Tuesday, May 31, 2011

LVL's: Least Valuable LOOGYs

Doug Slaten
The 2011 version of Slaten is the posterchild for anyone who has ever argued that ERA is overvalued. He's not getting lefties out (.308/.333/.538 against in 2011) and should never face a righty at all (.375/.516/.625). Slaten's walk rate has skyrocketed to 6 per 9 innings, The sparkling 2.25 ERA is a product of having almost 95% of the runners he leaves on base stranded by the likes of Clippard, Storen and company. He's at his worst with runners on base (1.014 OPS against) and with 2 outs (1.208 OPS against). Basically, Slaten's 2010 magic has not been renewed this season.

Sean Burnett
Burnett is not nearly as bad as Slaten has been this year, but you can't tell by his 5.59 ERA. That being said, Burnett has still struggled mightily in 2011, with a K/9 drop from almost 9 to under 5. His control is better than ever, though, and his FIP stands at a solid 3.65. Burnett's contract makes him a better bet to stick around and work out his troubles in the majors, and for good reason in my opinion. He does have tons to work on, though, and in the meantime Riggleman should be reluctant to use him in key situations until his performance improves.

There are no perfect replacements for Slaten or Burnett. Rizzo undoubtedly wants to carry two LHP's in the bullpen (which would be great if either of them could actually get batters out), so that leaves us with a handful of options in AAA and AA:
Oliver Perez has a 0.75 ERA, including 6.75 K's per 9 and 1.50 BB's per 9 in 12 AA innings. He could surely use more seasoning in AA, but so far he has retired 12 of 14 lefties he has faced, with 0 walks and 4 strikeouts.
Atahualpa Severino could get the call if the Nats wait a week or two to make a move. The little lefty made his first appearance of the season on Saturday after starting the year on the DL. His solid 2010 season and place already on the 40-man roster helps his chances of getting called up sometime in June.
Ross Detwiler is another 40-man candidate who needs more time to make a case for the Majors this season. After a disappointing and injury-plagued 2010 season, Detwiler has stumbled out of the gate in 2011, with a 5.77 ERA. His performance is partly unlucky with a .400 BABIP and 63.3 LOB%, shown by his 3.43 FIP. Calling Detwiler up with the sole purpose of sticking him in the bullpen might be seen as a white flag by Rizzo, as trying to get anything useful out of the first draft pick in his tenure in the Nats' front office would be considered a last ditch effort at saving face. I have yet to give up on Detwiler's chances as a starting pitcher, however, and don't think this role would be good for him.
Tom Milone is a personal favorite, with solid performances in high A and AA ball over the past 2 seasons. Milone deserves a shot at the Majors, but I am not sure if this is the one that would be best for him; Milone is a starting pitcher and moving him to a LOOGY role could potentially mess with his development. He is definitely qualified, though, with 7.82 K/9 and 0.71 BB/9 against lefties this season in AAA.
Lee Hyde, a waiver claim from the Braves in March, has struggled with control so far this season (and in his entire career). With 7 BB/9 in AAA this season, Hyde is not going to sniff the Majors anytime soon. He could be useful down the road if the Nats' pitching coaches can fix his control issues, but they have not done so yet.
Cory VanAllen should get over the hump and make it to AAA this year, but I doubt that he will be in the Majors in 2011. His 5.59 BB/9 against lefties this year is discouraging, but his matching 5.59 H/9 and 13 K/9 are encouraging. 2011 is a make or break year for the 27 year old lefty, so he'll really need to improve his control to continue his development.
Chris Manno is the most intriguing player in the Nats' system if you ask me. With a 0.00 ERA, 13.5 K/9, 1.93 BB/9 and 3.1 H/9, he is absolutely dominating high A ball. The 2010 draft pick (also a '09 pick) has been tagged as a soft-tosser with a bizarre delivery, but you can't argue with these results. He's not going to be the first call-up but who knows, maybe Manno gets a September call-up this year if he continues this torrid pace.

My vote: dump Slaten for a RHP and keep Burnett up.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mike Morse's cold hot streak

After an awful month of April, Mike Morse is getting hot; with a .395 batting average and .744 slugging percentage in May, it appears that he might be the same player who destroyed pitching in Spring Training this season. Wait, what did you say? You asked what his OBP was? Well, it's .395 as well, because Morse hasn't taken a walk in May. 2 steps forward and 1 step back if you ask me.

Rather than looking at the months separately, let's look at 2011 as a whole for Morse right now because at 122 PA, Morse has enough batting experience to start making judgments. Morse is hitting .281/.303/.447 for the year. The batting average is solid, and actually below his career average of .290. His BABIP at .342 is high, but his career BABIP runs very high (.347), so a major regression is not to be assumed. Morse's biggest problems this year are regressions in his ISO and BB/K rates. Expecting Morse to repeat his .229 ISO from last year is a little realistic, and a .167 isn't bad at all. Still, I'd like to see more power out of a guy who doesn't walk and is about to get a lot more playing time. Morse has been allergic to walks, though, only taking them 3.3% of the time. His ML career average is 6.4%, for the record, and he hasn't gone below 5% at any level in recent history. Combine that with an almost 5% rise in K rate to 28.9% and I'm sufficiently concerned. Morse's recent "hot" streak is completely unsustainable until the man starts walking. Morse has shown the ability to take walks in the past, and I think his eye will rebound a little bit, but I'm discouraged for now.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Appreciating Tyler Clippard

When Tyler Clippard came up in 2009 and threw 60 and 1/3 innings of 2.69 ERA ball, I figured it was an abbe ration. His BABIP was ridiculously low (.197) and he walked 4.77 batters per 9 innings. In 2010, Clippard found a way to improve his K/9, BB/9, FIP and xFIP numbers and still put up a sparkling 3.07 ERA despite having to pitch in basically every other game. Clippard has found a way to keep improving, with similar K/9 numbers, better BB/9 numbers and improved FIP and xFIP stats. The Nats truly have an ace in the bullpen in Clippard, who has been amongst the league's best at missing bats. Jim Bowden made a lot of mistakes in his time in DC, but trading Jonathan Abaladejo for Tyler Clippard was not one of them. You're the man, Tyler. Keep it up.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Near Future of the 2011 Nats Offense

We're through almost 30% of the season, and as a result are on the borderline of "small sample size" discussions.   It's still way too early to know if players who started hotter (Nix) or colder (LaRoche) than normal are sure bets to regress to the mean, but I've got to write my first post at the DC is for Baseball about something, so today we'll talk about the Nats' position players and the rest of the 2011 season.

Wilson Ramos is one of the few bright spots amongst Nationals position players this year, hitting .272/.347/.447 thus far. His original ZiPS projection for the season was to hit .267/.301/.403. MARCEL was a bit more favorable to Ramos, projecting a .273/.333/.429 triple slash. I don't expect Ramos to keep up his 9.6% walk rate (minor league high was 7.4% in high A in 2008, and rates were between 2.8 and 4.1% in 2009-10), but I also expect his 22% strikeout rate to dip back to around 16-17%. Ramos' BABIP at .325 is a little high for a slow catcher and his ISO at .180 is also a bit higher than projected, but neither differ enough from his career numbers to be considered true outliers. And by the way...did anybody notice Doug Glanville choosing him as his 2011 NL ROY?
Prognosis: slight regression. Ramos can keep up the batting average, but I expect to see a few less walks and a little less power for the rest of the year. I would be more than happy if he ended up with that MARCEL projection, and expect him to be somewhat in that range.

Pudge Rodriguez, on the other hand, is fading fast. His walk rate and ISO are higher than expected. His BABIP at .265 could see some improvement, but the most likely event will be his batting average rising a little while his OBP and SLG stay stagnant or decline. The Nats should given him to Boston when they had a chance, assuming Boston would have even taken him for free at this point.
Prognosis: about the same production, which isn't a good thing.

Adam LaRoche is injured. He's not a .172/.288/.258 hitter. He's not a guy with a .086 ISO. That being said, he might be a .172/.288/.258 hitter for the 2011 season if his second opinion shows significant shoulder damage. As a Nats fan, I hope for the best, but expect the worst. If LaRoche gets healthy and has significant playing time for the rest of the season, he'll probably end up around .230/.310/.440...not good by any means, but a major improvement over .172/.288/.258.
Prognosis: significant DL time, but significant improvement once healthy.

Michael Aubrey could be a nice in-house replacement for LaRoche if he goes on the DL as I expect. While Michael Morse would gobble up most of the playing time, Aubrey can hold his own in the Majors. He hit .289/.326/.500 in 95 PA for the Orioles in 2009 and has seen a major power surge from 2010 onwards. Aubrey could be up as soon as this week if the Nats cut Matt Stairs, and the former top prospect has the ability to provide good 1B defense to go with a solid LH bat off of the bench.
Prognosis: a batting line similar to Rick Ankiel's, but without as many K's.

Danny Espinosa has been both a pleasant surprise and a disappointment this year, despite his numbers looking a lot like their projections. Danny has been unlucky so far, with a .234 BABIP. If his luck starts evening out, he could end up around .230/.330/.430 or so, which would be a step in the right direction for the rookie. His power is for real, but the rest of his bat isn't quite there yet.
Prognosis: small improvement in BA, similar rate stats otherwise.

Ian Desmond is doing one thing right: stealing bases. His plate discipline has regressed, and his BABIP does not scream "unlucky," which scares me a little. Desmond may one day be a great shortstop, but has a lot of work to do before he's merely league average. He could start by taking some walks. This all being said, Desmond has nowhere to really go but up, and if he gets a confidence boost from a hot streak, he could end up beating his 2010 numbers across the board rather than simply the counting stats. Still waiting on that hot streak, though...
Prognosis: medium improvement in BA, OBP, SLG, but not resulting in an improvement over 2010 triple slash of .269/.308/.392.

Ryan Zimmerman cannot come back any sooner. Even if he hits .283/.333/.442 like he did in his last partial season, it would still be a major improvement over the likes of Jerry Hairston, Jr. and Alex Cora at 3B. At this point, Zimmerman should take his time and make sure he's fully healthy when he comes back so the Nats can have his full services for at least half of the season.
Prognosis: much better numbers than our 3B have hit in his absence.

Jerry Hairston, Jr. has done all that he can do in Zimmerman's absence, hitting vaguely around how we expected him to (.239/.310/.342 so far). His batting average is a little low, but he's both walking and striking out more than ever as well. I think he'll get a little better, but he still won't end up close to league average with the bat.
Prognosis: more hits, less walks and a little more power, which will result in a similar OBP and a nice .030-.040 bump in SLG.

Michael Morse...ugh. I expected regression from his 2010 numbers, but not a 3.8% BB rate and .093 ISO.  LaRoche's potential injury could free up some more regular playing time at 1B, but Morse will have to hit his way into the lineup when everyone gets healthy no matter how many or few chances he gets. I expect him to bounce back a little, but not all that much.
Prognosis: a 2 week HR binge, average rest of the season, and a .255/.315/.420 triple slash to end the season.

Laynce Nix's power is more or less for real. Unfortunately, his BABIP is .070 higher than his career average and his BB rate is still only 4%. I think Nix turns into the role the Nats expected Ankiel to fill, which is fine with me. I'll take a guy who can hit .270, play solid D and bomb the bleachers in a part-time role. But just like with Ankiel, a good team wouldn't count on Nix to play a significant starting role, let alone bat 3rd in the lineup.
Prognosis: significant regression in all offensive categories. Nix won't bottom out, though.

Rick Ankiel has looked both better and worse than expected. His K rate is only 16.3%, a full 10% improvement from his career average. Unfortunately, with that major improvement comes a major drop in power, as Ankiel only has a .067 ISO. He'll end up with plenty of K's and HR's, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say he'll do so with another team.
Prognosis: More power but a lot more K's.

Jayson Werth isn't as disappointing as people think. His rate stats are just a little below his recent history, and his walk rate and ISO are still solid, so I don't see why he won't rebound to his 2008-09 numbers.
Pronosis: slight improvement across the board.

Roger Bernadina only has 15 games worth of at-bats this year, but I think his numbers so far look about what they should, at .259/.333/.352. I think he'll develop into a .265/.345/.400 player eventually, but for now, I'm happy with any starter having an OBP above .330 in this offense.

Matt Stairs should be cut immediately.