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Nats Stock Watch: Starting pitchers scuffling

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Nats Stock Watch: Starting pitchers scuffling

Each week this season, we’ll take the temperature of the Nationals roster to see whose stock is rising or falling.  

Record: 2-4

Team slash: .254/.346/.381

Team ERA: 4.50 

Runs per game:  3.83

 

STOCK UP   

Ian Desmond, SS: .400 AVG/ 3 HR/ 1.350 OPS  

Nats fans must be hoping and wishing that Desmond, after an albatross of a first half, is finally rounding into form. Of course, one week doesn't mean he's finally turned it around, but this stretch is the closest he's looked to the guy who's won three Silver Slugger Awards. As Mark Zuckerman notes, Desmond isn't just mashing; he's looking more comfortable at the plate, seeing the ball better and less pull-happy than he was when he was struggling. 

Michael Taylor, LF:  .333 AVG/ 2 HR/ 7 RBI  

Perhaps one of the biggest positives to come out of the lineup being banged up for most of the season is that it's given Taylor an opportunity to get regular at-bats and develop at the major league level. And if this past week is any indication, he's progressing at a rate that likely has the Nats' front office thrilled for the future. The 24-year-old had a monster series in Pittsburgh in all facets of his game; he showed range and speed in the outfield, patience at the plate and power to all parts of the ballpark. He's a world away from the player he was earlier in the season, and is giving fans a glimpse of what the post-Span era might look like. 

STOCK DOWN 

Max Scherzer, SP: 5.0 IP/ 9.00 ERA 

Scherzer turned in a bad outing by his standards in the Pittsburgh series, surrendering five runs and serving up three long balls Friday night. By itself, that one start wouldn't be a big deal, especially considering it was against one of the best teams in the NL. However, it was the continuation of an alarming trend of un-Scherzer-like starts recently; he has an ERA of 4.13 in July -- the highest of any month this season. The Nats have been monitoring his workload as the season has gone on, making sure to keep him fresh for the home stretch. But you wonder if logging so many innings earlier in the season is catching up to him a bit. He's 77 2/3 frames away from setting a new regular season career high for innings pitched. And assuming he has about a dozen or so starts left, it seems realistic that he could reach that number by the time the postseason starts. 

Doug Fister, SP: 0-1/ 5.0 IP/ 7.20 ERA  

For whatever reason, Fister has been unable to match his 2014 form thus far this season. But it goes beyond just that -- he's flat-out struggled lately. He's lost five of his last seven decisions, raising his ERA on the year to 4.50. Part of the reason why people thought this staff would be elite back in spring training was because of its depth. Fister and Gio Gonzalez as the "back of the rotation" guys? That was supposed to be enough to make most teams envious. But instead, now there are only two starters Matt Williams can legitimately rely on in Scherzer and Jordan Zimmermann. 

Wilson Ramos, C: .111 AVG/ .105 OBP/ .216 OPS   

People have harped on Desmond's struggles for some time, but Ramos has quietly been scuffling at the plate as well. He's has a .436 OPS in July, by far his worst of any month this season. And like Desmond, there's not much the Nats can do but let him try and hit his way out of his funk. The biggest shame of it all is that this is one of the few times he's been healthy for an extended period of time, so fans were hoping to see him finally blossom into the power-hitting catcher they hoped he could be. There's still plenty of time for that to happen, but it has to start with a solid August. 

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Will the 2019 and 2020 free-agent classes stir things up the way this one hasn’t?

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Will the 2019 and 2020 free-agent classes stir things up the way this one hasn’t?

There’s an old Magnum, P.I. episode called “Home at Sea”. Magnum has been knocked off his surf ski after a too-close speedboat zips by, leaving him alone to survive in the water. His mind wanders. Flashbacks from childhood, the war, and his family, fill his head. He’s treading water and waiting.

Things are not life-and-death severe during this offseason as the baseball world wades through what has become the sigh-inducing drudgery of free agency. But, big names remain unsigned, reduced to sending out social media pings via a hat (Manny Machado seen in the background of a video in a White Sox lid) or tweet (Bryce Harper having fun with everyone’s emotions by making weather jokes or referencing Tony Romo’s prognostication abilities).

What we don’t have — yet — are results. Everyone is just treading water. Which leads to thoughts beyond today. In particular, the coming free agents in 2019 and 2020.

This class was supposed to be epic. Harper, Machado, Clayton Kershaw, Josh Donaldson. Cy Young and MVP winners along with young, generational talents. A mix rarely, if ever, seen before.

(Jose Fernandez, the talented young pitcher in Miami, was also expected to play a major role in this free agency class before he tragically died in 2016 at the age of 24.)

Instead, ongoing shrugs and muted exuberance have met this market, which gives next year a chance to deliver comparative heat. Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rendon, J.D. Martinez, Marcell Ozuna, Gerritt Cole, Chris Sale, Kenley Jansen, Justin Verlander and Madison Bumgarner could all be available. Even Stephen Strasburg could join them in the unlikely situation he exercises his first opt-out.

That grouping would be more well-rounded than the current top-heavy one. It also could suffer from the same lack of investment occurring now, which has already begun underground rumblings about the pending fight between players and owners once the collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2021 season.

Several things need to align in order for the 2019-20 free agency crowd to be awash in such prominent names. Martinez, Jansen and Strasburg would have to opt-out. Rendon would need to make it through the season without signing a contract extension in Washington, something both sides are working on and open to.

Though, if everyone hits, around-the-diamond needs will be filled.

Need a third baseman? The best and arguably second-best are available.

Need a top-of-the-rotation starter? Sale, Bumgarner, Verlander and Cole are there. 

Need a reliever? Jansen or Dellin Betances would be there.

The class also has interesting middle depth: Yasiel Puig, Khris Davis, Michael Wacha, Miles Mikolas, Brett Gardner, Matt Kemp, Scooter Gennett, Jose Abreu, Ryan Zimmerman (if the Nationals do not pick up his $18 million option). 

Another monster class hits the following year. Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and Jacob deGrom can become free agents after the 2020 season. George Springer, Robbie Ray, James Paxton and J.T. Realmuto are also in the mix. Even Giancarlo Stanton could hop in by opting out, though who would want to leave that contract?

Languishing negotiations from Harper and Machado have led us here, treading water and wondering what’s to come. It at least sounds interesting. We’ll see if it turns out to be so.

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Baseball Hall of Fame Results 2019: Rivera makes history with first ever unanimous induction

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Baseball Hall of Fame Results 2019: Rivera makes history with first ever unanimous induction

The question coming in was this: three or four?

Two locks were set to be voted into the Hall of Fame on Tuesday: Legendary New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, who became the first player to be named on 100 percent of the ballots cast, and starting pitcher Roy Halladay, both first-ballot Hall of Famers.

Seattle’s Edgar Martinez was expected to finally make it. He did with 85.4 percent of the vote.

That left Mike Mussina, 49 votes short last year, to hold his breath this time. He made it, narrowly, with 76.7 percent.

Mussina spent spent 10 years in Baltimore chasing 20 wins and providing annual durability before joining the New York Yankees for eight more seasons. Longevity and consistency keyed his entrance into the Hall of Fame. Mussina made 30 or more starts 12 times on his way to a career 123 ERA-plus. Only three times across almost two decades was Mussina’s ERA-plus below league average. All that work allowed him to compile 3,562 ⅔ innings pitched, 2,813 strikeouts and a 1.192 WHIP.

Rivera dominated the league with a single signature pitch, his cutter, for 19 years. His preferred music of “Enter Sandman” ran counter to Rivera’s pleasant and forthcoming demeanor off the field. He viewed the accidental discovery of his cutter as a gift from God, which made him willing to share information about the pitch with whomever asked. The slim right-hander anchored one of baseball’s great winning runs while with the Yankees. Rivera is a 13-time All-Star who owns five World Series rings. His 205 career ERA-plus is an all-time record as is his 652 saves, which is more than 50 ahead of second place and a record unlikely to be broken.

The wait, and push, for Martinez was extensive. Martinez find himself at the core of an ongoing debate about Hall of Fame candidacy for designated hitters. He didn’t become a full-time player in the major leagues until age 27. He was perpetually on base from there until his age-41 season, delivering a career OPS of .933 and on-base percentage of .418. Martinez walked more than he struck out 10 times in his 18-year career, finishing with more bases on balls than whiffs. Seattle denizens long pushed for his conclusion. It took the maximum 10 years, but Martinez is finally in.

Halladay’s inclusion is a bittersweet moment. The right-hander died Nov. 7, 2017, when a small plane he was piloting crashed into the Gulf of Mexico. He previously told reporters his possible Hall of Fame induction would be a “tremendous honor.” Halladay twice won the Cy Young award — once in each league — made eight All-Star teams, and finished with a 3.38 ERA. He also threw a perfect game and in 2010 became the second pitcher in history to throw a postseason no-hitter.

The central characters from baseball’s so-called “steroid era” remain on the outside. Roger Clemens (59.5 percent) in his seventh ballot and Barry Bonds (59.1 percent) remain well below the 75 percent threshold for enshrinement following slight increases from 2018 voting. Curt Schilling (60.9 percent) and Larry Walker (54.6 percent) also moved up significantly in year-over-year voting. Fred McGriff moved up in his final year on the ballot, however remained well short. He should get in when considered by the Today’s Game Era Committee based on their recent selection of Harold Baines.

 

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