USA and Gio Get a Win

March 13, 2013

Team USA started out the second round of the WBC with a big win over a strong Puerto Rico team. This was thanks in no small part to two NL East stars from last year – David Wright and the Nats’ Gio Gonzalez. Wright broke the game open in the 8th with a bases clearing double to bring a 4-1 lead all the way up to 7-1, and that was probably the hit that will be remembered from this one. But Wright had two other RBIs, one off a groundout to make it 2-0 in the third, and one off a single in the 5th to bring the lead to 3-0.

The game never got closer than a 3 run differential after that, and the biggest reason the PR team couldn’t score was Gio Gonzalez. WBC Puerto Rico US BaseballGio wasn’t brilliant, but he was very good in 5 innings. He didn’t quite hit the 80 pitch limit imposed in a round by the WBC, but hit 69 pitches made his removal in the 5th logical, and will likely keep him out of the remainder of this round.

Gio did his job and then some, striking out 5 in those 5 IP, and walking (gasp!) none. He only gave up 3 hits, and only got into any sort of trouble in the 4th, when Carlos Beltran doubled off the wall in center. After a a groundout by Yadier Molina to move Beltran to third with two outs, Mike Aviles came up and smashed the ball to RF, but Giancarlo Stanton made a great catch to rob him of extra bases, and PR of a run. Gio didn’t have all of his best stuff, according to Harry Pavlidis (Founder of Pitch Info, contributor to Baseball Prospectus & Washington Post):

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The BABIP Question

February 28, 2013

The Nats starting pitching staff was perhaps the best in MLB in 2012. Some of that was expected, Stephen Strasburg for sure, and Jordan Zimmermann was repeating past performance. Edwin Jackson was good, and had been good before. Gio Gonzalez was a question mark, but was spectacular. And to many, especially those outside of the Nats fanbase, Ross Detwiler was a big surprise.

The question for 2013 is whether this success is sustainable. One stat that might raise eyebrows regarding Gio and Detwiler is their BABIP. BABIP is defined here - pitchers with a low BABIP in any given year are red flags, at least in your fantasy draft. Keeping in mind that a .300 BABIP, give or take, is league average, below is the list of the 16 pitchers with the lowest BABIP in 2013, using a minimum of 125 IP to weed out the relievers:

SP BABIP 125+ IP top 16

There were a total of 117 pitchers with the 125+ IP, and one thing I can tell you is I’d be worried about Jered Weaver as Cy Young candidate next year. And considering how well things went for Ervin Santana despite being #2 in BABIP, it might not be a longshot to think he’d be even worse (just based on these two stats). But let’s get back to that later, and examine the Nats that are on this list.

Gio and Detwiler are both on this list, and the first reaction is to worry. Detwiler definitely had his best year, and didn’t have very many strikeouts. The interesting thing about his numbers are that his BABIP have improved by around .020 every year. Interesting, but probably not particularly meaningful. More meaningful would be that he does rank very high on this list, and some sort of regression wouldn’t be surprising.

Gio ranked in the middle of the pack with a .287 in 2011, which isn’t exactly high. But was also low in 2010 with a .274, ranking 29th out of 122 on that same list. It may be that Gio is one of those pitchers that is an exception to the rule of pitcher’s not being able to sustain low BABIPs a la Matt Cain. Perhaps there is something about Gio that makes hitters have a tough time squaring up the ball and hitting it well. Or maybe it is just luck, and we should expect a regression.

There is a reason I listed the 16 lowest BABIPs and not the 15 – with 16, there are three Braves on this list. Does that mean the Braves are also in line for a major regression? Tim Hudson isn’t one of those guys who has a low BABIP every year, his career number of .282 is a little low, but is very far, on this scale, from .270. So should you take consolation in the fact that if Gio and Det suck, so will Hudson, Medlen and Minor? Well, sure, you could, but there’s more at play here.

The Other Factor

The one thing that goes into BABIP other than luck is team defense. Pitchers in front of great defenses tend to have good BABIPs. And according to fangraphs, guess who were #1 and #2 in team defense? The Braves and the Angels. The Nats defense ranks 12th on that list, which is above average, and relatively strong compared to those below it. And that is just one measurement. Baseball Prospectus’ defensive efficiency measurement puts the Angels at #1, the Nationals at #5 and the Braves at #7.

The defense does aid this team’s BABIP. Edwin Jackson ranked 30th, and Jordan Zimmermann ranked 47th. That’s 4/5 starters in the top half of the league. Strasburg, on the other hand, ranked all the way down at 100 out of 117. I wonder if that means he has room for ERA improvement, or if it’s hard to play defense behind him, or if players hit the ball hard when they guess fastball and actually hit it. I’m just not sure about that one.

But I am sure that while Detwiler’s BABIP is probably a sign that some sort of regression is in order, that’s not the whole story. The fact that Gio usually has pretty low BABIPs helps his case for next year. And more importantly, this team’s good defense has helped these pitchers have low BABIPs, and consequently low ERAs. The defense should should be even better in 2013 with the addition of Span, more PT for Werth, and much more time for Suzuki and Ramos.

I do not expect Detwiler to have an ERA of 3.40 again, and Gio’s 2.89 might not happen again either. But if you think that their low BABIPs relegate them to serious regression, you’re not seeing the whole story.


The Nats and PECOTA Projections

February 20, 2013

Oh poor Nats… they are just not as good as we all thought. At least that might be your first reaction if you look at the playoff odds report at Baseball Prospectus. They are projected to finish 87-75 (after rounding) despite winning 98 next year. And while they are projected to win the NL East, they have the lowest playoff percentage chance of any projected division leader at 67.9%, and the lowest chance of winning the World Series of any of them as well, at 7.6%. What gives?

Ok, before you go storm the offices of Baseball Prospectus (for which, I assume, you’d need some help from ENCOM) let’s keep a few things in mind. First of all, the Nats are forecast to win the NL East, not come in second. The Braves are forecast to be the second place team at only 82-80, which would give the Nats a comfortable lead. And all of this is based on PECOTA, which has some quirks that are worth noting. That doesn’t mean PECOTA is worth ignoring, its just important to know what the issues might be.

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5 Nationals on Keith Law’s Top 100 Prospects List

February 5, 2013

ESPN’s prospect guru Keith Law listed his Top 100 Minor League prospects today, and 5 Nats made the list. For a shallow farm system (ranked 21st by Law), the fact that there are so many high end guys is good, and a little surprising. So let’s see who he put here, and why:

#17 Anthony Rendon

This one isn’t too surprising, most places list Rendon as the team’s best prospect. The fact that he’s top 20 in the minors is nice, and he would be higher for certain if he wasn’t so damn fragile. But Law like his swing and his ability to hit for doubles, even if he doesn’t see him as a big HR guy. Rendon is 22, and hit .233/.363./.489 throughout the minors last year, finishing up in AA. He dominated the other leagues, but wasn’t great in AA, so he’ll start 2013 in Harrisburg.

#44 Brian Goodwin

Goodwin has been moving up prospect lists over the last few seasons, but to be a top 50 prospect… that’s impressive. Heck, he wasn’t even on Law’s list last year. Goodwin was highly regarded back in college but several factors caused him to slip out of the first round, and out of elite prospect status. Law says he has “plus-plus speed, quick bat, and surprising power” and using the Mike Cameron comparison (speed, defense, power… and strikeouts) that we’ve already seen for Goodwin. Goodwin is 22 and hit .280/.384/.469 in A+ and AA last year. Like Rendon, he wasn’t so spectacular in AA to force the Nats to promote him, so expect him in Harrisburg this spring as well. Road trip, anyone?

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Nats Needs in 2013 – Starting Pitching Depth

January 15, 2013

The Nats currently have what may well be the best rotation in the entire Major Leagues. Nobody is going to rank them any worst than 3rd or 4th in MLB, and even that might be considered low by everyone. However, if there is one knock on the group, it’s the lack of depth. They have 3 studs in Strasburg, Gio and JZimm, but there are questions after that.

It would be great if Detwiler is as good in 2013 as he was in 2012, but in reality all he has to do is be good enough to be a #4 or #5 guy and start most of the year. We don’t really know if he can do that, although I suspect he will be that and more. As for Haren, that move is exciting for the potential to have a top flight guy at the bottom of the rotation. But it is also a little scary due to injury history and a poor 2012.

Regardless of the health of the rotation in general, and even if Haren starts 30 games, it is highly unlikely that they will only use 5 starters the whole year. John Lannan was their first backup plan, but now that he’s gone, who do they have?

The first choice might be Zack Duke, who started 26 games in AAA last year and has been a starter all of his career. Unless he ends up being their only reliable lefty relief man, in which case he’s going to be needed elsewhere. Christian Garcia is another option – a converted reliever who was successful in a limited 2012, but hasn’t recorded a start in 2 seasons. Of course, there’s Yunkesy Maya, who had a decent 2012 in AAA, but was nothing special there. Almost all of his MLB appearances have been pretty rough. Jeff Mandel started some games and did well in AAA, so could get a shot as well. That’s about all I see from the obvious choices. Another route would be to go after a free agent.

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Nats 2013 Needs – Lefty Relief

January 3, 2013

The Nats are pretty close to a complete team already – it’s still a bit odd to be able to name almost the whole starting lineup and rotation of this franchise in early January. But there are still a few pieces missing, including and sort of left handed relief pitching. Part of me thinks this isn’t such a big deal. The better relievers on the Nationals should be able to handle good hitters from either side of the plate in close games. But if they continue to not really have any lefty specialist (or, preferably like Sean Burnett, a good reliever who is just better against lefties), there will definitely be situations in 2013 where we will all wish they did. The pickins are slim these days, almost all of the free agents have been snatched up.

J.P. Howell is probably the best that’s left out there. He’s going to be 30, and has always been more effective vs. lefties, although he’s not bad against righties. He had shoulder problems that kept him out in 2010 and hopefully was the reason he was so bad in 2011. But in 2012, he was very good, especially against lefties. He was also great in 2008 and 2009. A decent $$$ short term deal is probably all it would take to get him, if they want him. There are some other guys out there who have had mixed results in their careers, like Rich Hill, Will Ohman, Manny Parra and J.C. Romero. While none of them are particularly exciting options, they could be effective is used solely as a LOOGY.

Internal choices

Of course, there are possibilities internally, like them or not. The first one that jumps out is Zack Duke, a lefty starter who they retained after the year. He may be set up to be a long reliever/swing man, but he has been more effective against lefties in his career, so it’s possible. They signed Bill Bray, who has been very effective against lefties in his career, to a minor league deal in December. But he has to prove he’s healthy after missing most of 2012, and that’ss no guarantee. Patrick McCoy is a 23 year old lefty reliever who pitched ok in AA Harrisburg last season, with a 3.70 ERA but 60 Ks in only 50 IP. There aren’t too many other options, at least not in the high minors.

A Surprise Option

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The Politics of John Lannan

December 17, 2012

When John Lannan makes his debut as an opponent in Washington, it will be interesting to see how the crowd reacts. Lannan pitched 783 2/3 innings for the Nats, amassed a 103 ERA+, and was the team’s best starter in 2008 and 2009. He did this over 6 of the team’s 8 seasons, making him the longest tenured National other than Ryan Zimmerman. He didn’t choose to leave, he was told he’d been surpassed by others and was asked to leave, so there should be no ill will towards him. That being said, he wasn’t a great player, probably at best a #5 starter/swingman, so there shouldn’t be too much tearing of hair and rending of garments over his departure.

Nats fans haven’t really had to deal with this kind of situation before – not many guys who were any good have left this team, and the few of them that have (Dunn, Soriano) didn’t go to NL teams immediately, let alone NL East teams. They also didn’t have much tenure with the team. Lannan, meanwhile, is now on the current most hated rival, the Phillies. So what should be done? Here’s a guide

1. In his Nats Park debut as a Phillie, he deserves a round of applause. Not a smattering of applause, legitimate cheering. I’m not sure you need to stand for it, but feel free to if you’d like.

2. After his first pitch, he no longer deserves any cheering whatsoever (unless he does something spectacular and you have to grudgingly respect his play)

3. (And this is the most important point) There is no need to boo him unless he does something like throw at a player’s head or *gasp* throws over to first too much. In other words, he isn’t a target of derision any more than Kyle Kendrick at this point.

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Nats Get Their 5th Starter and Maybe More

December 4, 2012

Ken Rosenthal reported today that the Nats signed Dan Haren to a one year, $13M contract. The Nats needed another starting pitcher, and while some advocated trading some of their key position players for a starter, I always thought it would be unwise to do so. With the rotation of Strasburg, Zimmermann, and Gonzalez, I worried that any more real investment in the rotation might add a few wins during the year, but would be of no use in the playoffs. I worried that bolstering a rotation by taking away from their position players was trying to make an already top 3 rotation number 1 in the league, and it was unnecessary.

So what did the Nats do? HarenHesitationIt appears they threw more money at Haren than most were willing to do, without any long term commitment. This is what their payroll flexibility allows them to do. They end up getting a pitcher who is only 32, had been great up until last year, and was willing to sign short term. He isn’t totally healthy – what was worried to be a bad back (his issue this summer) actually ended up being a bad hip.

That bad hip is certainly of concern, but it didn’t affect him so much that he didn’t pitch well all year. Yes, he had a bad season. His final numbers from 2012 included a 4.33 ERA (87 ERA+) and only 142 K (his lowest total since 2004, when he wasn’t a full timer), but he sat out for a back injury, and pitched most of the year. He wasn’t so hurt that he couldn’t start most of the season, even if the hip was an issue. He ended up starting 30 games, with 176 2/3 IP, and only issue 38 BB. But his season numbers don’t reflect what he was able to do after coming back from injury. What may be more interesting to Nationals fans is how he performed after being put on the DL.

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Brad Meyers Returns

October 31, 2012

Today the Yankees returned Rule 5 pick from the Nationals, Brad Meyers. In order to keep him, he had to be on the 25 man roster all year. Instead he was on the DL all year except for one rehab game in the minors. So the Nats got him back and he was optioned to Syracuse. If you remember, a few people were a little upset that they didn’t protect him by putting him on the 40 man (thus preventing any team from taking him in the Rule 5 draft), especially after the success he saw in 2009 and 2011. Let’s first take a look at what he did there.

In 2009, at age 23, after being in the minors for a year and a half (he pitched late in the summer he signed), he showed some real promise. He started out in High-A Potomac, and he succeeded, as most former college pitchers should. He also spent 1/3 of his season at AA, which is a much bigger challenge, and succeeded there as well. In 48 IP in AA, he struck out 43, only walked 11, and had a 2.25 ERA. His numbers in high-A were better than that, and he was named the Nats Minor League Pitch of the year. But he hurt his foot in the offseason, and didn’t start the season. He only was able to make 6 starts before re-injuring it (or realizing it wasn’t fixed, perhaps), but in those 6 starts he was very good – 35K/7BB in 30 2/3 IP with a 1.47 ERA.

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Big Improvements in 2012 – Part 1

October 16, 2012

2012 was quite a season for the Washington Nationals, and there are big things that happened this year which should get you fired up for next season. This season was a huge step forward, 18 more wins than 2011, so there are a ton of good things that happened. I’m going to focus on the things that are big steps forward, and very likely to make next year another great season. Since there’s so much, I’ll start with the pitching, and move on to the position players in the next post. I’m not purposely going position by position, I’m really just trying to talk about the big, sustainable improvements from previous seasons. So the first thing we found out this year, that should excite us going in to next season is…

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