Ayala and More

June 21, 2007

I’m not gonna be around next week as Ocean City’s pristine beaches and trailer park atmosphere are calling. As I’ll be computerless next week, here is a mid-week bonus posting. Just in case anyone really misses The Nationals Review, I wouldn’t want to deprive them…

Ayala’s back (actually his elbow is the story)

Luis Ayala was activated from the DL this week. He is coming off Tommy John surgery and has been pitching at AAA, for his first real professional appearances since 2005. So far he’s pitched 7 innings at Columbus and given up 1 ER, with 2 BBs and 5 Ks. In case you forgot, Ayala was one of Washington’s best relievers and had to undergo Tommy John surgery last spring after the World Baseball Classic, although he probably would have had to get the surgery WBC or not.

From ’03-’05, his only pro seasons, he had an ERA of 2.75, a 3:1 K:BB ratio and averaged just under a hit per inning. Confidently being able to trade Cordero is partially dependent on Ayala’s success. Cordero has been great for the Nationals, but join him with Rauch and Ayala, and the team has a 7th, 8th and 9th inning punch that is unecessary. While any team would love to end every game in the 6th, the Nationals are just not there yet. They could get much more in exchange for a closer that has been as effective as Chad over the last few seasons than what he can give them if he stays. The closer is one of the last things a team that is rebuilding needs to focus on. Examples of this include how poorly the Reds have performed as they traded away good players in order to shore up a shaky bullpen when they really needed to build, and the A’s who constantly dump closers when they get pricey and proceed to pick up guys off the trash heap to save 40 games a season. Huston Street came up through the minors, but Isringhausen, Foulke, and Koch all “magically” became closers in Oakland when they never did it before. What it comes down to is this: Cordero is an extremely valuable player, but he is much more valuable to a team that is fighting for a playoff spot than a team that is building, and the Nats have the opportunity to take advantage of that. So look for Ayala to make it easier on the conscience to unload Cordero. TNR will definitely follow his progress.

Not cool, Chico

What’s up with Chico’s last outing? After praising him for being the Nats best starter and a pleasant surprise for the season, he goes ahead and gives up 8 ER in 4 IP against Detroit. Somehow the Nats got within 1 run of tying the score, but couldn’t finish. Regardless, Chico’s game was probably more anomaly than anything else. We’ll see if that story changes in 2 or 3 weeks.

Chinese Signees

The Yankees signed 2 Chinese 19 year olds to minor league contracts this week. Neither is ready for Zhenwang Zhangthe big leagues, and will need plenty of time before anyone knows how talented they are. Why does this matter to the Nats? Glad you asked. They are the first players signed with the approval of China’s baseball association and it shows you how far teams will go to scout talent. Once again, the teams with money will be able to put more effort into this type of thing. International players don’t have to go through the amateur draft, and most seem happy with this arrangement. So whoever scouts the youngsters get to sign them. The Nationals have money, and over the next decade if they don’t expand their scouting to places like China they may find themselves playing catchup in international talent.


Hasn’t there been a team playing this whole time?

June 18, 2007

Over the last few weeks, the focus of The Nationals Review has been the draft, in addition to some historical Washington baseball. We haven’t spent much time looking at the time over this span, and it’s time to take a look at what they’ve been doing. Right now the team is 29-40, on pace to win 68 games.

Once you get to double digits…

On May 11, the Nationals played their 35th game of the season and finally won their 10th game. Since then, including that date, Washington is 20-14, an impressive run for a team that was picked to be relegated out of the Premier League at the end of the season. Over the course of this streak, the Nationals haven’t pitched great, they have an average number of runs allowed of 4.6. If they had done this all year, this would put them tied for 8th place in the NL, right in the middle of the pack, in terms of pitching. This isn’t bad, and since 153% of their starting rotation is on the DL, it’s even better than we should expect from this group.

Despite this average pitching, it has been their hitting that has taken them through this stretch as winners. They are scoring at an amazing clip for this team, 4.8 runs per game, a number that would put them in third place in the NL at this point during the season if it was over the whole season. That’s right, over the last month of the season, the Nats have the third best offense in the NL. Alright so that is a bit of an untruth. Over that same period of time, the Nationals offense is actually ranked 5th, behind the Cardinals, Phillies, Rockies, and Pirates.

Who are the individuals responsible?

Well the offense is driven by the players, so who are the players that have been powering this offensive explosion? Well the most visible one is Dmitri Young, and that’s not just because of his numbers. Since May 11, Young has been playing unbelievably well. Splits of .443/.473/.632 are very impressive, an OPS of 1.105 is something that even Nick Johnson couldn’t pull off. The biggest issue with Young right now is that a dropoff is expected at some point. The Nats just have to hope he holdsYoung and Guzman on to this hot streak a few weeks longer so they can trade him away. Regardless, this full month of torrid hitting shows that he is a valuable commodity to teams looking for a 1B, and barring injury his trade value will be much higher than it was at the beginning of the season (when it was nil). Much credit should be given to management for taking a chance on Young, much blame will be given to them if they don’t end up trading him away.

The other big name is Christian Guzman. Hoping he would be above replacement level seemed wishful thinking, but so far he has done that and much more. Hitting .333/.389/.467 since May 11 is more than impressive, and these are incredible numbers for a SS. Before this weekend, when Guzman hit 1 for 12, he was putting up better numbers than what Jeter hit last season, when he was robbed of the MVP by a guy who wasn’t even the MVTwin. The only thing worrisome about this streak is Guzman’s lack of speed – only 2 SBs over this period – which bodes poorly for when he comes back to earth. But if Guzman continues to hit 5 triples a month, who needs stolen bases? Of course, Sister Christian (couldn’t resist) will come back down to earth and when he does, the question will be whether he hits .250 or closer to .300. His walks have been higher than in the past, if he keeps that up he could be a much more valuable player.

What to expect from Guzman

So let’s be nice and say he hits .280 for the season. He has only hit that high once (when he hit.302), but he has hit .273 and .274 before, so it is possible. If he has added taking a few walks to his repertoire, with a .280 AVG he could realistically walk enough to keep his OBP closer to .330. This would be above what his other years would suggest, but perhaps he really has improved his pitch selection. In terms of isolated power (ISO), looking only at his best years (’01-’04) his average ISO is .124, but he had an ISO of .175 in his ’01 All Star season. Since his All Star season is included in that average, it’s skewed higher, but let’s again give him the benefit of the doubt and say he manages an ISO of .150. This would put his SLG at .420 and his OPS at .750, and considering he’s only has an OPS over .700 that one great season, it aint bad. It’s just below league average, but it’s enough for a middle infielder. It would put Guzman on par with players like Marco Scutaro, Jason Bartlett, Orlando Cabrera, and Khalil Greene, all of 2006. He would be better than Scutaro and Bartlett and worse than O-Cab and Greene, in terms of power. This isn’t great, but it’s admittedly much better than what most, including me, envisioned Guzman doing. Remember, though, this is the best-case scenario. OK best-case scenario is that Guzman will continue to hit like he has, and finish the season with a Jeter-esque .900 OPS. If anyone wants to take that bet with me, let me know.

The rest of the team isn’t looking as impressive, but there are both bright spots and disappointments. Church is hitting a little worse than expected, .250/.317/.438 over this stretch is a bit below what’s good for him. Belliard has hit a spectacular .339/.350/.424, which means if he is trade bait he needs to play more. Schneider’s hitting .248, not bad for a such a great catcher. Zimmerman has 11 HRs since May 11, and ISO of .300, and his average is up around .250. Kearns isn’t too impressive, although he continues to draw walks. And finally, Lopez continues his terrible hitting, at .205/.248/.318 the Nationals have to start wondering if he is a future starting middle infielder for this team. The team has it’s role players, but if they are going to rely on Christian Guzman and two dangling trades in Ron Belliard and Dmitri Young to power their offense, they are in trouble.

Chico is the man (and I’m probably the 851st to write that)

It would be a shame to discuss this run without mentioning the lone surviving pitcher from the original starting five, Matt Chico. Chico has been impressive, and while not every outing has been spectacular, he seems to have solidified himself as a solid #3 type pitcher. Matt ChicoWhile you may worry that the Nats have too many #3 in the rotation pitchers, you can never have too many. It is nice to have an ace, but if you can pull together 4 guys that would make any rotation, you can go out and buy your ace. Regardless, since May 11, Chico has made 7 starts and thanks to a few factors including no help from the bullpen he is 1-0. Only 3 of his starts have been QS, but he has made it into at least the 6th inning in 5 of them, only surrendered 4 ER once, the rest have been lower, and has a 3.46 ERA over that stretch.

…and as for the rest of you guys

June 11, 2007

The Nats did good with their first pick of the draft this season, picking up Ross Detwiler in the first round. An analysis of this pick can be found in last week’s column.

Supplemental Round Picks

Josh Smoker was their next pick at 31. He was basically taken at the end of the first round/beginning of the supplemental round, and he is a first round talent. He was listed as the #16 prospect by Baseball America, one slot for each pitch he uses. Seriously though, he uses 6 pitches effectively, and his numbers last year included 100 Ks to 17 BBs (you are allowed no additional time to figure out that ratio) and an ERA below 1.00. Last week they were still projecting him to go as high as the #14 pick. Smoker is a lefty high schooler who may not come up as fast as Detwiler, but is projected to be great starting pitcher.

With their second Soriano selection, Washington picked up the kind of the player they could use right now, although he won’t be ready for a few years. At pick #49 overall, they selected Michael Burgess, a power hitting OF. Another high schooler, he had a disappointing first half of his senior season after an incredible junior season. He had some issues with focus but found his stroke again towards the end of the year. He’ll need some time to develop, but his inconsistency can be worked on by the farm system. He is probably riskier than some other guys the Nationals picked, but if he pans out the way scouts think he can, he will be a 40-HR guy in RF for the Nats. Other teams will be scared if his game develops like other players who went to his high school – Gary Sheffield, Dwight Gooden, and Elijah Dukes. The Nats will be scared if his attitude develops like them.

Second Round Picks

Jordan Zimmermann was DC’s next pick, at #67 overall. He is a pitcher, but this time he’s a righty out of college. He can throw in the mid-90s, but his performance was hard to judge. He broke his jaw after being hit while throwing batting practice, and wasn’t able to pitch early on in the season. He did show he had recovered, but there was not a consistent senior season to judge him on. In the end the Nats staff probably thought “eh, his name is Zimmermann, let’s give him a shot”.

The Nationals final pick in the first 2 rounds, their 5th pick of the draft at #71, was an interesting one. Jake Smolinski is a high school star, but he is a shortstop that many project to be moved to 3B or OF. He is a power hitter and is a multi-sport athlete in high school, but his signability is an issue. If he decides to go to college in the fall, the pick will be wasted, but if not he could be very good for Washington. He is considered to be extremely smart with great leadership ability, leading some teams to want to move him to catcher. If the Nats do that, I certainly wouldn’t complain about a backstop named Jake. If he moves there and is effective, his lack of speed won’t be an issue, and his bat wouldn’t have to develop much more.

Overall, the draft was very successful for the Nats. Keith Law of former scouting and current ESPN fame (someday he will be the Mel Kiper of baseball) gave them the third best draft of the day, and one of the teams ahead of them was SF, who had 3 first round picks. Signing everyone up at the top of the draft will be tough, but certainly not impossible. Also nice to see, the Nationals, unlike other teams, used all 50 rounds they were given to make picks. This signifies how deep their scouting department was able to look this season. Regardless, they were able to grab some real talent in hopes of bolstering a farm system depleted by years of non-ownership.

And thanks again to Baseball America for their great reviews and resources, in case you hadn’t guessed, I didn’t actually scout these players myself…

With the sixth pick…

June 7, 2007

First of all, let me say kudos to mlb.com for streaming the ESPN2 coverage of the draft live online. Nothing like “working” while watching the draft and waiting to hear who the Nats picked.

And with their first pick…

The 6th pick of the draft was the Nationals, and their choice of Ross Detwiler was a good one. The biggest knock on him is that he can’t gain weight, he’s a skinny Detwilerguy at 6’4″, 175 lbs., but he throws up to a 95 mph fastball and if he gets some pro weight trainers behind him, no doubt he can fill out. Bryan Smith of Baseball Prospectus said “If the guy is throwing 94 when he weighs 175 pounds (at most), what will he throw when he weighs 200?” In the end, Baseball America finally settled on him as the #6 pick, so it makes sense that the Nats got him there. He has a plus fastball and a plus curveball, which is a good sign that a draft pick already has 2 good pitches. According the BA, his changeup is good as well and has been improving.

Detwiler was interviewed after he was selected, and whether he was being politically correct or not, acted like Washington was a good place for him. He seemed legitimately excited about the possibility that the Nats were a team with a new stadium that has at least said it was going to invest in payroll going on out. There are three things about him which have to excite Nats fans

  1. He’s throws consistently 92-95 with the promise of more
  2. He’s a LEFTY
  3. He’s a college player

Coming out of college is important, because that usually pushes their first major league visit up a couple of years. With the way the Nats are pitching right now, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him at Spring Training, to get some work up there, although he probably won’t make the opening day roster. Depending on how he does, he could see action in AA or AAA by the summer. With Washington, that means he could be in the majors any day after that.

Regardless, you can expect something good from this guy. Whether he ends up being an top of the rotation guy or just a good starter or whatever, let’s see what he can do in the minors. Overall, he has some serious potential, and this was an overall good pick for the Nats.

Next week we’ll go over the rest of the Nats picks, remember they have 4 more in the first 2 rounds!

Draft Preview

June 4, 2007

Let’s preview the preview by saying this: the baseball draft isn’t usually that exciting. It’s not like the football draft where you want to see what college star your team takes in the first round, or the basketball draft where you wonder if they’re taking that great senior guard or the freshman 7 footer. This is baseball. Unless you really follow amateur baseball, or live in the sun belt where college baseball actually is a real sport, you’ve never heard of ANY of these people. This year’s draft is on June 7th, and will be televised on ESPN.

What encouragement to read on!

But this year the Nats have 5 picks in the first 2 rounds. That includes the supplemental draft (used to be called the sandwich round. Because it’s delicious) and it works out that their #5 pick is the #71 overall. Not a bad way to go into a draft when the team is trying to rebuild. It would be nicer if something like this happened 3 years ago, but if they want to build a strong team, they need a strong farm system year in and year out. This year’s draft could wind up being very important to the team’s future and is definitely worth looking at.

First of all, how do the Nationals get so many darn picks? Well, everyone gets 1 pick in each round (duh) and then they get supplemental picks for losing free agents. Losing Type A free agents or type B free agents garners a supplemental round pick (in between rounds 1 and 2, so it’s good compensation). Also, if a team loses a Type A free agent, it gets the signing team’s 1st-round pick, unless it’s one of the top 15 picks, in which case it gets a 2nd-round pick. Type C free agents no longer get any compensation, thus eliminating the supplemental second round.

Wait… what did you just say?

This seems confusing, but the Soriano situation gives us a perFonsyfect example of what is going on. Soriano was a Type A free agent (A, B, C has to do with being in the “top” in their position… let’s not concern ourselves with this right now) and the Cubs signed him. So the Nats get a pick in the supplemental draft and should also get the Cubs first round pick. EXCEPT, the Cubs had pick number 3 in the first round. Since it is one of the first 15 picks, the Cubs do not have to give it up. Instead they lose their second round pick. It may seem unfair, but this could be very good for the Nats if they sign a Type A free agent this next season. They won’t have to lose their (probable) top 5 draft pick in 2008.

Anyway, in the first 2 rounds of the draft, plus the supplemental round in between, Washington has 5 picks :

#6 – Nationals first round pick
#31 – supplemental pick for Type A Soriano
#49 – supplemental pick for Type B Guillen
#68 – Cubs second round pick for Type A Soriano
#71 – Nationals second round pick

5 picks in the first 71 is pretty good. The nice thing for the Nats this season is that they can spend money on young stars. One of the big market/small market problems that has trickled down to the draft is the signing bonus size. As the big money teams have realized that focusing on a good draft is important, they have given out big signing bonuses. So some of the best players fall lower on the list than they should as a team like Kansas City or Tampa Bay feels they don’t have a $2 million signing bonus to give to an unproven high school player. One of the benefits of having a relatively high revenue stream while having the third lowest payroll is that the Nats won’t have to do this. They can grab whoever is highest on their board without fear of not being able to afford to sign them.

The problem with the draft is the same problem with the basketball and football draft, only amplified. Or X-Treme if we were trying to sell stuff. Anyway, just as in the other sports, you never know what you are going to get. But it’s worse with baseball because these guys have never played at the level of competition that they would see even in AA baseball. College baseball is competitive and good, but it isn’t deep compared to the minors and they still use freaking metal bats! It’s a bit of a crapshoot and despite Moneyball there is still alot of reliance on a guys makeup than what he’s already done for teams. Which may or may not be the correct way to draft. So what if a guy has 5/1 K/BB ratio in college? After all, it’s only college. Well the ERA of the A’s homegrown pitching staff over the last decade indicates that even if Billy isn’t always right, he seems to know how to draft pitchers.

If you haven’t read Moneyball yet, don’t read it for the Billy Beane bio, or the sabermetric introduction. People will tell you that the central premise of the story is that the statistics we are used to using in scouting (40 yard dash time, RBIs, Average) are relics of the past, and the informed scout/GM will use other stats. But the real story of the book, and the great reason to read it, is that it is the story of how a team with little money had to figure out how to draft 5 of the first 41 picks and sign them. More importantly, they needed to be guys who were relatively low risk (if that’s possible in the draft) because Oakland couldn’t go signing free agents with their budget. It is a fascinating story and they ended up looking pretty good signing current Major Leaguers Nick Swisher, Joe Blanton, Jeremy Brown and Mark Teahen. Also there is the statistical part – the book was so influential that most teams now have a dedicated statistical analyst on their full time staff (including Washington, someone should introduce that guy to Nook Logan).

What to watch for

So who are they going to draft? No idea. Not a clue. TNJeter CardR pays attention to college and high school baseball as much or less than you do. But we have time and incentive to do a little research and get a rough idea of what may happen. Also, after the draft, you can definitely find a summary of what happened here on TNR. The 2007 draft is supposed to be a pretty good one (i.e. deep), but there aren’t many superstars. This is also good news for the Nationals, who have many high picks but only one in the first round. A quality, deep draft is what they want in this situation, more than a shallower draft with some great guys up top. The Nats high pick could yield something really special. Past #6 picks include Derek Jeter, Gary Sheffield, Jeremy Sowers, Rocco Baldelli, Andrew Miller and, oh yeah, the soon to be all time HR king, Barry Bonds. Love him or hate him, the Nats would be lucky to get someone of his talent. But there have also been some big busts and the position. Guys like Ryan Harvey and Josh Carp were drafted sixth, and only 2 drafts since 1995 have 9 out of 10 players in the majors, 1995 and 1998. Both of these drafts have their #6 pick on the outside looking in.

Who will the Nats get?

In terms of their top pick, #6, well there are several players that have been forecast to go here. Jim Callis of Baseball America was kind enough to forecast 3 players going in this spot, with an actual pick and 2 other possibilities. The actual pick he forecasted was Max Scherzer, a right handed pitcher. Scherzer is a risk, he can throw in the mid to high 90s, but had bicep tendinitis that kept him from being picked high last season, so he played a year in the independent league. He is extremely talented, one of the best RHP in the draft, but will he be healthy enough to make the majors? Callis also mentioned the Nats could take Rick Porcello, another righty who Baseball America considers the #4 prospect in the draft. He is the top high school pitcher in the draft, has a live fastball and is forecast to be a #1 pitcher some day. The third and final possibility, according to Callis, is Phillipe Aumont, a Canadian RHP from high school who is 2 meters tall (that’s 6′ 7″ in America-talk). He is from Quebec and apparently the Expos holdouts hiding in the Washington offices’ ventilation systems are really pushing for him.

Thanks to some exclusive access we were able to ask Keith Law of Scouts, Inc. and ESPN who he thought the Nats would draft (this exclusive access consisted of submitting a question to one of his ESPN chats) way back on May 16. This was his response:

Just a guess, but I’d say Jason Heyward, a very talented OF/1B from rural Georgia, or maybe Jarrod Parker. It’s still really early, though. Most teams haven’t had their predraft meetings yet to start to set up their overall rankings.

Heyward, for the record, is an OF with power out of high school who is considered one of the best raw talents available, if not the best. Parker is yet another righty pitcher out of high school, and has touched 98 mph on the radar gun this spring. So there you have it, check out the draft, or just check back here after the draft where you’ll see an assessment of the day.