Getting Something for Nothing

August 1, 2011

The Nats didn’t make any real big moves this weekend, but they did make a couple of moves that are very good ones. They traded two vets with expiring contracts for some minor leaguers. Don’t get me wrong, both Jerry Hairston and Jason Marquis provided some value to this team. Marquis had a WAR of 0.8, putting him just above your average replacement player. But his 3.95 ERA and 8-5 record looked nice, and he did eat up 120.2 innings. Hairston played all over the field, infield and outfield, while posting a 102 OPS+, good for 6th best on the team. But neither guy was going to earn the Nats a draft pick after this season, and there’s no reason to think keeping them would give Washington a better chance to re-sign them, if the team was so inclined.

Hairston Deal

In exchange for the 35 year old utility man, the Nationals picked up Erik Komatsu, a 23 year old outfielder, from the Milwaukee Brewers. While this wasn’t a Wilson Ramos level fleecing, the Nats certainly got a potential major leaguer in exchange for someone who probably wouldn’t have been around in 2012. Komatsu is a lefty who has played a good amount of center field. If he can stick there, and there are some doubts, he has real potential. He is hitting .294/.393/.416 in AA right now, and that OBP has to catch your eye. He’s quick, although his SB percentage of 70% in the minors indicates he’s not a great basestealer, just a somewhat fast guy.

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus listed him as the Brewers #14 prospect this year, calling him a potential bench outfielder. But that was before another great season of OBP-ness. After the trade, he said that Komatsu proved himself this year after his 2010 breakout, has shown excellent ability to walk and keep his strikeouts down. Goldstein brings up his lack of CF ability, though, saying he CAN play there but probably not full time. But he asserts “What he can do is hit right-handed pitching, run well, and play all three outfield positions, which should lead to a long career as a second division starter or fourth outfielder in the big leagues.”

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Hopes for the Second Half

July 14, 2011

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.

Trade

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.

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Marquis Best Season

June 27, 2011

Jason Marquis has an impressive line this year. He’s 7-2, with a 3.53 ERA, and his  BB/9 and K/BB are career bests as a full season starter. His K/9 is right on line with his career average. But that low walk rate has made everything else look better, including the Nats themselves. His FIP of 3.59 shows its not all smoke and mirrors, and that his ERA correctly reflects what he’s been doing. He has been very good this year, not just as an effective innings eater, but as a legitimate threat to win each time he goes out on the mound. And his BABIP of .303 is actually one of the highest in his career, suggested this isn’t just luck.

So can the Nationals expect him to do this from now on? Has he turned a corner in his career? Can they be confident that this pitcher will continue to throw the way he’s throwing? Unfortunately, probably not. It is rare for a pitcher to turn 32 and discover stuff that he never had before. Most of Marquis’ success, in fact, might not be totally attributable to a lack of walks. Instead, over his career, his ground ball percentage has been more highly correlated to his season ERA than those BB/9 or K/BB rates.

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The Unnoticed Starter

May 16, 2011

Maybe it’s because we’re too shocked that Jason Marquis is 5-1 with a 3.51 ERA. Or maybe it’s because we’ve been so busy lamenting the disappearance of offense, both from the entire team, and from individuals we were hoping would improve this year like Morse, Desmond and Espinosa. Whatever the reason, one person that hasn’t gotten alot of credit so far this year is Tom Gorzellany.

Gorzelanny is a little different than the other starters. He’s not an older vet trade bait like Livo or Marquis. He’s not as young as JZimm or Lannan, who might be considered prospects (ok, that’s probably a stretch for Lannan). He’s somewhere in the middle – a relatively young pitcher at 28, that the Nats are hoping they can use as a starter for the next few years (I believe they can control him through 2013). As an in between guy, most fans aren’t holding their breath for him to be great, but the indifference that some may feel for the vets (other than eyeing some trade potentials) should be there either. Gorzelanny has looked quite good in his first 1/4 of the season, and looks like the kind of pitcher that could be very helpful.

He is currently leading the Nats starting pitchers in ERA, K/9, H/9 and WHIP. Despite giving up some walks, he still has allowed fewer base runners than the other starters while striking out more. He’s always been good at striking hitters out, but he often has control issues that limit his effectiveness. This year, while he’s walked a few, the K/BB of 2.50 is good enough to make him a strong starter. It’s also quite a bit above his career K/BB of 1.65. If he can sustain that, he’ll continue to be strong.

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The Benefits of Long Toss

May 4, 2011

Tim Kurkjian has an article up today on the rise of left handed power arms… in the outfield. The Nationals’ own Rick Ankiel headlines the group of today’s rocket armed lefty outfielders. A few highlights

But no left-handed or right-handed outfielder throws better than Ankiel, 31. You know his story. He won 11 games and struck out 194 batters in 175 innings with the Cardinals in 2000, but soon after, he lost all ability to throw the ball over the plate. He had Tommy John surgery in 2003 and finally ditched pitching in 2005 because of acute control issues. Now he’s throwing better than he ever has and has no mental block about throwing from the outfield.

“I just let it fly,” Ankiel said. “And I play a lot of long toss to help preserve my arm.”

There you go, kids – long toss will help you have the best outfield arm. Well, that and the ability to strike out more than a batter an inning. Jason Marquis is also quoted gushing over the grand eloquence of long toss. And with his season so far, who’s to argue to Marquis? Kurkjian sums it up with a nice line for Nats fans to hang their hats on:

And I’ve never seen anything like this. The best-throwing outfielder in the game is left-handed.

He’s referring, of course, to Ankiel. It’s a good article of the inside-baseball outside-the-numbers just-telling-stories mode. It doesn’t change Ankiel’s .590 OPS, but it reminds you that he isn’t ALL bad this year.


Those Starters

May 3, 2011

Last night, the Nats got a great start out of Tom Gorzelanny, 8 innings of shutout ball to go with a complete game shutout pitched by Jason Marquis on Friday night. The starting pitching has probably been the biggest surprise of this early Nationals’ season, and it’s not just good, it’s been great. The Nats starting rotation has a 3.38 ERA, good for 3rd best in the National League, and 5th best in all of baseball. All this while possibly the pitcher with the best stuff, Jordan Zimmermann, has an ERA below league average (ERA+ of 91). Zimmermann hasn’t even been awful, he’s had 1 bad start, 1 hard luck start with bad results, and 4 good games.

Here are the starters, in order of best ERA to worst

  • Jason Marquis – 2.62 ERA, 5 GS, 6.3 K/9, 4.80 K/BB
  • Tom Gorzelanny – 2.93 ERA, 5 GS, 6.8 K/9, 2.56 K/BB
  • Livan Hernandez – 3.23 ERA, 6 GS, 4.6 K/9, 2.00 K/BB
  • John Lannan – 3.78 ERA, 6 GS, 4.9 K/9, 1.29 K/BB
  • Jordan Zimmermann – 4.29 ERA, 6 GS, 4.5 K/9, 2.57 K/BB

Looking at the ERA, you might figure that Marquis is the luckiest, but looking at the ratios, you realize he’s also been the best. Sure, those numbers won’t hold up, but when you strike out close to 5 times as many people than you walk, you’re in great shape. Gorzelanny has looked very good, but didn’t look great – until last night’s game. He’s showing he can strike guys out, and he hasn’t walked too many either.

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The Week I Missed

April 18, 2011

After bring out of the country for a week, I’m back and ready to take a look at what is going on with the Nats.

First of all, Ryan Zimmerman got hurt right after I left, and it appears that his injury isn’t that serious. To call it completely minor would be to ignore the fact that he was put on the DL, but it doesn’t seem to be a big deal. Abdominal strains can be tricky, as they often look to be healed then pop back up. But, if given the time to heal, he should be no worse for the wear.

Meanwhile, the Nats managed to go 5-2 in those games where Zimmerman hasn’t played, not that anyone would say they’re better off without him. The offense has been a big part of this run – they scored 7 runs on Sunday, 7 on Tuesday, 8 on Sunday and 5 on the 2nd Sunday game. You’re gonna win most of your games where you score 5 or more runs.

But Seriously, the Starting Pitching

Let’s not forget about what the pitching has done over this period. It hasn’t been spectacular, but it’s been quite good. Tom Gorzelanny debuted as the fifth starter on Saturday, and didn’t look very good. But he redeemed himself Friday, going 6 IP with 2 ER. At this point we can be hopeful that the first game was from lack of game time pitching this year, and we’ll see more of the second start types than the first. Livan had a very good game against the Phillies on Tuesday, going 6 2/3  IP and giving up only 1 ER. He then went 7 with 1 ER on Sunday to bring his ERA down to 2.88.

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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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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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