THE NatsGM Show #77 – Guest Harry Pavlidis

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On Episode #77 of THE NatsGM Show we are proud to welcome Director of Technology at Baseball Prospectus, Founder of Pitch Info and friend of the Podcast, Harry Pavlidis!

During our interview Harry describes his newest research he presented at SaberSeminar involving Catchers & Game Calling.  First he explains how this research was a byproduct of last year’s groundbreaking work Deserved Run Average, what this new metric encompasses and what we can learn from this data.  Next we discuss Washington Nationals’ catcher Wilson Ramos spot atop this new metric and what makes him such a strong defender.  Finally Harry answers my queries about the game calling skills of Ivan Rodriguez, Jose Lobaton, Matt Wieters, Caleb Joseph and several other prominent catchers.

Thanks to Harry Pavlidis for returning to the show and to No Halftime for sponsoring our interview.  Thanks to you for listening!

Where Has Yusmeiro Petit Gone?

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Last night, lost amongst the potentially tragic news concerning Nationals’ starter Stephen Strasburg, I began to wonder why Yusmeiro Petit did not pitch – after all, a starter leaving abruptly in the 3rd inning and the bullpen needing to cover multiple innings is precisely the reason Petit was signed last offseason.  Without question the expanded September roster alters bullpen roles, but Petit has not pitched since August 27th, leaving one to ponder what his role might be, if any, in the playoffs and into next season.

The nearly 32-year-old Petit has pitched sufficiently for Washington this season in long relief, posting a 3.99 ERA with 60 hits and 13 walks allowed against 45 strikeouts in 58.2 innings.  It has been a a tale of two seasons for Petit, who posted a 2.62 ERA and .684 OPS against in the 1st half verses an 8.36 ERA with a .977 OPS against in the 2nd half.  Some of this can be explained by situations calling for him to “wear it” to save the bullpen, but Petit has struggled recently to limit home runs (1.69 HR/9) and hard contact.

Last December Washington signed Petit to a 1-year $2.5 million contract, with a team option for $3 million in 2017 or a $500,000 buyout.  Essentially the Nationals must decide if Petit is worth $2.5 million in 2017 and even more specifically, if he is worth $2 million more than cheaper options like A.J. Cole, Sammy Solis and others already on the 40-man roster.  But even before this decision is made, Washington must decide if Petit will be a part of their 25-man playoff roster.

During the playoffs, due to the number of off days, teams often will reconfigure their pitching staff to have only 3 starters in the opening 5-game series and 4 starters in the 7-game series.  This allows managers to either add another hitter to supplement his bench or an 8th (or 9th) man in the bullpen.  5 bullpen positions seem presently spoken for, as Mark Melancon, Blake Treinen, Shawn Kelley, Koda Glover and Marc Rzepczynski are locks.  Veterans Matt Belisle and Oliver Perez are also likely to also make the roster.  This leaves only 1 or 2 spots available and pitchers like Sean Burnett, A.J. Cole, Lucas Giolito, Matt Grace, Trevor Gott, Mat Latos, Reynaldo Lopez, Joe Ross and Rafael Martin competing with Petit.  His biggest strength, Petit’s ability to pitch multiple innings, is not quite as valuable in October and Washington could prefer someone with different skills.

Assuming he is not injured, it feels safe to assume manager Dusty Baker has lost confidence in Petit, as he has not pitched in 10+ days and last night’s game provided a tailor-made scenario for him to appear.  Therefore, unless the Nationals’ go with a 9-man bullpen and Joe Ross is unable to return, it seems unlikely Petit makes the roster.  And if Petit is indeed bumped, it is difficult to see Washington deciding to bring him back next season, likely preferring to use the $2 million to bolster an offer to a closer or left-handed relief ace.

Overlooked during Strasburg’s early exit Wednesday, the team unintentionally unveiled part of their offseason plans, and it appears Yusmeiro Petit is on the outside looking in.

Talking Koda Glover

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Recently THE NatsGM Show Producer Josh Owens asked me a relatively simple question – “Where did Koda Glover come from?” Certainly there was some humor implied in the query, but also plenty of truth, as Glover has gone from a relatively anonymous prospect into a force in Washington’s bullpen in one year.

Washington selected Glover in the 8th round of the 2015 MLB Draft from Oklahoma State, where he served as the Cowboys’ closer.  Glover pitched only 23.2 innings in 2015, allowing 20 hits and 7 walks against 28 strikeouts.  Coming into the draft, Glover was known to have legitimate 94-96mph fastball velocity, along with a woefully inconsistent upper-80s slider.  Possessing a large 6-5 225lbs frame and easy plus velocity, Glover was still difficult to scout due to his lack of collegiate innings, and his pure relief profile made him project outside the top-5 rounds.

Washington signed him to a $200,000 bonus and aggressively promoted him to Low-A Hagerstown last season.  The Nationals continued to challenge the 23-year-old Glover, starting him at High-A this season and pitching 9.2 innings before a promotion to Double-A Harrisburg.  22.1 dominant innings at Double-A forced yet another promotion for Glover, who continued to overwhelm hitters at Triple-A, posting a 2.25 ERA over 24 innings.  A combination of injuries to Washington’s bullpen and his impressive statistics allowed him to reach the majors in late-July, making his debut on July 20th.  In limited time thus far in Washington, Glover has continued to gather outs, posting a 3.00 ERA with 12 strikeouts against 7 hits and 4 walks in 12 innings pitched.

Since the draft, Washington has refined his delivery and improved his slider, watching the pitch go from an inconsistent, fringe-average offering to a present above-average, whiff inducing weapon.  In addition, Glover’s fastball velocity has also increased, as he has averaged 98mph on his heater in the majors.  Furthermore, Glover possesses impressive moxie on the mound, challenging hitters with an obvious bulldog mentality.  Overall Glover has an easy “65” fastball and a “55/50” slider, along with an occasional curveball and changeup.  Combined with solid command and control of the strike zone, this allows Glover to profile as a late-inning, high-leverage major league reliever.

Washington’s scouting and development departments must be commended for finding and developing Glover – first the Oklahoma area scout had to work hard to see him pitch, then be aggressive enough to get his superior to also watch Glover pitch, then successfully lobby for his selection inside the top-10 rounds.  This is no small feat for an area scout.  Next Washington’s pitching coaches worked to streamline his delivery and develop his slider from a “45/50” pitch in college into a “55/50” in a year, another near miraculous development.  Without these improvements, Glover was likely destined to be a minor league reliever: now he looks to be a major cog in Washington’s bullpen going forward.

Certainly none of this occurs without the diligence of Koda Glover, but Washington must also be applauded for seeing his raw talent and helping it blossom.  Getting an 8th round pick to the majors is impressive in itself, but getting a potential impact player that late makes him one of the best values in the 2015 draft.

Armchair Evaluation – Scouting Lucas Giolito

Lucas Giolito

Lucas Giolito

On another scorching hot summer afternoon in Washington, Sunday the Nationals sent their top prospect, RHP Lucas Giolito, to the mound to start against the Colorado Rockies.  The 22-year-old Giolito scuffled in three previous starts last month, pitching only 11 innings with a 4.91 ERA and would again be challenged against one of the top offenses in the National League.

Sunday Giolito pitched 5 innings for Washington, allowing 4 earned runs on 6 hits and 2 walks against 2 strikeouts.  Giolito threw 100 pitches (64 strikes / 36 balls) in this outing, generating 5 ground outs against 4 fly outs, plus two home runs.  According to BrooksBaseball.net Giolito averaged 94.18mph on his fastball, 81.41mph on his curveball and 84.81mph on his changeup.  By my notes, he threw a total of 71 fastballs, 16 curveballs and 13 changeups.

From a scouting perspective, Giolito’s fastball showed plus velocity and he has the ability to both sink the ball and have it run arm-side.  Unfortunately he struggled both commanding and controlling the strike zone, throwing 1st pitch strikes to only 9 of the 22 hitters he faced.  In addition, he missed his target regularly and left the ball in the middle of the plate, while also struggling to get his fastball low in the strike zone.  Besides the two home runs, many other fastballs were punished for long outs.  In recent years Giolito has scuffled locating his fastball and this outing did nothing to quell these concerns.

Also, although it comes with the reputation as one of the top pitches in the minor leagues, Giolito struggled with his curveball and had inconsistent results.  The first 2 innings Giolito threw 7 curves, of which only 1 was a quality offering; conversely, he found the feel in the 3rd inning, making 8 fairly consistently good pitches the last 3 innings.  My only complaint would be he should throw it more often, especially with 2 strikes, and have the confidence it will get big league hitters out.

Perhaps the biggest positive from this appearance was Giolito’s changeup, which flashed excellent arm-side run and split-finger type movement.  Of the 13 he threw, 3 induced pure whiffs and a couple others generated weak contact from batters.  It was an easy “55” or better pitch.  Giolito only threw 3 changeups to righties on Sunday, something I would encourage him to do more so going forward.

In terms of mechanics, Giolito seems to be making a noticeable effort to quiet his arms and upper body during his delivery, something I noticed in his debut last month.  Additionally, he seems to have simplified the early part of his windup, using what looks like a shorter first step off the rubber.  I cannot find adequate video from last month to confirm this, so take it with a grain of salt.  However, there is little question he is attempting to quiet his delivery, likely in a direct effort to improve his fastball command.

Giolito's Debut, Credit Jon Feng

Giolito’s Debut, Credit Jon Feng

Overall this start highlighted the biggest present weakness in Giolito’s arsenal, namely his fastball command and control.  He struggled keeping his fastball in the lower-third of the strike zone, continually locating the pitch above the hitters’ belt.  Additionally, he had difficulties throwing his fastball on the inner third, leaving several pitches in the heart of the plate.  As a result, this forced Giolito to primarily throw the ball away on the outer-third later in the outing.  As mentioned above, he struggled getting ahead in the count, and by falling behind, this allowed the opposing batters’ to get comfortable in the box and lean out across the plate.  He must improve his ability to work the corners and avoid the middle of the plate if he wants to be successful in the major leagues.

One other area of concern is Giolito’s inability to miss bats, as his 2 strikeouts and 8 total whiffs indicate.  He has excellent stuff and should be producing a much larger number of whiffs – perhaps much of this is attributable to his lack of 1st pitch strikes and fastball command, but someone with 3 plus or better pitches should be generating nearly double the swings-and-misses.

Finally I finish analyzing this start primarily with the reminders that the transition from the minors to the majors is extremely difficult, and the importance of fastball command.  Giolito can get minor league hitters out even pitching in the middle of the plate due to his impressive arsenal, yet major leaguers will punish mistakes like these.  One must remember that although the repertoire is major league quality, Giolito has thrown only thrown 377 professional innings and still needs to improve his weaknesses.

If he continues to refine his delivery and command the strike zone while gaining confidence in his pitches, Giolito profiles as a potential #2 starter in the near future.  Giolito reaching his enormous potential almost exclusively rides on if he can improve his fastball command.  Assuming he stays healthy, I expect improvement with Giolito in 2017 and a breakout for him in 2018.  Be patient as Giolito is Chance the Rapper 5 years ago.