Nationals Baseball: May 2011

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tommy and Danny

It's gotta be nice to have a day like Tom Boswell had yesterday. Looking for something positive to write about, he keyed in on Danny Espinosa Danny then went out last night and went 3-4 with 2 homers. Sure it wasn't exactly related to what he wrote about (he was talking about an improvement in BABIP and home runs aren't in play) but the gist was that Espinosa was going to be good and hell if he wasn't last night.

Of course I can't let a Boswell column pass without scrutinizing it for being overly optimistic and dammit it Boz hasn't done it again, with two big errors made, one mathematical and one logical.

Let's start off by agreeing that the general idea behind Boswell's column is sound. Espinosa's BABIP is crazy low. It will get better. I guarantee. But Boswell believes that "get better" means get back to at least league average (.297) if not Espinosa's minor league number (.323). I have to take issue with that sunshine and ho-hos view.

You see Danny has a terribly low BABIP but he's earning it. The easiest way for a player to get a hit on a ball in play is to hit a line drive. As long as it's not right at someone they should be ok. The average player has about 19% of his hits classified as line drives. Danny's LD% is at 10.7%, the lowest in the majors. In a broad sense his BABIP is right in line with what you'd expect based on the LD%.

But we can go even farther than that. If you don't get line drives than you have to rely on either ground balls to get through, which isn't nearly as likely, or fly balls to drop in, which there's an even smaller chance of happening. By looking at the BABIP for each of these specific types of hit we can see how exactly Danny is getting unlucky (or if he is at all)

The BABIPs by hit type are (roughly using this year's NL numbers - but it's pretty stable)
LD: .716 GB: .235 FB: .135

And Danny's numbers are
LD: .714 GB: .226 FB: .093

You can see Danny isn't just hitting LD right at people. He's in-line with the NL. His issues come with GBs and FBs. OK so you say that Danny should see more bloops fall in and seeing eye hits go through. Well... maybe. One of the way you can get a hit on a GB is the infield single. Danny is fast enough to get several of these a year. However his IFH number is only one higher than the super slow Adam LaRoche. If the number of infield hits he gets is more in line with what you'd expect, his GB% would end up being normal as well. So expect him to beat out a couple more GBs like last night. As for his FB number, well Danny's issue may not be bloops that aren't falling. His Pop-up percentage is among the highest in the majors (8th). It may be that he had a couple bloops grabbed by an infielder but I think it's more likely that he's prone to hitting pop-ups which are very easily caught flyballs.

The way Danny is hitting now his BABIP won't be getting back to league average anytime soon. Doesn't matter how many at bats he has. He gets no line drives and hits a ton of pop-ups. That's a recipe for a low BABIP. It will go up, sure, but it doesn't necessarily have to jump up 70 points to the league average like Boz suggests initially. It may only go up to .240 or .250 as long as he hits like this.

So here comes in the math error. Boswell notes that if he hit the league average BABIP he would have 14 more hits (5 doubles) and a line of .258 / .341 / .502 or closing in on star-level. That's not right. Or at least not right as I figure it. (Someone correct me if I'm wrong, please) If he had an BABIP of .297 from seasons start that means you take the number of balls in play he's had from season's start and multiply by .297 right? He's had 127 balls in play (180 ABs -46 Ks - 10 HRs + 3 SFs) * .297 = 38 hits on balls in play. That's the number he should have using the league average number. He has only 29 hits on balls in play so that's only an extra 9 hits. Figuring in Boz's slugging guess... you're looking at 6 singles, 3 doubles or a line of .266 / .361 /.527 (Jesus - what did Boz exactly do here? Am I wrong? This makes sense to me. Like why would his isoOBP drop in Boz's projection from what it is now? It shouldn't because the number of walks are stable. I see how he got 14 hits (he used the ABs rather than balls in play), but that doesn't explain why my 9 hits are making Danny better than his 14. I'm guessing when he added those 14 hits he back-added 14 ABs too, which isn't how it works on a couple levels. I'd have to check that though and I'm too lazy. I'm going out on a limb and saying I'm right. Someone knock me down please)

My estimate would be, well let's be generous and say .270 BABIP, and most of those NOT being XBH (because it's not LDs or deep fly balls that he's getting unlucky on). That's about 5 extra hits, and let's say 1 double. That's a line of .244 / .339 / .494. Less than the superstar turn Boz's BABIp idea would suggest, or the mere occasional all-star Boz's bad math would have you believe. It's good, but only bordering on something more.

AH! You're dismissing that .323 minor league BABIP, You say! Boswell notes in his chat that a players BABIP is pretty stable from the minors to the majors. He even shows examples! Not quite. (let's forget about the PA for Epsinosa are on the low end in comparison - and what's up with shooting ABs in there - that's not PAs. Stop cheating!) This is where the logic error comes in. Boz suffers from selection bias when comparing players. All the players he looked at were successful major leaguers. You can't do that. By only looking at successes, you are implicitly saying Danny will be successful too. Of course they had high BABIPs in the minors - that's what got them to the majors. And of course they had high BABIPs in the majors - that's why they are starters now. For a different comparison I took a look at Dan Uggla (who to me seems offensively very Espinosa like and Boz even mentioned in the column). His BABIP numbers went from .372 to .294. Of course Uggla is pretty successful too and that minor league number is crazy high. So I looked at old Nat Anderson Hernandez, a failed 2B man. His number went from .314 to .283. You can lose BABIp, it's just that if you lose it, most MI guys don't have the peripheral skills to keep a full-time major league job then. Danny is different because of his home run power.

In the end this seems a long winded way of saying that Danny isn't that good. That's the funny part. Danny is good enough right now (even before last night). It's all relative. Look at NL second basemen. He currently stands at second best in OPS and even before last night's outburst he was smack in the middle. That's with the little bit of bad luck and being a rookie. Chances are even with the low average, Danny would be a Top 5 2nd baseman in the NL for years to come. So after all this work to show that he's probably not going ot be as good as Boz thinks the point is - it doesn't matter. Even at where he is now, batting around .200, he's already good enough to stick around and he'll only get better.

Tuesday's Quickie

Long Road Update:

Early Games : Goal 19-16 Actual 12-22

Current Stretch : Goal 2-1 Actual 0-1

There's no way around it. The Nats really blew it. They managed to hold onto a decent record for a good 20+ games or so in this "long road", but in a stretch of games against the bottom half of the NL and AL they managed to barely eek out a couple of wins. 8-5 was the goal for Pirates, Mets, Orioles, Brewers and Padres, 3-9 ended up being the reality (rainout vs the Pirates lost a game). If not for the horrific Astros and the "What the hell is going on there" Twins, the Nats would be fighting for last place overall as well. Who knows, maybe if we give them enough time they'll crash harder.

This shouldn't be a surprise though. The team was relying on Zimmerman, Werth, and LaRoche to provide the core of the offense. Zimmerman has been out over a month, LaRoche might as well have been. Without offense the team is going to have a hard time winning regardless of how well the pitching staff is doing. There's little to do right now other than throw up your hands and take whatever happens between now and Zimm's return. No team can afford to lose a star bat.

This crash is reminiscent of last year, but there is a clear distinction. Last year the team was near .500 and had a star coming in with Strasburg. This year's team has been hanging on by it's fingernails while the ledge falls apart. Last year, oddly enough, there was real hope that they could go on a decent run. This year it was more of a pipe dream. How long could the Nats last without Zimmerman? Can they make one last push to stay relevant until he gets back?

About 20 games and no. Those are the answers we have now. Focus on Desmond, Espinosa, Ramos, and ZNN. Don't worry about wins and losses until Zimmerman returns.

LinkOther Notes:
Maya was roughed up in his first outing of 2011. If you're an optimist, then he faltered because of a combination of weather, nerves, and a high pitch count outing in his last minor league game. If you're a pessimist, then the weak-hitting Padres solved him the second time through the line-up. (The realist has no opinion - it's one game)

As bad as Bernadina has been in the past week, Ankiel has been worse. Coming back from injury or not, he should be doing nothing more than providing the random night off to Roger.

For all the complaints about Riggleman, at least he is not overworking the bullpen. It's strange as someone who follows the Nats to look at an "Appearances" leaderboard and see the top Nat listed as tied for 14th.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

See you in September

Bye Gorzelanny!

Ok it's not September, it's 15 day retroactively (which is read as "miss 2 starts maybe") but like it probably will be September right?

I guess those waiting for Maya's chance get their wish without Lannan (or Marquis) being the one out fo the rotation. Yay Lannan! In your faces Lannan haters.

And hey the Nats get to celebrate for once! Even at 22-28 a game winning HR is still worth a celebration.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Maybe they should all use Kooky Katchers

I was going to end the last post on this but it got long and it's a completely different topic anyway.

FJB provides one side of the catcher blocking the plate issue.
The other? Fielders are not allowed to impede runners between the batters box and home because they could potentially move on from that base to the next one. Blocking forward progress at those points could change how many bases a player takes and therefore how the game is played. Home plate is a destination. There is no change in the overall natural flow of the game created when someone blocks home plate.

Given the already protected nature of the catcher (far more gear that any other position) and equipment geared specifically toward being a stable target rather than a moving one (Ever try to swipe tag with a catcher's mitt?) it makes sense that the catcher block the plate. While I haven't given much thought either way to whether it should be allowed or not there is nothing unnatural or outside the scope of the game about this play.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Waiting is the hardest part

Even though the organization is seemingly in the best shape it has ever been, fans are still not happy. They have yet to see any results on the field with this year's "new and improved" squad slowly sliding back into oblivion. Even though a couple injuries (Strasburg, Zimm, LaRoche) have a lot of the blame, it's hard to chastise fans for feeling down. When you have year after year of losing the last thing you want to hear is "just a few more years of this, I swear".

But still this is an organization that may have some light at the end of the tunnel finally. To remind you let's take a trip back to where it all came from.

The No-Plan Years

The Nationals had been gutted by MLB. Any competent GM would have known this team couldn't be competetive any time soon. Jim Bowden is not a competent GM. Instead he rolled the dice trying to put a winning team on the field right then and there, possibly to help the team look more attractive ($) to potential buyers. He picked up Guzman and Castilla costing the Nats draft picks. He made 9 trades with the idea that the Nats could win receiving back the older player in 8 of them. While individually these trades did little to hurt the Nats, their farm system was bereft of any true prospects, collectively they combined to move the Nationals in the wrong direction, getting older for what was at best a marginal improvement.

But a 2nd half collapse couldn't deter Bowden and he made a couple more trades looking toward winning in 2006, most famously for Alfonso Soriano. While more sensible that the 2005 dealings, they still failed to bring in any young talent. It took a complete failure in early 2006 for Bowden to finally throw in the towel and stop trading for guys that could vividly remember the Challenger explosion.

The "Other Man's Trash" Plan A

Bowden was no longer looking to try to win RIGHT NOW, but he was still eyeing winning in the near future. The deal he made for Kearns and Lopez reflected that. He sent out talent, most of it fairly young, to receive back fairly young, major league ready, talent in return. With the Nats prospects being what they were, the only fairly young major league ready talent they could get though were the ones other teams didn't really want anymore. It was essentially a challenge deal. To be fair to Bowden all objective analysis had the Nats coming out as the clear winners. It should have worked out. But it didn't and it was only made worse by the loss of a couple decent prospects.

*It's not impossible that after this season Bill Bray could be the only one in that deal still on a major league roster. Daryl Thompson should be around, he isn't that old or bad yet, but maybe not. Everyone else still with an organization involved in that deal is barely hanging on. Crazy.

The Kasten / Rizzo Dump

At this point in late 2006, Stan Kasten and Mike Rizzo arrived on the scene and the effects were dramatic. The team started its slow build toward respectability, which we are only seeing the fruits of now. They let Soriano walk for a draft pick when they felt a trade would not get back decent talent. The Nats shipped out any other major leaguer worth a damn at the end of 2006 and received back whatever they could get for organizational depth. In retrospect it was probably too aggressive. In trading away Livan, Mike Stanton (again), Daryle Ward, Marlon Anderson, and Jose Vidro the Nats picked up 7 young players, the best of which is probably Matt Chico. But what choice did they have? This was the move that should have taken place as soon as MLB took control of this team.

*This was a bit of bad timing for the Nats. There's a 5+ year period we are just pulling out of where prospects were terribly overvalued in relation to actual major leaguers. GMs were holding onto players and passing up good opportunities at immediate success because of what I can only think was peer pressure. Some "money bucket" proponents still back this kind of thinking. Hate those guys.

The "Other Man's Trash" Plan B

The plan adapted again - almost a combination of the last two. Bringing in a lot of players, but not organizational depth really. More AAAA guys that might help sooner rather than later. Langerhans, Speigner, Pena, Milledge, Dukes, Clippard, Bonaficio, Gonzalez, Anderson Hernandez. The talent swapped was roughly equivalent but the Nats were trending younger, while at the same time they were very aggressive in the 2007 draft, bringing in talent without much concern for cost.

(As for 2008 - Let's put all the blame on the Aaron Crow debacle on Bowden and move on)

Building, finally

The deals we've seen more recently are like the one for Kearns and Lopez, but the talent given up in return was of roughly the same age, and if they were younger they were marginal prospects at best. No longer were the non-contending Nats going to support another teams minor league system for the sake of decent major leaguers. Willingham and Olsen for PJ Dean, Jake Smolinski, and Emilio Bonaficio. Morse for Langerhans. Burnett and Morgan for Hanrahan and Milledge. It was followed by another "dump" but they seemed to realize the most value they could get back was in good relief arms. Garate, Mattheus, H-Rod. Not all were winners but it was enough. Most importantly in dealing Matt Capps for Wilson Ramos they showed they were willing to deal good young major league players for good prospects. They would trade now for later. In the meantime they stopped drafting toolsy OFs and slugging corner infielders, the type of players that were abundant in the majors, and focused on drafting pitching and MI.

Now the Nats are in a decent position. They still aren't in a great one. Their drafts have produced a little less talent than you'd hope for, and they haven't gotten really lucky in any of their deals yet. But they have a core of young talent and a management that's willing to deal and sign to keep replenishing the system. They also seem finally willing to spend money to supplement the young players (since it is rare that you can simply build 100% from within). Maybe they aren't going to be any good in 2011, but with a decent trade or signing and no injury setbacks, I'm liking 2012 to be better on the major league level and 2013 after that. That's something I didn't think before any other year.

At other sites Kilgore - makes a killer-gorer point about Rizzo and an RISP quote he made.

So what needs to change?

Nats lose to the fantastic and lovable Zack Greinke (I refuse to speak ill of Zack because I desperately wish he'll sign with the Nationals in 2013) and like clockwork the first real slide far below .500 for the season* prompts to first signs of discontent in the clubhouse.

*The Nats had a 1-6 run earlier but it was after a 4 game winning streak and only dropped the Nats to 3 games under .500. That prompted "ok let's get it together" talk, which they did, winning 4 of the next 5 to get back to .even. This run comes after a mildly disappointing 2-2 homestand vs the Marlins and Phillies and drops the Nats to 7 under and making them the 4th worst team in the league.

Jayson Werth, the 126 Million Dollar Man, spoke out last night complaining that things needed to change. However he wasn't really clear on what he meant. The money quotes from Kill-Gore's post game wrap-up in the Post ("Post"-game wrap-up?) :
"I’ve got some ideas obviously, and some thoughts, none I really want to share with the world,” Werth said. “I think it’s pretty obvious what’s going on around here... A lot of these guys are kind of still learning. We’ve got to make sure they continue to develop, regardless of if we’re winning or losing. I think that’s important for the future of this club. But things need to change"
The way I read it there are three possibilities for what he means.
1. Fire the coach
2. Stop playing these sucky youngsters.
3. "Things need to change"

Number one is always a possibility and since Riggleman and Werth have no real ties it doesn't seem like there is a reason he'd be supportive of Riggs. Of course there's no reason to think he wouldn't be supportive either.

Number two might be possible but then we have to accept that Jayson Werth is an idiot that thinks playing more Pudge, Ankiel, Hairston, and Cora would lead to more wins. I'd rather not think that.

Number three is just a generic griping at the situation which is fine and understandable. Things DO need to change. What things? I don't know. The things that keep us from winning. (Honestly the first thing that needs to change is Zimmerman needs to come back )

Whatever it is we're sure to hear it if the Nats keep losing more than they are winning... which means we're sure to hear it. What bothers me about this is that Werth is saying it at all. The guy sucked sucked sucked for the first month of the season, finally brings his numbers back to within shouting distance of where they should be and now he opens his mouth? Can we at least see more good weeks than bad from you before you pop off? (I wonder if Mike "Clubhouse" Rizzo is already plotting on how he can get rid of this terrible malcontent!)

It's early. They're frustrated. While it's fun to speculate on what it all means (especially because it keeps us from focusing on how lousy the team is playing... well sorta) for now it's probably best to leave it at that. Just some guys blowing off some steam.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Did anyone think it was going to be anything else?

LaRoche has "major" shoulder problems and it's looking more and more likely he'll miss the rest of 2011. I hope everyone had learned their lessons from the previous Nationals that had minor, potentially playable through injuries that ended up needing major surgery. Once happens. Twice is a pattern. Forty-two times is malpractice. I think that's how the saying goes.

Can the Nats get a medical staff with some backbone please? Of course the players are going to want to play. Of course the management is going to want them to play. The medical staff's job though should be to deliver the tough news and hold them out if they can't; not try to view the situation in a way that allows them to play. "Most medical evidence suggests that his leg is severed, but there was a case in Albania once where it was just a mass hallucination caused by eating the KappiKappi plant. Let's roll with that potential scenario for 3 weeks".

With that being said what are the chances Nix still has both his feet in two weeks?

Oh well whatever. It gives time for the Nats to evaluate Mike Morse and Roger Bernadina at the same time to keep themselves from being fooled another year thinking they might be able to be full-time players. (of course that's silly - they'll work Ankiel into the mix just enough to keep doubt alive). For those Roger Bernadina lovers - his career BA and OBP is .246 and .307 respectively. He's hitting .246 and .307 right now. Given that he's not much of a power hitter, what type of major league hitter do you think he is? .280 and .365? I'd still give him till the All-Star break but that's only because I want to remove all doubt. For those Mike Morse lovers - it's been like 3 games. Calm down. He will hit better because he is a better hitter than he showed in the first month. But he needs to keep this up for a good long stretch. Given that it's doubtful he can play 1st next year he has to hit like last year to justify starting him in the OF, where he can't really play.

One more thing from the above link
With Adam LaRoche on the disabled list, Riggleman has said Michael Morse, Matt Stairs, Alex Cora and even Ankiel could see time at first base. Ankiel has never played first, but has been taking grounders there in practice.
If Alex Cora, who hasn't been an average hitter since 2004, who has "slugged" over .400 once in his career, who is the definition of "veteran MI on the bench because your manager loves veterans and you always need a MI", starts a game at first base I think the franchise should fold.

Ed Note : I wait until after I post to read any Nats blogs, mainly because I'm afraid I'll have nothing new to say and then not post anything. Occasionally this means I get a situation where I write nearly the same exact thing as someone else. So go read FJB's hours earlier take on the LaRoche situation, since it's basically the same as my post. Well more accurately mine is the same as his. Also tangentally related - read Past a Diving Vidro's LaRoche Shoulder timeline to relive the whole "saga".

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Look on the bright side

If I told you that the Nats would have the National League's worst BA and OBP (and 14th best slugging) after 47 games... that Ryan Zimmerman would only play for 2 weeks before going down to injury... that Adam LaRoche would be injured and hit worse than Jason Marqius... that instead of carrying the Nats to shore, that Jayson Werth would himself had trouble just treading water... that the Nats would again have no stability in the OF. If I told you all that wouldn't you have taken 21-26?

The team was built around the idea of a big three, much like the last two seasons. The difference this year is that the other 5 spots were 3 prospects and 2 finger-crosses, instead of the usual 1 prospect, 1 finger cross and 3 "we know they are terrible... how about a free Curly W pretzel for your trouble?". Unfortunately the big 3 have combined for 1.5 WAR so far this year, which is to say they've roughly been as important to the team as Danny Espinosa himself.

As for LaRoche's injury
(see you in September!) I think Tom Boswell (yes Boz!) had an astute observation in his chat yesterday. LaRoche is basically this year's Jason Marquis. A completely reasonable, non-reaching 2-year contract for a slightly above average player to give the Nats a slightly above average performance that completely blew up in their faces. These weren't "trade for Vernon Wells"-esque lottery ticket deals. These were "Bet me a dollar I can't flip a coin and get 3 heads in a row" type safe bets. And still the Nats come up on the losing end.

Maybe God is just storing all this karma for 2013. Kind of like he did for the Indians this year. Hey Manny Acta!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Monday's Quickie

Long Road Update:

Early Games : Goal 11-11, Actual 9-13

Current Part : Goal 8-5, So Far 2-4 (1 rainout).

No change in the early games part as the Nats are still plowing through the latest section. Did I say "plowing"? I meant stumbling. In this swing that they should really be picking up some games if they want to be challenging .500 at some point when it matters, they are slowly losing ground. This is very reminiscent of last year's "Hey the Nats are better than we thought and they have a bunch of crappy teams coming up! If they can only win... oh they lost? Most of them? Nevermind." stretch.

The culprit, of course is the Zimm-less offense. That 17 run game really skews things, because in the past 8 games they've scored 33 runs. That's ok. Take out that one game though and it's 16 in 7 (we could take out another 8 run affair but that's a little unfair. We're trying to correct for aberrations, not good offense). In that game 7 Nats had more than one-hit, 5 hit homers, and two had triples. If we think that's an aberration then who would be doing well without that game? Jayson Werth would. He has 2 other multi-hit games in the past 6, and in general his power seems to be better in past couple of weeks. Danny Epsinosa also deserves a nod in his direction as his power seems to be back. All the team asks of Danny is to hit it hard and get it in play 1 out of every 4 times. We'll see but for the month of May he's basically been doing that... well ok 1 out of every 5 times.

The fact that so many guys had weeks bouyed by the great game means that bad performances stand out even more. Desmond had a good series but is still barely getting by. Bernadina is showing once again why he hasn't earned a starting role by now. And worst of all Adam LaRoche is making babies cry. The only saving grace when it comes to LaRoche is that we all know he's injured and that if he goes down he'll be gone for a good long while. The medical staff can't mess this one up. Of course they might have been the ones that told him he could play through the injury this year. Their definition of "play" must be different than mine. Of course in taking his place Michael Morse has hit well. You knew that was going to happen.

The offensive woes helped hide the pitching performances, both terrible and good. Lannan was awful on Saturday. Marquis was pretty bad on Friday. I sense a general swell toward replacing Lannan with Maya (who has followed his 3 straight very good performances in AAA that got everyone talking with a couple of mediocre ones), but Jason Marquis has been roughly as bad in May. Gorzelanny and Zimmermann were good though and there's no point trying to figure out what Livan will do game to game.

The Nats will take on a Brewers team who are on a little bit of a roll and then head home to take on the Padres. They need every win they can get. A winning stretch would be nice to keep the team from being completely irrelevant for the next Phillies showdown.

As a side note : Remember in Spring Training when Riggs said he expected Chein Ming Wang to be ready by May? Should have asked him what year.

Friday, May 20, 2011

shoutout for the shutouts

I don't like seriousness too much, so something more frivolous to sit on top of the blog on the weekend:

In 2008 the Nats were shutout more times than any squad had been since 1978. That's pretty good. Since the strike it was 2 more than the '95 Cardinals and 4 more than anyone else. That may not seem like a lot but going from 17 to 21 is a 23% increase. So the Nats were pretty hideous.

If they keep their current pace they'll be shutout 26 times.

(they don't lead the league - the Padres do, but the Padres play in a stadium whose dimensions are 380-INF-532)

Of course they won't get shut out 26 times, Zimmerman will come back, Werth will start hitting....ummm ummm... well that should be enough to score a run most nights, but it's something fun to keep track of. Well, at least fun for me.

Since 2005 the Nats have been shutout 80 times

In 2005 the Nats lost 81 games and were shutout 11 times. That's not even that impressive though. Last year the Giants lost 70 games and 16 of them were shutouts.

The "best" year for the Nats shutout wise? 2009. Unsurprisingly their best offensive year in general.

The kingdom of the veteran jerk

I went into Boz's "Harmon Killebrew is Bryce Harper. No he isn't. Yes he is" column with a preconceived notion that keeping someone in the minors when they were ready talent-wise for the majors is a mistake. I've come out of it not being so sure but not for any of the reasons Boz would want us to go with.

Well, ok, maybe we can agree on one thing - the everyday life of a ballplayer might take some getting used to. Playing months on end with long road trips to different places, staying in hotels, barely settling into one place before moving onto the next, that is something unlike most kids, even those that played college ball, have done. I can see value in making a youngster go through that. I also am not sure it's necessary, but it's so different than anything I've ever done I'm willing to give the guys who have done it some benefit of the doubt if they say it is so.

To me, keeping someone in the minors when they could be preforming in the majors is a waste. I know we talk about "clocks starting" and "maturity" and the like but I don't buy either. For the clock issue, I see betting on the future part - that the Nats will definitely be better in 2012, 2013, 2014, etc. as a fools bet. So much can happen between then and now; Strasburg could never recover, Zimm's injury could be a recurring thing, Werth could collpase; that "saving" Bryce for then is like not buying a little shelf to put your trophy on so you can save that money for the big cabinet that will fit all the trophies you are going to win. I like the attitude but why not worry about problem B when it actually becomes a problem?

As for the second part, I know sports isn't like everything else, but human nature is pretty stable. For every person I know that was groomed into a more mature person by circumstances there are a dozen that are pretty much the same as before. Little shifts to maturity over time will happen, but for the most part the mature stayed mature, the immature like wise. I kind of feel like that's going to prevail in sports as well. The Dukes, Bradleys, LoDucas will be who they are regardless of "dues paid". Mainly because eventually you don't care if they've learned anything - you got to use 'em or lose 'em.

(at this point I want to note that neither of these things apply to Killebrew, which makes the column's attempts to compare him to Bryce iffy. Harmon was apparently always the good ambassador type. He didn't need the minors to "learn him". And the Twins weren't sticking him in the minors for no good reason. It seems he wasn't ready for the majors in '54 and '55 when he had to ride with the team (though they could have played him more). His '56 numbers were good, but they were A-ball and he struggled in the majors again. Only in '57 did he do well in a stronger league (AA) and play well in the majors. And you know what? He started next season with the major league squad. He was sent down to AA again for some reason, (given the 3 game stint maybe he was an injury fill-in? - I need to find a biography) but when they attempted to bump him up to AAA he struggled. So outside the AA send down in '58 they treated him almost exactly you would any other minor league prospect)

OK, so if I'm not convinced Bryce should spend a couple years in the minors because he needs it or because the Nats need to save him for later, then why do I still think it might be necessary? Here's where the thought experiment starts: What if Bryce spending time in the minors isn't just for Bryce? What if it's for everyone else?

See, if you are good enough to make the major leagues, odds are very very good you are going to make it. It doesn't matter how mature you are, or how you treat your teammates or not, or how many times you smile to the fans. Talent rules. That means, right now, the major leagues are filled with a mixture of good and bad guys, just like real life (possibly more skewed toward those having issues just because being in a profession that leads to you getting adulation through most of your formative years can skew your perception of reality). The bad guys, or more accurately the insecure guys, can't handle the idea of a youngster coming up at 18 and being handed a starting spot, if they didn't catch that break themselves. That youngster could then be treated overly harsh by those guys wanting to make him "earn" in the majors what he didn't in the minors; trying to make something that is inevitably unfair, promotion due to physical talent, into something more fair, promotion due to time served. This is basically what the Lastings Milledge deal was all about. Here comes a kid two years out of high school and he's getting the attention and love from the fans? Didn't matter that he wasn't doing all that great and might not stick in the majors anyway. Some guys can't handle that. Everyone has their place and by the sheer virtue of sticking in the majors they earned the spot at the top of the heap.

You could say, we're just bringing him up anyway, but you risk alienating a good chunk of your team. It's a shame that you have to cater to that segment of your clubhouse, but unless you managed to bring together the perfect egoless team, you kind of do. So Bryce has to waste away another year in the minors possibly, just so he doesn't ruffle the feathers of the old guys too much. Can you imagine Dibble on a team where a 19 year old is a starting LF? It doesn't matter if Bryce was a date-raping showboat or a humble church-goer who stayed until the last fan got their autograph. That kid would learn his place.

I'm not saying that this IS the case, but given that I don't think much of the other possible reasons for keeping Bryce down, I needed to come up with something that made sense to me. I know this is armchair psychology and if you are bothered by that... well come back on Monday when I'll have some ottoman sabermetrics for you.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Doing it wrong.

Ladson noted something that highlights everything that the Nats have been doing wrong in the OF for 5 years now.

Once Ankiel comes back, the Nationals have to make a decision on who plays every day in left and center field. Roger Bernadina will continue to play every day. It's just a matter of where he plays. Bernadina is the currently the club's only legitimate leadoff hitter...

Laynce Nix has made it difficult for the club because he is having a solid season, hitting .310 with five home runs and 16 RBIs. He entered the season as a pinch-hitting specialist, but found himself playing often after Mike Morse slumped.

There is a possibility that Nix and Morse could platoon in left field. Ankiel may also platoon with Morse in left field. A decision will not be made until Ankiel is activated from the disabled list.

Just so you understand all the things that are wrong here :

  • They might sit their best Non Zimmerman offensive player this year (though yes - Werth should be considered better) because at the beginning of the year they saw him as a pinch hitter (let's ignore the facts for now that last year he hit lefties ok in limited at bats and that he's never been a great pinch hitter or anything)
  • Mike Morse, who as of two games ago was still regulated to the bench, is the guy they "have to" work in somehow. Rather than Nix (the best hitter right now) or Ankiel (arguably the best fielder of the 3... arguably - it certainly isn't Morse let's say that)
  • Roger Bernadina, the 27 year old batting a forgettable .270 / .352 / .381 in AAA who was called up only because Ankiel got injured, is now the untouchable player in this scenario because he's most like a prototypical leadoff hitter and he started this 2 week stretch with a few good games.

I don't care what they choose among these 4 guys. Any permutation of starters, platooners and bench players is fine because none of these guys is a young stud needing to break in. But do it for a reason. Sorry. Do it for a GOOD reason. Something beyond "He's a righty!" or "He sure looks speedy!" Have a plan and stick to it for a few months. Stop the haphazard "this guy looks good right now" evaluation process that leads to the same never-wases and new has-beens being mixed in each time with the management saying "we really like what this guy can do". Actively try to find someone that can play everyday for a long period of time by letting someone play everyday for a long period of time.

(At this point I would say keep playing Nix and Bernadina, almost everyday, until the All-Star break. after that near 2-month tryout and a natural stopping point re-evaluate. )

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Doing it Right

The Nats may have managed to turn the OF situation into a mess yet again, but that doesn't hold true with the rest of the team. For once, the Nats are seemingly doing talent evaluation the right way and are letting Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, and Wilson Ramos have multiple months, not weeks, to find their footing in the majors.

Desmond has started 35 of 41 games this year, Espinosa 39. Ramos has only started 24 but has started 14 of 21 games since April 25th, clearly being treated as the #1 catcher. It must be tempting to replace all of these guys. None of these guys are hitting well.

Desmond : .217 /.255 /.362
Espinosa : .196 / .296 / .377
Ramos : .270 /.340 /.416

Despite those numbers I have a hard time finding a compelling reason to send these guys back down to AAA. Desmond has over 800 major league plate appearances. It's hard to believe that a short stint in Syracuse would enable to fix his issues hitting major league pitching. Espinosa is showing good power and patience, his problem is getting the ball in play which is what everyone knew his problem would be. Going down to AAA would change nothing. Ramos' is young for a starting catcher, but his minor league progression indicates someone with very little left to learn in the minors about hitting.

Of course it helps that the MI situation is terrible in the minors. The only player worth talking about in AA or AAA is Steve Lombardozzi and he's really just doing OK, not pressing for a promotion to the bigs. The catcher situation is a little tougher, but we all know Pudge is not going to be a starter for the mythical playoff challenging 2013 Nats, and Derek Norris is only just starting to get hot again in the minors (.405 / .556 / .960 in his last 10 games). He can simmer a little bit more (and maybe play some first base?)

It takes time for players to develop. We all know about Jayson Werth's slow rise to fame. Pudge didn't establish himself as an above average hitter until he had 2500 PAs (that's right 2500 - it helps when you start as a 19 year old). Adam LaRoche, a consistently decent hitter even as a rookie, was putting up a .250 / .292 / .388 line at the All-Star break his first year. With no good argument on starting someone else then it only makes sense to keep playing these guys like the Nats have, do it for the whole year, and let them either sink or swim.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Yay Lannan!

11 baserunners in 6 1/3, including 2 doubles. 2 runs. And he didn't even let the 2nd one in himself (thanks alot Cole). Classic Lannan. Love that guy. Maya who?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Catching Up Mondays! (insert picture of a catcher)

Long Road Update:

Early Games : Goal 11-11, Actual 9-13

Current Part : Goal 8-5, So Far 0-0.

Nats managed to tread water during their "tough" stretch going 8-8 against the cream of the National League. Granted it's not the tastiest, most freshest cream, but it's the cream nonetheless. Now they take on the dregs of the NL. But just as the best weren't actually that good, the worst aren't actually that bad. None of their upcoming foes (Pirates, Mets, Orioles, Brewers, Padres) are doing poorly right now. Outside of the terrible Twins and probably the Astros, there are no awful teams. So 8-5 might be pushing it, but if the Nats want to be a .500 team they need to win series like these.

Some Notes:

Laynce Nix has usurped Mike Morse's spot in left field (usurper!). Once again the Nats have decided that they can tell in 30 games that a guy they deemed ready to start for them is not ready at all. Mike should feel proud. 30 games is forever in Nats time when it comes to outfield decisions. Nix supplanting Morse in itself is not a big deal. But you know how it's going to end up, right? Nix will struggle right when Ankiel is coming back. They'll slowly put Ankiel back in but he'l be so hot they'll have to start him, and they'll shift Bernadina over. Roger will then struggle and with a couple lefties in a row coming up, they decide to give Morse a few at bats. He smacks the ball around for a couple games and come late June - is back starting. By the time the All-Star break has come around the Nats have once again managed to play another half-season of baseball and have no clarity on their OF situation. I hope it doesn't happen but this CD track has been on repeat since 2005.

Bryce Harper has been doing great. Arguably better than any young player ever factoring in age and league. But before you get too crazy, remember that most of the guys he is being compared to didn't spend a year polishing up in low level junior college. It's like he took the SAT prep class while everyone else came in cold. If he's as good as those guys then he should be doing better than they did. Still I'm saying he's likely as good as Griffey,A-Rod, etc. etc... yes, I'm a huge killjoy for saying dial back the "best player ever" talk down to "perennial All-Star".

"First Base" Update

Pena: .208 / .344 /.317
Lee: .227 / .309 /.338
LaRoche: .188 /.306 /.286
Willingham: .228 /.308 /.409

By virtue of taking a couple walks Carlos Pena leaps up the charts and probably takes the lead as the most valuable first baseman. Everyone knew this was a weak 1B free agent class with Adrian Gonzalez tied up with the Sox, but it's becoming hard to ignore that this was a class so bad it should have been avoided. If it makes you feel any better Adam is fielding the best. Though in all honesty the Nats are currently the losers in this group because they are the only ones that have their man signed through 2012 as well.

Friday, May 13, 2011

capping off the weekend... wait that doesn't work

Blogger issues earlier (the site, not the man) as if it matters. No excuses! I should have written something on a piece of paper and twitpic'd it or something. Of course that would mean I would be on Twitter. Ha! Change happens TO this blog like a Cheez Doodle bobbing on the ocean waves.

Anyway Nats almost win, don't. Burnett blows the lead. I mentioned this a bit on Wednesday (which is now fortuitously the last post. Thursday never happened. Tough luck Bulls!) but Burnett has been terrible at letting inherited runners score this year too. 7 of 12 have come home so far. It's not that Burnett is terrible - he's been pretty good in different circumstances. Coming in with the bases empty Burnett has 7 No-hit / no-walk appearances in 12 tries (yes it's the same numbers - that's just a coincidence). In 6 tries with inherited runners he has 1. But what good is a guy that has to come in with the bases empty to be effective. Pitch better!

The Nats only have to not be swept to meet my goal for this stretch. Gotta like those chances.

Question for the weekend - celebrating a hastily put together Cap Week at ESPN's SweetSpot network (PLUG!) - Emphasizing the Curly W is one thing the Nats have done right with the new other wise kind of bland unis. I think they could have gone with the block DC and that would have been good too but I'm not going to argue against this classic look. Given that the Nats had been out of baseball for a very long time (like 98% of active players were born after the Senators played their last game) where do you think the Nats cap ranks in the majors? Does it belong in the discussion of "iconic" caps?

I'm thinking it's the best of the second tier. Somewhere in the 10-13 range. I can't see it displacing any of these listed, with the exception of the White Sox, but I'm hard pressed to think of anyone that isn't included that is clearly better. I'd listen to an argument about the A's (I think I pretty much love everything about that team outside of how they actually do on the field. Some may remember I had Stomper as like #3 in my mascot ratings) I wouldn't laugh at you if you brought up the Pirates, Mets, Phillies or Braves. I guess KC has an argument too - though it would help if it wasn't so associated with losing. I guess I'd put it 11th.

I don't think we are going to get anyone that hates the cap but if for some reason you do I'd love to hear why you don't think the Blue Jays is the worst. I mean it's terrible right? Makes Arizona's look like it should hang in a museum. (and why is it I can't conjur up any love for the Pirates hat? It's totally classic. Definitely not boring. Don't know)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Is this last year or not?

I know it feels sometimes that the Nats are like the Pirates - a consistently terrible team that hasn't won in forever. Truth be told though really there was only a three year stretch (2007-2009) where Nats fans couldn't fool themselves into thinking there might be something more in a given season. We all remember 2005. In 2006 the Nats overcame a 2-9 to 9-20 start to pull to 30-34 on Jun 11th. Given they competed the previous year and that the NL Wild Card leader was the Reds (they haven't been good in years!) a fan might hold out hope. And last year a number of people got excited about a team that was hovering around .500 (30-31 on Jun 10th) with a stretch of games against bad teams coming up and the debut of Strasburg.

We also know what happened in 2006 and, more relevantly 2010. 3-14 and 3-13 stretches respectively that pushed the Nats out of any relevancy for the season. The 2010 results interest me the most because up until now this is pretty much the same team having the same level success with the same formula. Solid pitching carries a offense that's just good enough. The question is are we looking at the same crash somwhere in 2011?

If you are a doubting type of person there are a lot of reasons to believe that a crash has to happen at some point.

The Nats offense was bad last year. It's much worse now. The '10 team had ok lines in April and May (.257 /.336 /.413 and .262 /.331 / .413) before crashing down in June (.246 /.308 / .361). The 2011 Nats haven't even matched the crash. They have put up lines of .226 / .305 / .353 in April and .223 / .272 / .325 in May. Looking at the positional line-up right now it's hard to see where the Nats are clearly better outside of Werth.

On the mound, fans would like to believe there is a big advantage for this season but the Nats pitching staff was just as good last year. It's hard to believe it but the bullpen was fantastic last year (3.35 ERA - 4th in the NL - closer to 1st than 7th) and the starters sandwiched a decent middle around a bad start and finish. Strasburg was really good. Atilano, Stammen and Martin all started strong. Livan was very good for a lot of the year. Lannan and Marquis came back nicely.

If the hitting is worse and the pitching is no better how can the Nats avoid a crash? They have better gambles in play this year.

While last year the Nats had has-beens and never will-bes giving them terrible offense for much of the season, this year they have a couple of young players with potential. Ramos and Espinosa might actually be good major leaguers. And while the pitching staff was good last year, you have to like the guys they have going this year better. Zimmermann is better than Atilano, Stammen or Martin. Olsen was a guy trending in the wrong direction. Gorzelanny is a guy that has a control issue. Lannan and Marquis are dependable if nothing else. This isn't even talking about the possibility of Maya coming in, or the chance that Bryce or Strasburg or Wang help this year (mainly because they won't)

I also like the fact that the shot in the arm coming in June is at the plate (a returning Zimm) rather than on the mound.

I do think this team is a lot like last year and if you ask me to put down money I'm definitely betting the under on 80 wins. I might be that way if they sat at 79-77 going into the last two series. However, if you want to get behind this team in mid-May, I think you're in a much better position than you were jumping onto last year's Nats bandwagon.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Note to Braves fans

If you lose a game because Alex "I've broken .250 only 4 times in a 12 year career" Cora got two big hits - you deserve to lose.

Doug Slaten lied to me

Ok well it wasn't Doug Slaten, more his ERA and it really isn't lying, more misleading, but still. The past few posts I casually mentioned the good job the bullpen had been doing. One of the pitchers that I noted was Doug Slaten, who hadn't given up a run all year. Commenter Hoo took offense at my super casual glance at stats , said "You lazy bastard! Slaten sucks! Look at him!" (well something like that). So I did and he's right. Slaten has sucked.

Slaten has put 12 men on in 6 1/3 IP (WHIP of 1.895). He's given up 8 hits. He's brought in to face lefties and lefties are hitting .400 / .438 / .600 against him. That's terrible. Based on the hits and walks he's given up you'd expect him to have an ERA close to 5.00 and yet he hasn't allowed a run all year... or more accurately he hasn't allowed a runner to score that was his own.

Thing about relievers is that arguably their most important job is stopping guys from scoring that aren't guys they put on base themseleves. They come in to stop the bleeding. Slaten is a band-aid on a gunshot. He's come in with 20 men on base and 9 of them have scored. That's 45% - not good. The league average hovers around 30% most years. Sometimes it can be misleading to look at an individual relievers stats when it comes to how many inherited runners score. Some years you just don't have a lot of opportunity to pitch with inherited runners and a couple big shots can make you look a lot worse than you really are. Or conversely the guy that lets 4 out of 20 guys score is going to look a lot worse than the guy who let 0 out of 4. It's not misleading for Slaten though. He's had the second most inherited runners in the NL so far this year. (#1 - Clippard. Which makes sense because he followed Slaten a few times). It's fair to say he's sucked.

Of course that hasn't stopped him from looking good when the TV shows his stats when he comes in. The men he's put on base have never touched home plate. 4 times he's managed to keep them from scoring himself, once he was bailed out by Coffey, once by Gaudin, three times by Clippard. Hence the perfect ERA.

It's just another example of traditional stats not telling the whole story. (and of me being lazy)

How are the rest of the Nats bullpen doing?

Broderick 100% scored (5/5)
Burnett 50% (5/10)
Storen 40% (2/5)
Clippard 26% (6/23)
Gaudin 14% (1/7)
Coffey 0% (0/4)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Write in Wramos to counter Wrigs mistake

Maybe Riggleman thought that Pudge would begin the season hot again. Maybe he thought that this might be Pudge's last chance to start on Opening Day. Or maybe he didn't think and just pencilled in "Ivan Rodriguez" into the lineup on the first day of the season because what, am I going to start a rookie over a vet on Opening Day? Someone never played the game!

Anyway whatever the reasoning was, the starting of Pudge has kept the Nats only deserving offensive player so far off the All-Star ballot. Rather than resign yourselves to Storen or Burnett or Slaten or etc etc being tossed into the bullpen of the NL, (deservedly so, but still tossed in) I think Nats fans should right now start a huge write in campaign for Ramos. This makes more sense than the official website's tepid attempts to get you to vote for Espinosa and/or "Back maybe in mid-June" Zimmerman.

Write in Wramos!

Just because you are so interested - here are where the Nats players rank by OPS (by position) when I limit the PAs to 50

C- Ramos - 4th (of 21)
1B - LaRoche - 14th (18)
2B - Espinosa - 9th (20)
3B - Hairston Jr - 17th (23)
3B - Cora - 23rd (23)
SS - Desmond - 13th (18)
LF - Nix - 9th (20)
LF - Morse - 19th (20)
CF - Ankiel - 19th (20)
RF - Werth 15th (20)

Monday, May 09, 2011

Long Road getting shorter

Long Road Update:

Early Games : Goal 5-1, Actual 1-5

Current Part : Goal 6-10, So Far 5-5.

The Nats are doing more than just surviving this tough stretch of games. During this run of 16 straight against teams from the better half of the NL, they are holding their own so far, winning 5 and losing 5. We can talk all we want about "the Giants can't hit" and "the Marlins aren't as good as their record", which are both very true, but how does that matter? These teams may be flawed but they are still the good ones. It's not the Nats fault that the only truly special team in the NL is the Phillies (though I really like the Braves to keep coming on strong). If you are holding the Nats to a standard where they have to not only beat the 2nd tier teams but compete with the Phillies, you are setting your expectations way too high.

They are two "non-sweeps" from surpassing my meager expectations for this stretch, and are a 3-3 run from possibly setting themselves up for a little .500 action when they hit the dregs of the NL for 13 games. Hey, if the Pirates can do it!

(How ARE the Pirates doing it? It's not luck. Pythag has them at 16-18. Offensively, Doumit is having a resurgance and Garret Jones is showing that 2010 was the fluke year for his power, not 2009. Neil Walker is a minor star. But this isn't enough - they are soooooooo bad on the left side of the infield that Brandon Wood can come in and immediately play everyday, be below average, and vastly improve their lineup. Nope it's the pitching - two starters having good years, two about average, and a bullpen with enough pieces to keep the games close that they need to. Kevin Correia is having the year of his life. Former Nat Joel Hanrahan is finally keeping the ball in the strike zone enough (2.5 BB/9) to let his stuff shine. They'll fall back but there's no reason this group can't win 70. )

Some quick notes:

Here comes the Ramos crash? .154 with 1 2b in the past week.

Ian Desmond should have a baby every week. After a fast start back he's hitting .095 / .083 / .190 in the past week. Quick FJB - Tell him he needs to go down!

The Nats bullpen is rocking it. In the past week, unless my math is off, they've given up only 3 runs in 19 2/3 innings. That's n ERA around 1.40. Burnett hasn't let a man get on base since the Mets debacle. Slaten, in his limited role, has yet to give up a run. "Not the closer" Storen hasn't given up a run since his first appearance of the season.

Tom Gorzelanny has a 1.95 ERA after his first start this season.

Maya looks ready in AAA for another shot but he may have to wait to see who loses the race to long relief, Livan, Lannan, or Marquis. Early favorite is Lannan, but don't rule out Livan!.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Mike Morse and Question of the Weekend : Are you rooting for Manny Acta?

I said in the comments that I had something about Mike Morse to say in the next couple days, but in reality I'm not very convinced of where it is going. I'll lay it out for you and you can make your own decisions on whether it makes any sense or not, but I'm telling you now I'm not confident about it and I'm waiting to see if the next 2-3 weeks changes anything.

So, Mike Morse stinks. He shouldn't stink based on his career stats, but he has so far. Part of it is the super slow start (.133 /.250 / .133 through 11 games) but even though he's hit .292 since then his OBP is still terrible (no walks + sacflies = .280!) and SLG is mediocre at best (3XBH = .438). Usually when a guy is doing poorly I do a fancy stats rundown, starting first with batting average for balls in play. His BABIP is down only a tiny bit, and he's hitting the ball as well as before based on LD/GB/FB%s. So these suggest a year similar to last.

You can find two problems in his stats though. One is that his HR/FB ratio is about half of what it was last year. If he did hit homers at the same rate as he did last year that .231 avg, with a.321 slg would jump to .256 and .423. Not quite what Nats fans want but respectable. But it's hard to say what his true rate is. He's been all over the place in his career.

The other thing is his K rate. It is up to 30+% from around 24% last year. That's a pretty big jump. Thing is, I'm not sure why it's up. He's not seeing a different mix of pitches. It's not like he's getting a bunch of off-speed stuff he can't handle. He's not seeing the strike zone much differently than last year based on how he's swinging at pitches. Also he's not swinging and missing more. The number of swinging strikes is the lowest of his career. So what's changed from last year? The only thing I see in the fancy stats is that he's seeing a lot more first pitch strikes. Now those can come in any fashion - swing and miss, called strike, foul ball - but they all have the effect of putting the batter behind in the count. Once behind batters usually hit a lot worse. A quick look at the league averages compared to how Morse does finds that he is typically worse than your league average hitter when behind in the count. This year the NL is hitting .200 when they put the ball in play while behind in the count, Morse is hitting .071. Last year it was .204 for the league, .168 for Morse. 2009 - .204 and .176 respectively.

The conclusion I reach, which I'm real hesitant about, is that Mike is getting challenged early in the count and is falling behind, probably (although I'd have to do a lot more work to check this out) on a lot of called first strikes, or foul balls (since his swing and miss rate is down) Something about the way he hits is really not conducive to hitting from behind in the count, so he's struggling to hit for average or power, even more than usual. The good news is that the .071 number is way low and should come up to the .170 range of the past 2 years. His HR/FB rate should also bump up at least a little. The bad news is that the way this is playing out gives the Nats a Mike Morse far more like the one that hit .250 in 2009 and never got on base, except with less power.

Still I'm not convinced this isn't just a crazy month's worth of data. A month is enough at bats to start looking, but I don't think it's enough to be convinced of anything just yet, not when the results don't scream anything.

Question of the Weekend : I found the responses to last week's question pretty interesting. I got a lot of what I expected which was "I'll root for him as long as he's good and he's not the worst person ever" but I got a lot of "I'm not going to even believe this until I see it for myself", too. It basically spins the question into : Are these things they say about Bryce true, or are they blown out of proportion by a media looking for something to talk about. Weak half-hearted answer : probably somewhere in between.

But let's not get on Bryce again - we got 1 1/2 years of buildup yet. The question for this weekend is Are you rooting for Manny Acta? Currently, his Cleveland Indians are 21-9, with best record in baseball, and are surprise of the season. The AL Central's best teams all have flaws so it's not hard to see a scenario where they take the crown, or at least stay in the race until Sept ala the '05 Nats. A lot of Nats fans grew to dislike Manny by the end of his tenure, but I have a hard time believing anyone out there is actively rooting against his success. Maybe I'm wrong though as it would cast a bad light on the Nats organization (though that would be completely unfair). I think there will be a lot of you that don't care, and a bunch more that are rooting for the Indians but for reasons other than Manny Acta.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Touring the NL East

Busy Day so just a tour around the NL East while I hope for John Lannan to pitch 7 innings of 8 hit, 3 walk, 1 K shutout baseball.

Currently the Phillies' worst WHIP for a starter is 1.12. And it's Cliff Lee. The offense is hanging on but Utley better get back soon. It's only a passing offense right now and Rollins, Polanco, and Victorino are all probably hitting above their heads a little bit.

I don't hear a lot of Marlins chatter but the team is legitimately good and has the 3rd best record in baseball. Their hitting has been good (5th in NL in runs scored) and that's while Hanley Ramirez has struggled terribly (.198 /.308 /. 277). Both 23 year old Logan Morrison (.327 / .424 / .636) and 21 year old Mike Stanton (.253 / .343 /.529) are great. They are also 5th in the East in runs allowed. Forget Halladay and Lee, Josh Johnson is the best starter in the NL (0.88 ERA)

The Braves were 7-8 with Heyward batting 5th or 6th, 10-6 with him batting 2nd. It probably really doesn't matter but we like karma rewarding good decision. What no one really talks about though is that they are batting the worst hitter on their team (Prado) first. Sure he'll get better but the guy leads the league in at bats and has a .299 OBP. He's creating a ton of outs right now. Pretty sweet pitching here too. Highest non-Derek Lowe whip? 1.02 for Tommy Hanson. (and Lowe has been pretty good) Johnny Venters has 15 Ks and 5 hits given up in 15 2/3 IP.

Told you the Mets were bad. The whole "who needs Carlos Beltran - we have Angel Pagan!" nonsense has come crashing down with Pagan hitting .159 /.259 / .246. He's not that bad but he's not that good either. Ike Davis is for real though. Of course the real problem is the starting pitching. Only Chris Young has been decent. Pelfrey has been terrible (7.39 ERA, 1.964 WHIP) and he was supposed to be their best pitcher with Santana out. Also the "At least we got R A Dickey!" crowd has come back to Earth, too. Funny how a fanbase can get on actual talented players like Wright, Beltran, & Santana so much then swoon the minute a meh guy has a career year.

In other news:

For those hoping that Manny Acta's Cleveland Indians would be overtaken soon - none of the presumed favorites in the Central are just suffering from bad luck. In fact 2, the Twins and the Tigers are actually out performing their pythagoran W-L record. The Twins "should be" 8-21 and are the luckiest team in the league. (The unluckiest? The Braves. Don't buy those WC tickets just yet, Nats fans)

Wednesday, May 04, 2011



That's the highest batting average anyone in the Nats starting lineup ended the night with yesterday.


Last year 73 National Leaguers qualified for the batting title. 71 hit .236 or better. In 2009 no qualifier hit less than .240.


Four of last night's starters were batting .219 or under. Livan Hernandez's lifetime batting average is .221.

Ok you say. It's not about batting average though! It's about OBP and SLG! True - those are better stats, but you can't just not get hits. You need to get hits! It's not "walkandslugball", it's "hitsball"! It's great that you can walk, but if you don't get hits too you probably aren't getting on base enough. And it's great that you can slug the ball, but if you aren't getting a lot of hits then those big ones are coming too few and far between.

How bad is it? If we ignore Ramos (and that's not being unfair, his early split time keeps him from being a current qualifier), Ian Desmond leads the team in BA (.235 - 70th in the NL) and slugging (.408 - 49th), Jayson Werth leads the team in OBP (.322).

Plug a .235 / .322 / .408 line into the ol' Harpermatic.... you get 2009 Brandon Inge. If you Frankenstiened together the BEST possible offense you could from the guys with enough at bats on the Nationals to qualify for the league leaders, picking and choosing the guy that hit the best, and the guy that got on the base the most, and the guy that slugged the hardest -you get 2009 Brandon Inge. Victor's not screaming "He's alive!" for that, more like "What a waste of time!" 2009 Brandon Inge would be revered by this team. The would build graven gold statues of him riding a calf. All 13 female Nationals fans would name their sons "Charles Brandon". The team would invite former NC State player Kenny Inge to perform the works of playwright William Inge.

Only two more months of this, right?

(to be fair to the optimists, you have to believe that Jayson Werth is going to bat better. To be fair to everyone else find me anyone else in the lineup that you can say that about? An injured Adam LaRoche is your best bet.)

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

So far so bad, but then so good!

Let's see how the long road of May is going:

Pirates away: Goal 2-1, Actual 1-2.
Mets home : Goal 3-0, Actual 1-2
Giants home, Phillies/Marlins/Braves away. Marlins home : Goal 6-10, so far 3-1.

Nats fans are feeling good that the team won the series against the Giants (World Champions by proxy!) but in the grand scheme of the season it doesn't quite make up for not being able to win two series against bad teams. Plus the Giants aren't all that good. With Pablo Sandoval, they might have just enough offense, the pitching is that good. Without him though, this is a team that's going to lose a lot of 3-1, 2-0 games. Plus Miguel Tejada. We joke about Pudge being terrible, but at least you can stick him in behind the plate and feel confident. Miguel Tejada is killing the Giants all over the place. I wouldn't be surprised if he's oversalting their post-game meals.

The Nats have a much tougher set of opponents with the Phillies, Marlins, and Braves. All decent offenses. The Nats are not in the position to outslug anyone. If you haven't noticed the offense is terrible. Look at 'em Mike Morse is trying rapidly to get out of DC before the weather turns warm. Rick Ankiel is worse than we thought he would be, which is hard to believe. Danny Espinosa is facing his first set of pitcher adjustments and is not doing well. Pudge survives on glove alone. Hairston and Cora are Hairston and Cora. Adam LaRoche obviously didn't like being compared favorably to Lee, Pena and Willingham. Ugh. Need to look at something good. Here we go. Let's hope it stays looking that pretty after the road trip.

Other notes : Hey Ian Desmond is killing it! .438 / .471 / .875 in his 5 games back. Honestly I think he waits for FJB to say he needs to be sent down. He's now passed the rapidly crashing Danny Espinosa (.100 / .217 / .100 in past week).

Sean Burnett's line may look bad but it's all in that terrible 9th inning with the Mets and that inning could have ended early if not for the seeing eye single, the almost caught soft liner, the lucky pop bunt. He's fine and the bullpen has at least four good arms, plus H-Rod has looked good since being brought up and Todd Coffey is doing much better after a rough start. The only guy you don't want to see on the mound right now is Broderick and that works in two ways since he's only likely to pitch in long relief when the pitcher has been knocked out. How long he stays depends on if Elvin Ramirez can get healthy enough to put in his necessary 90 days to stay with the team (rule V stuff here). The biggest weakness of this pitching staff is the lineup.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Why Not Nix?

Early in the season I joked that, of course Laynce Nix wasn't in the mix to start for the Nats, he was only the best fielder of the bunch and the one guy to hit at all in the previous year. This was only mild mocking because the situation didn't demand that Nix start. The Nats had committed to Mike Morse. They saw some future in Roger Bernadina. They paid money to Rick Ankiel. Laynce Nix might be better than these guys but that judgement was based on a single year of batting data, and really I was looking to play him in CF - a position he hadn't played all that much.

Now though, we're a month into the new season and new decisions can be made. Let's go over the reasons that the other guys were deemds more likely to start in the first place...

Rick Ankiel plays good defense and can give the Nats some needed lefty power. We went over last week that Ankiel was failing at hitting for power. He had a decent week since then with 7 hits in 26 at bats, but only 2 doubles to show for it. It's kind of silly to judge defense with this little information but there is nothing going on that makes me change the conclusion reached by the last few years of numbers. He's not a good CF, maybe an average corner one.

Mike Morse could be the next Jayson Werth. Yes, the Nats bought into a hot spring too much. It's almost funny how bad Mike Morse is doing because he's NEVER done this poorly. At the very least the Nats expected him to mash lefties. Instead he's putting up a .091 / .200 / .136 line. The .143 BABIP says that number will improve but by how much? On the fielding side Morse has been pretty terrible. That was expected though. It was supposed to be a tradeoff for the hitting. If he's not hitting...

Bernadina is the future! Bernadina might have been the future. After scuffling along in the minors for his first few years he suddenly "got it" in 2008 and smacked the ball around in AA and AAA. His cup of coffee in the majors wasn't impressive, but at 24 going on 25 it was worth it to start him in 2009 to see if '08 was just a fluke year or the sign of something more. Roger promptly broke his ankle and missed most of 2009. They hoped he'd bounce back last year, but while he had another nice stop in AAA, his 450+ plate appearances in the majors didn't show anything different than in 2008. It would help if he was a great fielder, but in all honesty he's not anything better than average either.

Nix's 2010 was a fluke. Perhaps. Prior to last year's .291 average, he had never hit about .255. But in the past 3 years he has turned up the slugging showing isoSLG numbers of .237, .164, and .263 (great, ok, and great). Even including all those early years when he was in and out of the majors his career isoSLG is virtually identical to Rick Ankiel's career numbers. In other words - he hits for the power the team expected from Rick Ankiel, and unlike Ankiel he does not appear to be dead yet. Defensively... well he hasn't shown that he's better than Ankiel or hypothetical Bernadina (like his career stats suggest), but he hasn't shown he's any worse.

There is no good reason not to start Nix. But on the flipside the argument FOR starting him isn't all that strong. First off like we just said, chances are he wouldn't be much better in CF than Ankiel. He'd definitely be an improvement over Morse, but assuming Morse could bounce back, you are basically conceding a spot in the lineup whenever a lefty is pitching. Nix can't hit them. Ankiel isn't good at all vs lefties, but he's historically a step better than Laynce and is handling himself against them this year. Nix's older than Morse and Bernadina, and just a smidge younger than Ankiel so that's not a selling point either.

I'd like to see him start in center over Ankiel and let Morse work out his issues in left. Again - he would likely be a hole in the lineup vs lefites, but I think overall he'd be better than Rick and I want to run Morse out there as much as possible so at year's end the Nats can make an informed decision about the guy. Logic would probably dictate a platoon with someone, most likely Morse. The benefits of this are only theoretical though until Morse starts hitting lefties again, and you are spending a quarter of your games with a terrible defensive OF. A platoon with Bernadina might make more sense (Bernadina has been equally substandard vs righties and lefties in the majors) but what team does a lefty /lefty platoon with the only promised benefit being a slight defensive gain in yoru least important defensive position?

The real problem is the Nats are an OF short. You can jury rig a decent 3rd OF from the parts of Morse/Bernadina/Nix/Ankiel. But to fill two spots with these guys is asking too much. Now you're needing to get lucky and have someone hit like a regular. Right now, Nix seems most likely to be that guy with the luck, so the team almost has to run with him and see if they do get lucky or if it's just an illusion.

(In my head I imagine Rizzo having the same reaction to signing Nix to a minor league deal after giving Ankiel a contract, as I have when I see paper towels on sale somewhere right after I bought them. Grumble grumble... stupid me.... grumble... should have done more research... grumble gotta pick this up, too good a deal to pass... grumble.. )