Archive for Nationals

Did Bryce Harper Cheat in the Home Run Derby?

The 2018 Home Run Derby was an awesome spectacle despite what appeared, on paper, to be a lackluster field. Bryce Harper, who somehow has 173 career homers and is still just 25, won the event in a dramatic finale that saw him best fellow catcher-turned-outfield-slugger Kyle Schwarber.

Or did he?

Yes, that’s #Justice4Schwarber trending on Twitter. My personal favorite hashtag, though, was this:

In short, the Twitterverse (mostly, to be fair, Cubs Twitterverse) was abuzz with the sentiment that Bryce Harper won the Home Run Derby by cheating. Specifically, by doing this:

You can also see that video here. In terms of what it shows, it’s pretty obvious: during the last minute-plus of his final round, Ron Harper (who, by the way, has alarmingly immense limb musculature) didn’t wait for Bryce’s batted balls to hit the ground before tossing another pitch to his son. It’s also pretty clear that, absent those extra pitches, Bryce wouldn’t have been able to catch Schwarber. As Jay Jaffe explained yesterday (emphasis mine):

[T]he 25-year-old Nationals superstar did have his back to the wall in the final round against fifth-seeded Kyle Schwarber, but with nine homers in the final minute — on 10 swings by my count, though ESPN’s broadcast said nine in a row — he tied the Cubs slugger’s total of 18. On the second pitch of the 30-second bonus period, he lofted a 434-foot drive to center field, then did a two-handed bat flip as the crowd went wild, and quickly handed the trophy to his barrel-chested father, Ron, who had pitched to him[.]

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A Derby That Delivered the Goods

Walk-off. Walk-off! WALK-OFF! Bryce Harper won the 2018 Home Run Derby at Nationals Park in dramatic and impressive fashion, needing less than the full complement of time to beat his opponents in all three rounds. At ease in front of the hometown fans showering him with cheers, the Derby’s No. 2 seed and the only contestant with previous experience rose to the occasion each time. After dispatching seventh-seeded Freddie Freeman and third-seeded Max Muncy in the quarter- and semifinals, the 25-year-old Nationals superstar did have his back to the wall in the final round against fifth-seeded Kyle Schwarber, but with nine homers in the final minute — on 10 swings by my count, though ESPN’s broadcast said nine in a row — he tied the Cubs slugger’s total of 18. On the second pitch of the 30-second bonus period, he lofted a 434-foot drive to center field, then did a two-handed bat flip as the crowd went wild, and quickly handed the trophy to his barrel-chested father, Ron, who had pitched to him:

In a field that was somewhat lacking in star power, with no Mike Trout (who’s never participated), no Aaron Judge (who did not defend the title he won as a rookie in 2017), no Giancarlo Stanton (who won in 2016 but then was upset in his home park last year), and no player from among the season’s top five home-run totals for the first time since at least 2008, Harper — the biggest name from among the eight participants, even if he has struggled by his own standards this season — took center stage. He became just the third player to win the Home Run Derby (which began in 1985) in his home park, after the Cubs’ Ryne Sandberg in 1990 and the Reds’ Todd Frazier in 2015.

Frazier’s win came in the first year of a format that has turned the event from a three-hour slog into a vastly more entertaining spectacle that ran just over two hours. Instead of swinging until having made 10 “outs” (non-homers), players have four minutes to hit as many homers as possible, with the caveat that a ball can’t be pitched until the last one landed. Each player gets one 30-second timeout in the first two rounds and two timeouts in the finals. A player hitting two homers projected by Statcast to have traveled at least 440 feet unlocks an extra 30 seconds of bonus time.

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Previewing the 2018 Home Run Derby

With apologies to the 1960 television show that became a staple of ESPN Classic, the Home Run Derby has been around since 1985, but it wasn’t until the last few years that Major League Baseball found a format that was vastly entertaining: a head-to-head single-elimination bracket setup with timed, four-minute rounds and 30 seconds of bonus time added for hitting two 440-foot homers, as measured by Statcast. In 2015, the first year of that format, Todd Frazier, then of the Reds, became just the second player in Derby history to win in his home park; the Cubs’ Ryne Sandberg was first in 1990. In 2016, the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton won at Petco Park, and last year, rookie Aaron Judge beat Stanton on his home turf in Marlins Park — a pair of ideal results that will be tough to top.

Indeed, one of the big drawbacks of the Derby has been its failure to attract a full complement of the game’s elite sluggers; to the extent that complaints about MLB’s failure to market its stars to full advantage rings true, here’s a very good example. Mike Trout has never participated, and Bryce Harper has just once, in 2013. With the Derby and the All-Star Game at Nationals Park in Washington, DC, Harper is back, but he’s the only member of the eight-player field who has participated in a previous Derby. There’s no Judge this year, no Stanton, and no J.D. Martinez or José Ramiréz either. In fact, according to the Washington Post, this is the first year since at least 2008 without a player from among the majors’ top five in homers participating. Just two of the current top 10, the Brewers Jesus Aguilar (sixth with 24, but leading the NL) and Harper (tied for seventh with 23) are involved, and of the eight contestants, just one is from an AL team, the Astros’ Alex Bregman. Let’s call it what it is: a comparatively weak field.

Perhaps that’s because the myth of a post-Derby curse persists; what fall-off there is generally owes to regression in players’ rate of home runs per fly ball, which can owe something to luck. Anyway, these dinger displays are still fun, even in this homer-saturated age, and the timed format is much, much, much better — so much so that I’d even be willing to call Chris Berman out of retirement to repeat that phrase — than the previous slog, during which a batter might take pitch after pitch looking for the right one, and an hour in the competition might go by before somebody was eliminated. That wasn’t compelling television.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 7/11

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Andres Gimenez, SS, New York Mets (Profile)
Level: Hi-A   Age: 19   Org Rank: 3   FV: 50
Line: 3-for-5, 2B, 3B

Notes
Gimenez is a 19-year-old shortstop slashing .280/.350/.430 in the Florida State League. That’s good for a 107 wRC+ in the FSL. Big-league shortstops with similar wRC+ marks are Trea Turner (a more explosive player and rangier defender than Gimenez) and Jurickson Profar, who have both been two-win players or better this year ahead of the break. Also of note in the Mets system last night was Ronny Mauricio, who extended his career-opening hitting streak to 19 games.

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I Think I Love This NL All-Star Outfield

Bryce Harper, Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis walk into a bar and… [squints at notes]… will be the starting outfield for the NL in the 2018 All-Star Game.

That’s not a joke. Nor is it a travesty, or justice served, or the result of any single organizing principle beyond their simultaneous eligibility for the honor. Barring any scratch due to injury, it’s a reality, one that demonstrates the potential strangeness that can occur when fans get to vote to choose the starting lineups for both leagues. Those lineups, along with the reserves and Final Vote participants, were announced on Sunday evening.

We go though this every year, and across this vast country, there’s no doubt some complaining about who’s worthy or unworthy of selection. If you care enough, you can probably find an egregious snub, a player whose omission will spike your blood pressure and cost you followers on Twitter when you surround your 280-character case for the guy with enough expletives. Me, I don’t vote for All-Star teams anymore and generally dread writing about the selections, but this trio is different. Seldom does a single unit – one league’s infield or another league’s outfield or a bullpen or whatever — shine a light on the fundamental conflicts that come into play when choosing a team.

Even once you acknowledge that the game is first and foremost an exhibition for the fans, who, after all, are the ones responsible for the vote, you run up against the question of criteria. Are the selections simply supposed to represent the hottest players over the first 80-something games of the season? The most accomplished players from around the league? The biggest stars on the most successful teams? Or the players whose true talent level over a large sample size suggests that they’re actually the best? You could go any one of those ways and get different answers — or find fault with any of them, as well.

Of the three starting NL outfielders, Harper was the easiest to predict, whether you measure from the moment in April 2015 when MLB officially anointed the Nationals to host the game — just before the 22-year-old fourth-year veteran set the Senior Circuit ablaze en route to an MVP award — or this spring, when the 25-year-old began the year by homering six times in Washington’s first nine games. While the performance gap between him and Mike Trout continues to grow, Harper is the one of the pair with more public exposure thanks to things as varied as the Sports Illustrated cover at age 16 and the Nationals’ four trips to the playoffs during his short career. He’s the one with the more outsized public persona, the wild hairdos, and the higher total of jerseys sold, at least as of last October.

I hate the handwringing over MLB’s perceived lack of a transcendent national star on par with LeBron James or Tom Brady — the “The Face of Baseball” conversation, in other words — as much as anyone, but Harper is about as Face of Baseball as you can get in 2018. And that’s not “even when he’s hitting .218,” that’s “especially when he’s hitting .218,” because beyond whatever advantages Harper has in name recognition among fans, there’s the growing understanding that .218 doesn’t represent the quality of Harper’s 2018 season, or his true ability.

No, Harper’s not having his best year by any stretch of the imagination, and yes, he’s been caught in a prolonged slump, making less frequent contact with pitches inside the zone than ever (76.6%, compared to a career mark of 84.3%) and getting eaten alive by infield shifts (40 wRC+ on contact, down from 107 last year and 81 for his career). Thanks to his 21 homers (second in the league) and 76 walks (first), though, he’s still got a .374 on-base percentage (15th in the NL), a .472 slugging percentage (26th), a 122 wRC+ (also 26th), and 1.5 WAR. In other words, he’s still a very productive hitter even in a down year, and over a larger timeframe — from the start of 2017 until now, for example — he’s still one of the game’s top dozen hitters by wRC+ — and the only one among that dozen who’s eligible to play the outfield for the NL this year:

MLB wRC+ Leaders, 2017-2018
Rk Player Team PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+
1 Mike Trout Angels 908 58 .309 .448 .628 186
2 J.D. Martinez – – – 856 72 .314 .383 .671 171
3 Aaron Judge Yankees 1064 77 .283 .414 .607 169
4 Jose Altuve Astros 1068 33 .343 .408 .525 156
5 Joey Votto Reds 1100 44 .310 .444 .527 155
6 Jose Ramirez Indians 1035 53 .309 .382 .586 154
7 Freddie Freeman Braves 913 44 .310 .404 .567 152
8 Nelson Cruz Mariners 964 61 .281 .370 .549 148
9 Giancarlo Stanton – – – 1073 80 .276 .363 .588 147
10 Paul Goldschmidt D-backs 1059 56 .291 .398 .554 144
11 Carlos Correa Astros 796 37 .297 .376 .522 143
12T Bryce Harper Nationals 880 50 .277 .395 .544 141
12T Kris Bryant Cubs 976 38 .290 .401 .519 141
14 Anthony Rendon Nationals 902 37 .294 .385 .526 137
15 Mookie Betts Red Sox 1036 46 .288 .372 .524 135

In other words, Harper is a damn solid choice to start the 2018 All-Star Game, warts and all. Besides, did you think they were gonna play the game in DC without him?

In some ways, Markakis is the anti-Harper, a 34-year-old player who’s in his 13th big-league season. While he’s taken home a pair of Gold Glove awards, he’s never before sniffed an All-Star team, though he probably deserved it in 2008 based on a first half with a 138 wRC+ and 3.6 WAR, fourth in the league. He, too, has actually been on the cover of an issue of Sports Illustrated, jumping in the air to celebrate a victory along with fellow Orioles outfielders Endy Chavez and Adam Jones for an October 1, 2012 cover story written by David Simon of Homicide and The Wire fame, but unless you’re an Orioles or Braves fan, you probably couldn’t pick him out of a police lineup unless he was wearing his jersey. Hell, a late-season broken thumb cost him a playoff appearance in 2012, though he did hit a big two-run homer off Justin Verlander in Game Two of the 2014 Division Series.

After nine years with the Orioles, Markakis signed a four-year, $44 million contract with the Braves in December 2014, a deal that was greeted with reactions ranging from “Huh?” to “What?” especially because the team had just traded away the more talented Justin Upton and Jason Heyward amid their rebuilding effort. For the first three years of the deal, he served as little more than a durable (but apparently not fully healthy) placeholder, averaging 158 games, a 100 wRC+ (.280/.357/.386), and 1.1 WAR a year for a team that averaged 69 wins. Yet when the Braves were ready to turn the corner towards contention, Markakis stepped up and joined Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies as a middle-of-the-order force. He’s handling breaking pitches better than he has in years. His average exit velocity is up 3.1 mph over last year, to 91.4 mph, good for 34th out of 292 qualifiers, and his .391 xwOBA is 61 points higher than last year and 48 higher than in any other year since Statcast was unveiled.

Overall, Markakis is hitting .322/.389/.490 for a 135 wRC+; his 113 hits ranks first in the league, his batting average third, his on-base percentage sixth, his wRC+ tied for 12th, and his 2.5 WAR tied for 18th and tied for third among NL outfielders:

NL Outfield WAR Leaders, 2018
Rk Player Team PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
1 Lorenzo Cain Brewers 317 8 .290 .394 .435 127 3.4
2 Kyle Schwarber Cubs 307 17 .249 .376 .498 129 2.6
3T Nick Markakis Braves 398 10 .322 .389 .490 135 2.5
3T Brandon Nimmo Mets 280 12 .262 .386 .515 148 2.5
5 Ben Zobrist Cubs 271 6 .294 .387 .429 123 2.3
6 A.J. Pollock D-backs 186 11 .289 .355 .590 147 2.3
7T David Peralta D-backs 356 15 .291 .354 .508 130 2.2
7T Starling Marte Pirates 317 10 .278 .328 .457 112 2.2
7T Christian Yelich Brewers 318 11 .285 .362 .459 120 2.2
10 Matt Kemp Dodgers 297 15 .319 .360 .549 146 2.0
11T Chris Taylor Dodgers 361 10 .257 .338 .461 119 1.8
11T Brian Anderson Marlins 395 6 .282 .359 .407 113 1.8
11T Cody Bellinger Dodgers 359 17 .234 .320 .475 116 1.8
11T Odubel Herrera Phillies 365 15 .281 .335 .469 117 1.8
15 Albert Almora Jr. Cubs 283 4 .326 .365 .452 120 1.7
16T Jason Heyward Cubs 283 5 .280 .339 .421 104 1.5
16T Kiké Hernandez Dodgers 247 15 .230 .313 .475 113 1.5
16T Corey Dickerson Pirates 317 6 .308 .341 .458 114 1.5
16T Bryce Harper Nationals 388 21 .218 .374 .472 122 1.5
20T 8 players 1.4

If you’re going by a larger timeframe than just the past three-and-a-half months, there’s no justifiable logic by which Markakis could be an All-Star, but as a hot hand on what might be the NL’s biggest surprise team (unless it’s the Phillies, who are actually tied with the Braves atop the NL East), he’s the type of selection that fans often make. And while he takes a back seat to 46-year-old Satchel Paige, 42-year-old Tim Wakefield, 40-year-old Jamie Moyer, and other older first-time All-Stars, there’s something endearing and cool about Markakis making it, particularly given that until his selection, he ranked second in career hits (2,164) among players who had never made an All-Star team and began their careers after 1933, the year of the first All-Star Game. If Nick Markakis can persevere that long before becoming an All-Star, then buck up, Buttercup, because good things are in store for you, as well.

Which brings us to Kemp, whose two previous All-Star appearances, in 2011 and -12, date back to when he was the toast of Tinseltown. In the first of those years, Kemp was voted the NL’s starting center fielder during a season in which he wound up one homer short of becoming just the fifth player in history to go 40/40 in homers and steals; as it was, he led the NL in homers (39), RBIs (126), total bases (353), and WAR (8.3) while ranking second in wRC+ (168). He won a Gold Glove, and while he finished second to Ryan Braun in the NL MVP voting, he landed an eight-year, $160 million dollar extension, setting a record for an NL player. While he got off to a sizzling start the following year, back-to-back left hamstring strains limited him to five plate appearances in a two-month span and forced him to the sidelines for the Midsummer Classic.

Thus began a string of increasingly frustrating seasons during which Kemp’s production on both sides of the ball sank; the Dodgers traded him to the Padres in December 2014, eating $32 million of the $107 million remaining on his deal. On July 30, 2016, the Padres sent him to the Braves along with $10.5 million in exchange for infielder Hector Olivera, who was under suspension for a domestic-violence incident, owed $28.5 million for 2017-20 once he was reinstated, and immediately released upon completion of the deal. As I noted in late April, the trail of bad paper attached to Kemp came full circle this past December, when the Braves dealt him back to the Dodgers for Charlie Culberson, Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy (collectively owed more than $50 million for 2018) and another $4.5 million, a move designed to help the Dodgers get under the competitive balance tax threshold.

Though Kemp had homered 77 times from 2015 to -17, he hit just .269/.310/.470 (107 wRC+), posted the majors’ worst outfield defense by UZR (-33) and DRS (-50), and produced a net of 1.4 WAR for his $64.5 million salary. The Dodgers, with an outfield logjam, weren’t even expected to roster him come Opening Day, presumed instead to have plans of trading him to a DH-friendly team or releasing him. Nonetheless, Kemp showed up to camp having lost a reported 40 pounds, played well during spring training, and became the beneficiary when Justin Turner’s broken wrist opened up time for Kiké Hernandez in the infield.

Improbably, Kemp proceeded to hit for a 144 wRC+ during the Dodgers’ otherwise dismal April and is now batting .319/.360/.549 with 15 homers and a 146 wRC+, which ranks seventh in the league, second among the league’s outfielders (sorry, Nimmo), and second on the Dodgers, who would be closer to Triple-A Oklahoma City than NL West-leading Arizona if not for his unlikely resurgence. No, his defense isn’t great (-1 UZR, -3 DRS), but it’s not gut-shot bleeding awful the way it was during his first round of stardom. His 2.0 WAR may rank just ninth among NL outfielders, but I don’t see any more compelling redemption stories of his caliber above him.

Perennials, first-timers, redemption stories… let’s face it, All-Star selections aren’t just about choosing the best in the league, and they probably never were. Sure, the unlikely trio’s AL counterparts — namely Trout, Mookie Betts, and Aaron Judge rank as the majors’ top three outfielders by WAR not just over the 2018 season but including 2017, as well. Still, with something on the order of 70 roster spots between the two teams once the dust settles on injuries and inactives, it helps to have some variety, a few guys here and there who check the various narrative boxes that release the different neurotransmitters during the game’s pitching changes.

Grieve if you want to over the slight of Cain, whose fourth-ranked WAR merely netted him a reserve role. Bemoan the fate of Nimmo, who’s already suffered the indignity of being a 2018 Met, for being left off not just the NL roster but the Final Vote ballot, as well. Scream all you want about the unfairness of the process, the need to reform this bloated affair because the unwashed masses can stuff the electronic ballot boxes, or because there are too many rebuilding teams that mandate automatic recognition, or because collectively these guys can’t hold a candle to a Frank RobinsonWillie MaysHank Aaron starting trio. I’m happy for Harper, Markakis, Kemp and the fans who chose them. For once, I’m seeing this particular 24-ounce cup of overpriced ballpark beer as half-full instead of half-empty, and my day is better for it.


Daily Prospect Notes: 7/9

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Victor Robles, CF, Washington Nationals (Profile)
Level: Rehab   Age: 21   Org Rank: 1   FV: 65
Line: 0-for-1, BB

Notes
Robles has begun to make rehab appearances on his way back from a hyperextended left elbow that he suffered in early April. He’s gotten two plate appearances in the GCL each of the last two days. The Nationals’ big-league outfield situation should enable Robles to have a slow, careful rehab process that takes a few weeks. He is one of baseball’s best prospects.

Adam Haseley, CF, Philadelphia Phillies (Profile)
Level: Hi-A Age: 22   Org Rank: 7   FV: 45
Line: 2-for-5, HR

Notes
The homer was Haseley’s fifth of the year and his slash line now stands at .301/.344/.417. He’s undergone several swing tweaks this year, starting with a vanilla, up-and-down leg kick last year; a closed, Giancarlo Stanton-like stance early this season; and now an open stance with more pronounced leg kick that loads more toward his rear hip. All that would seem to be part of an effort to get Haseley hitting for more power, his skillset’s most glaring weakness. But Haseley’s swing plane is so flat that such a change may not, alone, be meaningful as far as home-run production is concerned, though perhaps there will be more extra-base hits.

The way Haseley’s peripherals have trended since college gives us a glimpse of how a relative lack of power alters those variables in pro ball. His strikeout and walk rates at UVA were 11% and 12% respectively, an incredible 7% and 16% as a junior. In pro ball, they’ve inverted, and have been 15% and 5% in about 600 pro PAs.

Akil Baddoo, OF, Minnesota Twins (Profile)
Level: Low-A Age: 19   Org Rank: 12   FV: 45
Line: 3-for-5, 2B, SB

Notes
Baddoo is scorching, on an 11-game hit streak during which he has amassed 20 hits, nine for extra-bases. He crushes fastballs and can identify balls and strikes, but Baddoo’s strikeout rate has doubled this year as he’s seen more decent breaking balls, with which he has struggled. Considering how raw Baddoo was coming out of high school, however, his performance, especially as far as the plate discipline is concerned, has been encouraging. He’s a potential everyday player with power and speed.

Jesus Tinoco, RHP, Colorado Rockies (Profile)
Level: Double-A Age: 23   Org Rank: NR   FV: 40
Line: 6 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 1 R, 7 K

Notes
Tinoco didn’t make the Rockies’ offseason list, as I thought he had an outside shot to be a reliever but little more. His strikeout rate is way up. He still projects in the bullpen, sitting 93-95 with extreme fastball plane that also adds artificial depth to an otherwise fringe curveball. He’ll probably throw harder than that in the Futures Game.

Travis MacGregor, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (Profile)
Level: Low-A Age: 20   Org Rank: 21   FV: 40
Line: 5 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 2 R, 6 K

Notes
MacGregor is a projection arm who is performing thanks to his ability to throw his fastball for strikes, though not always where he wants. His delivery has a bit of a crossfire action but is otherwise on the default setting and well composed, with only the release point varying. It’s pretty good, considering many pitchers with MacGregor’s size are still reigning in control of their extremities. MacGregor’s secondaries don’t always have great movement but should be at least average at peak. He projects toward the back of a rotation.

Austin Cox, LHP, Kansas City Royals (Profile)
Level: Short Season Age: 21   Org Rank: HM   FV: 35
Line: 5 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 1 R, 10 K

Notes
Cox, Kansas City’s fourth-rounder out of Mercer, has a 23:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11.2 pro innings. He put up goofy strikeout numbers at Mercer, too, but struggles with fastball command. He’s a high-slot lefty who creates tough angle on a low-90s fastball, and his curveball has powerful, vertical shape. It’s likely Cox will be limited to relief work due to fastball command, but he could be very good there, especially if the fastball ticks up in shorter outings.

Notes from the Field
Just some pitcher notes from the weekend here. I saw Rangers RHP Kyle Cody rehabbing in Scottsdale. He was 94-96 for two innings and flashed a plus curveball. Joe Palumbo rehabbed again in the AZL and looked the same as he did last week.

Cleveland has another arm of note in the AZL, 6-foot-1, 18-year-old Dominican righty Ignacio Feliz. He’s one of the best on-mound athletes I’ve seen in the AZL and his arm works well. He sits only 88-92 but that should tick up as he matures physically. His fastball has natural cut, and at times, he throws what looks like a true cutter in the 84-87 range. He also has a 12-to-6 curveball that flashes plus.

Feliz could develop in a number of different ways. Cleveland could make a concerted effort to alter his release so Feliz is more behind the ball, which would probably play better with his curveballs. Alternatively, they might nurture his natural proclivity for cut and see what happens. Either way, this is an exciting athlete with workable stuff who doesn’t turn 19 until the end of October.

Between 15 and 18 scouts were on hand for Saturday night’s Dodgers and Diamondbacks AZL game. That’s much more than is typical for an AZL game, even at this time of year, and is hard to explain away by saying these scouts were on usual coverage. D-backs OF Kristian Robinson (whom we have ranked No. 2 in the system) was a late, precautionary scratch after being hit with a ball the day before, so he probably wasn’t their collective target. Instead, I suspect it was Dodgers 19-year-old Mexican righty Gerardo Carrillo, who was 91-96 with a plus curveball. I saw Carrillo pitch in relief of Yadier Alvarez on the AZL’s opening night, during which he was 94-97. He’s small, and my knee-jerk reaction was to bucket him as a reliever, but there’s enough athleticism to try things out in a rotation and see if it sticks.


The Nationals Are in Trouble

The Washington Nationals have a problem. The Braves and Phillies have arrived ahead of schedule, as we know. The Nationals enter play Thursday in third place behind those two clubs, seven games behind the Braves and five-and-a-half games behind the Phillies.

While the Nationals have trailed in the NL East for much of the season, their FanGraphs playoff odds have dipped below 60% (59.4% as of Thursday afternoon) for the first time this season.

While the Super Teams are taking care of business in the American League, the NL field remains more open. And at the moment, the Nationals are the only preseason division favorite, the only so-called preseason Super Team, with playoff odds below 89.9% and division odds less than 50% (43.5%). With their loss to Red Sox on Wednesday, the Nationals fell below .500 (42-43).

While teams often go through struggles and sluggish periods in the marathon that is a 162-game season, we’re now more than halfway into this season and the Nationals have never gotten on track. It appeared that Washington might be getting right about a month ago as they moved back into first place and held a half-game lead in the division on June 10. But they fell out of first place on June 12 and haven’t been back, losing 16 of their last 21 games. Read the rest of this entry »


Scouting the Royals Return for Kelvin Herrera

On Monday, Washington sent a three-player package of middling talents back to Kansas City in exchange for reliever Kelvin Herrera. Those prospects are 3B Kelvin Gutierrez, CF Blake Perkins and RHP Yohanse Morel.

Perkins and Gutierrez were each on our Nationals team write-up as 40 FVs. Gutierrez has a strong contact/defense profile. (He was bad at third base in my extended look at him last Fall and received some playing time at first in anticipation of Ryan Zimmerman’s continued health problems.) He lacks corner-worthy power, however. Perkins is a glove-first center-field prospect with premium strike-zone awareness (he has a 12% career walk rate) and very little power.

We have each of them evaluated as big-league role players. Gutierrez is probably a low-end regular or bench/platoon option at third base and, down the line, a couple other positions. If he alters his approach in a way that coaxes out more of his average raw power in games, he could be more than that. Perkins has a bit more variability because he hasn’t been switch-hitting for very long (he only started in 2016) and might yet grow into some competency as a left-handed hitter, but his lack of in-game power might also undercut his walk rate at upper levels of the minors — and in the big leagues, too — because pitchers are going to attack him without fear that he’ll do any real damage on his own. He also might become such a great defensive center fielder that he plays every day despite providing little offensive value.

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Royals Hastily Trade Kelvin Herrera to Nationals

For the past week or so, I’ve been kicking around the idea of writing about Justin Miller. Miller is a 31-year-old reliever, and, by the way, he’s pitching for the Nationals. Though he’s allowed runs in each of his last two appearances, he’s faced 43 batters so far, and he’s struck out 22 of them, without one single walk. Miller, last year, was bad in Triple-A for the Angels. Now he looks like he could be one of the more dominant relievers around. It’s too early to go quite that far, but, well, you know how relievers are. They can emerge or decline in the blink of an eye.

It’s possible that, in Miller, the Nationals have found something. He might turn out to be one of the keys to their season. But Mike Rizzo is also no stranger to making midseason bullpen upgrades, and you don’t want to end up counting on Miller to keep up the miracle. And so, Monday, Rizzo has moved to beef up the depth in front of Sean Doolittle. In the current era of baseball, it’s almost impossible to have too many good relievers. The Nationals got a new one from the Royals.

Nationals get:

Royals get:

I’m not sure there’s anything stunning here. Herrera was very obviously going to be available, as a contract-year closer on a terrible team. The Nationals are in the hunt, and the bullpen in front of Doolittle has sometimes been shaky. The prospect package seems to be light, but rentals generally don’t fetch a blockbuster. Herrera’s strikeout rate is only 23%. What surprises me more than anything is that this happened on June 18. It doesn’t surprise me that the Nationals would want Herrera for five or six extra weeks. It surprises me that, on so early a date, the Royals would settle.

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Juan Soto Is Already Making History

Juan Soto is 19 years old and has hit 19 home runs this season. Of those 19 dingers, 14 happened before Soto reached the majors, but two of the MLB homers were hit last night. Through 76 plate appearances, Soto is putting up a Mike Trout-like .344/.447/.641 slash line good for a 192 wRC+ and an intriguing nickname. Hitting so well for a month is great, but it isn’t out of this world. So far this season, there have been 12 players who have put up a monthly split worth a 190 wRC+ or higher. That list includes names like Trout, Mookie Betts, Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, and Manny Machado, but it also includes names like Daniel Robertson, Christian Villanueva, Brandon Crawford, and Scooter Gennett. What that hot start has done is changed Soto’s outlook both for this season and his career.

Soto has already drastically changed his projections for the year. Here are the top 30 hitters in baseball going forward according to our Depth Chart projections.

Top Projected Hitters Going Forward
Name PA HR AVG OBP SLG wOBA WAR
Mike Trout 374 23 .301 .432 .613 .429 5.1
Giancarlo Stanton 381 31 .269 .358 .606 .395 3.1
Freddie Freeman 382 18 .300 .402 .546 .394 2.9
Bryce Harper 365 21 .279 .402 .547 .393 2.9
Joey Votto 382 14 .296 .427 .497 .393 2.5
J.D. Martinez 370 25 .291 .360 .587 .391 2.3
Mookie Betts 370 16 .303 .375 .538 .383 3.7
Nolan Arenado 378 21 .292 .363 .561 .382 2.7
Kris Bryant 390 17 .276 .385 .511 .379 3.2
Paul Goldschmidt 386 17 .277 .389 .511 .378 2.2
Aaron Judge 390 25 .253 .370 .531 .378 2.8
Anthony Rizzo 386 19 .271 .381 .511 .376 2.3
Josh Donaldson 357 18 .262 .369 .506 .370 2.7
Charlie Blackmon 369 16 .296 .363 .513 .369 1.5
Juan Soto 259 11 .295 .369 .504 .369 1.3
Jose Ramirez 377 15 .294 .362 .512 .368 3.3
Carlos Correa 374 16 .281 .366 .496 .364 3.2
George Springer 362 17 .272 .362 .492 .364 2.5
Manny Machado 378 20 .285 .348 .524 .363 3.0
Christian Yelich 370 12 .291 .372 .474 .361 1.9
Jose Altuve 374 10 .313 .370 .475 .360 2.7
Brandon Belt 329 12 .265 .370 .473 .359 1.9
Francisco Lindor 386 15 .289 .355 .491 .358 3.4
Nelson Cruz 361 21 .263 .344 .506 .357 1.4
Rhys Hoskins 356 18 .251 .352 .487 .356 1.5
Andrew Benintendi 362 11 .284 .364 .476 .356 2.0
Jose Abreu 377 17 .286 .344 .506 .356 1.4
Edwin Encarnacion 373 21 .249 .349 .493 .356 1.2
Justin Turner 357 12 .284 .365 .466 .355 2.4
Eric Thames 255 14 .246 .345 .503 .355 0.9

The projections say that at 19 years old, Juan Soto is one of the top 15 hitters in the game. The list above is an impressive one. Look at some of the names after Soto: Jose Ramirez, Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve. These are the very best hitters in baseball, and Soto looks to be their peer. Soto rose so quickly in part because of how little time he spent in the minors. As Eric Longenhagen wrote when Soto was called up, in recent history, only Alex Rodriguez had less experience in the minors than Soto. An injury last season kept his game log to a minimum, and that meant he was a bit underrated as a prospect entering the season. He was ranked No. 45 here at FanGraphs, and no major service put him among the top-20 prospects in baseball.

The recent update to the top prospects list here put Soto at No. 9, but he seems unlikely to make the list next season as he exhausts his rookie eligibility in the coming months. It’s difficult to understate how rare Soto’s performance is thus far, as his presence alone in the majors makes him a historical oddity. When Ronald Acuña was called up at just 20 years old earlier this season, Jay Jaffe conducted an analysis on debuts and the Hall of Fame. He found that of the 238 retired players to take a single plate appearance in the majors at 19 years old, 25 made the Hall of Fame, a roughly one-in-ten shot. Jaffe went a bit further and found that only 59 players in history took 100 plate appearances at Soto’s age, and of the 54 retired players, 13 went on to become Hall of Famers.

To try and put Soto’s season in context, I went back to 1905 and looked for players with at least 50 plate appearances at 19 years old or below. Soto already appears on the first page of the WAR leaderboards.

Best Seasons at Age 19 or Younger
Season Name Team Age PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
2012 Bryce Harper Nationals 19 597 22 .270 .340 .477 121 4.4
1928 Mel Ott Giants 19 499 18 .322 .397 .524 140 4.1
1996 Edgar Renteria Marlins 19 471 5 .309 .358 .399 106 3.5
1906 Ty Cobb Tigers 19 394 1 .316 .355 .394 130 2.7
1989 Ken Griffey Jr. Mariners 19 506 16 .264 .329 .420 106 2.5
1923 Travis Jackson Giants 19 351 4 .275 .321 .391 88 2.3
1936 Buddy Lewis Senators 19 657 6 .291 .347 .399 87 1.9
1964 Tony Conigliaro Red Sox 19 444 24 .290 .354 .530 138 1.9
1951 Mickey Mantle Yankees 19 386 13 .267 .349 .443 116 1.5
1954 Al Kaline Tigers 19 535 4 .276 .305 .347 76 1.4
2012 Manny Machado Orioles 19 202 7 .262 .294 .445 97 1.2
1970 Cesar Cedeno Astros 19 377 7 .310 .340 .451 111 1.2
1935 Phil Cavarretta Cubs 18 636 8 .275 .322 .404 94 1.2
1945 Whitey Lockman Giants 18 148 3 .341 .410 .481 144 1.1
2018 Juan Soto Nationals 19 76 5 .344 .447 .641 192 1.0
1910 Stuffy McInnis Athletics 19 81 0 .301 .363 .438 149 0.9
1927 Jimmie Foxx Athletics 19 146 3 .323 .393 .515 129 0.8
1964 Ed Kranepool Mets 19 461 10 .257 .310 .393 98 0.8
1974 Robin Yount Brewers 18 364 3 .250 .276 .346 77 0.8
1991 Ivan Rodriguez Rangers 19 288 3 .264 .276 .354 73 0.7
2011 Mike Trout Angels 19 135 5 .220 .281 .390 87 0.7
1974 Claudell Washington Athletics 19 237 0 .285 .326 .376 107 0.7
1915 Pete Schneider Reds 19 100 2 .245 .245 .372 80 0.6
1952 Harry Chiti Cubs 19 118 5 .274 .305 .451 102 0.6
1958 Johnny Callison White Sox 19 71 1 .297 .352 .469 125 0.6
Position Players with at least 50 PA

Of the 12 retired players above Soto, six are Hall of Famers. Three of the five players directly behind him are Hall of Famers, and the sixth player is Mike Trout. Also of interest, seven players have put up six-win seasons at age 20, and the only one not in the list above is Ted Williams. That list features nine of the best 13 age-20 seasons in history. Soto only has 76 plate appearances so far, but he’s also not done yet. For fun, let’s add two potential Sotos to the list above. One hypothetical Soto is completely unrealistic, but it shows what he would do with another 300 or so plate appearances if he kept up his torrid pace. The other version is more realistic, showing Soto’s rest-of-season projections combined with what he’s done so far.

Best Seasons at Age 19 or Younger
Season Name Team Age PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
2018 Juan Soto PACE Nationals 19 380 25 .344 .447 .641 192 5.0
2012 Bryce Harper Nationals 19 597 22 .270 .340 .477 121 4.4
1928 Mel Ott Giants 19 499 18 .322 .397 .524 140 4.1
1996 Edgar Renteria Marlins 19 471 5 .309 .358 .399 106 3.5
1906 Ty Cobb Tigers 19 394 1 .316 .355 .394 130 2.7
1989 Ken Griffey Jr. Mariners 19 506 16 .264 .329 .420 106 2.5
2018 Juan Soto PROJ Nationals 19 335 16 .305 .386 .541 140 2.3
1923 Travis Jackson Giants 19 351 4 .275 .321 .391 88 2.3
1936 Buddy Lewis Senators 19 657 6 .291 .347 .399 87 1.9
1964 Tony Conigliaro Red Sox 19 444 24 .290 .354 .530 138 1.9
1951 Mickey Mantle Yankees 19 386 13 .267 .349 .443 116 1.5
1954 Al Kaline Tigers 19 535 4 .276 .305 .347 76 1.4
2012 Manny Machado Orioles 19 202 7 .262 .294 .445 97 1.2
1970 Cesar Cedeno Astros 19 377 7 .310 .340 .451 111 1.2
1935 Phil Cavarretta Cubs 18 636 8 .275 .322 .404 94 1.2
1945 Whitey Lockman Giants 18 148 3 .341 .410 .481 144 1.1
2018 Juan Soto NOW Nationals 19 76 5 .344 .447 .641 192 1.0
1910 Stuffy McInnis Athletics 19 81 0 .301 .363 .438 149 0.9
1927 Jimmie Foxx Athletics 19 146 3 .323 .393 .515 129 0.8
1964 Ed Kranepool Mets 19 461 10 .257 .310 .393 98 0.8
1974 Robin Yount Brewers 18 364 3 .250 .276 .346 77 0.8
1991 Ivan Rodriguez Rangers 19 288 3 .264 .276 .354 73 0.7
2011 Mike Trout Angels 19 135 5 .220 .281 .390 87 0.7
1974 Claudell Washington Athletics 19 237 0 .285 .326 .376 107 0.7
1915 Pete Schneider Reds 19 100 2 .245 .245 .372 80 0.6
1952 Harry Chiti Cubs 19 118 5 .274 .305 .451 102 0.6
1958 Johnny Callison White Sox 19 71 1 .297 .352 .469 125 0.6
Position Players with at least 50 PA

Juan Soto is currently projected to have the sixth-best season by a 19-year-old since 1905 (and yes, I cherry-picked the year to get Ty Cobb in there). Of the six players to hit two wins in a season at Soto’s age, four are already in the Hall of Fame, a fifth is his teammate Bryce Harper, and the sixth, Edgar Renteria, put up 35 WAR in an underrated career. Refining the list a bit, here are the seasons of at least 300 plate appearances and a wRC+ of 100, a list Soto will crack after a couple-hundred plate appearances and a wRC+ above 70 the rest of the way.

Best Seasons at Age 19 or Younger
Season Name Team PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+
2018 Juan Soto PROJ Nationals 335 16 .305 .386 .541 140
1928 Mel Ott Giants 499 18 .322 .397 .524 140
1964 Tony Conigliaro Red Sox 444 24 .290 .354 .530 138
1906 Ty Cobb Tigers 394 1 .316 .355 .394 130
2012 Bryce Harper Nationals 597 22 .270 .340 .477 121
1951 Mickey Mantle Yankees 386 13 .267 .349 .443 116
1970 Cesar Cedeno Astros 377 7 .310 .340 .451 111
1996 Edgar Renteria Marlins 471 5 .309 .358 .399 106
1989 Ken Griffey Jr. Mariners 506 16 .264 .329 .420 106
Position Players with at least 300 PA and 100 wRC+

Juan Soto’s season is special just because he made it to the major leagues. His season is spectacular due to his performance so far, and if history is any indication, he’s about to have a monstrous career.3


Bryce Harper’s Shifting Approach

Although the Nationals just lost three out of four to the Braves and are still running in second place behind Atlanta, things have generally been going Washington’s way lately. Since starting the year 11-16, they’ve gone an NL-best 22-9 (.710) with the majors’ third-best Pythagorean winning percentage (.685) in that span. They’ve dealt with a slew of injuries, but Anthony Rendon is back, 19-year-old Juan Soto has made an impressive splash, the Matt Adams/Mark Reynolds tandem has significantly outproduced the absent Ryan Zimmerman, and both Daniel Murphy and Adam Eaton could rejoin the lineup soon.

Yet Bryce Harper remains an enigma — a productive enigma, to be fair. The 25-year-old right fielder leads the NL with 18 homers. Despite a torrid start to his 2018 season, however — he hit eight homers in his first 17 games — he’s just 11th in the league in wRC+ (134, on .232/.371/.527 hitting), sixth in slugging percentage, 16th in on-base percentage, and tied for 27th in WAR (1.4). Not thrilling, but nice — after all, Harper is a career .281/.385/.516 (141 wRC+) hitter who last year batted .319/.413/.595 (156 WRC+). We all know that he’s capable of more than what he’s shown this year. Hundreds of millions of dollars, in the form of his next contract, are riding on it.

The direction of Harper’s trend this year is unmistakable:

Harper went from hitting .247/.458/.528 (158 wRC+) in April to hitting .223/.289/.563 (125 wRC+) in May, but those monthly splits conceal a more drastic falloff, albeit one that relies upon selective endpoints, which are displayed here for the purposes of rubbernecking only:

Harper’s Selectively Sampled Hot Start, 2018
Period PA HR BB% K% AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+
Through April 17 78 8 26.9% 14.1% .315/.487/.778 221
Since 178 10 14.6% 24.7% .201/320/.436 98

Woof. Lately, Harper’s funk is even deeper. Over his past 10 starts (plus one pinch-hitting appearance), he’s hitting .209/.271/.442 with four walks and 21 strikeouts in 48 plate appearances.

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Max Scherzer Has Somehow Been Better

Even Max Scherzer is surprised by Max Scherzer’s talent.
(Photo: Keith Allison)

Max Scherzer has already won three Cy Young awards, and if he’s keeping them on his mantel, he might need to do some remodeling, as he’s threatening to add a fourth. The 33-year-old righty is having, by some measures, the most dominant season of his career — and one of the most dominant of all time.

After carving apart the admittedly hapless Orioles on Wednesday night (eight innings, two hits, one walk, no runs, 12 strikeouts), Scherzer leads the NL in a host of statistical categories both traditional and advanced: wins (nine), innings (79.2), strikeouts (120), strikeout rate in two flavors (13.6 per nine and 38.7% of all batters faced), K-BB% (32.6), hits per nine (5.5), FIP (1.95), and WAR (3.2). Meanwhile, his 1.92 ERA ranks second behind Jacob deGrom, who right now looks like the only other NL Cy candidate with more than a puncher’s chance, which is to say that it will take somebody else going on an an unforeseen roll — perhaps Clayton Kershaw, whose 2016 and -17 injuries already factored into Scherzer’s hardware tally — to justify a place in the discussion.

In terms of ERA and FIP, our heterochromic hero has enjoyed strong stretches such as this at various points in his career — more or less annually since 2013:

However, Scherzer has never put together a full season this strong, which is to say Kershaw-esque. Where the Dodgers’ lefty ace has banked two seasons with both his ERA and FIP below 2.00 (2014 and ’16), Scherzer’s lowest full-season ERA was last year’s 2.51, while his lowest FIP was his 2.77 in 2015. Even in his award-winning seasons, he’s never led the league in either category, whereas Kershaw has five ERA titles (tied for third all-time with Walter Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Pedro Martinez and Christy Mathewson, trailing only Roger Clemens with seven and Lefty Grove with nine) and two FIP titles.

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Juan Soto Is the Fastest to Majors Since A-Rod

Since 1990 (in which year, Rich Garces represented the season’s only teenage debutante), only 14 hitters have debuted in the big leagues shy of age 20. With his appearance pinch-hit appearance on Sunday for the Nationals, Juan Soto just did it less minor-league time than nearly all of them. Soto’s 2017 season was buried under injuries (a fractured ankle, a broken hamate bone that required surgery, a hamstring issue), which limited him to just 32 games. When he stepped into the batter’s box this weekend, he did so having played just 122 minor-league games before his debut, the fewest for a teenage hitter since Alex Rodriguez debuted as an 18-year-old in 1994 after just 114 games.

Teenage Hitters to Debut Since 1990
Year Player Position Team Debut Age (Y.D)
1991 Ivan Rodriguez C TEX 19.205
1994 Alex Rodriguez SS SEA 18.346
1995 Karim Garcia OF LAD 19.308
1996 Andruw Jones CF ATL 19.114
1996 Edgar Renteria SS FLA 19.277
1998 Adrian Beltre 3B LAD 19.078
1998 Aramis Ramirez 3B PIT 19.335
2001 Wilson Betemit SS ATL 19.320
2003 Jose Reyes SS NYM 19.364
2004 Melvin Upton Jr. SS TB 19.347
2007 Justin Upton RF ARI 19.342
2011 Mike Trout CF LAA 19.335
2012 Jurickson Profar SS TEX 19.195
2012 Bryce Harper RF WAS 19.195
2018 Juan Soto RF WAS 19.207
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Edgar Renteria was pushed to the Midwest League as a 16-year-old and, by the time he was in the majors, had three times as many games under his belt than Soto. Justin Upton was drafted out of high school in 2005 and held out until January. (I guess there’s one good thing about the new CBA.) Then he tore through the minors and debuted in August of 2007 after seeing action in about 200 games. Trout signed quickly after he was drafted and played in the AZL that summer, then split his first full pro season at Low- and High-A, after which he was already at 175 games, and he needed 75 more and a Peter Bourjos injury the following year to debut.

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Bryce Harper’s Laser-like Focus

Bryce Harper struck out twice yesterday. It was notable not because a two strikeout game is an unusual feat for Harper–he’s struck out twice in a game 137 times. What made yesterday’s game notable was that Harper did not strike out at all in his first five games. In those first five games, Harper also hit four home runs. The last player to hit four home runs in his team’s first five games without striking out was Barry Bonds in 2003. Bonds actually hit five homers, but other than Bonds, nobody else has done what Harper just did in the last 30 seasons. It’s safe to say, he’s locked in.

After 29 plate appearances, Harper has four homers, two singles, nine walks, and 14 outs, with his two from yesterday coming via the strikeout. In the very early going, Harper’s wRC+ is 247, and that’s with a BABIP of just .143. That’s really good, although not out of the ordinary given that Harper put up a 197 wRC+ over the course of the 2015 season. So far, Harper has done a good job swinging at strikes and not swinging at balls. For his career, Harper has swung at 31% of pitches outside the zone and 73% of pitches in the zone. This year, Harper is chasing just 20% of pitches outside the zone, and when he gets a strike, he’s ripping it 82% of the time.

The list below is illustrative of what has happened so far. It likely has little bearing on what will happen in the future, but it shows how Harper’s plate discipline compares to the rest of baseball this season. Read the rest of this entry »


Job Posting: Nationals Baseball R&D Web Developer

Position: Baseball Research and Development Web Developer

Location: Washington, D.C.

Description:

The Washington Nationals are seeking a web developer to join the organization’s Baseball Research and Development team. The role will focus on building new web application features for decision-support systems and tools used throughout the organization. The developer will design UI components to visualize and facilitate in-house baseball datasets from R&D analysts as well as external data accessed via APIs.

Essential Duties and Responsibilities:

  • Work with each layer of the web application stack to create new features.
  • Design intuitive interfaces to effectively convey information and receive data from users.
  • Facilitate the creation of new database components and automated tasks related to new features.
  • Follow existing design patterns and coding practices in the code base.
  • Balance long-term projects with day-to-day high priority changes.
  • Other duties as assigned

Requirements:

Minimum Education and Experience Requirements

  • Advanced degree or equivalent experience in Computer Science or a related field.
  • Demonstrated expertise with HTML, CSS, JS, as well as JQuery or similar JS Frameworks.
  • Demonstrated experience with modern database technologies such as PostgreSQL and MySQL.
  • Demonstrated experience with web application frameworks such as Ruby on Rails, Django and J2EE.
  • Demonstrated experience using modern programming languages such as Ruby, Python and Java.
  • Demonstrated expertise in UI design and a passion for user experience.
  • Familiarity with working in a GNU/Linux environment and experience using Git version control.
  • Willing to relocate to Washington, DC
  • Authorized to work in the United States.

Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities necessary to perform essential functions

  • Highly motivated with excellent attention to detail
  • Creative and analytical thinker
  • Strong, confident communication skills including the ability to write clearly and effectively
  • Demonstrated passion for baseball and baseball operations
  • Experience with baseball data and understanding of sabermetric concepts is preferred.
  • Uphold Core Values: “Excellence, Performance, and Accountability. These core values set the tone in everything we do, help us succeed on and off the field, make a difference in the community and provide the best guest experience in sports. It is important that the person in the position commits themselves to these core values so that we can constantly move forward in the same direction – Together.”

Physical/Environmental Requirements

Working conditions are normal for an office environment. Work may require occasional weekend and/or evening work.

To Apply:
Please visit this site to apply.


Top 18 Prospects: Washington Nationals

Below is an analysis of the prospects in the farm system of the Washington Nationals. Scouting reports are compiled with information provided by industry sources as well as from our own (both Eric Longenhagen’s and Kiley McDaniel’s) observations. For more information on the 20-80 scouting scale by which all of our prospect content is governed you can click here. For further explanation of the merits and drawbacks of Future Value, read this.

A’s Top Prospects
Rk Name Age High Level Position ETA FV
1 Victor Robles 20 MLB CF 2018 65
2 Carter Kieboom 20 A 3B 2021 55
3 Juan Soto 19 R OF 2020 50
4 Erick Fedde 25 R RHP 2018 45
5 Seth Romero 21 A- LHP 2019 45
6 Wil Crowe 23 A- RHP 2020 45
7 Blake Perkins 21 A CF 2020 40
8 Yasel Antuna 18 R SS 2021 40
9 Daniel Johnson 22 A+ OF 2020 40
10 Kelvin Gutierrez 23 A+ 3B 2019 40
11 Andrew Stevenson 23 R OF 2018 40
12 Luis Garcia 17 R SS 2022 40
13 Austin Adams 26 MLB RHP 2018 40
14 Brigham Hill 22 A RHP 2020 40
15 Anderson Franco 20 A 3B 2020 40
16 Rafael Bautista 25 R OF 2018 40
17 Jose Marmolejos 24 AA 1B 2018 40
18 Osvaldo Abreu 23 AA UTIL 2019 40

65 FV Prospects

Age 20 Height 6’0 Weight 185 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
55/70 40/50 35/45 70/70 60/70 70/70

He’s barely played a month above A-ball, but Robles looked ready for the big leagues in 2017 and got a brief cup of coffee before finishing his season in the Arizona Fall League. He’s a polished, instinctive player capable of making an impact in every facet of baseball. Robles has great feel for all-fields contact and sneaky power for his size, which manifests itself in doubles and triples. He’s also a potential Gold Glove center fielder with breathtaking range and arm strength, and he was easily the best baserunner in the AFL, which features a pretty advanced group of prospects.

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Effectively Wild Episode 1178: Season Preview Series: Nationals and Tigers

EWFI

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about another volcanic comment by Scott Boras, the Eric Hosmer and J.D. Martinez signings and the Rays’ sudden sell-off, MLB’s latest pace-of-play initiatives, why spring training intentions often go awry, and sabermetric trailblazer Sherri Nichols, then preview the 2018 Nationals (23:46) with the Washington Post’s Chelsea Janes, and the 2018 Tigers (50:44) with MLB.com’s Jason Beck.

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2018 ZiPS Projections – Washington Nationals

After having typically appeared in the hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have now been released at FanGraphs for half a decade. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Washington Nationals. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

Batters
The Nationals have developed into one of the league’s “super teams” in recent years, having compiled a roster that is rivaled by few others in terms of balance and overall strength. In 2017, for example, both the club’s hitters and pitchers finished seventh or better by WAR. That feat was accomplished by only three other clubs, all of which reached the postseason.

Regard:

Top-10 Team Batter and Pitcher WAR, 2017
Team Batter WAR Batter Rank Pitcher WAR Pitcher Rank Average Rank
Dodgers 30.1 2 24.3 3 2.5
Indians 27.3 4 31.7 1 2.5
Yankees 27.9 3 24.4 2 2.5
Astros 33.0 1 20.8 6 3.5
Nationals 26.1 6 19.8 7 6.5
Cubs 26.7 5 15.9 12 8.5
Cardinals 24.6 8 16.7 10 9.0
D-backs 19.8 14 23.2 5 9.5
Red Sox 17.8 15 23.9 4 9.5
Rays 21.0 13 15.9 13 13.0

With regard to the Nationals’ field-playing cohort, specifically, almost all the principals from the 2017 club return in 2018. Even some of the non-principals return, as well. Bryce Harper (575 PA, 4.9 zWAR) and Anthony Rendon (585, 4.5) are near-MVP types, while Trea Turner (558, 3.4) does quite well here, too. Adam Eaton (583, 3.0), meanwhile, will essentially serve as a new acquisition for Washington after having recorded just 107 plate appearances in his first year with the organization.

Ryan Zimmerman (496, 0.8) is the club’s weakest link per ZiPS, forecast for just a 102 wRC+ after producing a 138 wRC+ mark in 2017. Szymborski’s computer calls for a 38-point drop in BABIP (.335 to .297) and 60-point decline in isolated power (.269 to .209), too.

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The Nationals’ Lack of Urgency Is a Problem for the Marlins

The Marlins have already had what would be a record-setting sell-off. Not only have they completely dismantled arguably the best outfield in baseball; they’ve also traded away a quality second baseman about to move to center. So, in a sense, the Marlins’ teardown has involved the trading of four starting outfielders, and there’s only so much meaningful selling left to do. Dan Straily could get something, sure. Justin Bour is better than his pretty much non-existent reputation. Yet the one jewel left is J.T. Realmuto. He’d be the ticket to one last Miami blockbuster.

Realmuto is a catcher who turns only 27 years old in a month and a half, and he’s got another three seasons of club control. As a player, Realmuto is incredibly valuable, and, even more, he’s expressed an interest in getting the chance to play for someone else. Even though Realmuto’s actual leverage here is low, the Marlins wouldn’t hesitate to grant his wish, should the right offer come along. And, say, wouldn’t you know it, but the Nationals could use a quality backstop! Matt Wieters probably shouldn’t be that guy. Miguel Montero isn’t likely to be that guy. The Nationals have been included in catcher rumors all offseason long.

It seems like there should be a reasonable fit. And maybe something here will actually happen. It’s just that there’s a stumbling block: The Nationals are already perhaps too good.

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POLL: What Kind of Team Do You Want to Root For?

I noticed an underlying theme in both pieces I’ve written since coming back, along with many others written this offseason at FanGraphs. If you are a fan of a small- or medium-market team that will never spend to the luxury-tax line and thus always be at a disadvantage, do you want your team to try to always be .500 or better, or do you want them push all the chips in the middle for a smaller competitive window? In my stats vs. scouting article I referenced a progressive vs. traditional divide, which was broadly defined by design, but there are often noticeable differences in team-building strategies from the two overarching philosophies, which I will again illustrate broadly to show the two contrasting viewpoints.

The traditional clubs tend favor prospects with pedigree (bonus or draft position, mostly), with big tools/upside and the process of team-building is often to not push the chips into the middle (spending in free agency, trading prospects) until the core talents (best prospects and young MLB assets) have arrived in the big leagues and have established themselves. When that window opens, you do whatever you can afford to do within reason to make those 3-5 years the best you can and, in practice, it’s usually 2-3 years of a peak, often followed directly by a tear-down rebuild. The Royals appear to have just passed the peak stage of this plan, the Braves hope their core is established in 2019 and the Padres may be just behind the Braves (you could also argue the old-school Marlins have done this multiple times and are about to try again now).

On the progressive side, you have a more conservative, corporate approach where the club’s goal is to almost always have a 78-92 win team entering Spring Training, with a chance to make the playoffs every year, never with a bottom-ten ranked farm system, so they are flexible and can go where the breaks lead them. The valuation techniques emphasize the analytic more often, which can sometimes seem superior and sometimes seem foolish, depending on the execution. When a rare group of talent and a potential World Series contender emerges, the progressive team will push some chips in depending on how big the payroll is. The Rays have a bottom-five payroll and can only cash in some chips without mortgaging multiple future years, whereas the Indians and Astros are higher up the food chain and can do a little more when the time comes, and have done just that.

What we just saw in Pittsburgh (and may see soon in Tampa Bay) is what happens when a very low-payroll team sees a dip coming (controllable talent becoming uncontrolled soon) and doesn’t think there’s a World Series contender core, so they slide down toward the bottom end of that win range so that in a couple years they can have a sustainable core with a chance to slide near the top of it, rather than just tread water. Ideally, you can slash payroll in the down years, then reinvest it in the competing years (the Rays has done this in the past) to match the competitive cycle and not waste free-agent money on veterans in years when they are less needed. You could argue many teams are in this bucket, with varying payroll/margin for error: the D’Backs, Brewers, Phillies, A’s and Twins, along with the aforementioned Rays, Pirates, Indians and Astros.

Eleven clubs were over $175 million in payroll for the 2017 season (Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Tigers, Giants, Nationals, Rangers, Orioles, Cubs, Angels), so let’s toss those teams out and ask fans of the other 19 clubs: if forced to pick one or the other, which of these overarching philosophies would you prefer to root for?