THE NatsGM Show #73 – Special Guest Dr. Alan Nathan

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THE NatsGM Show #73 is now available and I am proud to welcome to the Podcast a Professor Emeritus of Physics at the University of Illinois and the man behind the website The Physics of Baseball, Dr. Alan Nathan!

On this episode my questions to Alan primarily focus on the Knuckleball, as he educates me on how it moves, how it differs in extreme climates and why we do not see move knuckleball pitchers in baseball.  Next Alan briefly discusses exit velocities and launch angles, specifically, what we can learn from this information and the next generation of research with this technology.  Finally, Alan answers the questions of why do baseballs fly farther in humidity and the effects of wind on a fly ball.

Thanks to Alan for joining me this week and to our sponsor, No Halftime!  Please Rate, Review & Subscribe to the show on iTunes – thanks for listening!

From The Desk Of NatsGM – Explore Trading For Derek Norris

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Mere days ahead of the 2016 MLB All-Star Break, the Washington Nationals find themselves atop the National League East standings, a few games ahead of the New York Mets and Miami Marlins.  However, as we have seen in the past few years, leading the division in July does not guarantee winning the pennant in October.

With this in mind, the Nationals front office certainly has begun looking ahead to the upcoming trade deadline and how they can improve their roster for the stretch run.  While most people agree the team’s biggest need is in the bullpen, I think the team could also use another bat to sure up their bench and provide depth in case injuries.  I believe the Nationals should try to procure catcher and first baseman Derek Norris from the San Diego Padres.

Before diving into this, I will acknowledge the quickest way to catch heat on the internet is to begin making hypothetical and fictitious trades to help your favorite team.  Nevertheless a case can be made that his addition would help the team both in 2016 and future seasons.

At first glance acquiring Norris might seem like a strange fit, as Wilson Ramos is in the midst of a career year and Jose Lobaton often acts as Gio Gonzalez’s personal catcher.  Not to mention Ryan Zimmerman feels firmly entrenched at first base for the Nationals.  On the other hand, Ramos is a free agent at season’s end and Jose Lobaton owns a 61 OPS+ in his three seasons in Washington.  No question Lobaton’s a good defensive catcher, but he’s also a major offensive liability.  Additionally, Zimmerman is currently hitting .221/284/.401, the worst statistical line of his 12-year career.  All of this is to say that there is the potential for ample playing time this season for a backup catcher, pinch hitter and occasional first baseman.

The 27-year-old Norris is currently struggling through a subpar offensive season, hitting .207/.264/.394 with 11 home runs and 32 runs driven in.  For his career, Norris owns a .242/.316/.396 batting line and has experience both at catcher and first base.  Fangraphs.com rates him as an average to slightly above-average defensive catcher and he has the reputation as a reasonable pitch framer as well.  The biggest knock on his defense is his struggles throwing runners out, as his 28% career caught stealing percentage indicates.  Ideally he would act as the right-handed side of a platoon at catcher, while receiving occasional at-bats at first base and designated hitter against lefties.  Norris is making $2.9 million this season in his first year of arbitration and is under contract through 2018.

From Washington’s perspective, Norris would signify an upgrade offensively (and likely overall) to Lobaton and could be valuable insurance in case of potential injuries to Ramos, Lobaton or Zimmerman.  Additionally, Norris could provide the Nationals with a backup plan at catcher in 2017 if the team is unable or unwilling to meet Ramos’s asking price in free agency.  And his salary next year in his second time through arbitration should not be prohibitive to re-signing Ramos if the team wishes to agree to terms.

For San Diego, it might make sense for the Padres to explore Norris’s trade value, as the team is struggling through another difficult season and may not contend next season as well.  Also, San Diego has young catcher Christian Bethancourt currently on their roster and top prospect Austin Hedges waiting in the wings at Triple-A, which could make them eager to move Norris’s salary and see what type of return he could generate on the open market.

In conclusion, trading for Derek Norris has obvious positives and negatives.  Ideally, Norris would hit left-handed to make him the strong-side of a platoon, would be better at throwing out runners and be having a better season offensively.  Also, some teams are hesitant to acquire a catcher mid-season, figuring it is difficult to add someone unfamiliar with the pitching staff and not cause potential harm.  And these are all legitimate criticisms, as Norris is a solid but flawed player.

Nonetheless, Norris would be a solid acquisition for the Nationals, as he could immediately upgrade the overall roster, while providing the front office with possible leverage in contract negotiations with Ramos this winter.  Ramos will be the best catcher available this winter and one of the top overall free agents in a weak class, meaning he could sign a 4-5 year contract worth $15+ million annually.  If the Nationals are concerned about his past injuries or giving a long-term deal to a (then) 29-year-old catcher, Norris could be viewed as a reasonable alternative.  His value might be depressed at the moment due to his offensive numbers and the state of the Padres’ organization, making him an intriguing buy-low candidate.  If the price to acquire him is reasonable and not prohibitive to also strengthening the relief corps, the Nationals should look to trade for Derek Norris.

4 In-House Options to Bolster The Washington Nationals Bullpen

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Now that the calendar has turned past July 4th, it is time to start looking ahead to the August 1st trade deadline and possible ways for the Washington Nationals to improve their roster.  Although the offense could certainly use an addition, the biggest weakness on the Nationals’ roster is in the bullpen, whether it be in the closer position or further quality depth.

Most fans assume the Nationals will look outside the organization to bolster their bullpen, although the team has several options in the minor leagues that could strengthen the relief corps.  I have identified 4 potential options “in-house” that could help the Nationals down the stretch this season.

Reynaldo Lopez

Signed for $12,000 as an international free agent in 2012, Lopez has gone from an afterthought signing to skyrocketing through the Nationals system and up prospect rankings.  Lopez has a powerful 3-pitch repertoire, featuring a legitimate 96-98mph fastball with punishing action, along with an inconsistent but average to above-average curveball and changeup.  He does not possess prototypical size and has had injury issues in the past, leading many to believe his future could be in relief.

However, Lopez has attempted to silence the critics in 2016, posting a 3.19 ERA across two levels at Double-A and now Triple-A, allowing only 78 hits and 31 walks against 109 strikeouts in 87.1 innings pitched.  Quite simply, he was the most dominant pitcher in the Eastern League prior to his promotion.  The Nationals are likely to continue developing the 22-year-old Lopez as a starter, but could look to limit his innings and strengthen their relief corps by shifting him to the bullpen late this year for a probable playoff chase.

Aaron Barrett

Remember him Nationals fans?  Barrett underwent Tommy John surgery last September on his pitching arm, with the hope and expectation he could return late this season to bolster Washington’s bullpen.  When healthy, Barrett is primarily a 2-pitch right-handed reliever, featuring a quality mid-90s fastball and a true plus (or better) mid-80s slider with hard biting action.  If he can recover in time from his injury, Barrett could reinforce the relief corps later this season.

Koda Glover

Washington’s 8th round pick in 2015 from Oklahoma State, Glover is a powerfully built 6-5 225lbs right-handed relief pitcher who possesses a powerful 2-pitch arsenal.  Glover features a 94-97mph fastball with excellent life and quality downward plane, along with a hard 85-87mph slider that induces whiffs.

This season Glover has been dominant across three minor league affiliates, posting a 1.79 ERA over 40.1 innings pitched, allowing only 26 hits and 13 walks against 47 strikeouts.  Glover is a pure relief prospect due to his two-pitch arsenal, but profiles as a high-leverage 7th or 8th inning reliever for the Nationals, perhaps as soon as in September.

Austin Voth

Selected in the 5th round of the 2013 MLB Draft, the 24-year-old Voth has rapidly risen through the Nationals’ organization.  Voth features a quality 3-pitch repertoire, flashing a low-90s fastball with movement, a high-70s curveball with vertical drop and a solid changeup.  Furthermore, his command and control of the strike zone is above-average to plus, making each of these pitches “play up”.

Currently Voth is sporting a 3.44 ERA in Triple-A, throwing 92.1 innings this season, allowing only 84 hits and 25 walks against 81 strikeouts.  While he likely profiles long-term as a #4/5 starter, the Nationals could shift him to the bullpen in a similar capacity to Craig Stammen in past seasons.

THE NatsGM Show Episode #72 – Guest Adam McInturff

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After a short vacation, THE NatsGM Show is back with Episode #72 and we are proud to welcome Baseball Prospectus writer Adam McInturff.

This week’s episode focuses on the Washington Nationals, their farm system and top prospects.  First we begin by discussing Lucas Giolito’s major league debut and his future potential.  Then Adam shares his thoughts on several hitting prospects, namely Trea Turner, Victor Robles, Drew Ward and Max Schrock.  Next we shift to the mound with Adam giving his analysis of Erick Fedde and Reynaldo Lopez.  Finally we finish our conversation by quickly dissecting the Nationals’ 2016 draft class, specifically Carter Kieboom, Dane Dunning and Nick Banks.

Special thank you to Adam for joining the show and to our sponsor, No Halftime.  Please Rate & Review the show on iTunes – Thanks for listening!