Monday, March 22, 2010

Stammen states his case

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
With four strong innings today, Craig Stammen made his case for a rotation spot.
VIERA, Fla. -- Craig Stammen hasn't been the center of attention in Nationals camp, certainly not the way a certain rookie right-hander was for the last month or even the way fellow hurlers Garrett Mock and Scott Olsen have been for much of the spring.

Stammen? He just keeps his mouth shut, keeps a smile on his face and keeps retiring opposing hitters.

And because of that, the second-year right-hander suddenly looks like a safe bet to make the Opening Day roster.

"He's been good throughout," manager Jim Riggleman said today after watching Stammen throw four innings without allowing an earned run. "He's really making a case for himself to be in the rotation. He's not taking anything for granted. He's competing and pitching very well."

Earlier in the day, Riggleman said there were four guys still competing for two spots in the rotation: Stammen, Livan Hernandez, Scott Olsen and J.D. Martin. Let's be honest, though -- Martin hasn't appeared in a big-league game since March 10 and isn't slated to pitch in a big-league game over the next three days. Hernandez, meanwhile, is essentially a lock to make the rotation. He starts Wednesday night against the Yankees, and barring injury or something else unusual, he lines up to start the Nats' third game of the regular season (April 8 against the Phillies).

So, really we're talking about one remaining spot up for grabs between Stammen and Olsen. And if Olsen doesn't make a serious statement tomorrow night against the Tigers, this race might be over.

Olsen, of course, was last seen throwing an 86 mph fastball in a minor-league, intrasquad game. For the left-hander (who had shoulder surgery last summer) to be effective, he's got to be throwing in the low-90s. He believes he'll get back to that point, but time is most certainly running out for that to happen.

"I think he's healthy, but I don't think he's 100 percent back yet," Riggleman said. "We've got at least two starts to continue to see him move toward that."

The Grapefruit League schedule actually is pretty accommodating for the Nationals, who are due to play split-squad games Saturday against the Braves and Mets. Stammen and Olsen each could start that day. But by the time the turn comes around again April 1, one of the two has to get the nod.

The way Stammen has thrown this spring, you've got to believe he's going to find his way onto the roster no matter what, whether as the No. 5 starter or as a long reliever. He made it clear today he wants the starter's job.

"That's what I came here to do," he said. "That was my plan. So far, things have gone my way a little bit and I'm in a pretty decent spot, I think."

We saw glimpses last season of Stammen's ability to be a successful pitcher. When his sinker is working, he's pretty effective. But now that his elbow is no longer in pain after having bone chips removed in September, we're finding out just how effective he can be.

In addition to that sinker, Stammen also throws a pretty nasty breaking ball, one that has led to eight strikeouts over his last eight innings. When his elbow was in pain, he couldn't do that.

"It's pretty easy to see: I'm getting a lot more swings and misses now," he said. "Last year, I had no chance of getting those swings and misses."

Stammen has now thrown a total of 9 1/3 innings this spring. He's allowed nine hits, three earned runs, with only two walks to go along with those eight strikeouts. More importantly, he says he feels better now than he has in nearly a year, since he first turned heads with a spot start against the Tigers last March.

As for the pressure of competing for a big-league job as the spring reaches its final two weeks, Stammen tries not to think too much about it.

"It's not easy at all," he said. "You have to trick yourself, almost daily. You can't start rooting against people. They're your teammates. You gotta root for them. You gotta be a good teammate. You've just got to go out there and do your thing. And whatever they decide, it's done for a reason."


peric said...

Maybe THE bright spot of what has become yet another disconcerting spring.

Anonymous said...

Not bad numbers so far from Stammen, its good to see someone winning the last spot instead of just being the least horrible as in years past. Also with all of the pitchers in the rotation knowing that Strasburg, Wang, Detwiler, Zimmermann, and I guess Olsen are all going to be gunning to make the rotation at some point this season. I still think that only Marquis and Lannan are guaranteed to be starting for this team for the entire season.

Marquis has been bad this spring, but he did go to the all-star game last season I think he will be just fine, which for him is slightly above mediocrity but for this team that is huge.

Llyod said...

What is the rotation in syracuse going to look like now? Balester, Chico, Martis, Martin, Zinecola? And finally should I feel hopeful or depressed about what this rotation says for the future?

Wally said...

I like Stammen - personality-wise he reminds me of Shawn Hill, whom I always liked. Based on performance, I think that Stammen has earned a spot in the rotation already. And if the swings and misses aren't just a spring training mirage, I think that his ceiling goes up a notch from a #5. Mark - do you have any velocity numbers from today?

I really don't get Livo in the rotation, though. Mark, I am not saying that you are misreading the tea leaves, but I am questioning the organizational decision. If Olsen isn't ready, and it certainly does appear that he needs some innings at Syracuse, JD Martin seems the clearly better option. He pitched as well as Livo last year (better, in many ways), is young, cost controlled for several years and someone that maybe sticks around for a while or could have some trade value down the road. Rizzo et al have seemed pretty sharp, but I just don't get this one. I am sure that it is this perception that Livo will contribute more innings, but it just doesn't seem justified by their numbers. And I find it very hard to believe that someone will trade for Livo, even if he starts off well. Maybe the thinking is that Livo is so much slower than everyone else that, like a knuckleballer, they think he will throw the batters off kilter for the whole series?

Can't they send Livo to Syracuse and let him get called up when one of the starters falter or gets hurt, or does he have the right to opt out if he isn't on the major league roster when they break camp?

JayB said...

Tyler Walker looked good...came in challenging hitters and throwing strikes. This Spring has been a predictable downer because Rizzo seemed be blind to the obvious issues with Dukes and Guzman. Giving these two jobs without planning for better Plan B's was a huge winter error. On the Plus Side Kennedy looks very good at 2B. The pitching will be much better than last April. Mixed bag of a spring really.

peric said...

Interesting article by Sam Diamant on Maxwell starting in right this year (not every game given his injury history and super willy). Sees him as 1.6 wins above replacement.

compares him to :

"While planning out this post, I was trying to think of a comparison for Maxwell. The best one that I came up with is Mike Cameron. Since 2002, Cameron has posted less than 4.1 WAR only three times, and even his down years produced WARs of 3.2, 2.0, and 2.2.
Cameron was called up for good at age 24, two years younger than Justin Maxwell will be in 2010. Keep that in mind while you read Maxwell’s and Cameron’s career minor league statistics.
Mike Cameron: 2554 PA, 10.9% BB, 21.8% K, .319 BABIP, .775 OPS, .338 wOBA
Justin Maxwell: 1506 PA, 11.3% BB, 24.6% K, .317 BABIP, .793 OPS, .346 wOBA"

peric said...

"What is the rotation in syracuse going to look like now? Balester, Chico, Martis, Martin, Zinecola? And finally should I feel hopeful or depressed about what this rotation says for the future?"

HOPEFUL. And its me "mr negative" speaking. You are looking at the wrong rotation.

Now let's look at Harrisburg's projected rotation this year:

Jordan Zimmermann?
Milone? Bradley Meyers?

SS Danny Espinosa
RF Michael Burgess
1B Chris Marerro

Relievers and Closers
Drew Storen
Jack Spradlin
Ryan Matheus

Bote Man said...

With a predominately ground ball pitching staff, it does not bode well for the Nats to have defensive holes at SS and 1B, presuming 2B is covered proficiently by Kennedy. We know that Zimmerman has 3B covered.

You *KNOW* Guzman is getting the starting SS job unless his head explodes between now and Opening Day. There is simply too much money on the line for him to sit, despite the politically correct statements from the Front Office. Dunn is a defensive liability wherever he plays.

By this measure, batters facing the Nats have about a 50-50 chance of getting a ball safely into play.

Sunderland said...

Lloyd, Peric and others have noticed that the Nats seem to be setting up Syracuse to field a good team, but not a team that will bring a lot of support to the parent club. Call them a AAAA team if you will (although that's being generous).
The younger guys who are the future of the Nat's, they are in Harrisburg.

Incidentally, that might also be the location of the Nationals manager of the future, Randy Knorr.

Sunderland said...

Bote - You give Dunn no credit at all for possibly being able to improve his first base play?
An all state QB in Texas, recruited by U Texas to play QB, and he can't handle 1st base?

Ken said...

So far, Marquis is the least deserving "lock" for a rotation spot that I've ever seen. No one who pitches that bad should be a lock at anything. Of the pitchers still in camp, the five that are most deserving of a rotation sport are: John Lannan, Craig Stammen, Livan Hernandez, J.D. Martin and Garrett Mock. Heck even Scott Olsen, who's still not 100% is pitching better than Marquis.

In regards to Guzman, people are putting too much emphasis on the value of his contract. It doesn't make a lick of difference at all whether he ends up starting or coming off the bench, because no matter where he's playing, he'll STILL be costing the Nationals $8 million in 2010.

Anonymous said...

Mark, the question I would like to know is how do the low ball pitchers look? Anyone throwing well? Anyone sneaking up as a surprise. And peric, please do not respond by saying Trevor Holder when you are not at ST. JayB or anybody at ST can answer though....

Andrew said...

I am glad the bats are coming around and have to agree with JayB on Plan "B's".

peric said...

"And peric, please do not respond by saying Trevor Holder"

How about you ... your post seems pretty low? Would that make you a "low ball pitcher"?

peric said...

"Incidentally, that might also be the location of the Nationals manager of the future, Randy Knorr."

The plot thickens! Perhaps that will be he most interesting story from this spring?

peric said...

Best option for a regular full-time right fielder really looks like Desmond t this point. Unless Rizzo has deemed Espinosa too far away to come and be the shortstop. Is he relying on Kobernus (or Lombardozzi?) to rescue him at 2nd base?

I guess we may get some glimmer in Harrisburg this year.

Anonymous said...

Best stab at the SYR 2010 OD rotation - JD Martin, Martis, Atilano, Balester, Chico; possibly Olsen or Stammen, with Chico and/or Balester moving to the bullpen. Add Detwiler & Wang in early-mid May, and possibly Strasburg in mid-late May, although he might make the AA to ML jump in early June instead.
@Bote Man, Sunderland: If Dunn can carry even a mediocre .970-.975FPct at 1B & maintain his plate production, the Nationals are ahead of the game, imo. That's about what they got from Nick Johnson defensively last year, and he amounted to a #2/#7 hitter offensively for the Nationals, rather than a #4/#5.


Knoxville Nat said...

"Incidentally, that might also be the location of the Nationals manager of the future, Randy Knorr." faith in Riggleman? All in all last year he helped guide a sinking ship to a second half of respectability. I think you are quitting on our skipper way too early.

Andrew said...

Back issues for Aroldis Chapman

peric said...

Bang Zoom? Zim Wang? In bullpen together.

K.D. said...

Mr. Z, Everyone is questioning who is the Nats Right Fielder, can one Shortstop focus, can the other one throw? My questions are about the Coaching Staff, after seeing them operate for a couple weeks what is your opinion? Does Riggleman command respect? Motivate? Does the infielders Coach have Desmond's attention?

Sunderland said...

I did not mean to suggest Randy Knorr might be managing in DC this year, or even next year. But he's got a solid rep, keeps progressing up the ranks, and is obviously trusted enough to be the manager for most of our high grade prospects.

Avar said...

Very encouraging to see Stammen and Mock do so well this spring. Especially w/ SS, Thompson, Detwiler, Wang, Olsen and Zimmermann all on the horizon. Wow. That is a lot of talent. Add them to Lannan, Mock and Stammen and I am very optimistic we can build an excellent rotation out of that. And one that will last for a number of years.

Those crying about Marquis need to relax. He has averaged 196 innings the last 6 years w/ a 4.5 ERA. He will be fine. He's not a long term part of this rotation. And his miniscule sample size this spring means just about nothing compared to his very long major league resume. He's not Lee or Halladay, but he's solid. Relax.

Avar said...

Quick follow up on Marquis. Here are some of his numbers from last year.

15-13 4.04 ERA for 113 ERA+. 216 IP, 1.38 WHIP, HR/9 0.6

Here are the numbers for a starter from a pretty decent team last year.

14-8 4.16 ERA for 103 ERA+. 194.2 IP, 1.382 WHIP, HR/9 0.9.

Pretty close except Marquis' are clearly better in my view.

Those belong to Andy Pettitte. Would anyone be bitching about him in our rotation? Well, probably but that is a reflection of the posters not Pettitte's ability.

People talk a lot on Nats blogs about so and so wouldn't be in a such and such a spot on a good team. Well, Marquis' stat clone (or worse) held down a rotation spot for the World Series champs last year so I think maybe he can cut it here.

This is a team that had Daniel Cabrera in the rotation last year. This is progress. Big progress.

greg said...

to be fair, avar, petitte was pitching in the AL east, marquis in the NL west. if you switched their teams, i suspect petitte's stats would get better and marquis' would get worse.

peric said...

If a 41 year old poet can look a lot better in spring training than the 31 year old world series guy signed to provide stability and veteran leadership to a rotation that was basically bereft of that last year I think there is a problem. He looks pretty bad, less ready for the season than Olsen who is recovering from shoulder surgery!?

Let's put it this way, Denny McLain won 31 games before he came to the Washington Senators. Put you mind around that: 31 games. They traded what was then one of the best left side of the infield in baseball plus one of the top young right handed starters for this guy. What happened?

Just because Marquis got to a world series last year means NOTHING. He is 31-32 years old. One year can make a difference for a starting pitcher at that age. This year is what counts and so far his performance has NOT induced much confidence either on the part of the discriminating intelligent fan, nor apparently on the part of management.

Anonymous said...

Marquis did not get to the World Series last year. What baseball are you watching?

Avar said...

True Greg. Of course Marquis was in Mile High. I guess the AL East is tougher than Coors Field. But, that's a interesting question.

My main point was that Marquis has been at least decent and arguably good for a long time. He is very likely to be that again regardless of what he does in Spring Training.

Unknown said...

Mark- Has there been any talk about what the Nats would do if Olsen doesn't get his velocity back in the next week? Will they keep him and let him try to build it up in the minors? Will they release him to avoid paying his contract (which is $1mill I believe)?

Anonymous said...

peric doesn't watch baseball. He just runs his mouth continuosly while baseball games are going on around him, and even when they're not. He's all output, no input whatsoever.

greg said...

fair enough point, avar. i agree that he's been decent for a while. and i expect him to be exactly that this year. decent. because, as some people seem confused, spring training is just that: training. some guys look great in ST and make the team and then hit 150 or get shellacked when the real games start. some guys have rough spring trainings and play the real games like their track record says they will.

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