Nationals Baseball: April 2010

Friday, April 30, 2010

Pudge on Pudge

Bill Ladson interviewed Pudge recently and it's always interesting to me to hear a player's take on himself, especially when they are doing particularly well or poorly. In theory a player should have the best view of what is happening in his season, but often our own biases get in the way of a proper analysis. Is this the case for Pudge? Let's find out. You are off to one of your best starts of your career. Why?

Rodriguez: ...I've had some better luck than I did the last two, two and a half years. The last two and a half years, I hit the ball hard, but right at people. I'm still doing the same things -- hitting the ball pretty solidly, finding holes, and they are falling in the outfield...

Analysis: We would expect, if Pudge was right, to see his LD% to be about career average the past 3 years (hitting the ball hard) but the BABIP to be abnormally low in 2008 and 2009 (right at people).

LD% (Career 22.4%) 2008: 20.2% 2009: 18.5% 2010: 23.6%

BABIP (Career .323) 2008: .316 2009: .294 2010: .436

Result: Pudge was NOT hitting the ball hard the past 2 1/2 years (LD rate 19.4% in 2007) and he is getting worse. However, to his credit, his "get this guy out of baseball" 2009 might have been a little bid because of bad luck. The elephant in the room though is that even though some of his improvement in 2010 is because of better hitting it is BY FAR because of good luck. Has there been a mechanical adjustment when it comes to your swing?

Rodriguez: ...What I'm doing right now is being more selective, hitting strikes and trying to put the ball in play.

Analysis: If this is the case then we'd expect to see Pudge swinging at a lower pecentage of pitches outside the strike zone and maybe higher percentage of pitches in the strike zone. We'd expect to see a higher contact rate if he was trying harder to put balls in play (then say trying to drive the ball)

% pitches swung out outside the strike zone: 2009: 39.3% 2010: 38.0%

% pitches swung out inside the strike zone: 2009: 75.8% 2010: 69.1%

% pitches contact was made on : 2009 : 77.0% 2010: 82.3%

% pitches contact was made on outside the strike zone : 2009 : 59.6% 2010: 71.7%

Results: He's sort of right. His contact rate is up and the best since 2002 (which is as far back as fangraphs goes), so he is probably being more selective and trying to find balls that he can put into play. But they aren't strikes. He's actually swinging at fewer strikes. The big difference is he's making far more contact on pitches outside the strike zone. When you reach the 3,000-hit plateau, what would that mean to you?

Rodriguez:...To reach a milestone like that, there are not too many players who can reach that mark and get to 3,000 hits as a catcher. It's pretty awesome....

Analysis/Result: Pudge is selling himself waaaay short here. He is closing in on having 400 more hits than the next best catcher (Fisk). He'll likely finish his career with only one catcher within ~700 hits of him. To reach 3000 would be pretty awesome, but what Pudge has done already is pretty awesome too.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hey, Kasten, I can't see real good..

[ lifts his glasses off and on his face ] that the 2005 Nats over there?

Well, actually, Harper, Boswell and I have encouraged the comparis...

Kasten, I wish you could just shut your big yapper!

(thanks SNL transcripts!)

Dempster outpitched Atilano, Bruney tried really hard to lose it, but the Nats still won another close game. That's 8 of 12 wins decided by 2 runs or less. Reminds me of simpler times when velour tracksuits hung in the GM office and the manager drifted off to sleep sometime before the end of the national anthem.

Given the Nats are more a 8-14 team than a 12-10 team pretty soon we're going to get into that territory where the "Why can't the gritty Nats bear down their red-asses and keep grittily winning in a never-say-die, gritty, old-school, dirty, hard-nosed kind of way........Gritty!" fans start to clash with the "Well, 95 times out of 100 this type of team will begin to play at a level commensurate with their ability" kids. This was what June-August 2005 was all about.

Ah, those were good times. I like being right.

This team isn't the 2005 Nats because they have good players coming (Strasburg and Storen) rather than the Junior Spiveys and Preston Wilsons of old, so the longer they keep this up the less precipitous will likely be the fall back. But still the main difference between that team and this one is that this team could be legitimately good in 2-3 years, while that one was a one year wonder with no future. That's what makes 2010 so exciting, not a run at the playoffs. (and trust me that talk will come if they keep winning)

Quick Stats & a thought

Nats Pitching
190 1/3 IP, 1.46 WHIP 4.82 ERA
Nats Pitching excluding Livan, Clippard, & Capps
131 1/3 IP, 1.68 WHIP 6.65 ERA

Nats Relievers
78 IP, 1.37 WHIP 3.92 ERA
Nats Relievers excluding Clippard & Capps
50 IP, 1.54 WHIP 5.76 ERA

Nats Starters
112 1/3 IP, 1.51 WHIP 5.45 ERA
Nats Starters excluding Livan
81 1/3 IP, 1.76 WHIP 7.19 ERA

Fawn over the players, and fawn over the manager if you must. But before you fawn over the front office, please remember that if they had it their way the player most responsible for the Nats .500 start would not have been on this team.

(side thought - I never got a chance to say this yesterday but Nats fans should thank Sweet Lou for sending out a righty heavy lineup versus John Lannan yesterday. The end result didn't turn out the way the Nats wanted, but with lefties smashing John for a .542 / .538 / .792. line coming into the game, the Cubs lineup certainly helped the Nats stay in that game. It must have taken an incredible commitment to old school tactics to ignore that line.)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Nats with the Curl in their hair

Yesterday I pointed out that Boswell's assertion, that the Nats were succeeding because of depth, was crazy. But I can't say something like that and not come up with an alternate reason.

Usually all it takes is a simple glance at the stats. How is the offense doing? 9th in average, 6th in OBP, 9th in slugging. That's alright, I guess, but it wouldn't explain the Nats coming away with a few more wins than last year. Maybe they are just hitting better at the right times? Nope - 9th in average, 11th in slugging with RISP.

What about the pitching? Even less explanation here, a starter ERA of 5.72 (14th in the NL), a reliever ERA of 4.03 (7th in the NL). Nope, there's no simple explanation to be had here.

Now of course there is one thing. The Nats are 6-3 still in one and two run games. I guess I could say "luck" and be done with it, but I don't think that's being fair either.

What I think is going on is that there is two distinct Nats teams out there.

Team 1 is a team that gets a good start, turns the ball over to Clippard and Capps, and closes out the close win.

Team 2 is a team doesn't get a good start and/or gets to the Nats other relievers. The Nats lose.

That's it. I know that may seem simplistic and sure it's in part by design (Clippard and Capps will only pitch in the games the Nats can win), but Clippard and Capps have been so good AND the Nats bad starts and bad relievers have been so bad AND the offense is so unable to crush another team BUT able to score some runs that it really is an either/or situation. Good Start + Clippard + Capps = Win. Anything else = Loss.

How many games have the Nats won out of 10 that didn't feature a good start and Clippard/Capps pitching the majority of relief innings?

Three - Livan's complete game, Livan's first game where Bruney and Bergmann pitched as many innings as Capps (though Bruney almost blew it), and Lannan's win against the Brewers where Bruney and Burnett pitched for more innings than Capps. That last win is the only win the Nats have had when they used the bullpen after a good start and the majority of relief innings worth a damn weren't pitched by Clippard and Capps. There are no bad start wins. There are no other good start wins that feature other relief pitchers.

How many games have the Nats lost out of 10 that feature a good start and Clippard and Capps pitching the majority of relief innings?

Zero. Clippard and Capps have not blown anything.

How many games have the Nats lost out of 10 that feature a good start?

Three. Livan getting outdueled (Bruney pitched in relief), the extra-inning loss to the Dodgers (Capps threw 2 scoreless, Batista lost it but in his third inning of relief), and last nights game where Bruney blew it. Or to look at it another way - the Nats have had one good start where the non Capps/Clippard bullpen pitched more than 2 good innings, that extra inning game with LA.

The Nats don't have the offense to generate enough runs to win a slugfest. They don't have a good enough bullpen to hold down the fort if they get a less than quality start. They don't have the arms to win many games if they can't simplify the pitching down to Clippard and Capps. The Nats have gotten 7 wins out of a formula that has little room for error and in the process have ridden Clippard to the 3rd most innings in relief in the NL (with 14.2) and Capps to a nice 11.1 which is a bunch. It's a formula for success, but for how long, or more the more accurate question, is it long enough to last until Storen and Strasburg can get to the majors... I'm not sure.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Together Again... Harper and Boswell are together again.

Nats won. Olsen looked good. Great.


God, I hate this man's writing. Ok, not the real writing, like the words chosen or the phrasing or all that. The man can write. But the ideas behind it are just sooooo dumb. Please someone from DC explain to me again how great he once was, since I wasn't there and didn't read it. I'm like a 15 year-old and he's Michael Jackson. That freak? He was once the most popular man in music?

If you don't feel like reading it here's the gist.

If you win, you care. If you lose, you don't care.

The Nats team in 2005? Cared like a prison team. The team the last few years? Didn't care just like all those losing teams from the Redskins and Wizards the last few decades. Which ones didn't care? The losing ones. Which ones did care? The winning ones. OF COURSE.

Here is a list of teams that Boswell believes have players that care:

Tampa, Yankees, Toronto, Minnesota, Detroit, Oakland, Philadelphia, Florida, St. Louis, San Diego, San Francisco, and Colorado

Here is a list of team that Boswell believes have players that wash off losses like loose dirt and then get in their fancy cars and drive away without a care in the world:

Boston, Baltimore, Cleveland, White Sox, Kansas City, Seattle, Texas, Mets, Atlanta, Cubs, Houston, Milaukee, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Arizona, and Los Angeles

(What's the big deal about the Nats streak? The teams the beat up on don't even care about winning!)

You are writing about a baseball team, Boswell, not a 25-man club of American legends. John Henry isn't batting cleanup. Paul Bunyan isn't robbing homeruns. You can come up with actual reasons they've won more games this year without resorting to the hackneyed beliefs of a 1940's beat man calling in game reports to KL5-3000.

(and no it's not depth. If it were depth that would mean guys coming off the bench, or replacing injured teammates, or the last reliever or starter was doing well. That's not the case. Capps and Clippard are the only relievers doing well. Livan is the 3rd starter. Pudge is the starting catcher. It's something, but it's not depth.)

They are better than last year. They have also been a bit lucky. Why can't fans be happy with just that?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Commenter Beach Party!

Without the beach!

Yesterday's game was as expected, as Riggleman threw a "hope the other team is laughing so hard they can't pick the ball up and everyone hits inside the park home-runs!" lineup out there. They did not laugh. The Nats got no inside the park home runs.

A few days ago commenter Hoo mentioned that he was no longer buying the from quantity comes quality arms theory. That got me thinking. How many elite major league pitchers were not 1st round picks? I went over to and looked up the Top 10 in ERA last year in the NL and AL. The breakdown was as follows.

  • 11 1st round picks, 3 amateur free agents, 1 each in 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 11th, and 38th rounds (Randy Wells since you must know)

That's not exactly what I was looking for however. Any year can have a freak guy showing up in the ERA. What about the last three seaons and looking at ERA plus? A similar pattern emerges

  • 8 1st round picks, 4 amatuer free agents, 3 2nd rounders, 1 each in 3rd, 4th, 8th, 15th, and 23rd (Ted Lilly - what is it about these Cubbies?)

It's more top heavy the higher you go though - 5 of the the Top 11 (with 2 FAs), 3 of the Top 5 (with one FA). The point is that you are far more likely to get an special pitcher by drafting a pitcher everyone thinks is special, rather than drafting a bunch of very good pitchers and hoping one turns out to be special. Quantity is nice, but the difference makers are not hiding. Yes, I mean Strasburg, but you know who I also mean? Luis Atilano - drafted in the 1st round (albeit with a compensation pick) Just something to keep an eye on.

Commenter Bryan brought up yesterday a common theme that's followed Nats discussions this seasons so far. Basically - "The Phillies are so good that they screw up everything". Their lineup is so overwhelming and the Nats have played them so many times - that that's a big reason why the Nats pitching looks so bad. Ok. Let's see.

Phillies Bats vs Nats: .315 / .406 / .535
Phillies Bats vs Everyone else: .263 / .335 / .404
Other Bats vs Nats : .257 / .410 /.431

Hmmm. What if we pull Livan from the numbers. He's been super hot and he never faced the Phillies.

Other Bats vs Nats (-Livan) : .288 / .459 / .471

Well there's something here. The Phillies did slug the Nats at a much higher level than other teams, but they got on base far less (Jesus - a .459 OBP? Really?). So they did hurt the Nats pitching a bit more than if the Nats had faced a team of Joe Q Averages. But the Phillies also hit a LOT worse against guys that didn't have Washington written across their chests. What it all means that in the battle of what mattered more, the Phillies awesomeness or the Nats suckitude, the Nats suckitude wins by a landslide.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hey look Regression! There's Mean! Let's go say hi!

UPDATE: Hey I was kind of right about Marquis.

Chris over at Capitol Punishment notes that the Nats have a pretty easy schedule coming up. So much so that you can see them staying around .500 (or better) until the halfway point of the season. That's looking at the opposition. What if we take a look at the Nats?

Let's admit the Nats have caught some breaks that led them to be 8-7 right now. Don't think of that as a bad thing. It's a great thing. These games are done and no one can take them away from the Nats. As long as the Nats up their play a little bit they can take advantage of what amounts to money in the bank to end up a few wins higher than they probably should be talent-wise.

But can they up their play a little bit? Is the Nats current lineup filled with overachievers waiting to crash? Or underachievers that might rise up to counteract the likely evening out of luck?

Pudge : Over .444 / .469 / . 600. Even if you named your first born child Pudge (and what a lovely girl she is) you have to admit Pudge is going to crash at some point. Hard.

Dunn : Under .191 / .387 / .315. The OBP is about right but the power is WAY under what he should do. Expect a nice run of homers soon.

Kennedy : Push .237 / .318 /.316. If you had me bet, I'd say he'd slightly improve but I don't feel strongly enough to guarantee it. He's in a talent/age range that he could be done.

Guzman : Over .341 / .386 / .659. Guzman can be good. He can't be this good.

Desmond : Push 256 / .356 / .436. Really, we don't know.

Zimmerman : Push .341 / .386 / .659. Kind of like the Bizarro Kennedy. I'd probably bet on a slide but he's in the talent/age range where he could be becoming a superstar.

Rigth Field: Push The average should go up (Harris is hitting .192, Maxwell .231) but the OBPs and SLGs are on target if not too high. Keeping Taveras on the bench is the key in any case.

Morgan: Just slightly Under. Morgan's average should go up a little bit but like Right Field his OBP (.371) and SLG (.385) are about on target. The production should improve but just a hair overall.

Willingham : Over .327 / .427 /.592 I liked Willingham to have a career year (I told the Mets guy. I did!) but this is too much.

Starting Pitching: Push at least until Strasburg comes. Marquis should be much better (unless he's injured). Livan should be much worse (I mean he's nearly perfect now). Lannan may get slightly better. Anyone want to guarantee better consistent pitching from anyone else? It should get slightly better even before Strasburg but again - I'm not betting on it.

Relief Pitching: Under While Capps and Clippard at this point could hardly be better and should get worse, every other spot outside of Jesse English is at 4.91 ERA or higher. That can't stand. Maybe Mock comes and replaces Batista with a 4.50 ERA in long relief. Maybe Burnett settles down to a 4.00 ERA. Tyler Walker to a 4.50. I'm not talking great pitching here, but a unified improvement that should in total have an effect.

Looking at the team, the offense, which is pretty average (though remarkably consistent), should get worse. And if Zimmerman is down... I don't want to think about that. The pitching though has lots of room for improvement, especially the pen, but I'm not sure the talent is there for a BIG improvement. And how much will a better bullpen matter if the starting pitching is giving up 5+ runs and the offense starts to drop?

It's things like this that make me agree with FJB, and think a Strasburg call up is advised. I don't see where a big improvement is going to come otherwise. Marquis maybe. If he's ok. That's it.

The iron is hot. It might not be this hot again.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How did the pitching get worse? M - A - R - Q...

Let's get past the point that hanging out there. Yes, the Nats have a better record than last year at this point (7-7 vs 3-11). But as has been pointed out before, most nicely over at De civitate sabermetricarum, that's more a product of luck than actual better production. It is even more apparent after last night because even though the Nats have scored more runs than last year through 14 games (69 to 61 by my calculation) they've also given up more (89 to 81).

Ruminate on that for a minute.

Done? I'll give you one more.

The Nats 2009 pitching staff, that bane of every baseball fan that loves a well tossed game, the group that in a mere 3 weeks dug the team into a hole into which the light of hope could not penetrate, was actually doing a better job in some respects through 14 games than the current staff.

Pop quiz hot shot - which National has the second best ERA of any pitcher that has started a game in 2010? That's right Garrett Mock! The guy they sent down for not being good enough. This is amazing. How did it get so bad so quickly? Again!

Well it's fairly simple. Marquis has been incredibly bad. Amazingly so. I know it's probably wrong to put it all on one guy, but this is the only thing this season that has been outside of expectations. Bad 4th and 5th starters? No shock. Bad relief pitching outside a couple guys? Yawn. Both of those would be right in line with last year, meaning we would expect as bad a pitching staff except the Nats changed up something. They brought in Marquis. Marquis, on the other hand, was supposed to be the difference maker that was going to give the pitching some positive momentum. Instead he's been historically bad. Only 7 other times since 1970 has a starting pitcher started his season giving up at least 6 earned runs in his first three games. It's not a great group to be in.

Jack Morris (1993) : Pretty much done at this point.
Jack McDowell (1997) : Pretty much done.
Dan Perkins (1999) : Would never pitch in the majors again
Mike Hampton (2002) : OK, he would have a some good pitching left in his arm... when he could pitch.
Hayden Penn (2006) : converted to reliever, 3 years later made majors and pitched poorly
Edgar Gonzalez (2004) : He actually had 4 such starts in a row. Has since been converted to a long reliever with just enough skill to hang around.

Now if you want to be positive Marquis really doesn't resemble 4 of these guys. Penn, Perkins, and Gonzalez were not anywhere as successful as Marquis has been and Morris was at the end of his career. You are best to compare him to Hampton or McDowell. Of course neither comparison is good news for Nats fans. Hampton would be injured on and off most of his career. McDowell broke in 1997. That's something else to be worried about - outside of Morris and Hampton, I didn't see a single full year thrown by any of these guys. This would make sense though, wouldn't it? No matter how you feel about the signing and Marquis, he is not THIS bad. Years of baseballl have taught us that. He very well could be injured.

Speaking of the signing, despite what I've said so far, what you won't find me saying is that Marquis was a bad signing at the time. The Nats needed to try to get innings. They had to. The cost was fair. The contract was short. And most importantly THERE IS NO MONEY BUCKET! The Nats, and every team, can and should spend on both the majors and minors at the same time. Fans don't need to be encouraging owners not to spend money on both by saying blanket statements like "Why is team X with no hope of the playoffs signing free agents?" People who say that need punches in faces.

If you're counting you'll notice that I only gave you 6 starters for 7 such awful season beginnings. There is a reason for that. The 7th one is ALSO on the Nats roster, Mr. Chien-Ming Wang. Don't get your hopes up there.


This past weekend Nyjer Morgan tried to get the nickname "Track Nats" some play since the Nats led the league in stolen bases at the time (they don't anymore). It's a nice try but it doesn't do it for me. That's not totally surprising. Players are notorious nowadays for lame nicknames that are little more than shortened versions of the players real name, Zimm or Guz or Cappy. While Nyjer has shown himself to be much more creative than that, "Tony Plush" is far less "Preacher Roe" and far more "Sasha Fierce". Really, it's a timing issue though. It's going to be hard to keep up the nickname "Track Nats" when the Nats are middle of the pack in the league in stolen bases. Might as well call them the "Golden Arm-y" because their pitching is so great.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say this team doesn't quite yet deserve a nickname. 7-6 is nice but let's not get ahead of ourselves here. (and if they do get nicknamed I vote for the "Capitol Hitters" which works great since the popularity of the basis of that nickname has never died.)

Last night was good, but I don't read much into it. Stammen wasn't going to go 3 innings every start, but I still don't see him as a viable major league starter. Now tonight, this is interesting. If the team is going to maintain being good until Strasburg comes up I think Olsen is key.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The inverse is also true

I'll get to Marquis later but you know I can't pass up a good media beatdown. Rob Dibble, baseball savant, had a little piece in MASN praising the Nats start and some of the moves the team has made so far. The bit that caught my attention was this gem:

...and the best signing by far was Ivan "HOF" Rodriguez. His play is infectious. His desire is remarkable. The Nationals are lucky to have this perfect teacher to watch.

It's fine to praise Ivan Rodriguez for his job with Nats this year but you have to understand the totality of what you are saying. Dibble is dangerously close to crediting, at least in part, the Nats hot start to the "leadership" and "attitude" and "veteranosity"of I-Rod. If you do that though you are saying that none of the veterans previously on the Nats had the leadership qualities to make a team a winner.

In other words Aaron Boone, Julian Tavarez, Ron Belliard, Livan!, Paul Lo Duca, Ray King, Dmitri Young, Tony Batista, Robert Fick, Mike Stanton, Pedro Astacio, Joey Eischen, and Royce Clayton were all lousy leaders. Now that may be true (I'm looking at you Royce Clayton. I've taken my eyeball out of its socket and shoved it in your mouth Paul LoDuca) but do you really want to say that?

Also you are saying that either Pudge didn't care to show leadership or the teams he were playing for didn't care enough the past few years.

2008 Tigers: an underacheiving 53-52 when he was traded.
2008 Yankees: an underachieving 31-26 and failed to make playoffs.
2009 Astros: 57-61 at time of trade
2009 Rangers: 21-25 again failed to make playoffs

Now Dibble didn't explicitly give this credit yet, so consider this a warning shot for him and other people looking for an easy poorly thought out story.

If you are going to praise Pudge now for veteran nonsense, be prepared to explain why these other guys listed didn't have it, and why Pudge didn't seem to care to show his leadership the past two years.

(If you are going to praise Pudge now for a freaky good start then I'll agree with you - that's been really helpful)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Latest the Nats were over .500 the past 4 seasons

The Nats have a chance to make history today. They've had incredibly poor starts the past 4 years which have led to this interesting, maddening, sadtistic. These are the latest dates the Nats had been over .500 in the past 4 years

2009: n/a
2008: Game 5 (3-2)
2007: n/a
2006: n/a

Savor the most successful Nats team of the last half-decade!

Friday, April 16, 2010



The offense is good! The offense is good?

Now that Harry Caray and Phil Rizzuto are long dead (God! Rest! Their! Souls!) I think it's time someone started saying "Holy Cow" again. Oh no, not me. My vernacular battles belong in convincing the world that Harper is a great boy's name and a stupid girl's name. But maybe Rob Dibble can take it up. God knows I'd rather hear that than his usual deep insight of "Yeah!" and "Argh!" (maybe it's because I only can see the highlights...)

The Nats won last night which is great because it's nice when you don't have to back off a modest win total projection three weeks into the season like we had to last year and the year before. The key to the not horribly sucking has been an offense that has put up at least 4 runs in seven of their 9 games. On the surface that may not seem like much, their runs per game is below average in the NL. But more than half of the NL has scored 10 runs or more in a game already. The Padres scored 17, the Braves 16, the D-Backs 15. Either the whole NL has started to mash and the Nats are going to be killed, or the Nats are simply chugging along and will slowly pass the other teams as these extreme games get evened out.

Are other teams hitting better than the Nats? Sure, but that's based mostly on average. The Nats are being incredibly patient at the plate (44 walks is second highest in the NL), and their power is perfectly acceptable (31 XBH is tied for 6th in the NL). The Nats aren't going to hit .230 for the year. That'll improve and if these other stats remain relatively constant... well we're going to see a repeat of last year's perfectly acceptable offensive output. Maybe something a little better.

The key has been getting something from nearly every spot in the lineup (excluding RF, but we all know about that debacle). Pudge has been hot, as has Willingham. Zimmerman and Desmond have been hitting with pop (when they've been connecting). Dunn is still getting on base. Guzman and Morgan have been off their games, but not to the point of really hurting the team much. Only Kennedy has struggled and issues with 2nd base aren't going to throw this team for a loop. Even with the offense not firing on full cylinders, or even 2/3rds cylinders, there is enough talent here for decent showing.

This isn't a great offense and won't be unless Desmond is something more than I think he is and Pudge really is having a shocking renaissance. It's a good offense though, for the second year in a row. It's also a pretty bad pitching staff for the second year in a row... but maybe in 2011 the Nats will compete in all aspects of the game.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

"No Plan" Stan

One thing is glaringly obvious staring into the gaping holes that are the 5th (and 4th?) starter spots and right field; Stan "The Plan" Kasten has betrayed his nickname. The Nats' goals for these spots as of the moment are non-existent. There is no carefully laid out path to the return of Zimmerman, the arrival of Strasburg, or the rebirth of Wang. There is no thought out strategy to compensate for the potential troubles that were apparent last year when Kearns was done in a Nats uniform and Elijah Dukes was struggling mightily. The Nats have turned a blind eye to these holes in hopes that mediocre major league talent might somehow successfully fill them and surprise, surprise they haven't.

Since the middle of Spring Training in right field the Nats have
  • Released Elijah Dukes
  • Named Willie Harris the opening day starter
  • Said Willie Harris and Willy Taveras would platoon
  • Started Mike Morse because the match-up was favorable
  • Called up Roger Bernandina when Morse went down
  • Called up Justin Maxwell and sent down Bernandina because the Nats were going to face lefties, even though Bernandina was a 5th OF unlikely to start.
Does that sound like a plan?

The Nats have also
  • Chose Garrett Mock for the rotation, over Scott Olsen, believing he had "#3 stuff"
  • Demoted Mock after one start in order to keep 8 men in the bullpen.
  • Brought back Olsen.

I guess at least the Nats HAD an idea of what they wanted to do with the rotation. Let Lannan, Marquis anchor the top two spots for now and see what Detwiler et al would do in the other spots until the three they really care about were ready. It was a dumb plan. You can't go into a season, even if it's just half a season, and say "Oh we're just going to see what shakes out in the 5th spot... and the 4th spot... and the 3rd spot." But it was a plan. Unfortunately for Detwiler and fortunately for us, he went down with an injury which forced the Nats to bring in Livan. Livan should eat innings, have the occasional good game, and the occasional bad one and be ready to be cut if necessary later on. Exactly the kind of guy they should have opened the season with anyway.

They had no plan what to do post-Dukes and now the Nats fans are reaping the benefits. This is especially frustrating after watching the Nats go with the "no plan" option for CF for 5 seasons. At last the Nats OF was set. It probably wasn't going to work out, but at least for a year you knew who was going to be out there and what exactly the team was looking at. Oh well.

It's frustrating but indicative of the Nats philosophy as a whole. They DO have a plan. They want to get better through development of minor league talent, which they can control cheaply for a number of years, supplementing it with a smart signing or two. But much like they had no idea what to do once Dukes was let go, or now that Mock and Stammen both look awful, the Nats have no plan for the intermediate time frame between point A and point B, between "Today" and "Winning Team". They are going to muddle through, and Nats fans are going to get a bucketload of Willy Taveraseses and Craig Stammens until they get there.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Stray Nats Thoughts

I'm out o' town and my thoughts are in other places than the Nats but some stray thoughts to let you know... I'm thinking about ya!

Mock Down I think I said before something like "start Mock for a month and if he isn't ready send him down and don't look back". Well imagine that by a "month" I meant a "day" and you have the Nats' view. I've never been a fan of Mock but this seems premature doesn't it? I'm getting freakin' tired of this.

It's not about Mock, so much. He could surely be bad enough to send back down. That's not the point. It comes down to this: If the Nats felt strongly enough to let Mock start and a mere one start later feel strong enough to send him down then it seems to me that they have no idea what they are doing. It's nice they can correct their mistakes, but they shouldn't be making so many obvious ones to begin with.

Morse Down, Bernandina Up Just let the guy start. What does it matter? Is Willie Harris the future? Is Willy Taveras? AND NOT FOR 2 GAMES THEN SEND HIM DOWN ACTING LIKE YOU DID SOMETHING SMART.

Super-Sub Guzman I realize Guzman has had a nice start but does this team really need to get Guzman as many at bats as possible?

I think it does.

Dye says no Whatever. It's his choice. The Nats aren't a playoff team and are on the other side of the country from his family. But I have a problem with this
When you get offers from a lot of teams that are in the $1 million range, that's a negative in itself, no matter what
You can't say something like that. Especially right after talking about the economy being tough. Rich people.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Again I'll say it

If the bullpen has to pitch 5 innings per game it won't matter how good it could be. The good guys will get tired and the bad guys will pitch too often.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Sweetspot comingling

If anyone is interested I answered some Q's for fellow SweetSpot blogger Joe Janish over at Mets Today.

It's ova hea.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

What you can do after 3 games

3 games is nothing in a baseball season. It's a blip. It's a dozen at bats and a single appearance. You can't draw conclusions from 3 games no matter how much one may want to because, dammit, what else is there to talk about? Craig Stammen didn't look strong? He's Craig Stammen!

Instead of drawing conclusions, it's time to focus on a few things that may be trends and keep an eye on them through the next couple series. What is there to focus on for Nats fans?

Ian Desmond's fielding It's one thing if he struggles, it's another if he maintains an error a game pace. Lannan and Mock are both contact pitchers, as is Stammen (and Wang whenever he gets here). The worse Desmond is the greater the temptation will be to put Guzman in.

Right Field Can Morse field? Can willY hit? Will it matter when Riggleman seems to happy with his "menage a trois droit"? This is not a waiting to see if things can work out. This is waiting to see how bad things get. The minor annoynace of below average or a soul-sucking black hole?

Overworking the Pen Anyone want to guess which team has thrown the most relief innings so far? The Cardinals? That's crazy! It's the Nats of course even with 4 teams playing one more game than the DC Club. This pen isn't as horrible as people may think, but that doesn't mean it's good enough to carry the load. If the Mets -Beltran/Reyes give the Nats starters issues...

Patience The Nats have never been a patient team, and if it weren't for Dunn, they'd be scraping the bottom of the NL in free passes. They were able to work a struggling Hamels, but outside of that didn't stretch the Phillies much.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

It's only game two...

Now whether you choose to read that as "everyone has a bad two game stretch" or "there's 160 more games of this crap?" is up to you.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Is this funny, sad, or comforting?

The Nats are supposedly considering playing Morse in rightfield. That's great...I guess. But I can't get past what this tells us about the Nats management.


Before Opening Day, they decide to go with a Harris/Taveras platoon, despite the obvious offensive faults of Willy with a "y". Then one game into the season, ONE GAME, they decide they don't have enough offense because they only scored one run against ROY HALLADAY, so they decide they need to make a move.


The front office really wanted Morse to start but they gave into the wishes of Jim Riggleman, for all of ONE GAME, and now are backing off of that deal showing their new manager a tremendous amount of trust.


Riggleman spoke out of turn when he said it would be Willy and Willie. Meaning he either didn't know he didn't have the power to make such a decision, or was trying to force it to be the way he would prefer it.


I don't know... Vampire aliens put Bowden back in charge of the team (let's not forget where Taveras spent last season)

If Morse starts vs lefties, good for the Nats. It means the team is better. Shame Morse can't start for the front office, too.

Monday, April 05, 2010

It begins!

But that was non alcoholic champagne!

It begins again. Need I remind you:

2006: 9-20, May 4th, 10.5 games out
2007: 9-25, May 9th, 12.5 games out
2008: 5-15, April 21st, 7.5 games out
2009: 5-17, May 1st, 8.5 games out

By May 25th the Nats will have played 13 games vs the Phillies, Rockies, and Dodgers, three teams projected to be in the playoff hunt. If the Mets and or Brewers, the other opponents in this stretch, are better than people think it could be another terrible start. The Nats' attendance can not afford another poor start. Who's got the over on 6-13?

World War Lannan : Battle 2010

There are two distinct opinions on the success of John Lannan so far. On one side there are those that look at all the numbers; the Ks (or lack there of), the walks, the homers, and see something unsustainable. On the other side are those that see the success he's had so far; and take it to be a strong basis for future success. These two groups are locked in an war for the definition of Lannan's career; as fluke or as something not yet explainable by the numbers, and 2010 is a decisive battle. If Lannan were to do well this year, can anyone seriously argue that 3+ years of good baseball is a fluke?

Well the opening salvo went to the Lannan haters. That was a embarrassing start yesterday. A complete and utter falling apart. (which really makes the signing of Marquis all that much more important, money bucketers!) With that in mind, some anti-Lannan ramblings.

There's a reason why these guys don't believe in Lannan. There have only been 5 other seasons since the strike, none since 2000, where a guy struck out so few (under 4.0 K/9), walked so many (over 2.9 BB/9) and still managed to have an adjusted ERA better than the league average as Lanna did last year. Out of those 5, only one would ever again have an above-average season (Kirk Rueter in 2002)

Tom Boswell, ever the wide, alien-sized eyed optimist, has compared Lannan a couple times at least, to some successful low-K, some BB type pitchers. An on the surface the comparisons aren't terrible. However one thing that he doesn't do is account for the changing offensive prowess of the league. Hits, HR, Walks and Ks have mostly increased since these guys had their day. How does the comparison hold up if we compare their stats to the average for the years they pitched? (note: I limited these stats to the years I felt they were better than average pitchers. I also limited to one league per player. Really only Liebrandt had significant time in both leagues during the time frame I specified. You want to start something about it? Didn't think so.)

YRS H/9 HR/9 BB/9 K/9
Grimsely 71-78 1.01 1.08 0.73 0.70
Browning 85-91 1.02 1.45 0.74 0.83
Splitorff 71-83 1.04 0.91 0.83 0.76
Gura 74-82 0.95 1.03 0.74 0.72
Black 82-90 0.95 0.99 0.79 0.85
McGregor 78-84 1.01 0.98 0.59 0.78
Liebrandt 84-93 1.07 0.93 0.75 0.79
Lannan 07-09 0.98 1.00 0.97 0.66

Lannan actually fairs ok comparing H/9 and HR/9 vs the average over the years. He doesn't give up significantly more (or less) hits or home runs than these pitchers. But the walks and strikeouts are another matter. He clearly walks far more batters than these other guys. Lannan is just barely below the NL average, while these other players are far below it, indicating a much better level of control. He also strikes out far fewer batters. You could make a case that Grimsley and Gura are close I guess, but they both were better here and had much better walk numbers. (One silver lining? It doesn't seem like the walks or Ks are most indicative of a long career - instead the home runs seem to be most correlated with that. )

Boswell wasn't wrong in his comparison prior to last season. Lannan's season adjusted K numbers took at tumble last year. Before that they were probably close to what we see for these players. While his walks would have been much higher, I don't think it's a bad comparison to make. After last year though, the comparison breaks down. Now not only are the walks no longer in line, but the strikeouts aren't either. Lannan isn't one of these guys. Not yet anyway. He's different, possibly (probably) worse.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Washington Nationals 2010 Season Preview

Let's start off by admitting that 2010 is another lost season for the Washington Nationals. It will not end with a pennant winning team. It will not end with a Wild Card race. It will almost certainly not even end with a chance at .500. No, this is another season of mediocre (at best) baseball from the Capital Nine. It is already another "wait 'til next year" before the first pitch is thrown.

After back to back 59 win seasons though, mediocre baseball is a godsend and there is good reason to believe that they can actually achieve that modest goal. For one, the Nats signed a starter capable of giving the team around 200 innings of adequate baseball. That may not seem like a lot but take Jason Marquis' fewest IP (167) and 2nd worst ERA (4.60) over the past 6 seasons. How many times have the Nats had a starter that beat both those modest goals in the same season? There's John Lannan last year... and John Lannan in 2008... and... 2005 anyone? The Nats have had terrible starting pitching for the past 4 seasons, which meant season after season of having the bulk of innings fall to bullpens that were never fully stocked with decent arms. The good arms would get over used, the pitchers would get injured, worse pitchers would take their place. It was a cycle the Nats needed to break.

Speaking of the bullpen, the Nats are also improved here, but not as much as you might think given all the work they did in the offseason. The names may be ones you've heard before, Capps, Bruney, Walker (that's Tyler Walker - ok you might not have heard that one), but the stats are mediocre at best. This is not an improvement in talent but an improvement in timing. Last year the Nats started the season with perhaps 3 decent arms, and watched predictably as one got hurt and another remained erratic leaving them with one usable arm. They were able to piece together a pen but it took them the entire year. For 2010, the Nats have a bullpen full of average arms, from which they need to sort out the 4-5 ones that will have good seasons in 2010. It's still a task, but one that should take around 3 weeks not around 3 months.

The offense gets a lot of talk but in general it's not much improved over last year. Instead, the improvements are minor, like Adam Kennedy at 2nd instead of Ronnie Belliard et al., or non-existant, like the corpse of Pudge replacing Josh Bard and Wil Nieves. Any minor improvements should be offset by players like Dunn or Willingham having slight decreases in production. The changes people are most excited or worried about should not have much impact. Whoever the Nats stuck in centerfield in 2009 (mainly Willie Harris) were surprisingly decent at the plate, such that a returning to average Nyjer Morgan is unlikely to out pace that production. Ian Desmond is intriguing but could easily be no better than Guzman was at the plate last year. The idea of a Harris/Morse/Taveras platoon is a little scary but so was the bat of Elijah Dukes. Of course, same as last year isn't bad for a team that had a slightly above average offense (7th in the NL).

I like the Nats to win 73 games. It's all well and good to say a stable, decent offense and a slightly improved pitching staff will lead to more wins, but 14 more? Along with being bad last year the Nats were unlucky. Their Pythagorean W-L had them at 66 wins last year. Their situational hitting and pitching stats suggest they could have scored even more and given up even less. They had one of those "how is everyone so bad" bullpen seasons that happen rarely, even to bad teams. With just even luck the Nats should gain several wins.

But this season isn't about if the Nats win 75 games or 65 is it? It's about which young players perform and which ones don't and how that effects how they go into 2011. It's about Steven Strasburg of course, but it's also about Ian Desmond, and Drew Storen, and about how Jesus Flores and Jordan Zimmermann come back from injury. It's about if any outfielders or first basemen like Chris Marrero or Destin Hood can take a step up and make trading Adam Dunn and/or Josh Willingham a non-issue. It's about if guys like Derek Norris or Danny Espinoza can give the Nats legitimate depth. It's about who the next #1 pick will be for this franchise and if he'll make the impact that Strasburg appears to be ready to make. It's about whether this team should start planning for 2012 or if that elusive playoff year is still waiting to be set.

Some people will tell you that the course is simple. The Nats should trade anyone decent over the age of 30 until they are stacked. But the team can't do that and try to grow a major league fanbase that has yet to exist. They need to make smart moves to keep the team competitive until they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. At that point they can start making plans solely for that quickly arriving future, not when a decent team is a vision maaaaybe 4 years in the future, maybe more. 2010 is about finding out if they can see that light yet.

Friday, April 02, 2010

I must have driven through a dimensional warp

I take one eleven hour car ride and look what happens. When the cats away, the dumb people in charge of the Nats will play.

We've gone over Willy a couple times. Say here. And here.

Just to throw another factoid

Harris v Lefties: .201 / .288 / .303
Taveras v Lefties: .262 / .309 / .326
Morse v Lefties: .324 / .376 / .449

What's the thought process here?
"We can't start this guy vs lefties he sucks!"
"We can start this guy over here! He sucks slightly less!"
"Great idea! This is your best call since Kenny Kelly! You've done it again!"

Of course a better explanation is that some time yesterday I crossed a dimensional boundary and entered a new realm where Willly Tavares hits .280 / .340 / .400. (even in other dimensions that's the best Willy can do) fields like Willie Mays and steals bases like a young Tim Raines.

Yes. That's the better explanation.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The lesser of two shoulder shrugs

The prevailing thought is that Olsen doesn't deserve the last spot on the Nationals roster. I really can't say I care, it's the 5th starter for a team with at the very least 3 pitchers it is dying to get into the rotation sometime this year, but it's important enough to merit ESPN mention I can't rightfully ignore it can I? (Ok sure I can - but what else is there to write about?)

JD Martin got sent down so now it's Mock v Olsen. I've said a couple times in the comments that this isn't clear cut because Mock, for all the talent supposedly busting from that arm, has only been good as an older starter in AAA. Yes he's given the Nats organization 150 IP of 2.90 ERA ball with around 8.5 K/9. 2.2 BB/9 and little more than 0.5 HR/9 in AAA over the past 2 years. Those are good numbers, but they almost would have to be for a 25/26 year old in AAA. That's the age where you should be putting it together in the majors, not the minors. Mock has yet to show anything in the majors. Fifteen starts last year of pretty bad pitching, a 5.40 ERA as a starter, who's last 5 starts (5.59 ERA) were no better than his first 5 (5.70 ERA)

Olsen, came into the majors ahead of time. At the age Mock was scuffling through A+ ball (22 if you must know), Olsen had already impressed in AA (over 10 K/9 and the around the same HR rate as Mock, but a few more walks) and was starting for the Marlins. He turned those impressive outings in the minors into a pretty good year in the majors. However, he's has also clearly shown that something went wrong in the past few years and he's probably not going to be able to replicate that early success. His ERA was over 6 last year, in the NL, in not a particularly bad park for pitchers. Still, Olsen is around 9 months younger than Mock (a year younger than Martin) which in theory gives him a little edge and he was injured so you could hope that the injury was the issue all along.

There's your choice.

The 27 year old never was, or the 26 year old has-been.

Or to be less mean-spirited:

The guy who has pitched well recently, but in the minors only and at an age that is getting to be advanced for the league he was in; or the slightly younger guy who has more potential in theory, but hasn't shown it for years and is coming back from injury.

I'm not saying Olsen should get the nod over Mock. I'm saying it doesn't matter. Neither of these guys are "prospects" anymore. Neither of these guys are likely to be in the rotation come July, let alone come 2011. Roll the dice with whoever - it doesn't matter. I would probably go with Mock, just because I want to see if Olsen's arm can hold up before he gets judged in the majors for what is likely the last time. But don't confuse Mock with Desmond. This isn't a guy who deserves 3 months of the Nats time to show his stuff. If he's pitching poor come May 1 and Olsen looks decent in AAA you flip them and you don't look back.