Tag Archives: Gio Gonzalez

End of Season Grades: The Pitchers

Everyone who writes about the Washington Nationals is likely to do some variation of this post, so I thought I should get mine in early.  I try to base my grades upon performance, NOT expectations (ergo, no downgrading Strasburg for NOT being Clayton Kershaw).  Anyway, feel free to argue with my grades, or agree if you will, in the comments.

Starting Pitchers:

Stephen Strasburg – B  Heading into the stretch run, Strasburg’s year was looking a bit shaky, but he dominated in season’s last month and ended up leading the Nats in innings pitched (by a margin of 15) and leading the NL in strikeouts.  On the other hand, he was 4th on the staff in ERA and had no complete games (and has only 1 in his entire career), which is a real deficiency in a guy who is supposed to be the staff ace and the “stopper.”

Jordan Zimmermann – A  Only a bad month of May, in which he sported an ugly ERA of 5.06, kept Zimmermann out of discussions for the Cy Young Award.  His season-ending no hitter and almost as strong a performance in Game 2 of the NLDS show him to be a pitcher who has reached the absolute the top of his game.

Doug Fister – A  It kind of got obscured by Zimmermann’s no-no, but Fister was almost as dominant in the 3-hit complete game shutout he threw just two days prior.  Had the Marlins decided to rest Donovan Solano in the first game of that Friday doubleheader, the Nats might have pulled off the unprecedented feat of having pitched two no hitters in the same weekend.

Gio Gonzalez – C+  Like Strasburg, Gio pitched well down the stretch, which in his case salvaged his season from true mediocrity.  Unfortunately, he then got the nod for the playoff rotation over Tanner Roark and once again proved that he just isn’t a good postseason pitcher.

Tanner Roark – A-  Fantastic as Roark was, his peripheral stats suggest merely an above average pitcher who had a little luck on his side rather than another staff ace.  Still, that’s a great thing for a team’s number 5 starter to be.

Blake Treinen – C+  Treinen pitched both as a starter and a reliever this year, but had far more innings as the former than the latter.  Weirdly, Treinen had a much better ERA and K/9 ratio as a reliever, but as a starter had a much lower WHIP and held opposing hitters to an OPS that was over .100 points lower.  Still, it would seem that unless he’s traded, Treinen’s future lies in the bullpen.

Taylor Jordan – F  Winning a rotation spot out of spring training, last year’s pleasant rookie surprise turned out to be a dud in his sophomore season.  Jordan pitched well in his first start, but then imploded and was demoted to AAA when Doug Fister came off the DL at the end of April.  Jordan wasn’t much better at Syracuse, and then spent the season’s second half on the DL himself.

Relief Pitchers

Drew Storen – C  In giving out postseason awards, MLB only considers a player’s regular season performance.  Since I don’t have to do that, Storen gets docked two letter grades for his awful NLDS performance after what had been an outstanding season.

Rafael Soriano – B-  It particularly grates that Soriano pitched very effectively in the playoffs, for it was his August implosion as the closer that caused Storen to be returned to the role.  I’ll bet I speak for most Nats fans when I say I’ll be glad to see the back of Mr. Shirt Untuck this offseason.

Tyler Clippard – A  I’ll be the first to say it.  Since (assuming he isn’t traded) next year is Clippard’s last with the Nats before he hits free agency and he will likely be their highest paid reliever, they should FINALLY give him the closer’s job that perhaps he should have had all along.

Jerry Blevins – C-  Acquired from Oakland via trade last offseason to be the bullpen’s lefty specialist not long after the Nats had oddly enough let lefty reliever Fernando Abad go to Oakland, Blevins had a “meh” season.  He turned in a lot of bad outings and had the worst ERA of any Nats reliever who spent the whole season on the big club roster, but righted the ship down the stretch and into the playoffs, not allowing a run after September 10th.

Matt Thorton – A-  Until Game 4 of the NLDS, Thorton hadn’t given up a run in a Nats’ uniform.  Though he was not on the mound when the runner he put on base scored what turned out to be the series clinching run, it was a heck of a time for him to allow his first one.

Aaron Barrett – C  Like Storen, the rookie pitched well in the regular season (but for a rough midsummer patch that led to a brief demotion to AAA), but then totally screwed the pooch in the playoffs.

Craig Stammen – B-  Stammen had his worst year as Nats reliever, a fact emphasized when he allowed 5 runs on 6 hits without retiring a batter in his last regular season game.  Nevertheless, he was outstanding in the playoffs, which gives him a bit of a bump up grade-wise.

Ross Detwiler – D  Former starter Detwiler did nothing after his demotion to the bullpen to prove the Nats were wrong for making the move.  Left off of the NLDS roster, Detwiler has likely pitched his last inning in a Nats uniform.

Tomorrow, we’ll do the position players.

NLDS Post-Mortem: Heros and Goats

I take back what I said before about the Nats lineup lacking clutch hitters who can produce in the playoffs.  They do have one–his name is Bryce Harper, but he sure can’t do it alone.  That was the story of the 2014 NLDS, about five Nats players looked like they came to play.  Most of the rest looked like they had already booked their late October tee times.

Without further ado, here is the Nats’ EXPOSed list of heroes and goats of the 2014 NLDS.

Heroes:

1.  Bryce Harper – young Mr. Harper was literally a one man offense, hitting 3 of the Nats’ 4 home runs in the series and, more incredibly, collecting 4 of the measly 7 RBIs and 4 of the 7 extra base hits the team managed to in the equivalent of five games played.  He also flashed the leather on defense, and overall looked every bit as much the superstar that he hasn’t resembled for a large portion of the last two seasons.  If, on Opening Day 2015, Harper is not in the lineup batting third or cleanup, Matt Williams should be fired on the spot.

2.  Jordan Zimmermann – what else could a pitcher do to win a game for his team?  Eight and 2/3rd innings, 4 baserunnners, none of whom made it past second base while he was on the mound.  It makes me sick just thinking about Zimmermann not getting the Game 2 win.

3.  Doug Fister – Do you think maybe Fister is quite happy right now that he turned down the Nats’ contract extension offer right after he was traded from Detroit?  If he can even come close to repeating his 2014 performance next year, he’s going to be a VERY rich man come the free agency period next offseason.

4.  Anthony Rendon – The Nats’ other young star hitter did what he was supposed to do near the top of the order–set the table by collecting 7 hits and a walk in the series.  Too bad there was nobody behind him to drive him in.  Rendon also almost had the hit that would have won the marathon Game 2 in the 15th inning.  A “what if” in an excruciatingly frustrating series that was full of them.

Goats:

1.  Jayson Werth/Adam LaRoche/Denard Span – The top of the order, save Rendon, absolutely KILLED the Nats in this series, collecting a total of 4 hits, all singles, in the equivalent of 5 games.  These over-30 guys were supposed to be the veteran team leaders–yet they failed time after time after time.  If anyone out there was pining for LaRoche to return next year, I hope this horrid series has disabused you of such notions.

2. Drew Storen – I was in the camp who blamed Davey Johnson for misusing Storen in the 2012 NLDS by pitching his closer in the 8-0 Game 3 blowout to keep him “fresh,” despite knowing there was every chance Storen might then need to pitch three games in a row.  But this time?  There is no excuse for Storen blowing Zimmermann’s gem.  All he needed was one lousy out and he couldn’t get it (at all–only a close play at the plate allowed the game to move into extra innings).  My hope is that young Mr. Storen gets a change of scenery via trade–because the Nats going into a third playoff run next year (assuming they get there) with him as the closer would be quite insane at this point.

3.  Gio Gonzalez – Despite his marvelous 2012 regular season, Gio’s underwhelming performance was a big factor in the Nats losing the Game 5 of the NLDS after he had narrowly escaped not completely blowing it in Game 1.  It was thought going into this playoff run that not being expected to be the ace this time would calm him down a bit.  Instead, it was his horrible error that gave the Giants the margin of victory in Game 4 and thus the series.  Would the Nats have been better off had Tanner Roark started the game?  We’ll never know.

4. Aaron Barrett – Though it wasn’t quite as dramatic as Storen’s Game 2 failure, Barrett was the pitcher who literally threw the series away.  His final stats: 4 batters faced, 2 BBs, 1 Hit, 1 Wild Pitch, one October ruined for the Washington Nationals.

I was also tempted to put manager Matt Williams on the “Goat” list for putting Barrett in the deciding game and not using Clippard or Stammen, or heck, just about anybody else.  After all, there WAS no tomorrow to save anyone for.  On the other hand, Game 4 probably could have gone another 9 innings without the Nats scoring another run, so really any move he made at that point was likely to be futile.

I’ll be back over the next few days with some season-in-review posts.

The Key to the Nats’ Recent Pitching Success? It’s the Strikeouts, Stupid

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On April 11, 2010, Jason Bergmann came in as a relief pitcher in the 8th inning of the Nats’ 6th game of the season.  He struck out the only batter he faced on three pitches, giving him 299 career Ks, all with the Nats.  Three days later Bergmann gave up a two-run homer in one inning of work, lifting his season ERA to a gaudy 15.43 in just 4 appearances.  The very next day he was sent down to AAA Syracuse and never pitched in the majors again despite being only 28-years old and, get this, also being at that time the Nats’ all time career strikeouts leader.

Despite being mostly lousy during his Nationals tenure, Bergmann had been just good enough to be a mainstay of their pitching staff for their first five seasons in DC, going from reliever to starter and then back to reliever again.  To say those Nats pitching staffs didn’t miss a lot of bats is a huge understatement.  At the time of Bergmann’s demotion, John Patterson held the team’s single season strikeout record, recording 185 in their 2005 inaugural season.  One-year hired gun Esteban Loaiza checked in at number 2 from that same season with 173.  Beyond those two, however, no Nats pitcher had struck out even 150 batters during one campaign.   In 2009, for example, John Lannan somehow pitched a team leading 206.1 innings while recording only 89 Ks.  That same year nobody on the Nats’ staff managed to even hit triple digits, though rookie Jordan Zimmermann certainly would have had he not blown out his elbow that year.

There have been lots of articles recently about the ever-increasing number of strikeouts in MLB and how it has negatively affected the offensive side of the game.  And in recent times, no team has more dramatically altered the strikeout effectiveness of their pitching staff than the Nats.  By 2012, just two years after former team strikeout king Bergmann was so unceremoniously cut loose, all five Nats’ starters would record more than 100 Ks, and for the first time one of them would top the 200 K mark (Gio Gonzalez with 207).  By 2014, a fully healthy Stephen Strasburg would claim the NL strikeout crown with 242–or just 57 fewer than Bergmann recorded during his entire five-year career.

During the second half of the Nats’ first decade in Washington, GM Mike Rizzo’s philosophy of preferring hard throwers who do miss a lot of bats has completely rewritten the team record book in the strikeout category.  Eight of the team’s top 10 single season strikeout marks have been set in just the past three years.  Meanwhile, Strasburg (746), Zimmermann (739) and Gonzalez (561) have all blown way past Bergmann’s former club record of 299, and even a reliever, Tyler Clippard, has joined the Nats’ 500 K club by racking up a nifty 530.  Only ground ball specialist Doug Fister has bucked the overall recent trend.

And it doesn’t stop with the big club.  As of now, the Nats’ two top prospects, Lucas Giolito and A.J. Cole, have been putting up strikeout numbers in the minors that eerily resemble Strasburg and Zimmermann, respectively.

So is the league-wide emphasis on strikeouts hurting baseball by driving down offense?  Perhaps, but in recent years it has also been a boon for the Nats and a big reason for their current run of success.

So Which Nats Team is Better Heading Into the Postseason: 2012 or 2014?

The regular season is over, but the Nats still have a few days and a wild card play-in game determining their opponent before they finally get to start on their quest to redeem 2012’s NLDS collapse.  While we wait, I thought it might be fun to compare and contrast the likely 2014 playoff roster with that of the 2012 squad to try and determine which one is truly better.

While it is true that the 2012 squad won more regular season games, this year’s bunch seized the NL East crown much more authoritatively and is riding into the postseason on a much higher note thanks to Jordan Zimmermann’s heroics.  One might also be inclined to argue that this year’s bunch has the advantage of being more experienced–to which I would argue that sometimes that’s an advantage and sometimes it isn’t.

As this is a fairly long exercise, I’m going to split it into two parts, pitchers today and position players tomorrow.  I’ll compare each aspect of the team (treating each starting pitcher slot as one position) and assign one of three values: even, slight advantage, significant advantage.  Even will = 0 points, while slight advantage will = 1 point and significant advantage will = 2 points.  Then we’ll add ’em all up at the end and see what we’ve got.  One caveat, I will NOT be including the actual 2012 playoff performances for each player on that roster in my analysis (as that would be cheating), just what the expectations were for them going in.

So here goes:

No. 1 Starter: Gio Gonzalez 2012 vs Stephen Strasburg 2014

Much like the Doug Fister trade this year, the trade for Gio Gonzalez was the most important move that contributed to the Nats’ 2012 playoff run.  Gio became the Nats’ first (and so far only) 20 game winner that year and their first pitcher to record more than 200 Ks in one season (207) while finishing 2nd in the NL Cy Young Award balloting.

Meanwhile, after having some ups and downs, in 2014 Strasburg assumed his rightful place late in the season as the ace of the Nats’ staff and its workhorse, throwing 215 innings and recording an NL leading 243 Ks.  His modest 14-11 won-loss record was reflective of his inconsistency early on, but in his last 6 starts he sparkled, putting up a Walter Johnson-esque ERA of 1.13 and looking like the true ace the Nats have been waiting for ever since he blew out his elbow four years ago.  Still, based on the totality of their respective seasons, Gio 2012 gets the nod here.

Verdict: Slight Advantage, Gio Gonzalez 2012

No. 2 Starter: Jordan Zimmermann 2012 vs Jordan Zimmermann 2014

In the battle of Z-nn vs Z-nn, let’s go to the numbers.  In 2012, JZ was 12-8 with a 2.94 ERA, and had 143 Ks against 43 BBs.  In 2014, he was 14-5 with a 2.66 ERA, and 182 Ks vs only 29 BBs.  What those numbers show is a remarkably consistent pitcher who has continued to improve as he’s gained experience.  Oh, and then there was that no-no performance in his last game of the season.

Verdict: Slight Advantage, Jordan Zimmermann 2014

No. 3 Starter: Edwin Jackson 2012 vs. Doug Fister 2014

Oh please, how much convincing do you need on this one?  I’ll make it really simple.  Jackson: 10-11, 4.03.  Fister: 16-6, 2.41.  Enough said.

Verdict: Significant Advantage, Doug Fister 2014

No. 4 Starter: Ross Detwiler 2012 vs Gio Gonzalez 2014

This one is not as cut-and-dried as it seems as Detwiler actually had a better won-loss record (10-8 vs 10-10) and ERA (3.40 vs 3.57).  The peripheral numbers, however, favor Gonzalez, especially strikeout rate (9.2 K/9 rate vs 5.8).  The 2012 season turned out to be the one (and likely only) good season Ross Detwiler had in a Nats’ uniform, but even then he still wasn’t good enough to hold off being moved to the bullpen for awhile in favor of Chien-Ming Wang.

Verdict: Slight Advantage, Gio Gonzalez 2014

Closer: Drew Storen 2012 vs Drew Storen 2014

Put the NLDS Game 5 disaster out of your mind for a moment and recognize that Drew Storen had a good second half coming off the disabled list in 2012.  Though he only won the closer’s job back in September and thus had only 4 saves, he pitched 30.1 innings with an excellent 2.37 ERA and an outstanding 0.989 WHIP.

In 2014, having again only recently regained the closer’s role, Storen’s numbers are even better (1.14 ERA, 0.958 WHIP).  He’s also matured  as a pitcher since 2012, using secondary offerings more instead of just trying to blow every hitter away.

Verdict: Slight Advantage, Drew Storen 2014

Setup Man: Tyler Clippard 2012 vs Tyler Clippard 2014

Clippard spent much of 2012 as the closer, and the fact that he began to fade down the stretch (and actually had the worst full season of his career) is the reason Storen regained that role.  Overall, his 2012 numbers look far worse than this year (3.72 ERA vs 2.21, 1.156 WHIP vs 0.995 and 10.2 K/9 vs 10.5).  Bottom line is, Clippard has been a better pitcher this year.

Verdict: Slight Advantage, Tyler Clippard 2014

Middle Relief: Mike Gonzalez, Ryan Mattheus, Sean Burnett & Cristian Garcia 2012 vs Rafael Soriano, Jerry Blevins, Matt Thorton & Aaron Barrett 2014

The late addition of Thorton really shores up what would otherwise be a questionable group for the 2014 Nats as Soriano blew up spectacularly and lost the closer’s job, Blevins sports a staff-high ERA of 4.95 and Barrett was sent to the minors in August to clear his head.  On the other hand, the 2012 group was relying on a midseason call-up retread (Gonzalez) and an untested September call-up (Garcia).  Mattheus and Burnett had been solid all year, however, which gives the edge to the 2012 squad.

Verdict: Slight Advantage, 2012 group

Long Relief: Craig Stammen & Tom Gorzelanny 2012 vs Craig Stammen & Tanner Roark 2014

These are the guys you hope you don’t have to use, but who will be vital if one of your starters doesn’t have it that night or the game goes to extra innings.  That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tanner Roark finds himself pitching some high leverage short outings.  His presence trumps the fact that Stammen had a much better season in 2012 than he had this year, and had the single worst outing of his career to close out his season.

Verdict: Slight Advantage, Craig Stammen & Tanner Roark 2014

So let’s add it all up:

2012: 2 Slight Advantage + 0 Significant Advantage = 2 points.

2014: 5 Slight Advantage = 1 Significant Advantage = 7 points.

Overall: 2014 Nats over 2012 Nats by 5 points.

Tomorrow we will evaluate the position players and the managers.

Oh, No-No He Didn’t!

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I hadn’t intended this blog to be a daily game recap blog, but since I was in attendance for Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter I thought I should write something about it.  Interestingly, I was also in attendance at RFK on Labor Day 2006 when Ramon Ortiz (yeah, I know, I know) took a no-no into the 9th inning only to have Albert Pujols hit a home run to spoil it.  Of course, about the only thing Ortiz’s effort has in common with Zimmermann’s is that they both excelled at the plate–Ortiz hit a home run in the 8th inning of his game while Jordan banged out two singles in three trips to the plate today.

I’ve heard it said numerous times that with their array of great starters the Nats were sure to have one of them throw a no-hitter eventually.  But prior to today the only one of their big guns to flirt with one was Gio Gonzalez when he one-hit the Mets last year, with that one seeing-eye single coming off the bat of pinch hitter Zach Lutz (it was Lutz’s first MLB hit AND his only hit of the season, infuriatingly enough).

No disrespect to Gio, but it was fitting that it would be Zimmermann who threw the team’s first ever no-no.  He’s been here the longest and despite winning 19 games a year ago remains behind Strasburg and Gio in terms of the attention and appreciation he gets.  Perhaps that’s because he doesn’t have the flashy strike out totals, though the 10 Ks he put up today looked pretty good.

So consider this as the Nats head into the playoffs.  In their final starts of the regular season, Zimmermann, Strasburg, Gio and Fister, their four presumed playoff starting pitchers, threw 31 innings, struck out 38 batters and walked only 3.  They also gave up only 6 hits and ZERO runs.  Not only is that a perfect ERA of 0.00, but it’s a WHIP of an incredible 0.290.  Yeah, I’d say they are ready to go.

Let the PLAYOFF games begin!

Gio is Pitching Better Than Ever Right Now

Gio+Gonzalez+Cincinnati+Reds+v+Washington+R3n_v3VO1Byl

There’s been a lot of debate about whether Gio Gonzalez or Tanner Roark deserve to be the Nats’ 4th starter during the playoffs this year.  After all, Roark has much better season stats (2.85 ERA and 15 Wins vs. 3.57 ERA and 10 Wins for Gio), and Gio seemed to let the pressure get to him and didn’t pitch all that well in the 2012 NLDS, his only other postseason appearance.  Not to take anything away from Roark’s fantastic season, but I discovered something surprising yesterday when looking over Gio’s 2014 statistics: right now the big lefty is pitching better than he ever has.

For while it is true that Gio’s ERA this year is the worst he’s ever put up in a season in which he’s made over 20 starts, his 1.197 WHIP is actually his second BEST, behind only his terrific 2012 campaign.  In addition his K/9 rate of 9.2 is also his second best mark behind 2012, and get this–his BB/9 rate of 3.2 is actually his best ever, even trumping 2012.

Dig a little deeper and you’ll discover something else that’s interesting.  Gio was out of the rotation due to injury from May 17th to June 18th, and the reports were that the ailment in question had been bothering him for several weeks before he went on the disabled list.  Well, it just so happens that if you throw out the two starts he made right before going on the DL as well as his first post-DL stint start, his season ERA drops all the way down to 2.89 in his 24 other starts, which would be the BEST mark of his career.

Those who are more into traditional stats might hear all of this and be inclined to point to Gio’s seemingly mediocre 10-10 record as proof that his tendency to have high pitch counts and not pitch deep into games doesn’t give his team the best chance to win.  To which I have to reply: au contraire.  The Nats’ record in Gio’s starts this year was 16-11, and was 15-9 if you throw out those same three starts sandwiched around his DL stint.  Meanwhile, the team’s record in Roark’s starts is 18-13…in other words about the same in terms of winning percentage despite his lower ERA and better personal win-loss record.

Still haven’t convinced you?  How about the fact that in Gio’s last 7 starts of the season his ERA was 2.36, and he struck out 41 batters while walking only 9?  Then there’s the added fact that during that same time opposing hitters batted only .191 against him.

Add of this up and it makes much more sense why Gio Gonzalez will likely be named to the Nats’ playoff rotation over Tanner Roark, and why with a pitcher of Roark’s ability available in the bullpen this team should be VERY tough to beat in the playoffs.

How the East Was Won: Mike Rizzo’s Top 8 Trades

Tanner+Roark+Milwaukee+Brewers+v+Washington+ZzI5vYjhAaBl

Every MLB general manager has their strengths and weaknesses.  While Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo’s track record on free agent signings has been something of a mixed bag, the overall quality of his trades have been outstanding in his five years in the top job, and his ability to “win” at the trading game that has been a big factor in the team’s recent success.

Even before ownership removed the “interim” from his title back in 2009, he had hijacked slugger Mike Morse from Seattle for the piddling price of light hitting 4th outfielder Ryan Langerhans.  That’s not to say every trade he’s made has been completely one-sided–they don’t necessarily have to be in order to be considered a success–but often the results have reflected the efforts of a general manager and his staff who clearly are doing their homework ahead of time.

And so as the Nats prepare for their triumphant return home and their last set of tuneup games before the playoffs, here are NE’s list of the Top 8 Mike Rizzo trades:

8.  Joe Beimel (LHP) traded to Colorado for Ryan Mattheus (RHP), 2009.  

Veteran reliever Beimel was signed to a one-year contract during spring training in 2009 as newly elevated GM Mike Rizzo desperately attempted to head off what was going to be an absolute bullpen trash fire left behind for him by just-fired predecessor Jim “Leatherpants” Bowden.  Beimel pitched decently for the Nats, but he alone wasn’t enough to dampen the relief corps explosion that sunk the Nats’ ship of state all the way to the bottom of the standings by the July trading deadline.

Taking his first ever gamble on an injured player, Rizzo flipped Beimel to the Colorado Rockies for a minor league reliever who was just about to undergo Tommy John surgery.  Ryan Mattheus recovered fully and pitched well enough to be recalled to the big club in 2011.  During the 2012 playoff run Mattheus became a bullpen mainstay, putting up 1.3 Wins Above Replacement (bWAR) and elevating his two-year Nats’ bWAR at that time to a total of 1.8.  Beimel, meanwhile put up a bWAR of only 0.2 for Colorado before the remainder of his one year, Nats-originated contract expired at the end of the 2009 season.

7.  Alex Meyer (RHP) traded to Minnesota for Denard Span (CF), 2012.

Prior to this season, the trade that brought Denard Span to Washington looked like it might be a bust (and I will admit that I was a Span hater last year).  Centerfield and leadoff hitter were two areas in which the Nats had been sorely deficient during their first eight seasons in DC.  Rizzo tried to rectify both issues by trading prospect Alex Meyer, part of the huge talent haul the Nats drafted in 2011, for Span, who was then the Twins’ starting centerfielder.

Span looked lost for much of his first season wearing the Curly W.  Despite a late season 29-game hitting streak that greatly elevated his overall season numbers, Span still only managed to slash .279/.320/.380, score only 75 runs and steal just 20 bases–fairly paltry numbers a for a leadoff hitter on a supposed pennant contender.  In 2014, however, Span has blossomed, becoming a key contributor to the offense.  Not only does he currently lead the NL in hits, but his OPS of .765 is nearly 60 points higher than it was last year.  The Nats also hold Span’s relatively inexpensive $9 million option to bring him back next season if they so wish, and based on his recent level of performance and the need to give CF heir apparent Michael Taylor a bit more seasoning as a hitter, they almost certainly will.

Meyer, on the other hand, while he remains a top pitching prospect for the Twins has yet to appear in a major league game.  He may eventually prove to be a top starting pitcher, but a team with its playoff “window” wide open needs to fine tune for the immediate future without worrying so much about three years down the road, and by that measure the Span trade has been a big success.

6.  Ryan Langerhans (OF) traded to Seattle for Mike Morse (OF), 2009.

Though he had spent parts of 2007 & 2008 with the big club, by 2009 Ryan Langerhans had become excess baggage–banished to AAA all season despite the Nats being mired in their second consecutive 100-loss campaign.  On June 28th, Rizzo pulled off a little-noticed trade, sending Langerhans to Seattle for Mike Morse, who was already 27 and similarly languishing in the Mariners’ minor league system.

Given a September call up that year, Morse bashed 3 home runs and hit 3 doubles in just 52 at bats, setting himself up to make the team out of spring training in 2010.  Given a chance as a 4th outfielder, Morse then hit 15 home runs in a half season’s worth of at bats.  When Josh Willingham was then traded that offseason, Morse finally got his chance to be a starter at age 29, and he rewarded the Nats by slugging 31 dingers, driving in 95 runs and putting up a .910 OPS that led the entire team by more than 100 points.  He also became a fan favorite, and his combined bWAR in four seasons as a Nat was 5.8.

Langerhans, on the other hand, was called up immediately by Seattle and had a completely forgettable two and a half seasons with the Mariners.  During that time, he TOTALED a mere 9 home runs and 20 RBIs and had a paltry 0.8 bWAR.  In exchange for a light-hitting defensive fourth outfielder the Nats were not even using at the time, Rizzo obtained a middle of the order slugger who would loom large both literally and figuratively during the team’s first playoff run.  Not to mention that Morse was also a big part of another shrewd Rizzo trade:

5.  Mike Morse (OF) traded to Seattle for Blake Treinen (RHP), Ian Krol (LHP) and A.J. Cole (RHP), 2013.

Perhaps miffed that he’d let Morse get away only to see the slugger blossom in DC, four years later Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik apparently decided he needed to have him back.  Meanwhile, Morse only had a year remaining with the Nats before he became eligible for free agency, and with his terrible defense he had never really been Mike Rizzo’s type of player.  So right after the New Year in 2013, the two executives engineered a three-way deal with the A’s Billy Beane in which the Mariners got Morse for a second go-around while the Nats received a haul of pitching prospects from the A’s in return.

Key to the deal on the Nats’ end was prospect A.J. Cole, who Rizzo had sent to the A’s the year before as part of the Gio Gonzalez trade.  Cole disappointed during his one season in the Oakland farm system, but righted the ship upon returning and is now listed by MLB.com as the Nats’ overall Number 2 prospect.  Ian Krol was promoted to the Nats in 2013 as a lefty reliever, and acquitted himself well as a rookie before being sent to the Tigers as part of the Doug Fister trade.  And lastly, Blake Treinen made his MLB debut in 2014 and has looked good as both a reliever and a starter, posting a sub-2.00 ERA in his first 46 MLB innings.

Meanwhile, Morse started off hot his first month in Seattle before tailing off and then getting hurt (again).  He ended the season with only 13 home runs and 27 RBIs while posting a career low OPS of just .651.  Particularly ghastly was his performance after a late August trade to Baltimore.  Morse put up a stretch run slash line of .103/.133/.103 with just 3 hits (none for extra bases) and no RBIs in 29 ABs.  And though he has rebounded a bit with the Giants this season, it comes after he would likely been allowed to leave the Nats via free agency anyway.

4.  Derek Norris (C), A.J. Cole (RHP), Tommy Milone (LHP) and Brad Peacock (RHP) traded to Oakland for Gio Gonzalez (LHP), 2011.

Now here is a trade that worked out great for both teams.  After a long process of rebuilding the worst farm system in baseball that was the legacy of when MLB own the franchise, GM Mike Rizzo traded a large part of his first bounty of MLB-ready prospects to Oakland for young All Star pitcher Gio Gonzalez.  In the process, he convinced Gonzalez to sign a very team friendly contract extension that will keep him wearing the Curly W through 2018 if the Nats elect to pick up the last two option years.  Gio has been excellent for the Nats from the start, in 2012 becoming the first-ever Nats’ pitcher to win 20 games and strike out over 200 batters while finishing second in the NL Cy Young award balloting.  His second and third seasons with the club haven’t been as strong, but he remains a rotation mainstay at a relatively cheap cost and was a big factor in the Nats’ surprising playoff run of two years ago.

Meanwhile the biggest benefit the A’s received was catcher Derek Norris, a former Nationals’ minor league player of the year who has blossomed into an All Star himself.  Tommy Milone gave the A’s a couple of solid years in their rotation before being traded to Minnesota this summer.  Brad Peacock was dumped off on Houston, where he is still trying to put things together, and youngster A.J. Cole, as I’ve already written above, was traded back to the Nats in the second Mike Morse deal.

3.  Robby Ray (RHP), Ian Krol (LHP) and Steve Lombardozzi (UT) traded to Detroit for Doug Fister (RHP), 2013.

So what exactly was Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski thinking when he shipped pitcher Doug Fister to the Nats for Mike Rizzo’s pocket change?  We may never know, but there is no doubt that this was the trade that made the Nats’ 2014 season.  Despite missing the first month, Fister has already matched his career high in bWAR (4.1) while leading an outstanding Nats’ rotation in wins (15, a career high) and ERA (2.55, a career low).

Meanwhile Robbie Ray, who was never listed as being higher than the Nats’ 3rd or 4th best pitching prospect, failed in his first call up to the Tigers, sporting a ghastly 7.16 ERA in only 26 innings over 8 appearances (6 starts).  Even at AAA this year, Ray’s ERA was a pedestrian 4.22 in 100.1 innings.  Ian Krol regressed in the Tigers’ bullpen, as his ERA ballooned to 4.96 in 45 appearances, and they thought so little of Steve Lombardozzi that they flipped him over to the Orioles, where he spent much of the season in the minors.

What made this trade even worse for the Tigers is that losing Fister ultimately necessitated their costly midseason trade with Tampa Bay for David Price.  And even if Ray, the centerpiece of the deal for the Tigers, rebounds and eventually becomes a decent starter this trade will still be a huge win for how much it has helped the Nats in this pivotal second playoff season.

2.  Matt Capps (RHP) traded to Minnesota for Wilson Ramos (C) and Joe Testa (LHP), 2010.

Closer Matt Capps was one of several low cost free agents brought in by Mike Rizzo before the 2010 season in an effort to end the team’s string of two consecutive 100 loss campaigns.  Capps helped the Nats that year by solidifying their wretched bullpen and saving 26 games, which got him his first (and only) All Star nod.  He then helped the Nats even more in future seasons by being the commodity Rizzo was able to flip over to the Twins at the trading deadline for rookie catcher Wilson Ramos (and Joe Testa, who pitched only 5 games above A ball before being released in 2012).

Though he’s had his injury issues, when healthy Ramos has been a top notch catcher both defensively and offensively and his presence on the roster gave Rizzo the flexibility to use top catching prospect Derek Norris to help land Gio Gonzalez.  Ramos has banged out 46 home runs and driven in 171 runs in 314 games played for the Nats.  Best of all, Ramos is still only 26 and health permitting could remain the Nats’ starting backstop for many years to come.

Capps meanwhile, finished the 2010 campaign well and then stuck around Minnesota for two more seasons, pitching progressively worse until injuries derailed his career in 2012.  Getting an above average starting catcher (even if he was blocked from starting in Minnesota by the presence of All Star Joe Mauer) for a middling relief pitcher was a true Rizzo heist.  But it was not even his best one.  For that, I humbly present:

1.  Cristian Guzman (IF) traded to Texas for Tanner Roark (RHP) and Ryan Tatusko (RHP), 2010.

When not injured, Cristian Guzman was for better or worse the Nats’ starting shortstop for their first five seasons in DC (not counting his lost 2006 season).  By year six, however, he was clearly on the decline and had been bumped over to second base in favor of rookie Ian Desmond.  By the time the 2010 trading deadline was rolling around, Mike Rizzo was likely hoping he could just get a little more than the proverbial “bag of baseballs” for Guzman.  He found a taker in the Rangers, who agreed to accept the quickly aging Guzman in exchange for two unheralded righty minor league starting pitchers who had originally been drafted in the 18th and 25th rounds respectively.

For Texas, Guzman did literally nothing, collecting only 7 hits (1 double) and 1 measly RBI in 15 games before disappearing from the majors for good.  No doubt Texas chalked the whole trade up to “very little ventured, very little gained,” but little did they know that Rizzo had actually gotten a least a little bit of revenge for former Rangers owner Bob Short’s decision to steal away the old Washington Senators in 1971.

For a couple of seasons after the move, Nats fans might be forgiven for having forgotten all about it.  Roark and Tatusko bounced around the higher levels of the Nats’ farm system while putting up the kind of numbers that tagged them as “organizational guys”–in other words roster filler never destined to make it to the majors.  Roark was particularly bad in 2012, going 6-17 for AAA Syracuse while sporting a 4.39 ERA.  Tatusko was released this season so he could go pitch in Japan, and Roark might have suffered a similar fate had the “light” not suddenly gone on for him.

In 2013, Roark lowered his Syracuse ERA to 3.13 while upping his record to 9-3.  He also became a “swingman,” pitching as both a starter and a reliever, which had the effect of maximizing his chances of getting a big league call up.  As it turned out, the call for a bullpen arm finally came on August 7, 2013, and Roark has never looked back.  As a reliever, Roark made 9 appearances with a nifty 1.19 ERA before being asked to step into the rotation as an injury replacement.  There he had nearly equal success, finishing up 2013 by pitching 31 innings in 5 starts and an ERA of 1.74.

Still, fans and even Nats management had a hard time believing that a former 25th round draft pick who had never been anything special in the minors could suddenly be so good.  Roark entered spring training this year behind fellow 2013 rookie but actual prospect Taylor Jordan on the rotation depth chart.  Only an early injury to Doug Fister allowed both to make the Opening Day rotation, and when one of the two flamed out, to nearly everyone’s surprise it wasn’t Roark, who fired a complete game 3-hit shutout at the Padres in late April just as Fister was getting ready to return to the rotation and Jordan was about to be shipped back to AAA.

As the season draws to a close, Roark has been nothing short of amazing, making every start while putting up a 14-10 record and sporting a nifty 2.85 ERA.  Meanwhile, the last place Rangers, who lost nearly every starting pitcher save Yu Darvish to injury this year, can only shake their heads and wonder how they could have let such a valuable commodity get away for practically nothing.