. At least not more than a CF or a closer or a catcher or let's be honest a 1B. Why trade for another starting pitcher and not one of those?" Well you could say Rizzo is just doing what Rizzo does - getting the best available rather than worry about what's out there. They did "strengthen a strength" getting Soriano. But then you think back and realize that wasn't a Rizzo move. That was a Lerner move. If you look back though you do see that Rizzo believes you can't have enough pitching.The 2012 rotation only lost Edwin Jackson, but Rizzo didn't bargain hunt or let rookies try to fill in the 5th spot, he went out and signed a decent veteran arm in Dan Haren. Haren would be out after 2013 and Detwiler got hurt, but the Top 3 was still in place. Rizzo could have went with those guys and tried a mix of Roark, Ohelndorf, Jordan, maybe Karns in the back of the rotation. Nope. He went out and traded for Doug Fister leaving only one spot up for grabs. After 2014 there were actually no holes in the rotation, but Rizzo knew holes would be coming soon so he went out and along with Boras/Lerner signed Max Scherzer. Roark got pushed off for a year to come back in 2016 when ZNN left and opened up a spot. Now that injury and performance has made us doubt Strasburg, Ross, and Gio Rizzo looks to go out and trade for Sale. It fits a pattern.But there's another reason you trade for Sale as a priority beyond talent, value, and preference. A reason that I hate to bring up but hangs over the team almost every year. You trade for Sale because of payroll. You see the Nats are basically at 150 million in payroll right now, factoring in arbitration salaries. That's about what the Nats would like to spend by all indications, maybe slightly too much.  They've kicked Revere to the curb and let Petit walk as expected. Still though, that just gets them down to their max. They can't take in a big contract without losing one. They don't have that many left they can afford to lose though. Danny Espinosa is one but he can't cover a Cutch or Sale himself. The one contract that can is Gio. But if you bring in Cutch and trade Gio you've got a more questionable rotation situation. Gio wasn't great anymore but he was fine for a back of the rotation pitcher and more importantly he was reliable. You have to replace that. Bring in Sale and trade Gio... well everything matches up fine then. This is cynical but after the Nats went through last season at 145 and didn't add serious payroll at trade deadline it was clear the drop from their 2015 peak wasn't strategic. It was a return to normal.The White Sox would have liked Turner for Sale. This is ridiculous. The White Sox kind of know that. Their fans don't.  But it is! Sale is a unique commodity, an ace, still young, under very reasonable contract control for th[...]

Who is Victor Robles?


Many fans have responded to the news that the Nats are being asked for Victor Robles in exchange for Andrew McCutchen with knee-jerk predictability. "HE'S ONE OF OUR TOP PROSPECTS!!! UNTOUCHABLE!!!!" It's not just a Nats fans thing.  That is pretty much guaranteed to be said about any team's Top 1-3 guys in the system when brought up in trade talks. We overvalue our own and assume that because they are the top guys in our system that they are future major leaguers just waiting for their big break. It's usually not true.But that doesn't mean it's always not true! Someone has to be the major leaguers of tomorrow. The question is - is Robles that? And if so, what kind of major leaguer is he likely to be?Much like when we looked at Giolito about a year ago, I like to look at why exactly we are excited by Robles and how other players who hit same points turned out. So why are we excited by Robles? Sure he's got the tools, etc. but "tools, etc." doesn't get you talked about like you could be a Top 10 prospect. You need production to go along with it. We are excited because as a 19 year old Robles put up a .305 / .405 / .459 line in class A ball. That is a young age for class A, so being that good is basically a flashing sign saying "this kid might be special".  But how special? Well let's look at all the guys at age 19* who put up a .850 or higher OPS in the Sally** league and what happened to them2015 KJ Woods - terrible in A+ in 2016, but didn't hit before 2015 so not really comparable to Robles or almost everyone on this list 2014 Austin Meadows - would hit immediately in A+ ball in 2015, then hit in AA at the end of same year. Hit in AA to start 2016. Not great in AAA but injured. Expected to be a major leaguer in 2017 Ryan McMahon - hit in A+ ball in 2015. Did not hit in AA in 2016. Chance Sisco - 2015 hit a little worse in A+ ball, a little worse that that in AA ball. 2016 Hit well in AA. Catcher who should help part of 2017 2013 Joey Gallo - What did happen to Joey Gallo? He CRUSHED in A ball at 19. 38 homers! 2014 - CRUSHED A+ ball. Powered through AA. 2015 CRUSHED AA, struggled mightily in AAA. Got ML time, didn't hit. 2016 Good in AAA. An unimpressive cup of coffee in Texas. Will probably get a big chuck of time in majors in 2017 to see where he's at. Fun prospect with ELITE power.  Nick Williams - 2014 hit well enough in A+ ball to get a AA trial. Failed. 2015 AA went much better. 2016 did just ok in AAA. Not quite a KJ Woods type, but not with other real prospects here, either 2012 Alen Hanson - KJ Woods type. Been moved up to do it but never really hit all that great. Looks like a AAA guy. Trevor Story - Stepped back in 2013 but then got it in 2014... then struggled in AA. But then adapted in 2015 and was a good starter for Colorado in 2016. Gary Sanchez - didn't hit like that again until 2015 but hit well enough to get moved along, given he's a catcher. Hit well in AAA in 2016. Performance upon call-up to majors shockingly good. Will see a lot of playing time in 2017 to see how fluky that was. 2011Johnathan Schoop - moved up and basically made an Oriole in 2014 just because, not because he earned it. Struggled terribly in 2014. A fair major leaguer in 2015/6. Christian Yelich - never stopped hitting. Also reached majors in 2013 but deserved to. Hit fairly well in majors before breaking out in 2016. 2010Nolan Arenando - hit in 2011 but not in AA in 2012, but after an impressive Fall League got a AAA shot in 2013 was killing it so got a major league shot hasn't looked back. Not as good offensively as you might think (Coors you know) but a very good major leaguerOne thing should be flat ou[...]

McCutchen - what's your price


The talk around the Nats getting Andrew McCutchen from the Pirates is heating up.  Personally, I don't think anything will happen before the Winter Meetings.  Why? Because it doesn't really make sense for either team to get the deal done right this second.The Pirates probably have several prices set in their mind for McCutchen. There's a price they'd love to get, a price they expect to get, and a minimum price they'd take if they had to. In order to get a price closer to the former rather than the latter, it makes sense for them to shop around McCutchen to the most teams possible and the Winter Meetings is a great place to feel out if they've completed that work. Of course the Nats can force the issue by giving the Pirates something close to that "love to get" price. But...The Nats probably have ideas to about what they'd give up for Cutch. What they'd like to give up, what they will give up if necessary. Right now all they can do is offer roughly what they'd like to and keep ramping it up if it feels like the Pirates aren't going to take it. The Pirates have all the leverage. Go to the Winter Meetings and get a feeling that the market for Cutch isn't that hot and then you've got some leverage and can keep the price low. Sure you risk someone coming in with a better deal, but if you know the other people involved and feel you are very likely to be able to outbid them, waiting makes sense. So I don't expect a deal to get done until Sunday or after. Sorry. But maybe I'm wrong!What would I give up for Cutch? I'd go two good prospects deep.  I would go Robles and Giolito or Robles and Lopez. But I love Cutch. Something I wouldn't do? Robles and Ross. Do I think Lito and maybe Lopez will be better ML pitchers than Ross... I guess so. But I think with much higher certainty that I know what Ross' floor is and that's still a major league pitcher. I don't mind giving away potential. I do mind giving away actual. Ross himself? Sure. But not with your best offensive prospect.What about Cutch himself? Contract wise it's a fine grab.  He's not super expensive (14 million) and the team has control over a second year (14.75 team option). He's normally worth so much more that even a big drop in stats would be still worth the price. And yet last year he wasn't worth it. The average dropped but so did the patience. His speed isn't quite there anymore. It may have been a particularly bad defensive year but the general trend is yes, he's not below average in CF. (Which is completely understandable as a guy who at his peak was probably just a bit above average).  The only thing that's holding up is the power. What do the fancy stats say? Is it bad luck? BABIP... a little low for him, even considering a speed drop. However the way he hits' the ball suggests more flyball and fewer hard hit balls. That's a good combination for lowering BABIP. The more flyballs thing has been a several year thing so it's the drop in hard hit balls (and increase in soft hit balls) that is driving this issue. So then we look at swings - is he swinging at worse pitches? Not really - swings on pitches outside the zone is down and contact on these pitches (usually bad contact) is down too. But that's another thing - He's making a lot less contact meaning the K-rate is up. Highest of his career - up four straight year. So if it's not the type of contact is it bat speed? That's not a bad guess.The gamble on him is then, that he will improve. I'd say there's a pretty good chance he will. The pretty good chance though is not of back to MVP level, just a mild gener[...]

Offseason Position Discussion : Starting Pitching


Getting close to the Winter Meetings now.  Are you ready to be sneaking around hotels hoping to overhear bits and pieces of information like good little spies? No? You have jobs and lives? What good are you?   Last Year's DiscussionLast year's rotation was pretty set and we knew it. Max, Stras, Gio, Roark, and Ross.We didn't have any real issue with the plan. Yes, we worried about Strasburg's health. Yes, we worried about Gio's decline. Yes, we (well more "I") worried about Ross' limited history. Yes, we worried if  Roark could do it again. But these were all good bets to take and as a whole the biggest rotation worry was depth. After these five it wasn't clear who would fill in, especially early in the year.Well it turns out that didn't matter much early in the year. Stras would miss a couple games in June but the first 80 games were not only basically injury free, but free of worry as well. Max scuffled a bit in April but that cleared up fine. Roark did do it again. Strasburg looked good. Ross looked good. Yes, Gio really had us looking at alternatives after a poor May and June, but one pitcher in a rotation being in trouble isn't a worry. It's a season going well.At that point things unraveled a bit. Ross' injury in July essentially put the Gio issue on the back burner. The depth issue we worried about did not get clearer as the year went on and Lopez, Giolito, and Cole all struggled as replacements. Ross would never really get back and worse, Strasburg would be shut down as the year drew to a close. Now the Nats, who half-way through the year were four deep, were two deep and if they hadn't faced the Dodgers in the playoffs would have had a very tough call on starting the struggling Gio or the maybe healthy Ross.They made it to the finish line but just barely. Presumed Plan  Max, Stras, Roark, one of Gio/Ross, something new.Reasoning on Presumed Plan  Max won the Cy Young. He's got a huge long contract. He's in.Roark got a Cy Young vote (just one but it was deserved). He's super cheap. He's in.At this point we run into the problem the Nats would like to solve. They have two pitchers who they feel they can rely on (as much as you can) to be healthy and good. That means they have to hope things work out for one of the rest to set them up decently for the playoffs, which they presume to make. If it's Strasburg, great! It's hard to imagine him not being good if he's healthy. If it's not Strasburg then it's a question mark on how good a thing that is. Rather than leave it up to the fates again, the Nats would be wise to make a deal, and they've already floated out there that Gio is available and that they were willing to trade a starter last year.Even if they don't get a new starter, it's very likely that Lopez or Giolito (or both) will need to start getting some full-time major league work next season. They both handled AAA pretty well last year. It was in limited innings, so a second go around would be advisable, but it would surprise me if at least one of them wasn't doing well enough by the All-Star break to warrant a long look in the majors. It won't be Strasburg going though. Yes, he's got a team-friendly contract for someone with his age and performance record, but the injury history can't be ignored. His forearm issues probably make him expendable in trade by the Nats, but also probably make him not a target for anyone else. Perhaps if he came back fully last year, but he didn't. He's in.It could easily be Gio. He's much older than Ross and clearly on the decline. He's got value though. He's on a team friendly deal. You wouldn't be t[...]

Max and the Terrible, Not-Good, Very-Good, Excellent, Just Good, Passable Cy Young Season


Max Scherzer won the Cy Young last Wednesday and I was taken to task for not celebrating it in verse and rhyme. Cy Young! That's great! We must gather together and feast in his name! Right? Well I can give you three big reasons why the celebration was a head nod and not a shout. First, there isn't anything particularly compelling about this. We've been pretty much talking about Max on and off all year. We know he's been very good. We realized he was a Cy Young contender and before the awards we noted he was a likely favorite. As a previous winner who wasn't short-changed in front of us it's hard to get all that excited for "excellent player gets his due, which he has also gotten before because he was an excellent player then as well". Second, Max was objectively better last year. No, he didn't win more games but other than a few Ks (and just a few 8 more in one fewer third of an inning) he walked a lot fewer, gave up fewer homers, and threw 4 complete games, 3 shutouts, and 2 no-hitters*. Third, let's face it Max got the "Clayton Kershaw got hurt, so who do we give it to now" Cy Young award. So there's why we're not jumping up and down in the aisles. But that's not to say Max doesn't deserve his due. So how did Max end up with a Cy Young? The short answer is the meat of the Max Scherzer season was amazing.As you probably remember, Max's season started pretty poorly. Seven starts in and his ERA sat at 4.60.  He had flashes of his dominant 2015 self but something was off. He wasn't unhittable. He wasn't as in control. And most disturbingly he was getting bombed, capped off by a four homer game against the Cubs. Giving up homers while not keeping guys off base - that's not just a bad combination - it's a losing one.Max had to get it together and he mostly did. Over the next few games he got unhittable again. He got back in control. He... well he kept getting bombed but as he let fewer and fewer guys on base those homers mattered less and less. Solo homers don't kill you. He didn't have perfect games, but he gave the Nats games they should win. Max seemed to be getting back into form. By mid-season, Max would conquer the HR issue as well. In June and July he'd have almost as many homerless games (5) as games with a homer (6) and only one multi-homer game.  He was on the top of his game. In 13 starts from June 1st through August 9th he put up these numbers. A .163 / .209 / .288 line against him. 1.7 BB/9, 11.8 K/9, 0.9 HR/9.** This was about as good as a pitcher can be over an extended period.  This 40% of an historic season is what got Max the Cy Young.Why do I say that? Because things starting to unravel a bit as the season drew to a close. While he kept the homers down, he started to get hit a bit again. He started to walk a bit again. It wasn't a big deal. Without the homers he was still keeping offenses down and it was still Cy Young caliber type pitching, but it was a break from the dominance we had started to become accustomed to. For instance, during that 13 game stretch Max had allowed more baserunners than IP twice. In the next 7 games he did it 4 times. As much as Max was rounding into form to during the end of May, he was falling out of it now.As the season ended all of issues that plagued Max to start the year were back. He was walking too many. He was getting hit more than he had all year and now the homers were back. It took guile and luck to keep the runs from getting on the board but he managed to mostly do that. It was a poor finish (4.38 ERA over last 4 games) but it could have been worse. While I still hold t[...]

Trade for Sale?


Barry Svrluga host of "The Grind" book edition (makes a great stocking stuffer! No seriously. I have it, read it.) says that the Nats should trade for Sale. Do I agree? Yep. But before I  go into the why I pretty much exactly agree with Barry I can't help but be nitpicky.  The Washington Nationals’ 2017 rotation could easily be ...Gio Gonzalez, who has twice been an all-star and once won 20 games; and ...Did Boz ghostwrite your first paragraph, Barry? Yes, Gio was twice an All-Star and won 20 games. That was in 2011 and 2012. That was a long time ago and really doesn't have bearing on the Gio that's in the rotation now. The Gio of today is a durable middle of the road pitcher who is just as likely to strike out 8+ as he is to have control issues and go out before the 5th inning ends. That's not great it's... not bad. But add to that he's a lefty and he's an arm that ~30 teams would line up for to slide into their rotation as a #3/#4/#5 (depending how bad their SP circumstance is). Come on! You're better than that!Rizzo, as we’ve explained in the past, has a superb record of trading players. Those he has landed include Wilson Ramos, Trea Turner, Gonzalez, Roark, Ross, Denard Span, Doug Fister, Mark Melancon, on and on. The best player he has given up in such deals? Maybe Billy Burns? Maybe. Maybe it’ll turn out to be Felipe Rivero, dealt to Pittsburgh for Melancon, the closer at the end of 2016. Maybe it’s Derek Norris, who was once an all-star as a catcher. Jerry Blevins?Billy Burns? That's really the first name you toss out there? Tommy Milone beats Billy Burns.* It's totally Derek Norris. Though he's right it could be Felipe (this is why Barry is great and I'm nitpicking out of love here). Blevins doesn't really fit as he was a "We're mad you tried to get more money! Get out!" dump. It was a very very rare loss by Rizzo, that was saved from being even more apparent by Blevins' injury in 2015.OK that's it! See Barry is great! Really that's only one true nitpick and one bit of confusion. That's usually gotten to in the first paragraph of a Boz column when he's off.Anyway another thing I wanted to pull from that column though. “Imagine that in the playoffs,” one executive said Wednesday. “And Sale being there would completely take the pressure off Strasburg.” I thought Max was supposed to take the pressure of Strasburg. Do they seriously think Strasburg is such a headcase that he needs TWO Cy Young caliber pitchers ahead of him to make him feel comfortable? I personally don't believe that. You can just peruse his stats and see he's fairly consistently very good. But if you do, why the hell do you keep someone like that on the team which a big contract? Just saying.OK so Barry's point is the Nats should trade for Sale and should basically let the White Sox pick what they want (assumes not Turner). Ross, Giolito, Robles, Lopez, etc. He thinks it's time that the Nats move forward. Stop being good enough to get to the playoffs. Start trying to be good enough to win in the playoffs. He think Sale's contract (12m 2017 team options after that, 12.5m, and 13.5m) is an incredible bargain.He's right across the board.At least that's my thinking. It's not that the Nats have consistently tried to get away with just a couple good starters for the playoffs. Really the only year you can say that for was last year when they went in with Scherzer/Stras and hope someone steps up. But in doing that they did end up with only 2 great arms for the playoffs and that did put them in a bind. They don't want to en[...]

Tuesday Quickie - Awards


Trea Turner did not win ROY.  That is not surprising as Corey Seager was an MVP candidate and also a ROY candidate. It's tough luck for Trea, assuming he loves awards, but far from unfair.  We talked about this near certainty a few weeks ago while the season was in play.  Where do the other votes stand now?Remember - votes are before the season is over.NL MOY - I disqualified Roberts because the Dodgers would actually win fewer games this year. Apparently though he is the front runner. Yes, I know they had lots of injuries. But there's something funny to me about the idea of bringing a guy in, having him win fewer games than his predecessor, then proclaiming that he did the best job. Especially when he's competing directly with someone that was brought in and proceeded to win 12 MORE games than his predecessor.I had Maddon taking it for sure if he got to 104 wins. He didn't. He got to 103.  I then said Dusty had a chance if the Nats were within 5 games of the Cubs. They weren't they were 8 games behind. So I'll say it finishes inexplicably Roberts - Maddon - Dusty.NL MVP - Bryant or Murphy (as Seager would take the ROY) Final LinesBryant :  .292 / .385 / .554 39 HR 102 RBIMurphy : .347 / .390 / .595 25 HR 104 RBIIt's close but Murphy had the better offensive season. Bryant had more patience and a bit more power (Murphy lead league in doubles and even had a couple more triples than Bryant) but it didn't make up that huge gap in average. Factoring defense and base running is always problematic but the general consensus between stats and scouts is that they go to Bryant. That alone probably puts Bryant over the top. Beyond that the Cubs won 103 games and were the best team in baseball. Everything says BryantNL Cy Young - Since we know the Top 3 we know how some things shook out. Bumgarner and Syndergaard both made the playoffs but neither had the lights out finish to the season that would put them over the top (Noah was much closer in that regard but given the love of MadBum I bet Madison beat him in votes... we'll see). This is also true of Jose Fernandez, who wasn't on pace to make the Top 3 prior to his tragic end.Final linesHendricks : 16-8, 2.13 ERA, 170K, 0.979 WHIPScherzer : 20-7, 2.96 ERA, 284K, 0.968 WHIPLester :  19-5, 2.44 ERA, 197K, 1.016 WHIPHendricks has the best ERA and they love ERA... but not as much as wins. Plus Hendricks thing was having the lowest ERA since Gibson and he slowly but surely lost that. I think he finishes third.  Lester had the strongest finish, most wins, best winning percentage and a lower ERA than Scherzer. Scherzer had by far the most strikeouts and a lower WHIP, and is seen as the most dominant non-Kershaw* pitcher out there. I think it'll be close but I think the general feeling favors Max and I think there will be some "Well I didn't vote for a National for the other three awards and I don't have a favorite here so here's your bone" going on.*Kershaw's final line 12-4, 1.69 ERA, 172K, 0.725 WHIP.  0.725!!!  His outside chance of winning even pitching 70 fewer innings than these guys was ruined by a lack of run support. You heard me. He went 12-4 with a lack in run support. 27 runs scored in his last 11 games by the Dodgers. Overall it just looked bad but the Dodgers scored 29 runs in two games for him. If we take out these (and even take out his two lowest in fairness) he'd drop much closer to the bottom. [...]

Propsects runway


Chelsea "Don't came me James" Janes says in her latest piece that the Nats have "plenty of upper- and mid-level prospects who continue to garner interest from other teams"Do they?I had a feeling that the Nats farm system was ok but top heavy, meaning Turner's graduation and the cooling on Giolito would have significant effects. I went back and looked and saw the Nats system ranked pre-season anywhere from 5th to 17th.  I lean more toward the latter. So let's look at some top and mid-level prospects and see what kind of interest teams might really have.The Big 4 Giolito - Was basically the most prized pitching prospect going into last year but he didn't live up to that highest of high hype last year. He was in and out of the majors and each time in was a failure. He was hittable and gave up a ton of homers, 7 in 21 innings. There was also questions about a decrease in velocity which is a big deal for someone who already had arm surgery. And his AA numbers arguably took a step back. Still, he will be only an "old" 22* next year and everyone loves his stuff. His AAA numbers last year are exactly what you want to see. He's a 2017 or 18 full time player. The idea of him coming into the majors and immediately being a #1 type may be fading, but the idea of him being a very successful pitcher a few years down the line has not. His stock will drop a bit probably from Top 3ish to Top 10ish, but with very watchful eyes those first couple months. Turner - off the tableRobles - A name that got a lot of attention as he did really well in A ball as a "young" 19 year old. He didn't do as well in A+ ball but he did better in his second stint after injury. There's a question on whether he gets power but right now the promise of his age wins out. Likely moves from a Top 30ish prospect to a Top 15ish. If he develops power he'd be a Top 10. Optimistically projects for a 2019 full-time role at 21-22. Lopez - Like Giolito his time in the majors wasn't great, but unlike Lucas there were times you could point to what he was doing and feel good. Sure, about half of them were against the Braves but you gotta start somewhere. There was a lot of talk about him "breaking through" and maybe being better than Giolito as his K's went way up in AA this year. But they went back down in AAA, and dialing things up in MLB to get more meant a big increase in wildness. Like Giolito he's a 2017-18 full time player. Like Giolito I think that ranking is very tentative and could change radically in either direction based on just the first couple months. Unlike Giolito I'd expect his pre-sesaon stock to rise from a back quarter of Top 100 to a Top 50 ish player. The next tierGlover - Live arm who showed potential dominating AA with Ks and AAA with control. Trajectory says its hard to see how he doesn't end up set in a major league pen next year, if not to start then sometime. Could be a potential lights out closer - however that's a phrase tossed around for a lot of live minor league arms. Will break Top 100, probably in Top 75. Cole - I'd love for Cole to get into the Top 100 of someone's list again because I bet he'd be the only guy to ever be ranked in someone's Top 100 in 6 different seasons. 2016 though was the first time he wasn't and nothing about last year changes that. Might develop into a back end starter but at 25 and looking at his 4th year in AAA he's more of a throw-in than a key piece. Difo - The anti Giolito/Lopez, Difo was not bad in the majors, but in the minors he did nothing to[...]

Offseason Position Discussion : Outfield


Last Year's DiscussionAt that point Revere hadn't been traded for so the presumed plan was Werth, Bryce, and MAT getting his shot in CF. Why MAT? We thought it was clear the Nats wanted him as the CF of the future and that he did well enough in 2015 to get a chance. Span was dismissed because the QO was too expensive for a guy that couldn't play much in 2015. I thought playing Werth was reasonable given his late season performance and the reality of the Nats situation. If you play Werth than a strong fielder in CF is the better play and that was Taylor not Span. I did however, say they should try to get Span on a team friendly deal as giving MAT another year of seasoning wouldn't be a bad idea. Failing that, I advocated for a strong OF bench to compensate for Taylor. How did it play out? Well first off the Nats traded disgruntled closer Drew Storen for Ben Revere, which essentially re-demoted MAT for two seasons unless he busted out. It seemed like a smart move at the time but Revere would get injured early and would never hit like himself putting up a .217 batting average when he averaged ~.300 over previous 4 seasons. MAT failed to capitalize and hit exactly as he hit in a cup of coffee in 2014 and 130 games in 2015. Very low average (.231), some pop (7 homers in 76 games) too many strikeouts (32.5% rate - would have been 2nd worst if he had enough at bats). It was so bad that SS of the future, Trea Turner was moved to play CF and he was so good! .342 with 14 doubles, 8 triples and 13 homers and 33 stolen bases. In just 73 games he was ROY good in any year that didn't happen to have a rookie that was also a legit MVP candidate.Surprisingly Bryce was an issue. A dip was to be expected but Bryce didn't just dip he dropped below what you probably would have had as his floor. A mediocre .243 batting average and only 24 homers.  Injuries and mind games (PETE MACKINNON STARTED mind games) caused a stumble early in the year and what HAS to be a lingering shoulder-area issue hampered his second half.On the plus side Werth bounced back with an acceptable year at the plate. It was a lot of bouncing around with punctuated moments of hot play but that was enough for an old player coming back from an injury that lost him a productive 2015. Still a stiff in the field.All in all it didn't work but the CF and Bryce issues were fairly surprising so it's hard to fault the Nats. Presumed Plan  Werth in LF. Bryce in RF.  Something new in CF.Reasoning on Presumed Plan  Werth hit well enough to take his last year in the field. Circumstances with Zimm mean that can't be at first so LF is where it's going to be. Generally you might see Rizzo move this type of player for something that could help the Nats in the future, but the contract makes Werth untradeable. You could argue a fading 38 year old starter should be replaced anyway but on the surprisingly long list of the Nats fixable issues, this doesn't even register. Bryce starts because even crashing through the floor of his projections he was a useful bat and a solid, if unspectacular, corner OF. Given he's still under team control he's a bargain. You just have to hope he's healthy and you see a big increase in performance next year. On CF we just don't know yet. We know they'd prefer if Turner played SS. They've now floated out there that Danny's available in trade. It would be very hard to go into next year with either Revere or Taylor or some sort of platoon as Plan A given how[...]

Various news dumps


We had an election and if you wanted to dump some stuff out on the public, the last few days was the time to do it. So a short recap of the Nats news stories over the past few days.

Nats don't give Ramos QO

Some people debated it but that's only if you believe the injury risk Ramos is going to be worth playing at least half the year next year. Otherwise it's hard to see how he affects the season enough or gets ready fast enough to matter for a possible post-season. Nats obviously are thinking that's optimistic so take pragmatic route.  It is still possible he re-signs here. Don't rule that out.

Nats would trade Espinosa

This only makes sense to me if they feel he is going to be a liability on the bench. I'd rather have him that Stephen Drew and they are basically the same player. The trade market for Danny would be there, but would probably be slim. He's only an impactful upgrade if you are terrible at short and not a lot of contenders are. A Gott like return would be best Nats could hope for. And they might go for that. Rizzo likes his arms.

Nats aren't going to be big spenders

Doesn't mean they will not make a big deal but it would have to be a deferred one or something else that doesn't raise next year's payroll that much. Nats payroll is basically what it was last year. Granted there are not a lot of promising FAs out there. This is more about trades. We didn't notice much because of the winning and the lack of obvious need, but the payroll add in-season was again non-existant. So stop expecting the Nats to trade for anyone that will cost any money.

Bryce won't play in WBC. Max might. 

Someday someone will get injured during this and there will be an outcry. It's unlikely for any single player though. Let's hope it's not a Nat. 

Offseason Position Discussion Third Base


I elect... to talk about Anthony Rendon! HAHAHAHHSHAHSHAHSI'm terrible.Last Year's DiscussionWe had Rendon starting because it seemed to be the direction the Nats were heading. Remember in 2015 Rendon played 2B because Yuney was at 3B to start the year and didn't want to change.  Man the 2015 Nats were stupid about things.  We worried a little bit about Rendon's extensive injury history but realized that without a doubt he should be in the lineup somewhere. 2B gave them more options in theory but 3B was fine and probably where he belonged in a perfect world.A lot of the problems with Rendon at third weren't about him, but about Yuney who was still on the roster at the time and needed a place to play. You put Rendon at 3B and Yuney probably moves to SS? That isn't good. But neither was 2B or anything really.  But hey! It didn't end up being an issue. Yuney was dealt.Rendon started very slowly. Thirty games in you had reason to begin to worry. He was down to .218 / .289 / .297 in Early May.  But after that point Rendon hit like he did in 2014, putting up a  .287 / .364 / .494 line. Unfortunately things ended poorly - he hit only .150 in the playoffs. Still you look at that 130 game run that was like his fringy MVP year in 2014 and his continued plus fielding and you have to feel good about the future.My OOB plan was trading Giolito (as usual) for Arenando. That would have worked out fine but any out of the box plan for the infield means not signing Murphy and Murphy was the best so basically the Nats plan was the best.Presumed Plan  Rendon starts at 3B.  Espinosa is the bench replacement for this and all IF positions.Reasoning on Presumed Plan  We talked about how Espy ended up on the bench with the SS discussion. There's been some talk about how he's not a great bench guy but you can't let a guys feelings effect whether he starts or not. If he can't handle being on the bench you trade him then.As for why Rendon plays 3B, well I think we just covered it. He's most comfortable at third base. The stats and scouts agree, he fields the position really well. He can hit really well when healthy.  At this point he hasn't turned the corner from his .285 20 HR very good bat to something more special, but he's hitting his prime (27 in June) and if he can stay healthy this will be his first back to back healthy major league seasons so there's hope for that too.We had talked before about moving Rendon to 2B because he can play there and it frees up 3B, an easier position to fill. Now though Daniel Murphy is at 2B so this isn't an issue. This is an obvious move.Problems with Presumed Plan  The biggest issue with Rendon is the obvious one. He gets hurt. A lot. He basically hasn't had back to back healthy years since starting college? High school? So expecting him to be healthy for all of 2017 is more than just your normal gamble.As much as we can focus on the 130 games where he hit like he did in his best year, we can't deny those first 30 games happened.  If you want to be real pessimistic you can look at the last 2 seasons and see a guy that might be an average hitter, not an above average one.It is arguable that it still makes sense to play Rendon at 2B, even with Murphy.  Murphy would then move to 1B, Zimm would sit and your offense and defense would be better.My Take Yes, Rendon gets hurt a lot. What[...]