Nationals Baseball: October 2010

Friday, October 29, 2010

Bring back the crazy

Hearing about Jose Guillen's linkage to HGH shipments brings back a lot of memories of his time with the Nationals. It also leads me to make an admission. Sometimes, at night, when it's been a long day, and the world is so cold; when I find myself alone staring at a copy of Barry Svrluga's "National Pastime" (still available at new and used booksellers - makes a great Christmas gift!) with a cup of warm Sleepytime in my hands; sometimes, I miss the old Nationals.

I miss watching the smoke pour out of Jose Guillen's ears whenever he saw the uniform of a team that let him go. I miss Frank Robinson shouting out weird tatical decisions while falling asleep on the bench. I miss Livan deciding suddenly he was going to take his knee, made gimpy from an ever expanding gut, and go home. I miss Vidro ranging two steps to his left and then falling down with his glove stretched out toward a ball 12 ft away from him dribbling into the outfield. I miss Wil Cordero talking about his guns while hitting .100. I miss Jamey Carroll being David Eckstein light (which yes, is like a Diet Coke Zero). I miss the Nats deciding in Spring Training that they were going to emphasize getting on base...for their center fielder...when he led-off... and if his name rhymed with "Bendy Guavez." I miss Matt LeCroy making Gary Bennett look like a four-armed Johnny Bench that was granted super speed when he was struck by lightning at his crime lab. I miss the inexplicable 1st place in July team that caused Tom Boswell's head to explode straight through 2007. I miss Boswell claiming that Guzman, in the midst of one of the worst seasons in modern times, was leading the Nats to the playoffs with his mere presence. I miss Chad Cordero's hat...but I don't miss the run of also-rans tossing BP that we had to watch before seeing it...but I do miss Mike Bacsik grooving pitches... to everyone. I miss Soriano using his star power to act like a jerk in Spring Training, and guys like Clayton and Lopez just acting like jerks period. I miss Jim Bowden flailing wildly, using any means necessary to satisfy the greatest need for attention I have ever seen in another human being.

In other words, I miss the Nationals when they were bad. Or really I miss them when they had no idea what they were doing. This mildly competant, moderate spending team DC has now, well, it just doesn't have the flair of the early Nats. They go out, generally play well enough to lose, and go home. Surely covering a good team that wins, which is the goal the team is moving toward, will be nice, but I kinda wish the transition could have been directly from losing spectacularly to playoff contender. This is easy for me to say, because I'm far more a blogger of the team than a fan, but maybe if you look deep down inside of you, there's a small part that misses these things too. It's the same part that is glad Nyjer Morgan is still on this team, tossing out stupid nicknames and starting fights for no reason.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

That's Odd

Where's the Bryce Harper 0-4 with 2Ks lead story?

(just saying - it'll take time - he's like 13 years old)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

New Uniforms : Greatest Thing Ever or Too Little Too Late?

It's gotta be one or the other, right?

Steinberg over on the Bog, reported that changes are coming on the 10th.

The speculation has been for a while that the home uniforms are making a change from the beveled block to script like the away uniforms did. For reference, courtesy of, the road uniforms went from this to this. Since Day 1 the Nats home uniforms have looked like this. It seems pretty certain that this will be the case so the question becomes what else will change?

The numbers, which if you noticed, remained beveled blocks on the away jersey (somebody got a deal on number appliques, I bet). If there is no more text of that type being used, I'd expect those to change on both jerseys. Probably something simple like the non-beveled block of the old Senators unis. (though if it were up to me I'd go with the number style of the original Expos jerseys) Of course if the are using old Senator uniforms as a guide their are other, more radical options are available. Blue Pinstripes? The nameless fronts with W on their sleeves associated with the only World Series champion DC ever saw? A return to the simple block "W" (which would probably mean a hat change as well)? I think it looks sharp, but doubt they are going for something that dramatic. (especially given the Curly W on the invitation on the Bog)

The main logo will also probably change as that is beveled block as well, and the same goes for the interlocking DC alternate logo. Man they loved that look, didn't they? I see big changes happening people.

Although it was unique, I never really liked the current look, so I'm not sad to see it go. It's not like there are a plethora of good memories associated with it. Can the Nats screw it up? Sure. Remember Screech 2.0? They could build it around the too busy "DC flag" alternate logo. Or it could look like an All-Star Game batting practice jersey. But we're really stretching if we think the Nats are going to do that. Really the only way to screw it up already happened. They should have introduced new unis to go along with the new stadium. But they didn't, so one has to hope they are introducing these to go along with an expected push toward decency. The old uniforms are for "losers"; the new ones are for winners. Of course if that's the case there better be those big free agency moves / trades because they aren't going to be winners without a couple more very good players, new uniforms or not.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Monday Funday!

(59 of 60 - blanked on the 2007 CF. Brain freeze under pressure.)

Beware the insipid

It's World Series lead up time, and worse yet, it's World Series lead up time with two teams pegged as unlikely to make it this far at the start of the playoffs. While sportswriting has incrementally improved in the past 5-10 years, it's still a bastion of nonsense. I'm sure your various sports pages have been littered with stories about the Rangers and Giants "heart" and that they are a bunch of nobodies that will their way to victory. If you would kindly seek out the writers of such articles and punch them in their respective faces that would be much appreciated.

A quick rundown of what is actually important:

The Rangers were 4th in runs scored (with 2 of their best offensive weapons, Cruz and Kinsler, missing signficant time), and were 4th in runs allowed (with Cliff Lee, only on the squad for less than half a season). In other words the Rangers are a very good team that can hit AND pitch. Outside of Colby Lewis, who is having an out of nowhere Livan '10 type season, it's all talent that could be expected to perform this well. The Rangers are a very good team in all aspects of the game.

The Giants were 9th in runs scored and 2nd in runs allowed. (1st in ERA - lowest by a team since 2003). They have 4 starting pitchers age 27 or younger, and the one with the worst season this year was Lincecum. They have 4 relievers that had ERAs under 2.18 for the season. The offense, while lacking in star talent, would only have one true "hole" if everyone plays as expected. They are a dominating pitching force with a serviceable offense.

That's it. Great pitching and good enough hitting, vs very good pitching and very good hitting. Roll the dice with whatever you prefer.

Whoever you are pulling for remember what Ron Washington likes to say
It's not the best team that wins, it's the team that plays the best on that day.
THAT my friends, is the heart of sports and allows for things like Rangers / Giants World Series.

(of course most people immediately forget that and declare the winners the best team in some sort of Calvinist interpretation of athletic endeavor, even Washington said the other day that the "best teams" were playing in the World Series. But hey - whatever. It's just a game right? Let people be stupid, it's nothing important. Right?

Dammit, I'm choking on my bile here.)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Post-season thoughts

Some random thoughts on the post-season
  • I'm shocked how quickly baseball fans have gotten obsessed with using replay. Five years ago, hell maybe 3 years ago, I think the prevailing attitude was "We've lived with it for this long and it's fine. Let's not take the human element out of the game and drag these out even longer" Now it's "TBS's BALL TRACK SAID THAT PITCH WAS ONE INCH OFF THE PLATE!!!!1!!1! HOW DARE THE UMP CALL IT A STRIKE!!1!1! REPLAY!!1!!!"

  • This is an odd Championship series for me. Usually I feel bad for the players and fans of the losing team, regardless of who I want to win. Everyone tries hard and cares alot, right? But both the Yankees and Phillies won a World Series real recently so how sad can you feel? I mean it will still suck because the Yankees lost and they should win every game they ever play, but I won't feel sorry for anyone.

    When was the last time you could have two teams desperately hungry for a WS title beat two teams not as hungry? 1998 I think, when the Braves ('96) and Yankees ('95) both were in their respective CS. Of course the Yanks beat the poor desperate Indians that year. Then before that... maybe 1974 and 5? Both times Oakland ('72, '73) and Pittsburgh ('71) made the CS. 1974 though had Oakland making the World Series and besides they beat the not desperate Orioles ('70). 1975 was better when the Reds beat the Pirates and the Red Sox beat the A's. That was the last time fans of everyone getting their chance might have had clear rooting interests and gotten their wish.

  • Shane Victorino is my least favorite player in the playoffs, but Cody Ross is rapidly climbing the list. That shaved head / full beard combo makes me want to punch him in the face.

  • The terrorists won the minute baseball decided to put "God Bless America" into every 7th inning stretch. I love America. I don't want to have to confirm that twice every ball game.

  • I think it stinks that the West Coast teams can't have their own night games. I understand why, but I still don't like it. Personally I think people on the East Coast just need to learn to stay up later. (says the guy who goes to sleep around 1:30)

  • Unless I was wrong with my quick look each team left in the postseason had one ex-Nat on their team at the end of the year. Two of them, Cristian Guzman (Texas) and Jose Guillen (San Francisco) were left off the post-season rosters entirely, while the other two, Brian Schneider (Philadelphia) and Austin Kearns (New York), have yet to have a post season at-bat. I guess the cache of playing in Washington has worn off.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Greinke Options

Recently crowned King of All Nationals, Mike Rizzo has made it clear. He wants a #1 starter. He thinks he can get one in a trade. Whether you think it's possible or not (and me along with other bloggers would lean toward the latter), we have to believe he has the green light to try. Maybe what he thinks the term "#1 starter" means doesn't match up with what we think it means, but for now let's think that he thinks what we think. Zack Greinke is a #1 starter available for trade. How can the Nats get him?

The Nats can get Greinke in three ways. They can: (A) Trade Strasburg; (B) Trade Bryce, or (C) Try to put together an appealing package. This has been talked about before sure, but we've been dismissive in all the options. We can't believe the Nats would do A or B, and we don't think they have enough to do C. Let's have the discussion this time, though, where Greinke sits in for any #1 starter. Let's see if we're being overly dismissive. We'll start with the "Nats would never do this" scenarios.

(A) Trade Strasburg.
Why the Nats would do it: Strasburg, for all the talent he brings, is now damaged goods. It's conceivable he won't even pitch until late 2012, making the next two years wasted time. Greinke would give them numbers that they wanted from Strasburg over that time. I'd say there's a good chance he'd be even better. Even when Strasburg does come back there's not telling how well he'll pitch and if he can stay healthy. Very early indications are that Strasburg is a CA boy and wants to get back there as soon as he's a free agent anyway.
Why the Nats wouldn't do it: It's two years of Greinke and that's probably it. Zack is mecurial enough that I wouldn't expect him to give the team that trades for him the inside track on resigning him. Strasburg has shown that he can be one of the best pitchers in the majors. It seems reasonable to believe that will be the case whenever he's healthy. It also seems reasonable to believe he'll recover from surgery. The prevailing thought process for the Nats so far is you pay for hitting (more reliable) and you develop pitching, having a controlled Strasburg would be key. Strasburg excited this town over baseball more than anything since the initial move. It isn't even close.

(B) Trade Bryce
Why the Nats would do it: Bryce has yet to face anyone out of the instructional league. He's still growing, both physically and mentally. Therefore he's the big unknown. He could be great, but he could be awful too. His attitude might be questionable. He's almost certainly a couple years from even appearing in the majors, let alone making an impact. Hitters, even great ones, can be replaced far easier than great pitchers.
Why the Nats wouldn't do it: The Greinke reasons cited above. Hitters are usually far more projectable than pitchers meaning that everyone is probably right and Bryce will at least have major league power and will play in the majors at some point. The history of #1 hitters selected is very good. Everyday hitters like Bryce make more of an impact to a team than pitchers, even great ones.

I don't think the Nats would never make these deals, but I do think it would take tremendous guts to do so. Strasburg showed signs he was, and is a good bet to be in the future, the most valuable commodity in baseball, the true #1. Bryce, is a good bet to be an impact offensive player. Now, baseball "good bets" are really like "there's a 50% chance of this happening" but still Rizzo would be lamabasted across time and space if he ended up on the short end of these deals. Really, though, what I think makes the difference is the 2 years left on Greinke's deal. That's not enough for a team as far from the playoffs as the Nats are.

(C) The Package
What kind of deal would it take? I think it STARTS with Storen, Desmond (could be Espinosa but let's go with Desmond for now), and Norris. STARTS. Some Nats fans would balk saying "that's a future closer, a starting shortstop, and a great young catcher" but that's your own team bias speaking. People on the outside see a untested relief pitcher, an average old-to-be-a-prospect shortstop and a guy with talent, but who's never gotten an at bat in the majors. So you're adding at least someone else to the deal. Zimmermann? Thompson? Willingham? Then maybe, maybe the conversation starts. Let's go with Zimmermann and see.

On the plus side:
For the Nats it's a big cut into the future but nothing they couldn't get over. Storen is just a reliever, Desmond's spot could be given to Espinosa, the Nats are deep at catcher so Norris' loss wouldn't be devestating. ZNN is coming off of injury and if he doesn't turn that corner to be a #2 type guy or better than he's replaceable. For the Royals, you are getting 3 guys that can be pencilled in to next years team. Storen could help you deal Soria. Desmond with even slight improvement after his rookie year would be a step up from Betancourt and they are thin in MI. They have a young catcher they like but it's always best not to pin your hopes on one guy with one good 1/3rd of a season in AA. Pitching is always nice, so of course you take ZNN.

On the minus side:
For the Nats, again - 2 years! While it doesn't kill the Nats in any specific way it kills what little depth they have. In this scenario you are betting real heavy on Espinosa and Ramos to come through because there is no good plan B if they don't. You just got the relief pitching in order and losing Storen may just help put it back in disarray. For the Royals, where's the star? You are getting depth for sure but the guy who's done the best so far in the group is a reliever who put up a 3.50 ERA in the NL. Huzzah. For Greinke you expect the best in return and this... it ain't the best.

If the Nats are to get a #1 pitcher through trade, I think the Nats are more likely to make one of these deals, flooding the offer with their "best" talent. Storen, a talented pitcher but a reliever nonetheless, and Norris, who in theory would be fighting with Ramos and Flores for the same position, would almost have to be part of any deal. They are both attractive and expendable. It builds from there, though, as that in itself is not enough. It seems reasonable that Desmond/Espinosa would be the next cog. Both appear good enough to play in the majors at positions where talent is usually harder to come by. Now we're getting close and the bartering would start.

At this point the talent level for Nats prospects is not all that great but still I think it's possible for the Nats to reach a deal for a #1, given the right combination of players added to the 3 mentioned. Given the Greinke example you can see it's no slam dunk for either side, but that's what trades are. You have to take a risk and lose something. You can't get something for nothing. The Greinke deal itself, while I would love to see the kid in DC, makes little sense for the Nats. Two guaranteed years just isn't enough. But are you ready to flood Tampa prospects for Garza?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Was it that bad?

It's been over two weeks now since the season mercifully ended for the Washington Nationals. It was an odd ending for the Nationals since usually they finished strongly and left fans with a promise of a better day (even if that better day was only 75 wins)

In 2006 the Nats went 15-13 in September, and featured the "Charge of the White Brigade" as Nick Johnson, Ryan Church, recently acquired Austin Kearns, and Zimm all finished very strongly. This is the core of a very good offense!

In 2007 the Nats went 15-12 in September, played .500 ball after the All-Star break, and finally got the power threat they desperately needed stealing Wily Mo Pena from the Red Sox. This kid is going to mash 40 homers!

In 2008 the Nats went 14-15 in August, and in the final couple months saw Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes finish strong. The future is now! Other teams would kill for the young OF talent we have!

In 2009 the Nats went 14-15 in August and won their final 7 games, thanks in part to the recently acquired spark plug Nyjer Morgan. Finally the CF this team has been dying for! At least that'll be settled for next year!

This year though there was no strong finish. They last were close to .500 in July (12-13) and generally had been playing poorly since mid May. There were no young studs finishing hot. After a nice August, Desmond struggled and Bernadina tanked like a tanker full of Tank McNamara comic strips. After a super hot start Danny Espinosa leveled off at "he's ok". Wilson Ramos picked it up a bit, but then again you know he'll be splitting starts with the Living Dead next season.

Add to that the shadow hanging over the end of the year because of Strasburg's injury... and the growing inevitability of Dunn's departure... and Kasten's abandoning ship, and you get a September that would drive away even the most ardent fan.

In totality though, through the 20/20 ness of hindsight, was the season that bad? The Nats won 69 games, 10 more than each of the past 2 years. They did this despite the injuries to Strasburg, and Marquis, and Lannan, and Detwiler, and Willingham. They did it despite getting almost no production from 2 1/2 spots in the lineup and 3 spots in the rotation at any time. Desmond hung on enough to be encouraging. They introduced some young players in Espinosa and Ramos, who are actual prospects rather than veterans looking for a second chance or fill in guys from AAA that happened to have a strong month. The injured Lannan and Marquis looked healthy at season's end which bodes well for them being ok next year.

I'm not ready to call the season a success by any means, but a few weeks out and I'm ready to look at it with a lot more optimism. It was a tough year - mostly by design (Pudge AND Kennedy/Guzman AND no RF plan, all while starting a rookie at short? Really?! You really want to wait out the time until Strasburg and ZNN with Stammen, Atilano and Olsen? Really?!) Next year looks to be tough too. But in a different, much more appealing way. Start Desmond again, along with Ramos and Espinosa? Fill-in the rotation with 2 of Detwiler, ZNN, and Maya? That's not plugging holes with whatever you can find lying around. That sort of seems like a viable plan to find good young talent.

Of course, with that much variability in potential the Nats do need to make the moves we've all heard they want to. They need an anchor to the staff, and not a 200 IP, 4.00 ERA anchor and actual starter you'd like to call your #1. They need Adam Dunn, or someone with Adam Dunn like influence on the offense, helping to anchor the middle of the lineup. A good RF would help, even if it's only a nice fielder who can hit righties to complement Morse. If they can do all that though, 2011 looks to be a year worth watching. At least for the first few months.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The other youngest AFL players

It's noted a couple places that Bryce* will be only the 3rd 18 yr old to be assigned to the AFL. Out of curiosity, I sought out the other youngest players to be seen in the AFL and checked out how they did this past year. It's not a great comparison because none of them are BRYCE, but hey - it's something to look at on a rainy Thursday.

(I'm giving you an opinion of their play based on raw stats. When you consider their ages, they are performing better than the raw stats because they are all young for their league)

Fernando Maritnez - assigned in 2007 but didn't play, stuggled a bit in AAA, not quite major league ready in a couple of short stints

Carlos Triunfel - assigned in 2008, struggled in AA after breaking his leg and missing most of 2009

Jose Iglesias - assigned in 2009, did ok in AA, back again in the AFL this year.

Starlin Castro - assigned in 2008, will get ROY votes in 2010 after a nice 3/4 of a season.

They've all done decently when you've considered their age and they've all progressed at least acceptably so far. Just looking at these four though gives you an idea of what can happen though. Martinez did not progress quickly and may have hit a ceiling in AAA (though you can't be sure about that for a good 3 more years). Triunfel got injured. On the flip side, Castro is a top rookie in the majors a year and a half later. Right now, almost anything is possible for Bryce.

On a side note : It's nice to say Bryce Harper led the Nats instructional league in this or that, but without reporting the stats it's meaningless. He could have easily led the team in homers, RBIs or walks simply by getting up more than anyone else.

*YES I'm going to always call him "Bryce" or "Bryce Harper" and not "Harper". I'M HARPER. It's bad enough that we've gone through a decade of parents robbing my name of it's masculinity because they have to name their daughters traditional boy names (did you know George Stephanopoulos named his daugther "Elliot"? I mean, COME ON people. How long till I run into a little girl named Steve?) I am not going to lose my own name on my own blog.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Super Starter #1 trade bait

Rizzo seems pretty confident he can get the Nationals a #1 starter through a trade. This supposes that there will be #1 starters available and that the Nats have enough available talented prospects to get them. I have my doubts on both of these assumptions. But since we have nothing better to do, let's play in Rizzo's dream world, the place where Carlos Pena swings a candy cane bat and hits a marshmallow ball safely into play one out of every 5 times.

Who could be available? Well the Rays are looking to cut salary and Jamie Shields and Matt Garza are potential places to start. Shields has a contracted bump in salary next season, while Garza is looking at a hefty arbitration raise. Let's not forget though, the Rays will already dump 27+ million by letting Crawford, Pena, and Soriano walk. It's not like they have to deal both these guys to make an impact on next year's payroll. Even though he'll probably make less, I think Shields is likely to go being older and trending downward. His big sell is team control through 2014, though it is a control based on ever increasing salary. I really hesitate to call Shields a #1 starter though. Garza is more in that vein, but I think the Rays would probably keep him (he'll be a deal even with arbitration) at least for one more year. Maybe a team can blow away the Rays and get him but can the Nats blow them away?

Jeremy Guthrie and Zack Grienke are two more that may be available in the "blow us away" category since they are heading toward free agency on bad teams. I think both these guys would excel on the Nats (I love guys coming over from the AL), however it's hard to see them being dealt. They are both under team control for a couple more years and both teams are hoping to get better. If they do get dealt this offseason the price will be awfully high - like best prospect in the minors type high. I don't see the Nats pulling this off without Strasburg or Harper being part of the deal.

In the big contract realm, Derek Lowe is a possibility. He's got two more 15 million dollar years for a Braves team loaded with starters. It wouldn't take that much to get him, but again is this guy really a #1? Plus at 37 he seems like an injury risk waiting to happen, doesn't he?

The most likely possibility out there of being available and having enough baggage that the Nats could pull of a deal is Carlos Zambrano. Yes, he was awesome to end the year. He also is crazy and has 40 to 60 million left on his deal. It's a big gamble, but Carlos was only 29 this year, has no history of injury, and is a #1 type guy. It's a good gamble on good pitching... if you can afford it.

Some more "out of the box" scenarios

Joba Chamberlain - AL->NL move. Possibility of buying low. If he fails again as a starter he should be a good reliever (look at the 2nd half of this year if you doubt it). The over-hyping may keep the price too high to be worth it. He did in fact fail as a starter once already so definitely not a "#1".

Josh Beckett - AL->NL. Contract and depth might make him movable. Bad 2010 season was originally part of my Nats playoffs 2011 plan (he'd bomb, Red Sox would choose not to resign, Nats would gamble and it would pay off. Didn't figure the Sox would be dumb enough to go in with a big deal before the season). It'd be a really early white flag. Injury risk.

Dallas Braden AL->NL. Feels like the A's will always listen and they have pitching depth. Braden hits FA a couple years earlier than other young pitchers on the team. A's desperately need offense. If he were on the market the Nats don't have the "this year or next" young offensive help to give the A's in return.

Bronson Arroyo FA after next season and already told Reds he won't take discount to stay so trade might be possible. Reds also have pitching depth. Still they want him to stay, he wants to stay and I think his next contract is going to be an overpay. Heading into mid 30s.

Wandy Rodriguez Astros really need to rebuild, thought about dealing Wandy this year. Free agent next year. Should be gettable with Nats level talent. He's not young though (32) and is he a #1?

Chad Billingsly Dodgers ownership a mess. Billingsly up for some big arbitration raises. They at least considered the possibility of dealing him. They didn't deal him though, even in deals for Lee or Oswalt. Got totally back on track 2nd half of the year, so much so that I don't see a deal happening at all.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I'm back

Let's Go Yankees!

Oh the Nats...

I'll expound more this week but here are my initial post-season Nats thoughts

They will let Adam walk, offering him slightly below what they should, leaving fans with just enough room to complain.

They will get Carlos Pena. Rizzo loves the guy. I'm not sure anyone else does

I have no idea how they'll get an ace to lead the staff without dealing Strasburg or Bryce, which they won't do.

I also think "ace to lead the staff" is code for "Brandon Webb"

"Grinding out at-bats" and middle of the order screams overpaying for Jayson Werth

"Grinding out at-bats" and top of the order screams a trade with the D-backs for Chris Young or Justin Upton. Crazy thought : Threeway with the cards - D-backs get Storen and Rasmus, Cards get Johnson and Espinosa, and the Nats get Upton and Webb. Like I said - crazy.

If the Rizzo wants to grind-out more at bats, why is he letting Dunn go?

Friday, October 08, 2010

I'm on vacation

Back on Monday. Go Yankees!

Monday, October 04, 2010

Lucky or Unlucky?

Viewed at the macro-level this season was a success. They brought in a couple free agents, debuted some rookies, and ended up winning 10 games more than last year. Only Cincinnati and San Diego showed more improvement. Where did the improvement come from? A team's talent level serves as a nice base, but usually whether you succeed or fail in your goals for a year depends on whether you got lucky or unlucky with a few players. I'm not talking about things like 1-run games and expected wins and losses, though those do matter*. I'm talking about the total collapses or come out of nowhere players that can change the whole season. The unforseeable. Were the Nats more lucky or unlucky? And what's that possibly mean for next season?

*If you must know - based on the Nats runs scored and runs allowed the Nats were "expected" to win 72 games. Their adjusted standings (seen here at Baseball Prospectus), which tries to adjust even further for the level of competition faced and take out things like the randomness of clutch hitting, pegs the Nats at around 74 wins. The long and short of it? Play the season a bunch of times and this team wins a couple more games. For what that's worth.

Pudge was terrible. Dunn and Zimmerman were great. Kennedy did not have another good season in him. Guzman was not good either. Desmond was passable. Willingham was good and didn't play a full season. No real breakthroughs from young players, batters or pitchers, who weren't likely to breakthrough anyway.

Livan Hernandez - Livan was brought in as an emergency staff filler after Detwiler went down in the pre-season. His job was to give the Nats close to 200 innings, hopefully keeping the ERA under 5.00. Chances weren't great that would happen, since he hadn't been able to do that since 2007. Livan went out and gave the Nats his best year since 2004, 211 innings of 3.66 ERA pitching. A lot of this success was due the crazy lucky start he had, but beyond that he still pitched better than expected putting up a 4.35 ERA from June on. He wasn't a Top 10 pitcher in the NL but Top 20 could be argued and for a last minute addition that anyone could have had on their team that's a huge boost. If the Nats hadn't have had Livan, let's just not think about it.

The Bullpen - It's not unusual for a relief pitcher to vary quite a bit from year to year. You don't get bad to awesome, but you will get bad to ok, and ok to awesome. Putting together a good bullpen can be about finding who is good this season. The Nats had no problems with that. The guys that were good last year (Clippard, Walker, Batista) were good this year. The players they wanted to bounce back (Capps, Peralta) bounced back in a big way. They got a suprisingly good year from Slaten. A suprisingly awesome one for Burnett. All in all the bullpen was damn good this year, 4th in the NL with a 3.39 ERA. Imagine how good it could have been if Rizzo didn't love Bruney so much?

Mike Morse - There had always been a feeling that Mike Morse could hit if given the chance. The Nats gave him a chance. He hit. A .289 / .352 / .519 line in total .295 / .374 / .625 vs lefties. At the very least the Nats have found their righty bat off the bench for a couple of years. Maybe he'll be something more though - a platoon outfielder? A starter in case of injury? The Nats have found a useful player and that's always a nice surprise.

Strasburg's injury - Forget what it did to kill interest in the Nats. Strasburg was the best starter on the Nats the moment he stepped on the field. Probably one of the Top 10 starters in the NL. Losing that type of player for a month and a half matters.

Starter injuries in general - Lannan was supposed to be ok and give the Nats innings. Marquis was supposed to be ok and give the Nats innings. Instead the Nats got Marquis first injury riddled season since 2003, Lannan's first one ever and both pitchers' worst seasons. Both cam back from injury with good results (Lannan - 3.42 ERA since return, Marquis 4.29) but it wasn't enough to make up for the missed time and awful starts.

Nyjer Morgan crashes - Before the season I warned that Morgan was the Nats "offensive keyhole", meaning he was someone who we had felt pretty sure about but really didn't know enough to be that sure. Therefore, he had the potential to greatly disappoint. I'd say I told you so but my "greatly disappoint" was .275 /.340 / .350. Nyjer's 2010? .253 / .319 / .314. Even trying to come up with a worst case scenario I way overestimated his contribution. This was an epic collapse to a player that was supposed to be a key to the offense.

All those errors - the Nats defense was supposed to be better this season. It wasn't. Call it youth, call it surprise, call it bad roster management, whatever the reason the Nats defense was a problem all year.

What does this mean for next year? Offensively not much. The offense had holes in it by plan. Pudge stinks, Guzman/Kennedy stinks, the Nats back-up OFs stink, the rookies aren't impact players. Even if Morgan is good, he's not making this bad offense good. 2011 is still up in the air right now. If they make good FA signings that will help but at least 3 spots (C,SS,2B) will be the domain of young players who could make or break the offense.

Pitching wise though we may expect to see a nice little bump next year. Livan's resurgance was great, and it could help overcome either Marquis' problems or Lannan's problems but not both. Not to mention Strasburg's injury. Even if Livan regresses as one would expect, Marquis and Lannan simply returning to form would give the Nats a better staff. If either Zimmerman or Detwiler (or Maya... or Wang?) could be just as boringly good the Nats starters should be significantly better. The bullpen might drop a bit, since they did get lucky there, but the bullpen was built to be good. It was lucky they were THAT good, but not good in general.

All in all - send the same team out next year and the Nats should win a few more games, maybe even mid 70s would be reasonable. Of course a few more games isn't enough to recapture interest and with Dunn possibly leaving it won't be the same team.

Friday, October 01, 2010

World War Lannan 2010 : The Aftermath

With Detwiler's start on Wednesday, John Lannan's season ended. (essentially the Nats went to a 6-man rotation and there were only 5 games left). With John's last pitch likely being thrown, it's time to take a look at the season and see what we can see see see.

The question about Lannan had always been, "how can he keep this up". He walked too many and struck out too few to be as successful as he was. At least that's what the stats said. Stats guys threw up their hands and said "luck" and waited for the other shoe to drop... for two whole seasons. Early 2010 though seemed to validate their opinion. Lannan pitched terribly. Problem is Lannan was pitching far worse than ever. The conditions of the experiment had changed so the conclusion could not be reached. Conversely, when Lannan came back and pitched well, he was pitching far better than ever. We may never know how long "2007-2009" Lannan could go on being successful, because that pitcher may be gone forever.

But looking deeper into Lannan's stats we see something even more interesting about post All-Star Lannan.

Here are Lannan's Lefty Right Splits for his career

2007: .273 / .350 /.382
2008: .250 / .331 /.380
2009: .259 / .319 / .392

2007: .273 / .429 / .409
2008: .259 / .317 / .460
2009: .290 / .360 / .513

As we've said before, a big part of Lannan's success had been his amazing ability to keep righties from slugging high. On the other hand a big reason he wasn't more successful was that lefties were able to crush him. This is unusual for a LH starter. Did things change in 2010?

Righty 2010: .307 / .366 / .451
Lefty 2010: .287 / .333 / .413

They did, but it doesn't look much for the better. Lefties still hit Lannan well (though for less power), while now righties can hit him too. These numbers really don't show any good pitching. We'll have to split out those numbers to see why he succeeded after coming back.

Righty 2010 Pre All-Star: .313 / .386 / .449
Righty 2010 Post All-Star: .299 / .357 / .455

Lefty 2010 Pre All-Star: .373 / .415 / .507
Lefty 2010 Post All-Star: .200 / .250 / .320

The numbers for righties remained pretty stable, but the numbers for lefties dropped like a rock. If this isn't just a half-season fluke it would mean Lannan has completely changed his recipe for success. He's gone from keeping righties from hitting the ball hard, to dominating lefties. He's gone from being the odd duck, to winning with more traditional southpaw skills.

Is this a real change? It'll take time to see of course, but if it is it could actually help the Nationals a great deal. This team has no lefties it can rely on. Detwiler is arguably the best one after John and who knows if he'll ever put it together. If John can manage lefties now the Nats can line him up against a lefty heavy team and hope to keep them contained.

Side Note - If you want to say the Phillies killed him on Monday - that's only kind of true. 4 runs in 5 2/3rds isn't good, but it was more a product of losing control (walk and HBP in that last inning), bad luck (Ibanez's hit was a swinging bunt), and bullpen failure (Stammen immediately giving up a double to Ruiz). It wasn't that the lefties were hitting him. (2-8 in total - with the swinging bunt being one. 3 Ks)