Nationals Baseball: February 2010

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sometimes you just need innings

Not good innings, but good enough innings. On an arm you could care less about not a youngster you want to develop or a long reliever you hope to use for a couple years. From someone you feel certain isn't going to come up lame and force your hand. It also helps if the guy is a fan favorite.

Welcome back (potentially) Livan.

You may not want to see Livan take a spot in the rotation and hold back a youngster, but let's be real. On the field the difference between him and one of those other quasi-young "prospects" will be minimal. (Off the field it's the difference between AWESOME and yawn) The Nats know what I know and what you should know, most of these guys aren't nothing. So don't worry about it. He's not going to be blocking a hidden gem. Plus...


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Strasburg is not David Clyde

Nor is he Kerry Wood, but at least that is on some level an interesting comparison. Nor is he Nolan Ryan, but that's for later.

People are super worried about Strasburg's health because they believe the future of the franchise rests on his shoulders. A bit of an overstatement, as one great pitcher can't do it all (see: Halladay, Roy) but he's very important nonetheless. In the new found effort to protect pitchers, with pitch counts and innings limits, we often get horribly dumb comments spouting from all sides.

In a question to Bill Ladson, someone compares Strasburg to David Clyde (potentially). Clyde was a couple months past his 18th birthday, having just completed a high school season where he was ridden like a cheap tricycle (we keep it clean on this blog even if it makes no sense!) when pressed into the majors. Strasburg will turn 22 mid season and has gradually been pitched more and more over the past 2 years in college. There is no reasonable comparison unless the Nats bring in Strasburg and have him toss like 250 innings.

As far as Kerry Wood, that's a little bit better comparison, but still off. Kerry would be over a year younger that Strasburg, and was also driven hard in high school. He would have been a wild thrower (more pitches per inning) and tossed onto a team vying for a Wild Card all year. It's a different arm in a different situation and different league mindset.

The more interesting part for me is that Kerry actually didn't seem to have a terribly unreasonable progression of innings in the minors. It was more at a younger age that Strasburg has seen, but I wouldn't be that offended if the Nats treated a high school pitcher like that. Now what matters more is the pitches thrown and like I said Wood was a bit wild. Strasburg is not. But still to me Wood looks in retrospect more like a ticking time bomb than a ruined arm. Of course with the Nats having Riggleman in place, the man that oversaw Wood in 1998, the comparisons are going to be made.

(side note #1 - Riggleman says he got pressure to keep Wood in all the time. One part of me thinks that this is in his head. The noted 6-inning 13K pull out never happened. Most of Wood's outings were 7 innings plus, and those that weren't seemed at a glance to have logical reasons for cutting Wood short like he sucked that day or the Cubs were up by 10. Most likely what is sticking in his head is the 7-inning, 13K game right after the Astros masterpiece. I could see him getting complaints from people wanting Kerry to get a chance for back to back amazing games, but does that constitute the pressue Riggleman talks about? Of course, the other part of me knows how stupid fans can be during a pennant race. A 20 yr old's arm isn't of prime concern to most. )

(side note #2 - I hate how when they ask pitchers about "babying arms" they always ask hall-of-famers like Nolan Ryan or Greg Maddux. Just in general people are going to connect what they did before to what happened after. So if you ask successful guys that pitched a lot in the minors how they got successful of course they are going to say "pitching a lot in the minors". But they didn't just ask successful people, they asked the most successful people. Men who were in the Top 0.01% of all pitchers in the history of the major leagues, who had freakish ability and health. It would be like if I countered this by interviewing #1 draft picks who threw a lot in the minors and had their arms fly off into the stands and now have to eat with hooks what they thought. It's completely biased information and therefore practically useless by itself. )

Strasburg is also not Nolan Ryan, but isn't it great to have 100% crazy optimistic "Don't say who Strasburg is like because it might jinx him. Ok HE'S LIKE NOLAN RYAN! He could fail like Ben McDonald, BUT HE MAKES BEN MCDONALD LOOK LIKE A PILE OF PUKE SO HE CAN'T FAIL!" Boz back?

(side note #3 - best thing the Nats did this offseason? Bring in Davey Johnson. He's like the anti-Boz. Reasonable in his comments. Understands that Strasburg is very good but might not be the best thing ever just yet. Thank you, Davey)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Nats not stupid just...

Ladson has a column up that hits on the same thing we've all been saying the last 2 months. The Nats need another veteran arm. In short the post says the Nats tried to get Chan Ho Park or Braden Looper, but weren't successful with either.

On one hand it's nice to see that the Nats understand that you can't go into the season with only 2 legit starters. On the other hand their commitment to...uhh... something (Detwiler? Smoltz? Parsimony?)... has led them to the point where this is what they have to look at. Chan Ho Park hasn't started regularly since the 2007 minor league season, and he stunk there. Braden Looper is an innings eating 4th/5th starter who has been living in a cave this offseason, expecting a contract with both a secure starting role (ok, maybe) and for something probably around 4 million dollars (no way).

This didn't have to happen. There were good affordable guys out there earlier in the off-season. But the Nats didn't move and now they find themselves again struggling to fill the majority of the rotation with guys you feel will toss a decent enough 170 innings to last a season. There's still time left to fix this, but not much.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A tad more on Detwiler

In the Post, Riggleman responded to the Detwiler situation with a shrug and a "hey, whatcha gonna do?" saying that Ross didn't make the situation clear prior to this spring. FJB offers theoretical reasons for tearing Riggleman apart, if you want to go that way. In my mind, everyone is injured all the time and it can happen that as a team, manager, and even player, you may not know exactly how bad. If that was the situation with the Nats, *shrug* whatcha gonna do? That's my only question - what did the Nats know and when.

Unfortunately we'll never know that... at least for a while. Detwiler isn't going to say anything as long as he's with the Nats. The team isn't going to say "Oh yeah, we screwed another thing up." So we're left with Riggleman's statement which we have to take at face value and move on. Oh well.

On a side note : the first issue of the "Strasburg Awesome-Picayune" Spring edition came out this weekend. Expect many more issues to come. Please... PLEASE ignore anything that happens this spring with Strasburg. There are only three official positions for Nats fans allowed here:
  1. He's pitched well. I am a tiny tiny bit more optimistic. Let's see what he does in the minors.
  2. He pitched poorly. I am tiny tiny bit less optimistic. Let's see what he does in the minors.
  3. He got injured. I hate this team

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Nothing could possib-lye go wrong

No. The Nats didn't need another reliable starter. Don't be silly.

Commenter Hoo (this really sounds like the beginning of a bad comedy bit doesn't it?) asked a good question. Why the hell have his surgery now? Why not have it in November or December? A 3 months recovery time then would have been perfect.

According to the Post - the hip has been an issue for a year or so. That makes it seem like they could have gone ahead and done it at the end of last season. According to Zuckerman and other sources, though - the injury didn't happen until last month. It sounds conflicting but it probably isn't. Most likely Detwiler hurt his hip last year and pitched through it. When the season ended he hoped with an extended rest he'd be ok. Unfortunately once he started up again, getting ready for this year - it got aggravated again or was made worse.

Of course that's all well and good if it was just a case of Detwiler being like every other minor leaguer (and like most normal people everyday in fact), working through pain and hoping whatever is wrong will just go away. HOWEVER, if the Nats knew that Detwiler was having issues, they really should have taken a look at it at the end of last season. I don't know what they knew, but I know what I know, which is I don't see any reason to give this team's management any benefit of the doubt. Maybe I should though, because they've always been on top of injuries.

A quick depressing offensive side note

Here are where some of the Nats 2009 offensive seasons ranked in their careers (by OPS+)

Ryan Zimmerman - best of his career
Josh Willingham - best
Nyjer Morgan - best
Adam Dunn - second best
Adam Kennedy - best since 2004.

This is not saying that they all are going to regress significantly. Willingham and Dunn were not that far off what you'd expect. This was Morgan's first full time season. Zimmerman is young and good enough he might get even better. But it is possible that they could all go down a little and everyone taking a step back is as bad having a couple of key injuries. Who are they looking at then to maybe provide a spark by bouncing back from a bad year then?

Cristian Guzman - 4th best. (no seriously - look it up. He had a bunch of AWWWWWFUL seasons in the past)
To be fair his 2009 was way worse than 2008 or 2007. Still, he was above his career average and is going to be 32.
Pudge Rodriguez - worst.
But that was expected from a 38yr old catcher who hasn't had a good offensive year since 2004.
Elijah Dukes - Middle of 3 years.
First season playing more than half in the majors. He took a big step back from 2008.

Now do you see why Elijah is the key? If you don't believe he can bounce back a little to about average, the fate of the offense may rely on Guzman and Pudge having significantly better years. That's a AMC Fear Friday movie if I ever saw one (especially since they've aired Terminator 2 and Ghostbusters 2 in that spot. Seriously guys. Seriously.)

[Personally I like Zimmerman to have a better year and at least one of the three other main guys to match their 2009. That should be enough to stem the tide of the other ones dropping a bit unless one of Dukes or the Replacement-Level MI (Kennedy, Guzman, Pudge) is just truly useless. But a step back by the offense could happen and it shouldn't be a surprise]

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Timing is all Wang (o)

This is the best thing to happen to crappy blog post titles since Livan left here. Since Wang is actually pronounced "Wong", I've also included a handy pronunciation guide, following up what I assume will be dozens and dozens of crappy titles with a (o) if using the correct pronunciation and (a) if using what us Babe Ruths would say.

Wang signed for 1 year, 2million. It's not a bad deal or risk. At least Wang has the age and the former pedigree to make you think he might be useful (unlike the other stiffs brought in here). Would I rather see the Nats take bigger risks? Sure, but baby steps must be taken before we tie Rizzo to the mast of a ship to get him sailing.

My only question is when will Wang even see the light of day? Originally the timetable for mound throwing was 6-8 weeks, which would have been around the last week of February. Right now though - still no word, which kind of rules out this month. Apparently, the surgery healing process would be a bit behind schedule. The later he pitches off a mound, the later he pitches in a real game. It's likely he wont' even see minor league work until mid-late April. Then, even if he's great, he wouldn't be up with the team till... early or mid May? I'm thinking even later than that, given what I've read and the fact the Nats should be cautious. It's a 2 million dollar deal for maybe 4 months or 2/3rds a season of pitching. This when they wouldn't pony up an extra few million for Orlando Hudson.

I guess in the end though, this isn't a signing for this season as much as it is for the this season and next. As Mark Zuckerman notes - the Nats will have arbitration control over Wang for one more season. It's a 2 million dollar gambit on seeing if they can get a deal on Wang next season. God (and FJB) knows the Nats love arbitration.

Seriously read this piece.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Why no second starter?

The Nats came into this offseason clearly needing a bunch of things; a middle infielder, bullpen help, at least one starter. Notice the phrase was "at least" and not "at most" or "exactly", these things are important in coding and also, for some strange reason, running a major league baseball team. After signing Jason Marquis early, Nats fans were excited. Rizzo had months to bring in a second decent starter and then the Nats would have their best Top 3 since the magical 2005 season with a solid Livan, a surprising Loaiza and a healthy John Patterson. (Second best? Arguably 2007s' Lannan, Hill/Redding, and Bacsik combo. That's right. The Nats 2nd best Top 3 of the past 5 years is one that includes Mike Bacsik, the Everlasting Suckstobber.) Except that 2nd starter never came. (Neither did a save from a Guzman-Dunn-Willingham defense, or that last good reliever, or a pitching mentor for Strasburg. Baby wanted 12 lemons, Rizzo. - Yes, I'm quoting "The Breakup". No, you can't shame me.)

Instead we got the familiar retread parade. Batista, Estes, maybe Wang, maybe Benson. Guys who should be battling for a long relief spot to earn money for a new speedboat are instead going to go into camp looking to be the Nats #3. Disappointing to say the least.

But why did this happen? Surely it wasn't a money issue, right? FJB pointed out several reasonable pitching deals that went down this season. Why didn't the Nats fix this problem?

It could be that the Nats truly believe in... someone. I'm not sure who exactly. JD Martin is the first choice, as he did do decently in his two month audition, but he doesn't miss enough bats, and gives up too many homers. Garrett Mock has major league stuff but not major league control. Craig Stammen held down a rotation spot, but I'm not sure anyone noticed he was out there and he got injured. All these guys are 25/26 too, a bit old to expect a revelation. Maybe they love Detwiler or Martis, who at least have the benefit of youth, but if they do, they are seeing something that no one else is.

Maybe they didn't sign the second starter because they'll be going after a top-line starter hard in the next offseason. Assuming all goes to plan (and it always does, right?) the Nats have 4 out of 5 rotation spots sewn up for 2011. Lannan, Marquis, Strasburg, Zimmermann. Anyone brought in now would just be a one year rental, a place holder for that spot, so why not save that cash? Who fits the bill of who could be available? Josh Beckett (who's signing was a big part of my "Phil Dunn magical mystery tour" post that never happened), Cliff Lee, Brandon Webb, Javy Vazquez maybe. This would be a bit of a shocker though. Kasten has voiced a disdain for paying out top dollar, long-term deals for pitching. Plus each of these guys will be on the other side of 30 come next offseason. And if you are going to plan on getting one of these guys, that means you are willing to go all in, and seriously overpay. Offering that type of money for a batter (Teixeira) is one thing, offering it to a pitcher is another. The Nats front office has shown itself to be nothing if not... thoughtful with money. Can they be reckless for the chance at a few more wins?

It could also be that the Nats just don't care. The improvement is going to come this season. It almost HAS to. The team should have scored more runs, should have given up fewer, should have done better based on the runs they did score and give up. There has been improvement on offense, if small, and pitching. It's nearly impossible to imagine this team losing 100 games again, barring injury. So the team is going to be 5, 10, maybe 15 wins better. Maybe they figure that's enough. Maybe they aren't looking at 2011 yet, in terms of a non-Strasburg young pitcher they like or in terms of a free agent signing. Maybe they want to play out this season see how Strasburg is coming along, how Zimmerman returns from injury, and then think more about the rotation. Maybe they want to save a few bucks, because what are 2-3 more wins going to get them?

Whatever the reason the Nats continue to have a festering gaping hole starting in the middle of their rotation and continuing all the way through to the end. There is no safety net. A bad year by Lannan or Marquis, or a failure of anyone to develop, would lead to once again having a 14th, 15th, 16th best staff in the NL. For the sake of the fan's sanity, let's hope the Nats are lucky for once.

Monday, February 15, 2010

So how long can he keep covering the Nats?

Thanks to the succesful telethon organized by George Lombard that aired on all the MASN stations, Mark Zuckerman not only raised $5000 to cover the Nats, he's gotten $10,000. For some stupid reason Mark, isn't pocketing that money for women and cheap liqour and is instead going to watch the Nats play even more baseball. To each his own I guess. He says he'll cover the team as long as he can - but how long is that?

Let's assume that that money is all going to the Nats coverage. No silly stuff being paid out like bills, medicine, or food for the family. How far will another 5K go? I'm not going to break down what I think the expenses would be, this is a man's livelihood and something feels a bit icky about taking a fine tooth comb to potential expenses (even though someone really should shouldn't they? I mean you wouldn't hire someone to do a job for you and then just broadly say spend this rough amount anyway you see fit, would you?), but I can't help be curious about what type of return on investment the Nats fans online could get for their extra cash. Just broad guesses follow, don't hold me, and certainly not Mark, to any of it.

Anyway my guess is at best the 5K will get Mark to mid-late May. Let's look at the schedule. The money is mostly going to go toward travel expenses (food, gas, planes), so the more games at home the better. The first month is helpfully home-centric. There is a 6-game away trip to NY and Philly, and while I guess technically he could drive there and back everyday, that's no way to work. Thanks to a fortuitous day off in the Philly series though he could probably do this series with moderate comfort in 4 nights, driving in the first day to NY, coming back home during that off-day in Philly. Then the Nats are home until the 26th. Not that no money would be spent then (there is gas and food to think of at the very least), but it would be significantly less. Then comes the first true away swing to Chicago and Florida. Those are both flights and hotels, 6 nights. That right there will eat up a chunk. Back home again until May 9th and then another away swing. Mets, Rockies, and Cards. My guess is that probably does it for the travel. Even if he drives to NY for day one and then back after the series before flying out, that's still 8 nights and two more flights. If Mark does make it past here with some cash left, he could probably get to the 23rd, before a west coast swing basically ends the experiment.

Maybe - remember I have no idea what I'm guessing at here. Could be that 5K can only get him to the end of that first long homestand (ends April 25th). There are probably a ton of things going on here I have no idea about, but I think even best case with super-frugal Mark putting all that cash back into covering the team, you still have got 3/4ths the season left out there "uncovered". If you are going to want full year coverage, it's going to take a lot more than what Nats fans have put in so far.

Also : drawing significantly less attention, another Nats site (Nationals Inquisition) is also trying to raise money to send them to year. This attempt brings up a good point that Mark Zuckerman's "experiement" is more likely a change in funding than anything else. It's still a seasoned reporter going to cover the Nats for his 6th year. Assuming the Nats treat him the same, the concept is more like a reporter leaving a paper to start his own sports magazine, than a blogger working his way into the inside. There are possible implications to this, as I mentioned before, but more for seasoned reporters and news media then the "grassroots" blogger. Sending a true blogger would be the next step and something more revolutionary. I'm not sure that they'll raise that money, I feel the fans support for Zuckerman comes out of an interest to get back the top-shelf mainstream coverage they lost from the Times and are seemingly going to be denied from the apathetic Post, as opposed to any grand revolutionary ideals, but some blogger was going to be the first to try it. We'll really see where it goes next off-season.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The offensive key

The days of the Nats doing anything interesting in free agency may be over. Right now they are looking at Kris Benson for god's sake. So the pegged 74 win or so team that we see now is going to be the most likely outcome. I'm sure that is enough for some after back to back sub-60 win seasons, but others will want more. Others will want to scrape .500. Well my friends, to do that the Nats are going to need a little bit of unexpected good fortune. There are a lot of ways that this can happen pitching wise, but offensively I only see one place where the Nats might get pleasantly surprised, with Elijah Dukes.

The Nats could, in theory, get a boost from anywhere but let's be real, at pretty much every other spot we know what the Nats are going to max out with. Zimmerman, Dunn, and Willingham all had their best offensive seasons in years in 2009. These are seasons I think they can roughly repeat at, but not surpass in any signficant way. In the middle infield, we're going to see alot of Guzman and Kennedy, who at best are going to be average with the stick, meaning at best another small improvement. At catcher, you'd have to believe in a Pudge renaissance at 80 or Flores coming back at the top of his game (and playing a lot) to get a significant offensive boost. Perhaps in center the Nats could get a nice jump, if Morgan plays at the All-Star level that he showed in his few months as a Nat last year, but I am going to err at the side of caution there. So unless the Nats get 3 or 4 of these minor improvements and no disappointments, there isn't going to be great offensive improvement over last year from 7 out of 8 spots in the lineup.

The 8th spot is held by Elijah Dukes and how he swings is the most likely difference maker next year. Here are his lines from the last 2 years

2008: .264 / .386 / .478
2009: .250 /.337 / .393

It was a total collapse in 2009. The patience dropped and the power went away completely. Dukes went from a nice bat in the lineup to an easy, non-threatening out overnight. How'd it happen? It doesn't seem like he was missing the ball more often. His K numbers actually dropped, from 79 to 74, in roughly 100 more at bats.

The fancy stats show a decrease in BABIp, from .326 to .294, but the latter is about expected. This might account for the difference between .265 and .250 but it wouldn't really account for either the power or the patience disappearing like they did.

The first clue might be the change in the types of hits he was getting. His LD% and GB% both dropped (18.1% -> 16.2%, adn 47.2% -> 43.6% respectively) in favor of more flyballs (34.7% -> 40.2%). That in itself isn't terrible but you also see an increase infield flies. (5.8% -> 9.4%). This kind of leads me to believe that Elijah was getting fooled more often rather than trying to drive pitches over the fence and falling short. Was he swinging at more bad pitches?

In a word, yes. Elijah's swing percentage on pitches outside the strike zone went from 20.3% to 26.6%. Worse yet his contact on these types of pitches went down from 48.1% to 46.3%. He was chasing something and not hitting it. That's a guy swinging at more bad pitches. Not only that he was swinging at far more pitches overall. Seems to me this is was a guy off balance. Did something change in him or did pitchers just figure him out?

Unfortunately it seems the latter. Last year you saw a big drop in fastballs fed to Elijah and a jump in offspeed stuff with movement. (I won't bore you with more percentages - it's all at his fangraphs page if you are interested) Elijah did a very good job of hitting fastballs in 2008 so he saw less in 2009 and was unable to correct for that. As Elijah grew more frustrated he started swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone. He's a good enough hitter than he could turn some of those into hits, but he couldn't turn any of it into power hits. You can see that if you look at his monthly splits. The power keeps dropping .500 -> .432 -> .333 -> .409 -> .325. Even if you disregard the .333 as mainly a function of a bad luck month (.230 BABIP), and looked at the isoSLG, the drop in power remains.

Of course there are other explanations. Maybe Dukes first started swinging more from day 1 (his OBP wasn't great to start) and pitchers took advantage of that to pitch more and more out of the zone. Either way, pitchers or Dukes forcing the issue, I don't think it matters. By the end of the year Elijah showed that he could identify balls and strikes still, with a .398 OBP in Sept/Oct. But at that point he wasn't swinging hard at anything, that .325 SLG is horrible. That's not a player working through a slump, that's a player being super defensive and just trying to make it through another month.

What does this all mean? It means, I don't see Dukes having that breakthrough year because I think that he's been figured out. They know he can hit fastballs, so they've given his less fastballs, and Dukes cannot hit the off speed stuff well. There is a glimmer of hope in that last month - he hasn't lost his ability to identify balls and strikes - so maybe he can get into more favorable counts and force pitchers to throw him more fastballs. That didn't seem to work last season, but it was the end of a terrible year, so I wouldn't hold fast to that .325 SLG.

If Dukes doesn't either learn to hit the offspeed stuff better or force the pitchers to throw more fastballs, it's going to be another off year for Dukes. Probably not as bad as last year, but probably still below average. And another off year for Dukes would mean the Nats would face an uphill climb in improving their offense more than a little bit and reaching that mystical magical .500 record would remain well out of touch.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

For the love of headlines - sign Wang!

Is bringing Wang in on a deal a good idea? Depends on the price of course. It's certainly a more promising deal than Estes, or Batista, and it wouldn't be a waste tossing out a low-ball offer to him. Then again let's not confuse Wang with a Sheets or a Harden type-project just because he was doing well before.

You see CM Wang spent his pitching life walking a very thin line. He was a groundball pitcher with very good control. That great control was able to make up for the fact that his "out pitch" was not a pitch batters swung and miss, but instead hit. He kept extra men off the basepaths by not issuing walks, and he kept the other team from getting the big hit by keeping the ball down in the strike zone. In numbers from 2006-2008

K/9 BB/9 HR/9
2006 3.1 2.1 0.5
2007 4.7 2.7 0.4
2008 5.1 3.3 0.4

While, as Chris said, you would really prefer groundball guys that strike people out, this method can work. Of course any deviation from it and the delicate balance can be ruined. Last season Wang lost his control (4.1 BB/9) and got hit much harder (1.5 HR/9), despite the fact he was getting more K/9 (6.2). Add in a little bad luck with a BABIP around .400 and you go from long-term star to out of the league is just 40 innings. The difference really can be that slim.

Wang almost certainly is better than the hide your eyes effort he put out last year. You have to figure those groundball are going to find more gloves. But if the walks don't come down, if the pitches don't come down, he's not going to be useful. This is what the Nats need to be sure of before taking a chance on Wang. If he looks like he's hitting his spots, don't worry about the velocity so much. That'll come back with time. But if he's not, well... the deal should be a lot lower.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

It's a good thing

My cold robot heart does feel the flicker of emotion from time to time when a synapse fries.

Fans of the Nationals (and independent reporting) rallied behind Mark Zuckerman and are sending him to cover the team in Spring Training. Whatever trepidation I may feel about the larger picture, the small story is one to feel good about. A group of fans can get the coverage they want and more importantly a man can keep doing his job for a few more weeks. Nothing wrong with that.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Zuckerman's Famous Gig

By now you've all heard about Mark Zuckerman's goal of getting Nats fans to send him to Spring Training to cover the Nationals. As you all also know this isn't just Blogger X trying to get a free trip. Zuckerman spent several years covering the Nationals for the Washington Times, building up relationships and covering the team professionally. It was only when the Times went in a new direction (toward bankruptcy) that he lost his job. So far, the blog coverage I've read has ranged from glowing praise of the idea to slightly less glowing praise, but on my end... I'm not sure it's a good idea.

Hey don't get angry yet! I said I'm not sure!

Let's get to the brass tacks. In effect, Mark is asking web savvy Nats fans to hire him as their reporter to cover the Nats. This is a bold and potentially empowering move for the fans. Don't like the coverage a newspaper, TV station, or radio is giving the team? Feel it is too biased, or hell, not biased enough? Just get a bunch of like-minded people together and hire your own man. Of course there are more hurdles than just putting together the capital, but in essence this is what we're talking about. It's using that close relationship the web allows between content provider and content user to allow fans to get exactly what they want.

Is that enough when it comes to what we expect from our news? When a reporter is part of a larger structure they have checks and balances that make them accountable. I'm not talking about Mark running off with the cash to live like a king for 2 days in Canada (though I suppose that's possible - Edmonton in March is quite lovely). I'm talking about the checks and balances that exist that (try to) make sure it's news that is reported and not gossip. The ones that try to ensure jobs are done in a timely and professional fashion. The ones that attempt to guarantee that when mistakes are made someone is held responsible. Yes, the system set up is often imperfect, but can you honestly say that no system at all is better? As a blogger, part of the fun is that I can say whatever I want. John Lannan is actually a android controlled by two sentient woolly caterpillars. See nothing? No accountability. I also don't get paid for what I do. I suppose that those that don't do the job correctly will not last long but is that enough for those that are being reported on. There's a certain level of professionalism you can expect when it's "reporter from the Washington Post". Can a team expect the same from "self reporter from blog site X"? There have been "blogger days", but that's still not the same access reporters are given.

On an even broader level, one of the one thing I learned from being on the finance committee at my college (don't ask) is that it was better for each student to put in $X a year in student fees, even if they had no initial intention of using anything funded by those fees, in order that they could have the opportunity to do so if they later wanted to. Have students pay for only what they think they'll want and the number of student organizations would be drastically reduced. The opportunities would be drastically limited. In some respects the media is similar. The user pays for things it may not use now, so the choices remain broad. It's even more integral to news. The more followed parts of the paper, the headline stories, the sports, the comics, allow the less followed, but no less important parts of the paper to exist. If we start separating that out, paying only for what we want, those parts are the first to suffer. Yes, there are bloggers doing that now, but will there always be for your local government? Will they always be good? Just relying on the spare time of strangers for your news seems like a bad idea.

Yeah, I know, I'm straying pretty far from the starting idea of paying to send Mark Zuckerman to Florida to cover the Nationals, but I can't help think there are larger issues here than just a reporter going to Florida.

In the end this is mostly very intriguing. There have always been massive hurdles to clear to have content reach the masses, which is why content sources have always been limited. Content broadcasting/publishing can be expensive, there are massive rules and regulations set up you have to deal with. The web though, drastically lowers that cost. There is no reason that an individual can't be paid to report on a team by individual fans, as opposed to a professional media organization or other proxy. While what Zuckerman is doing may not be the future of reporting on the web. It's got to be something like it, right?

Anyway. Feel free to tell me I'm an overthinking idiot.

On Estes

real quick

The Estes signing only looks bad in lieu of everything that went down this weak. A failure to get the best player when he was available at a reasonable price, has led people to the realization that not as much changed about the Nats as they might have thought. The signing of a throw away, let's see what he can do, veteran is now not just a whatever signing that every team makes a handful of every year, but a symbol of the same ol' Nats.

Are they the same ol' Nats? Sort of. In Vol 2, Issue 1 of "the Plan", they did spend money to fix the bullpen, and to add one of two much needed starters. But they balked at going slightly over budget on a second baseman, and appear likely to do the same for that last starter spot. They still really should grab another starter, because right now they are leaning heavily on Craig Stammen to be good, and whoever else fills the rotation not to suck. The pressure will be on an early arrival for Strasburg and consider me part of the "better late" crowd. What it looks like they are doing, with Estes and Batista, is trying to find a Redding like innings eater for a minor league deal. I can find them one right now for probably around 2 million in Braden Looper, but the Nats are at this point being penny wise.

The new Nats are not afraid to spend money, but only on things deemed "mission critical". They HAD to fix the pen, HAD to get a starter. (really they did) For anything else, it's the same bargain hunting philosophy they had before. That's not an issue for a 70+ win team but it is for a 80+ win team. We'll have to see what the Nats do in Issue #2 before the little birdies can start singing again.

Super Bowl Thoughts

Because everyone cares what a Nats blogger thought of the SuperBowl

Saints Offcnse v Colts Defense

The Colts went in with a game plan to prevent the Saints from scoring on the big play. They rushed only 4 and dropped everyone else back into coverage. While successful in the respect they were going for, they were unable to generate pressure which allowed the Saints offense to take full advantage of what the Colts were doing. The Saints efficiently drove down the field time after time, keeping the ball out of Manning's hands and in effect controlling the game. While the offense sputtered a bit as it closed in on the goal line (as it would against this type of defense as there became less room to create openings) the Saints never wavered from the plan, rightly understanding that it only takes one or two mistakes once you drive into scoring position to cross the goal line. The circumstances of the game never forced the Saints to try for the big play and it would have behooved the Colts to at least to attempt to pressure the Saints a bit more as the game went on.

Colts Offense v Saints Defense

A lot of people might talk about how the Saints defense came up big. Don't be fooled by the score. Outside of the one huge mistake, Manning owned the Saints D as much as, or even more so, than Brees did with the Colts. Up until the interception with 3:29 left in the game, the Saints defense only really stopped the Colts once, on the drive following the Colts stopping the Saints on 4th and goal. The Colts, however, repeatedly made errors which kept the Saints in the game and eventually allowed them to pull away. Garcon dropped a difficult 3rd down catch, which led to the first FG, and then an easy 3rd down completion on the 3rd drive of the game. On 3rd and long early in the 4th, Austin Collie quite possibly let an intereference call slip away by attempting to reach for a catch over Johnathon Vilma rather than running through him while he was turned away from the play. Manning made the mistake you just can't make, an up for grabs pass on a short outside route. It was fitting that the final play of the game for the Colts was a pass right through Reggie Wayne's hands for what would have been a touchdown.

Special Teams

The goal is to make no mistakes. The Saints didn't. The Colts made two huge ones, missing a FG, and failing to recover an onside kick.

Final Thoughts - The mistakes of the Colts offense, and their strategy on the defensive side, left the Saints with the opportunity to control the game. The Saints offense still had to perform though, and Brees and his corps of recievers did so to near perfection. Thanks to their mistake free execution, and with help from the special teams, the Colts found themselves in a situation where they did not have the time to make up for their own failures.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Kennedy already-ah he-ah

Kennedy signs. Reiterating the big points about playing Kennedy.
  • Last year's power was a bit of a fluke. He's no better with the stick than Guzman.
  • There is value in platooning Kennedy with Guzman.
  • He's likely a better fielder at second than the Guz, but also no longer a great fielder
  • He's old and an injury away from being useless.
  • He absolutely MUST race in the president's race at one point next season
I said don't bother signing him unless it was for a platoon and he was cheap. We won't know how often he'll play just yet but, reiterating the big points about paying Kennedy: if the Nats paid less than 1 million, then I'm happy. That's throw away money and Kennedy is better than that. If the Nats paid 1-2.5 million, that's about what I expect. Let's hope they use him right or the Nats just get lucky. If they paid over 2.5 million then I see a disturbing pattern

Pudge - 3 million
Capps - 3.5 million
Hudson - offered 3+ million.
Kennedy - 2.5 million?

That would scream that the Hudson deal was less about value and more about budget. That there might be some barrier (4 mill?) where the team said Rizzo could do whatever he wanted but above that requires review. Just hypothesizing here, but remember - we're not giving this ownership the benefit of the doubt. Yes WE, I'm including you. You don't get a choice. You either follow my distrust or I'm drugging your Coke Zero and having my bodyguard Virgil II carry you along.

UPDATE : It's 1.25 million, with a 2 million option for next year. About on target. Let's see what they do with him.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

For the want of a tack, a duchy was lost

The Nats aren't going to get Hudson. I want to say that I'm bothered by this, but the alternative view (it's not a big deal at all) is appealing. I'm going to argue this out with myself.

"I don't get it. The Nats throw around their money on crap players like a scratch ticket winner at the dollar store, then when they need a few bucks more for something actually decent they act like they can't afford it."

"It's not that they can't afford it, i's that it's not worth it. 5 million for Hudson? That's probably overpaying."

"But they overpaid for Pudge, for Capps, probably for others."

"So one bad contract deserves another?"

"No. Those were slightly overpaying for guys that probably won't help the team at all. This is slightly overpaying for a guy that'll make the team better."

"Not much better. What's the difference between 72 wins and 74?"

"It's two wins. If that's your attitude then go hang out with those idiots that said the Nats shouldn't have bothered to sign Marquis. Better is better. If this were a long term deal - forcing the Nats to pay for Hudson when he's 40, well then fine. You don't bite the bullet. This is one year."

Ok so I'm decided. I don't like the non-deal. Even though I truly believe the team is going to be better this year by 10+ wins, from one part pitching improvement and two parts luck changing, I hate the "that's enough" thought process. If you can get better without hurting the team in some way, you should do it. Why not? This is far from the end of the world, more like a strong thunderstorm. But still, don't you want a sunny day? Some other thoughts:

  • Assuming the Nats make no other deals (a pitcher, please?) the Nats will essentially be the same team as last year adding Marquis and a lot of bullpen help. That's not a bad thing. It's not a great thing. It's an ok thing. We'll have to see what they do next off-season.
  • I was worried that the Nats were actually going to drop in payroll this year (which would have made me scream CHEEEEEEP from the rafters) because so much money was coming off the payroll but that's not the case. Assuming no other signings the Nats should be going from around 60 mill to around 65 million. Of course that difference is pretty much Strasburg, so if he doesn't hit the majors this year, they'll have spent almost exactly the same amount for the team on the field this year as last year. A better spent 60+ million true, but still 60+ million, which is in the lower third of baseball's payroll.
  • So what's next in the MI? As many others have said: Play Desmond. The other spot doesn't matter. Kennedy? For a cheap platoon with Guzman, I'm all in. For a full-time player, don't bother.
  • I got to put up some Nats blog links, don't I?

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

I don't want to be remiss

Nice. (headline that is)

I don't get whey they don't just sign the guy

This will-they won't-they stuff is getting tiresome. We all know whenever Orlando Hudson sleeps with the Nationals it's going to ruin the show. So just get it over with and we can move on to the Elijah Dukes inherits a fortune subplot.

I know we're supposed think highly of the organization because they aren't going to pay over value for Hudson (more on that in a sec). But you know what I don't get? The Nats, not two months ago, signed Pudge Rodriguez to a 2 year, 6million dollar contract when last year he (1) signed for a 1.5 million dollar (+ 1.5 million in incentives) deal, and (2) sucked. What makes Hudson different that the Nats can't possibly bring themselves to overpay a little to make this happen? The fact that he's actually slightly above average? That he's not at the age he could be a grandfather? They also signed Matt Capps, a low K relief pitcher coming off a bad year, to a 3.5 million dollar deal. Do we need to discuss the fungibility of your average reliever?

I didn't think either of these were terrible deals because I felt the Nats were doing on a small scale something that I like to see teams do: overpay for need. They needed a catcher - they identified a catcher they wanted - they overpaid to get him. They needed a closer - they identified a closer they wanted - they overpaid to get him. Used to be those kind of signings were only good for teams where one or two more wins meant the difference between playoffs and not. However, times are changing. It used to be overpaying meant both $ and years. You'd be stuck with a guy making too much for too long. Nowadays it's only about money. Guys don't get long deals. Mistakes are more easily brushed aside becuase either after this year or next you can move on. More teams can afford to overpay.

And these guys are on the low end of the salary scale. So Pudge only should have gotten 2.5 mill for two years (based on name mainly). So Capps shouldn't have gotten over 2. So the Nats put in 6.5 million into payroll for 2010 when they might have gotten away with 3.25. We're talking about a major league team here - 3.25 million shouldn't be a make or break amount. It wasn't for those two and yet for Hudson it is for some reason. I don't get it. Either commit to spending a little bit - like 10% more to fill needs or don't. Don't decide now, with the player that could honestly really make a difference, to draw a line in the sand.

Orlando's not great. But he's better than what the Nats have and puts them one step further from the dregs that they've been at the past few years. All for what amounts to making the Nationals the 23rd highest payroll in the league rather than the 26th. Sign the guy.

Shhhhh. In DC, the 9th largest metro area with all that per capita income. Shhhhh.

Monday, February 01, 2010

To Be (Angry) or Not To Be (Angry)

Chris, back (for a visit?) brought up an uncomfortable truth last week. Allow me to review:

Point 1
The Lerners and Kasten have been saying the same thing since the franchise was purchased. "We've hired the right people" "We're putting money to build up the team" etc etc.

Point 2
The team seems to currently be moving in the right direction.

Point 3
In comparison to the current situation, it's objectively apparent that the team was NOT moving in the right direction in past years.


The Lerners and Kasten were a bunch of lying liars who were also CHEEEEEEEEEEEEP. We can't trust them or at least they have to re-earn trust before they can be praised.

This is how I feel. When I see an article with quotes from Kasten and or Lerner I want to shout, "No! YOU don't get to say anything! YOU should be quiet and be happy you weren't run out of town for the crap you did to save a few bucks before your sweetheart stadium deal was set! Sit down and shut your Curly W pretzel holes until you do, for several seasons in a row, what needs to be done. What you said you were doing, but obviously weren't doing, since buying the team."

but I am not hanging on the Nats record. If they win, I'm not filled with goodwill. I'm filled with "That's nice, " so it's easy for me to maintain a high level of animosity toward folks that I think were misleading people. I don't think that's the case for everyone. I sense a lot of good feelings about the Nats as it stands today.

This isn't misplaced. It's completely understandable. The Nats stunk. The fans wanted the manager and (let's face it REALLY wanted) the GM fired. They have been fired. Riggleman (with the help of star-powered Nyjer Morgan) seemed to get the Nats to play decently. Rizzo has been making strategic, sound decisions. The Nats have a stud pitcher in the minors. It's a new day! No matter that this is exactly what Lerner and Kasten et al were hoping for. That they'd get the "first pass" on the crap that's taken place so far. Maybe they got what they want, but right now so are Nats fans it appears. It's still better now then it was 12 months ago. Why be angry?

So are you angry? Do you hold a grudge against Lerner/Kasten for not doing then what they are doing now? Or do you believe that in sports all that matters is the season in front of you?