That’s One Crazy Closer

January 31, 2011

We aren’t sure who is going to be the Nats’ 2011 closer for the Nats just yet. Most fans would tell you, though, that Drew Storen will have the job eventually. Storen’s been great with the media, often acting as a mouthpiece / guardian for Strasburg. Storen seems affable, intelligent, and altogether normal. But that doesn’t matter if he’s not effective. And if he is effective, he could dress up in a clown costumes for interviews and most fans would be fine with it.

Brian Wilson, who was very effective last season as a closer and helped his team win a World Series, is different than Storen. He’s different than most people. He was on Lopez Tonight last week, and he put on quite a show. If you like watching weird guys acting funny and even weirder than you thought he was, watch this:

I’m not saying that Drew Storen needs to act like this in order to be a great closer. I’m just saying if he becomes a great closer, I wouldn’t mind at all if shares some crazy with the rest of the world.

Nats in Keith Law’s Top 100

January 27, 2011

Keith Law released his Top 100 prospects list today, and three Nationals made the cut: Bryce Harper (#2), Derek Norris (#33) and Wilson Ramos (#95). You probably know a bit about each one of them, but here are a few of the comments Law made that I found most interesting.

Bryce Harper

Harper’s calling card is the absurd leverage in his swing, generating that enormous raw power even out to centerfield

Harper is still learning to play the outfield after catching for most of his academic career, but he has the plus arm for right field and is probably fast enough to handle center if the Nationals wanted to challenge him

Harper has MVP upside, but his race to the majors will be timed by sliders and curveballs

Derek Norris

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Desmond and Some Gold Glovers

January 26, 2011

Ian Desmond was something of a divisive player last season. Many saw promise in the SS who had a strong few months with the bat, hitting a late season high-water mark of a .753 OPS on September 5, when he was sitting at .289/.325/.428, and flashes of incredible range on the field. Others focused on the league leading 34 errors, or the .700 OPS he finished up with after a September swoon. I’m in the former category, so I can’t say I completely understand the Desmond-isn’t-good crowd, but I think the real issue is with his glove, not his bat. After all, the only rookie middle infielders with over 250 PAs that had a higher OPS were Neil Walker (.811) and Starlin Castro (.755).

But enough about me inserting reasons why he’s so great, let’s get back to the errors issue. Desmond committed way too many, and some, like Thom Loverro, believe alot of those will go away with experience and maturity. Ok, we all know that errors are somewhat ridiculous, because they are subjective and probably negatively influenced by a positive – range. But rather than throwing them away, let’s look at a few other defensive statistics, along with errors.

I’ve pulled numbers for a few players, gold glove shortstops, and how they did in their first two full seasons. Besides errors, I looked at errors per inning played at SS (to “normalize” it), their range factor per 9 innings, and the Rtot, a Baseball Reference metric measuring fielding runs above average (it’s a total fielding value). Here’s how it shakes out:

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Zimmerman Credited with Not Getting Credit

January 24, 2011

Jayson Stark wrote down his “all underrated” for 2011 on Friday, and while the concept is a little silly, it is nice to get a glimpse of some players who aren’t necessarily getting credit for being great. Not surprisingly for Nats fans, Ryan Zimmerman made the list. Whether or not he gets the recognition he deserves isn’t why I am pointing this out. Rather, I just wanted to share some pretty great things that were said about him in the article.

FanGraphs’ top four players in the major leagues last year in Wins Above Replacement:

Josh Hamilton (8.0), Joey Votto (7.4), Pujols (7.3) and (drumroll, please) Zimmerman (7.2).

So … do we have your attention yet? Thought so. If those WAR rankings are any judge (and clearly, they’re onto something), it means Zimmerman had a better year — if you factor in his bat and his top-of-the-charts third-base acrobatics — than Miguel Cabrera, Jose Bautista, Evan Longoria, Troy Tulowitzki and, well, essentially everybody else.

I have mentioned this before, but it is worth noting again. Keeping in mind that FanGraphs puts a big emphasis on fielding in their WAR calculation, they calculated him to be the 4th best player in 2010. That’s an amazing thing when you think about just how bad the Nats have been.

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Assessment of The Gorzelanny Deal

January 18, 2011

Yesterday I wrote a chronicle of the major league life of Tom Gorzelanny, new Nats starter(?) just acquired from the Cubs. What I didn’t know at the time was who he was traded for, so I couldn’t make an assessment of whether or not I liked the trade. Let’s again look at what the Nats got in Gorzelanny.

They got a relatively young lefty, under control for 3 more seasons, who profiles as a starter. He has been a strong pitcher at times, but when his control disappears so does his ability to get people out. Last year, as a starter, he was pretty successful. He was very good until he got nailed with a liner in the finger, that’s when he got shifted to the bullpen and barely appeared. Coming back on June 30, the rest of his season wasn’t as good, and he had a few really rough outings to go with the good ones. Despite all that, his numbers, in terms of ERA and WAR, would have made him the 3rd best starter on the Nats last year, behind Livan and Strasburg.

In exchange, the biggest NAME the Nats gave up was Michael Burgess. Burgess hits the ball very far, and has a very good arm out in right field. When he hits the ball, he shows 30 homer potential. He also did well in limited time in AA this year, and is only 22. Those are his positives. Negatives are that he is a below average outfielder, and he doesn’t hit the ball very much. Keith Law’s take on him is interesting. Here’s what he said:

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The Gorzy Story

January 17, 2011

The Nationals acquired Tom Gorzelanny from the Cubs today in exchange for a few prospects, bolstering their starting rotation. Gorzelanny is only 28 right now, turning 29 this summer, and while he’s had quite a few years in the majors, he isn’t a free agent until the end of 2013 season. He’s also a lefty who’s seen some moderate success in the majors, but has had his share of troubles. Here is his story:

His first true stint in the majors was in 2006, with Pittsburgh. He had a 3.86 ERA despite some not so nice peripherals – not enough strikeouts and too many walks, partly because he managed to avoid the longball. He only gave up 3 homers in 11 starts. The next season he started to look like a real prospect. He made 32 starts, a 3.88 ERA, and kept his walks down enough to have a respectable K/BB. In 201 2/3 IP, he only struck out 135, and he walked 68.

After that nice debut, 2008 was awful, he had a 6.88 ERA, he walked more guys than he struck out, and he looked lost. 2009 started out ok with the Pirates – his K/BB was better, but he was coming out of the bullpen. He allowed too many runs for the perfectionist Pirates and was sent down to the minors.

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Minor Leaguers We Might See in 2011

January 12, 2011

The Nationals’ roster is relatively set going in to spring training (pitchers and catchers report in less than 6 weeks!), with a few possible exceptions. We don’t know if they plan on keeping 3 catchers assuming Flores can play. We think that Livan, Lannan and Zimmermann are penciled in as starters, and that Detwiler, Maya, and Marquis get to fight over the remaining two spots. There are some questions about the bullpen, but it was strong last year and most of those guys remain.

All this being said, there are some holes remaining in the lineup. The middle infield positions are solid but not occupied by guys who have yet proven themselves to be great players. The outfield has questions outside of RF, including whether the center fielders can hit, and whether the left fielders are full time players. Even at first base, the new acquisition is thought to be solid, and he’s a late season hitter, but he’s coming off a bad year, and his assumed slow start will bring questions of decline.

Meanwhile, the starting staff is rather fluid at the moment. I can’t be assured that anyone is guaranteed after a month or two of poor performance. So the rotation, while relatively complete for this season, is not on solid ground. All of this means that there is a chance for guys to shine in the minors and get a chance in the big leagues.

Here are a few that might fit the bill:

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Perhaps Jeff Francis is a Fit

January 7, 2011

Jeff Francis is a free agent starting pitcher who has played his entire career with the Colorado Rockies. As the thin market for pitchers has thinned even more, he has started to draw some interest. He’s a lefty with a couple of strong seasons under his belt, and is only 30 this year. So why hasn’t he garnered more interest to this point?

Well, Francis isn’t exactly a stud pitcher, with his career ERA of 4.77 and an ERA of at 5.00/5.01 in the last 2 seasons he pitched. But take a look at what he did in 2006-2007, he was a leader on the Rockies staff and posted a 4.19 ERA over those 2 seasons, with a 2.14 K/BB. He kept the ball on the ground and was effective. But shoulder problems in 2008 led to surgery and a missed 2009 season. Last year his comeback didn’t start until May, which is useful to explain away some of his rust. Promisingly in 2010, his groundball rate increased over 2008, to a rate higher than his best seasons.

For many teams, the risk on Francis may not be worth it. He doesn’t project as much more than a 5th starter at best on some teams that have shown interest, like the Yankees, the Rangers, the Rockies and the Mets. But a few teams, the Nats included, could probably pencil him somewhere in the 3rd or 4th starter range. And if a fully healthy Francis goes back to his 06-07 form, where he was just starting to hit maturity, you could dream of him as a #2, as Baseball Prospectus declared in 2007, pre-shoulder injury. He’s not an ace, and never will be. But the upside leads you to be able to imagine him as a #3 or so, if you can look past the 5.00 ERA in last season’s recovery from shoulder surgery.

LaRoche Signed, Lineup Complete

January 5, 2011

The news of the day is the signing of Adam LaRoche to a 2 year, $15M deal with a seemingly unlikely to be exercised 3rd-year mutual option for $10M. As for right now, it was probably the best move the Nats could make at first base, considering the list of available free agent options.

LaRoche is a good hitter but not great, who had probably his worst season last year since his sophomore effort back in 2005. Prior to last season, his OPS was .849 from 2006-2009, but him in the good not great category. Last year’s .788 is a little troubling, but part of that was driven by a low AVG, he still hit 25 HRs. Somewhat troubling, though, he had a career high BABIP in 2010, and a career high K rate. As for fielding, his career UZR/150 of -2.6 is just around average, and he’s a solid fielder. Average in every sense.

Except… he’s been a different player in the first half of the season compared to the second half. His splits are remarkable, with a .776 OPS in the first part of the season compared to a .889 OPS in the second half. I did a more detailed analysis yesterday, if you’re interested in seeing how he hits over the course of the season.

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LaRoche Monthly

January 4, 2011

Adam LaRoche is currently considered by many to be the Nationals’ leading candidate for the first base position. You probably already know that he’s a decent fielder and that he’s a lefty – those are things that have been widely publicized during this offseason. But LaRoche is famous in the fantasy baseball world for something else – the amazing difference between his first half performances and those in his second half.

It’s not just an illusion for fantasy baseball players who remember a year or two. Sometimes in these cases, a guy will be at the peak of his value – like LaRoche around the 2006-2008 timeframe – and we see them do something like start off poorly and finish strong. From that reference point everybody remembers, they assume he always plays like that, when in fact it was just in those 2 or 3 seasons people were paying attention. But not with LaRoche. In his career he’s hit .252/.327/.449 in the first half of the season, and .295/.354/.535 the rest of the way.

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