As a displaced Washingtonian living in New York from 2004-2007, I went to alot of Yankees games (what did you think I was gonna go see the Mets?). In that time, I saw what has so far been the peak of Chien-Ming Wang‘s career. With lots of Wang starts under my belt (I really didn’t even intend to write that as a pun), I have some insight as to what you’ll see, and what you should look for. Here are a few thoughts I have on what you should look for:
Wang gets by on a power sinker – a fastball that has some velocity (low-90s) but gets drilled into the ground when hit. And believe me, people hit it. His career K/9 is 4.2, meaning in a regular start you might see one strikeout, two if he does well or goes deep into the game. In fact, much like the criticism of John Lannan, many sabrmetricians predicted Wang’s demise for a long time due to his complete inability to induce a swing and miss. But it wasn’t until major injury that he started struggling, indicating he could get by without striking people out (which should hearten us Lannan fans). Part of this was his lack of walks. His career walk rate is 2.6 BB/9, which is very low. Still, because he strikes out so few, his K/BB ratio is below 2, another indicator that frightened that statisticians.
All of this still worked for him, though, because he induced so many grounders. And it’s not just a few grounders. It’s a TON. His career GB/FB ratio is 2.70 – very high. In his best season, 2006, he had a ratio over 3, and every year prior to 2009 it was at least 2.40. In 2005 he ranked 4th in the majors, in 2006 he was 3rd, in 2007 and 2008 he ranked 6th. His ratio in 2005 and 2006 would have been enough to lead the majors if he had done it in 2009.
The Nats have a crowded pitching staff right now, and Ross Detwiler is one of those guys that doesn’t have a truly defined role. He is a lefty, and has been a starter most of his career, but is currently coming out of the bullpen (occasionally). He has looked pretty good in limited time in the majors this year, and his fastball is still hitting the mid-90s. Make no mistake, a mid-90s fastball from a lefty is rarity even at this level. But he hasn’t yet dominated in a way to convince this organization that he absolutely needs to start.
I’m wondering what Nats fans see with this guy. Should he be back in the rotation (perhaps, in a way, as a lefty replacing Tom Gorzelanny), or should he move to the bullpen (Long or Short relief)? He’s young enough that you may feel he needs more time in the minors to develop. Or, since he’s a hard throwing lefty, you may want the Nats to cash in their chips on his now and get some real value in a trade for him. I’ve got my vote locked in, what do you think?
Chien-Ming Wang pitched moderately well last night in Syracuse, and it seems like a foregone conclusion that he will be joining the Nationals rotation around July 29. The Nats don’t have much of a choice – they either have to promote him by then or designate him for assignment. You have to figure someone would get him, for free without any compensation to the Nats, if they do that. So… expect it.
I have no idea whether he will be able to induce grounders and prevent walks like he’s done in the past. I’d like to think he can, but that’s not really what I’m talking about here. What happens if he does do those things? What do the Nats do with him? He’s only got a dozen or so starts ahead of him this year, then he’s a free agent. He gets to leave. He won’t be here early enough to showcase for a trade. So they spend up to $6M (but probably less) for two years of his presence, but get only 11 starts? That seems like a waste of time and effort. Unless…
The Nats have a problem in their bullpen – getting lefties out. Sean Burnett, the only left handed pitcher in the bullpen (who, by the way, had a 2.14 ERA last season) isn’t doing it. He actually didn’t do it last year either. In 2010, lefties hit .273/.327/.384 against him – he was successful because he dominated righties. Well, this year lefties are doing a little worse (.226/.300/.396) and righties are killing him. And since he was never that good against the lefties anyway, he’s kinda useless at the moment. So where can the Nats turn to help them out? While none of the options are slam dunks, there are some options that make sense.
The Long Time Minor Leaguer
How about someone who’s been around quite a while – Cory VanAllen. VanAllen was a 5th round pick by the Nats in 2006, and has spent the last 6 seasons, including his draft season, in the minors. He’s never made it above AA, but in 2009 he was converted from an unsuccessful starter to a decent reliever. More importantly, the 26 year old is a lefty who has gotten lefties out this year. His season ERA at Harrisburg is 2.68, and he’s struck out 48 in 37 IP, although he has walked 17. But against LH hitters, he has 18 IP (almost 50%, indicating how he’s been used in AA) and in that time he’s walked 9 but struck out 30. That’s right, against lefties, he has a 15 K/9 (small sample size of course).
The negatives are of course, he’s a bit wild, and has never pitched over AA. The positive is a big one – he can get lefties out. Since nobody else in the bullpen can really make that claim, other Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen, it’s a real possibility.
Ok, technically, the Nationals’ season is more like 57% over not 50% over, but let’s skip the games played and just go with the All Star Game as the traditional midway point. There are a few things I’m really hoping to happen this half that would make me more confident going in to next season. While a playoff berth this year is still possible, the team just isn’t THAT good yet. I’m more concerned with them getting ready to make an actual run at a playoff spot in 2012. These aren’t predictions, these are just some things I’d like to see.
There aren’t too many trade chips for this team, but Jason Marquis is one of them. His ERA+ of 95 is about what you’d expect, and its nothing to get other teams foaming at the mouth. But he’s a free agent at the end of the year who isn’t likely to yield compensation picks. He’s worthless to them come the end of this season, but someone else might be able to use him. Livan Hernandez is in the same boat, and has actually pitched slightly better, but has legal issues which may make him harder to trade. If they can turn either of these guys into anything of value in the trade market, they gotta do it.
Jerry Hairston has performed well enough in fill-in roles, hitting just about what his career numbers would indicate. If there is a team that needs someone to play any of the myriad of positions he can play, why not get some value for him? They won’t get much, but something is better than nothing.
Laynce Nix is interesting because many might not want to trade him, figuring he can start in LF for the rest of the season and next year too. The problem is, he is a free agent after this season, and probably stands to make more than the $700K he’s making right now.
Nationals minor league prospect Brad Peacock has gotten some attention recently thanks to his recent performance. In the first half of the year at AA Harrisburg, he pitched 98 2/3 innings while striking out 129 and walking only 23. His ERA is a miniscule 2.01, and he’s 10-2. The season has been so good that the 23 year old was named as a member of the futures game, and promoted to AAA Syracuse.
So why no fanfare about him before recently? Well, his performance up until this year hadn’t been spectacular. His career ERA was 4.44 before this year, it’s all the way down to 3.99 now. This season hasn’t just dramatically improved his ERA. Peacock’s career K/9 went from 7.4 in March to 8.3 today thanks to a number of 11.8 this season. And his K/BB went from 2.4 to 2.8 on the back of a 5.6 mark this season. So all this excitement is really about this year. What’s different?
Both Ben Goessling and Adam Kilgorereport that changes in his delivery are the trick. He is coming from over the top more, a downhill plane that is usually desirable. He is throwing harder and more accurately, while not showing the ball as early in his delivery. All of these things are good things, of course, so the thought is that the improvements will lead to much more success. Now there are suggestions that he could be a third starter. Even Baseball America, as Kilgore mentions, put him in their midseason top 50 prospect list at #42.
Bryce Harper had a mixed day at the futures game yesterday. He went 0 for 4 with 2 strikeouts at the plate, but did show off an arm that reminded people he’s more than just the best hitting prospect in the minors. After his 4th out at the plate, he was interviews, and probably wasn’t all that impressive there. He didn’t quite answer the first question, and recovered somewhat on the second question despite an abundance of “you know”s.
But all that should do is serve to remind you just how young this guy is. There was all of three 18 year olds in the futures game, including Harper. One of them, Profar, played all last year in low-A. The only guys that young who made it without logging significant pro time last year were Harper and Machado. They combined to go 0 for 6.
Yesterday, Thom Loverro wrote an article claiming that Danny Espinosa was the best second baseman in the history of the Nats. And you know what? My first thought was that I agreed with him. But I figured I’d check it out, using very basic statistical analysis. Then I thought, why not do that for the rest of the team as well? Is there anyone else on this current team that we can consider the best Nationals player at his position? I pulled the list for WAR (Wins Above Replacement) from Baseball Reference on all Nats players going back to 2005 when the team came to DC. Remember that WAR is cumulative, and while it can decrease with bad play, the thought is that anyone who has a high WAR now won’t see a massive decrease. Keep in mind also that Loverro was talking a bit more generically, and what I’m looking at is more about any of the current players having the best statistical season at the position.
Starting with the premise of Loverro’s article, Danny Espinosa certainly seems like the best 2B in Nats history. And at 24 years old, he’s got a brighter future than anyone in the position before. And with a WAR of 2.0 right now, not only does he lead the 2011 Nats position players, he is the best second baseman at this point in the season already. The next closest WAR is Ronnie Belliard in 2008, and he only had 337 PAs. Vidro’s best season in DC (not counting some strong Montreal seasons) was his first, in 2005, where he had a WAR of 0.7. Espinosa’s doing great, and nothing should diminish that, but his competition was nonexistent. Conclusion: Best 2B in Nats History
Really, Ryan Zimmerman is obviously the best 3B in the team’s history, and so far he’s been the best player period for the franchise.