strasburg getty

No, the Strasburg shutdown in 2012 is not why the Nats missed the playoffs in 2013

75 Comments

The worst part of narrative-driven sports journalism is that it usually results in those who engage in it bending the facts to fit the narrative rather than identifying a narrative that springs logically from those facts. As an example I give you John Feinstein’s column on the Nats. Which came out today, but which you know he wrote a long time ago:

And now it can be said, with almost no doubt, that the decision to shut Stephen Strasburg down last September didn’t cost Washington one chance to win a World Series, it cost the team and the city two chances. Because if one thing is clear about the debacle that was this summer it is that it was set up by the disaster of last fall.

The evidence of this, apart from Feinstein’s assertion that it is self-evident, is not provided. He spends a lot of time on the idea that the Rafael Soriano signing was a slight to Drew Storen which in turn caused clubhouse strife. There is some truth to that, but based on how Storen pitched this year the strife was well-earned. Still, I don’t know what that has to do with Strasburg. Maybe he feels like the lack of Strasburg in Game 5 of last year’s NLDS led to the Storen breakdown. I have no idea, but there is not much else there other than talk of mojo, hubris, karma and all of that kind of nonsense linking the Strasburg shutdown decision in 2012 to the Nationals’ underperformance in 2013.

Which is understandable given that there were a whole host of things that happened in 2013 that led to the Nationals’ underperformance in 2013.

The offense took a step back this year, with many hitters who helped the team win the division in 2012 having worse years in 2013. Adam LaRoche dropped over 100 points of OPS. Danny Espinosa fell off a cliff. Denard Span represented a huge downgrade on offense from Mike Morse. Steve Lombardozzi was somehow given over 400 plate appearances, showing just how thin the Nats’ bench was (or how sub-optimally it was deployed by Davey Johnson). Bryce Harper’s overall numbers were excellent, but an insane start was responsible for much of that, followed by months in which he was hurt. It was an offense that had its moments, especially late in the season, but which fought inconsistency for most of the year.

The pitching had its rough patches as well, with Dan Haren’s first half looking like a car wreck. Ross Detwiler took a step back. Feinstein’s allegedly wronged man, Drew Storen, pinched off a 4.68 ERA. Yes, I suppose him being demoted made Tyler Clippard mad that one day, but keeping him in high-leverage situations would have led to far more anger among Nats fans. Beyond that, the Nats led the National League in ERA in 2012. They were sixth in 2013. Not terrible, but enough to explain a multi-game drop in the standings.

Even if you want to get into the karma/chemistry mumbo-jumbo to explain this season you’d be better off looking at the tone set by Davey Johnson — never particularly urgent, even when the team was spiraling — than you would at a pitcher-usage decision made over a year ago. I don’t put too much stock in that, but at least it’s something which actually affected this year’s Nats club.

Look, I wasn’t a fan of the Strasburg shutdown last year. I think it would have been nice to have him around in the NLDS and I think that Mike Rizzo’s ultimate decision to shut him down was just as much a function of Rizzo being stubborn or else feeling he had painted himself into a corner as it was based on sound injury prevention techniques. But even as a pretty persistent Rizzo critic on this point, I can’t see how on Earth one can make a straight-faced claim that the fate of the 2013 Nationals was even moderately dependent upon the Strasburg decision. Even remotely, actually.

I feel like Feinstein has been waiting for a long time to say “ah-ha!” to Rizzo about the Strasburg decision. And that he does today, regardless of the baseball facts which relate to the Nationals this year. But hey, narrative-driven analysis about curses and karma are the stuff of highly-paid columns and book deals, not baseball facts.

UPDATE: The Post’s Adam Kilgore — who covers the Nationals day-in, day-out — totally dismantles Feinstein’s column. Beautiful.

Report: Rangers interested in Royals’ Edinson Volquez

ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 29: Starter Edinson Volquez #36 of the Kansas City Royals pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals in the first inning at Busch Stadium on June 29, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
2 Comments

Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports that the entire Rangers “inner circle of front office personnel” was on hand to watch Edinson Volquez start for the Royals against the Rangers on Sunday. Volquez went six innings, giving up a lone run on seven hits and three walks with three strikeouts.

Volquez, 33, is earning $9.5 million this season and can become a free agent after the season if his team chooses to buy him out for $3 million instead of picking up their end of his $10 million mutual option for 2017. GM Jon Daniels said he was hoping the club would be able to avoid considering rentals, but as the club has dealt with injuries, the strength of the starting rotation has become a concern. Colby Lewis and Derek Holland are both on the disabled list. Yu Darvish has made only five starts since making his season debut in late May. Meanwhile, Kyle Lohse — who has given up 13 runs in two starts — has occupied the back of the rotation. A reliable starter would go along way towards helping the 57-42 Rangers fight to keep first place in the AL West.

Jon Morosi of FOX Sports also reports that the Rangers have shown interest in young Phillies right-hander Vince Velasquez, but they would pay a much higher price for him than for Volquez. Velasquez has a 3.34 ERA with a 103/34 K/BB ratio in 91 2/3 innings for the Phillies this season.

Report: Cubs, Yankees agree on Aroldis Chapman trade

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 17:  Aroldis Chapman #54 of the New York Yankees delivers a pitch in the ninth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on July 17, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images
36 Comments

Update (12:28 PM EDT): CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney reports that 22-year-old outfielder Rashad Crawford is also headed to the Yankees. Crawford is not ranked among the Cubs’ best prospects. This season, at Single-A Myrtle Beach, he has hit .255/.327/.386 with 29 extra-base hits, 30 RBI, and 59 runs scored in 370 plate appearances.

*

The deal between the Cubs and Yankees involving closer Aroldis Chapman, first reported on Sunday, is complete according to Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball. The Cubs will get Chapman while the Yankees will receive infield prospect Gleyber Torres, outfield prospect Billy McKinney, pitcher Adam Warren, and one more as yet unnamed player. Despite what yesterday’s report indicated, there is no contract extension for Chapman, so he can become a free agent after the season.

Torres, 19, is rated the Cubs’ #1 prospect and #24 overall in baseball by MLB Pipeline. The shortstop has spent the season with Single-A Myrtle Beach, batting .275/.359/.433 with nine home runs, 47 RBI, 62 runs scored, and 19 stolen bases in 409 plate appearances. The Cubs, however, already have Addison Russell at shortstop and have middle infield prospect Ian Happ.

McKinney, 21, is the Cubs’ #5 prospect and #75 overall in baseball. This season, with Double-A Tennessee, he has put up a .252/.355/.322 triple-slash line with 16 extra-base hits, 31 RBI and 37 runs scored in 349 PA. He suffered a hairline fracture in his right knee last year, which might explain why he’s been a bit lackluster with the bat this season.

Warren, 28, is a former Yankee as the club sent him to the Cubs in the Starlin Castro trade over the winter. He’s been unremarkable in one start and 28 relief appearances for the Cubs, posting a 5.91 ERA with a 27/19 K/BB ratio in 35 innings. Warren, earning $1.7 million this season, has two more years of arbitration eligibility remaining.

Since returning to the Yankees, Chapman has recorded 20 saves in 21 chances with a 2.01 ERA and a 44/8 K/BB ratio in 31 1/3 innings. Andrew Miller will likely move into the closer’s role with Dellin Betances setting up the eighth inning for the Yankees.

[Content note: The following will contain descriptions of an incident during which Chapman allegedly assaulted his girlfriend.]

Chapman, 28, served a 30-game suspension beginning at the start of the regular season due to an offseason incident during which he allegedly choked his girlfriend and fired off eight gunshots in his garage. The police didn’t file official charges.