Friday Roundup: Late Sunday #Nats Edition

Thank you for accepting my delayed round up. In appreciation of that, here is a Bryce Harper Home Run.

#NatsClubHouseSocial: Tuesday night, the Washington Nationals social media team invited a handful of highly visible, highly social, highly interactive Nationals fans for a presentation regarding the new bells, whistles, and giveaways at the park this year. It was preceded by a free happy hour with appetizers, and personalized jerseys custom made for the invited fans featuring their surname, the #15 (for 2015) and the exclusive 10 year DC patch.

If you don’t know already, I was one of those lucky, unworthy, happy people. I instantly felt nervous about my Matt Williams post from that morning, but too late to go back! (Also, no one asked me to write anything about this event or anything else, just so you know.)

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Podcast! 2015 Nats Season Preview with @NoahFrankWTOP

EDIT: I fixed the audio so it is properly mixed.

Noah Frank joins our show to talk about where the Nats are right now and how they look for 2015. On the show: the 25 man roster, the rash of injuries suffered by the team, how good is the Nationals rotation, is this bullpen sustainable, Strasburg, Harper, a little Matt Williams, an NL East preview, a rest of the MLB preview, and plenty more. Enjoy!

Spring Training Question #2: Can Matt Williams Grow As A Manager?

Matt Williams managing the NLDS.

Look, I get it. Managing is tough. When the team wins, most folks usually congratulate the players and when they lose, most folks usually blame the manager- and that’s usually the fair thing to do. Players can streak or slump, but managers always have the ability to move those players around accordingly. Imagine if for every decision you made at work there were 40,000 people in your office silently (and not so silently) deciding how they would have done your job better. Worse are the hundreds of thousands more at home doing the same thing, and by tomorrow every hack with a Macbook is going to write up how they you screwed up even if the team did win and why you should be fired.*

(*I am one of those hacks).

I say this so that you know that when I do pick at Matt Williams managing in this post, I am fully aware that this is the easy thing to do. That I would not be a good manager myself, that I know I don’t know better than he does, and that I am fully aware that my opinion here does not reflect the opinion of the majority, or maybe even plurality, of other Nats fans. But these are things I am compelled to write because I believe them to be true. So, here we go…

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Friday Round Up: #DCisReady

The 1895 Washington Senators 43-85 in the National League. via Cool Old Photos (Click for link) but H/T to @GhostsofDC

The 1895 Washington Senators 43-85 in the National League. via Cool Old Photos (Click for link) but H/T to @GhostsofDC

The Walking Dread: With any luck, this tweet from Chelsea Janes bodes well for the Nationals walking wounded:

-or, lightly running, as the case may be. But too bad, I wrote all of this out before I saw this tweet, so I’m going to continue with my “how ugly could this get?” post.
The worst news first: Anthony Rendon went from sitting out for a few days to having no timetable. That’s really scary.  CL strains (of any kind) can get ugly quick, even if they are mild. As HarperGordeck from Natsbaseball blog points out, the prospect of Kevin Frandsen at third for a month, or longer, is laughably scary.

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Division in Review: 2014 Philadelphia Phillies




Washington Nationals 96 66 .593
Atlanta Braves 79 83 .488
New York Mets 79 83 .488
Miami Marlins 77 85 .475
Philadelphia Phillies 73 89 .451

From the Pre-Season, read the Philadelphia Phillies 2014 Preview.

Phillies 2014 Overview:

In the spring, I had thought that the Phillies had made the moves that they needed to in order to hang with the Braves and the Nationals for maybe 4 or 5 months, and then fall off to a third place finish. This, however, may have just been a symptom of my watching too many baseball movies (or a lack of “something to bring it all together”), as they turned in an identical record to 2013. As a team, the pitching marginally improved: ERA dropped from 4.34 to 3.81, FIP from 3.94 to 3.81, slight gain in K/9, slight drop in HR/9. Most of those gains were realized in a vast improvement in the pitching by the bullpen. These gains, though, were offset by the continued drop in production by the offense, which had a .008 drop in wOBA best explained by 15 fewer HRs. This resulted in essentially a wash, which explains why the team had a similar record.

The Offense:

The questions for the Philly offense coming into the season centered around whether Marlon Byrd, Cody Asche, and how soon decline would set in for the aging core of position players. Marlon Byrd did not match his 2013 season, but the decline was not huge: he managed a 1.9 fWAR, which is what you expect from a regular. Cody Asche was below average at the plate, though slightly better than he was in 2013. Maikel Franco got his cup of coffee this September, but he also failed to produce offensively, making third base a question mark for another offseason.

As for decline, Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Ruiz had bounce back years, and Chase Utley was able to produce at his normal levels. The team also got a full year of Ben Revere, who maintained his rate of slightly below average production (wRC+ 92). Ryan Howard, however, seems to be in full decline. Howard put in his first full season since 2011, but only managed to obtain a .306 wOBA, good for a wRC+ of 93. His 2013 had shown promise before his knee injury, maybe making 2012 to be an outlier, but in 2014 he lost .043 off of his batting average, and more discouragingly, .085 off of his slugging percentage. $25 million was A LOT to pay for a player that ended up producing at below replacement level, according to Fangraphs.

In the spring, I had said Dominic Brown took a huge step forward in 2013. If we count a huge step as two normal steps, then Brown took about five steps back this season. His slugging percentage dropped nearly .150; the lack of power caused him to lose about .070 off of his wOBA. This dramatic drop in hitting caused him go from a 1.7 fWAR player in 2013 to a -1.7 fWAR in 2014. If you are looking for an explanation of the decline in offense, this would be a good place to start.

The Pitching:

On the pitching side of the ball, the Phillies’ rotation had a down year compared to 2013. Cole Hamels improved upon his 2013 numbers and produced at the level to which everyone is now accustomed. Cliff Lee produced at a high level as well when he was not injured; he is expected to be ready for Spring Training. But, A.J. Burnett did not produce at the same levels that he had with the Pirates. His FIP jumped from 2.80 in 2013 to 4.14 in 2014; he walked nearly a batter more per 9 innings while striking out nearly 2 batters fewer per 9. Burnett has a mutual option with the team, so it will be interesting to see if he is brought back. Kyle Kendrick had another middling season, though worse than last season, and has not had a FIP under 4 in any of his complete seasons with the Phillies. Kendrick is a free agent, and it is hard to see him being brought back. The other off-season signing, Roberto Hernandez, had a similar year to Kendrick, and was shipped to the Dodgers in August. David Buchanan, who filled in for Lee and Hernandez during their time missed, pitched fairly well for a #5 type starter, though his 4.27 FIP was just slightly better than Kendrick and Hernandez.

The unit with the most improvement was definitely the Phillies’ bullpen. Jonathan Papelbon and Justin De Fratus both improved by over half a win over their 2013 campaigns, and Antonio Bastard and Jake Diekman produced at the same level as in 2013, but for more innings. The biggest revelation for the bullpen however was rookie Ken Giles, who produced at Kimbrel-like levels: 1.18 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 1.34 FIP, 12.61 K/9. Having those innings go to Giles instead of the likes of J.C. Ramirez was most of the improvement, and if he can keep those numbers up, there may be a Games Finished watch in Philadelphia in 2015 like there was in Washington in 2014.

Off-Season Outlook:

This off-season will be an interesting one for the Phillies. Their offense was one of the worst in the league last season, but they don’t really have the flexibility to do too much because of the big contracts given to the right three fourths of the infield. They have two third baseman with decent minor league offensive track records, but both have failed to produce at the MLB level. Which Dominic Brown is the real one, 2013 or 2014? Center is an obvious spot for an offensive upgrade, but the market as it stands now doesn’t look that great. The Phillies will also be looking to upgrade the back/middle of their starting rotation as they did in 2013. Much of those decisions will depend on if A.J. Burnett comes back for another season. The Phillies are entering into a rebuilding mode, so it will be interesting to see what they do the next two seasons, and what they look like on the other side.

Get To Know A Nat 2014: Matt Thornton



Name: Matthew J. Thornton (not to be confused with this Matthew Thornton who signed the Declaration of Independence)
Nickname(s): Matt
DOB: September 15, 1976
Twitter?:  None
From: Three Rivers, Michigan
Position:  Reliever
Hand: Lefty

With the Nats Since: August 5, 2014 when the Nationals selected him off waivers from the New York Yankees 

Just Who Is This Guy?: Thornton is a former all-star reliever (2010 All-Star) who has been in the league, mainly the American League, for the last 11 seasons. He’s pitched a total of 655 games, logging a 32-45 record with a 3.48 ERA. Thornton spent the majority of his playing career with the Chicago White Sox but has also played for the Seattle Mariners, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

During the 2004 season, Thornton made his major league debut at the age of 27 with the Mariners. He threw four innings of scoreless ball, struck out one and gave up three hits and walked one batter. He finished the 2004 season with a 1-2 record and a 4.13 ERA in 32.2 innings.

Thornton was traded to the Chicago White Sox on March 20, 2006 and performed during his tenure with the White Sox. From 2006-2012, he logged 435.1 innings, going 31-32 with a 3.25 ERA, 2.91 FIP and struck out 465 batters. During his All-Star season, Thornton threw 60.2 innings, generating a 5-4 record with a 2.67 ERA, 2.41 FIP and 81 strikeouts. He also had eight saves that season.

According to Brooks Baseball, Thornton heavily uses his fourseam fastball that tops out around 96 mph. He also throws a sinker (96 mph) a lot, and tends to throw a 90 mph change and an 84 mph curveball.

What Happened in 2013: On July 12, 2013, Thornton changed the color, being traded from the White Sox to the Red Sox. In 40 games with the White Sox before the trade, he posted a 3.86 ERA in 28 innings. He struck out 21 and issued 10 walks. With the Red Sox, he appeared in 20 games and struck out nine in 15.1 innings.

While the Red Sox won the 2013 World Series, Thornton injured his oblique in August and never fully recovered before the season was over and was left off the postseason rosters.

On November 2, 2013, the Red Sox granted Thornton his release, allowing him to sign with any team. 

What’s happening in 2014 so far?: On January 10, 2014, the Yankees penned Thornton to a two-year, $7 million deal to help bolster their bullpen. However, the Yankees decided that with the emergence of other, cheaper bullpen arms such as Dellin Betances and Adam Warren, mixed with his expensive contract, Thornton was expendable.

Thornton was actually putting together a solid season for the Yankees before the waiver claim, posting a 2.55 ERA in 46 games. He had 20 strikeouts and six walks in 24.2 innings. With the Nationals, he has appeared in three games as of August 13, 2014 and pitched 2.2 innings with a 0.00 ERA and a strikeout.

The addition of Thornton makes one of the best bullpens in baseball even more dominant. He can get batters out on both sides of the plate – right-handed batters have a .255 average against him while lefties have a .254 average against him. Thornton’s experience and veteran leadership will be valuable to the Nationals down the stretch and allow them to give some of their oft-used bullpen arms a much needed break to gear up for the postseason.

Get To Know A Nat 2014: Asdrúbal Cabrera

In an effort to give you the most up-to-date knowledge on the Nationals, here’s a look at one of the newest members of the team, Asdrúbal Cabrera.

Name: Asdrúbal José Cabrera
Nickname(s): Scroobs (Editor Note): Also, apparently, #AssCab…I’m pushing for A.Strudel)
DOB: November 13, 1985
Twitter?:  None
From: Puerto la Cruz, Venezuela
Position: Middle Infielder (primarily played SS with Cleveland but will mainly play 2B with Nats)
Hand: Throws Right, Bats Switch
With the Nats Since: Acquired in a trade with the Cleveland Indians on July 31, 2014 for infielder/outfielder Zach Walters

Just Who Is This Guy?: Cabrera is a former American League All-Star shortstop (in 2011 and 2012) who was acquired via a trade with the Cleveland Indians at the 2014 Trade Deadline. With the Nationals, he will primarily play second base, taking at-bats away from Danny Espinosa, who crushes lefties and plays stellar defensive but has a tendency to strikeout. Cabrera had a down year in 2013 that has carried over this season, but a it’s possible that the change of scenery to the National League, second base and the Nationals could jumpstart his bat and help the Nationals continue their playoff push.

Although he hasn’t played second base since 2009 when he held down the keystone for the Indians in 28 games, he has played flawless defense with the Nationals thus far. In his first game donning the Curly W on August 1, 2014 against the Philadelphia Phillies, Cabrera made a fantastic play while ranging to his left, sliding to field the ball and popping up to throw out the speedy Jimmy Rollins at first. As of August 11, 2014, Cabrera has a perfect fielding percentage in his 74 innings at second base.

During his all-star caliber 2011 and 2012 seasons where he batted .272/.335/.443 with 41 home runs, 160 RBI and stole 26 bases in 294 games, he has batted .243/.302/.392 with 23 home runs, 107 RBI and stolen 16 bases in 241 games since then. His woes continue this season, batting .245/.306/.380 with nine home runs, 43 RBI and seven stolen bases through 105 games with the Indians and Nationals.

Cabrera may be having a down year again this season, but he has the potential to do big things for the Nationals during the playoff race. He brings veteran leadership to the clubhouse as well as postseason experience, having playing during the Indians’ 2007 and 2013 playoff runs. The small things that don’t have any effect on the daily box score are potential reasons why teams bring in a player, such as Cabrera, at the trade deadline.

Let’s get to know Cabrera even further; here are a few fun facts about him. He made his major league debut against the Chicago White Sox, starting at second base and going 0-for-3 with a run scored. On May 12, 2008, Cabrera turned the 14th unassisted triple play in Major League Baseball history against the Toronto Blue Jays. Cabrera hit his first career grand slam against the New York Yankees on April 18, 2009, propelling the Indians 22-4 win. During the 2011 season, Cabrera earned his first and only Silver Slugger for the shortstop position.

What Happened in 2013: Cabrera had a down 2013 to the tune of a .242 batting average with 14 home runs, 66 RBI and nine stolen bases. He had a career high 20.3 percent strikeout rate paired with a 6.2 percent walk rate. Cabrera was worth 0.5 WAR and missed a chunk of the season, spending time on the disabled list with a strained quadriceps.

Defensively, Cabrera committed nine errors in 136 games at shortstop for the Indians, posting a .982 fielding percentage. He was known to make flashy plays at shortstop and so far at second base for the Nationals, he has made a few great plays as well. Look for that to continue.

What’s happening in 2014 so far?: In the final year of his contact, Cabrera hasn’t came close the successes that he had during his 2011-2012 seasons with the Indians. Before he was traded, he was batting .246/.305/.386 with nine home runs, 40 RBI and seven stolen bases. Through 92 games at shortstop with the Indians, Cabrera had committed 14 errors, giving him a .963 fielding percentage, 10 points below the league average of .973 percent.

With the Nationals, Cabrera has a .233/.314/.614 slash line with three RBI and a triple through eight games. Cabrera is a perfect 34-34 in defensive fielding chances. According to the rest of season ZiPS projections on Fangraphs, Cabrera is projected to hit .270 with four home runs, 23 RBI and three stolen bases and provide a 0.8 WAR.

Those projections mixed with his fielding skills and postseason experiences should provide the Nationals with a little extra push towards finishing strong in the second half.