Potential September Callups

August 27, 2012

September is approaching fast, and normally with the Nationals, it’s when we can turn our attention back to the downtrodden team and see some young prospects get a shot with the Major League club. Instead, this year the Nats will be entering September as perhaps favorites to win the division, let alone grab one of the two wild card spots.

But that doesn’t stop the roster from expanding, and it doesn’t stop the minor league season from ending around Labor Day, so we’ll still get to see a youngster or two. Remember that in order to be a September callup, a player has to be on the 40 man roster. I will use today’s 40 man and assume it won’t change by the weekend, but of course it probably will. Here’s a few guys to look out for:

Probably

John Lannan – Heard of him? He’s a lock to get called up, especially considering he’s first in line to fill in for Stephen Strasburg once the ace gets shut down.

Corey Brown – He had an incredible season in the minors, he’s a strong defensive CF, and he’s already hit his first Major League homer this year. Hopefully he’ll get to play some more – maybe to rest a seemingly fatigued Bryce Harper once in a while.

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The Next Dilemma – #5 Starter

May 16, 2012

When the season started, it seemed like the Nats had 6 or 7 starting pitchers. Thanks to injury Chien-Ming Wang wasn’t quite ready yet, and thanks to Ross Detwiler‘s strong spring training, John Lannan was shipped down to AAA. Lannan’s name hasn’t been mentioned much around these parts, and that’s probably because Detwiler’s been pitching so well. The Nats can leave Lannan down there, and pitch Detwiler until they decide to do otherwise.

But with Wang, things aren’t so simple. Now that he’s healthy, they need to decide what to do with him by the end of May, when his rehab time is up. If they don’t bring him up to the major league squad, he can’t just go down to the minors. And since he doesn’t play 3B, C, 1B, LF or RF (yup, all those places have seen injury), they don’t have a spot to plug him in. Meanwhile, the guy who he’d presumably replace has pitched great. Detwiler’s last start was poor, but even with that he’s got a 2.75 ERA with 28 Ks and 10 BBs in 39 1/3 IP. The team has also said they won’t use Wang out of the bullpen, and they aren’t doing a 6 man rotation. But they have a few options when he comes to the Nats.

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2012 NL East Rankings Part 2: The Pitchers

March 28, 2012

Yesterday, we examined the position players for each team in the NL East, giving out 5 points for the best player at each position, 1 point for the worst. Here’s where we stand:

SCORE: PHI (28), DC (26), MIA (25), ATL (23), NYM (18)

The Nats did so well because of strong showings in C, 3B and LF, while ranking middle of the road for the rest, and only taking the dreaded #5 slot for first base. Comparing starting pitchers is even tougher than the position players, not because it’s hard to know who’s best, but because it’s a little subjective to name the #2 or 3 guy for a team. At least the #1s are pretty clear. I’ve tried to use Baseball Prospectus as my guide to order, and I continue pick a great British rock to guide the text.

#1 STARTER (The Stone Roses)

1. Phillies – Roy Halladay
2. Nationals – Stephen Strasburg
3. Marlins – Josh Johnson
4. Mets – Johan Santana
5. Braves – Tim Hudson

Roy Halladay is still an ace of aces, he finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting last year after winning it in 2010, and is still the best here. Strasburg is projected by PECOTA to have the lowest ERA of any starting pitcher in the league, and we all know that peace reigns and Love Spreads in Washington whenever Baseball Jesus starts, but he’s not pitching more than 160 or so innings this year. He’s no lower on this list despite the inning cap, because the next two guys have some question marks. Josh Johnson is a true ace, but he was hurt most of last year and has only started one full season so far. Santana is also coming off injury, and probably doesn’t have the fastball he used to have, although he was still incredible without it in 2010. Tim Hudson is a very good pitcher, but he probably isn’t in the league of what the other 4 guys can bring.

SCORE: PHI (33), DC (30), MIA (28), ATL (24), NYM (20)

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Nats Get a Pitcher, Maybe Give Up an Ace

December 22, 2011

Well, the Nats went ahead and pulled the trigger on a big trade today, and it was a doozy. They got their #3 pitcher, and he’s a pretty good one, so let’s start with that. They got Gio Gonzalez from the A’s, a lefty starter that can strike people out. He is also under control for 4 more years, and will be 26 years old next season. That’s a pretty strong add for the rotation – here are some numbers.

What They’re Getting

He’s been a full time starter for two full seasons now with the A’s, and he’s compiled some interesting stats. The first thing that probably stands out are the Ks – he’s compiled 368 in the last two seasons over 402 2/3 IP for a K/9 of 8.2. That is pretty damn good, and it should go up with the move to the NL. His ERA+ has been 129, also very good, and keep in mind that even though its a pitchers park, ERA+ factors that in, so he’s doing very well with respect to the rest of league. His ERA over this period is a 3.17, and he helps out with more than just numbers. He fits the Nats need for a lefty in the rotation, and he also has good stuff, with a very strong breaking ball. This may help him out in the NL, as he gets to face not only a weaker number 9 hitter in the pitcher, but often a weak #8 hitter in the NL as well.

On the negative side is first and foremost the walks. He led the league last year with 91, had 92 the prior year, and has had a BB/9 of 4.1 the last two seasons. That puts his K/BB at a pretty pedestrian 2.01. He also has played in front of very good defense which has probably inflated his numbers somewhat. And he’s a fly ball pitcher that was helped out by his home park, so his home/road splits are pretty pronounced. In 2011 his ERA was 2.70 at home and 3.62 on the road. His Ks were higher at home, his walks were lower. But he wasn’t a BAD pitcher away, just mediocre away and GREAT at home. I’m not saying he’ll be bad, but he’s probably not more than a #3 starter. Still, that gives the Nats a solid rotation top to bottom now, with a solid back end and a strong front end.

What They’re Giving Up

In exchange, they gave a slew of prospects to Oakland – right away, you see they got Brad Peacock and Tom Milone, two guys you probably recognize since they played on the Nats last year. Both started, but I think both aren’t destined to be major league starters. Milone had spectacular numbers in the minors, but major league hitters didn’t seem to have that much trouble with him. Although his ERA wasn’t terrible, he didn’t strike anyone out, and probably won’t last several times through a lineup. Peacock has a good fastball, and had a great season in the minors, but has an issue with his curve – it really curves. After they’ve seen it once or twice, hitters at the major league level seem to be able to lay off it and sit on the fastball. He might have a strong future as a setup man, but I have serious doubts in his ability to start. So I don’t mind losing either one of those guys.

They also gave up Derek Norris who, on the other hand, could be somebody. He’s had his issue with batting average for sure, but he walks a ton and hits for power. At almost any other position you’d worry that he might not hit enough once people come at him more, but for a catcher, the power and the eye are probably enough. If he develops, he could be a very good starting catcher. Still, I expected he’d be the price that the Nats would have to pay to make a move. After all, they have a great young catcher already, so Norris really is a trade chip. And they used him appropriately, so good for them.

But there is one more piece that made my shoulder’s slump a bit when I read it. In addition to those three guys, the gave up A.J. Cole. Cole’s name hasn’t been as prevalent for Nats fans, because he’s young and he’s pitching in the low minors, but he’s a talent. But last year, at age 19, he managed 108 Ks and 24 BBs in 89 IP. Striking out more than a guy per inning at that age and level is real nice. He’s got ace potential, and I think the A’s are probably more excited about him than anyone else. He alone would have been a big price to pay.

The Verdict

Well, the Nats have a rotation now, right? Over the next few seasons, they’ll have a better #1 in Strasburg and a better #2 in Zimmermann than most teams. If Gonzalez can succeed outside of Oakland, without that A’s defense in front of him, than the 200+ Ks means they’ll have a good #3 pitcher. John Lannan, Chien-Ming Wang and maybe Ross Detwiler round out a rotation that looks pretty damn good. And next year, if they went out and bought a free agent front line pitcher, it’d be downright scary. This is a move for now, not years down the road, but Gonzalez is young enough that its not necessarily for NOW now. It works for 2013 and 2014 as well, which is good, because nobody knows how much Harper we’re getting this year, and we know Strasburg will be limited.

Still, I can’t help but thinking Cole was alot to give up. In 3 years or so, when he’s pitching effectively in the majors, that’s just when I expect the Nats to be contending for championships, and really needing a guy like him. What kind of pitcher will Gio Gonzalez be then? Hopefully someone that can make us forget AJ Cole was once part of the future here. Meanwhile, forgetting about AJ Cole for a minute – the rest of what they gave up was probably a long shot to add much to this team. And Gonzalez definitely gives them something right now, and for the next 4 years at least. The bottom line is, whatever they gave up isn’t helping now, and the rotation just got alot stronger.


2011 Ends, So Does Rebuilding

September 29, 2011

Last night, while many baseball fans were watching an incredible end to the regular season with the excitement of the playoffs starting 2 days early, the Nats were finishing up their season. They had a good game, winning 3-1, and a promising one in that Stephen Strasburg pitched very well – 6 IP, 10 K, 1 H, 2 BB and 0 ER. They not only finished the 2011 regular season, but they should have finished their final season of true “rebuild”.

Look who they already have written in the lineup next year, and some of their stats:

C – Wilson Ramos, 23 years old, .779 OPS , rookie
2B – Danny Espinosa, 24 years old, .737 OPS, 21 HR, rookie
3B – Ryan Zimmerman, 26 years old, .798 OPS (.846 after July 2)
SS – Ian Desmond, 25 years old, .294/.342/.422 after July 5
1B/LF – Michael Morse, 29 years old, .910 OPS
RF – Jayson Werth, 32 years old, 20 HR, .264/.349/.445 after July 18
SP – Stephen Strasburg, 22 years old, 24 IP, 4 ER, 24 K, 2 BB, returned from TJ
SP – Jordan Zimmermann, 25 years old, 3.18 ERA, 4.0 K/BB
SP – John Lannan, 26 years old, 3.70 ERA
RP – Tyler Clippard, 26 years old, 1.83 ERA, 88 1/3 IP, 104 K, 26 BB
RP – Drew Storen, 23 years old, 2.75 ERA, 75 1/3 IP, 74 K, 20 BB

Werth’s track record of success, couple with his 2nd half, suggests he’ll be fine next year.The only real question mark in that group is Ian Desmond. Everyone else seems to be ready to produce and win games.  Ross Detwiler, only 25 years old, is a lefty who at times looked unhittable, and finished the year with a 3.00 ERA in 10 starts and 5 relief appearances. Throw in potentially Chien-Ming Wang, Brad Peacock and Tom Milone, and the pitching looks very strong. This is no longer a rebuild, this is a young team with strong players at almost every position. They aren’t “potential” guys, they are guys who have produced in the majors.

The biggest hole to fill is in center field. They also might invest in another starting pitcher, but they’d probably have to go after a true front line guy to make it worth shoving one of the younger guys aside. First base is a question, too – Chris Marrero and Adam LaRoche could produce at first base, but neither is one you’d count on. I could see them finishing 2012 with Morse as their first baseman, and leave the other corner outfield spot for Bryce Harper.

Nobody expects them to win 100 games next season. Bryce Harper probably won’t start the year with the team, and may not see action until September, if that. But this team is no longer looking to fill dozens of holes. Next seasons results cannot be written off to another year of rebuilding, they have to win games, and they should start being a serious contender for the playoffs within the next 2 seasons.


Blogger Day, Awesome Again

September 10, 2011

I’m sitting here in the press box again at Nats Park as the game is about to start. Thanks to Chad Kurz and the Washington Nationals, they once again invited the Nats blogger nation out to the park for a day of activities. It was a great time, and I’ll have lots of pictures to post later. Here’s a run down of what we did and what I learned.

After we arrived we were taking out to the field to meet with a few people. What they do is allow media and others to walk around, basically between 3B and 1B in foul territory, during batting practice. The fair territory is roped off, and the players are taking BP, so you have to be cognizant of that and try not to get in the way of professionals walking back and forth trying to get ready to do their jobs. We watched BP for a while – Wilson Ramos was absolutely crushing pitches. Then the starting pitchers came out en mass – Zimmermann, Wang, Milone, Detwiler, and Strasburg, among others – to take BP. Lots of bunting practice, with some good rips as well. Former high school third baseman turned pitched Brad Peacock hit a bomb.

At the end of BP, we got a chance to talk to Stephen Lombardozzi. Since the blogger night crowd was sparse, we just huddled around him and asked him a few questions. No revelations here, but he did say that he has a great relationship with the two guys he’s competing with for a job – Desmond and Espinosa. He said that even though they aren’t really vets, he looks to them for advice because they just went through things very similar to what he’s going through now, in terms of coming up to the majors and learning to play up here.

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Your Guide to Wang Watching

July 29, 2011

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.

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What to Do with Chien Ming Wang

July 20, 2011

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…

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The Starting Rotation, So Far

March 10, 2011

The rotation keeps on spinning, and will continue to do so throughout the spring. I think it’s a bit premature to name anyone as a definite starter, except for probably Livan and Zimmermann. Let’s take a look at how everyone’s done so far.

John Lannan – Alright, if there’s another guy already in the rotation, he’s it. He’s only started one game this spring, he looked good early on but did surrender a few runs in the third and final inning. He only struck out 1 guy, which is low compared to what he was able to do last year. It’ll be interesting to see if those K numbers do come up.

Jason Marquis – People have him as an “already in” guy, thanks to experience and salary. In two starts so far, he hasn’t let up a run only gave up 3 hits and 1 BB, while striking out 4 in 7 IP. It’s early, but that’s at least a promising sign of a recovery to the league average type pitcher they were expecting last year. He’s been quoted as saying that he likes how his sinker feels, and that’s real important for him.

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PECOTA Adjusts for Playing Time

February 18, 2011

Last week, Baseball Prospectus came out with their PECOTA predictions for the Nationals, and it wasn’t pretty. This week, they came out with their depth charts. This is basically their predictions, with playing time adjusted for what the lineup situation looks like right now. They also changed some of the underlying numbers to get their totals. I said I’d be shocked if they put the Nats at more than 60 wins, but they are actually predicted to get to 70 (Joy!). So there must be something positive out of this. There is, here’s a rundown of some of their adjustments, and a few other notes.

Let’s begin with the starting pitching

  • Jordan Zimmermann got better. He went from an 86 IP, 4.27 ERA guy to a 172 IP, 4.19 ERA guy. That puts him as the most valuable starter on the team, with 149 Ks and a 1.4 WARP.
  • Tom Gorzelanny joined the group, and got better. He was still listed on the Cubs, and maybe it was the ballpark, but his ERA was predicted to be 4.73. Now, on the Nats, he is predicted to be their 2nd best of the 5 main starters, with a 4.34 ERA, 105 Ks, and a 0.7 WARP, all ranked #2 behind JZimm. Perhaps because of injury history, they have him ranked #5 in IP.
  • Livan, Marquis and Lannan fill out the rotation, each with about a 0.10 ERA drop from last weeks predictions.
  • Lannan’s predictions still seem a little off. His PECOTA suggested 4.76 ERA would be his career low
  • Chien-Ming Wang does come back and pitch, according to them, and his 4.24 ERA is the best in the rotation after JZimm, but they only have him going 65 innings.

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