Nationals Baseball: August 2010

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Why the Bernadina love?

When talking about the future of the Washington Nationals, there are names always brought up. Zimmerman, Strasburg, and Bryce, of course. Zimmermann and Desmond sure. Espinosa has been a hot new commodity (taking the place of Detwiler or Marrero or Norris as "THE" minor league guy). Recently another name has been brought up over and over again as a key part of the Nationals future, Roger Bernadina. Not that I'm against the guy, but I'm not sure I see where this is coming from. Let's take a look shall we?

Bryce Harper - Age 17 (18 in Oct) - #1 draft pick and one of the most heralded power bat prospects of the past few decades.
Steven Strasburg - Age 22 (23 next June) - #1 draft pick and one of the most heralded arms to come out of the draft in at least a decade
Danny Espinosa - Age 23 (24 in April) - solid middle infield prospect
Jordan Zimmermann - Age 24 (25 in May) - Mid to Top of the rotation starter with great stuff and good control that has translated so far into the majors (9.1 k/9, 2.8 BB/9)
Ian Desmond - Age 24 (25 in Sept) - rookie shortstop prospect who has given the Nats a season of average play in year one.
Ryan Zimmerman - Age 25 (26 in September) - All-Star caliber player in his 5th season.
Roger Bernadina - Age 26 (27 next June) - solid outfileder that has given the Nats 3/4 a seaons of average play in year one.

It's not exactly that Roger Bernadina doesn't belong but he's the oldest AND the least heralded of the bunch. To me he's a throw-in, not a build around. An "oh yeah - that guy too" player not someone you make a point to mention, that is unless you feel the need to pump up your team's prospects.

"But Harper" you say, "he's doing really well recently and when he takes over CF he'll be worth evern more". "But you guys" I say, "prove it". I'm not hitching my wagon to a 26 year old rookie who's fancy stats remind me a lot of Jeff Francoeur (26 - 27 in January).

Franceour - 6.5 BB%, 18.8 K%, 13.3 LD%, 41.2 GB%, 45.5 FB%, 9.9 HR/FB
Bernadina - 6.9 BB%, 22.1 K%, 13.9 LD%, 46.6 GB%, 39.5 FB%, 10.6 HR/FB

Yeah you can note that Bernadina is probably a bit faster and might have a tiny bit more power (though I doubt it) but the big difference between the two this year is this stat :

Franceour - .259 BABIP
Bernadina - .321 BABIP

Maybe it is a product of the speed/more ground balls, I'll give you that. Problem is Bernadina is hitting his peak. By 2012 he won't be as fast, so if he's not turning more flyballs into homers, he's not going to beat out enough ground balls to keep up his usefulness.

Of course maybe I'm wrong, maybe Bernadina will turn some sort of corner and start hitting near .300, or be able to pop out 20-25 homers a year. He'll certainly get next year to try and it'll be right in his peak. If I were a betting man, however, I wouldn't be putting money down on Bernadina starting for the Nats in 2013, or at least playing with the ability that should have him starting.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Pre-emptive strike

Just a quick note today:

I haven't really heard anyone go down this path and I'm very happy about it, but just to make it clear, can we please have NO talk about only bad things happening to the Washington Nationals? That kind of "woe is me", "everthing goes bad for my team/town", "cursed" talk is the most annoying trend in fanbases. Almost every team loses a lot, has injuries, makes poor draft choices, goes through tough losses. These are common place. To act like your team somehow has more of these problems than everyone else is a pitiful cry for attention, a way to prove your team is special in some way. It's sad enough when people feed off the winning - as if the team's accomplishments somehow prove you are accomplished. It's mind boggling when fans do the opposite and seem to feed off the losing. Prove to everyone that the Nats fanbase is new and different and isn't going to give in to the stupidity.

Friday, August 27, 2010

See everyone in 2013

If any Nats fans were thinking about a two-year long vacation... now would be the time. Even if everything goes as well as possible, you're still looking at 2012 as a recovery year for Strasburg so you can't even plan on that being a good year.

Nope, it's 2013 now which throws the whole slow build plan into disarray. There are really only two choices now - the splurge and the tear down. Neither are great plays.

The splurge on free agency, and I mean the going all-out, overpaying in both years and cash to make sure you get them type of splurge, would mean upping the payroll by 40 million or so. It would mean financial commitments to players until 2015 or later and worrying about the back end when that comes around. It would mean a better team next year but only IF they can pull it off and that's a big IF. It would take quite the sell for a team sitting around 100 losses for 83 straight seasons.

The tear down would be trades. It seems obvious now that they should have focused on this during the trade deadline period but that was before the locusts came and the rivers turned to blood. Now they would have to try to do this with their best trading chips ready to walk or injured. They could go the arbitration to draft pick route but you are looking at the 2011 draft meaning guys that won't be around in 2013, or 2014 for that matter. The Nats have little to offer up and that makes the tear down not really likely to succeed for 2013. How do you tell your fans, ones who've been made to wait until now to see any decent progress, ones that you've worked hard to convince that success is right around the corner, how do you tell them now "Oh we're going to try to compete in 2015"?

Things can still work out for the Nats being better next year without big moves. The injured pitching staff depth experiment could easily turn out three average starters next year ( 1 1/2 more than this year) and maybe they could find another one. The relief pitching should hold up. Desmond could make the next step and the Big 3 could become the Big 4 and that would be a huge difference, and if another bat is found - hey it's a real major league offense! But even if the team wins 75 games next year the excitement is gone. There's no electricity. It was up to Strasburg to bridge that interest gap from now until the Nationals were playoff contenders. Without him the front office doesn't just face an uphill battle, it has a 90 degree rock face to climb.

Waiting for Strasburg News...

2011 hangs in the balance.

No seriously - it does. If Strasburg is out for any time in 2011 the Nats future is not next season. It can't be, unless they go out and sign Cliff Lee or something. They could still be ok, certainly better than this year with a couple breaks, but they aren't making that next step to .500 land and beyond without Strasburg at the head of that rotation.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

At least the pitching is shaping up...

The Nats are getting into a dangerous area in terms of wins and losses. Once it looked like 70+ wins was in the bag but a terrible August (7-16) has put that goal in extreme jeopardy. If you worry about the Nats getting past the 59 win barrier, don't. That's still going to be beat. They need 7 wins to do that. They have seven wins in August (with a few games left) and they've been as bad as they can be this month. They'll get 7 wins. Worried about 100 losses? The Nats are doing all they can to keep it on the table, but again still probably getting past that. Anything beyond that modest goal will take some extended decent play.

But wins and losses don't matter all that much do they? What matters is the pitching, and with Strasburg likely out for the year (like I said - no reason to bring him back for 2 starts or something), it's imperative that the Nats feel good about a couple other guys in the rotation that they control for next season. Lucky for them a couple of the returning starters are shaping up.

John "Top Chef" Lannan has pitched to a 3.81 ERA in August in 5 starts. His K's (18 in 28.33 innings) aren't going crazy but we shouldn't concern ourselves with that. Let's face it, if they haven't been great by now - they aren't getting much better. His walks though are way down (only 5 in the same time frame) and his HRs are low (3) . As long as he can keep that up, he can keep the Nats in the game and he can keep a rotation spot as far as I'm concerned.

Jason Marquis has finally tossed a couple of decent games - allowing only 2 runs in the past 12+ innings of work. He hasn't been up to form in either game - still walking more guys than he Ks - but the improvement over the last few games has been promising. Since it's almost certain he'll be in the rotation next year, this is very nice to see.

Even more intriguing is the return of Jordan Zimmermann tonight. Unlike Lannan, Marquis, or anyone else in the rotation outside of Strasburg, ZNN has "swing and miss" stuff. Combine that with his age and you can see him maturing into a very nice #2 behind a healthy Strasburg. Of course the key words in that phrase are "you can see him" because despite the praise heaped on ZNN in the rotation guessing game he hasn't done anything yet. Yes, his stats looked very good. 92 Ks to only 29 BBs in 91+ innings and a reasonable 10 HRs. But in tough situations Zimmermann would seemingly collapse. Seven of the 10 homers were hit with men on. I won't bore you all the numbers but his lines in high leverage siutuations, or 2-out RISP situations, or basically most situations with runners on at all look pretty bad. Is it just bad luck or the sign of a pitcher that loses focus? Plus now he's coming back from injury. It seems like he's pitching just as well as before from the minor league stats, but it's limited numbers. We'll see over the next few weeks if he has his stuff back and he's in command of it at all times.

The offense will suffer because it was a three man show to begin with and one man has been effectively out for two months now. The Nats may still lose because of this. As long as their starters are pitching well though, that should make the losses go down a bit easier.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Jesus, Dibble.

So "I played the game" Rob Dibble of course takes the "rub some dirt on it" position on Strasburg. If you read the comments from yesterday you know that I'm not necessarily against Strasburg going out and pitching if he's deemed healthy (though I can totally sympathize with the Nats front office if they want to sit him). However continuing to pitch when you think you might be hurt, that I can't get behind. Of course Dibble is a man, sorry A MAN, who was an inaugural subscriber to STUFF magazine and uses only body wash that comes from dark blue bottles, so of course he thinks Strasburg should just keep playing through the pain.*

Dibble brings up three comparisons to show Strasburg what he should do; Himself, Chris Sabo, and Josh Willingham this year. Let's take it in reverse:

  • Josh Willingham presumably got injured... let's just say the 1st of July for arguments sake. By playing through pain he managed to hit .256 with 2 homers possibly hurting the team with his continued presence. Now he's out for the year and hopefully will be ready for next season.
  • The only mention I could find of Chris Sabo missing significant time due to injury was in 1992 (though I guess it could have been 1989). Sabo, who was a great player in 1991, would go on to be very average in injury shortened 1992, 1993, and 1994. He would be out of baseball in 1996, though presumably this was at least partially due to aging out (he was 29 when he was injured). Still, the lack of average and power immediately post injury is noticeable and I think his exit was a bit premature for someone that rocked in 1991.
  • Dibble's steel plate injury took place in early 1993 (he didn't pitch from April 21st to May 30th). Prior to this injury he was one of the most dominating relief pitchers in baseball. In '93, Dibs would go on to have by far the worst season of his career (6.31 ERA after surgery). He would miss the entire next year with a new injury to his rotator cuff and he would be out of baseball after 1995 at the age of 31.
Maybe Dibble was being sarcastic.

*I thought about this some more and here's the thing : Dibble is arguing that Strasburg should understand that pain is part of the game and that as long as he's not hurt he should go out there and pitch. The second part of that argument is exactly right and I don't think many people disagree with Rob on that. I was surprised that the comments I got yesterday basically fell in that line instead of the Boswellian "Put Strasburg in a bubble and start praying" philosophy. It's the first part of the argument that causes concern because how does a player know exactly what is a pain you can work through and what is pain that signifies a greater injury? It's only through trial and error that you find those things out - but "error" in the wrong direction could have catastrophic consequences. You don't want someone playing through a real injury and making it worse. You want them to be cautious. Especially pitchers. Especially young players. Super-duper especially young superstar pitchers.

If he finds out that there is no issue with his arm after that fancy arthrogram thing, then Strasburg knows that the pain he felt is something he might have to work through in the future. He learns. No harm done.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Rating the Offseason Deals : Decision and Outcomes Part 2

A little clarification, a "C" isn't a C as in "fair". It's more as in "exactly how things should be done". A straight C would be a deal that was market value for someone with some impact on the major league team. An offseason with nothing but C deals would be perfectly fine. (though boring and not very impactful)

Tyler Walker
(1 years - 650K)
Decision : C+ : Tyler didn't have a great ERA and was a bit injury prone but for the past 4 years he's had good peripheral stats. Odds were in favor of a decent half-season from this guy.
Result : B- : And a decent half-season was what they got. He's a non-critical reliever so like Peralta there's only so much "goodness" to come from the deal. But trust me - for a reliever a B- is great in my mind.

Miguel Batista (minor league deal)
Decision : C : It's really hard for me to argue for lower than a C for a minor league deal. Was Batista old and not very good? Sure. But if he didn't work out - whatever.
Results : C : No big win here but he did make the team and stick with them. He's been ok and that one spot start worked out didn't it?

Adam Kennedy (1 yr - 2.25 million - well that's what they are going to pay + buyout)
Decision : C+ : It was a secondary deal when the Nats couldn't bring themselves to spend money on the surer bet - Orlando Hudson. As a last resort, Kennedy was worth a one year toss-off deal based on a very decent 2009, even though it was likely a fluke.
Results : D (but rising) : As a part-timer he couldn't generate enough offense to challenge Guzman. He's gotten better with more playing time but it's not enough to change the fact he's been a disappointment.

Willy Taveras (Minor League Contract)
Decision : D- : Remember when I said that I had a hard time giving out a bad grade to a minor league deal? The exception is when a guy is proven not to be major league caliber and is past the age of being worthy of taking a shot on, so really he's just taking up at bats from someone who might be worth something to the team. That last sentence might as well be Willy Taveras' nickname.
Results : F : Worth less than Bruney, even got caught stealing 2 out of 3 times. (Did you know he's been signed 3 times after the Nats let him go? Really what did the Rangers think they knew that the Nats... and Phillies... and Braves didn't?)

Chien-Ming Wang (1yr - 2 million)
Decision : B- : Here's one that could have totally worked out. Yes Wang was injured and coming off some terrible pitching, but the Nats were trying (in theory anyway) to build up a good defense that would work well with a ground ball pitcher. Plus I always like guys moving from the AL to the NL.
Results : C- : This is a temporary grade based on the slowness of his recovery. Really, it'll come down to how well he pitches the next few weeks and whether the Nats see enough to offer him arbitration.

Livan Hernandez (minor league deal)
Decision : B- : Sure it was a minor league deal, but unlike a Batista or Perlata the ceiling with Livan was greater: 4th or 5th starter giving you 200+ innings of average ball for no cost. Would have been higher if Livan didn't stink the past few years. Then again that's the reason he only could get a minor league deal.
Results : A : Has alot of it been luck? Maybe. But he's had one of the 15 best 2010 of a NL starter so far. I'm not sure he'll keep it up but even a crash drops it down to what? A B+?

In the end I think free agency worked out for the Nats. The front office didn't make a bunch of smart moves, but it didn't make a bunch of terrible ones either. It got one high profile failure, but the other poor results didn't end up mattering at all. On the flip side two of the moves turned into pure gold. All in all I'd say it was a rather typical mlb offseason, and for a team dying to be average I guess that's a good thing.

The easy tough decision

Steven Strasburg in injured again and the Nats front office has a decision to make. Or does it? In a completely logical world they wouldn't. If Strasburg is deemed healthy post-MRI, he would pitch. End of story. That's what healthy pitchers do.

However, this isn't a logical world and the guys in charge know they will be slow-roasted over chunks of hickory wood if Strasburg goes out to pitch again this year and injures himself for the third time. Whether he can pitch or not is irrelevant. This is the most important piece of the Nats' future. You treat him differently. This is a lost year. It doesn't matter if he pitches now or not. The team thought he was fine twice before and twice before he's tweaked himself. Why wait for that 3rd time?

Are these valid arguments? Yes, Strasburg is a huge piece of the Nats future but he's going to have to pitch through pain sooner or later. At some point you do have to treat him like everyone else so I don't like starting out with different rules for him. I think it sets a bad precedent. Now, if you combine "most important Nat" with "completely unimportant games" the argument for shutting down does get pretty enticing. But again, I feel like it would be the sign of an extreme bunker mentality to try to put Strasburg back in his original wrapping if he was deemed healthy enough to go. If he can pitch, he should.

However, I can see the Nats feeling like their doctors have not answered the question of "can he pitch?" with enough conviction to send him back out there. Or in other words - I can see the Nats not trusting the team doctors. There has been several injury situations with the Nats where things seemingly got much worse in the face of the doctor's diagnosis. Let's not forget that Jesus Flores was originally scheduled to be back from injury and playing full time in mid May... of 2009. So, I can see a situation where Strasburg gets the green light from the docs but the front office holds him back anyway, leery based on the mixed results of such "OK"s in the past. That would be fine. Of course then they would have to fire the entire medical staff, because if you don't trust their opinions then they shouldn't be working for you.

The easiest thing for the Nats would be if there is something slightly wrong with Strasburg. Mild inflammation or something where he'd have to miss a few starts and they can say there's no real point to rehab him on a normal schedule just so he can pitch 2 or 3 more times. I think everyone would agree a conservative rehab would be best. However, if he is ready to go right now the Nats face a decision. It's not a difficult one. Fans, media members, and most importantly the fate of their jobs, all say shut Strasburg down. Only cold robot logic and possibly Jim Bunning say keep pitching him. That's not much of a choice at all.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Rating the Offseason Deals : Decision and Outcomes Part 1

Coming from Monday's post about bad outcomes coming from good decisions, why don't we look at the offseason moves of the Nats and see where they fit. I'll use letter grades to tell you what I think of the decision made and the result. Why? I don't know. Let's go with "The Nats Front Office goes Back to School." That seems trite enough, no?

Pudge Rodriguez (2 years - 6 million)
Decision : D- : I've gone over several times why this was too long and for too much money. Yes, it's not a lot of money and yes the Nats needed a catcher, but if I go into a mini-mart and throw down $5 for a Snickers when it cost $1, just because it's only $5 and I really really was hungry doesn't mean I wasn't a dumbass.
Result : D+ : The early super hot start and Flores' failure to come back bump it up a couple notches from the D- it would have been. He still can't hit, our pitchers aren't much better anymore (no surprise), and that veteran presence that led the Nats to all those wins has somehow disappeared! But at least he's still pegging them on the basepaths, right? He's got a whole 'nother year though so it's a more fluid grade and I guess it could go up... Ha!

Brian Bruney (1 yr - 1.5 million)
Decision : C- : Part of the Nats' bullpen arm race, Bruney is one of those "if only he could control his stuff" kind of guys. He's also 28, past the time when you give players the benefit of the doubt.
Results : F : Worthless.

Scott Olsen (1 yr - 1 million)
Decision : a gentleman's C : Nats didn't want to let him walk and obviously felt he still had some value. I'll agree. 1 million for another look at a 26 yr old lefty starter who's shown some flashes of talent is worth it.
Results : D : Injured again, spotty again. Very little time left to prove anything with all these other arms. Exactly what the Nats didn't want to have happen. Honestly I think him bombing out in 12 healthy starts would have been better.

Joel Peralta (Minor League Contract)
Decision : C : Old and terrible last year. But still it's a minor league deal and he was ok before 2009.
Results : B- : Has been as useful as the 3rd or 4th guy out of the pen could be but took a while to get back into the majors.

Jason Marquis (2yrs - 15 million)
Decision : B : We've discussed. I liked it better than others.
Results : F : Really what else, right? A strong finish and great 2011 could save this grade though.

Matt Capps (1 yr - 3.5 million)
Decision : C : I can't decide if it was dumb at the time (overpaying for a "closer" with a 5.80 ERA) or crafty (seeing the off-year from a guy who before was a very good reliever for what it was)
Results : A : All-Star or not, he was effective in the pen and he brought back a legit catcher prospect in a deal. That my friend is a good result.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Where's Zimmermann?" and "The Diminishing Strasburg Effect Revisited"

Where's Zimmermann?

Seriously, where is ZNN because I need something to care about. Perhaps the Joe Q Natsfan (I guess a man cannot escape his destiny) is out there is hanging on every pitch, but this feels like slow death, doesn't it?

Usually at this time of year we could count on the Nats (and their star player "Reggie Tothemean") making some strides and playing some good baseball. They were 14-15 for August in both 2008 and 2009. This year the Nats offense is crashing (.232 / .285 / .411 line in August). The pitching is pretty bad (4.59 ERA, 5.21 from starters this month). Scratch that.

Another item of interest could be front office intrigue. Except for the Nats, there is no front office intrigue. Everyone will be back next year. End of story. I guess the Dunn contract deal is of interest but that's not something you check on daily.

What about satiating your baseball craving on young players being brought up or getting their first real extended try out? Nope. We've been watching Desmond play all year. He's having a nice August so far, .340/ .386 / .528, but I think he'd have to keep up this level of play into September for fans to really get excited about him again. Bernadina has also been playing a ton for a while now and frankly has been proving he shouldn't be. Plus he's not young. So unless the Nats start playing Justin Maxwell all the time (just for fun - because he hasn't proven himself any better than Bernadina) or for some reason bring up Danny Espinoza and make him a starter, there isn't anything fresh or new here.

All the Nats have in terms of on-field intrigue is pitchers coming back from injury. Marquis is back and has looked terrible. Olsen is back and has had mixed results. That's sort of interesting but we know what the best case scenario is for Marquis (average) and have no real faith in Olsen. The interest is in the young guys, Detwiler and especially Zimmermann, who many fans expect to immediately bounce back into #2 form. I don't necessarily agree but I think we're all interested to see how he looks. The Nats are eyeing a return for him in the next two weeks or so. He can't come back soon enough.

The Diminishing Strasburg Effect Revisited

I'm right. You're (possibly) wrong. (depends what you thought before)

I went to a Strasburg game last Tuesday (of course I get his worst game EVA) and thought - "Hey, it seems kind of empty". It was. 26K showed up. Significantly better than a non-Strasburg weekday night game? Sure. Probably 10K more at least but not a sell-out. Perhaps though there was trepidation about him actually pitching, given his last second bailout the last time he was scheduled to start. Surely his next start - a Sunday game getting toward the tail-end of school's out season - would be better.

21, 695

That's actually the lowest Sunday game turnout since May 9th. I don't live in DC so maybe someone can come up with an explanation but for now it looks like they are running out of the casual fans just going to the park to see Strasburg pitch.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

See you in September (2013 probably)

Bryce signs.

This signing period didn't have the same urgency as last year's to me, which is good. I think last year I could imagine a scenario where the team didn't sign Strasburg. They hadn't committed a ton of money to anything. They let Aaron Crow walk after a bungled negotiation. Watching Strasburg slip through their fingers felt like a distinct possibility. Not so with Bryce. The Nats ponied up some cash in free agency. They paid out a ton of bonuses last year including a record deal for Strasburg. Bryce was going to sign. It was just a question of how much. (about 10 mill)

As for the signing himself, there's more question marks around Bryce than Strasburg, which also lends to the muted feel. Strasburg was the best pitcher drafted at least since Mark Prior. At 22 he was fully mature and every scout said he was destined to get to the majors as soon as the Nats felt like putting him there. Bryce is the best pure power prospect the draft has seen in a while, but he is not fully mature (in body and spirit) and they expect to see him play 2-3 years of minor league ball before possibly coming up. Without the quick (in baseball terms) payoff, there's less juice to the whole thing.

How Bryce will do? I got no idea, and nobody else does either (though other people's guesses are better than mine). The track record for #1 hitter draft picks is very good, but at the same time there's a bit more drama surrounding this kid than you would like. Up to now he's set himself up to look as good as he can, getting into close-by, low-level college ball with his brother and and dominating. That's better than dominating high school ball for sure, but he didn't face the talent of Division I ball and that's not even the talent he'll face in A ball. It'll be fascinating to see if he'll struggle with the big jump and if he does, how he'll react, without the support from family and the relatively familiar surroundings of Nevada. History tells us he'll make some impact in the majors but the Nats need him to be more than just Phil Nevin. We'll see.

Monday, August 16, 2010

When good decisions go bad

For logical people, sports can sometimes be infuriating to watch. That's because good decisions and bad decisions do not necessarily produce good and bad results respectively, and sports is all about results.

If with two outs in the 9th the Nats could pinch hit a sitting Ryan Zimmerman or Livan Hernandez the right decision would be to pinch hit Zimmerman. But let's say Riggles has a feeling and he pinch hits Livan, who just the day before injured his knee, and he has to bat left handed today because of a religious holiday, and he's suffering from a Dippin-Dots induced ice cream headache. It's a terrible decision to bat Livan. Now let's say Livan gets a base hit and the Nats win. You'd find a lot of people you would argue that Riggleman made the right decision. In no way did he do that, but the results shaped the decision for these fans. The thought process behind the decision doesn't matter, neither does the odds of success created by it, only the actual outcome. Decisions are not divorced from results, as they probably should be, but inexorably tied to them.

This is certainly true in the course of an individual game, but it can even be the case over several seasons. Which brings me roundaboutly to the point of this - Jason Marquis. The Nationals needed a pitcher to stabalize the rotation. After John Lackey the pickings were rather slim. Two pitchers stood out as relatively young, relatively healthy and available. Jon Garland and Jason Marquis. Over the past 3 years their numbers were scarily similar:

Garland : age 29, 97 GS, 4.37 ERA, 104 ERA+, 1.409 WHIP, 61 HR,
Marquis : age 30, 94 GS, 4.37 ERA, 105 ERA+, 1.403, 52 HR

There was some talk that the Nats actually preferred Garland but he preferred the West Coast, so the Nats turned to Marquis and signed him to a deal. 2 years, fifteen million. It made sense. Recently Randy Wolf, maybe slightly better, certainly older, signed a 3 year 30 million dollar deal. Injury risks Carl Pavano and Brad Penny signed one year 7 million and 7.5 million dollar deals respectively. The supply was diminishing so the Nats jumped on the chance to sign someone reliable at what seemed like a market value deal. The Joel Piniero signing would only confirm that (2 years - 16 million). It was a good deal at the time. But then the market didn't go up for the remaining pitchers. It crashed. Doug Davis and Jon Garland were both forced to go cheaper than people thought they would (perhaps they forced their own hands a litte). Garland 5.3 million (well really 4.7 for 2010 but he has to make at least 5.3 total) with a mutual option for 2011. Davis 4.25 with a mutual option for 2011. The Nats didn't necessarily overpay but if they waited - they might have been able to work out a more favorable deal.

Still the Nats had their man and they had their 200 IP of average baseball that would save thier bullpen. But it didn't come from Marquis. Marquis was damaged goods and immediately pitched horribly. After three starts it was the DL for him. He had surgery, came back, and... has pitched only slightly less horribly. 5 horrible games so far for around 6 million. No the good pitching came from a guy who's line the last three years was this:

95 GS, 5.43 ERA, 81 ERA+, 1.607 WHIP, 78 HR

A guy signed at last second to help fill a hole when Ross Detwiler went down to injury. A 34 year old who was begging for work just a few months earlier, who agreed to a minor league deal. Of course you know it was Livan the Nats signed, who at 35 just might be having his best season EVER.

Some fans will now look at the Marquis signing and say that it was a bad decision. They'll look at the horrible results for Jason Marquis and how cheaply they got good results from Livan and say "SEE! BAD DECISION" But it wasn't a bad decision. At it's worst it was a completely defensible blah decision. A inning eater average pitcher for market value for 2 years. That's fine. Some may say it was a good decision and I wouldn't argue with them.

It's a shame that Marquis deal has been a total bust so far, but don't let that cloud the facts that the decision was based on at the time. Sometimes good decisions produce bad results.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Welcome back you sabermetrician infuriating son of a gun

Of course John Lannan isn't pitching bad anymore, that's really the key. (5.0 K per 9, 2.0 BB per 9 in the three games since coming back) Wouldn't it be great if he coud somehow get his ERA back under 4.00 before the season's end? While striking out 7 or maybe 8 guys total? That'd be sweet. Of course it would take a 2.00 ERA for the rest of the year but hey, a boy can dream, right?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

It can work with or without Dunn

It can. Now that "Waiver 2 : Waive Harder" is over and Dunn is still with the team the options have become even more limited for the Nats. They HAVE to either resign him or offer him arbitration, or else he walks for nothing. You don't want nothing. Anything is better than nothing. I don't know much about math (not true at all) but

Daniel Hudson >>>>>> nothing

so it HAS to be a resign or an arbitration offer. That's the only "have to" though. Dunn doesn't "have to" be here for the Nats to continue with what seemed like their plan - trying to compete in the next couple of years. That's the only conclusion one can come to when they are trying to get a player like Gordon Beckham back for Dunn. That's not about 2013. It's about 2011 and 2012. Is it the best plan? Probably not. Is an arguable course of action given the current state of contract on the team and the still questionable health of the minor leagues? Probably so.

If the Nats resign Dunn, or he stays though arbitration trying to compete in 2011 and 2012 is a bit more possible. If he walks the Nats still have the opportunity to try to compete by going whole hog after free agents like Crawford, Lee, etc. Does it make it incredibly hard for one to see the Nats competing? Oh god yes. How are they going to then get the (at least) three stars they need? But it doesn't necessitate a change in direction.

If he walks and they don't sign anyone, either by their choice or by market choice, then that would necessitate a change in strategy to look more toward 3 or 4 years down the road. That would make this trading period a huge opportunity loss and Rizzo look incredibly foolish after setting himself up nicely with a couple crafty deals. Which is why I expect Dunn to resign. Will the possibility of failure though drive Rizzo to make a bad deal for Dunn?

Monday, August 09, 2010


The Nats have played pretty well recently (9-9 in their last 18) bringing their record up to 49-63 which puts them on pace for 71 wins for the season. That's not a great goal but it is in the general range of the 73 wins I predicted for the team, and I like to be right. Just for kicks, and because it makes for a real easy and short post, how well do the Nats have to play to win 73 games or hit some other win milestones?

(For reference the Nats best 50 game stretch this year was 26-24 at the very beginning of the year, their worst stretch was 17-33 which pretty much covered all of June and July)

60 wins (beating the last 2 years): 11-39 or a 36 season win pace. In other words - it'll happen.

63 wins (avoiding 100 losses): 14-36 or a 45 win pace. Again very likely, though over the course of 50 games it could fail to happen.

70 wins : 21-29 or a 68 win pace. Pretty much on par with what we'd expect.

73 wins (proving me right) : 24-26 or a 78 win pace. We're getting pretty close to the best the Nats have done this season, but I certainly think it's doable.

74 wins (best record since 2005) : 25-25 or an 81 win pace. Better chance than something like 63 wins, but we're beginning to hit the limit of what this team is capable of.

81 wins : 32-18 or an 103 win pace. I'd bet on 63 wins before I'd bet on this.

I'd say the modest goal of 74 wins is the one to shoot for. Is it possible? I think so. The Nats' schedule breaks favorably from here on out. Sure they have to play the Braves and Phillies for 3 more series each, but they also get the Marlins and the Mets for 5 more combined. More importantly their non-division games are as easy as can be. Other than St. Louis they play the worst team in the NL (Pirates), the 2nd worst (Diamondbacks), the 3rd worst (Cubs), and the 4th worst (Astros). These are all teams that the Nationals currently have a better record than. We all know what happened before when the Nats had an easy schedule lined up but just because they choked once doesn't mean they will again. The odds favor a strongish finish for the Nats and if it's strong enough this could be the best season record wise the Nats have had in 5 years.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Meta-Rotation

Looking at the rotations suggested below, if we all were to combine into one Uni-Mind like the Eternals (what? read a (comic) book!) our best guess on the Nationals rotation next year would be:


Strasburg and Zimmermann were named in all, while Marquis was named in all but one. Zimmermann also beats Marquis on expected rotation position. I'm personally surprised that people think that a guy with 16 games of major league experience and a 4.63 ERA who hasn't pitched since mid-July of last year will be the Nats #2 pitcher come Opening Day, but hey I've been wrong before. Maya was, to my shock, named in all but one as well.

It makes sense that I was shocked since I was the one that didn't have him in the rotation. The guy hasn't pitched game 1 in the majors, but Nats fans are thinking he's going to be in the rotation for sure. I guess it does make a measure of sense. He's older (29) and is one of the few not getting over injury. I guess unless he tanks this fall he's a very good shot to be a starter come next St. Patrick's Day or whenever they are going to open the season. (I just believe the chance of him tanking is not slight)

As for Detwiler, everyone else was put in 2 rotations, Detwiler though happened to get placed in higher positions than the other guys. What this highlights is, assuming Zimmermann and Marquis are healthy and Maya doesn't tank, how wide open that 5th spot is going to be for possibly 5 (or more) other pitchers. Surely they can find a decent one out of the that bunch, right?

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Greatness of Mariano Rivera

Not anything Nationals related but with Mariano Rivera's hitless/walkless 9th inning today he drops his career WHIP under 1.

1129 hits and walks, 1129 and 2/3rds innings pitched.

How many Wilson Ramoseses would that be worth?

Guess Next Year's Opening Day Rotation

What the hell, right? Best to do this now before we see who's good and bad, and who is healthy and not healthy. It makes a better game. Popular choices include (in alphabetical order)

Detwiler, Lannan, Livan, Marquis, Maya, Olsen, Strasburg, Zimmermann, Wang

But go ahead and put Stammen in there if you want to. Free Agent "X" is fine too.

My guess?

Zimmerman Zimmermann

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The strange case of Livan Hernandez

I'm not sure I fully got how good a year Livan was having until yesterday. Early on, sure he was doing fantastic, carrying an ERA just over 1.00 after 6 starts. That was the product of some crazy luck though, with a crazy low BABIP (.181) that got past ridiculous and into mouth agape, "that just can't be" range when it came to hitting with men on base. We figured it would come to an end and it did.

But it came slower than we thought. He didn't blow up in his next 6 games, in fact he wound up pitching better, statistically at least. His BB:K went from a poor 14:14 in the first 6 games to a decent 11:19 and he actually gave up one less HR. Even though the hits were starting to go through (.313 BABIP) he still put up a 3.79 ERA of innings filling goodness, better than any ERA he had for a season since 2004.

Over games #13-#18, we finally thought we had the "real" Livan back. The guy mixed a couple of gems in with a couple terrible outings, reminding us of the sporadic pitching we associate with Livan (well at least I do in my head). Thing is these 6 games were like the Bizarro version of his first 6. As much as he was a pretty bad pitcher getting all the breaks then, now he was a pretty good one getting none of them. He continued to improve. He had 11 walks matched up with 26 strikeouts, only gave up 2 home runs and more impressively only 5 other XBH. His BABIP though went way up to .357 and it seems likely that his BABIP with RISP went higher than that (though maybe not - that's a time intensive check people - cut me some slack). He was only giving up singles but they came more often than they should and in bunches. His improvement was lost on me.

Now though things have evened out again. His last 4 games have been stellar (2.07 ERA) and his pitching has remained top notch. Only 5 walks to 19 strikeouts, no home runs and only 3 doubles, a BABIP at .268 that's low but not unsustainable. Sure his numbers for the season still look lucky (ERA 3.12 to an xFIP 4.58) that's mostly the remains of that incredibly lucky start. Since then his ERA and xFIP look to be more in line. He's pulling out his best K/BB rate since 2004 and his best full season HR rate ever.

Livan, a guy who had to beg for a job in the Spring, has slowly and steadily improved along the season into a solid top of the rotation pitcher. It's been a bit hard to see as luck has bounced all around him but it's true. He's no longer the "luckiest man alive". He's a good pitcher again for the first time in years.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Nats are "losers" but not because they didn't trade Dunn

If the Nats are mentioned in trade deadline stories, it's almost certain it'll be done negatively.

SI calls the Nats "losers"

CBS Sportline gives the Nats an "F"

And here's a "push" from Yahoo.

It's not because these guys are dumb (in fact Pasaan's basing his push off of Dunn walking with no arbitration - an admittedly awful scenario that would negate the good that's been done. Though I think it's disingenuous to base a grade off of work not yet done. Perhaps his schooling was different than mine) It's because sports analysts are simple creatures all reading from the same script. If you are not currently contending, or not "on the verge" then you should be a "seller". You should trade everyone that isn't young and nailed down and hope to get better in the future. Where in the future? They don't know, but they are sure that if you just trade that one guy success will follow. Of course this ignores the gaggle of teams yearly that do this and don't succeed 3-5 years down the road but why mess with an easy storyline?

So the Nats HAD to trade Dunn because they aren't good and aren't likely to be contending next year. It's a valid argument, but as we've discussed ad infinitum previously - it ignores the Nats wish to engage the fanbase NOW and their need to have a good team guaranteed by 2013 lest Zimmerman walk and the whole rebuilding process starts over. The Nats made two smart moves and will be able to build on that. That's not a losing trade deadline.

But build on that to what? .500? An outside chance at the Wild Card if EVERYTHING goes right? Because that's what we're looking at here. The Nats are "losers" but not because of what happened in the past week or so. Instead it was a long process that started years ago. One that placed the Nats where they are now, a terrible position for a trade deadline, with a couple of young studs who cry out for a win "soon" strategy, but little obvious old talent to deal for immediate help, and little obvious young talent to count on in the 3-5 year range.

Dunn could have been dealt for a major league ready guy but the market was only offering one of them back and neither Edwin Jackson or Daniel Hudson was likely to be the difference between the playoffs or not in 2011-2, especially on a team without Dunn's bat. He might have been dealt for some deeper prospects with eyes on 2013, but then you are asking for some terrible teams in the meantime, and 2013 only going from "total crapshoot" to "mostly crapshoot".

The Nats were caught in a no-win situation and tried to make it a win. Didn't work. In the meantime they made a couple of nice deals. That's not loser work though it is the work of a loser.

How do the Nats now shed that "loser" status? It starts first by signing Dunn. They have to get him back and yet they can't be giving him a 4 yr deal, and better get a bargain on 3 years. I'd be fine with them overpaying for a 2-yr deal. After that it's offseason signings and trades. They need a 2nd baseman, an outfielder, and another starter if they really want to win in 2011. The pickings are not great. It'll be tough goings making a good chance playoff team from that. I guess they could sign Hudson, then drive a dump truck of money over to Carl Crawford's house, then say to Cliff Lee - "Hey look! We signed Hudson and Crawford, you want to get overpaid to join this party?" Yeah, if only the team commits to a 100+ million dollar payroll and signs probably the two biggest free agents of the offseason beating out the Yankees, Red Sox, etc. then they have a good chance. It'll be an interesting offseason to say the least.