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2018 Nationals Position Review: Questions remain at starting pitching behind Scherzer, Strasburg


2018 Nationals Position Review: Questions remain at starting pitching behind Scherzer, Strasburg

As we continue our look at the 2018 Nationals roster position-by-position, we turn our attention towards the starting pitching, which can best be defined as Max Scherzer and everyone else.

2018 Nationals Position Review: Starting Pitching

Max Scherzer

Age: 33

2018 salary: $22.1 million

2018 stats: 18-7, 2.53 ERA, 33 GS, 2 CG, 1 SHO, 220.2 IP, 300 K, 51 BB, 12 HBP, 0.911 WHIP, 6.1 H/9, 12.2 SO/9

During a season where there were several things going wrong with the Nationals organization, Scherzer once again was a model of consistency. An 8.0 inning performance with 10 strikeouts and three runs or less is not just the bar, it is the standard.

Every fifth night in D.C. was must-see baseball because Scherzer was pitching. 

These numbers would suggest a higher win total than the 18 he garnered this season (same can be said about 2017). But, an inconsistent offense was the demise of one of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball. 

His numbers this season were extremely similar to his back-to-back Cy Young awards the past two years. Already he is lined up as a finalist for the NL Cy Young award for this season. His 300 strikeouts and 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings were career-highs.

Were it not for the ridiculous numbers Jacob deGrom put up, Scherzer would be in line for his fourth Cy Young.

Next season is when Scherzer gets a big pay increase. Jumping up to over $27 million a year for the final three years of his deal, Scherzer is in line to earn more in 2019 than any other Nationals player. It is near impossible to argue that the ace is not worth the money. But having Scherzer and Bryce Harper potentially accounting for a combined $60 million of the Nationals payroll is a huge factor in the team’s hesitation to bring back the outfielder to a lucrative contract. 

Tanner Roark

Age: 32

2018 salary: $6.5 million

2018 stats: 9-15, 4.34 ERA, 30 GS, 0 CG, 180.1 IP, 146 K, 50 BB, 10 HBP, 1.281 WHIP, 9.0 H/9, 7.3 SO/9

There was a period near the end of the summer where Tanner Roark was hot and with the hope of Strasburg coming back, the postseason run was imminent. Getting a win in five straight starts reminded us of the variety that he is able to command over the plate. 

He would be an okay No. 3 or No. 4 pitcher, the problem is he was pitching second on a semi-regular basis. The injuries that led to this is not necessarily his fault. What is concerning is that he consistently allowed a batter to reach base in every inning. He was always behind.

At 32, he has been on the Nationals for six years now with three really good seasons and three blah seasons.

Entering his final year of arbitration with the team, he likely won’t make much more than he did this season. It is imperative in 2019 that he has another good season before entering free agency. 

Stephen Strasburg

Age: 30

2018 salary: $15 million

2018 stats: 10-7, 3.74 ERA, 22 GS, 0 CG, 130.0 IP, 156 K, 38 BB, 8 HBP, 1.200 WHIP, 8.2 H/9, 10.8 SO/9

It’s crazy that Strasburg has been with the Nats for nine seasons now. Another injury-plagued season inhibited the former No. 1 draft pick from not only pitching like a No. 2 but also from performing as a pitcher worthy of the title. 

This season was the worst WHIP of his career at 1.200. He could not stop guys from hitting to get on base. His ERA (3.74) was also a career-worst. Washington needed another repeat performance of 2017 where he finished third in the Cy Young voting.  Instead, he had to take breaks for multiple injuries throughout the year. 

Injuries will always circle around the conversation of Strasburg. If healthy (which is a big if), he still is the Nationals best option aside from Scherzer. Based on his progression from Tommy John surgery in 2012, this year looks just like an anomaly. It is hard to tell though given the history and how certain situations transpired. 

His contract doubles, like Scherzer, to $35 million in base salary in 2019.

Jeremy Hellickson

Age: 31

2018 salary: $2 million

2018 stats: 5-3, 3.45 ERA, 19 GS, 0 CG, 91.1 IP, 65 K, 35 BB, 8 HBP, 1.073 WHIP, 7.7 H/9, 6.4 SO/9

Injuries propelled Jeremy Hellickson into meaningful starts for the Nats last season. While he did not get far into games, manager Davey Martinez knew the limitations of his starter. Every night he typically got to the sixth inning using a fair amount of pitches but was able to manage his base runners.

Some nights he was a pleasant surprise in the rotation and kept the game competitive. That is more than most of the non-Scherzer starts from this rotation. 

Nevertheless, he is a free agent for 2019. Given the bigger question marks behind Scherzer in the rotation, he is not likely to return to Washington given its needs. If he does return, then expect him to be called on to be a regular starter.

Erick Fedde

Age: 25

2018 salary: $545,000

2018 stats: 2-4, 5.54 ERA, 11 GS, 0 CG, 50.1 IP, 46 K, 22 BB, 0 HBP, 1.530 WHIP, 9.8 H/9, 8.2 SO/9

All Erick Fedde got was 11 starts in 2018, his second year in the big leagues.

The Nationals’ 2014 draft pick showed the ability to retire batters this season, but at the same time, he left plenty of balls over the plate. Only once did he make it to the seventh inning.

His second stint as a starter in September was far better than his stretch in the first half of the season. Next season expect him to be with the Nats more than in the minors and be the plug-in guy in the rotation.  

Gio Gonzalez*

Age: 33

2018 salary: $14 million

2018 stats (with Washington): 7-11, 4.57 ERA, 27 GS, 0 CG, 145.2 IP, 126 K, 70 BB, 2 HBP, 1.531 WHIP, 9.5 H/9, 7.8 SO/9

Gio Gonzalez was with the club for 6-plus seasons before being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers. Compared to recent seasons, 2018 was Gonzalez's worst year since his rookie season back in 2008. 

This year though was extremely ugly. All of his losses in the second half of the season were terrible, not something you can afford from a guy that is supposed to be third on the depth chart. It got to the point that every time he left the mound, it was because the Nats were out of contention in that game.

Trading Gonzalez for prospects made sense once the Nationals fell out of contention.

He is a free agent for this offseason, and, while unlikely, it isn’t out of the question for the Nats to re-sign him. The only way that would reasonably happen though is if he signed for less money than his previous contract. Another, more desperate team will likely throw money at his feet. 


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Bryce Harper's longtime friend Kris Bryant says Harper isn't headed for Cubs


Bryce Harper's longtime friend Kris Bryant says Harper isn't headed for Cubs

After weeks of twists and turns and not enough information for any Nationals fan's satisfaction, the Chicago Cubs seem to be out of the race for free agent Bryce Harper.

Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant seemingly confirmed the news on Friday night from the opening ceremonies of the 2019 Cubs Convention.

"He's not signing here," Bryant said as he sat down with NBC Sports Chicago. 

Though there have been no official reports of whether or not the Cubs are completely out in the race to sign Harper, a word from one of Harper's longtime friends shouldn't be brushed aside.

Bryant and Harper took the field together in the 2016 MLB All-Star game, and faced off in the 2017 NLDS Cubs-Nats matchup. 

The pair have known each other since grade schoool, and played for rival high schools in Las Vegas. But despite their history, Bryant says that they haven't chatted much about the situation otherwise, choosing to focus on preserving their friendship.

"I never bring it up to him," Bryant admitted. "I try to be a good friend to him, and not talk about baseball when he doesn't want to talk about baseball."

"Whatever happens, I wish [him] the best."

You can see more of Bryant's interview with NBCSC below.


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What's it like for MLB players when their big contract money hits? Some advice for Bryce Harper

What's it like for MLB players when their big contract money hits? Some advice for Bryce Harper

An old friend of Max Scherzer’s came up with an idea: The new buy-in for their longstanding and hyper-competitive fantasy football league would be 10 percent of the participant’s salary. As an assistant baseball coach at a midwest Division I university, this would be a significant risk. However, he believed the chance was worth it since Scherzer had just signed with the Washington Nationals for $210 million.

Scherzer enjoyed the humor and emphatically nixed the idea. But, the point remains. Things change when finances increase to unfathomable levels. In the case of Bryce Harper, the world is about to change for generations of Harpers once he finally signs a new contract.

The idea of signing a single contract which guarantees such gargantuan sums is a strange one. Even to those signing. The 2016 Census pegged average annual American income at $57,617. If Scherzer averages 32 starts per year during the course of his seven-year deal, he’ll earn $937,500 per start. Informed having such financial clout is inconceivable to 99.9 percent of the population, Scherzer laughed in agreement.

“I know, I know,” Scherzer told me. “It’s inconceivable to me, too.”

So, what’s it like when money of that level hits? Harper’s next contract is expected to be north of Giancarlo Stanton’s $325 million extension. For this extrapolation exercise, let’s call it $350 million coming up for Harper. That should be enough to cover eight generations of Harpers at $100,000 annually for 80 years each with plenty left over. Crazy, right?

Scherzer and Ryan Zimmerman were both wealthy by any standard before signing their large deals. Scherzer banked nearly $30 million worth of contracts prior to the giant haul with the Nationals. Zimmerman cashed almost $20 million ahead of his six-year, $100 million contract extension in 2012.

They share similar views on the path to the money, why it exists and what happens (or should) after it hits.

“I think a lot of us work our whole lives, sacrifice a lot of things, [but] not for that,” Zimmerman told NBC Sports Washington. “Like, when you first start doing something, you don’t do it to make $100 million. But once you get into the business and start to do what you have to do -- it doesn’t, at least for me, I think you hope it doesn’t change who the person is. I think you come to realize, or at least I was always taught, you receive that or earn that because of the person that you are or the work that you do and you should just continue being that same person. You shouldn’t change. You’re just really fortunate to get paid that much money and play a game, but you have to remember why you got to that point.

“It’s hard to comprehend what it does to your life, because you’re in it. I think you’ll understand that more when you’re done playing. But you have the ability to obviously take care of your children and their children, and that’s the life side of it. I think that’s pretty cool. When you sign that, you realize I just took care of -- not just yourself, you don’t care about yourself -- you think about generations if you correctly take care of it.”

Scherzer was in agreement.

“Look...I think a lot of us, at the end of the day, would play this game out of love,” Scherzer said. “The money’s just a bonus on top. The money aspect of it really is just a fight for what -- the game generates all this type of money and it’s a fight for who rightfully deserves it, whether it’s the owners or the players. Who actually gets the fans to come out to the games? That’s where the business side of the game gets ugly because it turns into you’re actually having to argue what you’re actually doing on the field. That’s why it’s never a fun thing to actually talk about or have to explain, but every player understands it at the end of the day.

“Free agency exposes everything in your life. All your friends, your family. Just exposes every single circle that you have. You find out more about yourself going through that process, about the people around you, about how stable your life is. So that when you do actually sign a contract that sets you up for life, you know you’ve been down a road that you’ve had to fight for and you can just compartmentalize what’s going on, that you now have money for the rest of your life. That, at the end of the day, that is not the reason you play the game of baseball. The reason you play the game of baseball is because you want to win. For me, that was something I was able to grasp onto.”

Scherzer went on to point out there are no rule changes on the field because you own an enormous contract. The ball doesn’t care, the mound doesn’t care, the parameters of the game between the lines don’t care.

He also mentioned he still has the same favorite televisions shows. He continues to root for his favorite non-baseball teams just the same. His year-old daughter, Brooklyn, is unconcerned, as is the horde of rescue animals patrolling the house.

“Money doesn’t buy happiness,” Scherzer said. “It buys comfort and convenience.”

Zimmerman had to think for a minute when asked if he made any nonsensical purchases following his large extension. He bought a Land Rover (“or something like that”) and paid off his parents’ house. He also eventually bought a new house for his family.

“That was really it,” Zimmerman said. “... I don’t do anything crazy. I don’t know. I try not to be real stupid with anything.”

He laughed at the final line. Though it seems like sound advice, no matter income level.