Welcome to another installment of our Nationals off-day mailbag. The goal here is to engage with readers by periodically answering the best questions we solicit whenever we can — most Nats off days, ideally.
This week, we’ll talk Koda Glover, Dusty’s contract, and a bullet dodged, among other important Nationals news. Find all your answers below, and enjoy, because the Nationals do not have another off day until June 22. (Just kidding, we’ll try to have another of these before then).
Anyway, we encourage you all to send questions by email (to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org) or Twitter (@jorgeccastillo and @chelsea_janes) for future mailbags. Thanks and enjoy!
Is Glover’s glove-side breaking pitch a slider or cutter? I guess more so, what does he think of it is? And what demon gave him such gifts?
— Jimmy G., @LeonTrout
Jorge: There’s been some confusion about this pitch. PITCHf/x and the like have called it a slider, but people, such as bench coach Chris Speier, have referred to it as a cutter. We’re here to settle this matter.
Glover said he throws both a cutter and slider, but the pitch Jimmy/Leon was referring to, the one that breaks like eight feet at 95 mph, is a slider. He claims he’s thrown it for a couple years, but he just didn’t use it as often because it wasn’t necessary. The cutter was usually good enough in college and the minors.
“I guess really nobody started noticing until Seattle, when I struck that dude out,” Glover said.
It was hard not to notice it last Friday, when he entered against the San Diego Padres with the bases loaded and two outs to strike out Hunter Renfroe with a slider that registered at 95.6 mph — the hardest slider thrown in the majors this season.
Yet the numbers indicate Glover is throwing his slider much harder than when he reached the majors last season. According to FanGraphs, his slider averaged 89.9 mph in 2016. This year, it’s up to 93.1 mph.
If Glover is a dominant & effective closer by deadline, will Nats rip his guts out and trade 4 another closer, a la Storen, or address other needs?
— Sean Quinlan, @GratuitousBrick
Jorge: It’s only fair we answer more than one question about Glover, the Nationals’ bullpen savior, after answering a bunch of panicked questions about the bullpen the past couple months.
I think the Nationals will address the back end of their bullpen before the trade deadline regardless of Glover’s performance. Now, if Glover continues dominating then they maybe don’t go after a big-name closer (David Robertson, Kelvin Herrera, etc.) who would cost them a couple top prospects. The organization believes Glover is a future closer anyway and a closer doesn’t accrue experience closing games in October until they close games in October.
But an argument could be made that having Glover pitch in his first postseason in a lesser role is the better option and acquiring a proven closer to move him to the eighth inning would make the bullpen much stronger. So, basically, it depends on what happens over the next several weeks and how the trade market looks before the deadline.
If Koda turns into our long-term closer, do I get a bear tattoo or no?
Jorge: Why not?
Does Rizzo like D.C. and the Nats? Would he rather have more control with another franchise? Is working for the Lerners frustrating him?
— Doug (@DougDougDoug)
Chelsea: Obviously, I don’t want to speak for anyone, especially someone like Rizzo who is so well-versed in saying what he should say, for his sake, for that of his bosses, and for that of his players.
Publicly, Rizzo maintains that he enjoys leading this team and would be more than open to returning after his contract is up in 2018 should the Lerners decide they want him back. As far as I can tell, all of that is 100 percent true.
The key here is that these are, beyond any doubt, Mike Rizzo’s Nationals. His system is in place, his people work below him, and many of them have been with him since the start. That start, you might remember, was fairly bleak. Rizzo is, and should be, very proud of what he built in D.C. He helped an annual cellar-dweller become an annual contender, one so consistently good it is now being criticized not for not coming close to October, but for failing there. Frustrating as it is, most struggling franchises in baseball would be happy for such a rapid transformation.
But there is no doubt that the Lerner family and their unique approach to handling payroll can limit Rizzo and his staff. They have wanted players, set deals in place for players, then seen those deals vetoed. They have gotten their guys, done all the groundwork, then found their owners unwilling to pay the price. And they have wrestled constantly against an unpredictable payroll number, one that makes it hard to plan entering every offseason.
People around Rizzo have expressed a great deal of frustration with those aspects of his job on his behalf, admitting that it makes things hard on the general manager, who then has to take the heat for moves not made, even though he tried to make them.
Still, the Nationals’ payroll is higher than it has ever been and the Lerner family has certainly cannot be called miserly when it comes to that aspect of the operation. This is a team built to contend long-term, one Rizzo built from the ground up, and would therefore probably like to carry through a World Series or two.
To answer your question more directly, I firmly believe Rizzo enjoys D.C. and is proud of what he has built with the Nationals. That does not mean the job does not carry its challenges, though I think most jobs like that do. Put it this way: he doesn’t seem likely to be giving out a hometown discount when his contract is up after the 2018 season. Frankly, he shouldn’t.
Is not re-signing Jordan Zimmermann Rizzo’s best move? Or was it the Lerners who didn’t want to re-sign, and Rizzo got lucky?
Chelsea: Before I answer this, let’s take a look at the context behind it, because this is a little-talked about non-move for the Nationals, who look wise for not making it.
In seven seasons with the Nationals, Jordan Zimmermann pitched to a 3.32 ERA with a 1.16 WHIP and 4.09 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He was durable, efficient, and a two-time all-star. In other words, he was an elite National League pitcher.
In the two years with Detroit since, Zimmerman is pitching to a 5.42 ERA with a WHIP of 1.44 and strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.33. He has been hurt, inefficient, and at times ineffective. Given the chance to re-sign Zimmerman after the 2015 season, the Nationals opted instead to dole out big money to Max Scherzer before it. Hindsight is 20/20, and that move looks like a 10 out of 10.
This was a Rizzo move, as far as I can tell, but not in the sense that he said ‘hey, we shouldn’t sign this guy, he’s going to fall apart and see his strikeout rate drop dramatically.’ Instead, Rizzo did what I’m told he does in most negotiations: Set a price point, and did not budge.
If you remember, the Nationals offered Zimmermann a five-year extension worth $105 million before the 2015 season. Combined with his final year of arbitration, the whole thing amounted to a six-year extension worth $121.5 million. Zimmermann didn’t take it, and Rizzo and Co. stopped negotiations there, all but assuring that Zimmermann would head elsewhere after the 2015 season.
They made their offer, one they thought was fair, and would not budge, in part because of concerns about the righty’s health and long-term viability that have proved prescient, given his trouble in Detroit. Had Zimmermann taken that extension offer, they would have been kicking themselves now. Because they didn’t reach, and instead went after Scherzer, Rizzo and Co. look smart.
How close is Erick Fedde to being ready for the big leagues? How much longer until Ross is converted to reliever?
–Josh Lumley, @JoshLumley
Jorge: We don’t know exactly when Fedde will reach the majors, but we figure it’s not far off, given the organization moved him to the bullpen to have him help the big league club this season and control his workload. The right-hander has tossed seven innings in five appearances out of the bullpen for Class AA Harrisburg to bring his season innings total to 49 2/3 after he logged 121 innings as a starter last season. When asked a couple weeks ago, Fedde guessed his innings limit this season would be another 40 to 50 innings on top of that.
Most importantly, the 24-year-old Fedde seems to have settled into his new role. He hasn’t allowed a run in three innings in his most recent outings and has given up three in seven innings overall. He tossed two scoreless frames with four strikeouts in his last appearance on May 27.
As for Ross, a bullpen conversion isn’t on the Nationals’ radar, at least yet. They still view him as a starter and want to develop him as one, despite his 6.18 ERA in five starts, his inability to rely on his change-up, and his stamina concerns.
What’s the status of Dusty Baker’s contract, and why haven’t the Nationals given him a deal for 2018 yet?
— Many of you.
Chelsea: That almost as many of you asked about Dusty as the bullpen is refreshing. Given that I’m writing this early on the West Coast, before any coffee intake, I must say I’m not sure I could have handled any bullpen angst after a week in which there was not much cause for any. So thank you for being so reasonable. Now to Dusty.
As of my last check, and they are frequent, the sides were not talking about a deal. But that should be interpreted as a sign of animosity. It’s not. I think that if Dusty Baker wants to be back in 2018 — and it seems that he does — Mike Rizzo would be happy to have him. They certainly differ in their opinions of certain situations, but seem to get along without any trouble and with a healthy mutual respect. So I see absolutely no problems there or in the clubhouse, where Baker certainly still has respect.
… which begs the question, why no deal? I don’t know. I think it’s fair to say the Lerners are hesitant to give managers extensions, or even pay a great deal for them at all. One reason the Nationals secured Dusty was that he was willing to take a discount over what he probably could have gotten in different circumstances. He knows that, and was willing to take the job because he wanted one more chance.
But they will have to pay him for 2018, something around market price, because he has done nothing but win in his 1 1/3 seasons with the Nationals. History could explain some hesitation: The Lerners, generally wary of managerial extensions, gave one to Matt Williams before the 2015 season. Anyone remember how that worked out?
Basically, my answer is that I don’t know for sure if anything will get done before season’s end. I am almost certain Baker wants it to. I’m almost positive there’s no reason the Nationals wouldn’t want it to. This seems like a delay not borne of animosity or concern, though it could certainly stoke some if not handled well by those involved. As of now though, all seems fine, and I don’t expect Dusty to let much get in the way of what might be his last legitimate shot at a title.