Nationals Baseball: October 2011

Monday, October 31, 2011

I would have been rooting for the Cards all along

If I knew this was the end result.

Here's a Monday Philosophical Question for you folks.  What is the obsesssion with "going out on top"?  Like why is that such a good thing? I've thought about it and I can't wrap my head around it.

I can see how some people would want to go out at a time of their choosing.  Me, personally, if I was doing something that I loved and was getting paid exorbitantly for doing it, my "chosen time" would be when they kicked my ass out, but that's me.  I get some people are prideful.  But you don't have to go out "on top" to go out on your own volition.  A couple years later when you are still good but can admit that it's gonna take a miracle for you to go out as a star again would still accomplish that.  Think Derek Jeter, if he left this year.

No, the only reason I can see for wanting to go out on top is if what other people thought of you was so important that you wanted to make sure everyone thought of you as only a winner.  (I can totally see that being true for Tony LaRussa by the way) Don't we teach our kids not to worry about what other people think?  That it only matters if you're happy?  Why the disconnect when it comes to entertainers, in this instance, sports figures?

This is a pet peeve of mine, along with back hair and dates who only talk about themselves. Nothing makes me madder than hearing some talk radio idiot spout off about how player X should retire because they are embarrassing themselves. Tell me how I'm wrong here.  Tell me how Willie Mays should have stopped playing before he wanted to because some schmo 40 years from now will somehow still be focused on a dropped flyball and not 660 home runs over 20+ years of a hall-of-fame career.

Clarification : I guess I went a little off the rails in the middle there - but the question is more about us than them.  I don't see Tony LaRussa's retirement as any better timed than say Whitey Herzog or Frank Robinsons. In fact it may be worse-timed if he still wanted to manage some more.  John Elway's isn't better than Joe Montana's.  Michael Jordan and Brett Favre didn't "ruin anything" by coming back. What's the counter argument?  Win me over.  It seems like a lot of people, I'd dare say the majority, feel the other way. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011


The Cardinals and Anya win in the same night?  Double ugh.  Am I right?

What a terribly played, terribly managed, terribly exciting game. It's a shame it didn't just end with Nelson Cruz trying really hard to miss that line drive because that really captured what Game 6 was all about.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Roy Oswalt talk

Philly made it official, declining the 16 million dollar option on Roy Oswalt's option.  With arbitration being extremely unlikely to get the Phillies the deal they want, Oswalt is going to be the free-est of the free agents, one that can be signed without losing any draft picks.  That's a big bonus for draft pick loving Mike Rizzo.  But there's more to Oswalt than just a typical free agent.

Oswalt has long made it clear the baseball life isn't really for him.  He said before his last deal that he could very well retire when this contract is up, and every reporter seems to believe he's serious. This talk, and his last contract, make everyone believe that his next deal, if ithere is one, will be of the one or two year variety.  That type of short-term investement and the lack of draft pick compensation would make him very attractive to the Nats... and everyone else. Oswalt will most likely get to pick and choose his next spot from a dozen suitors.  Philadelphia could be it, but why take less money to throw in a hitters park, a long way from home, for a team possibly looking at an off year?  It seems unlikely that he'll be back to me.

But pick and choose doesn't exactly bode well for the Nats.  They should be good next year but can they guarantee a playoff spot? Is DC any practical distance closer to Mississippi than Philly? Texas, Atlanta, and St. Louis all could offer closer locations to home and arguably better shots at the playoffs. If he can't be wowed by the money then I just don't see Washington winning the bidding war for him.

Do the Nats even want Oswalt? Yes they do. The narrative of the season is a little alarming. The drop in K-rate (6.02 K/9 this year - 7.35 career) and the overwhelming reliance on his change (up from 15% of his pitches last year to 19% last year) rather than his breaking stuff (down from 29% to 20%) says "pitcher on the decline".  But this narrative is misleading.  First off everything else remained stable.  He was walking the same, giving up the same type of hits. Sure his HR/FB ratio was a little lucky (0.65 this year, 0.75 career) but the BABIP he had was a little unlucky (.316 , .296).  Nothing else says decline. More importantly, if you look at his splits before and after injury, you can see that the back was bringing him down.  He was at 15% breaking stuff and a 5.3 K/9 when he went out.  He came back and pitched more in line with what you'd expect from Oswalt.

Roy Oswalt going to pitch well.  If healthy, he could be great.  If like this year, he's still good. As a one or two year gamble, any team would do well to pick up Oswalt.  I don't see it being the Nats.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Driving While Disappointing Advertisers

Phew. We were one Napoli swing away from "Cardinals staff is better than you think" articles.

Also, Joe Torre is thinking about banning beer in all clubhouses. This is insane. Oh it's not insane that they are thinking about doing it.  Sure it's an overreaction that infantilizes grown men, but this is sports- they do that all the time. No, it's insane because it's not a DUI or a death that causes this issue to reach a head, it's because THE RED SOX MISSED THE PLAYOFFS.

"Step out of the vehicle, sir."
"What's going on, officer?  What did I blow?"
"A nine-game lead for the Wild Card, sir".

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bryce might not be a first-ballot Hall of Famer


His slow start in the Arizona Fall League (.200 / .282 / .400 over 9 games - though his last games was a 3 hit affair with a double and a homer) shouldn't worry anyone. He just, like Sunday "just", turned 19.  He could spend 2 more whole years figuring out how to hit good pitching, come up in the spring of 2014, and still be a super young rookie. 

But I think it wouldn't be a bad idea to dial the hype machine down just a tad. All the way back in early summer this year the comparisons made were to Griffey and A-Rod and Mantle.  These comparisons didn't just come from slobbering fanboys but from places where you'd expect reason to reign.  And they were fair comparisons.

18 year old A-ball stints
Junior : .338 / .431 /.575
A-Rod : .319 /.379 /.605
Bryce : .318 /.423 / .554

But things get a little less favorable for Bryce during each players brief AA stints the same year.
Junior : .279 /.353 /.492
A-Rod : .288 / .391 / .441
Bryce : .256 /.329 / .395

"But Harper" you say (well actually YOU probably say "But Mr. Blogger Man!" because "Harper" is Bryce to you.  You are wrong.  I'm Harper!) "It's only 37 games for Bryce (and 17 for Griffey and A-Rod) in AA.  That's not enough of a sample size to make a fair comparison!"You're right. But neither is the 72, 65, and 58 games spent in A-ball. We all want Bryce to be the next big thing.  Nats fans obviously , but there also seems to be a push from everyone to anoint Bryce the greatest thing ever.  Why?  Well I think because we're in a little bit of a dry spell for great young players. 

I looked up players who amassed WARs of 25 or more by the age of 25.  You have a lot of guys that have hit speed bumps on their way to dominant offensive careers.  Mauer - injured and not yet recovered, Sizemore - injured and maybe not ever recovering, Wright - just suffered through his worst year (which actually wasn't that bad.  Mets fans don't appreciate this guy like they should), and Hanley Ramirez - just suffered through HIS worst year (which actually was that bad).  Jose Reyes just had a great year but his value is tied up a lot in his defense.  He's more of a good bat with great D than an offensive force.  Almost all these guys are 28 (Hanley is 27) so chances of an explosion into something REALLY special are rapidly dwindling.

There are only two great young bats out there yet to get sidetracked, Miguel Cabrera and Evan Longoria, and both of them are on the low end of WAR totals in comparison to the guys we are looking at. For Longoria that's is pretty fair.  He's a great fielder and a very good hitter but he's not in the "OMG" highest echelon.  He's still young enough to go on a Frank Thomas like tear through his later 20s, but that's a tall order.  Cabrera on the other hand is hanging in there with the bat. He's just terrible in the field.
There isn't much coming. The "young" guys rounding into form like Ellsbury, Kemp, Tulo, are all 27/28.  Maybe Mike Stanton can turn a corner? Elvis Andrus can start hitting .330? Zimm can be that new Frank Thomas? The best hope is Justin Upton who finally broke through to what people expected from him but he's 3 years behind the Griffeys and the A-Rods of MLB history and has yet to repeat this level of awesomeness.

In terms of an elite, first-ballot, no-doubter, you know when he's 27 enjoy the ride, type guy, baseball hasn't lacked one since the late 70s.  Henderson and Ripken rolled into Bonds, who rolled into Griffey, who rolled into A-Rod, who rolled into Pujols. There isn't one out there right now. Baseball is hungry for Bryce to be that guy. Can he be?  Yes.   Will he be? Maybe, but let's wait until he's in the majors putting up MVP seasons at the age of 21 before we go there, ok?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Offseason for everyone

With only 4 or 5 games left in the season (I'm picking the Rangers in 5 so gotta at least believe in myself) the baseball season is pretty much done. The Nats might be active in trades and free agency, but then again they might not be.  2012 is still not about the playoffs.  They could choose to wait it out another year and see how all those young players progress before making any moves. 2013 also looks to have a deeper free agent class and LaRoche will be done giving the Nats some more flexibility.  While I expect one trade, for either a starter or a CF, don't be disappointed if they do nothing.   Well... I can't tell you how to feel, so scratch that.  Don't be surprised.  Because I told you nothing might happen. I think that's fair

Given nothing is happening, the posts are slowing down. Look for more 3 posts a week than 5 posts a week during the offseason.  I'm also might get on Twitter (mainly because I still get confused at times reading tweets by those symbols and I don't like feeling that out of touch) so if you are dying for Nats baseball information there might be that. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Dammit again.

When the playoffs start I generally break teams down into 4 groups.  The team(s) I'm rooting for, the teams I wouldn't mind seeing win, the teams I just don't care about, and the teams I don't want to win.  Because I'm a hooker with a baseball of gold, few teams fall into the last two categories.  I can usually find some reason to be interested in a team and there aren't many dislikable teams in baseball (at least to me).  In this year's playoffs almost any combination would have been an ok world series to me, but one of the few (two?) that wouldn't is the one we got.  Nice.

I don't care about the Rangers.  In theory I should be able to get behind Josh Hamilton, since he appeared in the small Christmas parade that goes right in front of my house before he had his breakout year, but I just can't get up any sort of emotion.  I'm not interested in seeing any of their pitchers. There isn't a batter on the team who's at bats are can't miss. They don't compel. Watching the Rangers for me is watching baseball because I want to watch baseball. That's not a bad thing but you hope for something more out of the World Series than "last chance to watch baseball".

Of course that's better than the Cardinals, who were the only team that made the playoffs that would bother me if they won it all.  Most of that is because of LaRussa.  The guy is an insufferable pain who thinks he's 10 times smarter than everyone.  You can't watch him without wanting to punch him in the face. He's the Bill Maher of major league managers.  Plus I'm not over the 2006 WS winning team.  Those guys represent everything that's wrong with the playoff system.  You want to try to find the best team in the league not a mediocre squad that sneaks into the playoffs, gets hot at the right time, and ends up champion because the team they are facing keeps tripping over its own two feet. They even got David Eckstein an MVP!  David Eckstein!  For being the 4th best hitter on his team during the series and having a misplayed fly ball end up being his "big hit".   Forget Maris and Bonds, this team should have an asterisk. At least let enough time pass so I can forget what an abomination that series was before putting yourself back in line to win another championship.  (on the plus side - I can get behind Berkman winning a ring and Pujols is appt watching)

Any way so there you go. Go Rangers, I guess.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Nonsense hypotheticals blogs are made for

If Rizzo is ready to win, he should go get Josh Beckett.

Not saying he's available, because trading him would be dumb (listen to this guy, not this guy) but the fans are clamoring for one of the drinking, chicken-eating pitchers to go*.  It's not going to be Lester.  He's good young and cheap.  It's not going to be Lackey. He's terrible and is paid like a bazillion dollars for a million years. (Unless the RedSox eat like 80% of the salary and if so.. well go get Lackey  It'd be 3 million a year for 3 years.  I'd take that gamble) So it would have to be Beckett.

Would you deal for Beckett?  What would you give up for him.  He's good and young and durable so you're talking top prospects here.   Rendon.   Cole and Purke.  Something like that. 

*Speaking of which - how dumb is that?  The Red Sox didn't make the plaoyffs because (in no particular order) Crawford has the worst year ever, Youkilis missed 40 games and underperformed when he played, JD Drew finally gave up the ghost, Jed Lowrie regressed, Wakefield finally started failing, Clay Buchholz missed half the year, they could never find a decent 5th starter, and they had issues with bullpen depth. None of that can be blamed on shenanigans (I left out Lackey sucking - because I guess you could link those if you wanted)  All that couldn't be made up for their only positive surprise - Ellsbury's MVP season.  And yet fans want to blame some guys having beer and chicken on their off-days.  Fans are stupid. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Statistical Meandering and Bad Stats

While watching the games last night I was informed of two things.   The first was the advantage the team winning game 3 gets, after splitting the first two games.   I'm not exactly sure, but I believe they said that 78% of such teams went on to win the series.  Ok, fine.  But is that a tangible advantage or a simple mathematical one? And by that I mean - what would the odds be if wins were just randomly assigned?

There are 10 possible combinations remaining for the games involved.  Making two big assumptions, equal probability of winning and no home field advantage, the odds work out that the Cardinals would win this sereis 68.75% of the time if each of the future games was decided by a coin flip. (25% chance they win in 5, 25% chance they win in 6, 18.75% chance they win in 7).  That is noticeably smaller than 78% so that would suggest there would be a psychological advantage in winning game 3.

Of course that's way too simple. Home field advantage should be factored in.  Unfortunately, that involves going back and looking at each of these series individually.  In the interest of time, I'm not going to do that.  That other assumption though, I can make a run at that. If a team has won 2 of 3 games, it makes more sense to believe that they are the better team.  If that's the case, they would win more than 50% of the games against their opponent.  (Note I'm not saying the Cardinals are better than the Brewers.  I'm saying if we looked at all these series that the winner of game 3 would be objectively better than the loser more often than not).  What does that mean for the chance of winning?

If we simply bump up the percentage chance of winning an individual game to 52%, the odds of winning the series gets bumped up to 71.7%.  Is 52% high?  I don't think so.  That's like saying if these two teams played a 162 game season solely against each other, the better team would win 84 games. To get to a 78% advantage, though, you are looking at a 57% win chance. That's in the better team winning 92 games area.  That does seem high.  These teams don't win much more than that against a mix of all sorts of teams. To win that many solely playing against a good squad seems unlikely. 

There are other things to be considered, too, notably how many such series they are actually looking at and the strength of the starters due to pitch. This isn't anything more than playing with numbers, though.  We're sitting at a chance of winning the series in the low 70s right now.  Off the top of my head, I'd say I'm still not convinced that that 78% is anything more than a blip of a few percentage points caused by small sample size.


The bad stat that I was informed of was made in an attempt to say how unlikely it was that the Cardinal bullpen would hold the lead.  They noted that only YOUR Washington Nationals had more blown saves.   That didn't seem right to me so I looked it up.  It's true.  But you'll also see on that link why that's a bad stat.  The Nats had more save opportunities than all but one other team.  Their save percentage wasn't great but it wasn't near the worst in the league.  Same for the Cardinals.

If you want to evaluate the relief core fairly, well there's a lot of directions you can go. ERA (Cardinals 11th, Nats 4th),  xFIP (7th and 8th),  looking individually at the players involved and their applicable situational stats :
Salas: 2.28 ERA, 3.62 xFIP 
Lynn : 2.22 ERA, 2.21 xFIP
Rzepczynski : held lefties to a .163 / .256 /.221 line with 37 Ks in 118 at bats
Motte : 2.25 ERA, 3.39 xFIP.

Looking at this it's not that suprising the Brewers didn't score again.  You would have expected baserunners, and maybe 1 run was more likely than zero, but the story here isn't "How is this flawed bullpen doing this?",  it's "smart managing of an average bullpen".   But never let facts get in the way of a good narrative.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Please lose St. Louis


(Sorry Lance Berkman)

No Gomeses and Dykstras in 2012, please.

Yesterday I off-handedly mentioned Jonny Gomes might have lost his Free Agent B status.  I checked it out, and the reverse engineerer at MLB trade rumors seems to think so, too.   These aren't official by any means but he's shown a good track record of getting it right. 

What does this mean?  Rizzo traded away something of value on a good bet that he'd make his team worse. Gomes was hitting .211 / .336 / .399 when he was dealt.  It couldn't have shocked the team when he followed up with 2 months of .204 / .299 / .366 baseball.  Oh he did ok starting against lefties, but that wasn't the point of bringing in Gomes. It was to provide righty pop off the bench and hopefully get the Nats a draft pick.  Gomes got all of 0 hits in 18 PH at bats (presumably mostly against lefties).  He likely won't bring back any compensation if the Nats were to offer him arbitration.  Manno and Rhinehart are not huge losses but when your buddy hands over $3 for a bag of magic beans, you still gotta call him out on being stupid.

This isn't the first time Rizzo has given up something for nothing. Whatever you think about dealing Nyjer Morgan, and the fanbase truly is split, it was a bad trade.  Morgan had value.  Cutter Dykstra was a waste of a minor league space in 2011. 

These deals fly in 2011 if only because each individual win wasn't important. So what if he made smarter deals and got the Nats a win or 2 more?  It doesn't change the fortunes of the squad. I've liked the job Rizzo has done so far.  I don't see how anyone could argue otherwise. But it's time for Rizzo to reign in his less successful qualities.  Don't obssess over getting one more draft pick.  Don't throw guys away for nothing just because you don't like them.  In 2012 each individual win may very well matter.

Monday, October 10, 2011

2011 Review - Trades

It's the off-season and with deals likely to be bandied about over the next few months, now's a good time to go back and look at the trades made this season and what the early indications are based on post-trade performance.  This is not to settle "winners and losers", given it's only been 3 months since the latest of these deals took place, it's just to give of a feeling of how these may end up when we look back at them years from now.

Traded Josh Willingham (.246 / .332 / .477, 29 homers) to the Oakland Athletics. Received Corey Brown (AAA .235 / .326 / .402, 134Ks in 124 games) and Henry Rodriguez. (3.56 ERA 45BB 70 K 14 WP)

It would have been nice to have Willingham's pop but it probably would have been at the expense of Mike Morse playing.  Right there this looks like a good deal for the Nats.  Corey Brown's nice AA stint looks like a fluke and feelings are trending toward the idea he'll never make enough contact to hang in the majors. Henry Rodriguez remains a mystery.  Is he Brian Bruney or Joel Hanrahan?   Still no answer and until we figure that out this trade is more of a nothing for nothing deal.

Traded A.J. Morris (didn't pitch in 2011), Graham Hicks (3.98 ERA in A-ball ) and Michael Burgess (.225 20HR in A+ ball) to the Chicago Cubs. Received Tom Gorzelanny.(4.46 ERA as a starter, 2.42 as a reliever)

Gorzelanny might have flopped out of the 5th starter role, but he'll be an inexpensive and effective long reliever / spot starter in 2012. AJ Morris was the big get for the Cubs but his injury recovery from shoulder surgery was slow.  Graham Hicks and Burgess are both 21 meaning they will both be old next year for the league they were in, especially for high school guys.  Nothing about Hicks line makes you think he'll make the majors.  Burgess still has a ton of power but until he can get that average up he's not going anywhere. Right now it's looking good for Rizzo.

Traded Justin Maxwell (.260 16 homers in 48 games) to the New York Yankees. Received Adam Olbrychowski (4.16 ERA in A+).

Olbie is a failed starter that's looking very much to be a failed reliever.  If 22 is on the old side for non-college A-ball guys what is 24?  Maxwell showed crazy power (a homer every 3rd game) in AAA  before injuring his shoulder.  If Maxwell can come back from injury the Yankees should get some value from him where I doubt the Nats are going to get anything from Adam, but still that's an "if".  Pretty nothing deal right now.

Traded Nyjer Morgan (.304 , plus defense in CF) to the Milwaukee Brewers. Received Cutter Dykstra (.212 / .265 / .265 line in A+ ball) and cash.

Terrible trade. You can argue whether or not the Nats should have dealt Morgan, but you can't argue that the Nats got nothing of value back for him. Nyjer was a major league CF with at least a few good years left and a decent track record of success at the plate and in the field. You have to get something more back for him than a kid who's still in the minors because of one good year and a famous last name.

Traded Alberto Gonzalez (.215 / .256 / 283) to the San Diego Padres. Received Erik Davis (5.30 ERA in A and AA) and cash. 

Erik Davis is another 24 year arm that didn't produce in A and AA, but it was very much a surprise that he performed that badly. Alberto is nothing but a defensive replacement. Nats might have thought they were getting a steal here, but again nothing for nothing right now.

Traded Bill Rhinehart (.287 / .380 / .513 in AA) and Christopher Manno (0.53 ERA, 31 K , 6 BB in 13 games in A+ ball, ) to the Cincinnati Reds. Received Jonny Gomes (.204 / .229 / .306 3 homers in 43 games)  and cash.

Jonny Gomes did nothing good for the Nats.  He didn't play well enough to hope he'd decline arbitration.  (He might have even played himself out of Type B status at that) He didn' help Nix by putting him in a platoon situation. He didn't hit well enough to give the Nats a win or two.  Rhinehart kept doing what he's doing - heading toward a few years on the bench in the majors.  Manno though, Manno looks like he's only getting better.  It was only 17 innings with the Reds, but he was that good with the Nats before hand.  It's a long way from A+ to the majors but this could be a stinker of a deal for the Nats in a few years. A good lefty is a good lefty.

Traded Jerry Hairston (.274 / .348 / .379)  to the Milwaukee Brewers. Received Erik Komatsu (.234 / .298 / .297 in AA).

Komatsu took a step back after coming over.  It doesn't look good but like Davis he had a decent track record. Unlike Davis he's 23 and ended the year in AA, not 24 in A+. He gets more leeway. We'll see how he does next season.  Hairston helped the Brewers with his continued decent play, but the Nats didn't need him and the trade was pretty fair.  I can't fault Rizzo here.

Traded Jason Marquis (9.53 ERA) to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Received Zachary Walters (.293 / .336 / .371 in A+). 

Walters lost a little pop as the Nats moved him up from A-ball to A+ball, but he played decent enough to maybe move up to AA next year.  That's good enough to lay off him for the time being. The real shame here is the Nats sitting on Marquis rather than dealing him while he was (relatively) hot.  Walters is a fair return for the Marquis they dealt, but the Marquis sitting at 3.50 at the end of June with 7 runs given up in his last 5 games could have brought more. The trade itself isn't a loser, but it isn't what it could have been for the cost of maybe a win or two.

Friday, October 07, 2011


Part of me wants to root for the Tigers the rest of the way.  The other part of me cannot stand another round of "POOR DETROIT NEEDS THIS!!!!" talk.  Right now the first part is stronger.  Make your move, media. 

2011 Review - My Predictions

I feel like if you are going to make predictions you need to go back and look at them otherwise they are pretty pointless.  So today I'm going to go over what I said on Opening Day and how they turned out.  I'm pretty terrible at these things and admit as much so be kind. I'm not picking on any of the crazy statements made by you commenters.

"79 wins"
 Hey not bad at all!  One of the key points to picking this many wins was knowing that 2010's team was a bit unlucky and should have won a few more games. I wasn't really thinking 10 game improvement as much as 7 game.   I was betting on improvement from the offense and the starting pitching, but I'm sure I was thinking Werth and LaRoche would help and we'd get average starts from #2-#5 (unlike 2010s terrible back-end) not that Morse and ZNN would be borderline All-Stars. 

"I'll go with Lannan being the best pitcher in the rotation. Livan worst"
Lannan was good but ZNN was clearly the best.  You could argue Livan was the worst (4.47 ERA), but really Gorzelanny couldn't even hold his spot.  That's gotta be worserer. And I'm sure I was thinking something far worse than a 4.50 ERA for Livan.

"I think I've convinced myself that Desmond won't be starting at short all year long."
Real close for a while (at least in the Should World), but a August/September pick-up and the fact that Lombardozzi was a complete dud in his first major league try meant that Ian never lost his spot.

"Ankiel will have most starts in center, but he won't get to 81 games there."

Yes and No.  Ankiel would start 84 games in center (and play in 105 games there).  Jesus, that's a lot of Ankiel.

"Storen will stick as closer. H-Rod won't pitch in the majors until September call-ups."

Yes and No.  (I got to stop bundling these).  Nailed the Storen bet. You could argue H-Rod still needed to work on his control in the minors but that's not the bet. He came up at the end of April 30th and hung around the whole year pitching in 59 games.

"Over/Under on Wang + Maya starts for the Nationals at 4. Who wants the over?"

Not even close.  Maya himself started 5 games (3 too many) and I feel I was right in spirit on him. But Wang finally got over his injury and started 11. Way off.

"Team Leader" Pudge, the super veteran / professional becomes an unhappy distraction as he loses playing time to Ramos."

I was even more wrong here.  Pudge showed nothing but class about being regulated to back-up duty.  I have to say that I feel I haven't appreciated Pudge enough.  Oh he shouldn't be playing regularly on a major league team, but his defense is still good enough to be a back-up at a position where back-ups regularly can't hit OR field. And it's not his fault the Nats gave him that silly contract and played him everyday. He loves the game so he should go out and play it.  It's the Nats that made him hateable.

"I'll go with the Marlins crashing below the Nationals and the Braves to take the division as the Phillies offense implodes with the combination of Utely's injury, Howard's aging, and Rollins being only sometimes good anyway. Take that Cliff Lee - you big jerk"
Another Yes and no.  The Marlins did crash below the Nats.  Well crash is probably too strong a word but they did go from 80 wins last year to 72 this year, good for tied for 12th in a fairly competitive NL.  The Braves though didn't pass the Phillies.  Utley was limited, but Howard didn't take another step back like he did in 2010, Rollins had a bounce back year, and somehow Shane Victorino had the year of his life. Cliff Lee is still a jerk though.


Am I supposed to console myself with 5 World Series titles, the last of which was only 2 seasons ago?  I am?

Oh well, yeah that works ok, but no promises for next year.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Lazy Sportswrting 201 - Losing in the Playoffs

This is not just a blog about the Nationals. Oh no. It's is also a service blog for young journalists aspiring to be lazy sportswriters. With the next two days filled to the brim with elim... ination games (see how lazy that was?  Take notes!) I figured I would help out those plucky kids with a guide to what type of column they should write if their team loses. All they have to do is answer two simple questions and find the corresponding column below.
  1. Is your team young, in its prime, or aging?
  2. In the last 3 years or so have they not made the playoffs, made the playoffs and lost, or made the playoffs and won it all? 
That's all it takes. With those questions answered and the knowledge of whether the team won or lost, you can fill in the names like Mad Libs. While this doesn't hold true 100% of the time (losing all the time like the Cubs, or winning all the time like the Yankees creates a different scenarios) it works amazingly well.  Ask all those Red Sox writers typing madly about team unity. For those wondering if these columns will be creative enough, you have the word of someone who named his blog "Nationals Baseball", what more do you need?

Young - No Playoffs
  "Can't handle the pressure yet"  Everyone knows that young players can't handle the pressure cooker that is the playoffs! Pressure cookers are hot! Stay out of this hot kitchen, rookie!  Bring up a few clutch moments where they failed, talk about how they probably shouldn't have even been here, (because they are so young!) and finish with how they'll probably be here again.  Make sure to note how the team loved their taste of the playoffs and the fans should be excited about the team's hungriness to get back. So hungry!  Also remember that since they are young they are probably a bunch of fun guys.  I bet they did the shaving cream pie thing or had some fun symbol they did after every big play. Talk about that, too. Everybody likes fun guys.
Young - Playoff Losers
  "Missing Piece" Similar to the "Can't handle the pressure yet" column (they are still young and learning, aren't they) but with more focus on the places they need to improve. And let's be honest - unless there is an obvious hole - what they need is some veteran presence!  The vigorousnessness of youth is actually hindering the team in some unknown way.  Remember how last year they were fun?  Maybe they are too fun this year.  They need some focus. Veterans have laser focus. Examine the team that beat them and point out a veteran guy on that squad. That guy was so veteran! Note that they would stand a better chance with someone who's been there before who can lead the team to success just by merely standing next to players much more talented than he is currently.  (If there is an obvious hole, then they need that... and some veteran presence)
Prime - No Playoffs
  "Chokers, Blame Someone"  Teams don't lose in the playoffs because it's a tiny number of games dominated by which pitchers happen to be hot right now.  That's crazy talk!  What are you?  Living in your mother's basement?  Nerd Alert!  Am I right?  Teams lose because someone messed up.  Hopefully that person made it easy for you and went 0-13 or something but sometimes you have to dig deeper.  Here's some help.  It was probably the manager.  If not him, than anyone in particular that is unpopular that underperformed will do, but also maybe the manager. Kind of hint that if they changed this one thing that they might win next time, but don't go too hard in this direction though because they probably won't change that one thing and they could very well win next year.*
Prime -Playoff Losers
   "Chokers, Blame Everyone!"  What a bunch of arrogant jerks, am I right? They believe their own press.  They felt entitled!  Entitled!  25 players - 26 cabs! (one guy paid for a empty cab to follow him just to put more space between him and his teammates)  They thought they could just cruise to a title without even trying!  The manager has lost the clubhouse!  The GM doesn't know what he's doing!  This team has no heart! Look at the team that beat them!  That's a TEAM! Chemsitreamwork! ARRGELGLEGLE! (Congratulations! You hit the lazy sportswriter lottery.  Take every little thing and blow it out of proportion. If they won like 5-8 years ago be sure to write about how things were better when they had guys like Scrappy Joe around. Fans eat that up.)
Old - No Playoffs
   "Happy to be there"  These guys just didn't give up.  Despite having some failing that kept them out of the playoffs or World Series in most of the recent years (which you can bring up offhandedly) they kept plugging at it until they finally made it. Fighters. Battlers. Warriors. Really just making it was a success, so focus on that.  Talk about all they've done individually over the years like All-Star appearances.  Mention aches and pains as battle scars, close call seasons as heartbreaks, and just how old they are.  Old old old. Also good here are "what if" columns.  If they traded away or let a guy go in free agency that became real good you can get something from that.
Old - Playoff Losers
   "Didn't have what it takes"  Losers. Chokers.That's what these guys are.  They made the playoffs over and over and just couldn't get over the hump.  They didn't have what it takes, pure and simple.  Point out some scrappy player on the other team and compare him to a well paid player that didn't do well in his playoff at bats.  Say the team needed more of those guys. Talk about how you could see the pressure get to them.  They tried too hard. They needed guys that were more relaxed like that team that beat them. Maybe go ahead and throw some valid reasons in there if you feel like it, but it's not vital. (oh and don't think too hard about why these guys are choking losers and the guys that didn't even make the playoffs all those years are fighters to be praised.  THAT'S JUST THE WAY IT IS)
Young/Prime - Winners
  "Normal Column" - Fans are still happy that the team won in the past couple of years so there is no real reason to make anyone angry. If you're lucky maybe there is a free agent to be or a player retiring that you can focus your column, or maybe a big injury.  If not write the same boring end of the year column you'd write for a not good team that missed the playoffs.  Good here, bad there, blah blah blah, next year.   This ain't rocket science.
Old - Winners
  "End of an Era?" Old winning teams will eventually not win and for the lazy sportswriter you have to always be half-heartedly looking for that time.  Maybe it can be a "lost their hunger" column but you're probably better just talking about how they were too old to get it done.  Definitely bring up an old guy that didn't do well this time.  Maybe someone stumbled in the field so you can bring up Willie Mays.  Old teams always have nagging injuries, don't forget those. I'm sure someone is slow or struck out too much.  Assume it was because of old age. My recommendation on an overall column theme? Focus on one of the older vets cleaning out his locker.  It's pretty symbolic. Powerful stuff.

*Actually don't go hard unless you are ready to be THAT columnist who just says things with the hopes he can eventually get on TV.  If you are, then go right ahead and write... nay DEMAND they make that change.  Don't worry about making sense.  Worry about being loud.  The louder you are, the better.  When they don't make that change and lose again next year (because 31 teams do lose, the chances are pretty damn good) you can ride this train all the way to a half-hour on a local network and a 2 hour radio show. You're on your way to moderate local celebrity.  Comped at Applebees, baby!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Playoff Nats

If you are interested in rooting for teams based on former Nats that played for them this season, here you go.  (and let me know if I missed any - it was late when I put this together)

Nyjer Morgan*
Jerry Hairston Jr
Wil Neives
Felipe Lopez
Marco Estrada*
Josh Wilson

Wily Mo Pena
Armando Galarraga (ok he didn't really ever play for the Nats but it feels like it, doesn't it?)
Jason Marquis

Brian Schneider*
Pete Orr

Corey Patterson
Miguel Batista

Endy Chavez*

Luis Ayala*


(thanks Steven at FJB for a couple more names - and yes, I cut the Rays out.  Losers walk.  Oh and I don't count the days of Colby Lewis in Spring Training. Only Major League experience and guys we've argued about his level of importance in a trade for years) 

*FINE - on Postseason rosters. It's not like anyone other than Morgan will get significant time in important innings. 

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Lucky or Unlucky - 2011 version

As I talked about last year, seasons are usually made or broken by things you didn't plan for.  Players either suprpassing expectations or falling well below them.  Taking a look at if your team had more "luck" when it comes to these things can be one more piece to figure out where to set expectations for next year.   Ok you can just use the pythagorean record*, that pretty much does the same thing, but I like to take it a bit deeper.

*If you must know - based on the Nats runs scored and runs allowed the Nats were "expected" to win 78 games. Their adjusted standings (at Baseball Prospectus), which tries to adjust even further for the level of competition faced and take out things like the randomness of clutch hitting, pegs  the Nats at around 79 wins. So they seemed to be right on target in 2011.

Bench was terrible. CF was a huge mess. Pudge couldn't hit. Espinosa and Ramos held their own in year 1. Ian Desmond struggled for relevance at the plate. Lannan, Livan, Marquis, Gorzelanny all pitched as expected. Stockpiled bullpen arms were good. Strasburg good upon return.

Mike Morse - While you might have pegged Morse as a big contributer to the Nats in 2011, nothing about the previous three years screamed .300 30 HR hitter. (.303 and 31 to be precise). The Nats really lucked out here when you think about it, because a healthy LaRoche could have very well regulated Morse to part time duty for a good part of the season.

Clippard - Clippard is a very good relief pitcher, but dominant seasons like he had this year don't come around often.  Just look at last year.  The ERA leaders (70 IP) were Brian Wilson (1.81), Tim Stauffer (1.85), Heath Bell (1.93), Daniel Bard (1.93), and Jonny Venters (1.95).   This year their ERAs were 3.11, 3.73, 2.44, 3.33, and 1.84, in a year when offense continued to decline.  Clippard will still be good going foward but this is a lightning in a bottle year.

Zimmermann - Jordan came back from injury and pitched better than he ever had before sporting a 3.18 ERA and 124 ks in 161 IP. Watching ZNN in 2009 there was certainly a feeling he could be this good, but he could be a tiny bit wild and was homer happy leading to an ERA in the mid 4.00s.  Improvement to say a 4.00 ERA in an injury return year would have been great. To do this well in 2011 was well beyond anything that Nats fans could have hoped for.

The results from Detwiler, Milone, Peacock - Generally when you bring up young pitchers, they struggle, especially if they aren't the "can't miss" Strasburgs of the world. Milone (3.81 ERA), Detwiler (3.00 ERA), and Peacock (0.75 ERA) seemed to do fine.  Scrape the surface of the fancy stats, though, and you'll see that they should have given up more runs than they did, (for example - Peacock allowed 13 base runners in 12 innings, didn't K people like you think he would - only 4 - and gave up a ton of fly balls. His xFIP was 6.27. Yet he only gave up 1 run. This is called "pushing it")

Rotation health - every pitcher the Nats had this year gave them pretty much every start you'd expect.  Lannan 33, Livan 29 then shut down for youth at year's end, ZNN 26 then shut down innings limit, Marquis 20 then traded.  Starter health goes a LONG way toward team success.

LaRoche goes down - The Nats brought in damaged goods.  The good-field, good enough hit Laroche only squeaked out a quarter season of awful baseball before going under the knife. It didn't end up killing the Nats thanks to Morse, but the typical Laroche year is better than what Nix put out last year. They definitely lost something at the plate (not to mention the field)

Zimmerman's missing time - Ryan Zimmerman is a key player for the Nats.  He can't miss a lot of time without it hurting the team.  He missed 60 games this year. 

Werth crash - Despite the fact we all know he was overpaid, no one could have predicted it would have gotten this bad, this quickly.  The guy hit .282 / .380 /. 506 the past 4 years. Even for those that "knew it was coming" because he only hit great in Philly, his away numbers in 2010 were .266 / .371 / .457 and that was the worst year he had on the road in the past 4.  .232 / .330 / .389?   That came out of nowhere.

What does this mean? Most likely the pitching could suffer a bit while the hitting bounces back, but there's a lot of caveats here.  For the pitching, there should be an injury concern and whichever of D/M/P makes the rotation could struggle.  But it's not this years rotation that this is happening to, it's 2012's, the one that includes Strasburg. And while Zimmermann's 2011 might have been lucky, a repeat in 2012 wouldn't be. As long as that injury doesn't happen to Strasburg or ZNN the rotation should be in about as good shape as this year and could be better even with less luck. Bullpens tend to have off years and great years, so that's a crap shoot but at a base level I'd expect them to be at least average tilting better.

For the hitting you'd expect a bounce back from off-years and injuries to key players but it could swing wildly. Think about this - Morse hits .275 with 23 homers, Werth has another off year, Zimm get injured, Espinosa and Ramos both regress a little, LaRoche is no good anymore. Anything unexpected or unlucky here? No, and the hitting would collapse to about worst in the league.  Now think about this - Morse hits .290 and 28 homers, Werth bounces back, Zimm plays 150 games, Espinosa and Ramos both improve a litte, LaRoche comes back as gives a decent year? Again, nothing unexpected or out of the world lucky here, but now your looking at an offense that's... well it's middle of the road to top third, but that's a big improvement.

Twist my arm and I'll repeat what I said - pitching will suffer a bit while hitting bounces back - but that's not a strong bet to make.  THe pitching part is based on the Nats having a near perfect year on the mound in 2011 avoiding bad luck, and the hitting is based on 6 key players all of whom who could have wildly divergent results in 2012 without anything surprising happen.  Better to wait to see what they do in the offseason and see if that clears things up any.

Monday, October 03, 2011


It's the best day of the week, am I right?  

Over/Under results

9pts - WINNER
Calindc (only missed on the Pudge 2 hit barrage)

8 pts
Michael K
John O'Connor

Smarties -
  • Donald was the only one to go with Pudge getting more than one hit and presumably paid off Davey and a couple pitchers to make it happen.  Hope it was worth it Donald.
  • Calindc was the only one to not believe in Werth.  In the last 2 weeks of the season, Jayson hit .200 / .256 / .300. Way to finish strong there.

Dummies -
  • John O'Connor was the only one not to believe in John Lannan.  BOOOOOO!  BOOOOOO!  
  • Cass was the only one who had Clippard going over 2.00 in ERA.  From Sept 5th to the end of the year Clip pitched 14 2/3 innings, gave up 1 run (solo homer), 6 hits in total, 2 walks, 16 Ks.

Davey Johnson or Terry Francona?  Does it matter?  When Davey got hired I noted that there seemed to be no "Lay off" effect for managers. So he should be ok.  Francona should be ok.  I'd say keep Davey because if it doesn't matter then why rock the boat.

Pitcher Needed? Yes.  But only if they get an outfielder first and trade a pitcher to do it. (or if they let Wang walk - which I'm ok with but I'm not the fan of Wang that some people here are).  

Anyone else excited about the prospect of Nyjer Morgan in the World Series?