Archive for the ‘Washington Nationals’ category

Modern Day Pitching Masterpieces

April 10, 2018

In today’s game where pitch counts rule, particularly in the first half of April, it’s worth noting just how well Max Scherzer and Corey Kluber both pitched today.

Kluber pitched eight shutout innings in the Indians’ 2-0 victory over the Tigers.  He struck out 13 while throwing only 103 pitches.  He allowed only two singles and a walk.

Scherzer pitched even better, allowing only two singles while striking out ten on a 102-pitch, complete game 2-0 shutout over the Braves.

In today’s Moneyball game, no-hitters don’t have the same value they once did.  Or at least, teams are increasingly unwilling to let pitchers try to complete no-hitters once they’ve thrown more than 120 pitches.

This change is beyond merely the internal workings of each team’s statistics department.  I saw a headline yesterday about how Shohei Ohtani “almost” pitched a perfect game, when in fact he came out after the seventh inning.  Even the sportswriters tacitly accept that losing a perfect game in the 7th is now roughly equal to what losing a perfect game in the 9th inning was a generation ago.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing if it does, in fact, cut down on pitcher injuries.  It’s hard to prove smaller workloads for starters mean fewer injuries because injuries still happen constantly.  Major league pitchers can’t afford to ever throw anything except their best pitches, although a pitcher with stuff like Ohtani’,along with confidence and pitching smarts, can realize he doesn’t need to throw his best fastball until he needs it for the strikeout pitch.  If your best fastball is 92 mph or lower in today’s game, you can’t afford to throw ’em much lower than that ever.

What makes Kluber’s and Scherzer’s performances so impressive is that it is damn hard to strike out double-digit hitters in eight or nine innings while still throwing fewer than 105 pitches.  Getting a strikeout on fewer than five pitches is a relatively rare thing for almost all major league pitchers.

In today’s game, pitching eight full innings or more is a rarity since it almost always has to be done on fewer than 120 pitches. Pitching eight full innings today is probably more valuable than pitching a complete game in the 1970’s, because it happens less often.  With bullpens working so much harder today than two generations ago, an eight or more inning performance has more value to a team than it’s ever had.

I think most people would regard Kluber and Scherzer at this moment as among MLB’s five best starters.  Tonight’s performances suggest that in the context of today’s game, they’re as good as any top five starters at any time in MLB history.

 

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San Diego Padres Reportedly Reach Agreement with Eric Hosmer for $144 Million

February 18, 2018

The San Diego Padres have reportedly reached a deal with Eric Hosmer that will give him $144 million over eight seasons with an opt-out after year five.  The deal is front-loaded, paying Hosmer a $5 million signing bonus and $20 million a year for the first five years, but only $13 million a year for the final three.

The deal is two years and $12 million guaranteed more than mlbtraderumors.com predicted for Hosmer, and in my mind it tends to support management’s claims that the slow free agency period this year has more to do with advanced analytics than collusion.  Hosmer is younger than most of this off-season’s free agents and his big contract suggests that teams are just a lot more leery of over-30 free agents who are likely entering the down-phase of their careers right quick.

The biggest winners of the Hosmer, even more than Hosmer himself, are next year’s young free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.  They will be two years younger than Hosmer is now, and they’re better players.  If Harper and Machado have typically strong seasons in 2018, I would expect both to beat the $325 million deal that Giancarlo Stanton received from the Marlins three off-seasons ago.

Even with Hosmer’s apparent signing, six of mlbtraderumors’ top ten free agents remain on the board.  Hosmer had the Padres and the Royals bidding against each other for his services.  Now that Hosmer has signed with San Diego, the Royals may decide they need to bring back Mike Moustakas to prevent their fans from revolting.  However, there hasn’t been much chatter about Moustakas or the four remaining top pitchers, and one team obviously in the market for pitching, the Minnesota Twins, just traded not a whole lot for Jake Odorizzi in what appears to be a straight salary dump by the Rays.

With Yu Darvish signing for much less than expected, it looks like Jake Arrieta is going to have to come to terms with the fact that no team is likely to give him a $100 million offer.  My guess is that Arrieta will have to accept a three year offer for a $80 million guarantee with a team option for fourth season.  As for Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb, teams will probably wait to see which of the two is the first to crack and accept what interested teams are willing to pay him.

MLB Teams Want Shorter Free Agent Contracts

January 18, 2018

There has been a lot of talk this off-season about the fact that only two of the top dozen free agents has yet signed a contract. mlbtraderumors.com weighed in again on this issue today.

The one thing that seems obvious to me looking at the players who have signed free agent contracts this off-season so far is that teams want shorter contract lengths (i.e., no more than three years) and will pay more per year to get them.

No team has yet signed a player to more than three years.  However, the players who have agreed to three year deals have done pretty well, at least compared to mlbtraderumors’ predictions for its top 50 free agents, which experience has shown deserve a lot of weight.  mlbtraderumors has a formula it uses and tweaks every off-season based on the previous off-season’s signing results, and their predictions have proven to be well better than educated guesses.

Carlos Santana’s three-year $60 million deal is the biggest free agent signing so far.  mlbtraderumors correctly predicted the three-year term, but underestimated the payout by $5 million per year.  Tyler Chatwood (predicted 3 years $20M; actually received 3 years $38M). Jake McGee (3/$18M; 3/$27M), Mike Minor (4/$28M; 3/$28M), Bryan Shaw (3/$21M; 3/$27M), Tommy Hunter (2/$12M; 2/$18M), Pat Neshek (2/$12M; 2/16.25M), Michael Pineda (2/$6M; 2/$10M) and Miles Mikolas (2/$10M; 2/$15.5M) all did significantly better on two and three year deals than predicted.

Meanwhile, only Addison Reed (4/$36M; 2/$16.75M), CC Sabathia (2/$24M; 1/$10M), Yonder Alonzo (2/$22M; 2/$16M), Brandon Kintzler (2/$14M; 1/$5M) and Howie Kendrick (2/$12M; 2/$7M) have done significantly worse than predicted.  Zack Cozart (3/$42M; 3/$38M), Jay Bruce (3/$39M; 3/$39M), Juan Nicasio (2/$21M; 2/$17M), Jhoulys Chacin (2/$14M; 2/$15.5M), Welington Castillo (2/$14M; 2/$15M), Anthony Swarzak (2/$14M; 2/$14M) and Steve Cishek (2/$14M; 2/$13M) got right around what was predicted.

Finally, both Wade Davis (4/$60M; 3/$52M) and Brandon Morrow (3/$24M; 2/$21m) got one fewer year than predicted, but at a much higher annual rate, so much higher, in fact, that one has to think there wasn’t much incentive to hold out for the extra year.  I think these signings make it likely that each of Lance Lynn, Greg Holland and Alex Cobb will be forced to accept three year offers, although probably for only $3M to $6M less than mlbtraderumors predicted over four seasons.

I suspect that advanced analytics have suggested to teams something they already knew: long-term free agents contract can be a long-term albatross around a team’s neck is veteran player gets hurt or old fast.  Better to pay more per season for fewer seasons so the burden of a bad contract doesn’t hurt the team for as many seasons.

I could see Yu Darvish being forced to accept a five-year deal in the $140M to $150M range, although as the No. 1 starter available this off-season, I think someone will eventually give him a sixth season.  The reported rumors sound as if both Kansas City and San Diego have made Eric Hosmer offers close to the six years and $132M that mlbtraderumors predicted.

The market for J.D. Martinez does not seem to be developing as predicted, but the four years at $100M predicted for Jake Arrieta seems likely to be met since he is the second best free agent starter available.  Scott Boras is representing a number of top free agents this year, and his asks have been pie-in-the-sky, as they always are.  I don’t believe the reports that any free agent will wait until after the 2018 regular season starts to sign, because that is an absolute value killer for a free agent if ever there was one.

It’s likely that a majority of the mid-range free agents (Nos. 20-50) who haven’t yet signed won’t do as well as the predictions, however, based on the fact that many teams have now filled their needs by the free agent players signed to date.

 

Who Saw Four Home Runs from Scooter Gennett?

June 7, 2017

Anyone who bet on Scooter Gennett to have a four home run game, that’s like winning the trifecta on three horses running longer than 20-to-1 to win.

You have to give Gennett credit: he really socked all four pitches.  My favorite was the home run the opposite way to left field, where he hit it just fair and to the shortest part of the yard, but still no cheapy since he hit it 10 or 12 rows deep.

Pat Seerey (86 career HR) and Mark Whiten (105) were clearly the worst modern home run hitters to hit four in a game.  Both Whiten and Gennett had only 38 career HRs the day before their big day.

Pat Seerey was a player with skills that would be much more recognized today than in his own time.  Mark Whiten was five months younger than Scooter Gennett on their special days.

Mark Whiten’s career was a disappointment after his 1993 season, the year he hit four, although he was good in 1996, the only subsequent year he played more than 100 games — injuries were a big part of his limited career HR total.

If Scooter Gennett stays healthy, I think he’ll show a marked improvement going forward, sort of like Daniel Murphy since his performance in the 2015 post-season.  Sure, it’s only one game, but when a player accomplishes something this rare and sees the company he’s now keeping, it has to boost a player’s self-confidence tremendously.

I don’t know how Scooter wouldn’t feel confident after watching footage of his four swings.  He really socked ’em.

More Thoughts on This Year’s 1B/DH Free Agents

February 13, 2017

Adam Lind signed today with the Washington Nationals on a one year deal with a team option for a second season which guarantees Lind $1.5 million.  The amount of the guarantee is just about the lowest possible on a major league deal for a veteran player like Lind (at least in terms of the unwritten MLB salary scale) and is still something of a surprise considering that Lind hit 20 HRs last season and has a proven track record as a slugger.

I’m not saying that Lind should have received a lot more, but even a $2 million guarantee would have represented 33% more than what he actually got.

In the context of this year’s market for one dimensional 1B/DH players, it ultimately was not surprising that no one claimed Byung-ho Park off waivers.  That was certainly what the Twins were counting on.

However, it is still interesting that not even one MLB team thought that Park was worth a $9.25 million gamble for three years of control for a player whom the Twins valued more than twice as highly a year ago.

For Park, starting the 2017 season at AAA Rochester is probably the best thing that could happen to him.  He’ll get to play every day there, continue to work on his newly shortened swing, and likely earn his way back to the Show in 60 or 70 games.  As fangraphs noted just before Park was designated for assignment, there are plenty of things about Park’s 2016 performance to suggest he still has potential as an MLB player if he can make some more adjustments.

Pedro Alvarez is beginning to look like he might be the odd man out, as there can’t be many more landing places given the recent signings of Mike Napoli, Chris Carter and now Lind.  That said, Alvarez was a more productive hitter than Lind last year, so I expect him to get more than a $1.5 million guarantee, although it certainly looks like he now has little hope of more than a one-year deal.

There always seems to be something of a herd mentality in MLB front offices, and I don’t necessarily think that small contracts for this kind of player this off-season means that these guys won’t get better contracts in future off-seasons.  This year’s deals may have had more to do with the glut of these players on the market — in an off-season where there are fewer of them, they may do better.

Also, if some of these guys on one year deals can do better in 2017, or in Chris Carter’s case, have the same season in 2017 that he had in 2016, they’ll get better deals next off-season.

San Francisco Giants Sign Mark Melancon and Other Developments

December 7, 2016

There was an article in the SF Chronicle today entitled, “New Giants Closer Mark Melancon Explains Why He Picked SF.”  Surprisingly, the quote, “They gave me a sh*$-load of money!” appears nowhere in the article.

The Giants were determined to sign Mark Melancon and they did by the basic expedient of offering him the most money.  It’s an all-in kind of move since Melancon will be 32 in 2017, but now is the time for one last run at going deep into the post-season with this core of players.

Today’s big news is the Chris Sale trade.  It’s a hard pill to swallow for Chi-Sox fans, given that they had a good chance at their first over .500 season since 2011 going in to the upcoming season, and now they most certainly do not. The team went 18-14 in Sale’s 32 2016 starts, which means the team without him is going to have to be about 12 games better than they were last year to finish 2017 with a winning record.

From White Sox management’s perspective, though, the move makes a great deal of sense.  Sale was definitely a squeaky wheel in 2016, and the White Sox got a boat-load of young talent in exchange for the three years of now bargain-price control on Sale’s contract.  Yoan Moncado, Michael Kopech and Luis Basabe all look like great prospects, and Chicago got a fourth B-level prospect to boot.  Things might look up dramatically for the White Sox in 2018 or 2019.

The Current Pitcher Most Likely to Win 300 Games

October 25, 2016

In June of 2009, I wrote a blog piece entitled Of Course, Someone Else Will Win 300 Games.  After the 2012 season, I wrote a post which looked at the issue more deeply, and I concluded that it was more likely not that a pitcher pitching in 2012 would win 300 games.

In two updates to the 2012 piece, I reversed course and concluded that it was less likely than not that a current pitcher would win 300 games.  My most recent post from after the 2015 season is here.

While I am still of my revised opinion that it is less likely than not that a current pitcher will win 300 games, I think the odds are better today than they were a year or two ago, mainly because of the huge come-back season Justin Verlander had in 2016, about whom I will talk about more below.

In my original post, I listed the average number of career wins the last four 300 game winners (Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson) had at the end of their age 30 through age 40 seasons:

Average: 137 (30); 152 (31); 165 (32); 181 (33); 201 (34); 219 (35); 235 (36); 250 (37); 268 (38); 279 (39); 295 (40).

This is the age of the last four 300-game winners in the season in which each won their 300th game: Maddux 38, Clemens 40, Glavine 41 and Johnson 45.  In short,  and as you probably already knew, you have to be really good for a really long time to win 300 games.

Here are the current pitchers  I think are most likely to win 300 based on their current ages (during the 2016 season) and career win totals:

CC Sabathia (35) 223

Justin Verlander (33) 173

Zack Greinke (32) 155

Felix Hernandez (30) 154

John Lester (32) 146

Clayton Kershaw (28) 126

Max Scherzer (31) 125

David Price (30) 121

Rick Porcello (27) 107

Madison Bumgarner (26) 100

What you look for in projecting a pitcher to have a long career is that he throws really hard, he strikes out a lot of batters, and he doesn’t throw a whole lot of innings before his age 25 season.  That said, Greg Maddux didn’t strike out batters at an extremely high rate, even as a young pitcher, and he threw a lot of major league innings before his age 25 season.  Still, these factors remain relatively good corollaries for predicting longevity in a major league pitcher.

For these reasons, I like Justin Verlander’s chances of winning 300 the best.  His 2016 season, in which he struck out 10 batters per nine innings pitched and led his league in Ks, suggests he’s all the way back from whatever was holding him down in 2014 and 2015 and can be expected to pitch many years into the future, provided he isn’t worked as hard as he was from 2009-2012.

Add to this the fact that Verlander is pretty close to the average of the last four 300-game winners (the “Last Four”) through his age 33 season, and I, at least, have to conclude he’s still got a reasonably good shot at winning 300.

For pretty much the same reasons, I like Max Scherzer’s odds going forward as well.  In his age 31 season, he recorded a career-high 11.2 K/IP rate, he didn’t pitch a whole lot of innings at a young age and he’s really racked up the wins the last four seasons.  There’s no reason to think at this moment that he cannot continue to throw the 215-230 innings he’s consistently pitched the last four seasons for many more seasons to come.

CC Sabathia, Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw are all ahead of the Last Four.  However, their ability to last long enough to win 300 is very much in question for each of them.  Sabathia had a come-back season in 2016, but he’s won only 18 games the last three years, and I don’t see him at his age, his size and his recent injury history winning another 77 major league games.

Felix Hernandez is well ahead of the Last Four at the same age, but he looks to be on the verge of the arm injury many have been predicting for the last several years.  In 2016, Hernandez strikeout rate was the lowest of his career, his walks rate was the highest, and he threw fewer innings than in any season since he was an 18 year old minor leaguer.

Clayton Kershaw is undeniably great, but he missed 12 starts this season to a herniated disk in his back.  Herniated disks aren’t something that typically heal fully and never return for someone who is as active as a professional athlete, unless they are very, very lucky.

There have always been a lot of questions about whether Zack Greinke can consistently pitch 210-220 innings is a season, and 2016 did nothing to dispel that concern.  David Price has likely been overworked his last three seasons.  Jon Lester has settled into a very nice groove of pitching between 200 and 220 innings a year, and quite likely for that reason has had only one less than successful season since 2008.

Rick Porcello and Madison Bumgarner are really too young and too far from 300 wins to merit much consideration at this point.  Young pitchers who rack up the wins can fade as fast as Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain.

Even so, there was no way a year ago that I could have imagined Rick Porcello would make a list of the ten pitchers I thought had the best chance to win 300 games.  He threw a lot of professional innings before his age 25 season (although never 200 in a season), and he didn’t strike anyone out.  Starters who can pitch but don’t strike anyone out tend to go the way of Mark Fidrych and Dave Rozema.

However, something strange happened.  Porcello has started striking people out, with his 2015 and 2016 rates the highest of his career, while also improving his command.  It’s rare for a pitcher to improve his strikeout rate significantly this late in his major league career without adding or perfecting another pitch or dramatically improving his command, but the information I was able to find on line suggests that Porcello credits making better in-game and between-game adjustments and that he’s getting better coaching in terms of correcting minor mechanical flaws sooner based on video tape analysis.  On the other hand, Porcello came up so young that he may just still be learning as a pitcher and has become better at pitching to each American League hitter’s weakness.

One thing that would help the current generation of pitchers greatly in the quest for 300 career wins is another round of major league expansion.   There’s nothing like a watering down of the talent pool to elevate the best players’ performances.  The Last Four’s generation benefited from expansion in 1993 and 1998, but it doesn’t look like there will be another round of expansion any time soon.