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.


Ok, They’re Here

September 15, 2011

Brad Peacock and Tommy Milone are here, now what? We’ve been waiting for these guys all year, and now that they’re here, it seems a bit anticlimactic. I mean, they’re not just mowing down hitters, they’re actually struggling as if they were human beings. After such a small sample, what can we glean? Well, not that much, but seeing these guys pitch against majors leaguers might tell you a few things. Here are just a few points here and there that jumped out at me

  • I expected Peacock to get alot more swings and misses than Milone. That’s the difference that a few mph can make. Looking at contact rates, Milone is actually doing better, at 89%. Peacock is up at 92%. Anything lower than 80% is considered pretty good, give or take. Jordan Zimmermann, who wasn’t a strikeout machine this year but was great at getting outs, had a much lower rate than those two guys, at 82%. This isn’t promising so far for them.
  • Milone’s control has manifested itself in the majors. 0 walks in two starts is a good way to start a career. He got hit hard at times, but not giving any free passes will help. Peacock, on the other hand, looked wild in his first start. He never had a low walk rate, and recognition of that curve ball helped the Mets hitters lay off the pitch, which he doesn’t seem to throw for strikes.
  • Continuing with that Peacock curve ball… it has such dip and such bite that it may actually hurt his chances to succeed. He throws hard enough and has two good pitches, so this doesn’t prevent his success in the majors. But if his curve is recognizable the second time around, and it moves so much he NEEDS swings and misses on it, he may not be a starter. That kind of combo could do very well in the bullpen, though. I’m not saying he won’t be a great starter, but watching him pitch gave me some doubts.

I would like to see these guys get a real shot at starting both through the end of this year, in spring training, and early 2012. I’m not sure both will stick, but both are on the edge and could be effective starters if they make the right adjustments. And if we’re really lucky, both will.

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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A Night for the Kids

September 7, 2011

Last night was a night for the prospects and prospect-lovers in Nats town. Stephen Strasburg had a great night in his return from injury slash 2011 debut. But there was much more to the night than that. The team was filled with youngsters, and had a conspicuous lack of older players. The average age of the team last night, including all the relievers, was barely over 26 years old. If you haven’t figured out that they are a team of the future, here’s some strong evidence.

11 of the 17 players last night were 26 or younger. That’s a young team right there. And, in this case, it’s a promising team. That should make you feel good. Now let’s take a look at how some of these youngsters did last night.

Stephen Strasburg

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The Potential of Peacock

July 12, 2011

Nationals minor league prospect Brad Peacock has gotten some attention recently thanks to his recent performance. In the first half of the year at AA Harrisburg, he pitched 98 2/3 innings while striking out 129 and walking only 23. His ERA is a miniscule 2.01, and he’s 10-2. The season has been so good that the 23 year old was named as a member of the futures game, and promoted to AAA Syracuse.

So why no fanfare about him before recently? Well, his performance up until this year hadn’t been spectacular. His career ERA was 4.44 before this year, it’s all the way down to 3.99 now. This season hasn’t just dramatically improved his ERA. Peacock’s career K/9 went from 7.4 in March to 8.3 today thanks to a number of 11.8 this season. And his K/BB went from 2.4 to 2.8 on the back of a 5.6 mark this season. So all this excitement is really about this year. What’s different?

Both Ben Goessling and Adam Kilgore report that changes in his delivery are the trick. He is coming from over the top more, a downhill plane that is usually desirable. He is throwing harder and more accurately, while not showing the ball as early in his delivery. All of these things are good things, of course, so the thought is that the improvements will lead to much more success. Now there are suggestions that he could be a third starter. Even Baseball America, as Kilgore mentions, put him in their midseason top 50 prospect list at #42.

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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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