March 2, 2015

Washington Nationals own historic rotation…for now

Once again, we’re in the difficult position of evaluating an off-season move without immediate data, and as far as the Clippard/Escobar trade can be the sort of dejecting move that leans on past data for pessimism, the aquisition of right hander Max Scherzer gives us the sort of situation to be optimistic about and to play with some numbers.

Adding perennial Cy Young candidate to the rotation, the Nationals a shot at a pitching rotation that could be favorably compared to the 1996 and 1997 Braves or the 2011 Phillies.

The Scherzer signing appears to be a massive one in more than just his contract. Scherzer’s 6.0 WAR ranked eighth last year in all of baseball, but his 723 strikeouts over the last three seasons lead the Majors over that period, and outstrip Clayton Kershaw’s 700 and Stephen Strasburg’s 630 by a fair margin.

On paper, the Nationals have now assembled a pitching rotation that joins the 1996 and 1997 Braves, and the 2011 Phillies in terms of quality. We could sit around and talk all day about which of those rotations were the best, but of those four, at least on paper based on this past year’s performance, the 2015 Nationals would likely stack up fourth. The problem here is that we’re getting into that dangerous “predicting the future” part of this job that really isn’t the sort of thing I’m known for doing with any accuracy.

However, we can look at some past data to see the regular season results. I want to focus on three post-strike/post-expansion teams: The 1996 and 1997 Braves, and the 2011 Phillies. I started these comparisons by looking at Cy Young Award Vote-getters, but I decided that data was too subjective, as it was looking for a single best player, and not a best rotation, and that lead me to the Pitching WAR scoreboard over at Baseball-Reference.com.

The 2011 Phillies put together one of the most remarkable pitching staffs we’ve seen in a generation, with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels combining for 24.1 WAR that season. Halladay and Lee hardly walked anyone, and though Clayton Kershaw topped many individual categories, the Phillies’ 1-2-3 punch was substantial. Lee threw six complete game shutouts, and Halladay added eight complete games of his own. It’s hard to imagine a more dominant three-man combination.

When it comes to dominant rotations, though, you have to look at the 1990s Braves. The 1997 Braves combo of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Denny Neagle combined for 22.6 WAR, representing the second, fifth, eighth and ninth positions on the NL board for that season. The 1996 Braves combo of Smoltz, Maddux, Neagle and Glavine put up 26.2 WAR, representing second through fifth positions on the board.

Both of those are just absolutely staggering marks, and there’s a reason that Glavine and Maddux are in the Hall of Fame, and Smoltz was just selected.

I’m not saying that the 2015 Nationals are guaranteed be any of those three, but I am saying that this is their best chance at becoming something unique and wonderful for the fans to watch. I, for one, look forward to seeing how a starting rotation of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, and Doug Fister will handle a year together. There isn’t an “easy” day in there for the opponents.

Hell, there isn’t even a “just medium-hard” day in there.

If you use the 2014 numbers, Scherzer, Roark, Zimmermann, and Fister would have combined for 20.5 WAR, representing the fourth, seventh, eighth and 10th positions on the NL leader board for pitcher WAR. When you consider that Roark is likely the odd man out, the Nationals rotation combined for 15.2 WAR across the other four starters, which goes to 21.2 WAR when Scherzer gets figured in. For comparison’s sake, the reigning World Champion Giants’ rotation in 2014 ended up with about 8.8 WAR.

The biggest question become: What do you do when you have six pitchers for a five-man rotation? How does Tanner Roark handle a move to the long relief slot in the bullpen? Do you execute a trade for more offense now, and if so, whom?

Zimmermann’s name has been mentioned on the hot stove all winter long as a pending free agent at the end of the year. Over the weekend, media reports said the Nats would listen to offers for Strasburg. Roark has the most cost-certain number of years. Fister is an impending free agent himself. And even the almost-forgotten Gio Gonzalez was mentioned early in the offseason as a potential target for some teams.

These are all impossibly weird questions to consider for a team that was, five years ago, losing ninety to a hundred games a year.

The Nationals are a franchise that has now made the commitment to go for broke in the 2015 season, betting that a championship now — where none have existed in the District in almost twenty-five years — would be the sort of generational uplift that a newer team needs to make for an immensely profitable enterprise, and not just the sort that makes several million in profit. This is a commitment to winning a whole generation of young fans and commit them to a club for decades to come, and it’s the sort of thing that a baseball team needs more than ever right now in a football-heavy market in a time when baseball’s popularity has been on the wane.

The structure of Scherzer’s deal suggests that the Nationals are using this as an uplift contract — much as they did with Jayson Werth’s deal, which has largely proved worth its asking price — with some of the money deferred over the 2022-2028 timeframe. It’s impressive to think that my son, who is barely walking at this point, will be in high school before the deal is paid off, but that’s what has me thinking this deal was a statement to the rest of the players, the division foes, and the league. That statement is unequivocal at this point: this is the year the Nationals go the distance.

Is it enough? Can a team with dominant pitching and a good-if-not-world-class offense go on to win it all?

Suffice to say: this is rarified air, and the sort of thing that can get you deep into the playoffs. But none of those three previous teams won all the marbles. The 1997 Braves lost the NLCS to the Florida Marlins, a team with 10 fewer regular season wins. The 2011 Phillies didn’t make it past the Cardinals in the NLDS, who had 12 fewer regular season wins. The 1996 Braves lost to the New York Yankees in the World Series.

Stellar pitching isn’t the entire playoff picture. They’re not going to win it all based on pitching alone, but without that pitching, this isn’t a team that gets anywhere close.

Report: Washington Nationals sign Max Scherzer

According to the Washington Post, the Washington Nationals have completed a deal with free agent starter Max Scherzer. While terms were not revealed, Scherzer rejected a $160 million dollar offer and reports earlier Sunday evening indicated the sides were contemplating a seven-year deal for $180 million.

Barring any other moves (which seems unlikely), the Nats rotation is, in a word, fearsome. Scherzer joins Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister and Tanner Roark in a deep, talented and expensive rotation.

Even before talk of Scherzer came to light Sunday, the Nats were rumored to be entertaining offers on Zimmermann and Ian Desmond, potential free agents at season’s end. It becomes likely, if not prohibitive, that one of the potential free agents (including Doug Fister and Denard Span), or another expensive player — such as Strasburg — could be moved for prospects or to bolster the roster.

Or, GM Mike Rizzo could very well keep everyone in an effort to capture the World Series for 89-year-old owner Ted Lerner, then deal with the repercussions following the season.

Scherzer, 30, was simply the top free agent on this year’s market and one of the top five pitchers of the past two seasons for the Detroit Tigers. He’s been an All-Star the past two seasons, Cy Young in ’13 and fifth in ballots last year. He’s 91-50 with a 3.58 ERA and 1.219 WHIP in his career, which obviously includes some difficult seasons early as he learned to command his precious fastball.

In ’13, Scherzer was 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and last season went 18-5, 3.15. Scherzer has a lifetime K rate of 9.6 and BB rate of 2.8, and the past two seasons he’s been on the right side of both (above Ks, below BBs).

Additionally, moving back to the N.L. at this stage in his career should be a boon to his strikeout numbers.

There will be plenty more written about this mega-deal, but the fallout — if there is any — will be fascinating to watch. Rizzo had some big decisions even before this happened, and they become even more intriguing.

It’s been no secret around Nats Park that Jordan Zimmermann would test the free agent waters when he became eligible. Scherzer could very well be Rizzo’s idea to replace the stoic right-hander.

There were plenty of rumors and suggestions by national media Sunday evening that Strasburg could be dangled as a trade target, as he’s due for free agency in the very near future.

Or, Rizzo (and potentially more likely, Scott Boras — Scherzer’s agent) got to the Lerners and said ‘You’ve got a chance here to win it all’ and convinced the wealthy but cautious family to go “all-in” and give themselves the best chance at a championship over the next couple of seasons.

Either way, a competitive and interesting team got more so on Sunday, when most of the country was watching the NFL Conference title games. What comes next could make for spectacular drama, adding to this fascinating and intriguing development.

NATS: Player Appearance by Strasburg

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg will make an appearance at the grand opening of the Microsoft Store at the Montgomery Mall in Bethesda, Maryland on Saturday, November 22.

According to the website, the first 200 people in line for the Microsoft opening on Saturday, November 22, will receive one complimentary meet and greet ticket for the Xbox One event with Stephen Strasburg on November 22. Tickets are limited to 200. Must have ticket to enter line. Check facebook.com/microsoftstore to get up-to-the-minute details.

Strasburg even tweeted about the event today.

Stephen Strasburg made his last start at home for 2012 - Miami Marlins v. Washington Nationals, 9/7/2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Stephen Strasburg made his last start at home for 2012 – Miami Marlins v. Washington Nationals, 9/7/2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Nationals vs San Francisco Giants NLDS Series Preview

After winning the NL East as well as owning the best record in the National League, the Washington Nationals welcome the San Francisco Giants, winners of the NL Wild Card Game, to Nationals Park on Friday afternoon to kickoff a best-of-five National League Division Series.

Teams

Washington Nationals (96-66, 1st in NL East vs San Francisco Giants (88-74, 2nd in NL West) [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 161 Review: Strasburg runs scoreless innings streak to 20 in win over Marlins

Stephen Strasburg threw six scoreless innings and the Washington Nationals topped the Miami Marlins 5-1 in the next-to-last game of the 22014 regular season.

The Nats jumped on Marlins starter Nate Eovaldi for multiple base runners in the early innings and pushed a run across in the second. Bryce Harper led off with a single just past lumbering first baseman Justin Bour. He went to second on Wilson Ramos’ infield single. Asdrubal Cabrara forced Ramos as second, but beat the relay to set up first and third with one out.

Strasburg sacrificed to move Cabrera up, and Harper waited until Eovaldi made the throw to first to break for home. He beat the relay and tag by catcher Jeff Mathis, sneaking his mitt-covered left hand just ahead of the tag to put the Nats up 1-0.

It stayed that way until the fifth. With one out, Denard Span singled up the middle and went to second as Anthony Rendon drew a base on balls. Jayson Werth’s line drive single to center brought home Span.

Span set the Nationals’ record for most multi-hit games in a season with 58 and tied Christian Guzman’s team record for hits in a season with 183. Obviously, Span has one more game to stand alone.

But the rally ended there. Adam LaRoche grounded out to short, and after an Ian Desmond walk, Bryce Harper struck out swinging to end the frame.

Strasburg was done after six terrific innings on just 83 pitches, 55 for strikes. He gave up a nere two base hits and walked one with seven strikeouts. He generated eight ground ball outs opposed to two fly outs. With six scoreless innings Saturday, Strasburg finished the regular season with 20 consecutive scoreless innings pitched.

After Jerry Blevins pitched a perfect seventh inning and Tyler Clippard a 20-pitch scoreless eighth, the Nationals blew the game open in bottom of the eighth.

Ryan Zimmerman — who entered in the sixth at first base — and Ian Desmond singled, then Bryce Harper drew a walk to load the bases with no outs. Wilson Ramos forced Zimmerman at home with a grounder to short, but Asdrubal Cabrera drilled a double to right center that cleared the bases to put the Nats up 5-0.

In the ninth, Drew Storen loaded the bases with a pair of one-out singles and an error by Zimmerman, and another error by Rendon allowed a run to come home. But Ian Desmond snared Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s line drive up the middle to end it without further angst.

Washington Nationals Game 155 Review: Strasburg shuts down Marlins

Behind seven stellar innings from ace Stephen Strasburg, the Washington Nationals beat the Miami Marlins 2-1 on Sunday.

It wasn’t without some tense moments though, as deposed closer Rafael Soriano gave up a run in the ninth inning before finally securing the last out of the game. Soriano was pressed into the closer’s role on Sunday as Drew Storen was unavailable due to pitching so frequently this week.

Before then, it was a two-run rally for the Nats in the fifth — and Strasburg. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 149 Review: NL East within Reach after Nats Top Braves

STRASBURG, RAMOS HELP NATS LOWER MAGIC NUMBER TO TWO

With their Magic Number now down to two games, the Washington Nationals could win their second NL East division title in three years Tuesday night should they continue to dominate against the Atlanta Braves.

Following a 4-2 win over their rivals Monday night, helped by a solid performance from Stephen Strasburg (W, 12-11), the Nats could very likely celebrate their 2014 playoff berth at Turner Field.

Despite reporting neck stiffness, Strasburg was sharp against a Braves team he frequently struggles to beat. Through 7.0 innings pitched, the Nationals right-hander allowed five total hits, no runs and no walks and struck out seven batters.

His one trouble spot came in the fifth inning when, after Jason Heyward led off with a single to right, Strasburg committed a throwing error in his attempt to pick off Heyward. Instead, Heyward made it all the way to third base on the error.

Fortunately for the Nats, Strasburg came up with three big outs to work out of the inning unscathed. After striking out Chris Johnson, Strasburg forced Christian Bethancourt to ground out to third, before B.J. Upton struck out to end the inning.

Before that point, the Nats had helped themselves to a two-run lead over Atlanta starter Ervin Santana (L, 14-9, thanks to a one-run double by Denard Span in the third and a lead-off solo shot by Wilson Ramos in the fifth. Ramos’ homer marked his 11th of the season.

With Luis Avilan on the mound in relief for Atlanta, Strasburg helped himself to another insurance run in the seventh inning.

After Nate Schierholtz drew a lead-off walk, Ramos lined out to center before Asdrubal Cabrera doubled to left. Then, Strasburg singled to center to plate Cabrera. The Nats threatened to tack on more runs as Span took first on a hit-by-pitch, but reliever Juan Jaime successfully struck out Anthony Rendon to end the inning.

The Nats earned one more run in the top of the eighth after Jayson Werth led off with a walk and came home by way of an Ian Desmond force out and Schierholtz RBI single.

After Craig Stammen delivered a solid eighth inning of relief, Rafael Soriano seemed to pine for his closer role. Having lost the job a few weeks ago, Soriano appeared in a would-be non-save situation in the ninth, only to immediately allow a double by Andrelton Simmons and a two-out, RBI double by Justin Upton.

Soriano got Heyward to fly out to left, but walked Chris Johnson, allowing the tying run to step to the plate.

Not surprisingly, Nationals manager Matt Williams opted to pitch Drew Storen for the save situation. Storen allowed an RBI single to Bethancourt, but successfully forced B.J. Upton ground out to end the game.

 

THE GOOD: Stephen Strasburg has without a doubt struggled against the Atlanta Braves this season, but he showed no signs of bad habits when he struck out seven and allowed no runs and no walks through seven innings pitched. Additionally, the Nats – who were out-hit nine to six by the Braves – did enough with relatively little, going 3-for-8 with RISP and stranding just six base runners all night.

Thanks to their collective efforts, the Nats will have cause to celebrate if they can secure a win against Atlanta Tuesday night.

THE BAD: Rafael Soriano nearly undid eight solid innings of work for the Nationals’ pitching staff. In just 0.2 innings pitched, he allowed two runs on two hits and a walk.

THE UGLY: Stephen Strasburg’s pickoff attempt in the fifth inning was a far cry from pretty. Fortunately, Strasburg was in the zone through his entire outing, and pitched out of the jam without allowing a run to score.

THE STATS: 4 R, 1 HR, 6 H, 4 BB, 9 K, 3-for-8 RISP, 6 LOB

Washington Nationals Game 144 Review: Nats Lose As Braves Strike Late

NATS CAN’T OVERCOME ATLANTA’S LATE SURGE AGAINST BULLPEN

Looking for a sweep, the Washington Nationals fell to the Atlanta Braves in a Wednesday afternoon contest at Nationals Park, 6-2.

In the first two games of the Nats three-game series with the Braves, Washington used some early offense to boost them to victory. On Wednesday afternoon, Braves’ starter Aaron Harang kept Washington’s offense in check while Atlanta slowly built a lead in the latter innings of the contest. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 139 Review: Nats Waste Five-Run Lead, Fall to Phils in 11

Washington Nationals reliever Rafael Soriano did little to ensure his job security Friday night.

In a game in which the Nats led by as many as five runs over the Philadelphia Phillies, the 34-year-old right-hander took the mound in the ninth with three runs padding the Nats’ pathway to a win.

Instead, Soriano allowed a lead-off single to Domonic Brown and a two-run homer off the bat of Carlos Ruiz, pulling the Phillies within a run as they trailed 7-6.

Just an out later, Philadelphia came up with that run, by way of a Ben Revere solo shot to right.

The blown save marks Soriano’s seventh of the season.

Meanwhile, Tyler Clippard did his part to keep a Curly W within reach, but Craig Stammen had no such luck thanks to two costly mistakes by Nats’ fielders.

The eleventh inning started off with a fielding error by Bryce Harper that allowed Brown to reach second base. Brown advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt laid down by Ruiz and came home on a fielder’s choice by Maikel Franco. On the play, covering first base, Tyler Moore committed a throwing error that allowed Franco to advance to second. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 134 Review: Strasburg Tosses Gem in Nats Win

WERTH HOMERS, STRASBURG STRONG AS NATS DEFEAT MARINERS

On Saturday night at Safeco Field, the Washington Nationals didn’t need six homers like they did Friday night to defeat the Seattle Mariners, 3-1.

Instead of an offensive onslaught, it was the steady arm — at least on this night — of ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg that led the Nationals to victory. [Read more…]

%d bloggers like this: