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Entries in Washington Nationals (19)


Fister Takes Impeccable Command to D.C. 

Judging from the trade package the Tigers received from the Nationals in exchange for Doug Fister, you might think he's just some back-of-the-rotation schlub. Instead, it appears that Washington GM Mike Rizzo just landed one of the game's best starters, still two years away from free agency, for a good-not-great pitching prospect (Robbie Ray), a potential lefty specialist (Ian Krol), and a versatile bench bat (Steve Lombardozzi).

Fister doesn't look like an ace, lobbing 89 MPH fastballs and a cornucopia of breaking and offspeed stuff toward home plate. But don't mistake a lack of velocity for a lack of talent. Over the past three seasons, Fister ranks eighth among all starting pitchers in Baseball Reference Wins Above Replacement (12.6), and his park-and-league-adjusted ERA (24 percent above average) places tenth. Fister bested now former teammate and newly crowned AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer in both categories.

The 29-year-old righty produces elite results with pedestrian stuff thanks to a nearly unparalleled ability to throw strikes. Fister has issued a mere 1.8 walks per nine innings pitched since 2011, tying him with new rotation mate Jordan Zimmermann for seventh among starters tossing at least 500 frames over that time frame. He doesn't just flood the strike zone, though -- he avoids the fat part of the plate like few others. Take a look at Fister's pitch location over the past three seasons:

Fister's pitch location, 2011-2013


From 2011-13, MLB starters threw an average of 23.6 percent of their pitches to the horizontal middle of the strike zone. Fister, by contrast, threw just 20.8 percent of his pitches down the middle. Among AL starters throwing at least 6,000 pitches since 2011, only Mark Buehrle (20.3 percent) and Jon Lester (20.7) offered hitters fewer cookies.

Why does that matter? Pitches thrown over the middle of the plate get hammered, with hitters slugging a collective .484 against those offerings from 2011-13. Pitchers fare far better when they bust hitters inside (.412 slugging percentage) or paint the outside corner (.330).

The Mariners might be absolved for not fully appreciating Fister's then-burgeoning talents, shipping him to Detroit for a gaggle of so-so-prospects during a 2011 season in which the club lost 95 games. But the Tigers, still equipped to make a World Series run with Justin Verlander, Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and an in-his-prime Miguel Cabrera, get no such benefit of the doubt. While Drew Smyly appears ready for a rotation spot, Detroit surrendered one of the game's top arms, making far less than he would garner on the open market, for three none-elite youngsters. Fister might be a soft tosser, but his superb command makes him every bit as valuable as more heralded fire ballers.


For what it's Werth

There's somethin' happenin' here

What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a bat over there
Tellin' me, I got to beware

I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound?
Everybody look what's going down

With all due respect to Stephen Stills who wrote For What It's Worth for Buffalo Springfield, led by the bat of Jayson Werth, the Washington Nationals are making an, albeit late, drive for the postseason and everybody should be looking what's going down.

Jayson Werth is an important veteran for this Nationals team and in 2011 and 2012 he was hampered by injuries to both wrists and simply didn't produce at the level that was expected of him when he signed a seven-year $126 million contract with Washington.

This spring, Werth looked like he was finally getting his strength back in the wrist that he broke early in 2012, but in his first 27 games of the season, April 1 to May 2, Werth was a .260/.308/.400 hitter with four homers and 10 RBI.

Not really what manager Davey Johnson was expecting.

Then came the hamstring and the DL

Werth went on the DL with a hammy and he came back on June 4 and was a little rusty. By June 4, his average was down to .244, his OBP was .297, and he was slugging .378.

But Werth is not Carl Crawford

Unlike Carl Crawford in Boston, who struggled with his big contract, new team, high expectations, and low deliverables, Werth blamed neither the fans nor the media.

Werth took on the mantle of leadership in the struggling Nats clubhouse and got to work.

As his health returned, Werth's confidence at the plate began to grow as distinctly as his signature beard.

This is Werth's half-season

From June 15 to September 15, Werth has played in 81 games, exactly half a season.
Jayson Werth 6/15 - 9/15
Jayson Werth81338287103185759.359.610.4411.051

Werth has made a transition

Werth over the years has become more aggressive at the plate. He's not working and and waiting for the walk and while his whiffs are up this season, they are still lower than when he was more passive at the plate.
Jayson Werth 2010-13
Jayson Werth 2010.296.532.3882722.5%12.6%4.9%
Jayson Werth 2011.232.389.3302024.7%11.4%3.6%
Jayson Werth 2012.300.440.387516.6%12.2%1.7%
Jayson Werth to 9/15/2013.322.536.3982319.3%10.6%5.5%

Don't minimize how much better Werth feels

Physically and psychologically, Werth is doing better. You can see it in the number of flyballs that are flying out of the park and his home run/fly ball percentage and the distance on his homers.
Jayson Werth's Return to Power 2010-13
Jayson Werth 201015.2%400.0
Jayson Werth 201112.7%401.4
Jayson Werth 20125.2%399.0
Jayson Werth to 9/15/201320.2%405.2

Judge Werth by the company he keeps

Worth's had the third best OPS in the majors since June 15, trailing only MVP candidates Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout and leading MVP candidates Hanley Ramirez, Andrew McCutchen, Chris Davis, Paul Goldschmidt, and David Ortiz.

That is heady company.

The Nationals were a 33-33 team through June 14, and have been 46-37 since.

No it hasn't just been Jayson Werth, but without his resurgence they are making October golf plans now.

So, hey children, what's that sound?

It's sound of Werth's cracks off the bat.

Peter Gammons: Premium Pitching in the NL East

It has become eminently clear that the National League East is becoming the pitching division.

This was the discussion that began among some Padres players, coaches and front office people now after having faced the Met’s Matt Harvey, Miami’s Jose Fernandez and Washington’s Stephen Strasburg.

“Those three have the best stuff of any starters in the league,” said one official. And as the comparative debate went on, there were actually a few opinions that Strasburg actually was third on the list in terms of pure stuff.

Here’s how the Friars have done against the three pheenoms in 2013

April 3 – In the second game of the season, the Padres faced Matt Harvey and he was brilliant. He threw seven innings allowing only an Everth Cabrera single in the 4th. He didn’t walk anyone and struck out 10.  

July 1 – The Padres had similar struggles against Jose Fernandez. The Miami marvel pitched eight innings allowing just two hits and a walk while striking out 10. “All I can tell you is that Fernandez is already special,” said Padres hitting coach Phil Plantier. Two of his hitters compared him to Felix Hernandez. “His changeup isn’t there yet,” said one outfielder, “but Felix’s changeup wasn’t fully developed until he was 25. This guy is 20.” And since June 1, Fernandez is 5-4, 2.72 with 21 hits allowed in 40 1/3 innings.  

July 7 - Despite striking out six of the first 11 batters he faced, the Padres roughed up Strasburg getting to him for seven hits and four runs in six innings of work. Strasburg walked two and whiffed nine and allowed one homer. On May 16, Strasburg broke a five-game personal losing streak when he held the Padres to three hits and two runs (one earned) in eight innings.

“Don’t underestimate all Strasburg has gone through,” says one general manager. “He’s had to cope with being Stephen Strasburg, with everyone across the country watching his every start.” The Padres are 0-4 against the three this season.

Beware the Marlins

“The Marlins can be good in a hurry because of their pitching,” says San Diego manager Bud Black. “We faced (Nate) Eovaldi. He sat 96.” Jacob Turner is 22, and developing and with Henderson Alvarez thrown in with Fernandez, Eovaldi and Turner, as they return home Monday to begin a pre-All Star series with the Braves and Nationals, they are aware that since going 13-41 through May 30, the Marlins are 19-14 and loom as a major factor in the National League East race. Atlanta has 13 games remaining with Miami, Washington 12.

Beware the NL East

“What is happening in the National League East is that it is becoming a power pitching division,” says one veteran NL scout. “That’s one reason it’s so hard for Ruben Amaro to throw up his hands and trade off a Cliff Lee or (Jonathan) Papelbon.

It’s hard enough right now. But think a year from now what the Braves, Marlins, Mets and Nationals are going to be throwing at the Phillies.” With their impending television deal, the Phillies cannot afford to throw Jesse Biddle out there behind Cole Hamels and promise the world that in time they’ll retool their starting pitching to the point that they can match up with their four division rivals. If the Phillies can get a semblance of the great Roy Halladay back with Lee, Hamels and Biddle, they can and likely will be contenders.

The Braves are always going to have good pitching. Mike Minor is 25, Julio Teheran 22, Alex Wood 23, Kris Medlen 27, Brandon Beachy 26 with the depth potential of Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm and the great closer in Craig Kimbrel.

The Nationals are going to spend the next few years building around Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez.

Then there are the Mets, with the potential in 2014 of a staff that brings back flashes of 1969 and 1986 with Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard (2-0 in Binghamton with a 23-4 strikeout-walk ratio in 18 innings) with a very good depth chart of Jon Niese, Jeremy Hefner and Dillon Gee, none of whom will be older than 28. Oh yes, don’t ignore Rafael Montero, who two years ago was in the Dominican Summer League and in 2014 could be well be in the young, powerful Mets rotation.

Time will tell in the NL East

The National League East has been a division that slipped through the hands of the Mets, passed on to the Phillies and has always been within grasp of a Braves organization that develops pitching and players and does not dabble in the high risk, high publicity, high reward world of free agency.

It has had stars, and with Bryce Harper, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, et al, and will for at least for a while have Giancarlo Stanton, even if Marlins ownership cannot get him to buy into their promises.

Time will determine the Strasburg/Harvey/Fernandez debate, as well as the development or wear on each young pitcher’s stuff. But as the debate rages as to who is the best potential pitcher east of Clayton Kershaw, it is clear that this is the division that will be dominated by big arms until we fully know just how good, or great, the three phenoms turn out to be.