Monday, February 22, 2010

2010 Team Analysis: Washington Nationals

Washington Nationals:

2009 Record: 59-103

General Manager: Mike Rizzo

Manager: Jim Riggleman

Organizational Philosophy: after the Jim Bowden implosion nearly a year ago, Mike Rizzo was selected (on an interim basis) to get the Nationals on the right path.  When the Nationals came to be in 2005, the team was bogged down from the remnants of the Jeffrey Loria Expo years (Brad Wilkerson, Jose Vidro, Termel Sledge, etc.), of course that season did have some hope (Ryan Zimmerman and John Patterson, before his nagging injuries got the best of him).

Rizzo was hired by the Nationals as the assistant GM in 2006 after a successful stint as the Director of Scouting with the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Since being named as GM, Rizzo has implemented a strict sense of discipline where rules are set and people are expected to show up on time (standard procedure, right? but tell that to Elijah Dukes when he was fined in 2008 for showing up late to a game after talking with D.C. area little leaguers).  The team also wants to install a sense of winning that begins in the minor leagues and will, hopefully, carry over to the pro club.  Rizzo explains that player development will be a vital part of their process and that having a front office presence among all the minor league affliates will be important while he is running the show.

During his time in Arizona, Rizzo gained the reputation of having a great eye for talent and what skills could translate into future baseball success.  In a recent interview, he has stated that he doesn't have a preference for college or high school players and instead goes for the best possible player.  For a team with a lot of losing seasons one would hope their farm system would be better; after RHP Stephen Strasburg, C Derek Norris, SS Danny Espinosa and future closer Drew Storen, the system gets thin rather fast.  I do have high hopes for Mike Rizzo as a GM and if his philosophy of establishing positive clubhouse chemistry mixed with his keen eye for talent; as long as he doesn't make signing veterans to block MLB ready prospects a habit, then things could improve in D.C. faster than we expect.

2010 Commitments:

Starting Rotation:

Jason Marquis ($7.5M)
John Lannan ($420K)
Scott Olsen ($1M)
J.D. Martin ($400K)
Garrett Mock ($400K)
Ross Detwiler ($400K)
Jordan Zimmerman ($400K)
Chien-Ming Wang ($2M)

The main question concerning this rotation pool is how long will Stephen Strasburg be in the minors? Even if he dazzles during the spring, the Nationals have nothing to gain longterm by keeping him on the MLB roster on opening day.  My guess is that he'll be sent down to AA to fine tune his mechanics and get comfortable dominating AA and AAA hitters before his summer callup.

The signing of Jason Marquis gives the Nationals a stable innings-eater at the top of the rotation and John Lannan is another groundball tosser who I'm sure the Nats are hoping is good for another 180+ innings.  After that, the rest of this rotation is up in the air.

Jordan Zimmerman is a future front rotation starter but underwent Tommy John surgery and isn't expected back until August or September the earliest.  Scott Olsen and Chien-Ming Wang are both recovering from shoulder surgery, although Olsen's procedure was considered minor and he is expected to ready by spring.

J.D. Martin is a contact pitcher who posted excellent BB rates in the minors.  He'll get a chance this season although this defense won't be doing him any favors.

Garrett Mock and Ross Detwiler are two young pitchers who lean towards a highish groundball tendency.  Both have posted good K rates but their control needs a little polishing.  Like Martin, these pitchers will depend on defensive efficiency in 2010.

Matt Capps ($3.5M)
Brian Bruney ($1.5M)
Jason Bergmann ($750K)
Tyler Clippard ($400K)
Sean Burnett ($775K)
Drew Storen ($400K)

Matt Capps will try to salvage his career as a mid-tier closer next season.  His high flyball frequency has been trending downwards for the past three seasons (50.2% in '07; 46% in '08; 40.7% last season) but his high HR/FB rate was a bit high based on these stats and I wouldn't be surprised if there is a slight correction in Capps' favor next season.

Brian Bruney is a fringey arm who has a lively fastball but doesn't have the slightest idea on how to control it.  Expect more of the same in 2010.

Tyler Clippard is a former Yankee prospect still struggling with his command.  He has posted excellent K rates and seems a capable arsenal of multi-pitches to be a backend starter.  Last season he enjoyed a low contact percentage which translated into a low BABIP (.207) and high strand rate (86.9%).  He is due for a regression but his capabilities make him somewhat useful.

Another closer candidate will be rookie Drew Storen.  According to his Arizona Fall Legue and brief pro stats he is a flyball pitcher who may need to finetune his command. 

On the field:

C: Ivan Rodriguez ($3M)
C: Jesus Flores ($750K)
1B: Adam Dunn ($12M)
2B: Adam Kennedy ($1.25M)
SS: Cristian Guzman ($8M)
SS: Ian Desmond ($400K)
3B: Ryan Zimmerman ($6.3M)
LF: Josh Willingham ($4.6M)
CF: Nyjer Morgan ($411K)
RF: Elijah Dukes ($415K)
INF/OF: Willie Harris ($1.5M)

The signing of Ivan Rodriguez has been seen as insurance against Jesus Flores' recent shoulder woes.  Flores will be 25 next season but isn't expected to be ready by Opening Day.  Rodriguez is signed for two years which may seem like an eternity and will most likely cut into Flores' developmental time (although the recent announcement that Derek Norris is the catcher of the future by GM Mike Rizzo certainly limits Flores' career in Washington).

Rounding out the infield, Adam Dunn will take his HR show and in-between will attempt to play some form of 1B.  The recent signing of Adam Kennedy smells a bit odd, especially with reports that the Nationals are beginning to recognize Christian Guzman as a defensive liability.  At the end of last season, Ian Desmond was called up and performed well in 82 at bats (.280/.318/.561); obviously, this is a small sample but with Desmond's age and apparent readiness I don't see what the Nationals have to lose in trying Desmond out as a full-time SS and moving Guzman to 2B.

In the outfield, last season's acquisition of Nyjer Morgan brought to Washington a solid defender who combination of speed and groundball hitting (over 50%) translated into a high BABIP and .307 batting average.  Morgan has no power to speak of, although his excellent linedrive rate (19.9% in '09; 24% in '08) should give the team some hope as it seems to be linked to keeping up a higher than average BABIP. 

Josh Willingham and the Nationals agreed on a pay raise of $4.6M for next season (2011 will be his last arbitration eligible season before free agency).  It's been reported that the Nats were shopping Willingham this offseason but his consistent power and ability to draw walks makes him a bargain according to FanGraphs Win Value chart.  At this price Willingham provides a capable bat in the #5 spot and with his expected triple slash for 2010: .262/.363/.475, the team would be hard pressed to find that (at $4.6M) elsewhere in a fair trade.

The final piece belongs to RF Elijah Dukes. Since becoming a big leaguer in 2007, Dukes has been labeled as a talented yet undisciplined individual with a history of violence and other off-field incidents.  Dukes has posted an excellent career in the minors (.280/.369/.451 in 465 minor league games) but has had trouble making the adjustment to MLB pitching (in his defense, he did post a decent line of .264/.386/.478 during his first season as a National in 334 plate appearances).  Dukes will be 26 next season and seems to be on a short-leash based on GM's Mike Rizzo's new clubhouse philosophy.  He does have the ability to post capable defense and last season's low HR/FB rate (6.8%) does point to a possible power surge in 2010.

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