Friday, December 20, 2013

2014 Expectations

It's been a while since I've done one of these, but being surprised with that stuff people call free time, I figured I'd give it a go real quick.

So 2013 was a year of high expectations and disappointments in DC. The Nats were one of the early season favorites for the World Series, yet actual performance was far from that as they failed to make the playoffs. With a late season run, they looked more respectable finishing at 86-76 good for 2nd in the AL East, down by 10 games to the Braves, and 4 games out of the 2nd Wild Card spot.

This year brings a new set of expectations, not of world series or bust, but more tempered and hopeful expectations this time around. This offseason, the Nationals made a shrewd move to shore up the rotation by trading for Doug Fister, formally of the Tigers. An already stout starting rotation is now one of the best in baseball with Strasburg, Zimmermann, Gonzalez, Fister and Detwiller. The bullpen was cause for some clubhouse issues last year when the team signed Soriano to be the closer, stripping the job from young Drew Storen. That move didn't sit well with many on the team, and was the beginning of a rift between players and coaches. The team is currently looking to bolster depth, and one of the areas of concern is the pen, where Soriano, Clippard, Stammen and Storen are arguably the team's best RP, and all right-handed. The team recently traded for LHP Jerry Blevins but after him, the only lefties are Xavier Cedeno, and two former highly touted prospects both coming off various degrees of injury recovery in Sammy Solis and Matt Purke. With additional RHP Ohlendorf, Mattheus, and Erik Davis, the team could be looking to acquire another LHP for balance and depth.

A potential match could be found just 40 miles north if the teams were so inclined, as the Baltimore Orioles have an opening at the back of their bullpen after trading Jim Johnson, and have a LHP with a similar salary, service time, and is lights out against lefties in Brian Matusz. A swap of the two would give the Nationals another late inning lefty to counter division foes such as Heyward, Freeman, Utley, Howard, Brown, and Granderson, while giving the Orioles a cost effective option to close for the next few years.

On the offensive side of things, Jason Werth had a great year after returning from injury, leading the team in both average (.318) and OBP (.394). Harper fought some injuries himself (he will learn where the walls are this year I'm sure) but still posted a very respectable OPS for a guy that will be a future MVP candidate. Span rounds out the starting OF, playing a great defensive CF, leading the team in hits last year, and adding some speed to the top of the order. The team went shopping and brought in OF Nate McLouth to be a 4th OF, who is a great fit in that role for a contending team. The infield, anchored by Ryan Zimmerman had to overcome a mysterious case of the yips from their team leader, who for no physical reason had trouble making throws from 3rd last year. For a player that was considered one of the best defensively in the game, it was puzzling to see such a bad issue pop up, but the encouraging sign is that his glove was still solid as the overwhelming majority of his errors came on the throw, and his bat was seemingly unaffected. Ian Desmond progressed even further as a player and has turned into a wonderful option at SS. First base was and will be filled immediately by veteran Adam LaRoche, while 2B is filled with promising young player Anthony Rendon, who has battled through various ankle injuries to finally make it to the majors. While a potential move of Zimmerman to 1B, and Rendon to 3B, his natural position has been speculated, unless the team can trade LaRoche it doesn't make much sense yet.

The last component of the team, and rumor is, a cause of some of the problems last year is the coaching staff. Talks were that Johnson had lost the team last year after the way the bullpen issue was handled, and then through a few various issues throughout the year. Matt Williams, former star 3B for the Giants and Diamondbacks was brought in to manage, leaving much of the old staff including bench coach Randy Knorr, and 1B coach Tony Tarasco in place. This sort of transition can be helpful to a new inexperienced manager, and hopefully will limit the transition pains.

Going into the season, with Danny Espinosa and McLouth on the bench, the team looks very solid on paper, and just needs to perform on the field. A few slight tweaks may remain to be made, but the Nationals look ready to battle the Braves for the NL East crown in 2014.

Friday, November 30, 2012

What the Span acquisition means.

With the Nats trading prospect Alex Meyer to the Twins for CF Denard Span, a few things start to become clear for the team going into 2013. Span is one of the league's premier defensive CF, so he will be entrenched there and most likely at the top of the order. Harper and Werth become the team's corner OF, with debate to ensue about needing more range and athleticism to play LF (Haper wins there) and wanting your best arm in RF (Harper wins there too). Their positioning could go either way, but LF is bigger than RF in Nats Park, so you might expect to see Harper in LF and Werth in RF at least to start the year.

This moves Morse to 1B where he's got a lot of power, but not the OBP that LaRoche brings. The team says that it is still focused on resigning LaRoche, which would send Morse to the trading block (he may be better suited for an AL team where he can DH, since his glove is pretty sub par), but it remains to be seen if they will meet the 3 years and $11m per season plus he is looking for. The team is rumored to be kicking tires on Grienke, which would give them hands down the best rotation in baseball, and if they went that route they would go with Morse at 1B to offset the money. Signing a mid rotation guy like Jackson last year will be about $10m, and LaRoche would be about $11 so that $21m could be spent on Grienke and Morse and his affordable contract placed at 1B.

The team should be active tying up this triangle and deciding if they are going after pitching or hitting at the Winter Meetings next week. The OF seems shored up now, and with seemingly somewhere in the ballpark of $20-25m to spend they could make one big splash or two smaller splashes next week. In addition they have key trade piece Anthony Rendon getting healthy, and you could see him packaged out next in a deal for whatever piece puts them over the top this year.

As I said last year when they traded for Gio, they were a playoff team, they proved me right once, and now I'm saying that they are poised to become a WS favorite depending on how these few moves shape up.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Bryce Harper Groupies Will Hate Me For This

The Washington Nationals “Phenom”, Bryce Harper, is in quite a slump these days. He’s hitting just .176/.276/.265 since the all-star break, which gives him the lowest batting average and lowest OPS (.541) in the majors in the second half.
Apparently, part of his struggles is that umpires are being mean to him – let’s just say he had a little run in with one of MLB’s worst umpires, Angel Hernandez, last night.
Harper was even asked if he feels he has been pitched to differently in the second half and he suggested that pitchers have taken advantage of strike zones that have given opposing pitchers a few extra inches off the plate.
My suggestion to Harper is to stop whining and figure out the strikezone the umpire is calling that night, and then make your adjustments. The strikezone is rarely, if ever, fair to any one player (hitter or pitcher) and to suggest that it could possibly be more unfair for him is an insult to baseball and the umpires out there that actually try really hard to call a good game.
Many fans of the Nationals and Bryce Harper like to use the excuse that he’s still just 19 years old so some of his behavior can be attributed to being a bit immature – you know, because he’s so young.
The Los Angeles Angels Mike Trout is only 20 years old and he has yet to declare himself bigger than the game.
The Baltimore Orioles Manny Machado just turned 20 years old on July 6 and, after going 2 for 4 with a triple last night in his major league debut, he’s not declaring himself – or being declared - Baby Jesus over all of baseball either.
Now, before some of you start googling my name to find out where to send your hate mail to (please direct all hate mail to and address it to Jon), let me ask this:
Why would you Harper fanatics anoint the kid the King of all Baseball, or the Phenom before he has even done anything substantial?
The “Phenom” was the instant National League Rookie of the Year winner before the season began and even now that he’s batting just .251 with 10 home runs on the season he will still garner far more of the RoY vote than he deserves, in my opinion.
Look at the four players listed below – how many of them would you choose to have on your team over Harper right now?
Player A
.287/.354/.421 batting line with six home runs and 14 stolen bases over 321 at-bats.
Player B
.272/.342/.399 batting line with six home runs and three stolen bases over 386 at-bats.
Player C
2.85/3.21 ERA/FIP with a 1.09 WHIP and 97 strikeouts over 132.2 innings of work.
Player D
3.97/3.80 ERA/FIP with a 1.35 WHIP and 96 strikeouts over 138.1 innings of work.
If you said to yourself that you wouldn’t take any of the four players listed over Harper right now, just for this season, then you are out of your mind and there is no hope for you – please stop reading…now.
Player A is Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Norichika Aoki who would be the leading candidate for National League Rookie of the Year among position players.
Player B is the San Diego Padres first baseman/outfielder Yonder Alonso. I consider him to be the second best position player in the N.L. RoY debate.
Player C is Wade Miley of the Arizona Diamondbacks and he is having the best season of all rookie pitchers in the National League.
Player D is Lucas Harrell of the Houston Astros who is having a pretty good season considering he’s playing for the worst team in all of baseball, gets no run support, and the defense behind him fails him just about every start.
What do all four of these players have in common?
I would select every single one of them ahead of Bryce Harper for N.L. RoY right now. Wade Miley would be my actual choice for N.L. RoY, but all four of these players would get my vote for what they’ve done this season before Harper would.
So you see – declaring Bryce Harper the shoo-in for National League Rookie of the Year as well as the best player in the game today is quite preposterous. Harper isn’t even the best rookie in the National League, let alone the best player in the game today.
Now don’t get me wrong, I do believe that Harper will be a great player one day – but that day is not today.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Off to a strong start

So WAS is off to a 9-3 start and leading the NL East. They have the best pitching staff in the majors leading in ERA, Quality Starts, and Batting Average Against. While they are 2nd in OBP, they are struggling in SLG% and middle-of-the-pack in Batting Average.

Individually, Jayson Werth is on a tear hitting .362 through his first 12 games, and Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond are both also over .300 on the season. Strasburg has 19K in 19IP, Zimmermann has a 1.29ERA, Gonzalez has 21K in 17.2IP and even Jackson has 15K in 14IP with a 2.54 ERA.

Not all the news has been great so far. Mike Morse is injured and out for 6-8 weeks, seeing him personally on rehab assignment, it's good news there was a setback because he looked terrible trying to rush back against AA pitching. Ankiel was activated this week which should add a little extra pop to the lineup in the OF, and once Zimmerman warms up the lineup should come around. The bullpen looks very deep and is getting some stellar performances so far, but hasn't been tested much as the starters have been so great. All of this, and Lannan, who has requested a trade is still sitting in AAA and could either bring some pop to the offense, or provide injury protection.

This team is built to surprise people, and judging by the people hopping on the bandwagon, it's working.

Friday, March 9, 2012

News and Notes

The Nationals are the trendy pick to make the playoffs these days. Odds-makers in Vegas have been improving their odds for weeks, national writers are choosing them for wild-card spots as I have been for a few weeks now. It's almost setting them up to fail, but that is probably just my pessimistic view brought on by being an Orioles fan for the past 14 years. Now that spring training has started, what are some story lines to follow for the next 3 weeks?

Will Harper make the opening day roster?

It's no secret that D. Johnson would like to see the wunderkid break camp with the big league team, but I'm sure he wants him to EARN his way on the squad as well. While many teams believe in delaying ML debuts to save the team money and control of players, Harper making the ML team out of camp would be setting him up to be a 25 year old UFA and quite possibly in line for the biggest contract in MLB history if the hype holds true. Purists will say at 19 he can't be ready for the emotional responsibility that comes along with being a professional athlete, time will tell.

What order will the rotation follow?

Will Johnson mix left and right handers to keep teams off balance? Truth is, this only matters for the first couple weeks of the season when the 5th starter won't get as much of a workload, and Strasburg, Zimmermann, Jackson and Gonzalez will all be getting their starts. Rumors of a potential trade of John Lannan persist through camp, and one could argue that he would be of more use turned into prospects than as a $5m swing starter out of the pen, although with questions around Wang, and injuries in baseball, a smart team would hold on to him if they are going to challenge for the playoffs

Will everyone stay healthy?

This is a question no one can answer, a little luck is always a good thing and this may be one of the more important keys to the season. So far, top prospect Sammy Solis has gone down for the year with TJ surgery, but hopefully with a healthy year we can see the results of good drafting and smart moves made over the past couple years.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Taking a look at the bullpen

Candidates for the Nationals bullpen this season (barring injuries) look like:

Name: Throws: 2011 Stats:
Sean Burnett: L 56.2 IP 15 HLD 33K 3.81 ERA
Tyler Clippard: R 88.1 IP 38 HLD 104K 1.83ERA
Ross Detwiler: L 66.0IP 5QS 1HLD 41K 3.00ERA
Cole Kimball: R 14.0IP 0HLD 11K 1.93ERA
Brad Lidge: R 19.1IP 8HLD 1SV 23K 1.40ERA
Drew Storen: R 75.1 IP 43SV 74K 2.75ERA
Craig Stammen: R 10.1IP 1HLD 12K 0.87ERA
Yunesky Maya: R 32.3IP 1QS 15K 5.23ERA
Ryan Mattheus: R 32.0IP 8HLD 12K 2.81ERA
Tom Gorzellany: L 105IP 6QS 4HLD 95K 4.03ERA
John Lannan: L 184.2IP 16QS 106K 3.70ERA
Chen-Ming Wang: R 62.1IP 4QS 25K 4.04ERA
Henry Rodriquez: R 65.2IP 10HLD 2 SV 70K 3.56ERA

Early in the season when pitchers are still being stretched out, it's more common to see teams keep a short bench and an extra guy in the pen to start the season, but until the 5th starter is needed you may see both Wang and Lannan pitch out of the pen the first week or so taking care of that need. Spring Training will probably decide whether Johnson feels like he needs a deeper bench or a deeper pen to start the season.

The fact that Lannan, Gorzellany, Detwiler and Burnett are the only LH in the competition could work against Lannan in the 5th starter competition. If Detwiler is sent to AAA to start the season, that creates more of a need for a LHP versus a RHP in the pen, so if things are fairly even between Wang and Lannan, Lannan could end up in the pen out of concerns for balance.

Storen established himself as quite a young closer last season, but when Lidge is healthy he's one of the best in the game. This could turn into a 2-headed closing monster before long. The Nationals came dangerously close to dealing Storen this offseason for a CF, so maybe they aren't as confident in them as they should be, but either way those two should start at the back of the pen in some form. After that Clippard and Burnett should be 1-inning options for the 7th/8th area as a R and L option.

There are 12 men in the mix for an 8 or 9 man BP (my guess is 8) which means that 4 guys aren't going to make the opening day roster. Detwiler could be sent to AAA to be a starter, which means that 3 more out of Rodriguez, Kimball, Mattheus, Maya, and Stammen are probably headed to AAA. Overall, it's one of the more solid BP in baseball as is, with 2 solid closing options (Lidge, Storen), two established set up men both R and L (Clippard, Burnett), and a couple guys who could be 3rd starters on some teams in the long roles (Lannan, Wang).

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Future Is Now

Since Les Expos moved to DC, the fan-base that has been alienated by one of the worst owners in sports 40 miles away (Baltimore) has been waiting for the losing years to give way to promise and growth. It looks like the wait is over...

The Edwin Jackson FA watch was nearing an end, with him supposedly weighing a one-year offer from BOS, a multi-year offer from BAL, and two possible other multi-year offers. Then comes the news that's he's agreed to a one-year deal, and people start typing the headline Jackson to WHAT? He took a one-year deal, but in WAS??? Were they even looking for another pitcher with Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Lannan and Wang penciled into the rotation?? Well, now they've got 6 legit starters for 5 spots because they did indeed swoop in and sign Edwin Jackson to a one-year $8M deal on Thursday.

The rotation was already looking really good with a tough 1-2-3 punch, young and controllable, but now adding a 28 year old who has been around the league and has put up a sub-4.0 ERA splitting time between CHW and STL. Last year, in fact, the Cards don't win the WS without Jackson getting them there. Jackson has always been a little hit or miss, he will strike out 10, but walk 6 in the process, as illustrated by his no-hitter in 2010 while walking 8. A one year contract in a pitchers park for an up and coming young team is a good way to draw attention before UFA, however there is always risk, such as injury or ineffectiveness that could end up costing him money.

I think that it's a good deal for him, and provided healthy, he's setting himself up for the $10m/yr contract he wants next offseason. He'd be a nice consolation prize to a team missing out on Cain, Grienke, Marcum, Moon, or the other starters available, but that is a lot of competition for money next year, so time will tell if this backfires.

With a rotation of Strasburg-Gonzalez-Zimmerman-Jackson-Lannan/Wang/Detwiler they look like they are ready to hang with anyone in the East. A lineup of Ramos, LaRoche, Espinosa, Desmond, Zimmerman, Morse, Werth and Harper could be good enough to make some noise, although there are still questions about if Harper is ready or not, I'd be surprised if he's not in the lineup by July.

By rolling out a promotion about taking back the park and not letting Phillies fans roll en masse into the stadium, it looks like the Nationals are ready to make some noise, but the two issues that plague all young teams are and development.