Nationals Baseball: March 2010

Monday, March 29, 2010

That's Your Boswell

Isn't it great that the Nats are quasi-relevant again? Now I can get back to one of my favorite pastimes, destroying the overly optimistic musings of one Mr. Thomas Tiberius Boswell.

In his latest column Boswell makes a great amount of noise about how good Ian Desmond could become. In it, he takes a look at the 21 shortstops who played at least 110 games in the majors last year and sees how they changed from the minors to the majors in order to project how Desmond might do. This is great... if you can ignore the two HUGE problems that render this analysis useless.

First, Boswell is comparing Desmond to the 21 shortstops who played at least 110 games the the majors last year. These players all have one thing in common. THEY WERE GOOD ENOUGH TO PLAY 110 GAMES AT SHORTSTOP IN THE MAJORS LAST YEAR. Of course if you look at all the "good players" they are likely to show improvement. If we looked back at last year and pulled out every shortstop that failed to play 20 games in the majors, see how they did, and then projected Desmond to play like that - well he'd be pretty bad right? By only comparing Desmond to the "good players", essentially all Boswell ends up saying is "if Desmond is good enough to play a season in the majors, hell be good enough" Not much of a revelation. I suppose it is a bit interesting that in general these guys improved with the glove, but that was probably part of the deal. Get better with the glove or move to 2nd, or the OF, or Albuquerque. That's one huge flaw in this comparison.

To make matters worse, Boswell misses another important point. Most of these guys started playing in the majors when they were younger than Desmond. The less experienced you are the more likely you can make big changes. It's not surprising then that a 22 yr old (the most common start age for the 21) gets better with more time. Desmond is not 22 though, he's 24 going on 25. It's less likely that he'll make that level of improvement. This is another big flaw in Boswell's comparison.

To best figure out what Ian is going to do he should be compared to... let's say all 24 and 25 year old shortstops with less than a half-season major league experience in the past 5 years or so (to get a larger sample), not all the starting shortstops from last year. Not to mention all the different circumstances that need to be taken in account. A better fielder than Furcal? Sure but Furcal was moved to short as a 21 yr old and played there for just a season before being moved up. A hitter on par with Rollins? I guess if you look at "Composite Rollins" and count his age 22-24 seasons - seasons that Desmond played in the minors. This isn't just flawed, it's flat out wrong.

(what about the comparison? Well since baseball-reference doesn't allow a maximum previous experience, only a minimum, it takes some more digging than I had time for - maybe tomorrow)

What I wont' get on Boswell for is the thought process behind what to use for a baseline for projecting Desmond into 2010 and beyond. Because Desmond had such a strange 2009 it makes his projections difficult. The bulk of his minor league stats say he's not that great, but the most recent stats say otherwise. Really it comes down to what do you prefer to look at. Therefore, I'm not sure any projection is that much more valid than another.

gives you two possibilities; "the optimist", who chooses to look at Desmond's great last season as starting point, and "the realist", who tries to find a middle ground between last years stats and the bulk of Ian's minor league work by averaging the last three years. What Boswell doesn't give you is "the pessimist", who ignores last year as an aberration and focus on the relatively consistent years prior as the real info. The Optimist is looking at .800+ OPS, The Realist somewhere in the .750 range, and The Pessimist in the .650 area. Boswell tells you what players are in the other two ranges, what about the .650 area? Jack Wilson, Juan Uribe, Felipe Lopez on the Nationals. Yeah, that bad. Not as good as Guzman last year bad.

I'm all for trying to project Desmond's future, but it should be done in a fair and even handed way. Cherry-picking the comparison group to be the cream of the crop is only going to push the already high expectations of Nats fans through the roof. Push them far enough and even a capable performance by Desmond might be seen as a disappointment rather than a success it really is.

The right move BUT...

Ian Desmond will start the season as the Nats everyday shortstop. While we await the reaction from the home of Guzmania, it is hard to see anyone arguing with this move.

Guzman is a 32 year old, who outside of a couple of years, has shown himself to be a terrible offensive player, unable to hit for power or get on base with any consistency. His defense has been steadily on the decline as well and now he's dealing with a bum shoulder.

Ian Desmond, on the other hand is... umm... well he's younger, 24 for most of this year, and he's at least for a short time shown himself capable of playing in the major leagues. That's all you really need to give him a shot, and if you are being honest with yourself, that's all you really can say about him.

I know Nats fans want to believe that Desmond is a superstar waiting to happen, but that's not likely. Yes, he did hit well while up with the Nats last season, but that was mainly because of a SLG percentage around .100 pts higher than anything he ever did as a minor leaguer. For those that enjoy fancy stats, his isoSLG was .281 last year, while his best in any single year in the minors was .164. That is what we call an unsustainable result. Yes, he did hit well early in this Spring, but if you haven't noticed after starting the month off batting .476 in the first 8 games, he has hit .194 in the next 13 with only 2 doubles. Yes, he did hit well in the minors last year, but it was the first time ever in 5 minor league seasons that he had success anywhere near that level. Prior to 2009 he was carrying something like a .240 / .315 / .375 line in the minors. If Desmond was 27, I would say that he is the poster child for outsized expectations.

But he's not 27, and he won't be until late in 2012. That's the most important thing. Desmond will probably be offensively as productive this season as Guzman would have been (likely lower BA, likely higher SLG), but with a season under his belt he's still at the ages where he will likely improve slightly in the future. Assuming a decent 2010, the Nats could pencil in for a few seasons a perfectly average SS and they could turn their concerns (and their pocketbook) elsewhere. (If you are wondering, it is possible Desmond could blossom into a 25 homer guy, it's also possible he could also crash and burn and be unable to sustain a batting average above .250. It's difficult to project given his strange immediate improvement. Let's try to temper our speculations)

When it comes down to it though, this wasn't a Desmond move, it was a Guzman move, as much as the Nats try to tell you otherwise. They wanted Guzman to play, but he couldn't. They already knew he couldn't hit, and now he can't field. They'll try to give him time to get healthy so they can "showcase" him later in the year but starting him on Day 1 would have been good for no one. It may not be Desmond's time yet (or ever) but Guzman's time has almost certainly passed.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Where are they now? : Nats 2009 Opening Day Relievers

Commenter Will questions why I think the Nats bullpen will be better this year than last year besides the simple "they can't possibly be that bad" return to mere awful from historically bad. No, it's not because the Nats brought back Mac the Ninth, I'm not sure why they did that. Nor is it because I think that the arms in this year's pen are that much better than those the Nats had going at the end of last year. It's because it took the Nats a hell of a long time to get those arms together.

Ron Villone came around on May 7th, about a fifth of the season in. Mike MacDougal had his first outing on May 29th. Tyler Clippard didn't get going until the very end of June. Sean Burnett started throwing for the Nats on July 1st. While this year's squad may not be substantially better than that bunch, they'll all be here come Day 1. That's the difference.

Which Nats made the Opening Day 25 man roster as relievers last year, and where are they now?

The quality arms

Joe Beimel : he's good as a LOOGY and just resigned with the Rockies.
Joel Hanrahan : a talent that may or may not put it together. He'll make the Pirates opening day roster if he's healthy.

The rest

Mike Hinkley : Orioles, will not make the opening day roster.
Wil Ledezma : Pirates, will not make the opening day roster, also recovering from injury.
Saul Rivera : Indians, might make opening day roster.
Steven Shell : Mariners, will not make opening day roster.
Julian Tavarez: Went unsigned after being DFA'd, retired from baseball.

So out of 7 pitchers (the Nats only carried 4 starters to begin last season) 5 of them are not good enough to make the opening day roster of a major league team a mere 365 days later. That's how bad the bullpen was that the Nats began last season with. Two major league quality arms to pitch in relief. (Ok Saul was quality at one point and could be again, but he wasn't last year)

, Bruney, Bergmann, Clippard, Burnett and ?. There has to be at least 3 arms in that bunch don't you think?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wait? Everything isn't going according to plan?

What are the chances of that? 100%? 99.95%?

Scott Olsen still looks awful. This really shouldn't be a surprise. Scott Olsen isn't a very good pitcher. He did have two respectable years 2006 and 2008, which given he's really only pitched for four seasons, may give you the impression that there is actually a good pitcher in there waiting to get out. There almost certainly isn't. The fact is that 2008 season was driven by an irregularly low BABIP of .266, and otherwise was more like the disappointments of 2007 and 2009 then the legitimately good rookie season he put up. (for a more detail and scathe, hop in the time machine and head back to FJB circa 2008) The strikeouts are too low, the walks are too high, he's too hittable and gives up too many home runs. He doesn't excel at anything, in fact, he's below average at everything.

If you can see that then what you have is not a pitcher waiting to bust out and give you 200 innings of low 4 ERA pitching, but a guy who at best is going to throw some number of high 5 ERA starts...who is now working back from injury. Good luck with all that.

I'm not sure what the Nats were thinking other than maybe "We don't care about the rotation this year because we're counting on Lannan/Marquis/Strasburg/Zimmermann next year". That's nice. For 2011. This year... man that Strasburg kid better be awesome right?

(yes - the team is still better because the addition of Marquis and fewer garbage bullpen arms but for scant dollars more it could have been much better without impacting next season. That's the point)

In other news
  • Desmond 0 for 3. On his way to AAA? Or did he "earn" a spot with 2 and a half weeks of good spring play? Really it depends on Guzman's arm for me, not anything Desmond has done.
  • One of the few bright things in spring, Pudge seems to be striking the ball well. He won't be good, but there's potential for complete disaster here, so good to see he's not flailing in spring.
  • Taveras will make the team if they are at all concerned about Morgan's health. Be prepared for 3 at bats with RISP the first 3 weeks, Zimm.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

No! No No No No No!

How stupid are you? Is it because the "fast guy" is out that another "fast guy" has to enter the mix? Is it because you are completely clueless on what to do now that Elijah Dukes is sitting at home earning 20%? Is it because Willy Taveras has pictures of an unfortunate late-night of carousing with a former GM who I will codename "BowDawg"?

It must be one of those because there is no way a team that is supposedly moving in the right direction would consider Willy Taveras in a platoon in right base off his hot spring stats. There are two huge problems with this:
  1. You are basing something off hot spring stats
  2. It's Willy Taveras.
Jesus christ. Pitching wise Nats fans have gotten lucky with the new Spring Training Game, but offensively Taveras and Bruntlett are still hanging around. I think you can attribute the Bruntlett situation to Guzman's bum shoulder. Taveras on the other hand...

Look, he is one of the worst hitters in the game, if I look at all the batters with 400 ABs last year. Willy is dead last in OPS. He's offensively as close to extreme 2009 disappointments JJ Hardy and Kaz Matsui as they are to Adam Kennedy. He's as close to suck as suck is to average. Also he has precipitously declined for the past three years.

Are the Nats that dumb to put all this stock in Spring Training stats? Well Duncan (.156) and Orr (.200) just got released leaving Bruntlett (.276) and A Gonz (.364) as the backup infielders. What does Riggles have to say about this?
"A player has to win the job"
No Riggles No! It's "A player has to not lose his job by getting injured or suddenly looking like a completely different player than you remember" You always mess up that phrase. As Commenter Hoo said - spring is about confirming biases. It is not about changing them. If you are good you should be given the benefit of the doubt, if you are bad you should have to really surprise and catch some breaks. Cases in point:

Joe Beimel, who pitches well, gets a deal for the Rockies and even though there is only two weeks left till Opening Day, I think he will likely start with the team.

Mike McDougal, who does not pitch well, gets cut from the Marlins

You know what these guys can do. Good players shouldn't have to show you something and bad players shouldn't be able to earn a spot unless something crazy happens.

One last thing : Ladson keeps bringing up Dye, which is offensively interesting and defensively scary, especially with Nyjer nursing a hamstring issue. If they really are serious about being solid defensively (well outside of the SS that can't throw... and the first baseman that can't catch...) this is a must pass situation.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Strasburg effective in... win?

Huh? At least he was sent down for breaking the pattern. You don't mess with the program!

Other thoughts:

Shhhh Ian Desmond only 2 hits in last 5 games and none for XB Shhh!

I've thought about it some more and what is it with the Nats and outfielders?

You there, learn to take a walk!
But that's not how I pla..

You there, play well whenever we decide to put you in!
But I'm hur...

You there, learn to play CF!
But I'm not really a center...

You there, act like a grown up!
OK I think I'm doing a good job matur...

Look out Nyjer Morgan, they're about to ask you to hit home runs and you are cut if you can't do it.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Wait, when was this decided?

We knew it was Lannan and Marquis, but Mock and Olsen already pencilled in at #3 and #4? I must have missed something.

Not that it matters - we're talking Zimmermann and Strasburg placeholders here but still what's being seen here?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I don't know what that was but it wasn't a baseball decision

I'm not going to begrudge the Nats management for trying to explain the Elijah Dukes release as solely a "baseball decision". Would it be nice if they were as forthright as Chris would like them to be? Sure. But I prefer to see it as a "no need to bad mouth"situation. He's cut. He's gone. Why burn bridges?

Of course that won't stop me from actively showing WHY it wasn't a baseball decision.

Elijah is young, cheap, and talented (to a point). You don't usually replace a player like that. Of course you could replace him if had someone younger and/or cheaper and/or more talented that was behind him. That would be a baseball decision right?

Cheaper? As much as I would like to say CHEEEEEEEEEEEEP, there is no cause to do so. None of these guys are going to be that much cheaper, certainly not over the next couple of years.

What about younger? Willie Harris is not younger, he'll be 32 in June, but you knew that. Mike Morse is not younger, he'll be 28 in a few days, but you thought that too. Justin Maxwell is not younger, he's 7 months older in fact. What abo...Roger Bernandina? Also older. By two weeks! Didn't realize Elijah Dukes was so young did you? (and may I bring up a favorite point from last year, Lastings Milledge is even younger. By 10 months!)

Ok so what about more talented? Well that's the big question isn't it? Let's write off for the moment Willie Harris and Mike Morse. Harris is past-prime and at best average. Morse is right at the cusp of the downhill slide and has yet to show anything for sure at the major league level. What about Maxwell and Bernadina? How does one measure "raw talent" for young players with limited major league experience? How about how they did in the minors?

20 (A & High A) .313 / .395 / .489
21 (AA) .287 / .355 / .478
22 (AAA) .293 / .401 / .488

Maxwell (in college before 22)
22 (Low A & A) .252 / .337 / .368
23 (A & High A) .281 / .363 / .583
24 (AA) .233 /.367 / .459

20 (A) .240 / .340 / .371
21 (A) .233 / .356 / .369
22 (High A) .270 / .355 / .369

The facts are right there - Dukes was hitting better at younger ages at the same relative talent level than either of these guys. Dukes was a true talent. These guys, they're ok. It was not a baseball decision based on raw young talent.

But that's only one type of talent. Perhaps the Nationals saw a way to squeeze more production out of the guys they have now for this season. Usually such moves are reserved for teams looking to grab a couple more wins to help with playoff runs, not teams inching past 70 wins, but to each his own, right? It's a baseball move. They mentioned in some fashion possibly platooning the righty/lefty combo of Morse and Harris - that seems like a good idea right?

Harris (v RH in the majors)
2007: .283 / .358 / .418
2008: .255 / .351 /.404
2009: .248 / .365 /.414

Morse (v LH in the minors - injured in 2008 - minor league splits does it again)
2006: .286 / .349 / .482
2007: .250 / .379 / .361
2009: .317 / .349 / .538

So a platoon of Willie Harris and Mike Morse....more at bats for Willie... factor in minors to majors... declining returns. Something like .270 / .345 / .430? That is much better than what Dukes put up last year (.250 /. 337 / .393) but much worse than what he put up 2 years ago (.264 / .386 / .478). The Nats aren't looking at Harris/Morse and salivating at the platoon splits, they are betting against Dukes merely improving back to average.

We're not the baseball people watching Dukes everyday in Florida. Perhaps something is wrong that they don't think can be corrected. We don't know. God knows I wasn't all that high on Dukes a month ago. If they see something they feel negates his obvious talent advantage over the other "young" choices, that makes them believe he's not going to regress to the mean, well then, it could be a baseball decision. It isn't very likely though.

Straight baseball wise this seems like a very questionable decision. If they aren't making decisions strictly because of baseball reasons then, like FJB does, you've got to start questioning how they are making decisions. It's a baseball team. Baseball decisions make the most sense. Non-baseball decisions, that's a tricky path to tread.

Well if the Nats are resigned to the hitting staying the same as last year at least they still got all those new arms right?

Elijah Dukes released?!?!

Do what now?
"We like some of our other options in right field, really," Riggleman said. "Elijah was great."

My quick thoughts:

The Nats must have thought that Elijah had been completely figured out by opposing pitchers and was not making the necessary corrections fast enough to play this season.

The other options they like so much aren't all that great. As noted elsewhere Morse is probably the best bet to start and to perform but he's a 28 yr old with limited success so far. Should he be ok? Yeah. Could he suck? Yeah. Willie Harris is also a solid choice and would give the Nats a pretty good defensive outfield while not taking away much from last year's offense (not adding much either but that's not the point... I guess). The other guys Maxwell, Bernadina, are filler.

Another idea has this as a move to keep Desmond on the team... in the outfield. Crazy? Probably.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

When second best really is first loser put out the Expos/Nationals "Team of the Decade" this past week picked by a handful of people who were vaguely aware of the franchise's existence before 2005. While they didn't do a bad job the end result is a team that makes you think "Really? That's the best the Nats got?".

Unfortunately it is. To show that is indeed the case I thought I would come up with the second best team

C - Michael Barrett : He was awful with the bat, worse than Flores, but he played a bunch more games than Jesus. If Flores was good I'd put him in here, but here's a little secret - Flores overall hasn't been that good.

1B - Lee Stevens : You could make the argument for Dmitri since he was actually, you know, good for a year. But Dmitri also then gave the Nats the worst 2 years you can get for 10 million. Stevens was a decent power threat for back to back years.

2B - Ronnie Belliard : Ronnie was never really appreciated for the adequate player he was. Also, since Vidro dominated the early years there really is no other choice.

SS - Cristian Guzman : His numbers aren't good, but for a shortstop it could be worse. Like if he played for the Nats before 2005.

3B- Tony Batista : One of those fun, swing from the heels guys that killed a team over the course of a year but for any single game you liked to see bat.

OF - Jose Guillen : Yeah he was awful in year 2, but the choices are getting real slim. Plus, he was like a windup toy powered on hate. If you could make him angry and point him in the right direction, look out!

OF - Ryan Church : Am I being biased? Perhaps, but he played the 4th most games and had the 5th highest OPS+ for anyone who played more than half a season for this franchise. It's still crazy the Nats never seemed willing to give this guy his fair chance. Oh the Nats need a CF? What about this guy that can hit and play passable CF? That's crazy! Let's see what Brandon Watson can do!

OF- Willie Harris : At this point it's either guys who played a decent amount and sucked or guys who had a single decent season with the team. Juan Rivera? Elijah Dukes? Solid Sub Willie Harris is good enough for me.

I'm getting bored of all this mediocrity - time to speed it up.

P - John Patterson : That was one hell of a year right? There are worse little careers... as you will see.

P - Esteban Loaiza : Probably the best single season career for an Expos/Nats starter. Go ahead. Find a better case. I dare you.

P - Zack Day : No I'm not kidding... and there's two more to go. For those of you that picked up the team with the move he wasn't that terrible before.

P - Tim Redding. : Uh huh. This is the 9th best starter for the franchise in the 2000's, ladies and gentlemen.

P - Carl Pavano? : Bartolo Colon's half season? Dustin Hermanson? Whatever.

SU - Jon Rauch : Could have went with Scott Strickland, who pitched better, but Rauch was still good and had twice as many innings. That's been the franchise's strength for most of the decade. Pretty good set-up men.

CL - Uggie Urbina : One fair year before the shipping out is all you need to be franchise's second best closer for the decade. The next best choice here was Rocky Biddle folks. Rocky Biddle.

Take a look at that team. Where do you think they would finish? Laugh it up, but take a moment to compare them to this year's probable team, especially the pitching staff (-Strasburg). Still laughing?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Offensive Keyhole : Nyjer Morgan

A few weeks ago I called Elijah Dukes the "offensive key" to the Nats and a couple days ago I said I couldn't find a "pitching key" for the Nats. I guess I should explain exactly what I mean by "key". I'm looking for someone who:
  1. will start the season or play a lot of games at a position
  2. has presented a difficult projection
  3. who's performance could significantly effect the performance of the team.
While most of the team was fairly predictable, Dukes is going from a great 2008 to an awful 2009, so who knows what he would do? As far as I saw the pitchers though, the ones you could be sure would be pitching (basically Lannan and Marquis) you generally could figure on what you are going to get in the average season.

Of course there is a flipside to this. There are some players on the Nats who
  1. will start the season or play a lot of games at a position
  2. hav presented a projection that we believe in but could be wildly off for non-injury reasons.
  3. who's performance could significantly effect the performance of the team.
The second note is the key. Based on what we know so far it seems like we know what we are getting, but there are a extenuating circumstances (service time, injury, historical differences)
that may cause them to go far off their projections.

For the Nats there are several candidates. Ryan Zimmerman was much better last year than he had been in the previous two seasons. Adam Kennedy also had a bounce back year. Cristian Guzman had his worst year since coming back from injury. Yet, I feel pretty good about what the Nats are expecting from these guys. Zimmerman is a budding star. Kennedy and Guzman are below average roster fillers. I'd be surprised with any other result.

However Nyjer Morgan presents a different story. I think most Nats fans take a look at his last three years, tack on the fantastic 50 games with the Nats and think they have a guy that's going to put up clearly above average offensive numbers while stealing bases and fielding like a dream. Unlike the other guys mentioned, while I have roughly the same expectations as the fans of the Nats I don't feel good about them at all.

First off, Nyjer's major league career consists of less than a season and a half of games played. The consistency over these three appearances kind of hides the facts that the assumptions being made for 2010 are made off of rather limited evidence. Morgan has played thirty fewer games than Elijah Dukes, a handful more than Jesus Flores, yet it feels as if we are treating him as if he has three average seasons in the books.

Secondly, Nats fans and followers can't help but be influenced by what they saw - which is an entirely different offensive player than Morgan had been before. Nyjer had never hit for that average (.351) ever, not even in the lowest minor leagues. This helped to disguise the fact that his isoOBP (.045) and isoSLG (.082) b(asically his power and his patience) were dreadful. You might be able to write off that patience as a product of hitting so well, but the power, or complete lack there of, is concerning, even for someone not meant to be a power hitter.

Third, Nyjer's minor league numbers would not predict the moderate success he has seen so far. He spent a good long while in the minors and adapted well to each level. He would hit around .300 with some measure of patience and no power to speak of. If he were young for his level you might think he'd grow into the same type of player in the majors, but Nyjer was always a little old for where he was playing. So instead of what we've seen so far in the majors, which is basically what I described a couple sentences ago, we'd more expect a hitter around .280 with barely acceptable patience and an incredible dead-last in the league lack of power. The fact that he hasn't shown that yet is encouraging, but because of the games played issue, it's not a certainty we won't see it.

Fourth, Nyjer is an older player - 29 in July - and for a player that relies on his legs for so much of his offense, age is big enemy. Nyjer did not hit better last season by hitting frozen ropes around the field. He hit more ground balls. While his BABIP was high, it has always been high for him, because of his speed. As Nyjer ages and slows this number is going to drop, and Nyjer is at an age where he will begin to slow.

Fifth, Nyjer is coming off of a hand injury. I don't know much about injury recovery and whether this is a big deal or barely anything to worry about. However, I feel pretty confident in saying that recovering from a broken hand won't help his offense.

All in all the pieces are there for Nyjer Morgan to severely disappoint next season offensively. I'm not talking below average. I'm talking something like .275 / .340 / .350. That would be a terrible year. Would I bet on something that low? No. (I like a .285-.290 / .355-.360 / .360-.365 season.) But is it possible given what we know about Morgan? For him to do this and it not be because of a new injury? Yes. A season like that, while terribly under what Nats fans expect, should not be a surprise.

Of course, this does not mean you don't play Morgan. Even with a disappointing year at the plate, what he brings to the field is too valuable to the Nats to give up. He is an excellent fielder, and while age will eventually catch up with him there too, it shouldn't overtake him in just a single year. Morgan is a net plus for the Nats, regardless of whether he is sparking or dousing the offense.

Strasburg effective in loss... again


In other news Rizzo came out and said that Ian Desmond is playing for a starting role. On one hand, that's great news because I believe that Desmond is the future, that he should be taught well and Nats fans should let him lead the way to the playoffs. The sooner he plays everyday in the majors, the sooner the Nats will know if he is a major league caliber SS, and the sooner they can plan around the results. That's how it's supposed to work with young players.

On the other hand, Rizzo's hand has basically been forced to say this by the hot spring Desmond has had so far. That might mean that the Nats GM can be influenced by a week of good at bats during meaningless games to start changing his mind (maybe) about a player. That's not good news.

That's problem #14233 with Spring Training. Fans (and GMs?) can selectively pick what matters and what doesn't, mainly because nothing matters.

It's easy to paint a rosy picture, when you can pick and choose all your paint colors to be pink. Some of the good things happening now won't work out. Some of the bad things won't end up mattering. It's spring. How many years do we have to go through this?

Friday, March 12, 2010

The vague pitching keys

First things first : Rick Short!

A week or so ago I brought up you that I felt Elijah Dukes was the key player for the Nats to move forward on offense. There was supposed to be a follow-up with a "pitching key" but the more I looked at it the more it became apparent there wasn't a single player who would be the pitching key for this season.

Sure, it's important that Straburg develops into a very good pitcher, but it's not so much important this season. Let's say he starts in the minors (very possible), struggles a bit so he's not brought up until July (sorta possible - he doesn't have to struggle too much for them to justify this), and for the second half of the season he pitches with a 3.80 ERA mostly showing off a world-class arm, but also having a couple of crash and burn starts in there. To me that seems to be an acceptable scenario even though that's not helping the 2010 Nats too much. The Nats shouldn't be depending on Strasburg to drastically improve their rotation this season. It could happen, it probably will happen, but they shouldn't be relying on it. Strasburg is a key for the Nationals franchise, but he isn't a key for the 2010 major league pitching staff.

I guess Lannan and Marquis may be keys, but I don't think there's a big question mark hanging over them considering what the Nats want. Can they each give the Nats around 200 innings of around average pitching? It's like asking Dunn if he can give the Nats a 140 games with good power, like saying for the Cards to be good Pujols must be great. It should happen. If your key is player X doesn't drastically underperform then every starter is a key (which I guess is true but that's not what we're looking for here)

What is a key for this season is having someone to pitch well enough beyond Lannan and Marquis to hold down a spot in the rotation all year. They need someone to stabalize the middle of the rotation and to help ensure that the bullpen is not overtaxed as it has been in the past. But whether this pitcher is Strasburg, or Livan, or JD Martin, or Matt Chico or etc. etc. etc. doesn't really matter. There isn't a key player as much as a key result.

Another key is finding three decent arms for the pen from Day 1. That shouldn't be too hard, but the Nats failed on that front horribly last year, so Nats fans shouldn't take it for granted. With three reliable arms off the bat, Riggleman can hopefully find other decent arms for the pen during low pressure situations over the first month or so without jeapordizing what wins the Nats have lined up by the 7th inning. It'll matter that who the Nats name closer is one of the three that do well, but who exactly the closer is doesn't matter. If Capps stinks but Burnett, Clippard, and Bruney are fine, the Nats should be ok. If Storen struggles, but Walker, Stammen, and Bergmann pitch well, the Nats should muddle through. Again key results but no key players.

The Nats desperately need better pitching in 2010 and they've lined up the players to make that happen, but there is no individual arm that could make and break the Nats.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Removing the broken branches

Minor roster trimming. Of note : Logan Kensing, Derek Norris, Jerry Owens were "sent down". None were playing at this point.

In "name" news, both Estes and Guardado are gone. Really the only thing this shows you is how much Riggleman loves having Villone around. Villone has been worse than Guardadoboth last year (relative to league) and in Spring (though both were terrible), but Ron stays and Eddie goes. Doesn't mean Ron is going to make the team, but he is going to get every opportunity to do so. This is why you make friends!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Strasburg effective in loss"

Why do I get a feeling we might be hearing that a lot?

Strasburg is the awesomest! At the same time you can't read a lot into it, unless you want to read alot into all those horrible innings pitched so far by the Nats other top starters and nearly everyone slated to be in the bullpen this year. He looked good and is healthy. That's all you can ask leading into the season.

As for the other phenom, Ian Desmond had a big double and drove in a couple runs yesterday. He's currently batting .500 / .563 / .857 and you're hearing the calls for him to start. Of course there are two, well three, problems with that.

  1. It's been 14 at bats. In practical terms, he's almost had a good week of hitting.
  2. It's the Spring. These stats mean nothing.*
  3. Guzman paid, that's all I got to say.
So in a meaningless 14 at bats, Desmond has hit well. Meanwhile the Nats are paying someone 8 million dollars, the second highest amount on the team, to play his position. This isn't happening folks. Not unless Guzman is injured. (Note: I am not suggesting someone injure Guzman. Unless you are God. If you are God then... you know... see what you can do in the realm of non-life altering season-long dealies)

*Quick: Who lead the Nats in hitting last spring? That's right Jose Castillo. Who was second (with any meaningful at bats?) . Right again, Alex Cintron. 2008: Ronnie Belliard & Pete Orr. 2007: Flores, Guzman, & Zimmerman. (Guzman would have a good year - the other two not so much.) 2006: DeFelice, Zimmerman, Wiki Gonzalez. And this is with 30+ at bats. If I drop it down to Desmond's current level you get to guys you have to look-up their first names. S Watkins, H Cota, J Dubois.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A new Spring Training Game

Yes, I know I should be talking about Strasburg, but I've got 15-20 years to do that, right? Because he's the awesomest? (really I shouldn't joke - he IS the awesomest. He's a phenomenal strikeout pitcher with great control and no tendency to give up the long ball. It's everything any team would want. He's a blond Tom Cruise). Instead I want to focus on a way for me to enjoy Spring Training, following an idea poached from commenter Hoo. I can spend it hoping the bad players fail.

Yeah, I know I've been saying Spring doesn't matter at all, but that's not entirely true. Yes, all the important positions for the Nats are either locked up (Guzman will start, Dukes will start) or battled over by a bunch of players of roughly the same talent level (Chico/Martin/Mock/Stammen etc. in the battle for rotation spots). The only open spots being contested by players of differing talents are the last spots available; fifth OF, last pinch hitter, last man in the pen. I usually say these spots don't matter and that's basically true. They are infrequently used so if the best man for the job wins it or the second best man does the proper response is "Eh, whatever".

However, it is possible that a terrible player wins that job. In the ideal situation even that really wouldn't matter, but the thing is, baseball doesn't always give you ideal situations. A couple players go down with injuries and suddenly your manager is pencilling in a horrid player everyday because he's already up with the team. The guy that was kept on for veteran presence, or as a LOOGY, or to steal a base, who shouldn't be part of the chain of succession, suddenly finds himself in a crucial role by virtue of nothing more than being on the roster at the right time.

Who are these players on the Nats? The players that if they make the squad could be a couple twisted ankles away from filling you with furious anger?

Willy Taveras (28) Yes he has speed, but he is so awful with the bat, like arguably worst hitter in the majors, that he'd have to almost never get up to bat to not hurt the team. His lines from the past two years:
2008: .251 / .308 / .296
2009: .240/ .275 / .285.
The OPS+s were 55 and 48. To give you a reference point, Austin Kearns last year was a 72. Josh Bard a 73. Livan was a 64. If you are going to have this guy on the team, you might as well sign Usain Bolt for the publicity.

Eric Bruntlett (31) Maybe 5 years ago you bring him on for defense, but he's no longer anything special in that department. He hasn't had a good offensive season since 2004. Last year he put up a .171 / .224 / .238 line. He's done. I know backup shortstops are hard to find. Al Gonzalez can't field all that great and Pete Orr is not a SS and can't hit. And most likely if Guzman were to go down we'd see Desmond not Bruntlett. But still, do you want to see the scenario where Guzman is suffering from a day to day injury for 3 weeks while a a .270 Desmond is left in AAA and Bruntlett is weakly smacking balls to the SS like it was fielding practice?

Pudge Rodri.... oh. Moving on.

Ron Villone (40) There are other rather questionable choices out there. Both Miguel Batista and Eddie Guardado are old, walk too many guys, and get hit too much, but at least with those two you can say they were hanging on in the AL. Ron showed he probably doesn't have what it takes anymore last year, in the NL, with the Nationals. What else do you need? The fact righties slugged .511 off him last year? That lefites hit .293 and got on base at a .386 clip? Move on.

Shawn Estes (37) It's sad to say this about a 37 year old IN THE BEST SHAPE OF HIS LIFE! especially because the last time Estes pitched he wasn't terrible. But he's 37. He hasn't been average since 2001, and hasn't been above average since 1997. There are 8th graders walking around today that have not existed in a world where Shawn Estes was a good major league pitcher. More troubling than the performance is the durability question. He made one start in 2006, missed 2007 because of injuries, pitched half a year overall in 2008, and didn't pitch last year. There's nothing to see here.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Your Spring Training record doesn't matter

Just look at last year. The worst teams were the Diamondbacks, the Padres, the Astros,... the Orioles, the Indians... uh oh.

(ok Philly was 13-19 but still. Let's be honest though, the Nats don't need to be GOOD this year. Just around 70 wins. Even a horrible spring would be about right. )

Friday, March 05, 2010

Are the fans buying tickets?

The Bog recounts an interview with Kasten on a Toronto radio station, where at the end (it was mostly about the NHL's Winter Classic possibly coming to DC) they ask a pertinent question.
...the conversation ended with Kasten being asked whether Strasburg and the youngsters are sparking increased fan and ticket interest.

"I think people are waiting for Strasburg to get here," Kasten said. ..."if some things break our way, it could be a very, very exciting season, and yes, that means ticket sales, too. "

So the answer is no. Fans aren't buying tickets even with the Strasburg hype. Kasten does understand though - it's because the team hasn't done well. There's no delusion here. Now over this way:

"We're gonna see his (me - Strasburg's) first professional game this coming Tuesday; it's a big, big event. MASN, our local cable station, has changed its scheduling in order to televise that event, because there's so much interest back home, so we have that going on."

How big is it? That'll be told by the ratings, but a quick gauge of how important MASN feels the game is, is knowing what they "changed" in their "scheduling" to show it. I can't get Tuesday's original programming sched, but I assume today is a fairly typical MASN day. What would a Spring Training game be cutting into today?

12PM : Replay of WAC basketball San Jose St v Idaho

2PM : ESPN news

3PM : The Scott Garceau show

A basketball game between the 6th and 7th place teams in a conference where the 2nd closest team is about 2500 miles away. (I guess LA Tech is the local squad), another network's programming, and one of those live video broadcasts of a radio show that make you understand why God created television. Forget the Strasburg game, frankly, if I had MASN I'd be upset they aren't showing more games.

Trying to have fun

If only I could be this way...

OK listen. It's obvious now that I was wrong about needing another starter. Both Mock and Martin are ready to fill out the rotation NOW! My new worry is how the Nats are going to fit everyone in the staff when Strasburg is ready and Zimmermann comes back, but let's cross that bridge when we come to it. Its also obvious that Martis is a complete WASTE of a contract and should be dumped immediately. Stop wasting time on this guy! While Storen is going to be AWESOME, I'm REALLY worried about the pen. Bruney sucks, Capps sucks, Guardado sucks, Villone sucks. I think Kensing might shift well into the 8th inning role, but who else? This is baaaaad!!!!!

Offensively I'm even more worried the Nats will have the WORST outfield in the whole league. Morgan, Harris, Dukes, Morse, Dukes they all can't hit!!! Hammer, where are you?!?!?! If the Nats are smart they'll look at Jerry Owens some more, that kid can RAKE, but when have the Nats been smart? Worse yet Dunn is DONE! Forget long term deals, can the Nats cut him today? Josh Whitesell is the future and the longer the Nats deny this the stupider they look. The ONLY brightside is that Desmond is going to be a STUD. Maybe he can carry the offense with Zimmerman?

I'm at a loss though - this team would be LUCKY to win 59 games. It's going to be a loooong year.

Box 1
Box 2

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Yay! Games! Boo! Not real ones!

There's nothing out there is there? Sometimes, I feel like I'm picking through a Thanksgiving turkey carcass in mid December. An interview with Rizzo where the first 4 questions and answers could be word for word cut and pasted into every team preview in the league? Jesus. To quote:

"The early returns from Spring Training are positive. Guys are getting their work in. We are seeing a progression in the pitching department. Of course, the pitching is ahead of the hitting. We are starting to see the position players swing the bat a little bit better. It's just good seeing guys moving around and getting ready to play the games."

Add in some racism and misogyny and this could have been taken from "Scoops" McGillicutty interviewing "Ol' Sarge" Street about the 1938 St. Louie Browns.

Spring Training reporting does stink. Spring Training blogging is even worse. The "on the field" info from last year mainly gets blown over the early off-season and holidays. The Hot Stove info gets used up by the time pitchers and catchers hit the field. Now it's just wheel spinning until the season starts. There's still good stuff out there, sure, but Spring Training is made for fluff "getting to know you" interviews. Feel good banality. These are the dog days of baseball blogging.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Dunn't know pitching

Boz is back and ready to tell us how the sun is brighter, the grass is greener and the hot dogs are more weiner-y for the Nats in 2010. Today's affirmation : "Faith is as real as your pitching staff"

Boz does have some valid points. This year the Nats have stopped scrounging in two of their previous favorite garbage heaps. There are no more other team's "never-wases" (hello Jerome Williams) and no more internal "has-beens" (nice to see ya, Mike Bacsik). While that's a step in the right direction, Kasten, Rizzo, et. al. are still digging their little raccoon paws into the trash piles of other team's "has-beens" (Livan, it's been too long) and the Nats own "never-wases" (As I live and breathe, Matt Chico!). It's not that the back of the rotations choices are that much better, it's just that the smorgasbord of suck has been reduced to a hotel breakfast buffet of future disappointment.

So should you feel bad now? NO! The Nats pitching staff is much better this year. However, don't get caught up in the Miguel Batista-esque name-droppings that are being left in your lawn. All you need to think of are two names; Strasburg and Marquis.

With apologies to Zimmermann, Strasburg is the first real no-doubter the Nats have "grown" from within. Is he going to be an ace? I don't know about that. Is he going to be a viable major-league starter (barring injury) for years to come? I don't see how that doesn't happen. He may not be in the staff until later this year for whatever reason (re: CHEEEP if you want. I still would start him in AA myself. No reason to make the kid go 0 to 60 if you don't have to) but he will be on the staff this year or next and will be a fixture in it.

Marquis isn't a great pitcher. He isn't a very good pitcher. But for 5 of the past 6 years he's given his teams 190+ innings of above average pitching. If Lannan continues spitting in the face of sabermetrics, that'll give the Nats two such pitchers. That may not seem like a big deal but it would be the first time since the inaugural season the Nats had such a thing. Finding reliable decent pitching is HARD. That's why they get paid the big money. And it's why Dunn (and maybe the team) is completely wrong.

In the same article Dunn says
The team feels that we already have better [pitchers] in-house. And I think we have better, too....Just to sign Davis -- so we could say that we did -- doesn't make sense to me. I'm not knocking Doug. He takes the ball, always puts up those solid numbers. But we've got better right here. They just have to mature and take the next step up.
That's nice. It's also idiotic. The Nats may indeed have a (non Lannan/Marquis/Strasburg) pitcher in their midst that could have better years than Doug Davis in 2010 and 2011. But who is it? Is it Livan? I wouldn't bet on that. JD Martin? I'm not buying that for a dollar. Detwiler? Not getting my money. Go through the entire rest of the staff and the answer is the same. You'd bet on Davis having the better year everytime. By searching out through this mess for which pitcher will finally "get it" this year the Nats are wasting time and wins. Wasting these things for something they might never find mind you. These guys may be needed in 2012 and beyond when Marquis is gone and Lannan may bolt, but you could have searched for that guy using the 5th spot for the full season and the 4th spot for half this year, while racking up those decent outings from the 1-3 slot. That should have been plenty.

Of course that's my thinking. The Nats are probably still convinced Scott Olsen will be that last guy, and if he isn't than Livan can eat up those innings with average pitching. If that's the case Doug Davis would have been a waste, and the Nats see a bunch of stuff I don't.

Oh well, better is better right? Being all that you can be is overrated. Even the Army changed their slogan. The Nats are probably ready to follow suit : "An Army of One: Strasburg" or maybe "An Army of Strasburg"? "A Strasburg of Strasburg"?

Monday, March 01, 2010

Morgan and Lefties

Bill Ladson's most recent bag brought up something that somehow was not picked up by my all-seeing eye. Nyjer Morgan can't hit lefties. Don't read that wrong. It's not just that he hits lefties poorly. Oh no. He CAN'T HIT LEFTIES. Like "tie a lefty to a tree and give Morgan a bat and he'll break it on a nearby rock" can't hit lefties.

Here is his 2009 line :
.175 / .283 / .223 in 124 PAs

2008 wasn't that bad, and 2007 was actually alright but combined they only accounted for 51 PAs. If we take a look at his minor league splits, we see the same issue

2008: .244 / .293 / .267 (86+ PAs)
2007: .286 / .344 / .314 (35+ PAs)

Two things jump out. He didn't hit AAA lefties well AND he didn't face many of them. (and my god, that lack of power...) We have to assume with those PA #s that not only did Morgan not face the good lefties, he probably didn't face many of the just ok ones. What will he do against major league lefties? Well I think we saw that last year.

God bless him he wants to hit lefties, which would be fine if Morgan was a 22/23 yr old who just needs to see southpaws more to get them down. Morgan is a lot of things, but young ain't one of them. At 29 going on 30 we can't expect any great changes in what we see (and let's face it, Morgan is making the basic optimist mistake of assuming all the good things - in this case his rockin' of righties - will stay the same and if he just improves the negatives he'll be great. He could easily see a return to normal against righties.)

So what's the answer? Farid over at Bleacher Report proposes a Maxwell/Morgan platoon. Problem with that is relying on Maxwell to hold up his end of the bargain. His line last year was .242 / .342 / .273 against lefties in the majors, .245 / .372 / .330 against them in the minors. At 26 this year, do you really want to go ahead with this as Plan A? Sure you'd likely get some boost in average and OBP, Morgan is that bad, but not that much. Plus what would you be losing in fielding? To me there are too many questions to platoon. The other option off the top of the head is Willie Harris, but he's just like Morgan: .121 / .356 / .212 last year vs lefties, and history suggests not much better than Nyjer.

A more radical choice would be to use Mike Morse. Morse can't play center but if you put him in right and move over Dukes to center you could have a very good lineup vs lefties... and possibly the worst fielding outfield in the majors.

The truth is there is no good answer, not in the Nats camp right now. Given Morgan's insistence that playing time is what he needed to get hot, and his fielding which is not dependent on the handedness of the opposing pitcher (at least not until they come up with a stat for that) the Nats are probably better off doing nothing. Outside of the Phillies, the NL East is pretty righty heavy with only 3 (maybe) lefties out of 15 starters. I say suck it up - let Morgan play full time.

Awful Math by Peter King

This has nothing to do with baseball but Peter King wrote this little gem today...

"On average, the NFL plays 12 overtime games a year. That means a team has a 75 percent chance of playing an overtime game in an average year."Really? Is that really what it means?

Strasburg still being hyped

News at 11. And 5 And 6:00, and 6:30 and 6:45 and 6:48...

(sorry but when you've gotten to the point you're taking the quotes of bench players who are not even taking swings and 4th string catchers, it's gone a bit too far)