Nationals

Gonzalez among unlikely who help Orioles

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Gonzalez among unlikely who help Orioles

The unlikeliest Oriole of all has two wins as a starting pitcher this month.When Miguel Gonzalez was signed by the Orioles early in spring training, it was just another eye-rolling acquisition by Dan Duquette. He was signing pitchers by the truckload.Josh Banks came in for a look. His agents car got more attention. Banks, a Severna Park, Md. product who was out of work, was represented by Gary Sheffield, who drove a cream-colored Bentley into Orioles spring training headquarters.The one-time slugger, now an agent, talked Duquette into giving Banks a look-see. It didnt last long.While our attention was on Banks, Gonzalez was signed, and his stats were hardly impressive. In 2011, he was 0-7 with a 5.40 ERA in three levels in the Red Sox organization, but Duquette took a chance.Gonzalez was born in Mexico, came to the U.S. at four and lived in both countries growing up. He holds dual citizenship.He went to high school in Southern California, but wasnt drafted by any team and he signed with the Angels at 20.Eight years later, the undrafted free agent has made it to the majors.Its rare that players taken below the 10th round play major league ball, let alone those who werent drafted, but the Orioles have been helped this year by some very unlikely players.Wei-Yin Chen wasnt a high profile Japanese free agent. He was no Yu Darvish or Daisuke Matsuzaka. In fact, he wasnt even Japanese. Chen was from Taiwan, and after four seasons in Japan, wanted to try the U.S.Duquette was willing. Hes not afraid to try the injured, the unknown or the down on their luck.Stu Pomeranz, a recovering alcoholic, was signed by the team after a tryout in January. A one-time second-round draft choice by St. Louis, Pomeranz had bounced around for years, and went to minor league camp.Wearing No. 95, he was regularly summoned by the team to be around in case a starting pitcher threw too many pitches early in a game or the team needed an arm late in the game.Pomeranz did it so often that he started the season at Bowie and barely a month later was with the Orioles.He helped in long relief before straining an oblique muscle. His injury helped Gonzalez.The great Reds and Tigers manager Sparky Anderson used to say: Injuries are good things. Good things happen because of injuries.They gave the unknowns chances to play.When Nick Markakis was injured, the Orioles picked up Steve Pearce, who languished in the Pirates organization for years, never getting a real try. Despite superior statistics in the Yankees organization, Pearce was making no headway there.Hes lasted with the Orioles for six weeks.Lots of people scoffed at Duquette for signing washed-up players for Norfolk. The Tides roster is loaded with one-time major leaguers Lew Ford, Nate McLouth and Bill Hall.Hall was promoted in May after Mark Reynolds hurt his oblique and in his first game hit a home run.He didnt last long with the Orioles and hes back in Norfolk, but Hall helped.Sure, Jamie Moyer and Miguel Tejada were past their primes and couldnt help the Orioles, but it didnt hurt to look.While its Markakis, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Jim Johnson that get the headlines, those players need backups, too.Duquette inherited both the boldface names, and also the young group of erratic pitchers. He hasnt been afraid to either promote or demote Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz or Chris Tillman. Hes not been afraid to admit a mistake, either.Matt Antonelli was his first signing, and many thought it was because both were from Massachusetts. When Antonelli was outplayed by Ryan Flaherty and Steve Tolleson in the spring, Duquette wasnt afraid to cut Antonelli. Several weeks later when roster space was needed, he wasnt afraid to designate for assignment. Not only were Flaherty and Tolleson better, so was Ryan Adams.When the Orioles traded for Taylor Teagarden, at Buck Showalters urging, they thought they had a reliable backup to Wieters. But, when Teagarden was hurt in the spring, they didnt forget about him.Last week in his first game with the Orioles, Teagarden hit a 13-inning game-winning homer.The Orioles will win more games with the boldface names than with Teagarden, Flaherty and Gonzalez, and they need the highly touted pitchers to perform well. They also need stopgaps. While Duquette and his scouts find capable backups and maybe a star or two along the way, theyll continue to troll for the players Showalter likes to call nuggets.Maybe theyll find another Miguel Gonzalez.

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5 things you should know about new Nationals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera

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USA TODAY Sports

5 things you should know about new Nationals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals traded for Royals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera this evening. 

Not only did the Nationals trade for Kelvin Herrera, but they did so without losing Juan Soto, Victor Robles, or Andrew Stevenson. The first two were never in any real danger of being traded for a relief pitcher who will be a free agent at year's end, but the Nats escaped only giving up their 10th and 11th ranked prospects:

On the surface, this deal looks exceptional for the Nationals. Herrera is another back-of-the-bullpen type that only further deepens the Nats' options in that department. Here are a handful of things you should know about the Nationals' newest pitcher:

1. Herrera's strikeout "issue" is complicated 

Herrera, like many other closers over the last half-decade, has made his name in strikeouts. He topped out at a 30.4 percent strikeout rate in 2016, and has a 23.4 percent clip for his career. His K% this season sits at 23.2 percent, which is both higher than last season and lower than his career average. 

People will look at his dramatic K/9 drop as a red flag, but "per/9" stats are flawed and not generally a worthwhile stat to build an argument around. A pitcher who gets knocked around for five runs in an inning -- but gets three strikeouts -- can have the same K/9 of a different (much more efficient) pitcher who strikes out the side in order. 

2. Herrera has basically stopped walking batters 

His career BB% sits at 7.1 percent. His highest clip is nine percent (2014, 2015) and his lowest was a shade over four percent (2016). 

This season, he's walking batters at a two percent  rate. In 27 games this season, he's walked two batters. Two! 

3. The jury seems to still be out on how good of a year he's had so far

Analytics are frustrating. On one hand, they can serve wonderfully as tools to help peel back the curtains and tell a deeper story - or dispel lazy narratives. On the other hand, they can be contradictory, confusing, and at times downright misleading. 

Take, for instance, Herrera's baseline pitching stats. His ERA sits at 1.05, while his FIP sits at 2.62. On their own, both numbers are impressive. On their own, both numbers are All-Star level stats. 

When you stack them against each other, however, the picture turns negative. While ERA is the more common stat, it's widely accepted that FIP more accurately represents a pitcher's true value (ERA's calculation makes the same per/9 mistakes that were mentioned above). 

More often than not, when a pitcher's ERA is lower than his FIP, that indicates said pitcher has benefited from luck. 

Throw in a 3.51 xFIP (which is the same as FIP, but park-adjusted) and we suddenly have a real mess on our hands. Is he the pitcher with the great ERA, the pitcher with the Very Good FIP, or the pitcher with the medicore xFIP? 

4. He was a fastball pitcher, and then he wasn't, and now he is again

Take a look at Herrera's pitch usage over his career in Kansas City:

In only three years, he's gone from throwing a sinker 31 percent of the time to completely giving up on the pitch. That's pretty wild. 

Since 2014, he's gone to the slider more and more in every year. 

His current fastball usage would be the highest of his career. He only appeared in two games during the 2011 season, so those numbers aren't reliable. Going away from the sinker probably helps explain why his Ground Ball rate has dropped 10 percentage points, too. 

5. The Nats finally have the bullpen they've been dreaming about for years

Doolittle, Herrera, Kintzler, and Madson is about as deep and talented as any bullpen in baseball.

Justin Miller, Sammy Solis, and Wander Suero all have flashed serious potential at points throughout the year. Austin Voth is waiting for roster expansion in September. 

The Nats have been trying to build this type of bullpen for the better part of the last decade. Health obviously remains an important factor, but Rizzo's got the deepest pen of his time in D.C. 

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MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz

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USA TODAY Sports

MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz

Will Todd Reirden replace Barry Trotz as head coach of the Washington Capitals?

Based on what GM Brian MacLellan said Monday, it certainly sounds like it’s Reirden’s job to lose.

“We’re going to start with Todd here,” MacLellan said. “I think we’ve been grooming him to be a head coach, whether for us or someone else.”

“We’ll see how the talk goes with him and we’ll make a decision based on that,” MacLellan added. “If it goes well, we’ll pursue Todd. And if it doesn’t, we’ll open it up a little bit.”

MacLellan said he isn’t sure exactly when the interview with Reirden will take place. The front office needs a few days to regroup. It’s also a busy stretch in hockey’s offseason. In the coming two weeks, MacLellan will direct the NHL draft in Dallas, monitor development camp in Arlington and then call the shots when free agency begins on July 1.  

“We need to take a breather here but I think Todd is a good candidate for it,” MacLellan said. “I’d like to sit down with Todd and have a normal interview, head coaching interview. I think most of our discussions are just casual. It’s about hockey in general. But I’d like to do a formal interview with him and just see if there’s differences or how we’re seeing things the same and if he’s a possibility for the head coach.”

Reirden, 46, spent the past four seasons on Trotz’s bench. He was elevated to associate coach prior to the 2016-17 season after coming up just short in his pursuit of the head coaching position in Calgary.

Reirden’s primary responsibility on Trotz’s staff was overseeing the defense and Washington’s perennially potent power play.

Prior to joining the Capitals in 2014, he was an assistant coach for four seasons with the Penguins. And before that, he spent a couple of seasons as the head coach of AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Penguins’ top minor league affiliate.

A native of Deerfield, Ill., Reirden also had a lengthy professional career that included 183 NHL games with the Oilers, Blues, Thrashers and Coyotes.

Asked what he’s looking for in the Caps’ next head coach, MacLellan said he’s looking for a forward-thinker, a strong communicator and a players’ coach.

Reirden is all of those things.

“Someone that's up to date on the modern game,” MacLellan said. “Someone that's progressive, looking to try different things. Someone that has a good relationship with players. They communicate, can teach, make players better. It's becoming a developmental league where guys are coming in not fully developed products and we need a guy that can bring young players along because more and more we're going to use young players as the higher end guys make more money.”

One of the side benefits of elevating Reirden is the fact he already has a strong relationship with many of the current players, meaning there won’t be much upheaval as the Caps look to defend their championship.

“It could be a natural transition,” MacLellan said. “But once we sit down and talk face to face about all the little small details in the team, I'll have a better feel for it.”

MacLellan said a decision on the other assistant coaches—Lane Lambert, Blaine Forsythe, Scott Murray, Brett Leonhardt and Tim Ohashi—will be made after the next head coach is named.

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