Sunday, August 22, 2010

Questions about Olsen, Dunn, Stras

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Scott Olsen allowed four runs in six innings today.
PHILADELPHIA — In the wake of a 6-0, rain-delayed loss to the Phillies this afternoon — one of the Nationals' less-enthralling performances of the year — plenty of questions remain.

Is Scott Olsen capable of sustaining any momentum, or is he destined to vacillate between positive and negative starts? Is Adam Dunn's two-week slump going to derail his entire season, or can he snap out of it in time to finish with the best numbers of his career? And, most importantly, what happens now with Stephen Strasburg, who had already arrived in Washington for his forearm MRI long before this stinker of a ballgame ended?

Let's try to provide some answers to each question...

Every time you think the left-hander has got something good going, he takes a big step backward. Every time you think he's lost on the mound, he rebounds with a big performance.

Today's four-runs-in-six-innings start fell in that murky, gray area between good and bad. It came on the heels of a strong start in Atlanta, which came on the heels of a wretched start against the Marlins.

Olsen has now appeared in five games since returning from the DL, during which time he's going 1-4 with a 7.77 ERA. Not exactly encouraging numbers, which makes you wonder if Olsen is still searching for the form he had before shoulder inflammation sidelined him in May.

"I wouldn't say I'm searching for stuff," he said. "I feel like I've got good enough control with the fastball right now. I can locate it to both sides of the plate. And I feel comfortable with my slider and changeup. So I wouldn't say I'm searching for anything."

Olsen's biggest area of concern, he said, is his penchant for letting one inning get out of hand. He nearly did it again today in the sixth, allowing a two-out, two-run single to No. 8 hitter Wilson Valdez. Only the presence of Roy Oswalt in the on-deck circle kept the inning from spiraling out of control.

"We were able to do that today, but it was the pitcher coming up in the sixth," he said. "We could have said we shut down that inning if it was a position player coming up instead of the pitcher and we got him out. But I would say in terms of working on stuff, minimizing damage within one inning is something I need to work on."

Olsen — who has earned $600,000 in incentives his last three starts and will continue to earn another $100,000 for each start he makes the rest of the way — will continue to get chances to work things out. Jim Riggleman said he will remain in the rotation moving forward.

There was no hitter in baseball more torrid earlier this month than Dunn, who hit six homers in six games to open August. Since then, though, there may not be a hitter in baseball more horrid than Dunn. Over his last 14 games, he's batting a paltry .122 (6-for-49) with 23 strikeouts.

Today, he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, lowering his batting average to .262 (its lowest point since May 29) and looking totally uncomfortable at the plate in the process.

"I think most power hitters do that," Riggleman said. "You just keep running them out there. And when they come out of these funks, they usually come out with power. I think you'll see with almost all the guys who end up with 35-40 home runs. They have some stretches like this, too."

Dunn has been through plenty of peaks and valleys before, so he's not panicking. If anything, the fact this is nothing new gives him confidence this slump won't last forever.

"I know I'll come out of it," he said. "That's the only thing I know for sure. When I'm playing good, I'm never that good. And when I'm playing bad, I'm pretty bad. Hopefully tomorrow it'll all get back to where it needs to be."

The outcome of these three games at Citizens Bank Park really were overshadowed by the sight of Strasburg wincing in pain after throwing his 56th pitch last night, followed by the rookie departing the field beside his pitching coach and trainer. That moment has far greater lasting importance to this franchise than two losses over a late-August weekend in Philadelphia.

The more-pressing issue now is what happens to Strasburg moving forward. He underwent his MRI today in Washington, the results of which could be known later tonight but more likely won't be revealed until tomorrow morning.

Mike Rizzo has insisted all along the club won't make any determination about Strasburg's pitching plan until the results of that MRI are known, but few around the Nationals believe the 22-year-old will make his next start Thursday against the Cardinals.

If the MRI shows anything to truly be concerned about, the Nats will shut Strasburg down. If it doesn't show anything serious, they'll proceed with caution. As was the case last month with his shoulder tightness, look for the club to bring him back step-by-step. He'll play catch. Then he'll long-toss. Then he'll throw off a bullpen mound. Then he'll face live hitters. If he passes each test, he'll be back pitching in a big-league game before long.

There's no right answer here. Few would criticize the Nats if they choose to shut Strasburg down for the season. Some would prefer they not baby him and let him pitch, provided there's no real danger of further damage.

At the end of an unsettling weekend in Philly, the Strasburg dilemma represents the biggest (but not only) question facing the Nationals.


Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

Mark sez: Olsen — who has earned $600,000 in incentives his last three starts and will continue to earn another $100,000 for each start he makes the rest of the way — will continue to get chances to work things out. Jim Riggleman said he will remain in the rotation moving forward.

Mr. Riggleman, it's Mr. Ted Lerner calling on line 2, sir.

Sunderland said...

I have a hard time seeing a scenario where sometime over the next few years Olsen has a couple seasons where he makes 30 starts to the tune of 4.00 ERA.
This is going to be a tough call for Rizzo.

If things go according to Rizzo's plan, Olsen won't even make the rotation next year.
Livo (he'll get re-signed, especially with Maya coming)
Marquis (going to get every chance to hold onto this spot)

Olsen then is lumped in with Lannan, Detwiler, Martin and Stammen as insurance.

Souldrummer said...

I thought Olsen might be the guy to go when Zimmermann is called up. Isn't there a chance that Zimmermann is called up Wednesday, 5 days after his dominant start in Syracuse on Friday?

I've got two issues with Olsen: his health and his eligibility for arbitration. We control him and we can offer him arbitration and he gets a significant raise. Don't know where it falls in the two-three milion dollar range. Or we can just let him be a free agent. But what have we seen in the last two years makes us think that Olsen is a better option than the other 4/5 starter guys who are available at a cheaper price?

Rotation next year for me today:
Maya (I'm hoping today's start was just a blip and that he's just adjusting to professional hitters.)
I'm fine saying 3 out of the 5 guys among Livo, Maya, Marquis, Lannan and Detwiler will work out and considering Stammen as a backup plan if one of them does not.

Olsen's given us a grand total of 124IP the last two years at a 5.59 combined ERA. If we bring him back at the salary it will require, he either has to be a major piece towards a contending team or a guy that we can flip for a solid prospect at the deadline. I'm not optimistic he can do that. Save that money to get another AJ Cole overslot guy in next year's draft or a serviceable left handed pinch hitter so I don't have to see Willie Harris every day against righties late in games.

Feel Wood said...

Olsen seems to be pitching with multiple personalities lately. Do you think that's why he constantly refers to himself as "we"? And like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, are we likely to see his head spinning around and him spewing green pea puke before the season's out?

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

I predict Olsen will be non-tendered, or allowed to be a FA. Nothing more to see here. He's not even an innings-eater anymore. He's a high-five ERA guy, nothing more. Plus he has injury issues. Will not be missed.

Section 222 said...

Sunshine is a dark cloud today, but I think he's right. Olsen seems healthy and he's just not showing enough to be offered arbitration next year. Maybe he signs another million dollar deal with incentives after no one wants him, but not a big contract. Not based what he's done so far this year anyway.

At this rate, Strasburg will still be pitching in late September against the Phils. I'd love to see him get another shot at embarrassing those guys.

Jeeves said...

I have said ad nasseum that the Nats should have traded Dunn for Dan Hudson and the indications were that it could have been done if Rizzo hadn't insisted upon much more. Hudson has now pitched at least seven innings for Arizonia in at least six games and has an era of about 125. Dunn continues to be an inconsistent offensive force, which, despite all the home runs, he's been all his career, and a poor defensive player. Yet Boz and the majority of Nat fans seem convinced he should be our clean up man. I really don't get it.

dale said...

Dunn at 60 million is more of a concern than Olsen. The decision to sink that much money into Dunn will result in fewer options for the rest of the team. The week of Dunn hitting six home runs set the Dunn lovers crazily chanting "Sign him now." The few times a season that Dunn is hot he is worth the ticket price to behold. However, when he is cold you get a no contact hitter that is unable to even get a hitter home from third with less than two outs. In addition you get a first baseman that has huge problems with a glove. Batting the team's best hitter behind Dunn has not improved his hitting either. I would love to know Rizzo's inner thoughts regarding his first baseman.

Anonymous said...

OK, get rid of Dunn. Who takes his place? How do you replace his power and RBI's? If you say Morse the Force, your argument just collapsed. He is hitting under .200 for August and is a defensive liability. Who plays 1B next year? Wanting to get rid of a productive hitter and competent (if not great fielder) doesn't work if you don't have a bulletproof Plan B. Hating a guy just isn't good enough.

NatsJack in Florida said...

Adam Dunn has played on one team that finished above .500 and that was the two months he spent with the 82 - 80 Arizona Diamondbacks. He's never been to the playoffs.

Those are facts. Not hating, just facts.

His defense alone is enough to keep a team struggling while his homeruns mask the obvious slumps that create the lifetime .240 average he maintains.

Anonymous said...

Plan B?

NatsJack in Florida said...

Tony Pena for 2 years at 16 - 20 Mil.

SpashCity said...

For those knocking his defense, in 2010 Adam Dunn has a UZR/150 rating of -1.3.

That is better than Ryan Howard (-9.5), Prince Fielder (-7.9), Miguel Carbera (-7.5), and Mark Teixeria (-7.3).

Those are facts.

SpashCity said...

*Miguel Cabrera

NatsJack in Florida said...

You've got to be kidding!!! Adam Dunn is better than Mark Texiera!!! Now I know UZR/150 means ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!!!

SpashCity said...

I don't think I said that Dunn was better than Teixeria. I think I said he has a better UZR/150 this season.

I would say UZR/150 is about as good of an indicator of a players overall skill and worth to a team as the number of times that player has been on a playoff team in his career.

SpashCity said...

Also, when you suggested replacing Adam Dunn with Tony Pena at a 2 year $16-20 million contract, did you mean Tony Pena the shortstop who currently has played all season at AAA for the Giants and has one (1) RBI, Tony Pena the pitcher who currently has a 5.53 ERA for the White Sox in 70 innings pitched, or Tony Pena the catcher who retired in 1997 and is currently the bench coach for the Yankees?

Anonymous said...

Tony Pena is a pitcher for the White Sox. He is going to play 1B for us? Carlos Pena is a 32 year old 1B hitting .212 for Tampa and is only a .244 career hitter. How is that an improvement over Dunn (who is younger and has better stats)? But that is your Plan B, and that is fine. It just doesn't make sense to me because his stats and age don't improve a team that needs more offense. I'm returning to my earlier comment. Hating a guy for his alleged deficiencies isn't enough. There has to be a bulletproof plan that improves the Nats.

NatsJack in Florida said...

It's Carlos Pena and I've called him everything but Carlos for two days now.

Anyway, everyone knows Adam Dunn's career belongs in the American League as a DH. His play at firstbase lowers the defensive capabilities of everyone else in the infield and no manufactured number can change that.

SpashCity said...

NatsJack, you are just hating on Dunn, making up reasons for why he isn't a good player.

"His play at firstbase lowers the defensive capabilities of everyone else in the infield and no manufactured number can change that."

What does that mean? How does Adam Dunn playing first base make Ryan Zimmerman have less range, worse hands, and a weaker arm? He might miss a throw or a ground ball (though not as often as some might think based on his season-long stats) but I don't think he can possibly lower other players abilities simply through his presence in the National League.

Adam Dunn has said on multiple occasions that he does not want to DH. So, even if the Nats make a huge mistake and don't re-sign him, he will be a free agent and sign with a team of his choosing. I would bet the $20 million you want to give the older, less powerful, not-as-good-a-hitter, Carlos Pena, that Adam Dunn signs with a National League team, regardless of what you or "everyone" else thinks.

Anonymous said...

The cancer in the Nats' infield is Ian Desmond. That is a statistical fact. And Carlos Pena's statistics indicate he is declining. I just don't see anyone better than Dunn to get us to 2012 (when in theory we will be competing for a playoff spot). I doubt that Marrero is the answer. Less power than Dunn and his glove is suspect. All things being equal (money and years), the best free agents aren't coming to Washington until they see themselves playing for a seriously competitive team. Sign Dunn now and trade him to the AL down the road when that makes sense in terms of team development.

NatsJack in Florida said...

His footwork at the firsbase bag is non-existant. He cannot go to left or right at all. And he hasn't saved 1/10 of the low throws most firstbase scoop with relative ease.

That said, my facebook page picture is me and Adam standing together. I hardly hate him. I just prefer a real firstbaseman.

Anonymous said...

OK, help me with this one. Why is Dunn's defense more problematic than Desmond's? It appears that Desmond's problem is even more substantial than physical ability. He doesn't understand the intricacies of the game. Your preferred infield change would involve Dunn. You have made your case, and I get it. Just tell me how Desmond is OK. That is the guy I would get rid of (and replace with Espinosa or a FA). Just trying to understand... I'm not willing to give Desmond a pass because he is young (relatively speaking).

natsfan1a said...

tmi ;-)


That said, my facebook page picture is me and Adam standing together.

SpashCity said...

Your facebook friendship with Adam Dunn notwithstanding, he is enough of a real first baseman for me, and for Ryan Zimmerman (who has been lobbying for the Nats to re-sign Dunn all season). Not that I think Zim should also be the GM, but I will trust his opinion of Dunn's worth to the Nats more than you, NatsJack.

I guess we are just going to have to agree to disagree on this. I think Dunn is a serviceable defensive first baseman who's offensive numbers make up for any liabilities his glove may or may not create. I have backed up my opinions with stats that have their flaws, but are used as real measures of a players worth among some major league executives.

You think Dunn is a strike out machine who can't hit in the clutch and can't play defense at all and you back up your opinions with rock-solid statements such as "he hasn't saved 1/10 of the low throws most firstbase scoop with relative ease."

SpashCity out.

Anonymous said...

The Dunn discussion has really gotten silly. Let's take away his recent slump as well as the 7 home runs in one week. His overall numbers this year including defense indicate that he is 3.3 games above replacement value; let's say he ends the year 4 or 5 games WOR; this means that his salary is appropriate for his contribution.

Having said that; his strong season gave the Nationals a unique opportunity to get a very good major league ready starter to go with Strasburg and Zimermann; to get such a pitcher under team control for 6 years and at the same time gain the flexibility of not having a huge salary on one player.

When we talk about replacement options I think that Pena is a bad solution because he is older, just as expensive as Dunn and is having a so so year; my point is you can find someone to do a good job if you are a good GM; The Giants signed Aubrey Huff for 3 mil and he has an OPS of .910 (.295 .388 .523) and he is at 5.6 WOR.

I don't know who next year's Aubrey Huff is but my point is that you don't always have to throw money at a problem blindly; I am by no means suggesting that we should reduce the payroll budget; in fact I would support increasing it by another 10 - 15 mil to about 75 - 80 range but you can do better than using 12 - 15 mil. on 1 player.

NatinBeantown said...

Anon 9:54:
I can't believe I'm responding seriously to that first sentence of yours, but here goes...

I'd be willing to bet that Desmond has gotten to at least 30 balls this summer that would have gone for hits if an average SS were out there. That cancels out the 30 or so errors he'll end up with this year.

I'll say this for Desi's numbers this year:

1) they're trending in the right direction, both in reducing the rate of E-6's and in OBA. Which is exactly what I would hope a rookie would be doing.

2) He's been trapped as the #8 hitter most of the year and gotten no protection whatsoever. His recent hot streak has a lot to do with him taking over #2 and #6 more often as of late.

Anonymous said...

I think using Ryan Zimmerman's opinion on who to sign or not sign is about as valid as asking Stratsburg's opinion if he should stay in the game after he grabbed his arm.

Anonymous said...


Your analysis of Desmond's defense is bang on; errors; while frustrating are way over rated; there have been infielders over the years with extremely high fielding percentages but with 0 range; highly over rated.

I am not a great believer in the 'protection' theory but I am sold on the tremendous progress ID has made offensively as well; for me he is a keeper. If Espinosa is as good as advertised and can bring his excellent range to 2nd base; I am very excited about our defense up the middle.

Anonymous said...

NatinBeantown, thanks for the help. I hadn't thought of it in that way. The trending piece helps, too. And I endorse a win-win situation with Dunn. If you can make an acquisition (say this year's Aubrey Huff), by all means, trade Dunn for another piece of the puzzle. If not, he is an asset we should continue to use. Letting him go for nothing doesn't make sense. Draft choices for a proven MLB player? Nope.

Anonymous said...

I am not too concerned about Dunn. But I am very concerned about the pitching staff:

Detweiler was going to save the rotation for the remainder of this year....FAIL

Marquis was going to save the roation for the remainder of this year....FAIL

Olsen was going to save the rotation for the remainder of the year..FAIL

Strasburg was going to save the franchise....MRI results still pending!

Looks like it is a similar situation to opening day 2010...Livo and Lannan and a bunch of crap....I would not be surprised to see Stammen, Mock, Chico and Martis to get some rotation time in September to see if we have anything ready for 2011. Crossing my fingers for JZimm and Maya.

Anonymous said...

If you say Morse the Force, your argument just collapsed. He is hitting under .200 for August and is a defensive liability.

Dunn is also hitting under .200 for August. Morse looked pretty good at first base. Hard to say with right field since he hasn't played there much at all up until this year. But it is likely he is better in left field.

Anonymous said...

In defense of Morse, Dunn, Zimmerman and Willingham ... they are facing some of the premier pitchers in baseball who are in the midst of pennant races on their respective clubs. While the Nats are still going through an exercise best left to ST and last place clubs that involves auditioning for their starting rotation.

This is what normally happens when you are a last place club going on 3 straight last place finishes.

Section 222 said...

Mark, please have mercy on us and put up a new post so we can get off this Dunn/Desmond merry-go-round.

Sec3MySofa said...

but if the Nats don't sign him, I'm pretty sure the Cubs, at least, will try to, based on what I'm seeing on their blogs.

N. Cognito said...

Sec3MySofa said...
"but if the Nats don't sign him, I'm pretty sure the Cubs, at least, will try to, based on what I'm seeing on their blogs."

Right! I'm sure the Cubs check their fanblogs to determine their decisions...Wait, you may be right. They have sucked for a long time.

carolync said...

I agree with SplashCity's remarks about UZR/150. It seems to be the best available indicator of a player's range. For instance, Ryan Zimmerman leads all major league third basemen with a sparkling 23.3 UZR/150 - well ahead of #2, the Phillies Placido Polanco. On the other hand, Desmond's is -7.2 or 17th among 22 rated shortstops. So I don't know where all these claims about his range come from.

I agree it's past time for a new topic.

Sec3 said...

"I'd be willing to bet that Desmond has gotten to at least 30 balls this summer that would have gone for hits if an average SS were out there. That cancels out the 30 or so errors he'll end up with this year."

I agree generally with your overall point, and I think Desmond does seem to be starting to get it, but this statement is simply not true.
A ground ball that gets past the shortstop is almost always a single. A ground ball the shortstop throws away is usually two bases, not one, so he'll have to get to lots more, maybe twice as many? (no idea what the real number is, but there must be one), to make up for it.
He might yet learn to do that, I think, but it's not one-to-one. Just sayin.

Sec3Mysofa said...

The point wasn't that the Cubs do what their fans tell them, it's that the beat writers who post the blogs (like Mark, here, for instance) often have significant insight into the FO's thinking.

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