The Response to the Soriano Response

January 16, 2013

It’s hard not to describe the signing of Rafael Soriano as a response to the last game of the NLDS. But, much like the Adam LaRoche deal, even if you don’t like the specifics and the fallout, it’s also hard to argue that it doesn’t make the team better in 2013. My initial reaction to the deal was that while it was a strong addition to the team, it wasn’t necessarily a move I’d make.

It’s alot of money for a reliever (money that the Nats have to burn, so who cares) and it costs their first round pick. But just because I wouldn’t have necessarily made the move doesn’t mean I dislike it, and I don’t dislike it. Soriano is a big name, and so it was the biggest baseball news of the day, but we’ll get into that later.

First, My Take

With Soriano, they get a dominant reliever for 2 years. I say two years because his option kicks in only if he finished 120 games. Doing some advanced mathematical calculations, I discovered that he would have to average 60 games finished per season to do that. If there is any sharing of the closing duties with Drew Storen at all, that aint gonna happen. Since 2006, MLB has averaged 4.57 players per year that hit the 60 GF mark, and Davey has shown that he likes multiple closers. So you’re really looking at a two year deal. And what you’re getting is one of the best relievers in baseball.

In his last 7 years, he has thrown 391 IP, with 415 K to only 128 BB and a 1.031 WHIP. His ERA is 2.65, which is a 160 ERA+, and while he’s done this in some pitcher’s parks, he was also dominant last year with the Yankees in New York. New York is probably considered the ultimate test thanks to the new ballpark – it was already considered a pressure/media meat grinder, and now it’s got RF stands that snack on popups. He’s been great (that WHIP, probably more important for relievers than ERA, is historically impressive, as you’ll see later), and I am excited for what he does to this bullpen.

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Can the Bullpen Success Last?

August 20, 2012

Everyone knows how good the Nationals’ starting pitching has been – they’ve had the best ERA in the league on the backs of those starters for almost the entire season, and it doesn’t look like anyone’s going to change that. But quietly, the bullpen has been very successful, too. They rank 6th in the NL among bullpens, which, considering how good the starters have done, makes for quite an effective pitching staff. Here’s how they stack up:

This is all well and good, and they actually rank 6th in strikeouts as well. As I said, this team has such dominant starting pitching, that a slightly above average bullpen, which is what this indicates, is going to make them pretty impossible to beat. Except for the unfortunate fact that it might be pretty tough to sustain.

On to the Bad News

Now, we often talk about pitchers or hitters regressing to the mean – being successful (or unsuccessful) in relatively short amount of time despite their career numbers showing them to be a different player. And non-traditional statistics indicate that they will eventually go back to what they were, and they almost always do. Well, that’s not what I’m talking about here at all. I’m talking about something much less complicated than that. Let’s look at this bullpen sorted by a different, very traditional statistic:

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A Team that Stays Together

February 28, 2012

This team is going to stay together for a long time now, thanks to that Ryan Zimmerman deal. Because besides locking up a great player long term, this contract did something else for the Nationals. It tipped the balance of position players with long term contracts.

Now, more than half of their starting position players are locked up through 2016 or beyond. Between Wilson Ramos, Danny Espinosa, Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and now Zimmerman, 5 of the 8 starting position players are in place for the next half decade or more. That, of course, counts Harper as a starter, which is an assumption I’ll make even if it doesn’t come true for 3 or 4 months. Additionally, if Ian Desmond ends up working out, he’s locked up through 2015. But that’s not all.

Their top 3 starting pitchers, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and Gio Gonzalez, and their closer, Drew Storen, are also here long term. Zimmermann is the one who they lose control of the soonest – and that’s not til the end of 2015. The Nationals have control of the other guys for longer term that that.

But if we just look through 2015, in other words the next four seasons, look at their lineup and what they have locked up:

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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.


Lack of a Lefty

July 18, 2011

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.

The Righty That Doesn’t Care

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2011 Roster – Best Nats Players Yet?

July 1, 2011

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.

Second Base

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

Third Base

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.

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2011 NL East Rankings Part 2: The Pitchers

March 24, 2011

In our last episode, I went over the starting lineups for each team, giving out 5 points for the best player at each position, 1 point for the worst. Here’s where we stand:

SCORE: Phillies (27), Mets (24), Nationals (24), Braves (23), Marlins (21)

Before comparing the pitchers I have to caveat it even more than the position players. Most teams make it evident who their “ace” is early on in the year, and most teams have an obvious one anyway. Most teams make it evident who their #5 starter is early on in the year, by not  playing him until about May. Of course, the number 5 starter is often 3 or 4 guys. And many teams don’t make it all that evident who starters 2-4 are. This normally isn’t important, but since we’re trying to compare guys head to head, it is extremely important. So I’ll do this the best I can, but it should be taken with a handful of salt. I’ve tried to use Baseball Prospectus as my guide to order.

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Into the Third Week of Spring Training

March 15, 2011

Spring Training is in full swing, and while we must take every performance with a grain of salt and a handfull of small sample size, it’s important not to ignore what’s happened so far. Here are a few highlights after the first few weeks:

The Position Players

The middle infield – Danny Espinosa is batting .324/.378/.559 and Ian Desmond is batting .314/.351/.400 while having the two highest AB totals on the team. They’re not walking much, which is troubling, but at least they are hitting the ball. Without walking, they will have to sit lower in the lineup, they just won’t get on base enough, but hopefully some of that will come.

Left Field – It would be hard to deny Mike Morse the starting job at this point. He’s hitting .469, he’s slugging 1.000, and he’s got 5 HRs in only 32 ABs. This compares with Rick Ankiel‘s .194/.219/.548. Ankiel has shown enough power that you’d think he’d make the team, but he doesn’t look like the starter yet.

Center field – Nyjer Morgan is now batting .212/.242/.261, while Roger Bernadina is hitting .281/.324/.438. Bernadina is putting together a strong case to be the 4th outfielder, since Morse is hitting so well. But if Morgan continues to slump this way, Bernie’s got a chance to be the starting centerfielder.

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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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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.


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