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.


15 Games Left in the Best Season Yet

September 14, 2011

Tonight, the Nats will get a chance to beat their win total from last season. They are at 69 wins right now, already besting their 2008 and 2009 marks, 70 gets them over their 2010 spot. If they win 4 more after that, and since they have a total of 15 games remaining it certainly is possible, they’ll have more wins than 2007 (73-89) and their best record since that first year of 81-81. So, with 15 games left, go 5-10 or better, and you have your best season since your first year.

And while the record probably won’t be .500 (although it’s still possible!), this season has to be thought of as better than 2005. The pitching staff in 2005 had two young quality players that showed real promise – John Patterson and Chad Cordero. The rest were aging vets that had good years. The lineup was mostly under 30, but there weren’t too many young sensations on the squad, Nick Johnson was probably the closest.

In other words, 2005 didn’t show a ton of promise for the future but this 2011 team, on the other hand, does. They have a young catcher, at least one young middle infielder (maybe as many as 3), a potential MVP third baseman who is only 26, and 3 or 4 young quality starting pitchers including an almost surefire ace. Throw in Mike Morse and Jayson Werth, who aren’t quite as young, and Bryce Harper on the way, that’s a strong future. Savor it and enjoy it, it isn’t anything that you’ll remember years down the road, and it doesn’t compare to making the playoffs or winning a pennant, but regardless of record, this is the best year this team has had. And next year should be even better.


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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What Do You Want to Do With Detwiler

July 27, 2011

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?


Early Minor League Report

April 29, 2011

Remember Bryce Harper‘s poor start in low-A? Well, his current stat line doesn’t. He’s now up to .323/.425/.645 with 5 HRs in 73 PAs. He’s played mostly RF in his time there, which may indicate that they want to ease him into the CF role, not because of degree of difficulty, but because it is the field general of the outfield. Learning the way the ball moves off the bat in RF will probably help him in CF, where they ball is only really hard to read when it’s hit right at you. But the bat is what’s important anyway, and it looks like it’s not long until he’s moved up to high-A Potomac.

Speaking of remember performances, how about Ross Detwiler and his strong spring? Well, that’s continued into the regular season at AAA. Through 4 starts, he has a 2.22 ERA and he’s pitched 24 1/3 innings with 20 K and 6 BB. He’s letting up a few too many hits (27) but it’s always hard to tell from a distance what kind they are. We know they’re not HRs, though, as he hasn’t given up any of those yet. He has yet to show he can be very good in the majors, but he’s probably dominated AAA enough (2.75 career ERA, 7.3 K/9, 2.37 K/BB) that all he is doing is waiting for a spot to open up in the majors. With the way the starting pitching is going, if it doesn’t happen until this summer after a trade, that’s not the worst thing in the world for the big league club.

Derek Norris, on the other hand, is off to a slow start. After looking great in the Arizona Fall League, he indicated that it was easier for him to hit there because pitchers found the plate more. He’s down in AA now, where apparently they aren’t hitting the plate enough, because he’s hitting .154/.303/.192. It’s real early for him though, he’s only had 33 PAs. His impressive plate discipline hasn’t left him, and I’m willing to bet if we check back in a couple of weeks his numbers will look much better.

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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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Don’t Bet On These Results, Except…

March 7, 2011

Spring Training is fun, because baseball’s back, and it can be interesting, because there are guys coming back from surgery, or the minors, or just a few months off of real baseball. There are battles for positions, rotation spots and even roster spots. But too often we think a good spring could catapult someone into a place they don’t belong.

For the most part we know better, but I guarantee you if Jerry Hairston were to hit .350/.450/.550 over the next month, people would start talking about him as the starting left fielder or SS or 2B going in to the season. It’s possible that Hairston has 4 weeks that make those numbers happen, but Hairston is a career 257/.325/.370 hitter, in over 4000 PAs. We know exactly what we’ll get from Hairston. This isn’t to pick on him, it’s to remind you that spring training is just a month of the not-yet-season, against sub-standard competition, and shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

All those caveats aside, there are things that we can learn in spring training, especially from young players who don’t have alot of experience. Sometimes they can surprise in the spring and give us a preview of something new. Here are a few players that are worth watching right now:

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