Nationals sign LHP Matt Purke to Minor League contract with invitation to Major League Spring Training
by Amanda Comak
The Washington Nationals re-signed left-handed pitcher Matt Purke to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Major League Spring Training on Monday.
Purke will now remain with the organization that drafted and developed him, and will continue his rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery (May 29, 2014) without any interruptions to his prescribed plan.
The Nationals, who have a wealth of experience in successfully rehabbing pitchers after the ligament replacement surgery, look forward to Purke continuing his progress in their organization.
“We are excited to keep Matt in the organization and to keep his rehab on track,” said Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo. “We look forward to seeing him rebound from his surgery during the upcoming season.”
The 24-year-old left-hander was drafted by the Nationals in the third round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft as a highly-touted prospect out of Texas Christian University. Injuries have limited him to 29 Minor League appearances in the past three seasons.
On Friday, the Nationals released Purke from the Major League contract he signed shortly after he was drafted, with a plan in place to re-sign him and keep him in the organization.
by Amanda Comak
The Major League All-Stars tour through Japan is about to hit the home stretch with five of the seven games they’re slated to play already in the books. And Washington Nationals reliever Jerry Blevins has not wasted a minute of his trip.
While he’s been enjoying sightseeing and soaking in the culture, Blevins has also been summoned to pitch three times in the five games. So far, he’s been superb.
Blevins has thrown three innings, allowing just one run (and no earned runs), off three hits and two walks with one strikeout.
He appeared on Sunday, Nov. 16, in a 6-1 MLB victory, on Friday, Nov. 14, in an 8-4 loss, and on Tuesday, Nov. 11, in an 8-7 MLB win.
Blevins has been keeping fans in the loop on his Asian adventure via his Twitter feed (which was listed by Sports Illustrated as one of the 100 must-follows).
Last workout on American soil. Then heading to Japan!
— Jerry Blevins (@JerryBlevins_13) November 8, 2014
So there is a Harry Potter world here in Osaka. Been to Orlando's. Too much culture to see 1st, but would be cool to compare them.
— Jerry Blevins (@JerryBlevins_13) November 10, 2014
It's 6am Tuesday morning here. I'm not actually in the future. It just means I have to watch MNF on Tuesday morning. pic.twitter.com/YI5BWmVNSl
— Jerry Blevins (@JerryBlevins_13) November 10, 2014
Took bullet train from Kyoto to Tokyo. Saw Mt. Fuji. Now have a wonderful view of Tokyo. Life isn't too bad. pic.twitter.com/vhKi4p6HbQ
— Jerry Blevins (@JerryBlevins_13) November 13, 2014
Kabuki is a classical Japanese dance-drama performed in a highly stylized manner — from the dancing to the costumes and the makeup. It has been a significant theatrical form in Japan for almost four hundred years. And it looks like Blevins and Santiago were naturals.
The MLB All-Stars have two games left in Japan and they will return to the states following their finale on Nov. 20.
by Amanda Comak
The Nationals agreed to terms on a Major League contract with infielder/outfielder Kevin Frandsen on Friday, avoiding arbitration and securing the affable utility man for a second season in D.C.
Frandsen, 32, hit .259 with a team-leading 11 pinch hits for the Nationals in 2014 – ranking him 10th in the National League in that category.
An exceptionally versatile player, Frandsen appeared in 105 games for the Nationals last season with time at third base, second base, left field and first base. He started 42 of those games, filling in wherever needed when the Nationals were struck by injuries while also excelling in a bench role.
Frandsen is a career .259 (320-for-1235) hitter with 57 doubles, five triples, 15 home runs and 110 RBI in 507 big league contests spanning eight seasons with the Nationals, Phillies, Angels and Giants. Against left-handed pitching, Frandsen is a career .291 hitter with a .337 on-base percentage and .415 slugging percentage.
With the signing of Frandsen, the Nationals now have 10 remaining players eligible for arbitration: LHP Jerry Blevins, RHP Tyler Clippard, LHP Ross Detwiler, INF Danny Espinosa, RHP Doug Fister, C Jose Lobaton, C Wilson Ramos, RHP Craig Stammen, RHP Drew Storen and RHP Stephen Strasburg.
by Amanda Comak
On the heels of Washington Nationals Manager Matt Williams taking home the 2014 BBWAA National League Manager of the Year award, the Nationals announced Wednesday morning that they will welcome back all of their coaches from the 2014 staff.
In keeping bench coach Randy Knorr, pitching coach Steve McCatty, hitting coach Rick Schu, third base coach Bobby Henley, first base coach Tony Tarasco, bullpen coach Matt LeCroy, and defensive coordinator/advance coach Mark Weidemaier in the fold for 2015, Williams will have stability and continuity on his staff as he enters his second year at the helm.
McCatty, the longest-tenured member of the Nationals’ Major League staff, returns for his seventh season. Knorr returns for his fourth season as the Nationals’ bench coach, and sixth year on the staff, while Tarasco and Schu will begin their third seasons on the coaching staff. Henley, LeCroy and Weidemaier will all be back for their second campaigns.
Six of the Nationals’ seven coaches had experience coaching in Washington’s system before earning their Major League assignments, making the Nationals’ an exceptionally “homegrown” staff.
This marks the first time since 2007-2008 that the Nationals have returned their entire coaching staff in successive seasons.
by Amanda Comak
After leading the Washington Nationals to their second National League East title in the last three years, Nationals manager Matt Williams was named the 2014 National League Manager of the Year Tuesday night by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Williams received a total 109 points, including 18 first-place votes. Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle finished second in the voting, and San Francisco Giants Manager Bruce Bochy was third.
Williams, who joins Davey Johnson to become the second manager in Nationals history to earn this honor, had an exceptionally successful rookie season in the dugout as he led the Nationals to an NL-best 96 victories and the division title.
“On behalf of the Lerner Family and the entire Washington Nationals organization, I want to offer heartfelt congratulations to Matt on this well-deserved award,” said Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo. “His first year in the dugout was excellent, and it was a pleasure to watch him grow throughout. He is a respected leader, and the steady hand that navigated our team through many challenges this season.
“What we accomplished this season would not have been possible without the right man at the helm. That was Matt this season, and we’re all looking forward to 2015.”
Since the inception of the award in 1983, Williams is just the fourth first-year manager ever to win it. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he joins Hal Lanier (Houston Astros, 1986), Dusty Baker (San Francisco Giants, 1993), and Joe Girardi (Florida Marlins, 2006).
“I am incredibly honored and humbled by this award,” Williams said. “This was a very special year for us, and I am proud of what we accomplished in my first season at the helm. For me, as a newcomer to the managerial fraternity, it is a privilege just to be considered amongst the best in our game. Clint and Bruce are certainly that.
“While this is an incredible acknowledgement by the writers, I know we have bigger goals to accomplish in Washington and I look forward to the challenge that the 2015 season will bring.”
The Nationals, though besieged by injuries, won their division by the largest margin (17.0 games) of any in the Major Leagues under Williams’ watch. Over the course of the season, the Nationals saw 948 total games missed due to stints on the Disabled List, with Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Wilson Ramos, Doug Fister, Gio Gonzalez, Adam LaRoche and Denard Span – all key players — accounting for 284 of those games.
While the Nationals withstood that barrage, Williams’ guided them toward steady improvement as the season progressed.
After playing to a .500 record (27-27) through the season’s first two months, the Nationals were at least four games over the .500 mark in each remaining month of the season, finishing 69-39 from June through September. That stretch included a 19-10 month of August that featured a 10-game winning streak from Aug. 12-21, the longest winning streak in the National League this season.
On Sept. 16, the Nationals clinched their second National League East Division title, and they finished the regular season with a 96-66 record.
Williams, 48, was named the fifth field manager in Nationals history on Oct. 31, 2013. The five-time All-Star third baseman was also voted by his managerial peers as the 2014 Sporting News Manager of the Year.
by Amanda Comak
Jerry Blevins had been to Japan before. Back in 2012, when he was a member of the Oakland Athletics, the lefty traveled to the country as part of their season-opening series vs. the Seattle Mariners. He’d seen some of the iconic sights and had some unique experiences – like putting on a clinic for soldiers’ children at an army base and getting a chance to fly around that base in a helicopter.
He soaked in as much as he could in the week or so that the A’s were there.
And when the Major League Baseball Players Association put out an inquiry during the 2014 season for players interested in participating in the 2014 Japan All-Star Series, Blevins didn’t hesitate to throw his name into the ring.
Then he waited, and hoped.
“I put my name in a long time ago,” Blevins said last week as he packed for the trip that would take him to Los Angeles for two days, and then to Japan through Nov. 20. “As you can tell from the talent on the roster, there are a lot of guys who wanted to do this. I’m just so honored my name was picked.”
The Nationals’ versatile lefty spoke excitedly of what was ahead of him: a chance to play with former teammates again and an opportunity to meet new ones, to soak in another international experience and sightsee while representing MLB, and to go through it all with his fiancée, Whitney.
“For the most part, I’m just excited to be in Japan and experience that culture from a different standpoint,” Blevins said. “(Whitney) has never been, and we’re really excited to go. I’ve been almost more excited for her to go over there, and have her share that experience with me, than I am for myself, really.”
The Japan All-Star Series will begin Wednesday and run through Nov. 18, but the MLB All-Stars will play an exhibition game on Tuesday (4 a.m. ET), and on Nov. 20. MLBNetwork will broadcast all seven games.
Here’s a breakdown of the schedule:
Before Blevins left for Japan, we caught up with him about a host of topics. Here’s some of what the affable lefty had to say:
What do you know about the Japanese style of baseball?
They’re very business-like, in a good sense of the phrase. They go about batting practice and make sure they’re trying to get better with every swing. They take the game very seriously, but they also have fun playing it and they play it in a positive manner. You can see that with a lot of the Japanese players who come over.
Their hitters put the ball in play. They put pressure on the defense. They’re not always trying to swing for power. There’s a lot of finesse in their game. Facing Ichiro Suzuki, like I have a lot in my career, that guy can put the ball in play from any different angle. He basically could, where I could throw a ball and hit a spot in the outfield right behind shortstop, he could do that with a bat. It’s just something that they take pride in, being able to have that kind of control.
Do you know any Japanese?
No, not really. I know ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye.’ In 2011, Hideki Matsui was on my team and whenever we were on the road our lockers would be really close. His translator, Roger, had the locker right next to mine so I talked to him all the time.
I consider myself a fairly intelligent person who learns well – but the Japanese language did not come easily to me. I got frustrated and gave up early, even with him trying to help me out. It’s very complex. There’s a lot of pitch and tone and inflection. If there was an alphabet for me to learn off of, that would be easier but they don’t have that.
What has the process been like to get ready to pitch in a competitive situation in November? Did you have to look at your shut down period after the season differently? What have you been doing to prepare your body for that and are you concerned it will affect your offseason routine?
I’m not worried at all that it’s going to affect my preparation for next season, but I did have to make some adjustments because after our season ended — prematurely, in my eyes — there was a gap between when I knew I was going to be on this team or whether I was still in limbo because they were finalizing the roster. So I had to keep throwing just in case. Nothing super intense, but if I had to ramp it up, I could.
When they decided I was going to be on the team I talked to the pitching coach about what my role was going to be and what I need to be prepared for. So, because I had planned on pitching through October with the Nationals, that was easy for me. My body was in shape to do that and my arm is pretty resilient just throwing year round. Being from a cold-weather place, I throw more in the offseason than most guys do anyway, I’ve come to find out. So, this will not affect me for next year in my preparation, but I did have to adjust and be ready for this.
Is there anyone going who you’re excited to play with again or get to play with?
I played with Evan Longoria with Team USA after the season in 2007, we went to Taiwan. I’m excited to be his teammate again. There’s just a full roster of guys who I’ve admired in baseball who I get to play with. It should be fun.
Are you bringing the amazing CATS sweater (purchased at the Mall of America) to Japan with you?
— Jerry Blevins (@JerryBlevins_13) November 5, 2014
I will not be bringing it to Japan… It’s a purchase that I’m proud of and I break it out probably once a year. The back of it has little paw prints so it’s pretty nice. I don’t know if you can tell, there are yarn balls the little cats are playing it. The string that connects that is an actual string.
Was it cool for you to find yourself listed on Sports Illustrated’s Twitter 100?
Yeah, so cool! Completely shocked by that because I do tweet, but I don’t tweet a ton. But I admire the Twitter world,and to be mentioned by Sports Illustrated was very cool. I think there were only three ballplayers on there, so I’m pretty honored to be a part of that.
A little pressure going forward. But, no, that’s what I love about Twitter. There’s no pressure to perform. It’s just your personality. If people don’t like it they can unfollow me. That’s what’s great. That’s what I love about it. I’m glad the people over at SI understood my sense of humor and get what I do with it.
I asked for the Jayson Werth BEARD for the playoffs and got this instead. pic.twitter.com/mgPU4tEojy
— Jerry Blevins (@JerryBlevins_13) September 30, 2014
— Jerry Blevins (@JerryBlevins_13) September 17, 2014
by Amanda Comak
Desmond and Rendon were honored as Louisville Slugger Silver Slugger Award winners, voted as the best-hitting shortstop and third baseman, respectively, in the National League.
“Our entire organization is exceptionally proud of Ian and Anthony,” said Nationals President of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo. “These awards confirm what we already knew: that they are two of the best offensive infielders in the game, and we consider them equally talented defensively. After the seasons each of these homegrown players put together, we’re honored that they did it with our uniform on their backs.”
This is the third such honor for Desmond, who notched his third consecutive 20-home run, 20-stolen base campaign this past season, and the first for Rendon, who established himself as one of the best young talents in the game during his sophomore season in the big leagues.
This is just the second time in the Nationals’ short history that they’ve had multiple players earn the National League’s top offensive award in the same season (also 2012).
“I’m extremely humbled and blessed to have won this award for the third straight year,” Desmond said. “It’s a testament to my teammates, who surround me in the lineup, the trainers – Lee Kuntz, Steve Gober and John Hsu – for keeping me on the field, and obviously the coaching staff for bringing out the best in me every day.
“As much of an honor as this is, I still feel like there are a lot of things I can improve on, and will improve on. I’m going to continue to work hard so I can be better next year.”
Leading all NL shortstops with 154 games played, Desmond hit .255 with a .313 on-base percentage and a .430 slugging percentage in 2014. He also led all NL shortstops in home runs (24) and RBI (91), while finishing second in hits (151), runs (73), and placing among the top 10 in doubles (T-4th, 26), triples (10th, 3), and walks (7th, 46).
As this is the third consecutive season in which Desmond has been named a Silver Slugger Award winner at shortstop — making him the first Nationals player ever to take home three such awards – he now finds himself in elite company. Since the inception of the award in 1980, Desmond is the first National League shortstop to win back-to-back-to-back honors since Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin won five straight from 1988-1992.
Desmond also joins Edgar Renteria and Larkin as the only NL shortstops to win the award at least three times.
Adding 24 stolen bases to his 24 home runs this season, Desmond became just the fourth shortstop in Major League history to notch a 20/20 season at least three times in his career.
“It is that package,” manager Matt Williams said after Desmond hit the milestone. “It’s speed and power… He’s got the ability to do a lot of things. When he puts it together, it’s speed and power, and he’s shown that this year.”
Rendon, who established himself as one of the league’s best infielders in a breakout season, played both second and third base for the Nationals in 2014.
“While I don’t play this game for the individual accolades, I’m incredibly honored to receive this award and to be mentioned in the same breath as these great players — especially my teammate and friend, Ian Desmond,” Rendon said.
“I would like to thank all of the coaches, trainers and teammates who I’ve been with along the way. Without them, I wouldn’t be in a position to accept this.”
Rendon hit .287 with a .351 on-base percentage and a .473 slugging percentage. Leading the National League in runs scored with 111, Rendon clubbed 21 home runs as part of 66 extra-base hits, while walking 58 times and stealing 17 bases.
Exclusively as a third baseman, where he played 134 of his 153 games, Rendon hit .288 with a .353 on-base percentage and a .475 slugging percentage. Nineteen of his 21 home runs came while he was playing the hot corner, as did 53 of his 66 extra-base hits, 72 of his 83 RBI and 89 of his 111 runs scored.
“He’s a very, very impressive player,” Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels told The Washington Post late in the 2014 season. “I put him up with the [Troy] Tulowitzkis and the David Wrights when they first came up, those impact players you don’t normally see at such a young age. You know they’re only going to get better, and you’re like, ‘Great.’ He’s that type of guy — one of those superstars that’s going to be around forever.”
Rendon, who earned himself the nickname ‘Tony Two Bags’ because of his penchant for doubles, finished the year with 16 three-hit games – tied for the third-best mark in the NL with Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman and San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey.
According to Fangraphs.com, Rendon’s 6.6 Wins Above Replacement for the 2014 season was tops among all NL infielders, and second only to Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (6.8).
NATIONALS TO WIN LOUISVILLE SILVER SLUGGER AWARDS (2005-2014)
2006 OF Alfonso Soriano
2009 3B Ryan Zimmerman
2010 3B Ryan Zimmerman
2012 SS Ian Desmond, 1B Adam LaRoche, P Stephen Strasburg
2013 SS Ian Desmond
2014 SS Ian Desmond, 3B Anthony Rendon
by Amanda Comak
The Washington Nationals welcomed Bob Miller to their front office staff today, naming him Vice President and Assistant General Manager.
Miller, who will assist in all facets of baseball operations, comes to the Nationals after nine seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, serving most recently as Vice President and Assistant General Manager to Reds’ President of Baseball Operations and GM Walt Jocketty.
In that role, Miller had a hand in all aspects of baseball operations, including arbitration cases, contract negotiations, rules, player evaluations, and departmental budgeting.
Joining the Nationals for his 33rd season in professional baseball, Miller reunites with Rizzo for the first time since the two worked together for seven years with the Arizona Diamondbacks. There they helped build the 2001 World Series championship team, and take Arizona’s Minor League system from No. 29 (as ranked by Baseball America) to No. 1 in five years.
Miller, who initially joined the Reds in Feb., 2006, as Director of Baseball Administration under then-GM Wayne Krivsky, quickly moved through the ranks in Cincinnati. He was promoted to Assistant General Manager in June of 2006 and in Dec., 2006, was named Vice President and Assistant GM.
During his time with the Reds, the team improved from a sub-.500 club to win two division championships and earn three playoff appearances. In 2012, the Reds were also named Baseball America’s Organization of the Year.
Prior to joining the Reds, Miller spent seven seasons with the Diamondbacks — first as Assistant Director of Scouting, then Director of Baseball Operations, and the final three as Assistant General Manager, where he oversaw the organization’s Minor League player development from 2004-05. In 2005, the Diamondbacks were named TOPPS’ Minor League Organization of the Year.
Miller joined the Diamondbacks with 16 years of Minor League experience on his resume, including 14 years at the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, and stops as Vice President of Baseball Operations in the independent Texas-Louisiana League office, along with serving as executive GM of that league’s Amarillo Dillas club.
Miller, 50, graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in finance.
by Amanda Comak
The Washington Nationals exercised their option on Denard Span’s contract on Thursday, securing the center fielder’s services for the 2015 season, which will be Span’s third in the District.
In exercising the option, the Nationals answered one of their first offseason questions, and ensured that the talented leadoff man will remain atop their lineup and patrolling center field for at least one more season.
“We knew when we acquired Denard from the Minnesota Twins two years ago what type of player we were getting,” said Nationals President of Baseball Operations & General Manager Mike Rizzo. “And he’s done nothing but bear that out the last two seasons.
“Denard was arguably our most consistent offensive player in 2014, keying so much of our offensive production, and his defense in center field is Gold Glove-caliber on a nightly basis. We’re excited to keep him in the fold for the 2015 season.”
Span is coming off perhaps his finest professional season, finishing the 2014 campaign batting .302 with a .355 on-base percentage, a .415 slugging percentage and a career-best 31 stolen bases. He set a Nationals (2005-present) record for hits in a season with 184, and reeled off a 36-game on-base streak from June 28 – Aug. 12 that jumpstarted both his season and the Nationals’ offense.
Over the course of the streak, Span hit .396 with a .463 on-base percentage, and a .458 slugging percentage. It seemed almost every time he made contact the ball found a hole and the 30-year-old found a way to get on base. His BABIP during the stretch: a ridiculous .442.
The Nationals went 21-15 in that stretch, catapulting themselves from a tie with the Atlanta Braves atop the National League East Division to a five-game lead over them by the time the streak ended.
“I couldn’t be more excited to return for another year in D.C,” Span said after he was informed his option was exercised.
For the second consecutive year, Span is a finalist for the Rawlings Gold Glove Award, the winners of which will be announced on Nov. 4.
Additionally, the Nationals declined to exercise their options on first baseman Adam LaRoche and right-hander Rafael Soriano. They will become free agents. Asdrubal Cabrera, Scott Hairston and Nate Schierholtz became free agents upon the conclusion of the 2014 World Series.
A version of this story first appeared in the Washington Nationals’ 2014 Yearbook. Visit nationals.com/publications to find out how you can subscribe to all Nationals publications.
by Amanda Comak
The Nationals’ Baseball Research & Development department, utilizing the latest technology, statistics and advanced analysis, drives the organization to forge a new, smarter way forward.
Leaning on the dugout railing at Arizona’s Chase Field in mid-May, Phil Rizzo gazed at the Washington Nationals as they took batting practice. He talked ball with those nearest to him, sharing some of his observations about the team his son — Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo — had built, and the first six weeks of their season.
At one point, Sam Mondry-Cohen, the Nationals’ Director of Baseball Research & Development, joined the small gathering.
Phil Rizzo, a baseball lifer who’s spent more of his 84 years evaluating ballplayers than he has doing pretty much anything else, lit up.
“This is the smartest guy around,” Rizzo said, smiling and reaching to throw an arm around Mondry-Cohen.
Much like his father, Mike Rizzo is a scout at his core. What his eyes tell him — what his experience tells him — will often be the trump card when he makes decisions to guide the organization, now and in the future.
But there is another side of that decision-making process and it involves more than just the eyes. The Nationals have taken a proactive approach to incorporating data analysis into their evaluations, and their three-man analyst team — led by Assistant GM & Director of Baseball Operations Adam Cromie, and filled out by Mondry-Cohen and Manager of Baseball Research & Development Michael Debartolo — plays an integral role in how the organization operates.
And as the scene between the elder Rizzo and the 26-year-old Mondry-Cohen so aptly illustrated, they’re also welcome additions at the table.
“Mike embraces what we do,” Cromie said. “He asks good questions and he puts us in a place where we’re central to a lot of the decisions (the team) makes. Other people in the organization see that and that helps lend us credibility.
“I think one of the things Mike really embraces about the way that we look at the game is that there’s a definitive line of reasoning with everything we do. We’re pointing to evidence, almost exclusively. I think there’s something, by nature, which lends credibility to that.”
Cromie studied economics at Allegheny College, while playing Division III football, before pursuing his masters in Sports Management from the University of Massachusetts. He came to the Nationals after working for Baseball Info Solutions as a video scout and analyst, spending time employed by an agent, and interning for the Washington Wild Things in the Frontier League.
When he began working for the Nationals, there wasn’t much of an analytics department to speak of.
“(When I first got here) it was just Adam,” said Mondry-Cohen, who joined the Nationals as an intern while studying English at the University of Pennsylvania. “He was the only one whose job was really dedicated to working with data, whereas now I think that’s part of all three of our jobs, and the majority of my job and Mike (DeBartolo’s).”
The son of a high school math teacher, Mondry-Cohen had two main interests as a kid: baseball and numbers. Living what he calls “a very charmed baseball life,” Mondry-Cohen worked as a batboy in the visiting clubhouse in San Francisco and he’d see the teams that would come in to play the Giants up-close-and-personal.
“The way I followed the game was the numbers of the game,” Mondry-Cohen explained. “That kind of coincided with the explosion of baseball blogs and baseball research published online. I was just a big fan and that was the way I followed the game.”
With Mondry-Cohen aboard full-time upon his graduation, Cromie’s role expanded to encompass more than data analysis. Cromie is now involved in every player personnel move the team makes.
“When I first started, I was doing analysis and research,” Cromie said. “As we started to build tools and analytical systems, it started to give me time to do other things. Then I hired Sam, Sam hired Mike, and we’ve got a lot of consultants we work with now.”
In 2012, after four years at an investment consulting firm and in the midst of completing his MBA at Columbia University, DeBartolo joined the organization as an intern.
An economics major at Tufts University, DeBartolo grew up in baseball-mad Boston following the Red Sox — and noticing as their front office personnel began to shift.
“It was around the time that some executives with non-traditional backgrounds were getting into the game,” said DeBartolo, who was hired full-time by the Nationals in November of 2013. “And that was always kind of a dream of mine.”
DeBartolo’s addition gave the group yet another mind from which to draw, and to divide up a workload that has only continued to increase.
“I think the tasks that we do as an analytics group fall into three categories,” Cromie said. “There are broad strategic issues, ad-hoc projects and general research.
“We have a lot of input on the broad strategy we adopt as a team on almost every level: how do we want to spend resources? Where do we want to spend resources? I think a lot of that falls out of how competitive we think we are, and one of our strengths is being able to analyze that.”
What separates the Nationals’ analytics team from, say, the fan who accesses advanced statistics in myriad places online, is the information they have to complement those numbers. In truth, it may actually be the other way around: the statistics complement the wealth of internal information the organization gathers.
“We’d call it a process-driven box score,” Cromie said.
Across the organization — including Minor League affiliates — the Nationals have installed tracking systems that measure everything from the traditional PITCHf/x information (utilized by live game trackers like MLB.com’s At-Bat app to plot balls and strikes) as well as a radar technology called TrackMan.
“That gives us data that’s not available in a box score,” Mondry-Cohen said. “Some of it a scout could pick up with a radar gun, like pitch velocity, but one thing they can’t get is the exit velocity of a hit ball. We know what some of the hardest-hit balls were, and whether or not they turned into hits.”
The technology goes deeper still.
At all levels of their system, including the Major Leagues, the Nationals can evaluate a pitcher’s release point in three dimensions throughout the game to note changes, like how the rotation of their pitches or velocity was affected when they altered their release point.
Used in conjunction with other internal information, like medical reports from the team’s training staff, the group can put together a far more accurate analysis of the data than someone operating off the numbers alone. That the Nationals have access to all of it exemplifies the organization’s interest in the information.
“It costs a lot to install these technologies at these affiliates,” Mondry-Cohen said. “And that’s not something we had five or six years ago. That’s something ownership has invested in. The only reason we have (a lot of these) measurements is because of the technology we’ve paid to install.”
The task then falls to Cromie, Mondry-Cohen and DeBartolo to process the information and turn it into something the entire front office can understand and absorb.
On any given game night, Cromie, Mondry-Cohen and DeBartolo will watch from one of three spots: the GM’s suite, the scout seats in the stands, or at their desks, which have televisions within view. How much they each watch varies.
“There was a time when I made an effort not to watch the games,” Cromie said. “I’ve really gotten away from that, largely because I think I’ve come around to the idea that a lot of the things we do can really inform the way you watch a game and make it more enjoyable.”
“For me, it’s very difficult to just watch the game,” DeBartolo said. “Every once in a while I find myself drifting into a fandom where I’m rooting for something to happen, but I think a lot of times we’re thinking through and watching closely the approach of a player, fielding position, all of the decision making that can happen. I think it’s less about a rooting sense and more a sense of evaluating.”
In Spring Training, the group had multiple meetings with Nationals Manager Matt Williams and his staff as they got to know one another and discuss philosophies. The exchange of ideas was another step.
“They’ve been extremely open,” Mondry-Cohen said of Williams and his staff. “They’ve wanted as much data as they can get and I think the things that they want are kind of allied with some of the things Mike (Rizzo) likes — predictive statistics, as opposed to history. They’re asking for more decision-making tools and we’re happy that they’re asking for it.”
“I think Matt views statistical analysis as a tool and as a new manager he wants every tool at his disposal that he can have,” DeBartolo added. “I have great respect for that, for being open-minded and trying to get every advantage he can have.”
The calendar dictates the more detailed work that the group does. In early May, they prepare for the MLB First-Year Player Draft. As the All-Star break approaches, they’re assessing the team’s strengths and weaknesses, and identifying potential trade partners in advance of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. As the calendar inches toward fall, their focus turns toward the postseason, then free agency and the rest of the offseason — working to hone their projections and convey them properly.
Regardless of the specifics, all of the data they’re gathering and digesting on a daily basis will be utilized.
And, in the process, they’re continuing to evolve an organization built on the bedrock of scouting and player development by augmenting and improving those evaluations. The Nationals are a scouting-first organization, and there is no desire to replace the boots-on-the-ground work of those trusted scouts.
The hope is the work Cromie, Mondry-Cohen and DeBartolo do will only serve to complement and support it.
“It’s not (Rizzo’s) forte, conducting data-based research,” Mondry-Cohen said. “He’s a scout — a great scout — and that’s where he came up. But even if it’s not his forte, I think it’s something he really has interest in. He definitely wants it to be a part of his process. I think we’ve grown together, but he’s always been interested. He’s such a baseball guy. We’re researching baseball.”
“It’s a two-way street,” Cromie added. “We’ve learned a lot from him, too.”