April 21, 2014

Washington Nationals Game 19 Review: Span Walk-off Sac Fly Earns Nats a Split with Cardinals

A day after the Bryce Harper hustle frenzy, the Washington Nationals created the right kind of drama Sunday afternoon by way of a Denard Span walk-off sacrifice fly to top the St. Louis Cardinals 3-2.

Stephen Strasburg (ND, 1-2) delivered with a solid enough outing to keep the Nats on the Cardinals’ tails. In fact, he allowed just one run until the fifth inning when, on two outs, he walked Peter Bourjos and allowed an RBI double to Shelby Miller to put St. Louis up 2-0.

The Nats pulled Strasburg after six to pinch-hit Zach Walters with two runners on. The strategy produced no runs for Washington, and it sent Strasburg back to the bench with no possibility of a win.

Through 5.1 innings pitched, St. Louis starter Shelby Miller never provided the Nats with an opportunity. Miller tossed 57 of 99 pitches for strikes, allowing no runs on four hits and five walks, while accruing seven strikeouts.

In the seventh, however, the Nats showed signs of life. With one out, Adam LaRoche and Anthony Rendon hit back-to-back singles off reliever Carlos Martinez. LaRoche came home on a hard-hit single by Ian Desmond, and Rendon scored on a single by Danny Espinosa that tied the game 2-2.

Craig Stammen, Jerry Blevins and Rafael Soriano pitched a combined three innings of scoreless baseball in relief, setting the Nationals up for a dramatic ninth inning comeback.

The inning lacked the pomp and circumstance of a one-swing walk off, but at this point in the season, that Nats should take a split with the Cardinals in any possible fashion. With one out, Espinosa and Jose Lobaton singled back-to-back before pinch-hitter Nate McLouth drew a walk to load the bases with Seth Maness on the mound.

After working through six pitches to earn a 2-2 count, Denard Span swung at a 83 MPH changeup to fly deep enough to right to allow Espinosa to score the game-winning run.

With the victory, the Nats take 2-of-4 against the Cardinals. Rafael Soriano earned the Curly W – his first of the season.

 

Washington Nationals Game 16 Review: Nats Held to Two Hits in Wainwright’s Complete-Game Shutout

On nights when the Washington Nationals find their groove, their offense has the power to stun opposing pitchers.

Thursday was not one of those nights.

The Washington Nationals started their 11-game home stretch with a downright frustrating 8-0 loss to Adam Wainwright and the St. Louis Cardinals.

From start to finish Wainwright (W, 3-1) was stellar on the mound, holding the Nats to just two hits through nine innings to record his seventh career shutout. And, from the batter’s box, he wasn’t so bad either – adding a double and a single to the Cardinals’ 14 total hits.

To make matters worse, the Nats tallied a whopping four errors on the night – two of which came from shortstop Ian Desmond, who now boasts seven errors on the season. Through 16 games, Washington has 20 total errors.

Desmond’s first error helped the Cardinals run with an early lead. The very first batter of the game – Matt Carpenter – reached first base safely after Desmond failed to field the routine drive.

But, Nats’ starter Taylor Jordan (L, 0-2) certainly committed his share of gaffes. He allowed a single to Kolten Wong and a quick double to Matt Holliday, which brought home Carpenter. Matt Adams’ grounder plated Kolten, and Yadier Molina singled in Holliday to give St. Louis an all-too-easy three-run lead.

After the first, however, Jordan regained at least brief control. Unfortunately, he lacked offense to back him up.

In fact, the bottom of the first marked the first of six total innings in which the Nats’ batters would retire in order.

The second inning proved the only time Washington threatened. Adam LaRoche led off with a walk before Desmond sought some redemption by way of a single up the middle. But, Danny Espinosa and Nate McLouth had no success in the box, and Wainwright intentionally walked Jose Lobaton to strike out Jordan in the nine-spot.

In the fourth, the Cardinals tacked on an insurance run. After Jhonny Peralta doubled with one out, Jon Jay reached on a throwing error by none other than Desmond. And, things went from bad to worse as Wainwright reached on a force attempt, which featured a miss catch error by Espinosa. The play allowed Peralta to score, but Jordan was able to prevent additional runs from crossing home plate.

In the sixth, however, Jordan simply lost control over his pitches. After striking out Peralta, he hit Jay with a runaway fastball before allowing Wainwright to single. By the time Jordan walked Carpenter to load the bases, the Nats had seen enough.

Unfortunately, reliever Blake Treinen had no added luck.

He struck out Wong on a 96-MPH fastball, but allowed Holliday to single in Jay, before Adams singled in both Wainwright and Carpenter.

Despite the sloppy inning and an added run in the seventh, Nationals manager Matt Williams seemingly allowed Treinen to sweat it out until the ninth.

When it came time for Jerry Blevins to take the mound, the Nats were down eight runs and had officially tallied twice as many errors as hits, thanks to a fielding error by Jayson Werth in the top of the eighth. Werth appeared to have lost a line drive by Molina in the lights as he charged forward with no hope of coming close to catching the ball.

The Nats will will want to turn their luck around tonight with left-hander Gio Gonzalez (2-1, 3.50) taking on Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha (2-0, 1.89).

Last season, the Nats went 0-6 against St. Louis.

 

 

Washington Nationals Game 15 Review: Werth Homer Lifts Nats in Win Vs. Fernandez, Marlins

The Washington Nationals took advantage of costly errors by the Miami Marlins to emerge the victor of a 6-3 finish Wednesday night.

Miami ace Jose Fernandez held the Nats to four hits and 10 strikeouts through seven, but he was dealt a tough break by the Marlins’ defense, namely catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

With Washington trailing 3-0, Jose Lobaton led off the sixth with a double to deep right. Then, on a would-be routine grounder off the bat of Tanner Roark, Saltalamacchia committed a throwing error allowing Roark to reach first and Lobaton to advance to third. After Nate McLouth struck out swinging and Anthony Rendon popped out to second, Fernandez merely needed to retire Werth to get out of the jam.

Luckily for the Nats, however, Werth was prepared to seize the moment. His three-run shot to right center marked his third homer of the season and tied the game, tarnishing Fernandez’s otherwise solid performance with three unearned runs.

Fernandez would go on to earn a final line of 7.0 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 10 K and 1 HR, tossing 65 of 97 pitches for strikes.

Nats starter Tanner Roark, in turn, walked away with a no decision after throwing 98 total pitches over 6.1 innings, in which he allowed three runs on seven hits, two walks, five strike outs and one home run.

In the eighth, with Mike Dunn in to relieve Fernandez, Zach Walters broke the 3-3 tie in the Nationals’ favor with his second career homer – and his second long ball in as many nights. [Read more...]

Statistically Speaking: Anthony Rendon’s Swing

Sitting atop the Washington Nationals leaderboard in several offensive categories, Anthony Rendon is having himself quite the start to 2014. The Texan’s long-coveted swing and bat-to-ball skills appear to be in full bloom, also displaying some tantalizing pop that some felt he might not fully develop. Here’s a quick look at some of Rendon’s numbers, compared to his rookie season:

Season PA BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
2013 394 7.90% 17.50% 0.131 0.307 0.265 0.329 0.396 0.318 100
2014 59 6.80% 15.30%* 0.273* 0.386 0.345* 0.390 0.618* 0.426* 166*

* denotes team leader

Comparing his start to 2014 to his 2013, we see Rendon is not only making lots of contact, but is making harder contact (per his isolated power), while also continuing to develop his already keen eye for the strike zone. Let’s delve a little deeper into that eye for the strike zone and its development; here, we have Rendon’s swing and contact rates for pitches in (labeled with the prefix ‘Z-’) and out (labeled ‘O-’) of the strike zone:

Screen shot 2014-04-16 at 9.59.42 AM

Here, we see an interesting trend—Rendon is swinging at more pitches, but making less contact compared to last season. In fact, he is swinging more at pitches outside of the zone, which is also flies in the face of his slight uptick in walk rate in 2014. Despite the slight rise in chasing pitches outside of the zone, he still shows the most restraint when comparing his O-Swing rates to his Nats cohorts; Rendon trails only Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth with respect to Z-Contact rate (89.6% versus 90.6%), but leads the team in overall contact rate, connecting with 85.6% of pitches he has seen.

Much of this possibly points to pitchers attacking Rendon differently—is this the case? Let’s take a look at Rendon’s heatmaps for pitches seen from this and last season, courtesy of Brooks Baseball; 2013 pitches are on the left, with this year’s on the right:

Screen shot 2014-04-16 at 10.32.13 AM

By the looks of it, pitchers are taking a slightly different approach with Rendon, busting him inside with pitches more so than last year, when they went down and away with their most of their offerings. How is he faring with this tweaked approach? Let’s look at his batting average heatmaps, again with last season on the left, 2014 on the right:

Screen shot 2014-04-16 at 10.55.28 AM

The colors are a tad misleading for 2014 simply due to sample sizes—he is still making lots of contact and getting hits on pitches in the strike zone. However, we also see that Rendon is taking those inside, slightly off the plate pitches and doing more with them this year, which is not only reflected here, but in his BABIP, currently at .386.

Let’s discuss BABIP briefly. Overall, the stat doesn’t have a strong year-to-year correlation, so the chances of Rendon maintaining and continuing his current average isn’t likely. However, popup rate (PU%) is pretty correlative year to year and is also relatively predictive of BABIP. It is also a nice way to gauge how hard a hitter is hitting the ball. With this in mind, we can take a look at Rendon’s popups and not only see the potential of his BABIP to remain above average, but also how well he is hitting the ball, not only in terms of accumulating base hits, but also how hard the contact he is making really is.

Using the formula IFFB / (FB+LD+GB) * 100, we can calculate PU%. First, let’s do this for 2013:

9 / (97+73+116) * 100 = 3.16%

To put this into contrast, Joey Votto had a 0.22 PU% in 2013, having had one IFFB; teammate Bryce Harper had a 2.1% popup rate. Comparing him to a similar hitter in terms of BABIP, Manny Machado had a 5.1% popup rate.

For 2014, Rendon, like most of the league, has a 0 PU%, so we can’t really say much about popup rate improvements just yet, as we simply don’t have enough data points. However, this correlation is something to keep in the back of our minds as the season progresses. However, looking at last year’s numbers, we do see Rendon as someone who projects to hit the ball hard as he continues to develop.

Last, let’s briefly look at Rendon’s swing. Overall, it’s one that spends a long time in the strike zone, allowing for more opportunities to make contact. He does show some ‘noisy’ hands, exhibiting lots of extra movement. However, as you can see, his hands appear to be a little less noisy:

rendon3 09-09-55-127

Click to start gif

…compared to 2013:

Verlander_strikeout_7-31-13

Click to start gif. Courtesy of www.blessyouboys.com

While these gifs aren’t the best for comparison given the first is on a fastball, while the second is on a curveball, it does show the changes in how his hands and feet are set and work throughout his approach. With that caveat noted, it appears that Rendon has also removed some extra movement with his lower half, making an already compact swing quicker, allowing him to cover all corners of the plate and also turn on those high and tight fastballs he appears to be getting more of in 2014.

Despite counter intuitive statistical changes from this season to last, we see an improved approach by Rendon, possibly brought on by some slight mechanical tweaks. He is not only taking what he is given in terms of pitches in the strike zone, but is also showing pitchers that he can turn on the inside pitch, thus opening up the outside corner for Rendon in future at bats. In terms of his BABIP and the ability to consistently make hard contact, the trends bode well; however, it’s a little to early to say with much conviction whether the BABIP we have seen from Rendon in the first month of the season will remain through the year or his career, but nonetheless, we should enjoy the show one of the best pure hitters in the game is putting on.

 

Data courtesy of FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted

 

‘Damaging’ Media and MLB Free Agents: Is Scott Boras Right?

“I am angered that numerous baseball executives have blatantly and intentionally violated our collective bargaining agreement by offering to ESPN comments about free agent values of Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales. These statements undermine the free agent rights of the players and depress the market values.”
Tony Clark, Executive Director of the MLB Players’ Association

I’ve read a couple of interesting articles lately about player compensation in the MLB. A debate on the topic started this winter when draft-pick compensation rules were limiting free-agency spending, and the discussion has become much more aggressive this last week.

A slew of articles, particularly this one by Jon Heyman, caught my attention. They cover the feud between Scott Boras, the MLBPA, and big media and the MLB. An interesting twist, Heyman’s includes a direct response to Buster Olney’s controversial April 9th piece on the MLB market’s puzzling lack of employment for household-known, free-agent players.

This discussion is a complicated one. The battle they’re discussing maybe new, but the labor war in Major League baseball is not. It had just temporarily fallen off the front page, but it seems like it’s ready to return.

The words between Olney and Boras are nothing new, and this latest feud follows the same controversy we saw erupt from the Prince Fielder anonymous comments Olney released to the world.

For the most part, coverage on MLB labor relations has been lighter over the past few years. There hasn’t been much fruitful to talk about aside from drug testing, as the sport has enjoyed such wild growth. There’s not much to argue about when both sides are fat and happy.

But, as we’ve seen in the past, media coverage will spike on this silent battle during certain periods. Sometimes it’s topics like drug testing, player safety or expansion that attracts the spike in media coverage. But more often in this sport, it’s antitrust and anti-competitive practices that are the spark.

Scott Boras’ clients Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew are unemployed. And many of his other clients (Edwin Jackson, Kyle Lohse) have reeled in much less wealth than they expected based on spoils comparable players took home in past years. Because they’re well-known players, that are worth millions of dollars on the open market, there’s already something fishy in the air. No doubt, the draft-pick ties to players that turn-down qualifying offers has a significant effect. But is this keeping Morales and Drew unemployed? How? Even Nelson Cruz, whose image was crippled by PED use and his price tag plummeted due to draft-pick compensation inked a one-year $8 million contract.

There’s already some tinder here for a smoldering fire. Buster Olney’s article though, provided enough gasoline to illicit a loud response from an already-fired-up Scott Boras and representatives of the MLBPA. Now, there’s more serious courtroom talk than usual. 

The Background

Let’s go in order.

Scott Boras strongly dislikes Buster Olney, and believes he has been burned a lot lately by the negative publicity Olney points at his clients.

 Numerous articles have been published this winter and spring about the obvious effect draft-pick compensation has had on free-agent player salaries. The league is going younger, as players effective ages are increased with every new injury, physical talent is at its peak during the early/mid 20′s, and poorer young players have much more incentive to play harder than older free agents that have already accumulated a $100 million worth of comfort.

Last week, Olney proposed the already well-known theory that the MLB’s labor rules are favoring owners/investors/derivative holders relative to players/agents (also other investors and other derivative holders).

Olney observed that brand-name free agents like Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew weren’t signed this offseason, despite displaying the characteristics that would earn them hefty amounts of open-market money in past winters. For instance, they both have above-average wOBA figures for their positions.

To answer the question why? And, to see if the answer supported the theory on the table, Olney interviewed a number of powerful executives and team officials with insider information.

What Olney failed to adequately illustrate to his sea of readers, is that he offered only a one-sided  account of a two-sided war. And because that one-side he offered had insider information, and because one of this conflicts WMD’s is media airwaves, he got shelled.

Boras and the MLBPA fired back at Olney, ESPN, and big media’s marriage with big leagues.

Did Olney’s Article Undervalue Morales and Drew?

He also happens to be the agent of Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew, two players that Olney specifically involved in his article appraising their value, that only included interviews from an opposite side of a business deal.

Last year, Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales were both approximately three-win players in terms of Baseball Reference’s rWAR methodology. However, there was a range in their values based on other calculations. They were within 1.6 of that mark according to the algorithms by Fangraphs (fWAR) and Baseball Prospectus (WARP).

Cleveland Indians intern Lewie Pollis calculates that the open market pays about $7 million for each win (adding 1.0 rWAR). We’re talking about $/WAR, which is an effective representation of the value of a player’s marginal product of labor/performance. And what Pollis found is that team’s pay about $7 million dollars for each win they buy on the open free agent market, in the current baseball economy.

Tom Tango’s projection algorithm doesn’t estimate what free-agent players will get like Pollis’ does, it instead estimates what they should get based on their adjusted predicted performance. Essentially, Tango finds that players who sign free-agent contracts, consistently perform below standards. It’s worth noting that this behavior is consistent with economist Edward P. Lazear’s theories on long-term-contracted workers shirking/slacking once they have guaranteed money, and are being paid closer/above the value of their marginal product of labor. In fact, the MLB labor economy so closely fits his model that steeper earnings paths are generated by service-time-based, and players peak in performance in years 2-4 in service as predicted.

Anyway, I used both of these methodologies to calculate what we should expect Morales and Drew to be paid on the free agent market. And then, I compared my findings with the salary estimates stated by the eight baseball officials in Olney’s April 9th interview.

My findings are in the following three tables. The first two tables provide estimations for what we can expect Morales and Drew to earn based on Tom Tango and Lewie Pollis’ methods. The third compares the mean salary estimations for each player with the average figure that the interviewed executives provided in his article.

 

 Methodology 1 (Approximate Based on Observed $/Win)

 Player  fWAR  Estimated Total $alary  WARP  E$  rWAR  E$
 K. Morales  1.2  $8.4 (millions)  2.0  $14.0  2.8  $19.6
 S. Drew  3.4  23.8  2.9  20.3  3.1  21.7

 

Methodology 2 (Based on Predicted Player Performance)

 Player  fWAR  Estimated Total $alary
 WARP  E$  rWAR  E$
 K. Morales  1.2  $4.9 (millions)  2.0  $8.2  2.8  $11.5
 S. Drew  3.4  14.0  2.9  12.0  3.1  12.7

 

Sketchy Business? Estimated $alary Market vs. Olney Article

 Player  Mean Estimated $alary  Olney Mean $alary  Difference
 K. Morales  $11.1 (millions)  $6.9 (millions)  $4.2
 S. Drew  17.4   7.9  9.5

 

On the surface, Boras’ accusations/assertions are justified. And when we did deeper, they’re still justified, just less so.

We now see that the interviews were vastly more favorable for the team’s side of the deal than the free-agent player side. Not only were the commenters anonymous, their views were unchallenged by equally bullish estimates, and this elementary analysis shows that they followed their predicated behavior (bearish wage estimates).

In the ESPN article, Morales was appraised at $4.2 million below what he was worth in predicted salary, and Drew was appraised at a whopping $9.5 million below. Now, because there are only 8 observations, each person interviewed was anonymous, we can’t be too confident and weighting effectively is impossible. But these numbers do paint a picture. They clearly indicate that the article strongly devalued the two players. In Morales’ case, the highest estimate was $9 million, and the median was $7.25 million, which are both still significantly below his $11.1 million estimated salary.

In Drew’s case, he was even more drastically undervalued–over $9.5 million below what he’s projected to produce in 2014. His median was $7.5 million and most team officials suggested $7-7.5 million.

Of course, draft-pick compensation plays a huge part in player compensation as well. Here, both players turned down qualifying offers, tying them to first-round picks for 2/3 of the team that would bid for their services. So, signing them is essentially trading a draft pick as well, and picks in this range are generally worth between 0.5 to 1.8 fWAR over a six-year span.

Accounting for these issues helps explain Morales’ unemployment, and makes Boras’ argument less visible in this case. However, Drew’s nearly $10 million difference is hard to buy on those factors alone. And, as both players are still unemployed, there’s even a strong possibility that both players are seeing a much stronger effect from the negative media coverage.

Numbers aside though, the article even reads negatively regarding both players. For instance, Buster’s second interview question: 

Would the fact that they haven’t had a spring training and would need time to get game-ready factor into your offer? 

It’s just one sentence but if you read the entire article, you’ll see that there’s few positives that support the case to sign Drew or Morales.

To me, either free agent has plenty of enticing qualities if I’m trying to put together a winning team. Neither is my cup of tea, but I see enough skills and low enough cost to take a chance if I’m in GM shoes. Again, that’s what’s so puzzling now that they’re salary demands are so reduced.

Morales, though not a premium hitter, boats plenty of valuable skills in todays game. Having to spend his home games in the league’s two toughest parks on hitters during his MLB career hasn’t stopped him from posting a .207 ISO at home. And last year, while playing for a terrible lineup without protection, the switch hitter put together a .277/.336/.449 line. That kind of pop would translate nicely to Camden Yards or US Cellular for instance. And while his injury history is troubling, I wouldn’t be all too worried on a short-term deal. He played 134 games in 2012 and 156 last year.

As for Drew, I would pretty much discount the player he was up until 2011 when he fractured his ankle and tore multiple ligaments in a nasty injury. And judging by his short stays in Oakland and Boston, and the way he left Arizona, it doesn’t seem to be a sure thing that he’s good in the clubhouse. However, on paper, the player he is now is very useful. He plays positions up the middle with shallow talent pools, and he offers solid average or better defense all over the infield. He gets on base at a solid clip (.333 in 2013, .326 with the A’s in 2012) and he’s one of the relatively few available middle infielders that can give you a .150-.200 ISO while playing reliable defense.

 

Why? It’s Business.

Olney’s article was one-sided. After all, he did solely interview executives and team officials despite the topic being the market value of players. Obviously, as Econ 101 teaches, price is largely determined by supply and demand.

The interviewed executives had a clear, obvious incentive to provide low-ball salary predictions and estimates. It’s part of their job. They represent the teams that bid on these free-agent players, and are those directly involved in the deal. If they sign a player for less, they are rewarded for a job well done by their own employers:

Congrats Brian, my wonderful GM! You saved me a ton of money by signing Edwin Encarnacion well below the value of his performance. 

Or

You signed Jaret Wright, Carl Pavano and Rafael Soriano for how much!? You’re fired!

Or

John, you signed Manny Ramirez, Omar Vizquel and Sandy Alomar before arbitration eligibility. By taking some extra risk, we we will be vastly rewarded! 

You get the point. The guys Olney interviewed have strong incentive to undervalue both Drew and Morales. Major League Baseball is a show, and a public relations powerhouse.

Image matters for everyone, but especially ball players. It’s hard to hand someone a big contract ignorant of what the future brings.  So teams analyze players harder than anyone–as if they have tens of millions on the line. So, rumors aren’t harmless, and negative media certainly isn’t. Because public image is such a large part of the equation and there’s so much money on the table, articles like Olney’s on ESPN make the salary depression effect even more powerful.

Is it intentional? Most likely. It’s a poker game. There’s plenty of elbow-elbow, wink-wink, colluding going on. And there’s plenty of outright effort to beat the system. What would you do to make millions of dollars? Tens? Hundreds?

By gaining together, and using ESPN’s massive sounding boards to undervalue Drew and Morales as a group, downward pressure is placed on these player’s expected compensation–for the benefit of teams individually and also the owners as a whole.

If the contract values of players fall, the overall market price for their skills falls. This same effect is what makes the Yankees so dangerous in free agency, to not only small market teams but to themselves and the entire MLB. Because their pool of wealth is so much larger, if they bid $40 million higher than the next guy to get C.C. Sabathia, that pushes considerable upward forced on free agent prices for them and everyone else moving forward.

Obviously, to make it a more objective depiction, a neutral writer would provide a two-sided piece–or would at least explicitly acknowledge the bias.

 

And that’s what Boras, and the MLB Players Union has a problem with.

Is Buster Olney out to get Scott Boras and MLB players? Of course not. However, it is worth noting that the richer, more powerful side of the owners and players battle is the former. And if I’m a media organization that is vying for an even larger cut of my already dominant market share, who is it in my best interest to side with?

More than anything, it’s the system.

Commenters on free agency are protected by anonymity, which does have its pitfalls. It keeps reduces accountability, and while this is an essential part of free speech and press, it’s also very exploitable. The imperfect information in the deal between free-agent player and employer team is unbelievably expensive and risky–lots of guaranteed money. Allowing either side a forum to influence the deal’s outcome and providing anonymity is a recipe for dirty pool.

 

What They’re Saying

As players are regulated to adhere to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement rules on drug testing, and draft-pick-tying, Boras believes franchise owners should be equally accountable for breaking league rules by suggesting lower player values and depressing markets/wages for players with damaging publicity.

In Jon Heyman’s article, Boras said that he plans on pursuing a grievance against the league, evening discussing the use of subpoena power to unearth the identities of the anonymous sources that provide these comments.

“It’s a clear violation of the CBA. As many as five executives continue to use ESPN as a conduit to violate the collective bargaining agreement…The bell is rung…Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew were damaged by these comments. The integrity of the game is challenged when players of this stature have yet to have a negotiation due to the system.”

 

Tony Clark and the MLBPA addressed the Commissioner’s Office as well, asking them to launch an investigation regarding the comments made in Olney’s article. Clark released this statement in a press release:

“I am angered that numerous, anonymous baseball executives have blatantly and intentionally violated our collective bargaining agreement by offering to ESPN comments about the free-agent values of Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales. These statements undermine the free-agent rights of the players and depress their market value. Today, I have called upon the Commissioner’s Office to investigate immediately and thoroughly the sources of these statements and to take appropriate action to enforce our agreement.”

 

Boras supported Clark’s earlier statements by stating his belief that there needs to be a “remedy” for the two free agents, and changes to the system overall.

As mentioned before, Boras has been vocal on this topic for a long time, and he’s already had his share of words with Olney. In his July interview with Tom Haudricourt, he discussed the similarly negative and anonymous comments clouding Prince Fielder’s image Olney posted on his blog. Boras pointed out, that both sides of the story weren’t adequately portrayed, and he painted Fielder as a victim:

 

“This stuff about a ‘bad body’ is bull…[Fielder] may be a thick guy but he’s an athlete. He certainly is not the worst first baseman in the league like they say. It’s all hearsay. I’m tired of unnamed sources…Nobody mentioned that he just tied the club record for consecutive games played…They didn’t talk about that…People who know Prince know about his work ethic, what he’s like in the clubhouse and the attitude he takes out there every day, wanting to win. It has nothing to do with his body type. All of those things boost his value.”

Boras is no stranger to airing his gripes, even when they seem to be a stretch, or overly dramatic. In this case, he has a firm leg to stand on, but it’s a difficult matter that doesn’t have a clean solution on the table.

 

Washington Nationals Game 13 Review: Rendon, Leon Lead Nats Past Marlins

The power the Washington Nationals lacked Sunday against the Atlanta Braves returned, swing after swing, in the team’s 9-2 win over the Miami Marlins Monday.

Anthony Rendon and Sandy Leon each homered and combined for a total five RBIs to fuel the Nats’ offense against a Marlins squad that has now lost eight straight.

In a seemingly no-pressure situation, Jordan Zimmermann looked sharp, striking out seven and allowing two runs on six hits and one walk. And, he too, built on the Nats’ momentum at the plate, going 2-for-3 with two singles and a sacrifice bunt.

Left-hander Brad Hand (L, 0-1) lost control of the game quickly. In the first, Jayson Werth doubled with two outs and came home on a triple from Bryce Harper that put Washington on top 1-0 before the Fish came to bat.

In the second inning, Tyler Moore’s inexplicable luck in Miami produced once again as the outfielder led off the inning with a homer to right.

Danny Espinosa followed up with a double before advancing to third on a single by Leon. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals Game 12 Review: Nats blasted by Braves 10-2

The Washington Nationals would just as soon forget about the past weekend and get the heck out of Atlanta.

For the third day in a row, the Atlanta Braves took charge early and knocked off the visiting Nats. On Sunday, the Braves scored six run off Gio Gonzalez in the first two innings and cruised to a 10-2 win.

Gonzalez (L, 2-1, 3.50) gave up six earned runs on nine hits and four walks, striking out six. Atlanta scored three runs in both the first and second innings, including Justin Upton’s fourth home run of the season in the first inning, and Freddie Freeman’s fourth of the season in the second. Upton went 8-for-10 with two homers and five RBIs in the three-game sweep.

Gonzalez gutted out another four innings, going six total. Ross Detwiler took over in the seventh, and promptly allowed four more runs — through just two were earned — on two hits and a walk, and Andrelton Simmons’ first homer of the season.

The Nats got a run in the fifth inning. Kevin Frandsen doubled to lead off, took third on Danny Espinosa’s bunt single, and scored on Jose Lobaton’s ground out.

Adam LaRoche homered in the ninth inning off reliever Gus Schlosser.

The Nats move to Miami to face the Marlins on Monday. Jordan Zimmermann (0-0, 8.10) takes on Brad Hand (0-0, 3.24) at 7:10 pm.

Statistically Speaking: Rafael Soriano’s Work Up In Zone

This week’s Statistically Speaking is less math and more heatmap interpretation. Sometimes, a picture can tell us more than a swarm of tabled numbers could ever start to, and for Rafael Soriano and his approach, it’s something that needs to be seen to be fully appreciated.

Perhaps appreciated isn’t the best choice of word; for Rafa during his Washington tenure, his approach has been a bit of a tightrope walk, as his fastball/cutter and slider mix show some declines as he ages. For his fastball, we already see a precipitous drop in velocity this season compared to last, with his slider velocity beginning to match the fastball’s, commencing in a disappearing velocity difference that potentially makes both pitches less effective:

Brooksbaseball-Chart

Tracking back to a previous Statistically Speaking article on the declines in velocity seen in some Washington Nationals pitchers, Soriano would been included, had he met the innings pitched criteria; however, the above picture tells us all we need to know about the fading heat from the Nats closer.

Watching yesterday’s appearance brought to my attention another red flag with regards to Soriano—his propensity to pepper the top of the strike zone:

numlocation.php

Let’s take a look at this trend between his two 2014 appearances and 2013; here, we have a plot of the vertical component of Soriano’s pitches with respect to the strike zone. Again, we see the trend of his fourseamer and slider creeping up in the zone, especially the slider, starting last season:

Brooksbaseball-Chart(1)

Let’s now shift attention back to this year, looking at where Soriano’s fastball and slider end up:

Screen shot 2014-04-07 at 3.35.48 PM

Now, compare to where they ended up in the strike zone last season; again, fastballs are on the left, sliders are on the right:

Screen shot 2014-04-07 at 3.39.55 PM

…and let’s also take a look at Soriano’s 2013 whiffs on each pitch last year:

Screen shot 2014-04-07 at 4.11.47 PM

What we can gather from these heatmaps is that Soriano’s approach with the fastball really hasn’t changed—he still uses it up in the zone, using the late cutting action to bore into lefty hitters and to dart away from righties enough to prevent them from making solid contact with the pitch, or missing altogether, as the whiffs attest.

He then uses the slider down in the zone as a way to change the hitter’s eye level and keep them against the high fastball, preventing them from sitting on the high fastball. It’s a precarious approach, but one that has served Soriano well over his career. Yet, we do see the slider creeping up in the zone in 2014, which, thus far, hasn’t hurt him; also to note is the success Soriano has had with the slider in the past with respect to getting hitters to swing and miss with the pitch down in the zone.

Comparing the creeping location of the slider in 2014 to the whiff rates of the pitch in 2013 and we find that it isn’t as effective a pitch in terms of missing bats up in the zone. Include the decreasing velocity and velocity differences on the pitch in comparison to the fastball and we come to a dangerous convergence—more pitches up in the zone at a reduced velocity meeting a reduced potential to miss bats or at least generate poor contact by way of a disparity in velocity.

So far, Soriano has remained unscathed this season by the ominous trends; however, if his high-wire act is to remain an effective one for him and the Nats winning fortunes, Soriano should defy tightrope walking convention and start looking down.

Nats Nightly for April 10: Strasburg Ks 12, Desmond’s slam leads to 7-1 win over Marlins

Dave Nichols of District Sports Page and Patrick Reddington of Federal Baseball discuss the Washington Nationals 7-1 win over the Miami Marlins, finishing a three-game sweep before they head off for a three-game weekend series with the Atlanta Braves.

Discover Baseball Internet Radio with District Sports Page Nats Nightly on BlogTalkRadio

Washington Nationals Game 9 Review: Strasburg dominates, Desmond slams as Nats sweep Marlins 7-1

DESMOND’S SLAM IN THE EIGHTH PROVIDES CUSHION FOR 7TH WIN OF THE SEASON

The Washington Nationals burned through their long-men Wednesday night after starter Jordan Zimmermann managed just five outs. On Thursday afternoon, Stephen Strasburg bailed his beleaguered bullpen out, tossing a masterful 6 2/3 innings as the Nats played a tightly contested game for eight innings until Ian Desmond’s grand slam in the eighth inning opened the flood gates to a 7-1 win for the Nats before 20,869 at Nationals Park.

It was just the performance manager Matt Williams needed from the nominal ace of his rotation. Strasburg finished with 12 strikeouts, the 13th time in his career he has K’d more than 10 batters in a game. He threw 71 of his 98 pitches for strikes and struck out Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton twice, putting his newly developed slider to good use.

The Nats went up 2-0 in the third. With one out, Anthony Rendon drew a walk from Marlins starter Tom Koehler. Jayson Werth then clubbed a 1-0 pitch into the Marlins bullpen for his second home run of the season — and second in as many days.

From there, it was all Strasburg. The big righty plowed through the Miami batting order, generating strikeouts and ground outs with equal ease. Strasburg recorded 13 straight outs, including six Ks, between Derek Dietrich’s fielder’s choice in the first and Ian Desmond’s error on a grounder in the fifth.

Strasburg then struck out six of his last 10 batters faced. But a homer allowed to Marcel Ozuna in the seventh, followed two batters later by a walk to catcher Jeff Mathis, signaled the end of his day. Strasburg struck out 12 total in 6 2/3 innings with one walk and three hits allowed.

Jerry Blevins came on and retired pinch-hitter Reed Johnson following the walk to Mathis. He struck out lefties Christian Yelich and Derek Dietrich to start the eighth inning, and Williams then called upon rookie Aaron Barrett to face Stanton. Barrett fed Stanton slider after slider until the hulking slugger finally swung through for strike three.

The Marlins turned to Arquimedes Caminero in the bottom half of the inning, but the Nats battered the reliever. Rendon led off with a double, followed by a single from Werth. Adam LaRoche grounded out to first with the infield drawn in, but Caminero then walked Kevin Frandsen and Bryce Harper — the second forcing in the Nats third run.

Ian Desmond then delivered the big blow, a clout to the Red Porch for the Nats second Grand Slam of the series to make it 7-1.

NATS NOTES: Rendon’s eighth inning double extended his hitting streak to nine games, the longest such streak to begin a season for the Washington Nationals.

 

 

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