Tag Archives: Ryan Mattheus

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.

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

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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.