Reds - General

Series Preview: Washington Harpers

The Washington Harpers had the best record in baseball in 2012, winning 98 games. They took a two-run lead into the ninth inning of Game Five of their NLDS against the WLBs. Closer Drew Storen retired two of the first three hitters he faced. He then got within one strike twice of the third out before surrendering the lead and ultimately the series.

After the game, the Harpers fans, their manager, their ownership and their Hall of Fame local sportswriters all said “Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” So the club didn’t make any significant off-season moves. Other than trading for Denard Span to start in CF and lead off. Other than signing Dan Heran ($13 million/1 year) as a starting pitcher. And other than signing Rafael Soriano ($28 million/2 years) to be their closer. They also have starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg healthy and able to pitch the entire season (and post-season). Despite being the best team in baseball in 2012, the Nationals should be vastly improved this season. Even though it wasn’t broken.

The Harpers (3-0) stride into in the Queen City after beating up on the hapless Miami Marlins. They’ll finally be facing their first big league test when they take on your Cincinnati Reds who, as you know, are fresh off of winning a series over the decidedly major league Los Angeles Angels.

Washington is the top-rated team in the ESPN power rankings. Get used to thinking about them as one of the best teams in baseball because their key position players and pitchers are young and under team control for years to come. And the family that owns them has a lot more money than yours, unless you’re worth more than $4 billion. (And if you are, can we convince you to pop for an extension for Shin-Soo Choo?)

WASHINGTON’S LIKELY LINEUP

1. Denard Span (L) CF
2. Jayson Werth (R) RF
3. Bryce Harper (L) LF
4. Ryan Zimmerman (R) 3B
5. Adam LaRoche (L) 1B
6. Ian Desmond (R) SS
7. Danny Espinosa (S) 2B
8. Wilson Ramos (R) C

Washington acquired Denard Span (29) from the Minnesota Twins to play CF and bat lead-off. He has solid, but not elite on-base skills. He steals about 20 bases a season and hits as many home runs as the Reds’ pitching staff. Span is known for his above-average defense in CF.

Sure, on paper, Jason Werth (33) might be an elite #2 hitter. He has a career OBP above .360 and a threat to go 20/20. But can he lay down a sacrifice bunt and hit behind the runner?

OMG! Bryce Harper (20) is on pace for 108 home runs and 162 RBI. 

Ryan Zimmerman (28) is probably Washington’s best all-around hitter, with a career line of .288/.354/.480 and 153 homers. He won a Gold Glove for third base a couple of years ago. He’s struggled with injures the past few seasons, but is healthy now.

Adam LaRoche (33) quietly had a great 2012 for Washington, hitting .271/.343/.510, with 30 home runs and winning JoeyMVP’s Gold Glove for NL first basemen. The Harpers signed him to an extension ($24 million/2 years). He’s gonna love the short right field porch in GABP.

The middle infield combination of Ian Desmond (27) and Danny Espinosa (25) offers speed and power, with 41 stolen bases and 42 home runs last year. By comparison, Zack Cozart and Brandon Phillips combined for 19 and 33 respectively.

PROBABLE STARTING PITCHERS

Try to take your eyes off of Sunday’s match-up for a second while we discuss Friday and Saturday.

The expectations for Dan Haren (32) this season are like a box of chocolates. From 2005 to 2011, Haren won 103 games. In three of those years, 2007, 2009 and 2011, he was flat out an ace. So if his odd-year streak continues, the Harpers have one of those dark-chocolate coated candies with a creamy vanilla center, and easily the best four-deep rotation in the major leagues.

But Haren’s velocity and strikeout rate have been dropping and his home run rate is rising. He had a 4.33 ERA (4.24 FIP) with the Angels last year and they chose not to resign him. So maybe he’s milk-chocolate with that sickly sweet cherry juice filling. On the other hand, he’s changing leagues. So who knows.

Ross Detwiler (27) is almost certainly the best #5 starter in the majors. He’s made 56 starts for Washington with a 3.74 career ERA (4.17 FIP). He has a low strike-out rate but as an extreme ground-ball pitcher, he keeps it in the park. Detwiler pitched four scoreless innings as Brandon Phillips’ teammate on Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.

Stephen Strasburg (24) finished his college pitching career the same year (2009) as Mike Leake. It was Leake, not Strasburg, who that year was named the National Player of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches Association. It was Homer Bailey, not Strasburg, who has thrown a major league no-hitter. And it was Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos and Bronson Arroyo who have received votes for Cy Young, not Strasburg. But for some reason, the kid from Washington gets all the hype.

Strasburg had Tommy John surgery in September, 2010 and returned to throw 24 innings in 2011. Billions of pixels lost their lives in the controversy of how the Harpers limited him to 159 innings last season. He didn’t pitch in the NLDS. [Trying hard to not make an Aroldis Chapman comment here.] On Monday, Strasburg pitched seven shutout innings in his first start against the Marlins, meaningless because Miami is profoundly awful.

But seriously, the pitching match-up on Sunday is crazy good.

WASHINGTON’S BULLPEN

Washington had one of the league’s top bullpens in 2012, finishing seventh in ERA (the Reds were first). Tyler Lee Clippard (28) from Lexington, Kentucky, closed for most of the year, converting 32 out of 37 (86%) save opportunities. Drew Storen (25) has saved 52 major league games (87% conversion) and ended the 2012 season as the team’s closer. He was the presumptive favorite to fill that role again this year until Washington surprisingly signed Rafael Soriano (33) to a 2-year deal. Soriano has closed before, for the Braves, the Rays and last year for the Yankees. He converted 42/46 (91%) of his save opportunities for New York. So yeah, it’s hard to find a guy who can close 85-90% of games. The Harpers only have three.

Washington seems to favor talent to handedness as a criteria for their bullpen. Zach Duke (29) is the only lefty and manager Davey Johnson has described Duke’s role as the long-relief guy, not LOOGY. So unless they call up someone for this series, they don’t have a lefty match-up against Shin-Soo Choo, JoeyMVP or Jay Bruce. Craig Stammen (29) is still in the Washington bullpen and is noteworthy because he was kryptonite for the Reds last year. In 6.1 innings, Stammen struck out 12 Reds batters. Soriano has two saves already this season. The Harpers’ bullpen did not give up a run in the three-game series against Miami.

60 thoughts on “Series Preview: Washington Harpers

  1. I really enjoyed reading this! Thanks for the great info and the humor. I rarely read articles this long, so kudos to you.

    I was really trying to not get too obsessed with baseball so early this season. But here I am, 3 games in, I’ve been to two games already, and have been spending nearly every second of spare time reading and watching any kind of coverage i can find. But this is by far my favorite place to go to for that coverage. Thankyou for always being on your (A)game REDLEGNATION!

  2. Alright boys… Lets have a strong showing from Baily… put leake up there for the ladys.. and bring the bats ok??

    Lets go Redlegs!!!

  3. I’m curious to see how Dan Haren fares this season. I think he’s at risk for a big dropoff.

    Mesoraco better be in the lineup tonight or else! To that end, I can’ put my finger on it just yet, but I get the sense that Hanigan is headed for a fairly significant dropoff in production offensively. Given his absence of power, any dip in average will kill his value. Just a hunch.

      • @hermanbates: I’d take that bet :-). I think he’ll be fine. And defensively….I didn’t realize it, but he was #1 in both throwing out base runners and cERA last year, which isn’t too shabby to go along with all the other things like pitch framing and calling the game.

        • @hermanbates: I’d take that bet :-). I think he’ll be fine. And defensively….I didn’t realize it, but he was #1 in both throwing out base runners and cERA last year, which isn’t too shabby to go along with all the other things like pitch framing and calling the game.

          Therein, lies your reason for why Baker bats Hanigan 8th. With all the other things he does, and does rather well, having him bat 8th gives Hanigan about 1 less AB a game. Which is one less chance he has of getting hurt during the game running the bases or sliding into bases or a HBP in the wrist or hand. I think its just Baker’s style of risk management for an important defensive cog. Not saying it is right or wrong. I just think that is why Baker continually and habitually bats Hanigan 8th.

        • @WVRedlegs: Dusty also wants the catchers to prioritize their defense/game calling skills over making a big contribution to the lineup. As a #8 hitter they are in relatively low-pressure situations and might not be as distracted if they struggle. Hanigan or Mesoraco doesn’t have to think about hitting until the 2nd or 3rd inning.

          I think concerns about added injuries with more at bats are only a secondary issue to Dusty.

        • @TC: Yeah, I’m not a big fan of cERA. But it’s a number. I included the other defensive stuff for anyone who wants to completely ignore cERA :-)

        • @Eric the Red:

          Okay, disregarding the validity of cERA, which I feel there is so much material out and about questioning it’s significance that citing it is almost willful negligence at this point…

          I wonder if catching Johnny Cueto is partially responsible for both the cERA and throwing out runners? :D

          Seriously, Cueto is pretty much impossible to run on, teams were 1 for 10 last year. Even though his average is 30% percent, every year this has trended down.

          Latos on the other hand, gave up 17 of 20 or 85%, which is just above his career average of 78%.

          Arroyo was 7 of 12 or 58%, pretty much at his career average of 61%.

          Bailey was at 7 of 23, 70%, just below his career average of 75%.

          Leake was at 8 of 14 or 57%, just below is career average of of 62%.

          Weird how the numbers almost speak for themselves here. I have a feeling whoever catches Cueto will do well, and whoever catches Latos won’t…but that’s just me. :D

        • @CP: So, do you think Hanigan is a lousy catcher? I don’t. I agree with your point that who you catch will make a difference, but I’ll stick by my point that Hanigan is a very good defensive catcher.

    • To that end, I can’ put my finger on it just yet, but I get the sense that Hanigan is headed for a fairly significant dropoff in production offensively. Given his absence of power, any dip in average will kill his value. Just a hunch.

      This is actually pretty incorrect since most of Hannigan’s value offensively comes from OBP not AVG. Hannigan has always kept his walk rate over 10% and usually more in the area of 12%. His average has gone between .263 and .300 in the majors, but his OBP has never dropped below .356.

      Point being, Hannigan could hit .300 again this year, but he could also slip to the .250 range, who knows. But if he is in the .250 range, he’ll still probably have the second highest OBP on the team, and that’s where his value comes from. He doesn’t make a lot of outs because he walks a lot.

  4. Nice preview Steve!

    I just hope nobody in Reds country feels intimidated by Washington’s 3-0 record or numbers they (particularly Bryce Harper) have put up so far. That’s what happens when a good team faces the Miami Marlins – who is even on the Marlins’ pitching staff? We all saw big name Angels’ hitters struggle against Reds pitching.

    It’s nice that the Reds hitters miss Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez, even if they do face Strasburg. It seems like Haren is a guy who the Reds hitters can pound.

    I already got tickets for some games this weekend. My friend wants me to spend a game arguing with her Nationals-fan boyfriend. It should be fun. I’m really looking forward to seeing (in no particular order) Leake, Bailey, Mesoraco, and Marshall make their season debuts.

    • @redsfanman: If Shin-Shoo Choo likes facing Bronson Arroyo and Joe Blanton I assume he’ll also like Dan Haren – another relatively soft-tossing righty.

  5. This Harpers nickname for the Nationals is pretty tired. I love Redleg Nation but this penchant for cute nicknames distracts from what is otherwise excellent writing.

    • @ATL Reds: I’m with you, I don’t get the Harpers thing either. I mean, sure the kid got a lot of hype before he came up and that ruffled feathers, but so far he’s more or less lived up to it.

      Also, it’s hardly like the Miami Stantons, in that the Nats are a) built around their rotation really, and b) pretty balanced in the lineup top to bottom (similar to the Reds).

      Seems like it would be like calling the Reds the Cincinnati Chapmans.

    • @ATL Reds: Personally, I like the quirkly little nicknames. It adds panache (did I spell that correctly?) While accuracy is important, this is a fan site. Making comments off the cuff or ad nauseum is perfectly acceptable here. I have to be a pro at work, I can be what I want to be here, just as long as it’s not offensive.

  6. That was a nice bit of situational hitting from Hanigan yesterday though, picking up a sac fly. I wish he’d been up instead of Heisey in the 8th inning of game 1. Not to knock Heisey though, he’s been great in the last couple of games.
    It seems strange to me that it’s going to be 3 straight days of Hanigan and 2 days of Mesoraco, but I guess they catch who they catch and they wouldn’t want to switch the order of Arroyo and Bailey in the rotation so that they don’t have 3 power pitchers in a row. Probably not a big deal

  7. Steve, I feel your pain, especially on the difficulty of finding someone who can close out 85-90% of games. This is a very well written piece.

  8. Out of the frying pan and into another series win against the best of both leagues.

    I’m glad to see an early sophomore rematch between Frazier and Harper, with Frazier being permitted equal playing time this season. The media can goosh and ooze all they want to over Harper and Trout, while Frazier simply flashes the leather at the hot corner and pounds the ball at the plate.

    Trout left GABP hitting .267/.313/.400 with 5 so, while Frazier politely opened the clubhouse door to let him leave after hitting .333/.333/.667 during their 3 game series. Next…

    By Memorial Day, the Red Birds will be buried within the lower echelon of the NLCD and looking for answers. At least they let Pujols walk rather than overspending and overextending on his contract, but the rest of their aging and ailing veterans are falling and failing quickly.

  9. Been a fan of the blog for some time now, just wanted to say props to the quality and consistency.

  10. The Cards might have an off year, but the future looks pretty darn bright with guys like Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, and and Oscar Tavares on the way.

    How the Cards handle Rosenthal will be an interesting contrast with how the Reds handled Chapman. He sits around 97-98 mph, is in the bullpen for now, it won’t be surprising if finishes the year as the closer if Motte doesn’t come back.

    • @CP: The Cards need a SS and the Rangers don’t. Rangers need an outfielder and the Cards don’t.

      Profar for Tavares? Almost makes too much sense.

      • @Sultan of Swaff: It makes a lot of sense, but I could understand the hesitation. Acquiring someone else’s prospect would make me nervous since there are always unknown risks.

        If I was the Rangers, I’d just package Profar + others for a Stanton-type player. You know exactly what you’re getting, his salary is still controlled….

        From the Cards’ perspective, they’ll be needing an OF at the end of the season since Beltran’s contract will be up.

  11. Reds just tweeted lineup for tonight: 4/5: Choo CF, Heisey LF, Votto 1B, @DatDudeBP 2B, @JayABruce RF, @FlavaFraz21 3B, Cozart SS, Hanigan C, Bailey P

    Free Devin Mesoraco!!

    • @Bill Lack: Also, a Mesoraco injury would help explain why Dusty didn’t pinch run for Hanigan the other night, when Hanigan’s run was at first and was the potential game winning run.

        • @CI3J: Maybe, but that’s a little too conspiratorial for me. I think he didn’t pinch run for Hannigan because he knew he was going to be putting on some plays rather than going for the double. Doesn’t do much good to have extra speed if you’re just going to bunt.

        • @al: There was 2 outs in the 8th and Xavier Paul was hitting. Hanigan not scoring from 1st on a double would have been turrible, just turrrible.

        • @CP: Oh right, sorry, thinking of a different situation. I’m still ok with not pinch running there though.

    • @Bill Lack: In game 4 of the season I’m not willing to say Free! anybody. That said, I am surprised that Dusty would have Hannigan catch 3 days in a row.

    • @Bill Lack: Hanigan’s never been all that robust a physical specimen, either – he seemed spent last September after catching roughly 3/5 of a season. If he’s the everyday catcher for an extended period, for whatever reason, there could be consequences later. It bears watching.

  12. I think we actually got a good part of the Nats rotation in this series. I’ll take Bailey over Haren for sure. Detweiller is probably better than Leake, but he’s certainly hittable. Cueto and Strasberg is probably about a wash. So that seems like a pretty even series to me.

    Missing Gio, who dominated us last year, and the Zimmerman/Arroyo mismatch favors the Reds I think.

  13. While it is only a series, the baseball world should find out something about both teams once we are done. And truthfully, I’d rather face these guys in April for the first time.

  14. Didn’t you guys hear?

    Bailey had a no-hitter last year. He’s one of our good pitchers now.

    We don’t want to screw that up by letting Mesoraco catch him!

    • @DatFan:

      With that kind of thinking, Dusty should just let Hanigan catch Leake too because everyone is hoping he will revert back to 2011 numbers .. so we can’t have Meso messing that up either.

      I’m REALLY hoping there is a piece of info that we are all missing.

  15. For those who have been to the stadium this season was wondering what they thought of the changes and how traffic flow is and if they checked out the new exhibts in the HOF.

  16. Via Twitter 3 Reds in cage taking some extra BP at Great American Ball Park: Votto, Bruce, and Mesoraco. As Doug Gray observed, “Guess he isn’t sick or hurt.” Sounds like a bad case of Dustyitis to me.

      • @DatFan: Since when is having a backup catcher a waste of a roster spot? If so, every team in baseball does it.

        Dusty said in spring training that Mesoraco would probably catch 1 or 2 guys through the rotation, but they weren’t going to specify pitchers like they did last year.

        I wouldn’t read that much into this. I also wouldn’t read that much into anything in the first week of the season, but certainly not this.

        • @al: I get you.

          Mesoraco isn’t really supposed to be a backup catcher though. It’s more like they are wasting the spot on the roster by not utilizing the player who occupies it appropriately. Nightly ABs in L’ville would benefit his development more than being used as a backup who occasionally starts, I think.

          I wonder what Ramon Hernandez is doing right now?

        • @DatFan: I when I saw the line up for tonight, one of my first thoughts was has the 10 days of Hernandez’s DFA period expired yet.

          If the Rocks can’t trade him, I’d think he is a lock to refuse assignment if they try to go that route rather than just releasing him.

          Either way he is going to be available for the MLB minimum plus whatever signing bonus he might command if his agent can get a bidding war started.

        • @al: If the role of the back up catcher on the Reds is to catch one day a week and never be used off the bench sans an emergency, then the back up catcher should have been Olivo or this guy Schmidt that they signed late in the spring who is now at Louisville or even the Corkster. In such a scenario for both the team and the individual, Meso needs to be at AAA playing every day so he would be game sharp and read in case of injury to Hanigan.

        • @OhioJim: I guess the Reds disagree with what “needs” to be done for his development.

          I’m of the thought that once a player has shown what they can do at AAA, that they should be with the club, even as a reserve player. I don’t think Mesoraco is going to get a lot worse not playing every day. Can you give me an example of a time that has ever happened? Did Joey Votto suck when he was playing behind Hatteberg?

          Seems like more conventional wisdom nonsense.

          I’ve been saying they should just play H-Rod as their backup for a couple years rather than throwing money away on bad old players for the bench.

          I bet Mesoraco disagrees with you too.

        • @al: Putting a guy right back into the role he did poorly in last season doesn’t impress me as the way to handle the situation.

          To be honest, a lot of how he feels about it personally probably depends on whether he is on a one way or two way (split) contract. As I understand it, as long as he is on the 40 man, his fringes stay basically the same. However if he is on a split contract, sitting in Cincy could be worth twice as much or more than playing at AAA. so, sure anybody would want the greater salary if it is a difference like that

        • @OhioJim: …Did Joey Votto suck when he was playing behind Hatteberg?….

          Votto played more than one day a week and got shots off the bench on the days he didn’t start. Mesoraco is not being afforded the same sort of oppurtunity.

  17. Super Todd can catch in a pinch right? They’ve got to find a way to get Mesoraco some AB’s… let the kid PH!

    • @Matt WI: As far as PH, every double switch Dusty has made up to this point, could have been made with Meso rather than Izturis. As far as Frazier, yes he could catch and play 1B, 2B, SS, LF, RF as well as probably CF & P.

  18. Never did I think that a kid with a .205 career average would get the Free Him! call on the 4th day of the season.

    Is it a rule that someone always has to be Free!d?

    I’ll be right ther ewith you guys, I like Mesoraco a lot, but I think I’ll wait until a) the Reds aren’t in 1st place, b) Hannigan stinks, or c) May.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s