Nationals Baseball: June 2010

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Nats All-Stars - who's in, who's out

Tomorrow ends the All-Star voting but really for a team like the Nats (bad with a... let's say "growing" fanbase) it was over before it started. This is a popularity contest and the Nats are the kid that in 3 years everyone's forgotten they went to school with. Only Pudge is in the Top 5 at his position and he's a name at a position where the 4th best guy is either batting .226 with 9 homers, or .275 with 2 HRs and 13 RBIs. So who's going for the Nats?

Zimmerman should and probably will. Even with his recent slump he's clearly one of the Top 3 3rd baseman in the league. There are a good number of decent SS and 2B that could rob him of a spot but that would be a shame considering that he's better than any of those guys. Wright will probably win the fan vote, and he's one of those 2 better than Zimm. If Polanco wins, it's quite possible he won't go because of injury.

Dunn should and could. He's having a better offensive year than Zimm and has improved his defense. Pujols, the best 1st baseman this year, is winning the ballot, meaning no unfair crowding out. Unfortunately the NL really needs to take Votto and Adrian Gonzalez leaving no room for Dunn AND Zimmerman. I think they lean toward Zimm, but if Adam can go into one of his streaks and take the NL homer lead that could change.

Josh Willingham should and won't. You can read what I said here., but in short: On performance he's just good enough to be there, but given how selection works, that the Nats are awful, that they've already got All-Stars in line, that Strasburg is taking all the interest, I don't see how the start align for Josh.

Strasburg is all up to your personal opinion of the game and could. It depends on how you view the All-Star game. I think he should go - but I'm an "exhibition game for the fans" type of guy. I want the old guys starting till they can't start no more. I don't care if an "unworthy" guy gets voted in as a starter. That's me. If you're in the "earned it with their first-half performance" group then Straburg hasn't done enough yet. Maybe another 2 perfect outings of awesomeness and I'd change my mind on even that. Either way - baseball wants him in and he hasn't pitched himself out of it yet, so I think there's a real chance he makes it in. Which would be very bad news for the other Nats.

Pudge shouldn't and probably won't. The stats are slipping, Yadier will make it and Miguel Olivo should. If they take a third catcher (not always given) he's got to beat out about 10 guys with better offensive stats. Still it IS Pudge and he is hitting over .300, even if it's only singles, so there's an outside chance.

Clippard shouldn't and won't. He's been a very good middle reliever when historically even the best middle relievers don't make it in. This isn't a real team you're building here.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Rizzo Right, Rizzo Wrong,

Rizzo as a GM confuses me. On one hand I do believe he's a good judge of talent and that he understands the long haul situation the Nats are in. He's made a couple questionable moves but nothing that influential to the team either in dollars, time sunk, or talent lost. At the same time he seems convinced, as a lot of successful people can be, that once the pieces are in place it's simply a matter of effort and attitude, dismissing the vagaries of luck and niggling injuries and talent evaluation that move a team in one way or another.

In Boswell's column the other day he presented these sides of himself in quote form:
"We're underachieving. We're playing bad baseball. Defensively, we're giving away far too many outs. We're not situational hitting... You can't win major league games by doing that."
This is exactly right. Baseball games are generally close affairs. That'll happen when the best teams win 55% of their games and the worst only win 45%. Even a great team can suffer if they don't execute when they need to and the Nats are certainly not a great team. It's imperative that they play with minimal mental errors or else... well you can see what happens or else.
"This is not and should not be a 10-games-under-.500 team, We have seven guys who've played in the World Series and others who've been in the playoffs. And that doesn't include some of our best players. I can't believe that playing the Orioles in June is the most stressful thing they have ever done."
This is exactly wrong. The type of "just try harder" nonsense that you expect a clueless superstar to scream at a helpless rookie at the first game of the season. It doesn't matter how many World Series they've been to, or playoff games they've played, because it's not a matter of failing under stress. It's because the team is falling back down to the level of play that should result from their talent.

Rizzo put together a team that if all went exactly perfect, if everyone, over the course of the year, played to moderate to best expectations would be around a .500 team, maybe a couple games over. But that never happens. Some guys collapse, some guys get hurt, some guys were just wildly misjudged. In the end you end up about where you should and for the Nats - it IS 10 games under .500(probably more like 15...). Now of course that doesn't mean 10 games under at this point in the season, but 6-7 under would be about right.

But you can see Rizzo doesn't get that. Teams will lose series to the Orioles. Good ones. Some may get swept. It's a long year. It happens. But such a circumstance is impossible for Rizzo. Lannan has thrown better games in the past than he has this year, so he isn't struggling with injury or maybe losing his razor thin margin of success, he just needs to get down to AA and buckle down.

This attitude has been fine for the Nats so far. Dukes, Cabrera, even Lannan - these weren't difference makers for the Nats. But what happens to first time someone who is a potential difference maker goes into a slump? Really - what about Desmond? He should be up the whole year - but I can hear in the back of my head Rizzo screaming "WHY WON'T HE JUST CONCENTRATE AND PICK THE BALL UP!!!! GET ME THE PHONE! HE'S DONE HERE!!"

I believe that Rizzo can put together a winning team for the Nats, but I'm starting to worry about what'll happen if he does put together a good team and it happens to unravel due to whatever reasons. Can Rizzo work the damage control needed for a well constructed team, or will the first sign of disappointment make him want to rip it apart and try to start over with "guys who care"?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The "easy" stretch

There's not much good coming from this weekend's Clip-splosion, so how about an interesting fact to start us off?

The Nats not only have lost 4 straight one-run games, they have played 6 straight 1 run games, and 8 of their last 9 games were of the one-run variety. That's pretty crazy. A lot has been driven by the offensive slump but whenever they get the bats moving then pen starts breaking down.

Ok, now back to the bad. Back in late May Nats fans were getting excited. The team was sitting at .500, Strasburg was on the horizon, and the schedule, which had been pretty tough up until that point, was going to significantly lighten up. Five of the worst seven teams in the majors; Houston, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Kansas City, and Baltimore, were going to be opponents in June. Throw in middling Detroit and White Sox teams and a good Cincinnati (with only Detroit away of the three) and another month of .500 ball looked certain. More importantly, there was a chance for something even better. Instead, the Nats crashed. After winning that first game in Houston to get back to 26-26, the Nats have gone 7-17 effectively ending the hope of any sort of special run for 2010 and getting the Nats dangerously close to the apathetic, playing out the string baseball of the past 4 seasons. What happened?

The hitting crashed : It wasn't great in April or May but the line in June is scary bad. .250 / .307 / .369. That is a team with no patience and no power. You could blame Ryan Zimmerman (.354 SLG and only 4 XBH in the month) if you like. I would rather look at Pudge (.255/.283/.314), Desmond (.224/.263/.316), Guzman (.238/.286/.321), and Morgan (.262/.292/.298). That's four regulars in the lineup with an OPS of .607 or less. You can work around one, maaaaaybe two weak lineup spots. In June, the Nats have been playing with four holes in their lineup.

The mainstay starters and best bullpen guys struggled: If you look at starter or relief ERA it doesn't look bad, but those numbers are deceiving. Strasburg's 1.78 ERA hides a horrible perfromance from the two guys left in the rotation (at the time) the Nats rely on. Lannan (7.91) was awful enough to get sent down and Livan (5.12) seems to be reverting to form as the month ends. In the pen we see the same thing. Some nice numbers overall, but "the guy" Matt Capps, tossed out a 4.82 ERA blowing three games early in the month. He's levelled out, but now Clippard has blown a couple close ones. Outside of Lannan, these guys haven't been terrible but the timing of their rough patches have cost the Nats dearly.

Their luck turned: After going 10-8 in 1 run games up until June 1, the Nats have gone 2-8 since. A couple breaks here and there and that 7-17 run is 10-14. That's still not good but it would feel like a team slipping, not a team in free fall.

The Nats are now staring at four series against the top 2 teams in the NL East and the NL West. It looks likely that they are about to drop themselves back into the familiar "no hope" scenario they've been in since 2005. Then again, they defied expectations in June, so why can't they do it again? Right? Right?

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Diminishing Strasburg effect?

Just something to chew on as the Nats head into the weekend

Yesterday's game versus the Royals had an attendance of 31,913. While that's a ton of fannys in the seats for a mid-week day game, it wasn't anywhere near a sellout. Is the DC market already losing interest in the phenom? Is that even a problem?

Strasburgs first two home games were virtually sellouts (40,315 and 40,325) and doubled the probably attendance from around 20K apiece. Well probably. The first game was certainly at least double what they would have gotten from a regular Pirates game. The next day the Nats drew 18,876. The White Sox game leaves a bit more to interpretation. As a Friday night game the previous Friday night attendance (June 4th) was 33,774 against the Reds. Of course that is ALSO a Strasburg effect game since the team let fools buy up tickets for this game believing it would be the debut. The Friday game before that (May 21st) drew 27,378 but that was the Orioles, another game you'd expect a higher draw. The Friday game before THAT (May 7th) was a Marlins snoozer bringing in 20,161. That might be more "typical" but is a Friday in early May really equivalent to one in mid-June? Against a AL team of more interest? Still, I think it's fair to say he still doubled it though - I mean what more can he do than sell it out?

The last midweek baseball game though drew 21,767 for a Thursday game vs the Pirates. That's not a game you expect to draw that well. Strasburg "only" pulled in 10K or so more casual fans then would have been there anyway. To me the number is heartening and telling. It's heartening because those fans are there. That's 10K more people that can move from being casual fans to hardcore fans that wouldn't have been there before. Ten thousand people moved to go to Nats park in the midday heat when they were playing the Royals to see this kid pitch. It's great for the Nats. At the same time it's telling for the Nats management if they were thinking that Strasburg alone would keep the attendance up as the season went along, even for his own games. Don't think they weren't hoping for this. They basically threw a park at the fans, filled it with a horrible team and acted shocked that no one came. While coming up with the hard solution (building a good team) they've been trying easy solutions.

The next Strasburg game won't tell us much. It'll likely be a Sunday game vs the Mets and I'd be shocked if that didn't sell out. After that though is a Saturday game vs the Giants. Usually Saturday games will sell well and it's the last Saturday game before the All-Star break. So I'd hope to see a sellout.

Don't take this to be anything more than some random thoughts. There is no surprise here. Fans will come to see Strasburg but will slowly fade away, even for his games, unless the team wins. I'm just curious on how slowly that will be. (or if the team will start winning, of course)

Commenter Bowdenball called me out on a couple things which led me to find a bigger error - June 10th wasn't a day game. The Nats actally haven't played a mid-week home day game since the 22nd of April and frankly I don't think that's comparable. So scratch any day game comparisons.

I think the heat and humidity does matter but it also tells you there is a limit to how bad the casual fan wants to see Strasburg. Granted they were given possibly the worst conditions for a ballgame to come out to : super hot, midday weekday, vs Royals, the Nats offense playing like it has - and they still came out to see Strasburg, but more could have and didn't. For the first two games sellouts helped hide this fact, that there is a limit. I'd be surprised if Strasburg didn't sell out the next two games (Mets and Giants, though Saturday and Friday not Sunday and Saturday as I said. Forgot they were just skipping the 5th rotation spot) but I still think the bonus crowds will slowly diminish. Maybe I'm wrong, though. If the guy is still sporting an ERA under 2.00 come mid August...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I feel like a major league starter... also Desmond

It seems like every 4 days is just a training and warming up until the next important day. Strasburg. On my continuted quest to prove that I'm right about practically everything, Strasburg's 32 Ks currently has him tied with Scott Olsen for 2nd among Nats starters, a mere 8 flailing Royals away from Livan. Then it's just a dead sprint to see if he can catch Clippard (53) by the All-Star break as I said he would.

Should be a fun game with Strasburg against another B-level major league team. The Royals are like the Pirates, a non-threatening contact hitting team. Didn't work out so well for Pittsburgh so I wouldn't feel enthused if I was a Royals fan. (Unless Rizzo starts demanding ground balls or else it's AA for Strasburg!) If you are somewhere you can watch the game (in other words - not where I am) skip out of work early - get some dogs and a beer and enjoy the show.

The team as a whole has slid its way out of contention of anything interesting while I was battling poison ivy (the plant, not the Batman villan). It's a bit early to write off .500, true, but I'll wait till after the All-Star break to see how that's coming along. Everything that is going on are things we touched upon before. The three player led offense has been terrible. They've hit an abysmal .227 / .276 / .378 in the past two weeks and somehow an even worse .201 / .243 / .320 in the past 7 days. But that will happen when your three players are struggling. The only thing I find interesting is the hard and fast fall of Ian Desmond.

April: .201 / .243 /.320
May: .272 /.296/ .402
June: .239 /.301 / .343

When Desmond was struggling in April the thought was basically he had to get his "sea legs" under him. Get used to the speed of the game at the major league level. His acceptable May was supposedly a sign that he had it together to some degree. Now he's tumbling dangerously low again and that's with a quick decent run real early in the month. He's hitting .162 /.205 / .270 in the past 2 weeks, .105 /.105 / .158 the past 7 days. A slump? Possibly. Scouting catching up to him? Possibly. He's not getting unlucky (BABip .298, LD% 17.9% seem to be in line) I'll tell you that.

The good thing from Desmond (keeping certain jerkfaces from sending him down to AA - because he is certainly not giving the team the best chance to win everyday I don't care if he's Ozzie Smith out there) is that Guzman stinks and Kennedy stinks and the Nats AA/AAA middle infield stinks. It's Ian's slump to work out of. If he does, great. If this continues through to the All-Star break... well then the Nats are stuck, but I'd rather be stuck starting a 24 year old and hoping he catches on than stuck starting a 30 year old and hoping for a miracle. Like in center. (Hey Milledge is hot! He's almost back to average! Did I ever mention that he's only 6 months older than Desmond? I did? Over and over? Hmm. I know you guys don't like him. Don't care. Milledge 4 eva. )

Monday, June 21, 2010


I guess I spoke too soon when I said the Nats weren't the "team that gets swept all the time"...

It seems like even before the debacle of the weekend (in which the Nats lost 2 1-run games, even though Rigglemans is the bestestest at bullpens managements - regards Nats Fans circa late May) the commenters realized that the Nats were sellers of some sort. I'm heartened there didn't see to be any readers that felt this team was perfect and shouldn't be changed. Of course that didn't mean there weren't disagreements. First though, I think there was virtually no disagreement on the below and I agree with all the sentiments

  • Trade our "garbage" for whatever we can get. They want Willie Harris, Alberto Gonzalez, Tyler Walker, Sean Burnett for a low A-ball "prospect"? Fine. Do it.
  • Trade Guzman... if we can. There is a strong sense that the contract (I think there is 1.29 billion left on it for this season) will be a hinderance and this will be another test of the Lerner's commitment to spending. Guzman can be useful for another team as a bat off the bench that will make contact. Of course that isn't worth 4 million, but what if the Nats eat 3 million of it?
  • Trade Livan. There didn't seem to be anyone out there thinking that he was going to keep this up. You are all very smart. Gold stars for you. I think it helps that Nats' fans have seen Livan pitch before.
  • Trade Capps. I was suprised by the agreement over this but most commenters didn't think much of the guy, realized that we didn't need to keep Clippard AND Capps and opted to keep Clippard. A fan base realizing that it's closer can easily be replaced only one year after having a historically bad bullpen? That's a commitment to common sense. Patrick Henry would be pround.
Now there were some differing opinions on the next people.

Trade Dunn? The contract, while high, I think works in favor of dealing Adam since it does expire after the season and everyone can agree that Dunn is a better DH than a firstbaseman. But he does seem to be improving and he is a legit All-Star. Do you give up the bird in the hand? For me, I think a lot depends on some early contract negotiations. It's not so much the cost that bothers me so much wondering if Adam going to be a stickler for a longer term deal. It's hard to argue with another 2-year deal. Adam at 32 and 33 should still be a viable first baseman and by then Bryce Harper or some other minor league player could be ready. First base is where any slugger can be shifted eventually which makes it one of the easier positions to fill if need be. But a 3 or 4 (or more) year deal? I couldn't get behind that and if he seems to be a stickler in wanting that I say cut him loose now if you can.

Trade Willingham? A lot of people said no. Cheap and Good and 30? What's wrong with keeping that? Well nothing except that he might be doing much better than he ever will and those three things you mentioned would make him the most tradeable commodity the Nats have. I tend to fall on the trading side. I know he's done really well and is likely to carry it longer than Dunn but still I can't help but see his outburst this year as Nats good fortune not to be wasted. Remember his collapse last season? He was near useless past August. I know it's hard to think of how bad the OF could be without him but still I think what you can get back if better for this team in the next 4-5 years than keeping him around.

Trade Pudge? Most people who wanted to keep Pudge were of the "who else is going to play". Nieves did look horrible and catchers are hard to find, but remember this is a guy who has no power and no patience and hit .249 last season and .276 the year before and is 38 years old playing the most physically demanding position on the field. His numbers will go down. So the difference between Nieves and Pudge going foward.... ok even I can't convince myself that it won't be big. Nieves is that bad and even the spectre of Pudge helps on defense. So I wouldn't dump Pudge for anything, but anything halfway decent? Yeah I probably do pull the trigger. That second year is hanging over Pudge and he's certainly not going to be part of the next true playoff run roster. There's no reason to give him away just to do it (he'd still make a valuable, if overpaid, back-up next year if Flores is back) but a good fair deal should be accepted.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Deal or The Opposite of Deal

These are your Nats. Not "they'll get swept all the time" but "they're no better than a few games under .500". There is no division title or Wild Card in their 2010 future. There are just too many teams to pass over to make that jump. Accepting that here's the question -

Do you deal? and Who?

Livan and Pudge are having starts that simply can't be held up over the course of the rest of the season. They are old. Between Flores, Norris and Bryce, the Nats have some depth at catcher and they have 192 guys waiting to get back into the rotation post-injury. BUT the Nats also don't have a catcher or innings-eater ready to play now, and maybe not next year given on how the Nats medical staff seems to get guys back from injury.

Willingham and Dunn are having career years. Their trade value is probably never going to be higher. They are on the wrong side of 30. BUT the Nats already have at least one, maybe 2 holes to fix in the OF, and they don't have a first baseman in the wings. The Nats already lack a good breadth of power in their lineup, losing these two would make a home run as rare as a decent Brian Bruney relief appearance.

Capps and especially Clippard are doing much better than expected. Relievers are fungible. Storen seems ready to take over the back of the bullpen. BUT the Nats want guys back there to make sure Strasburg gets his wins. We all remember while you can find guys under rocks to fill in a bullpen, it can take time to do the finding.

The team is clearly not playoff bound in 2010. With Zimmerman and Strasburg as the anchors this team can plan for the next 4-5, not just 2011. BUT dealing popular and good players now could hurt a fanbase that is tentatively coming back to the team. They will come back with the wins but the franchise is desperate for consistent growth in attendance over the next few years. It does not want any more step backs in that department, which is what could happen if the deals are made and the young players take a couple years to come around.

Do you deal? and Who?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Lannan on the edge

Hey Lannan! Stop walking people! Start striking out people!

Lannan's success, as we've gone over before, is based pretty much on the fact that he gets enough groundballs and limits the XBHs of righties enough that all those baserunners he lets on just melt away (except for the 2-4 that score). It's not a recipe for domination. It's a recipe for moderate success. Up until now it didn't matter that he didn't strike anyone out and it didn't matter that he walked too many. He hadn't yet found the limit of how many men he could let on base and how many balls the other team could put in play have it mess with his success.

Consider it found.

In 2008 things worked for Lannan even though he walked too many because his K numbers weren't terrible. (5.79 K/9, 3.56 BB/9)

In 2009 things worked for Lannan even though he struck out fewer batters because he was able to drop his walks as well. (3.88 K/9, 2.97 BB/9)

In 2010 things aren't working because he's striking out even fewer guys and he's walking more batters than he has in his career (2.92 K/9, 4.44 BB/9)

He's also giving up fewer groundballs (from 54.2% in '08 to 51.9% in '09 to 49.6% this year)
And he's getting hit harder (LD% up to 20.7%)
And he's getting unlucky a bit (BABIP of .327 compared to lifetime average around .275)

The only thing saving John from complete failure is the fact he's still doing well not giving up homers. (only 8.8% of his fly balls, only 0.89 HR/9)

Some may come look at Lannan now and say "See! Told ya the way he was going couldn't keep working!" but right now that's not an accurate depiction of what's happening. He is not failing doing the same thing he was doing before. He's failing while pitching worse than ever. The discussion over whether Lannan could continue to find success doing what he was doing may have to go unanswered unless he picks up his game.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

It's ok not to say anything

I flipped over the and they just went to the Nats game where someone (why name names if that's not the point) said, and I'm paraphrasing a bit, "The Nats were in control of the game and just couldn't close it out". Does he mean when they were up 4-2 going into the bottom of the 4th? I know announcers feel the need to talk about every game that pops up in front of them but you can't just make stuff up. That's all I ask. Just don't make it up.

Can the Nats Platoon Morgan?

The comments yesterday turned into a little bit of a "We Hate Nyjer Morgan" Fest (to be held under tight security in Rome NY) even though he wasn't directly mentioned in the post. There's a lot of deep-seated ill feelings toward Nyjer and it's not hard to understand why. He's hitting .249 / .313 / .333. His fielding, courtesy of De Civitate, hasn't been up to snuff either. And let's not forget he's been caught stealing 10 of 22 times, leading the league in that category.

Nyjer isn't hitting, running, or fielding well, so it's pretty easy to call for his head, even though most Nats fans were naming their goldfishes "Tony Plush" at the end of last season. I'm thinking that's a bit premature. Morgan can be an asset to this team, if he is used correctly. In an ideal world this would mean Nyjer would be platooned. But can he be?

It wasn't easy to see his issues with lefties in 2007 or 2008, at least at the major league level. Nyjer hit fairly well against them. The problem is he only had 55 plate appearances against them over the course of 2 years. His minor league stats were also not telling. Through most of his minor league career he hit lefties just fine. It was only when he got to AAA did a L/R split begin to emerge and really only that last year was it pronounced. We needed to see more.

Last year he finally got to see a lot of lefties and the results were not pretty. .175 / .283 / .223. It was thought though, that maybe that was the fault of sporadically seeing lefties, that if Morgan could see them as an everyday player that he would gain some ability to hit them. What have we seen this year? .191 / .276 / .279. I guess that's a bit better but not much. Not enough to justify seeing him flailing at lefties the rest of the year.

The obvious solution would be to platoon Morgan. His line versus righties .272 / .328 / .355 isn't great but it's well below a career line of .317 / . 368 / .405 so you would expect a bounce back. Problem is the obvious "solution" may not work. One would think that vs lefties, Morse may start in RF and Bernadina could cover center. Two things though. Bernadina also may have been underperforming in the field and there's no guarantee Roger can hit lefties. The former might just be a temporary thing, but you have to question how well he'd do in CF all the time, considering when given the choice the Sky Cheifs would put Maxwell there and play Bernadina in right. The latter may take even more of a leap of faith. He spent most of his minor league career struggling against southpaws with only 2008 standing out as a year without a pronounced split. Part of his success this year I'm sure comes from only getting up to the plate 17 time versus lefties. By essentially replacing Morgan with Bernadina the Nats might be making a lateral move at best.

Of course that's just a guess and Roger does have one big advantage over Nyjer, he's younger - just about 4 years so. He may still be able to learn to hit lefties, where that has likely passed Morgan by. Do you move on Bernadina now, play him full time while Morgan "platoons" with Morse, something that for all we know does not have a very strong chance of success, or do you stick with Morgan and keep giving Bernadina the best chances to succeed. I would probably do the latter. Morgan's fielding, one would hope, would come around. It's hard to believe he fell off a cliff just this year. And he should hit better versus righties. The baserunning would have to be contained but if the other things come around he should be a worthwhile play and in the meantime the Nats can take the whole year if needed to make a judgement on Roger.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Behind the Strasburg

Game 2 of the Strasburg era wasn't the same level of awesomeness of game 1 but it shouldn't have done anything to Nats' fans wild exuberance. He was still unhittable (just 2). He still kept them down in runs (just 1). He still struck out a ton of guys (8). So he got a little wild. His control is better than this. Look at college. 1.9 BB/9 Look at the minors. 2.1 BB/9. Not to mention Game 1 (0 walks) This is not one of those kids that have all the talent in the world and just need to harness it. He can harness it. This was just one of those days.

Strasburg has 22 Ks now bringing him into a tie with John Lannan. Livan leads all Nats starters with 33. Clippard all Nats with 48. He'll certainly lead all Nats starters in K's by the All-Star break. He should pass Livan if not in 10 days, then in 15. Catching Clippard by then will be a bit tougher, but I think he can do it.

Other notes

It's now mid-June and Pudge is almost batting .340. It's been 6 years since Pudge has had an offensive year anything like this. I assume this is karmic returns for LoDuca being a complete nothing last year.

Still Pudge needs to hit .340 because his power is gone and he doesn't take a walk. When the options for you are "hit a single" or "get an out" you need to get a lot of singles to make it worthwhile for you to be in the lineup. Take a look at Guzman. A .304 average looks pretty good, but because he doesn't walk (.327 OBP) and doesn't get XBH (.379), he's not a positive offensively.

Speaking of someone that can take a walk, in 100 less PAs, Roger Bernandina already has 4 more walks than Guzman (and only 2 less XBHs) I don't think he's as good as he's been hitting the past week or so, but if he can keep getting on base and hitting for a little pop he might just be enough above average to fill the RF hole (for the rest of this year).

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Who was that guy?

I'm starting to think that Austin Kearns' time in Washington was some sort of Fantasy Island scenario. Some fat nerdy 13 year old kid says "I'd like to play baseball" and a distinguished older Mexican man (Vinny Castilla?) grants his wish and gives him 2 years of playing baseball as one Mr. Austin Kearns. He learns a little about baseball and a lot... about life. He realizes that what he needed was inside of him all along, etc. etc. and after two years he goes back to his own body. That's the best explanation I can come up with.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Some random facts I tossed out last night

  • Most K's in a debut? JR Richard and the immortal Karl Spooner ('54 Dodgers) with 15
  • Most K's in debut since aforementioned JR Richard with 15 in 1971, only 2 other pitchers with 14 or more. For those doubting my "might lead the Nats by All-Star break" statement, reliever Clippard leads Nats with 46. Best for a non-injured starter is Livan with 30.
  • A little bit on 15 K debut man Karl Spooner from wikipedia - "Although he only started two games (in 1954) on the mound for the Dodgers, Spooner, compiled two complete game shutouts, throwing all 18 innings, giving up 7 total hits and no runs" Take that Strasburg! (Spooner would have a severe pitching injury the next Spring Training and never really pitch effectively again)
  • As bad as Pittsburgh's lineup may be - they've only struck out more than 14 times in a game once this year and that was in 14 innings
  • Again - just an amazing start for Strasburg. Outside of the aberrant 4th inning he was completely dominating - pitched 6 innings with 1 hit, 14Ks, and no runs. Struck out the last 7 batters he faced, 8 of the last 9, the last 2 on 6 pitches total.

yes. wow.

Strasburg's first opponent

Draft - Read Nationals Farm Authority . That simple.


Even better for Strasburg, Doumit and the lukewarm Crosby are both out. In Doumit's place is Jason Jamarillo who stands out as an awful hitter even in this lineup. This moves Cedeno up to 7th and LaRoche to 6th. Delwyn Young has to play now as well. He's a AAAA all-star with some legit power but absolutely no patience or real ability to hit major league pitching. He'll bat 5th, Milledge moves up to 3. This can only help Strasburg as he really is facing only 2 (maybe - depending on if Walker is for real or not) good hitters, and 7-8-9 should be like facing 3 pitchers.

Hello Pittsburgh. Who exactly is Strasburg going to face tonight? The most likely set up will look something like this:

  1. McCutchen
  2. Walker
  3. Doumit
  4. Jones
  5. Milledge
  6. Crosby
  7. LaRoche
  8. Cedeno
  9. Pitcher
McCutchen, Walker, Jones, and Cedeno are pretty set in stone. Doumit has been used recently in the 3 hole and I think will stick there. Spots 5-7 though is a mess and really dependent on who ends up starting. Milledge though will play and got the 5 spot the last 2 games so let's say he's there. I'm guessing Crosby will play because the guys who would take his spot (LaRoche and Clement) are really struggling. This usually means Jones in right and Crosby at first, which leaves 3rd for LaRoche. However Pittsburgh could look to play Delwyn Young and sit the righty LaRoche. That would mean Jones at first, Delwyn in Right and Crosby has been playing 3rd. If that's the case I'm not sure Young would bat 7th. He might bat 5th and Milledge 7th.

Ok you don't care about the order. You care if these guys are any good. Simply put - the first three guys are, the rest aren't. As a team they have no real power (14th in HRs) and are not real patient (14th in walks) so their offense is reliant on a bunch of singles being hit at the same time. They do make decent contact (10th in Ks) so we may not get the high strikeout game we were hoping for.

McCutchen is a star in the making a .300+ hitter with decent pop who's only 23 years old. Walker, like McCutchen was a #1 draft pick, but took longer to develop really only getting it together this year. He's probably not a .300+ hitter but he could be a decent one and he might have turned the corner in developing some real power. Doumit is a high average, ok power catcher when healthy.

Garret Jones might just be starting slow. He has the most real power in the lineup but at 29 he's probably not gettting any better. Milledge has finally got a chance to sit back and play... and it's apparent he doesn't have what it take to hit for average in the league. He should end up better than .250 but he has to be over .300 to be useful and it doesn't look like he will be. Crosby has been injury hobbled since his one good year in 2005 and now brings nothing to the table. LaRoche is another one that might be starting slow but his likely ending spot is still low average, low power. Ronny Cedeno might surprise you with a HR now and then but that's it.

It's close to an ideal opponent to start your career against. They'll swing and while they'll probably put it in play, they don't threaten to bash the ball. This keeps the pitch count low and the innings moving nicely. The only downside to facing the Pirates is because of the lack of power they are really top loaded in talent and you'll face their best players as much as possible (as opposed to a lot of teams who put their best at 3-4-5. Still, assuming the Nats can play error free ball the Pirates shouldn't score more than a couple runs (if that).

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Bryce! Call him Bryce! That's unique!

I have some thoughts about Harper... which is me... but not me, the other Harper. (I sound like Mojo Jojo here - anyone else miss the Powerpuff Girls?)

I'm not nearly as excited about Bryce Harper as other people seem to be. It's not that I think he shouldn't be the pick. He should. I don't care about the attitude or the agent or the setting himself up to look best for this draft. (Although I do care about seeing my name over and over again if he ever makes the majors. That will be the worst. Now I know how Obama Johnson feels) Everyone thinks he's the best talent. The Nats should take him.

However, the feeling I've gotten reading one thing after another is that he's a default pick, that in another year with more talent he might be a second pick or a third pick. That may not seem like a lot but it is. We're not dealing with that special "Oh my God!" player like Steven Strasburg. We're dealing with a "run of the mill" great talent who will be saddled with all the expectations of being the bestest hitter eva, and who may or may not develop. For as well as he's done at his age in the league that he's in, the Scenic West Junior College Conference is really no mid-major NCAA Division I conference which in turn is no major NCAA DI conference which in turn is really no low A-ball league league which in turn is no A-ball league which in turn is no AA-ball league which in turn is kinda no AAA-ball league which in turn is really no Major league. That's three reallys in there - three major jumps in talent that Bryce will have to deal with. Three hurdles that he'll have to jump over, the same for any high-school talent.

It's the right pick. You should get excited about it. Just not Strasburg excited.

Side Note on Stammen - it may seem like it's unfair to Stammen to send him down after a very decent start but it's never been an issue with getting a good start from Stammen. It's been about getting consistent good starts. Look at his game log for this year. He's been bouncing between decent and horrible starts all season. If he can show consistency in AAA he might get another chance. Until then, enjoy Syracuse.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Expounding on "should win series"

FJB brings up a nice point that I wanted to break out in ol' mathematical form, for you guys to think about. Just because you are playing a bad team there is no guarantee that you will win those games.

Forget for a moment the dozens of little things that can effect the chance of winning a single game, who are the starting pitchers, who's in and out of the lineups, who's injured or not, hot or not, is the bullpen rested, who's at home, is the team in turmoil, etc etc etc. Let's just assume none of that matters for the time being and that the Nats are an exactly average baseball team and the Astros are about as bad as the Nats were the past two years.

The latter point would put the Astros at a winning percentage of about 37%, and the former point means we can ignore the fact the Astros would win fewer games against teams better than average and vice versa.

Given the fact that the Astros would win 37% of their games against the Nats - what are the chances of the Nats outcomes in a 4-game series.

Lose All - 1.9%
Win 1 - 12.8%
Split - 32.6%
Win 3 - 37.0%
Sweep - 15.8%

Of course this is nonsense for the reasons stated above. The games aren't completely random. But it gives you an idea of what to usually expect going into a series, even with a team that you think you are far superior to. A split is far more likely than a sweep. There's a decent chance you could win only one game.

And this is against arguably the worst team in the league. Give the other team just a 41% chance of winning and the split becomes the most likely outcome and your chances of a sweep start falling below your chances of losing 3 games.

I'm probably not saying anything you don't already know from years of watching baseball. Sweeps are hard. Your team will sometimes lose and win games it "shouldn't". But it's sometimes nice to remind yourself that with an average team going into a favorable stretch against bad teams (or a worrisome one agains good teams) you shouldn't be looking for much past a few games around .500.

That seemed... familiar

Did I fall asleep in my kiddie pool time machine and wake up in 2008? Or 2009? 2007? 2006?

That loss was pretty damn familiar feeling. Poor managerial decisions, terrible fielding, complete lack of a big hit for most of the game, bullpen implosion. Can we put a stamp on it and send it back to one of those other seasons?

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Topics of conversation

Lannan, still gaining acceptance. Some better fielding and the his game would have looked a lot better... but still been a loss. I don't want to say that Thursday's game is a must win (because it isn't) but a loss would mark some interesting 2010 milestones.
  • The Nats would fall 3 games under .500 for the first time this season, making it their "low point".
  • Combined with a Braves win the Nats would fall 6.5 games out of first in the NL East - the furthest they would be behind the leader in the division this season.
  • Combined with any of 3 wins, the Nats would fall 6.5 out of the Wild Card lead, the furthest they've been out of that all year (granted since today - but that still counts!). It would also set them to possibly fall into 10th in the Wild Card race over the weekend, (depending on how the Cubbies do) a place they haven't been since the 2nd week of the season.
Some other thoughts on last nights "events"

Replay - It didn't effect the outcome of the game, did it? So we're bothered because... an accomplishment has been robbed from Galarraga? He can no longer be Len Barker in 20 years? It's unfair, sure but... I mean it's a game, right? I don't care if they end up using replay or not, I guess I'd come down on the "might as well use it since they have it" side, but I'd like the outrage saved for when it matters a bit more.

Griffey - Thank you Ken for going out the right way, hanging on until the game forces you out the door one way or another. I'm not being sarcastic. Athelets have a profession that they love to do, and they get paid very well for doing it, but can only do it for 10-15 years if they are really lucky. Keep going till they rip the bat from your cold dead hands.

Who goes down?

Oh good morning, Mr. Stammen. Going....down? (No not like this. Like this!)

Craig Stammen might have made this a moot point yesterday but the question remains - with Strasburg coming up, someone has to go down. The question is who? It's pretty easy to narrow down the suspects since there are only 5 men currently in the rotation so let's take a look at each of them from most likely to least likely. Thoroughness is the name of the game.

Luis Atilano

Positives (to kicking him out of the rotation): As nominally the 5th starter - it's his spot in the rotation Strasburg would be technically jumping into. Fancy stats say he's cruisin' for a bruisin' (xFIP of 5.75). Does not have great stuff (21BB and 16K in 44 innings) and has shown no real dominance even in best games. Only one call-up so far, has plenty of options.

Negatives: #1 round talent (at least according to where he was drafted). 4 out of last 5 starts, and 6 out of 8 were good. Fancy stats have been saying the same thing about Lannan for years.

Craig Stammen

Positives: Worst results of anyone currently on staff (5.88 ERA only one win). Seemingly puts up a stinker every other time on the mound. Had 19 starts last year and is only seemingly worse in 2010 - could be time to cut cord.

Negatives: Might have best stuff of anyone currently on staff (30K and only 16BB in almost 60 IP). Fancy stats say he's going to get better (xFIP 4.15) His best games are better than the best games of the other guys.

JD Martin

Positives: Last one up, first one down, right? Least disruptive move. If they thought highly of him would have been up already. Oldest and least "prospect-like". Another low K who has to rely on low walk rates.

Negatives: Pitched well in AAA this year and last. Pitched decent in the majors last year. Shouldn't the team reward performance?

John Lannan

Positives: Fancy stats don't look at him kindly either (xFIP 5.14). Given his age, contract, and track record of success could bring back something nice in a deal (since sending him down really isn't an option). Had a minor injury earlier in the year and you know how Nats are with injuries.

Negatives: Fancy stats have never looked at him kindly, hasn't stopped him so far. Given his age, contract, and track record, he's kind of the type of guy you want on this team - at the very least to provide stability and innings.

Livan Hernandez

Positives: The Nats would be striking while the iron was superheated to the point where not a single degree more could be transferred to the iron without it immediately transforming to a gaseous state. Livan is cheap and a known commodity with a decent track record, a deal for him as he's pitching now could also bring in something nice.

Negatives: He's LIVAN! You don't get rid of Livan! Trading him and fans might think you are "giving up" on this season. Given Lannan's arm issues, Livan may be the only sure thing to eat up innings on the staff.

What do I think? While a trade is super-intriguing, I would send down Stammen. I know he's got the best stuff but that's not saying much and I'm not a stuff person - I'm a results person. Thirty starts into his major league career Stammen has shown poor results. His AAA career is also not encouraging. He did have a 1.80 ERA in his last stint, but it was probably not coincidently when he had his lowest K rate. Prior to that he had a decent K-rate but an ERA over 8.00 across 2 years. This seems to suggest he can't have success utilizing the raw talent he may possess. If he has to be a Lannan or Atilano or JD Martin to maybe succeed in the majors, well the Nats already have a Lannan, Atilano and Martin in the majors doing ok. At 26 with Olsen and Marquis and Zimmermann and Wang and whoever else waiting in the wings, there's only so much time you can get to translate talent into results.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

"The Nats win the hearts of Washington DC - Take Three"

Annnnd ACTION! Strasburg - June 8th.

As for the weekend some quick thoughts:

  • Just when you were going to ask "Where's the offense?" for like the 8th time this season they bust out with a 12 run game. Sure it was against the soft underbelly of the Astros staff (thanks, Roy!) but it's not like they're the worst relievers in the league.
  • Another strong start from Lannan - A 3.13 ERA in his last 4 starts, 1.96 in his last 3. Still no K's but the walks are dropping. Look out convential statistical wisdom! Here comes Lannan!
  • Riggleman has been pushing 75% of the right buttons this year but this Guzman / Kennedy / Desmond rotation is silly. Desmond should play pretty much every day. 2B should be manned by whoever has the hot hand between Guzman and Kennedy. The other guy should ride the pine.
  • For all the talk of the great schedule the Nats have played so far - please note that 11 out of 16 NL teams are .500 or better. The Nats have played the 3rd hardest schedule (well sorta) with an SOS of .510. The Braves have played the 11th with .497. In baseball terms that's the difference between an 80/81 win team and an 82/83 win team. There ARE teams that have got an advantage because of the schedule but they are all NL Central teams where the Pirates, Astros, and disappointing Brewers reside. (12th, 14th-16th SOS teams are NL Central teams)
  • Another thing you might hear about the Nats is that they've lost 14 games by 2 or 1 runs. That's true. They've also won 17 of these. Because the offense has been fairly incapable of stringing together big scoring games* they are going to be in a lot of close games this year. 17-14 is about right.

*The Nats are above NL average in games where they've scored 5 runs or more (*23 such times), by the time we look at 7 runs or more they've dropped below average, and at 8 runs or more they are in the Pirates/Astros world. Seven runs has been the limit of the Nats abilities for most of the season. This is what happens when all your power is tied up in 3 guys. Zimmerman (#1 in SLG), Dunn (#10), and Willingham (#11). Pudge is next and he would be #48 if he had enough at bats. Guzman does and he's #59. Both of these guys SLG% though is tied up in their high-averages. This is a team of haves and have nots when it comes to power. That's not terrible, but not ideal either.