And while I’m in the article-sharing mood, here is another must-read from Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated, albeit of a completely different, more serious and tragic bent.
And kudos to Verducci for putting faces to one of the central points of the story, beautifully captured in two matter-of-fact sentences:
Ninety percent of all drafted players never spend one day in the big leagues. Steroid users made the odds even worse for clean players.
With the Nationals series opener against the Diamondbacks scheduled to start in less than a half hour, I figured for kicks and giggles that I would take a look back at the April that was in MLB and hand out totally hollow and meaningless awards, all for the entertainment of the masses. I think I will call them the MESPY (Matt’s Excellence in Self-Promotion Yada Yada) Awards.
AL MVP: Josh Hamilton. The only caveat with Hamilton is whether he can hold up for close to 162 games. His current back injury is a small red flag but his April was monster nevertheless. He led the AL in RBIs, home runs, and was second in average and runs scored. No wonder his 1.8 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) according to FanGraphs was second in baseball.
AL CY Young: Jake Peavy. He paces all pitchers with a 1.5 WAR and has posted a quality start in each of his five outings. Oh, and he belongs to the same caveat club as Hamilton. It’s a party inside!!!
AL Rookie of the Year: Yu Darvish. I’m not too keen in handing out a ROY to a player who has already played seven professional seasons, but hey, these awards are fake anyways. After two shaky outings to start his Ranger career, Darvish has been quite filthy.
NL MVP: Matt Kemp. That is all.
NL CY Young: Stephen Strasburg. Oh, that is like Beethoven to the ears. Five quality starts in five appearances, second in the NL in strikeouts, and he leads all NL pitchers with a 1.3 WAR.
NL Rookie of the Year: Kirk Niewenhuis. I don’t know what was more shocking. That it only took me two attempts to spell his name correctly or that Kirk Niewenhuis! is the early leader. He edges out Lance Lynn of the Cardinals but the yada yada in me could see it going either way.
Nationals’ MVP & CY Young: Strasburg. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the best pitcher on a team that has been led to its good start by its pitching should take home both awards. However, Adam LaRoche does deserve a Reserve MESPY for being by far and away the Nationals best positional player.
Nationals’ ROY: Bryce Harper. Lombardozzi has perhaps done a bit more, but I’m hoping Harper hears about his MESPY and in a moment of tearful gratefulness, hires me as his CPA.
And that’s all folks!
After working on this for over two hours, I see it stretches on a bit, so let’s dispense with the usual not so humorous intro and go straight to the predictions:
Yankees – At some point, age will catch up to the Evil Empire, but a revamped pitching staff should put them at the top. Still don’t like swapping a top hitting prospect (Montero) for a top pitching prospect (Pineda).
Rays (wild-card) – Their lineup will probably be average, but wow that starting rotation.
Red Sox – I can’t see Ortiz hitting that well again, Youk is breaking down, and Ellsbury had a career year. Oh, and the pitching staff is not any better and is already hurting.
Blue Jays – Shame they are not in a different division, because they have talent. Oh, who am I kidding? They are a Canadian team. Ha ha.
Orioles – Their VP for baseball operations is Dan Duquette, who hasn’t had a major league front office job since 2002. He did establish the Israel Baseball League in 2007, which maybe the Orioles could have won.
Tigers – Their defense, which is sure to contend for worst in baseball, will hold them back at some point. It just won’t be from winning the AL Central.
Royals – Why the heck not? Have you seen the remaining teams in the division? I wish their pitching was better and Soria hadn’t blown out his elbow, but with the amount of young talent on hand, this isn’t as crazy as you think.
Indians – Honestly, I almost think you could put every team but the Tigers in a hat and draw lots for where each team will finish 2-5. Stating the obvious, Carlos Santana is a monster.
Twins – Below average rotation, bullpen, lineup, and defense = 4th place finish.
White Sox – You can put a terrible season on the board, Yes!
Angels – Strange enough, even with the addition of Pujols, their Achilles Heel will probably be their lineup, though here’s guessing a big year is coming from Howie Kendrick.
Rangers (wild-card) – I wonder how Darvish will hold up over the long, hot summer in Arlington. You can probably guess by my prediction.
A’s – Mr. Moneyball struck again, swapping Gio Gonzalez for a boatload of prospects and pawning off Handle with Care Andrew Bailey to the Red Sox. They still won’t be particularly good, but at least the A’s know which future stars other teams will sign away in 2017.
Mariners – They have a number of impressive arms in the minors, Ackley, Montero, and King Felix represent a nice foundation on which to build, but they will still struggle mightily to score and are a ways off from contending.
Phillies – Their top 3 starters are better than anyone in baseball, but injuries, age, and an average lineup will probably conspire to keep them from the World Series again.
Marlins (wild-card) – I think their lineup is better than the Nationals and their pitching staff while probably not equal, is at least good enough to edge them out for the wild-card, presuming they stay healthy.
Nationals – Ultimately, I think their downfall will be an inability to consistently get on base and generate runs. Sigh.
Braves – For a team counting on a lot of players bouncing back from injury (Hanson, Hudson), a poor season (Heyward), or both (Chipper), to make the playoffs, it is hard to see everything breaking right for that to happen.
Mets – Bringing in the fences at Taxpayer Bailed-Out Field only means the Madoff Mets will lose games 7-5 rather than 4-2.
Reds – While Joey Votto is all-world, I’m dubious of the virtue of signing him to a contract that pays him oh, $20 million or so when he is 40. For now, though, he’s 28 and the Reds should just edge out the Brewers for the division crown.
Brewers – Their pitching staff is better than the Reds, but they couldn’t get it done last year with Fielder or with Ryan Braun having a MVP season, so something scratches at me like a good old case of back acne telling me it isn’t going to happen this year.
Cardinals – If I could trust that Carpenter would be healthy just 4 months this season, I might move them up. But I just don’t see it happening.
Cubs – Picking between the Cubs and Pirates was a real conundrum. It really is a coin-flip between the two, as both teams lack offensive punch or much of a rotation. Then I realized the Cubs were the team that didn’t make a charitable contribution to the Evil Empire during the off-season.
Pirates – Sadly, 2012 is going to mark the 20th straight losing season for the Pirates. The lineup outside of McCutchen, Walker, and maybe Tabata lacks, well, competency, and counting on the physically soft Erik Bedard and mentally soft AJ Burnett to lead a rotation can’t end too well.
Astros – I heard NL Central executives have sent flowers and candy to Bud Selig asking him nicely to keep the Astros from moving to the AL West.
Diamondbacks – Just like last year, this is remarkably a very flawed team that will probably capture the division. They still strikeout a whole lot, and the back-end of their rotation leaves you wanting. Thankfully for the Snakes, the other teams in the division are just even more flawed.
Giants (wild-card) – Most of the talk about the Giants Big 3 centers around Lincecum and Cain, and for good reasons. Now watch Bumgarner become the best of the bunch. If only they could score a few more runs.
Dodgers – They probably have the best hitter and pitcher in the division, heck, the NL, in Kemp and Kershaw. But the supporting cast beyond the two stars is just not good enough to climb to the top.
Rockies – They are in the process of rebuilding their pitching staff, which will probably keep them down in the standings this year. But still very savvy of them to unload Ubaldo before everyone (cough, Indians) realized that the shine had rubbed off the star. And Tulo wants to pick a fight with the entry above.
Padres – Aaron Harang had a solid season last year in spacious Petco Park, proving that almost any pitcher can find success there. That’s why I like the trade of Latos to the Reds. But boy, unless they introduce coach-pitch, the Padres are going to struggle to score.
Angels over the Giants in 6. I know. I didn’t pick the Giants to win the NL West but in the playoffs, great pitching matters more than great hitting.
AL MVP – Miguel Cabrera, 3B (ha, ha), Detroit.
AL CY Young – Justin Verlander, SP, Detroit. Papa needs a return to fantasy glory.
AL ROY – Matt Moore, SP, Tampa. He is one bad, bad, man.
NL MVP – Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado. His defense is just gravy.
NL CY Young – Roy Halladay, SP, Philadelphia. Now watch his spring velocity dip be an omen…
NL ROY – Here is my final wish for the season. Let it be Bryce Harper.
In Part One of the season preview, we focused on the Nationals pitching staff, broke down their prospects for the coming season, and remarked on the now suspicious injury history of Carl Pavano (okay, we didn’t, but it certainly does deserve the people’s eyebrow). Today, we turn our punditry towards the Nationals lineup and bench, and then will make overly generic predictions for the season that in 400 years’ time, will also be seen to contain clues about the end of time.
SS Ian Desmond – I probably should check with the judge to see if I’m allowed to write anything about Ian after drafting him last year in fantasy baseball, but it goes without saying that Desmond is hardly the ideal lead-off man. He does possess a little pop and can steal 20 bags in a season, but whiffs way too much, doesn’t take a walk, and thus, doesn’t find his way to first and beyond too often (career .304 on-base percentage). I hate to say this, but if Desmond and Espinosa hit most or all of the season at the top of the lineup, the hopes for a good Nationals offense goes out the window.
2nd Danny Espinosa – Well, I drafted you this year, which probably means we won’t be speaking by mid-May. You are talented enough to make many things possible. You have some real thunder in your bat, and a 20-20 season wouldn’t surprise me in the least. But you strike out by the bushel, so a batting average above .250 may be asking too much.
3rd Ryan Zimmerman – I fear he won’t age well, but for now, Zimm is the Nat’s franchise player. He is capable of a .300/30/100 (the latter of which he will probably will be denied because of the lack of base runners) season, all the while bringing gold glove defense to the hot corner every day. I think Baseball Prospectus may have been stretching it just a bit when it said to look to Zimm for a dark horse MVP candidate, but not by that much.
RF Jayson Werth – The good thing is that Werth probably can’t play much worse than last year. I suspect he is due for a decent rebound. Then again, I didn’t think Dana Stubblefield could make a sumo wrestler jealous and he did. That’s life as a Washington sports fan. I actually think it would be best if manager Davey Johnson moved Werth and his career .360 on-base percentage up to the #2 hole, which would work the opponent’s pitchers a bit more and increase the odds that Zimm hits with someone on base. That still wouldn’t solve lead-off, but you have to start somewhere.
LF Michael Morse – The breakout slugger from last season hasn’t done much of anything this Spring, hampered by a right lat strain that has lingered to the point of landing him on the 15-day DL to start the season. I think he got a touch lucky with his batting average last year, but the power is legit. Hopefully, his body holds up because it is bat that makes his butchery in the outfield (-7.9 UZR in 2011) tolerable.
1B Adam LaRoche – Oy. I’m not sure I like the addition of last year’s season-ending shoulder surgery to an already slow and elongated swing susceptible to long periods of wind-only production. Oh, and his shoulder has hurt him throwing during Spring Training. Hopefully, he hasn’t lost his ability to pick it at first, because that may be the only thing keeping him from the scrap heap.
C Wilson Ramos – Wilson’s emergence last year probably contributed to the Nationals willingness to give up Derek Norris as part of the Gio Gonzalez trade. Can’t say I disagree with at least that part of the trade, because a prospect is only good to you playing in the big leagues or as trade bait. And with Ramos in DC, the former wasn’t going to happen. Ramos has a nice bat capable of a solid average (think .270ish) and good power for a catcher (think optimistically 18 home runs or so), all the while playing solid defense. He’s the Ron Popeil of catchers. Set him and forget him.
CF Rick Ankiel/Roger Bernandina – Bleh. Honestly, it won’t be until Bryce Harper is promoted from Triple A that the Nationals will have the hope of fielding a legitimate center fielder. And of course, Harper offers more than just legitimacy beyond 2012 – true star potential. Until then, the combination of Ankiel (who will start the season on the 15 day DL with a tight left quad) and Bernandina will offer up only average defense and below average hitting. Bleh.
Having a deep and flexible bench is always a critical ingredient to a playoff-caliber team, and with a couple of injuries to start the season, it won’t take too terribly long to figure out how good the Nationals bench will be. Right now, it looks like Washington will initially carry backup catcher Jesus Flores, infielders Chad Tracy and Steve Lombardozzi, outfielder Brett Carroll, and jacks of all trades, Xavier Nady and Mark DeRosa, the latter who should see most of the starts in place of the injured Morse. At first blush, Washington appears to have a flexible but not necessarily overly talented bench. Finding a decent left-handed bat (Tracy isn’t it) and keeping DeRosa healthy should be the Nats top bench priorities.
The end is nigh! Oh, right, about the upcoming season. As it stands now, the NL East, while seemingly stacked, also has its vulnerabilities. The Phillies lineup is banged up and will actually be fairly pedestrian when it is all said and done. The Braves didn’t do much to improve a middling lineup and will rely too much on young starters that will end up taxing their good, but overworked bullpen. And the Marlins* rotation and bullpen beyond Heath Bell have a lot of question marks. So, do all these weaknesses crack open the door to a Nationals playoff appearance?
My heart says yes but my mind still can’t get all the way there. Stupid brain keeps asking questions like who in the heck is going to be on base when Zimm comes up to bat? Will the holes in the Nationals defense (Morse, Desmond, CF) cost them one too many wins? And the answers, to the extent they exist, are not satisfying enough to make me believe the Nationals will get all the way there. They will get close. Oh so close. But they will fall just short – 87 W, 75 L, 3rd place in the NL East.
*The Bernie Madoff Mets have Mike Pelfrey in their rotation. Your kid sister could hit .250 against him. They aren’t competing for a playoff spot.
Last season, the nation’s capital nearly saw something happen it hasn’t witnessed in a long time – someone breakeven. That someone, or something, was the Washington Nationals, who by finishing 3rd in the standings posted their best finish ever in the National League East Division at 80-81 (one rain-postponed game against the Dodgers was never made up). Not since their 81-81 inaugural season in 2005 have the Nationals come so close to a .500 finish, and last year they had Livan Hernandez soaking up 20 percent of the starts. Thus, it was no surprise this off-season that GM Mike Rizzo’s major initiative was to upgrade the starting rotation, while shoring up one of baseball’s best bullpens.
While the consensus is that the Nationals lineup has holes, especially an inability to get men on base (more on that tomorrow), many pundits are still predicting that the Nationals will contend for a playoff spot on the basis of a retooled rotation and strong bullpen. Let’s breakdown the pitching staff and whether it is truly playoff-caliber.
Stephen Strasburg – After making only 5 September starts post-Tommy John surgery, there is still a lot of mystery surrounding how Strasburg 2.0 will fare. Does his velocity reportedly being down a tick matter? How quickly will he recover his pin point control, which usually is a short-term casualty of the surgery? And will he recover his ability to induce ground balls at close to a 50 percent clip (it was near 40 percent last season, albeit in a very small sample). Despite these unknowns, the safe money is still on a sub-3 ERA, even with several bumps along the way.
Jordan Zimmermann – The second member of Washington’s Tommy John club, it is not unreasonable to think that Zimmermann may be the best pitcher on the staff this year. He possesses four plus or near-plus pitches and impeccable control; if he can just bump up the strikeout rate a tad, there doesn’t appear to be much between Zimmermann and elite status.
Gio Gonzalez – While I suspect that the Nationals overpaid for Gio, I think a move to the National League will help to continue to mask some of his warts (cough, walks way too many, cough). And while undoubtedly he represents an upgrade, I expect Gio’s ERA to be closer to 3.8 than 3 this year, which will leave many more sharing my suspicions at the end of the season.
Edwin Jackson – He looks almost every part the front-line ace he was supposed to blossom into all those years ago in LA. But he has settled into who he is, which is a strong #4, decent #3 starter, who eats innings with the promise of a sub-3 ERA but rarely the results because he is a bit too hittable and a bit too generous with the free passes. However, since the Nationals are slotting him in as their fourth starter, at $10 million this season, DC has seen plenty greater wastes of money.
John Lannan/Chien-Ming Wang – The final spot in the rotation ostensibly belongs to Wang, but since Wang’s constitution is about as strong as Carl Pavano’s manhood (I keep my promises), Lannan will start the season in his place. Both are about as exciting as a bologna sandwich, but since two sandwiches are better than one, the only way you can hate on this combo for less than a combined 12 wins is if you hate America.
Drew Storen – There is little doubt that Storen is an elite closer. Drew’s slider makes right-handed hitters buckle and cry like John Kruk ordering cake. But his tender elbow makes me worry that the Washington Tommy John Club Card is going to get another hole punched. And if that happens, the status of the bullpen’s excellence will come very much into question.
Tyler Clippard – At some point, probably this season, Clippard is due for a bit of regression. He’s good, but not quite sub-2 ERA good. Plus, he’s been ridden more than Seattle Slew the past 2 years, which makes me worry (hey, I’m an auditor) about his ability to remain on the mound and effective, which is so vital to the Nationals season this year.
The Rest – One of the best things about the Nationals pitching staff this year is the depth of their bullpen. With the addition of Brad Lidge joining the likes of Sean Burnett, Henry Rodriguez, and Ross Detwiler, the Nationals have a very strong mix of righties and lefties, short and long-men who can bring a lot of peace to a manager’s mind. And there is even bigger upside if we all just close our eyes and click our heels three times…
If (and it is a big one) Rodriguez could ever find a bit more control, he and his triple-digit heat would quickly vault to near-elite status. If Burnett can bump his k rate back up close to 1K/IP, the Nationals could well lock down left-hander batters. And if Detwiler can continue to claw his way back to his first-round draft promise, the Nats would possess the league’s best swing-man and an obvious upgrade to the bologna sandwich combo.
While expecting all or even one of these wishes to come true is foolish, even without the leaps, it is fair to expect this bullpen to be one of the reasons the Nationals have a decent shot at a playoff spot.
To realistically compete for the NL East crown or a wild-card spot, the Nationals will have to make at least an 8 win improvement on last season. And despite all the preseason optimism, that’s not going to be easy. The good thing is that the pitching staff appears to be talented enough, and perhaps more importantly, deep enough, to carry out their end of the bargain. I’m realistic enough to expect that at least one of the arms the Nationals will be counting on will not nearly live up to expectations (Storen and his sore elbow and Gio and his penchant for free passes come to mind). However, strictly on the basis of the pitching staff, the Nationals do appear poised to make a run at the playoffs. Will the rest of the team make that run a successful one? Find out tomorrow as we preview the hitters and make a final prediction for the season.
I guess it is apropos that the last post I made oh so long ago on the blog was entitled Dot, Dot, Boom. With an insane work project crashing into my life, that’s about what happened to the blog. There hasn’t been a crash and burn this bad since this, but a new season of Nationals baseball is upon us, and with it, the blog has been resurrected. For the first time in, well, forever, I am genuinely optimistic about the Nationals chances to contend for a playoff spot (thanks Bud for the extra wild-card) and I hope everyone will join me for the ride on this blog. In the coming days, look for a Nationals season preview, a MLB season preview, and if that doesn’t suit you, many, many references to Carl Pavano’s man-pealing mustache.