Nationals Baseball

Monday, February 19, 2018

Monday special - Why Benoit?

Joaquin Benoit was signed by the Nats today (Hate the passive voice? Too bad!) in what was almost certainly a reaction to Koda Glover's shoulder injury.  We had mentioned the Nats could possibly use one more relief arm for depth but Glover's pains forced the issue.

What some are asking is - why Benoit? Why a 40 year old who posted a pretty deserved ~4.50 ERA last year? Simply put there wasn't much available.

Greg Holland is the obvious best guy, he had an All-Star 2017 and if not back to his old dominating self, he showed himself to be a very good arm in the pen.  Some might be turned off by a bad second half but it was more one horrific month (13.50 ERA in August) than anything else. His September was as good (1.86 ERA) and the other months of the year (1.50 April, 1.17 May, 1.69 June, 2.25 July). He's likely fine. But that also means he's expensive.

After him the FA market has been picked clean.  A couple weeks ago I noted Matt Albers might be the third best arm left after Holland and Tony Watson. Well Albers got signed soon after that and Watson just got signed by the Giants a few days ago. What are we left with? Well here are some guys still available, a few I'd probably pick-up before Benoit

The non retreads
Koji Uehara - He's 42 and not trending in the right direction but his stats (10.5 K/99, 2.5 BB/9, 1.163 WHIP) are still good. He's probably picking and choosing where at this age so maybe DC and/or the money wasn't appealing?  Still better than Benoit

Kevin Siegrist -  He put up two pretty good years for the Cardinals in relief in 2015 and 2016 before being bad and having them release him mid-year last year. The Phillies picked him up and he was again pretty good.  A little long ball prone and wild. Certainly more interesting than Benoit if not better.

Robbie Ross - an injury victim who had back surgery last year. That kind of lack of security probably crosses him off the Nats list. However, if healthy had good 2015 and 2016s and is young enough to assume he'd do it again.

The retreads
Matt Belisle - Matt Belisle was good for the Nats.  Matt Belisle is good now.  No he doesn't knock anyone's socks off but he keep the ball in the park and isn't bad at giving up walks or hits so he tends to get the job done.  I certainly like him better than Benoit but the Nats chose to move on for some reason.

Tyler Clippard - The greatest middle reliever of his generation had an awful 2017 and hasn't been really good since getting traded from Oakland. Still he was effective enough in 2016, and can strike a guy out enough, to think the 33 year old isn't done yet.

Drew Storen - Hey! I'm being thorough! You know the drill - he's probably a head case. When handed a closer role or set in a relief role he can excel. See most of his time in DC and his stinit in Seattle. When thinking he has to fight for anything he falters. See the Soriano year, his loss to Osuna in Toronto, his loss to Iglesias in Cincy.  He'd probably expect to fight for a closer among the Nats good but not great bunch so I wouldn't bring him back here. But for a team with a #1 obviously set I'd take a flier on Drew.


So I'd take all but Ross, because the Nats need security, and Drew before Benoit. I know some of you don't like Clippard so you'd pass on him too. Fair enough. But what you see here is a bunch of guys who are nothing special. Better than the average call-up arm, but not so much better you have to go out and grab them.  Picking Benoit over them isn't than big a stretch, if one at all. The issue isn't picking up Benoit now. It's going into the season with Glover maybe hurt, Kelley maybe hurt, and thinking you didn't need to pick up someone before now.  

Oh well, let's hope for health because 4th in line isn't important until it becomes 2nd in line.

Monday Quickie -

Well it looks like as far as the non -Bryce OF is concerned, we're not going to find a common ground. You look at it and see 5 guys who you think are at least capable starters. You see one guy who's All-Star caliber if he's 100%, another who might be All-Star caliber if he develops quickly, and a third who could be that if he surprises. This is not counting the solid guy expected to help out if needed. You throw in at the end a decent 3rd/4th caliber talent. You see all that and think what the hell is Harper thinking.

I look at it and see, yes, 4 guys who I think are at least capable starters. But I see one guy coming back from injury who is "on track" for Opening Day, another who is a better bet to be productive in the future than in 2018, and a third who has no sustained history of performance despite a fair number of chances. This is not counting the solid guy who they wanted to help but is almost certainly stuck at 2B for the time being. I throw in a guy who might hang on as a 4th OF if he's lucky.  I see all that and I see the 2017 bullpen, full of promise and potential and red flags.

In the interest of reaching an agreement, I think we all can get behind the hope that Adam Eaton is healthy and normal. My concern hinges on the fact he might not be himself. So if he is,  and we should know this before the season starts, there's no concern. 


Anything else?

The Mets continue to bargain hunt picking up Jason Vargas for a couple of years for not too much money.  This is a good move but it doesn't change much about the NL East race. What Vargas is here for is not for the Mets to catch the Nats. It's to make sure the Mets don't fall out of contention because of pitching injuries. He's depth for the rotation that was 7 deep in talent but 1 deep in pitchers who weren't injured last year. If he can be healthy and throw up a 4.25 ERA the Mets will take it. This takes a little of the cushion out if the Nats happen to fall off pace but the Nats would still have to fall of pace. Call me when the Mets sign someone actually good.

The Hot Stove finally is moving forward. First Darvish went to the Cubs, and over the weekend Hosmer went to the Padres. The deal is ridiculously long - 8 years should never happen unless you are a young stud like Bryce, but in reality the contract itself isn't as terrible as you might think. Since 100 million comes in the first 5, if Hosmer chooses to stay (opt-out after 5) you'll have a pretty good ability to trade him and his now 13 million a year salary, to get out from under it. The only real risk is that he crashes before he hits that 6th (age 33) year

It's thought of as  a Werth type signing for the Padres. Get the guy when you can get the guy and hope the young players come together fast enough that it all works out.  The other option is to hope you can get the guy you need once it comes together, an iffier proposition. Does that comparison stand? Werth was older by a decent margin (31 early vs 28 until very end) but was consistently better with the bat, putting up an ok, good, very good, and then a great season going into FA. Hosmer on the other hand went bad, good, bad, very good. He doesn't hit for the power or have the patience of Werth. Baserunning too Werth has the advantage. He was a good baserunner right up until FA.  Hosmer struggles to be ok.  Where Hosmer supposedly shines is defensively, but the fancy stats don't really back that up. Given his age he's more likely to maintain his status rather than watch it crater like there was some concern would happen to Werth, then did, but the status doesn't seem stellar.

So Werth-like I suppose but what Hosmer has going for him is basically only age, because Werth had him beat across the board in talent and wasn't as far off defensively (at the time) as is probably thought. It's a good idea, grabbing the vet when he's available so you are sure to have him when you need him, but this is probably not the best player to do it with* 

What am I watching right now? For opponents, I'm checking out the pitchers remaining. Arrieta, Lynn, Cobb. These are guys that are no worse than #3s who would make any team the Nats are worried about better. Especially a team like the Phillies who only go three deep with prospect question marks in the rotation. For the Nats I'm watching Lucroy and Holland. The Nats don't need either - they proved that last year, but either would help. And I'm looking at Tillman and Lackey, guys they might get for a song to fill out that 5th slot. 


*You want another Werth type? Brian Dozier is the guy to sign assuming he as a good 2018. Older but good across the board. Just don't make it 7 years and you should be ok.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Reading what's there

Last week I expressed some pessimism that what the Nats have planned for the OF is a good plan. I didn't necessarily think it was a bad one, but because I couldn't bring myself to call it good, for lack of a better place I settled on poor. Really I'd call it more of a gamble than a poor solution. They are bundling risks with the hopes that enough pay off that it'll work out. If two of these four things work out they'll be fine until the trade deadline.
  • Eaton is healthy and near regular form
  • MAT's 2017 was not a fluke and he can hit at a major league level
  • Robles is ready to contribute in an above average way from Opening Day
  • Kendrick stays productive and isn't called into duty in other positions, leaving him open to play the OF.
For any single one of those I'd probably put the odds of the good outcome at under 50% (you might vary) and because they need two or more of them to hit, that gives them higher odds than I would like to see of this plan not working out*.

You may disagree but I think today's Eaton column should highlight that the worries are the same for the team and for the guys covering the team. Eaton MAY be ready by Opening Day. Eaton admits he will probably be a different player. I read this and think - yeah better chance than not that Eaton is not healthy or not near regular form. He could still be decent, worthy of playing. He could still work himself into more regular form by year's end and should play anyway because he's your long term OF answer and you want him to be good in the future. If he has to work out kinks, he has to work out kinks. But the key is - bad things are certainly possible here.

Of course there's a reason I put the trade deadline in there and not 2018 as a whole. If the Nats' plan does fail there is always a chance to correct it later. That's a big reason why I don't like labeling it a poor solution even though I think the chance it fails is unreasonably high for a playoff team. Getting a Kendrick type is not as hard as getting a catcher or a starter you like for the playoffs.

But again - I'm very mildly down on the OF, but I normally would let it slide. The Nats have to see if Eaton is recovered. The Nats want to see if MAT is real. The timing is right to give Robles some more games. Individually these things make sense at a high-level. Even if all are more likely to come up empty in 2018, this is about more than 2018. They shouldn't all come up empty and how they come up will shape the Nats decisions down the line.

The problem is more that this issue exists at the same time as the Nats need a catcher, and could use a 5th starter. If those issues continue like we think they will and the Nats have the usual injury issues teams have then the OF situation, if it does fail, could matter a lot.

I guess the solution is get a catcher and a starter so we can let this OF thing go as it should. 



*The math works out like this. What if you give every bad outcome (Eaton isn't right, MAT was a little fluky, etc.) a 60% chance of happening? Well the chances that you don't get two good outcomes is the same as chances you get three bad outcomes plus the chances you get all bad ones.  The chance you get all bad ones is easy - that's just (0.6*0.6*0.6*0.6) OR (0.6^4). If you give each one a 60% chance of happening that's about a 13% chance of all bads. Seen the other way an 87% chance of not having everything go wrong. 

The three bad things percentage is a little more complicated. It's the chance you get three specific bad things and one thing go right, in formula (.6)^3*(.4), multiplied by the number of different ways that can happen. In our case that would be 4. (Eaton is fine but nothing else works out.  MAT is fine but nothing else works out, etc.).  That ends up being about 34.5% chances of only getting one good thing. 

Now add them together and you get a 47.5% chance you don't get the two good things you need, or conversely a 52.5% you do. Of course this varies greatly with how you set up the odds. Give the bad things a 55% chance of happening and the chance the Nats plan fails is under 40%. Give one of those better odds of happening than not and you're going to drop things more. It's all up to how you choose those odds. Since I don't like any one of them separately I like there to be a decent chance the plan fails. Even at 51% bad / 49% good odds the chances are over 30% it fails. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Who is Matt Reynolds?

And should you care about him?

The answer to the former is a perfectly competent SS/MI in the field with a garbage bat. The answer to the latter is "No, not really"

Matt Reynolds was a high draft pick (2nd round) for the Mets in 2012. He floundered in A ball in 2012 and High A in 2013 but such as it goes for guys you like, the Mets kept pushing him and in 2014 he "broke out" with a high average stay in AA (.355) and a nice looking run in AAA. But that only brought him to the outskirts of interest from the guys who rank prospects for a living. A BABIP fed AA half-season followed by a PCL boosted second half? Do it again then we'll talk. Well, Matt Reynolds went out and promptly failed to do it again. In 2015 in AAA. In 2016 in AAA. In 2016 in the majors. He is the guy from ever other year but 2014. He is the guy we described above.

Matt Reynolds relies on BABIP. He doesn't hit for much power. He doesn't have much patience. He's not particularly a contact hitter. There really isn't much to recommend him as a player at the plate. In the field he's fine for a SS, which is good but he's nothing special and he'd have to be in order for you to want to carry that bat on your team.

So why did the Nats pick him up? Options. Not in the vague "to have alternatives" sense, but in the MLB specific "He has options left" sense. For the most part the MI in the Nats upper minors is a wasteland of Irving Falus and Corban Josephs and Michael Almanzars. Heard of them? No one has. So it's doesn't hurt to grab someone with some major league experience to stick down there in case of emergency. Problem is - you grab someone without options and they have to stay on your 40 man. So you pick up this guy then shuttle him down. Problem solved. Well... not really solved. You've just added another crappy player to the system to cover for other crappy players. Let's try again. Problem, which you hope won't matter, papered over.

The Nats have Murphy, Kendrick, Turner, and Difo here to cover 2B and SS. They have Carter Kieboom as a guy they hope will start getting some serious looks in 2019. This will do in the meantime assuming there aren't massive injury issues and if there are massive injury issues, well you trade or something. Matt Reynolds isn't an answer. He's a few day stopgap for a team that didn't like their current few day stop gap choices.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Monday Quickie : Darvish a Cub, do the Nats react

Yu Darvish is now a Cub and that matters. It doesn't MATTER like if Yu Darvish was a Met or a Phillie, but it matters because the Cubs, who are one of the teams the Nats are looking to get past, have decided to go 5 deep in their rotation to start the year, and basically have set themselves up 5 deep for three seasons*. 

The deeper your rotation, obviously the better, not only because of what the security and talent does for the regular season, but how it sets up a post-season. If you have 5 legit starters, you are likely able to pick a better 4 in October or find three you may want to lean on heavily. This is a problem the Nats have vaguely had over the past couple playoffs - having little confidence in Gio Gonzalez and being forced to use a shaky Joe Ross last season.

Of course the Nats sit at four deep and that's probably good enough for 2018, especially when improving at the trade deadline is always an option. But beyond 2018 we start to get into uncharted territory. 

See before 2012, Rizzo traded for Gio. This set up a four deep rotation of Gio, Stras, ZNN, and Detwiler that in a perfect world, after Gio signed his extension, would give the Nats four years of an almost set rotation. It didn't work out perfectly, Detwiler wouldn't develop and would only give the Nats one good year, but aiming for four got the Nats three, and the team was able to work around that**; be it by signing Haren, trading for Fister, or developing Roark.

When the four years were nearing completion the Nats knew they had to do something to keep that rotation depth of at least three, preferably more, going. They tried to extend ZNN. When that failed they signed Scherzer. Then they tried to extend Strasburgand were successful. The Nats were set through 2018. But time inevitably marches on and here we are again, in a similar situation as the Nats were going into 2015. Two pitchers they've relied on are ready to leave over the next two seasons. Do they extend them?

It's not exactly the same situation. Gio and Roark aren't as key today as Strasburg and ZNN were before. Where as in 2015 it was young good pitchers getting ready to go, now it's older middle rotation arms. You tend to let those guys go. But at the same time, in 2015 it was younger, healthier, mid rotation arms staying as opposed to older or more injury prone top of the rotation guys. Where the walk/sign decisions might be clearer, what you have in hand is foggier. You knew what you were working around for the next couple years back then. You aren't as sure now.

The Nats are in a bit of a quandry then. They could assume Max and Stras will be good for about 3 more seasons. That's not crazy though Max will be 36 in that last year.  If so you can probably get by with bringing in a mid-rotation arm, a Jake Odorizzi type, that may not cost too much in return but can fill out that 3/4 role while Max and Stras take care of 1/2. Or the Nats may assume Max and Stras won't hold up over 3 years either due to age and injury and it's paramount to get a top of the rotation arm to compliment them. Darvish was that type. Arrieta is that type. Anything in trade is going to cost them guys they don't want to give up.


The Nats don't need to make a move to compete with the Cubs in 2018. They are good enough to be favorites to win the division, and we can see where the season takes them by the trade deadline. But they very likely will need to make a move to compete with the Cubs after 2018. They can set it up now, in a slow market through free agency. Or they can try to wait it out until next off-season.  Either way something needs to be done between now and Opening Day 2019 and the Darvish signing was the starting pistol going off.


*Lester is signed through 2020 with an expensive team option in 2021. Chatwood is signed through 2020. Quintana is for all intents and purposes signed through 2020 thanks to favorable team options. Hendricks is under team control through, you guessed it, 2020. 

**It helped that the guy that didn't work out was the #4 and not #1.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Incrementalism

Seeing the Nats sit on a hole at catcher and a questionable rotation situation makes me wonder. I say the Nats always do stuff like this. They try to figure out where the bar is for winning at get just past it and then hope luck and injuries don't screw them.  But is this true? Have the Nats ever solved all their issues before a year? Have they ever gone after the best solutions when a good one will suffice? Let's see.

After 2012 - Another starter, a lefty relief arm to replace the departing Burnett, strengthen a surprisingly good but still honestly questionable bench.

First the Nats would create a new hole by trading Mike Morse. We all knew it was coming. They had given out signs that it would be Morse or LaRoche because they didn't like Morse in the OF or Bryce in CF, but still it didn't have to happen. Keeping Morse, while improving the OF,  would have addressed part of the bench issue. So after they traded for Span they could have kept Morse. But they didn't.  GOOD, NOT GREAT, SOLUTION AFTER CREATING PROBLEM.

They did add a starter by adding Dan Haren which wasn't a bad deal but they had the flexibility to do something splashier (we'll see them do that a couple times later). They chose to simply fill the hole in front of them.  GOOD, NOT GREAT, SOLUTION

The Nats would address the pen, but not in the way we thought. They'd be talked into picking up Soriano which didn't give the Nats a lefty but in theory gave the Nats a killer back end of the pen. Theory gave way to reality though as they completely misread what losing the closer role would do to Storen. It ended up being a wash. GOOD, NOT GREAT, SOLUTION TO A PROBLEM THAT DIDN'T EXIST

They did nothing to the bench and it failed miserably. POOR SOLUTION

After 2013 - bench needs fixing, bullpen needs arms, back of the rotation again needs someone maybe two someones

The Nats would half try to fix the bench by adding Nate McLouth. They'd also bring in Kevin Frandsen and keep Scott Hairston but those guys were fillers. Nate McLouth didn't work but it was an honest effort. His collapse was surprising. Also Rendon would push Danny to the bench so it wasn't as imperative to go out and get someone. GOOD, NOT GREAT, ONE THIRD-SOLUTION THAT DIDN'T WORK OUT

The Nats wouldn't go out and pay for someone, or make a trade for an ace but Rizzo would trade for Doug Fister, which was more than they needed. This would pay immediate dividends as Fister would luck into a great year. GREAT SOLUTION! (but didn't pay for it)

They'd only bring in Blevins to help with the pen, letting the rest come from within. It mostly worked.  POOR SOLUTION THAT WORKED OUT. IT HAPPENS

After 2014 - A super play anywhere guy and a good bench player or two or three quality bench guys to help deal with the departing LaRoche, a back of the pen guy to replace the departing Soriano

2014 was a great year but fragility came into play again with Zimm and Bryce and Ramos missing lots of time. The Nats were able to cover for it but it'd be hard to expect that again. The masses (re: Me) were clamoring for Zobrist. The Nats instead traded for Yunel Escobar and let Danny fill the bench role again. Yuney would go to have a good year but it was a surprise. The rest of the bench were fill ins again. GOOD, NOT GREAT, SOLUTION

The Nats also did nothing in the pen. In fact they made the pen worse by trading away Clippard (who'd be a FA after the season) and Blevins (who had the temerity to take the team into arbitration) and Detwiler (that was ok but it was still innings to fill). They thought maybe they could surprise with Casey Janssen. They could not. POOR SOLUTION

What they did do was sign Scherzer, who has been awesome.  GREATEST SOLUTION TO A PROBLEM THAT DIDN'T EXIST

After 2015 - a better C back-up or starter, a super play anywhere guy, a SS, a CF, bench help, a starter maybe, the guts to get rid of both Storen and Papelbon and then get a few relief arms

The Nats would roll with what they had at catcher and Ramos would bounce back to finally have a good healthy year (until he got injured again) POOR SOLUTION THAT WORKED OUT UNTIL IT BIT THE NATS IN THE BUTT AT THE END

They didn't get a super play anywhere guy to help with the loss of Desmond and shaky MI play. Instead they traded Yunel, creating a pretty desperate need for a MI and then signed Murphy after trying and failing at other solutions. GOOD, NOT GREAT, SOLUTION THAT TURNED OUT GREAT

They traded for Ben Revere which did get rid of Storen at the same time. GOOD, NOT GREAT, SOLUTION

The bench help was Stephen Drew plus a lot of junk. GOOD, NOT GREAT, ONE THIRD-SOLUTION

Roark and Joe Ross were the obvious in-house solution to the losses of ZNN and Fister. They went with them. GOOD, NOT GREAT, SOLUTION

They would keep Papelbon though and fill around him with ok but flawed FA arms like Oliver Perez, Shawn Kelley, and Yusmiero Petit   WORSTEST SOLUTION BECAUSE IT KEPT PAPELBON

After 2016 - a C, a CF, a strong back up 1B, additional bench help, a dominant closer type to strengthen a surprisingly good but honestly still questionable pen

They tried to stop gap a solution with Derek Norris and their flawed in house guys until Matt Wieters dropped into their lap at a reasonable price. Every thing is a gamble though, right?  GOOD, NOT GREAT, SOLUTION THAT DIDN'T WORK OUT

They traded for Adam Eaton to fill CF. GREAT SOLUTION! (but didn't pay for it)

They signed Adam Lind to back up Zimmerman. I suppose you can fault the meh 2016 but his platoon numbers were still good enough. I'll say GREAT SOLUTION!?  OMG THEY DID IT!

They'd bring back an injured Drew, Heisey and the rest to fill out the bench in their normal half-hearted way. POOR SOLUTION but the bench overall I guess was the usual GOOD, NOT GREAT, ONE-THIRD SOLUTION

They tried to get a dominant closer for under market price and failed so then they went ahead and brought in Joe Blanton late and decided to let the surprisingly good pen take a crack at sorting out the back through talent. POOR SOLUTION


So what have we learned? The Nats generally have good solutions to problems. Their poor solutions are pretty much limited to the bench and pen - where they try to get away with things at the margins and it almost never works out as planned. At the same time, while the Nats can make great solutions to their problems, they don't want to pay for them, the only arguable great solution through FA being Adam Lind's signing. That doesn't mean they don't have great solutions sometimes. It's just that they have been Boras talking them into signing a guy in an area they don't need.

What's happening now?

After 2017 - a C dear god please, maybe an OF, specifically a guy like Lind to replace Lind, additional bench help, a starter, arguably a closer - definitely an arm or two if not

They've done nothing at catcher POOR SOLUTION

They did not bring in an OF preferring to let the returning Eaton, good last year MAT and young Robles figure out the two spots.  Honestly...I have to say looking at all these other ones this would qualify as a POOR SOLUTION. An injury returnee, a guy that was only good last year, and a rookie? I mean if I had a middle "eh solution" I'd give it that but I don't and I can't call this "good"  No way. So it gets poor.

They signed Adams to replace Lind. GREAT SOLUTION

And kept Kendrick, another MI would make the bench great but right now taken all together it's a  GOOD, NOT GREAT, TWO THIRDS-SOLUTION but it's very close to great because Howie and Adams are themselves great solutions

They seem ok doing nothing with the starter, bringing in some minor league contracts. POOR SOLUTION

They kept Kintzler but seem suffice to move forward with the rest of the pen as is. Since the pen ended the season strong with - you know - actually reliable and good arms - I'll go ahead and say this is a GOOD, NOT GREAT, SOLUTION


Again - no great solutions. Trying to get away with poor solutions in a few places where it may work out (OF) and some places it probably won't (SP, C)

This is the Nats. Looking at it now, they always try to skirt a corner here or there, but they generally take care of the problems at hand. Not getting a 5th starter or a C? That's new. They did try a poor solution in a place that mattered once before and it worked out. Ramos gave them that healthy productive year that he hadn't managed in his career. But letting two pass? While having that arguable one in the OF? I've made myself a lot more skeptical about this team today.  

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

AJ Cole - 5th Starter

The other day Mike Rizzo said AJ Cole was the 5th starter for the Nats. My gut reaction is that's a bad idea, but is it really? Or am I too focused on past performance and higher profile options?

AJ Cole first made the bottom of prospect lists before 2012, after putting up a solid season with a lot of Ks and good control at age 19 in A ball.

Think about this for a moment. AJ Cole was a "Top Prospect" before the Nats were good.

Huh. Ok. Back on track.

AJ was shipped out to Oakland as part of the package to get Gio, where he did well again in A ball but floundered in the high-octane California League. That was enough to knock him back off prospect lists and the Nats were able to get him back in a three team deal that was mostly about getting John Jaso to the A's and Mike Morse to the Mariners. Cole would immediately perk back-up and do ok in High A and very well in a brief stint in AA. Back to the bottom of prospect lists he went.

At this point, three plus years into his minor league career AJ was still young (21 in AA) and his peripherals seemed good. He could strike guys out and he didn't walk them like other high K guys might. He also didn't give up many home runs. But giving up hits remained a problem. For a strike out guy a lot of guys made good contact on Cole. This remained true as he scaled the minors in 2014 but some favorable breaks kept his ERA down and it looked like if he could solve that last issue in AAA in 2015, he might be something for the future.

Well he did it! Well sort of. He was able to drop the hits, but along with that the Ks went down and the walks went up. It was a different style of pitching. An effective style apparently. But it wasn't the total package the Nats were hoping to see. In 2016 the Nats didn't need to try out Cole early with Joe Ross ready to go, so Cole languished in AAA striking out a few more but giving up more hits and putting up mediocre numbers. He would get his shot late in the year as injuries opened up spots but he wouldn't impress despite controlling the worst of his tendencies. 2017 would be a repeat of 2016 with Cole being not good in AAA and getting a late season call-up to the majors.

The difference this time is that Cole would manage to throw out a decent ERA in his starts. A 3.86 ERA as a starter - arguably good for a 4/5 in the majors. So has he finally done it?

Not really. His WHIP was very high with his BB/9 jumping way up and his K/9 not following suit. His HR/FB and BABIP were pretty normal - maybe even low for him. So how come he didn't get killed?  His LOB% was very good. If he pitched a whole season like that it would be amongst the best in the league. (Top 5 last year were Kershaw, Ray, Kluber, Gio and Max) . Is that something he can control? Yeah it seems like it's not unrelated to pitcher ability. Is that something I think he's controlling? Nah.

Ok to be fair he did get more GBs than before but mostly I think it's a fluke. I think in a normal year that won't be that high, you'll see more runs scored and a 4.50 ERA or worse staring you in the face.

If you want to be an optimist you can say we haven't see that much of Cole - only 100 innings and not even that many as a starter.  He was always been on the fringe of the radar of the guys who rate prospects and he had that legit good 2015 just a couple years ago in Syracuse as a 23 year old.  There is talent there and maybe, if he keeps leaning into GB producing, he can be a decent back-end starter.

On the other hand the "Three out of Four" (good K, good BB, good HR, bad H) that helped him rise through the minors has fallen away over the past couple years. He is giving up more homers. He's walking more guys. He's not striking out the same numbers. All while still getting hit too often. It's not a fluke that his ERA has been bad. Nothing about him stands out as special and continued exposure in the majors shows a league that's fooled less and is hitting Cole harder. Chances are better, I'd guess, for an ERA over 5 than under 4 if he starts regularly next year.

In short, I wouldn't put my faith in Cole being any good. But that doesn't necessarily mean I wouldn't make him my 5th starter. What are the other choices? There is Edwin Jackson, who showed 5 starts of solid pitching last year for the Nats. Unfortunately he started 13 games. He had a 5.07 ERA for the Nats last year and carries a 5.32 ERA over the past four seasons. This is who he is. He's a placeholder. The other choice is Erick Fedde, a former hot prospect who went under the knife going into the draft where the Nats selected him. After the year off the Nats have been aggressive in moving him up the minors (he's only a year younger than Cole). He hasn't been consistenly good but he's pitched well enough to keep the train going. Last year he had a fine start to the season in AA, but his development was interrupted by the Nats trying to get him ready to relieve - something he wouldn't end up doing. He spent over a month pitching 1-2 inning outings in AA and AAA before returning to start. He was fine in AAA but got roughed up in a few major league spot starts. His lead up to this point is in fact a lot like Cole's, with the exception of Fedde being great at keeping the ball in the park (17 homers in 265 IP in the minors). He strikes out ok, walks not too many, but gives up a few more hits than you'd like. That all fell apart big time in the majors - but 15 innings is 15 innings. You can't really judge that. 

If it's up to me I start Fedde. I suppose there is sense to "give Cole one more chance while Fedde warms up in AAA. Bring Fedde up, hopefully to stay, if (when) Cole fails" because you can write off Cole by like May and will be more inclined to work through Fedde's issues in the majors as opposed to dip in AAA for Cole. However, I think Cole is a done deal. He's not good enough. Why bother wasting a month of starts of him, or if you are unlucky and he gets some bounces his way, 2-3 months. Cole isn't the future. Fedde... well he probably isn't either but you can't be as sure about that. If you aren't going out to get someone good, stick Fedde in the 5 slot and as long as he's not terrible let him keep pitching. Cole will get a turn sometime. These guys aren't immune to injury.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Montero

The Nats signed Miguel Montero to a minor league deal.  This shouldn't surprise you. He was signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks back in 2001 when Rizzo would have been part of the process. Rizzo's D-back connections have gotten the Nats many a player

Max Schezer, Stephen Drew, Micah Owings, Ross Ohlendorf, Scott Hairston, Chad Tracy, & Dan Uggla were all guys Rizzo might have had a hand in drafting that ended up in the Nationals organization at one time or another. There may be more but this isn't a complaint. It makes sense. Rizzo saw something he liked in these players. They played well enough to make the major leagues so he wasn't wrong. Why not take a no-risk chance on someone like this?

The real question is - is Montero any good? And the answer is - no.

2016 - .216 / .327 / .357
2017 - .216 / .310 / .346

Montero used to hit for a little pop and a decent average, making him a pretty good offensive catcher. When he picked up some patience in 2012 it looked like he might have some staying power as he aged. But in 2013 the average dropped like a rock, meaning as soon as the very modest power went with age, no measure of patience would make him a usuable offensive player.  In 2015 he lost the ability to leg out doubles (25 doubles, 29 homers since that year).  In 2017 he stopped hitting homers (as many of his flyballs were infield pop-ups as home runs).  It's unlikely moving forward that he'd be worth putting at the plate.

Still catchers have different standards to live up to and it is not unusual for their defense to keep them on as a back-up for a few years after their bat fails them. Unfortunately Montero has a huge flaw. His framing has always been excellent and seems a competent enough receiver. But after hurting his back in 2016 Montero has no longer been able to throw out anyone. That's almost a literal statement. The league average in throwing out guys is around 27%-28%.  Montero worked himself to a peak of throwing out around 40%. Over the last two years he's thrown out about 10%. The Nats themselves pretty much got him out of Chicago by stealing seven bases against him and making him lash out against Jake Arrieta for supposedly holding guys on badly.  Even if that's true - that the Cubs team philosophy or starters were costing him some caught stealings - traded to another team Montero manage to raise his CS% all the way to... 13%.

Montero as is is an almost unusable catcher. He can't hit so he's not a starter. He can't throw anyone out so he's not a defensive replacement. Then why bring him in? As a favor. Just to kick the tires. Maybe a miracle has happened and the back has healed and he can throw guys out again making him a potential back-up. Maybe you think you see what's wrong and can mitigate his throwing issues and at the same time he seems to have a little more pop. There's no harm in looking.

I don't see Montero on the team, or in the organization, by the time Opening Day rolls around but strange things happen. I am all for any and all minor league signings.