Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Disco Duck

Just catching up on what I missed while taking pictures of Lake Superior....

5/25 8-5 over Houston-- The Matt LeCroy Game.
I couldn't avoid the Frank Robinson tearfest after this game. It certainly got a decent amount of coverage thanks to our friends at ESPN. It's hard not to get sentimental over a grizlled ol' Hall of Famer breaking down, but Nats Blog has an interesting post about it. DM argues that Frank shouldn't be upset about it because he's the one who put LeCroy in a position to fail in the first place. My snyopsis doesn't really do the post justice, but read the freakin' thing anyway, even if you think you'll disagree.

Armas continued to show his trend of shaky pitching after having been asked to go over 100 pitches in his previous outing. Take a look at the game log, and keep that in mind when he toes the rubber against Milwaukee this week.

The Whip goes to Jose Vidro who showed the power he'd lost for a month or so while he turned into a slow Ichiro. His homer and four RBIs led the way.

5/26, 10-4 over LA -- 16 hits!
The Nats feasted on Dodgers pitching, cranking out 16 hits, including 7 extra-base hits. Ryan Zimmerman had two doubles and three RBI, but Alfonso Soriano wins the Whip thanks to his two doubles, his two-run homer and his three runs scored. For good measure, he even stole a base.

5/27, 3-1 loss to LA -- @#$# Double Steal
Shawn Hill made his season debut, pitching a surprisingly strong 7-inning, one-run performance in a game the Dodgers would steal with single runs in the 8th and 9th.

The key stretch, it seems was the bottom of the 7th. With runners on first and second, Damian Jackson was asked (correctly) to bunt. He popped up the first pitch to the catcher. Jackson later blamed his mistake on fatigue after having to play six whole games in a row. Awww. (Now that Guillen's out, I may have a new candidate for least favorite Nat!)

Then, his first play not having worked, Frank decided to REALLY put the managing hat on, calling for a double steal. Despite Ryan Zimmerman not being an especially fast or excellent baserunner. And despite the batter, Brian Schneider, being a left-handed batter, meaning the catcher would have a clear throw to third. The last point didn't matter, as Zimmerman was picked off second, when Lowe sniffed out the steal. Yay for overmanaging.

Jackson wins the Lame Duck for his inability to get the bunt down, and the ofer he took. To add to the fun, he struck out to end the game. Jackson has made some pretty spectacular errors this season; he'd be a good player to ship out of town. Some contender'll appreciate his versatility.

5/28, 10-4 over LA -- Ramon Ortiz!?
Ramon Ortiz had another decent outing, winning his third game of the year, but it was the offense that carried the day. Nick Johnson had three hits and scored three runs, but it was Whip-winner Ryan Zimmerman's three-run bomb was what blew the game open. NJ's homers were just gravy.

5/29, 11-2 loss to Philly -- Thanks for playing, Joey
The offense did asbolutely nothing against a mediocre Philly pen -- who got extended duty thanks to Jon Lieber's third-inning injury. Mike O'Connor pitched ok, finally getting through an outing without walking a batter (something that could bite his butt at some point this season). But even if he had pitched better, the liner off him and the shoddy bullpen work would've negated it. Gary Majewski gave up three, as did Saul Rivera, but the Duck goes to Joey Eischen, in what'll be his final appearance as a Nat. Two lefty batters faced, two walks. Both runs would score, giving our Pal Joey an infinite ERA in his final appearance. A fitting end.

5/30, 4-2 loss to Philly -- Not a tough loss.
Sure, we'd like to win some, but losing to Brett Myers isn't the worst thing in the world, even when your 'ace' is pitching. It's when you win those games that you felt like you've gotten away with something. Armas pitched competently, but not especially good. It's just that the offense couldn't really do much of anything. Only Marlon Byrd's 8th-inning homer put the Nats on the board. The Duck's a hard call, but why not Soriano? The guy who needs to make things happen didn't do anything, except strike out three times. Soriano's made great strides at laying off breaking stuff he can't touch, but against a quality pitcher like Myers, whose slider is quite good, Soriano's still going to struggle.


All in all, that's a pretty good stretch. They finished 7-3 on the long homestand, before dropping the two against Philly, and were 3-3 while I was gone. That's more like it. They're not as bad as they were for that long losing stretch. They're much closer to that 81-81 record, especially as Livan continues to improve. Think we can get back to .500 this season? That'd be a pretty good goal, I think.

Is Livan Back?

With today's 7-inning, 2-run performance, former enigma Livan Hernandez appears to have turned a corner. He's now had four straight outings giving up three earned or less.
           IP H  ER BB K  HR
5/31 PHI 7 5 2 2 3 2
5/26 LAD 7 6 3 0 5 0
5/21 BAL 7 6 1 4 4 0
5/16 CHI 7 8 2 3 1 0
He's still not overpowering batters; he's not K-ing many, and he still looks like he's pitching around certain batters.

The main difference, I'd guess, is in his line drive rate. Today's game was against a home run hitting team in a home run hitting park. But other than that, he doesn't seem like he's thrown as many hanging sliders as he had earlier in the season. In fact, going back to his 4/19 start against these same Phillies, he had allowed just two homers before today's start. Batters are still hitting .300 off him, but it was way higher than that just a few weeks ago.

I've only seen him a few times, but it doesn't seem like his velocity is any higher. He just seems like he's found touch on his pitches. He really wasn't getting much variation on his pitches, and was constantly looping his slider in there, finding the fat part of the bat. What's changed? Is he just throwing better pitches? Did he have some arm soreness before that was preventing him from getting the proper torque on his breaking pitches? Regardless, he's succeeding, and that's a good thing, even if we're still not going to contend.

  • Livan wasn't the only pitching story of the game. Mike Stanton was the unsung pitching hero of the day, slicing through the heart of the Phillies own Murderer's Row. With a slim one-run lead, Mike Stanton worked a perfect eighth, striking out all three batters: Chase Utley (.322/ .398/ .538), Bobby Abreu (.280/ .455/ .522), and Ryan Howard (.299/ .354/ .614).

    When Stanton sticks to left-handed batters, he's got his uses. It's when Frank sees performances like today's and asks him to do things that he's not really capable of doing that the team gets into problems.

    But for today, his curve was working; it seemed to have a bigger bite than usual. And when his curve is on, his fastball, which isn't quite what it was, is good enough to get by major league hitters. When the curve isn't working, that's when he gets pounded.

  • But the Majority Whip goes to the one Nat who seems to come to play offensively every day, Alfonso Soriano. He drove in all three runs, and every one of them was critical. Watch him punish this non-hanging curve, turning on it and hitting it hard to left.

    It seemed like, before I went on my sojurn, that Soriano, even more than before, has been taking all-or-nothing cuts at pitches, trying to turn and drive most everything early in the count. When he gets two strikes, it seems, (and this is just based on a handful of games worth of observation) that he gets much more patient, especially as pitchers nibble away with mediocre breaking stuff away, hoping he'll fish.

    He's hitting with as much power as he ever has in his career, because of this approach, but also showing as much patience as he ever has, too.

    Warning: Unanswered questions ahead: Is this because of a conscious effort to screw it and go for raw power numbers and counting stats in a contract year? Is this part of a philosophy imparted to him by Mitchell Page -- the approach is exactly what he preached while with the Cardinals?

    Regardless of motive, Soriano's a fun player to watch. He's always played with an energy, which is hard to describe. It's in a similar vein to the way that certain people seem to light up a room with their charisma, turning heads everywhere. You can definitely see why scouts (and that's what Bowden is at his heart) drool at the guy. He's got the good face.
  • Game Day: Salvage One, Please!

    It's a day game! 1 o'clock, and I'll be checking in on the radio.

    Soriano LF
    Clayton SS
    Vidro 2B
    Johnson 1B
    Zimmerman 3B
    Schneider C
    Byrd CF
    Vento RF
    Livan SP

    Why Clayton continues to bat second.... It looks like they misspelled Church's name in RF.

    Watching? Listening? Just bored? Join us at Yuda's where we'll be complaining about everything. Just ignore the first 100 posts or so, ok?

    Farewell To An Old Friend

    I went to Minnesota this past weekend, looking for Ball Wonk. No luck. He either emigrated to his beloved Eindhoven, or he's fallen completely off the face of the earth. My search wasn't all that extensive, though. And along the way, I lost an old friend.

    It's hard following a team while you're on vacation. I could steal a few glimpses at the never-ending ESPN scroll while out or during the too-brief visits to the hotel room. Gullien to the DL. Nats Win! Nats Lose. It all scrolled by, eventually. I just had to wait through the college baseball and the thirty seconds of NBA stats that slid by on the screen.

    I got to return to an old pleasure, too, the boxscore. I hadn't followed the game solely by boxscore since, well, ever. ESPN and the games themselves were always there for me. But now I got to flip open my otherwise worthless USA Today and see how the Nats did, scanning the boxscore and realizing how much info it provides, but how utterly worthless it really is.

    Writers of yore can rhapsodize about the harmony of the boxscore and rave about the massive amounts of data contained therein. But it just doesn't do it for me. So, Soriano had two hits? What's the context? Did they come early? Did they blow a game open? Was it a screaming liner? Was it a misplay? Did it come off a tough slider, which he'd normally swing through?

    For me, it just creates more questions. Sure, it's good for the big picture. That's ok sometimes. I just like seeing the smaller pictures, the tiny battles. Is it enough to know that one chess grand master beat another? Don't you want to know all the tiny dances and subtle strategy that lead to a pawn taking a rook?

    Nonetheless, I coped. I'll slowly be weeding through the boxscores, game recaps and scoring summaries to get a feel for what's going on. But from what I did see, as near as I can tell, Frank Robinson cries, Matt LeCroy stinks, Shawn Hill suprises, Jose Guillen is a girl, Alfonso Soriano hits a lot of homers, and Ryan Zimmerman is streaky. But other than that? Damned if I know.

    But about my friend.

    As I sat in the car, waiting for my girlfriend to say her last goodbyes, I realized that I wasn't wearing my hat. I looked in the backseat. Nope. I opened the trunk, tore through my carry-on. Nope. Uhoh. I lugged my big, black suitcase out, unzipped it and weeded through the masses of dirty clothes. Nope. Crap.


    Pepitos! I left my stinkin' hat at the restaurant we had eaten at the previous night. I specifically remember thinking, don't put the hat on the bench there. You'll forget it when you leave.

    I had been meaning to write a post on my hat. (Yeah, lame, I know) This had to be the nastiest, filthiest, most disgusting Nats hat there was.

    Except for a brief three-week period in January of '02, I've sweat continuously since moving to DC. The heavy humid air doesn't mesh well with my pasty northern European genetics. The hat had a Kline-style blotch of dried sweat near the temples and on the underside of the brim. The rear of the hat had a nasty looking patch of dark gunk, which only had the appearance of dried blood -- funny, I can't remember hitting my head.

    But the front of it was what made me love it, in all its filthy glory. A combination of sweat, sun exposure, and red rock dust from when I traipsed around the deserts of Southern Utah last year have completely faded out the front of it, so that it's approaching the color of raw salmon. It looked like I had worn the thing since birth.

    Truthfully I'm not much of a hat person. Only recently, as I've grown older and become more aware of the pain in various limbs, have I started wearing one, if only to keep my brow from furrowing in the sun (Sadly, the hat can't help the brow furrowing while watching Frank manage us out of a game.)

    But it was my lone piece of Nationals memorabilia. I bought it at Union Station right after the ceremony where they announced the team's name. There were long lines of people waiting to buy the crappy, overpriced merchandise, and I was one of the suckers. It definitely had some sentimental value.

    So, if you're ever in Pepitos in Minneapolis, and you see a dirty hat laying around, pick it up for me, ok? Although, I'm sure they had one of the dishwashers grab it and burn it before the Department of Health shut them down.

  • So it'll take me a bit to get up to speed, and I'll scramble and award some retro ducks and whips. I'll be back to hating Frank before too long, I'm sure.
  • Thursday, May 25, 2006

    Where'd Those Unloveable Losers Go?

    With a win in this afternoon's game against the struggling Andy Pettite, the Nats will have taken their second straight series, after having only won 3 before this week. Not bad at all. Worst case, they split four with the Astros, which certainly isn't something to be ashamed of.

    Mike O'Connor continued his balls of steel pitching, equaling the always dominant Roy Oswalt. I really don't know how O'Connor does it. His stuff isn't that good, and he doesn't really have much location. But, boy, he gets results. His fastball floats in there with a little bit of zip. His curveball (which is probably his best pitch) bends down steeply. And his changeup just sorta floats -- it's really not much of a pitch, as Morgan Ensberg's homer can attest.

    But his pitching is greater than the sum of its parts. He, more often than not, throws strikes. And he does a damn fine job of mixing up his pitches, both for speed and for location. He keeps the hitters off balance, getting by on guile, not stuff. He's a fun guy to watch -- and he wins his second Majority Whip, despite only tossing six innings.

    Alfonso Soriano led off the first inning with a broken-bat liner over short, which barely blooped over Everett's glove. Then Oswalt did what he does, putting the Nats bats to sleep for a loooong time.

    By the time Damian Jackson led off the 6th with a double, it felt like it was do or die time. Matt LeCroy (who had replaced the concussed Wiki Gonzalez -- as bad a defensive catcher as I've seen) came up, looking to advance the runner, but could only hit a grounder to short, leaving Jackson stuck at second. Marlon Anderson pinch-hit for O'Connor and moved Jackson to third with his grounder to second, but with two outs, it was worthless. The inning came down to Soriano, probably the one Nat you'd actually want up there.

    Then the mini miracle happened. Oswalt started his windup, then for no apparent reason, he stopped, which would be a balk. Realizing his screwup, he took a few steps towards third base, as if he were on a Sunday stroll, casually gazing over his shoulder to see if the third base ump was falling for his acting job. Unfortunately for the Nats, he did, at least until Frank woke up from his nap and stormed to home plate. He asked for, and got an appeal. The umps conferred, and correctly called the balk. Jackson sauntered home; the game was tied.

    The Nats had one of those eighth innings that they did so many times last year, stringing together a few big hits, getting that one big hit they needed at exactly the right time. Bang! Zoom! They pushed four across, and the Astros were done. ( has the condensed video of the 8th inning rally, showing all the plays. Check it out!)

  • Santiago Ramirez made his major league debut, pitching a scoreless inning. He was utterly dominant in Triple-A. It'll be interesting to see if he can stick around, since Felix Rodriguez is doing absolutely nuttin'.

  • Very quietly, Joey Eischen has put together a decent stretch. He has a truly bizarre statline. He's striking out a TON of batters -- lefties have been pretty helpless against him. He's just walking the park, and yielding line drives -- even as the latter seem to have decreased in recent days.

    I still don't want to see him in a critical situation (and yeah, today's appearance probably was one), but he might have a little bit of juice left -- enough, at least, to earn him a trade to a LOOGY-wanting contender. Remember that Detroit was sniffing around him in spring training. At this point, getting anything for him is a bonus.

  • Jose Guillen left the game in the second inning with a bruised cornea. Apparently he scratched himself in the eye with his batting gloves during BP. My question is this... That's not an injury that was magically going to get better between BP and gametime. Why was he in the lineup in the first place? This is another case where Guillen's putting himself above the team, forcing Frank to burn a player (Byrd) and putting him into the lineup in a place that's not optimal for the team.

    So much is made of being a man on this team, yet crap like this happens all the time. Playing through injury is important, for sure, but playing through one when it's costing the team -- as Guillen did with his torn labrum last season -- is just senseless. And now that Guillen is feeling the added pressure of trying to put up numbers in a contract year, well, it's going to take a strong manager to tell him when. Unfortunately, it seems that Frank's an enabler.

  • Over the last 5 games or so, it seems like the Nats have made a conscious effort to work on hitting breaking pitches, especially sliders. They've been lining them back up through the middle, staying back and settling for singles -- the right approach.

    I'd be interested to see one of the beat writers see if this is a teamwide push, or if it's just a fluke. It certainly seems like their approach has changed -- even as their overall plate patience (taking pitches, walks, etc) has tailed off.

  • Heartbreaking news, but I'm taking a few days off. I'll wait while you grab a kleenex. [pause] I'll be back next week, hopefully with news of a long winning streak.

    We play the Dodgers this weekend, and I'd encourage you to check out Dodgers Thoughts and 6-4-2, which are linked on my blogroll on the right. They're both pretty damn good, and I know the latter, especially, will appreciate your thoughtful comments.

    For the Nats news, pick one of the billion or so Nats Blogs, also linked on the right. There's been a lot of good stuff in them lately that I've been terribly deficient in linking to.

    In the meantime, enjoy the games!

    Abajo Bowden!

  • Wednesday, May 24, 2006

    Minding The Store

    GM Jim Bowden returns with his weekly column in the Examiner. This week, he discusses the mechanics of the draft, where you can learn that there are 15 chairs, and that the room will be hot. Snore.

    But he talked about who'd be in the room, and something caught my eye: Jon Niednagel will advise us on brain imaging.

    I've heard mentions of this guy in connection with Bowden, but I didn't realize how accurate they were or that he was playing such a role in the team's decision process. "Brain imaging" sounds scary, like phrenology or some other such nonsense.

    So who is this guy and what does he do? His website says that he's able to sort athletes into one of 16 categories, which they can use to rate future success.
    BTI has recently released new terminology and nomenclature for our Brain Types, distinct from the 8 letters espoused by Jungian enthusiasts. Though we find no fault in Jung’s 8 terms, we believe there is a much more accurate and scientific way to describe man’s inborn skills. Though we have privately used these descriptions for years, we now believe the time is better for sharing some of this information with the public—which is generally disinterested in technical terms. Nonetheless, we believe it is necessary to assist others in going deeper into Brain Types and how the brain directs our various inborn "behaviors".

    We believe that Brain Typing is the most accurate methodology for evaluating and describing man’s inborn “normal” behavior—cerebrally and physically. Each of the 16 Brain Types have sub-classifications (which we hold in confidence at this time)—based upon other genetic variables.

    He's helpfully assembled a FAQ answering (well, sort of) your questions.

    He also has a page of testimonials from a number of successful sports executives like Syd Thrift, Kevin McHale, and Danny Ainge. Also from athletes like Sean Casey, Sammy Sosa, and Kerry Kittles. Who am I to question their success? When Ted Newland, the winningest coach in NCAA Water Polo history says something like, "I’m super turned on to Brain Typing right now," I'm going to stop and listen.

    I'm willing to believe that personality is a factor, and that teams should avail themselves of every conceivable data point, but this guy? I dunno.

    Did I mention that he does his brain imaging just by sight?

    ESPN's Outside the lines did an entire show on his techniques. The skeptics aren't impressed.
    SANDBEK- There is no credible evidence that brain typing works.

    RINALDI- Clinical psychologist Terry Sandbek, a Ph.D. from Pepperdine with a practice in Davis, California, is skeptical about Niednagel's skills for one reason. No scientific proof.

    As far as you can tell, what is brain typing based on?

    SANDBEK- Hype and hope.

    RINALDI- Nothing more?

    SANDBEK- Nothing more.

    RINALDI- Nothing scientific.

    SANDBEK- No science at all.

    RINALDI- In the fields of genetics and brain chemistry, it would seem that a degree, likely an advanced one, in some scientific discipline, would be fundamental.

    Yet Jonathan Niednagel's academic credentials end with a B.S. in finance. And his former career was as a commodities trader.

    SANDBEK- He's not a scientist because he has no scientific training, he has no scientific publications, and he's not working as a scientist. In fact, he's -- the closest we could get to that would be he's a very credible pseudoscientist.

    NIEDNAGEL- I think I'm fairly well versed in terms of the cognitive functions of the brain and how they work; I think I'm fairly well versed in terms of the motor cortex and all the motor skills and so forth. So, in that sense, I do understand some things about the brain and I've read about it for some 20 years and continue to read....

    RINALDI- These teams, these coaches, these general manager types, they've been duped.

    SANDBEK- Oh, if they think they're going to have a better team, or win more games, or enhance their performances, of course they've been duped. If, indeed, he could do this, he would be the fist person in history, in humanity, to do it, and he'd be the only person to do it, and this is quite a skill. It'd be -- it would be akin to someone saying, I can jump off a cliff, flap my arms and fly through the air.

    Other critics have looked into it:
    DR. ROLAND CARLSTEDT, PH.D., CHAIRMAN, AMERICAN BOARD OF SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY- Well, as the clinical psychologist said previously, there's no published evidence whatsoever that you can eyeball a person and -- more importantly -- link an appraisal to underlying brain function. Nowadays we use sophisticated methods to localize brain functioning, and the correlations between personality and...

    LEY-So there's no basis in science, is what you're saying?

    CARLSTEDT- None whatsoever.

    CARLSTEDT- Well, first of all, I did my dissertation, which won the American Psychological Association award for best dissertation on behavioral neuroscience and sports psychology. And in doing so, essentially what came out of it is that personality typing -- and that's what it is -- it's not brain typing, it's personality typing based on an antiquated method that Carl Jung developed a century ago that Myers-Briggs further validated through testing -- but then to eyeball athletes and type them and somehow correlate that with brain function is absurd.

    And the typing that Jon Niednagel does contains personality elements that have been studied in over 1,000 studies in sports psychology. So, what, are you going to dismiss them? And these studies have essentially shown that personality per se makes up less than 10 percent of the variants in the performance equation. Meaning, if you have 100 factors, less than 10 -- if you accumulated all psychological factors, contribute to performance.
    Niednagel claims to have never been wrong, when he's been given enough time to observe.

    Bowden apparently discovered him when he was looking help for dealing with his arrogance.
    “Jim's a thinker,” Mr. Niednagel says. “He's always thinking in terms of strategizing and how can we make this system better. His type is an excellent problem-solver. They love to have a scenario that's almost chaotic to see how can I make sense of it.

    “Typically, with that wiring, you'll find a little more potential for conflict ... Thinking is the opposite of feelings.”

    Mr. Niednagel has identified 16 basic brain types and says Mr. Bowden's is similar to that of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Teddy Roosevelt and computer entrepreneurs Bill Gates and Paul Allen.

    Regardless of the merits of the system, it doesn't seem like it comes cheaply:
    RINALDI- How much do you get paid by professional teams?

    NIEDNAGEL- Some people would say a lot.

    RINALDI- Well, what would you say?

    NIEDNAGEL- Everything is relative. I'm cheap. Super cheap. For instance...

    RINALDI- Define cheap.

    NIEDNAGEL- Well, let's just put it -- they will pay me in the six figures.

    On a team that's crying poverty, so much so that they can't call up minor leaguers, is this the right priority?

    The Orioles recently fired their personality profiler, Dave Ritterspusch, who, it seems, had a much more prominent role on the team. (Lots of good background on him and his methods here)

    I don't know what to make of it. It's certainly interesting that they're looking in all directions. I guess the question is how much influence is it going to have? That's where my skepticism lies.

  • He has an online test, if you're interested. For what it's worth, it seemed to completely miss the mark with me:
    artful with machines, tools, and hands; seeks action and excitement; superb tactician—seizing the moment; athletic, competitive, witty but usually not wordy; street smart; ever-thinking; can be intense with deep convictions; adaptive; fine motor skilled

    Witty, but not wordy? Reading my droll, overly long crap, do you really believe that? ;)
  • Tuesday, May 23, 2006

    Take Off Your Tin Foil Hat has magically pulled the Brian Schneider complacency story out of the ol' memory hole.

    Interestingly, it's changes slightly. There are no longer direct accusations of 'complacency' from a "baseball source". The rest of the story, though, reads as if the first paragraph were still there. I guess that the writer either attributed something that was off the record, or that someone with the team was upset with the coverage.

  • Of note, the ummm... notes note that the Yankees have been sniffing around Ryan Church. Go for it. It's clear that this team isn't going to give him a fair chance (and one of those ubiquitous 'baseball sources' says that he needs a fresh start).

    So just trade him and get something for him before the team entirely squits his value away.

  • Pedro Astacio makes his first rehab start Friday.

  • The official pitcher of Nationals Farm Authority, Sean Hill, gets a crack at the Dodgers on Sunday.

  • John Patterson threw from the mound the other day, throwing just fastballs. (It'd be breaking balls that'd really irritate his forearm/elbow) He had a bit of stiffness, and has been pushed back until mid-June.

    I guess he's just a wus.

    Bowden continues to trot out the 'if we were in a pennant race card', but I don't believe that for a second. If he were healthy enough to pitch through something, his return date wouldn't keep getting pushed back over and over and over and over. Likely, Bowden's putting on a good face, trying not to let others know how desparate the team is for starting pitching, especially as he continues to talk trade (in a vague sense) to come up with a solution for the latest pitching crunch.

  • Small Ball Fetishists Need Not Apply

    Oh, they're working themselves into a lather tonight. The story of tonight's game, despite what they'll say, is not Nick Johnson's sac bunt and Jose Guillen's sac fly. Those small ball fetishists can work themselves up into a frenzied lather all they want, but the key to the game was something the chicks truly dig: the ol' long ball.

    Let's set the stage.

    In a 1-1 game, Jose Vidro led off the bottom of the 7th with a non-small double, ripped to deep centerfield. At the crack of the bat, Astros CFer Wily Taveras, did a deep knee bend, as he tried to recover from his natural urge to run in. Speeding back, he took a looping route as the ball sailed further and further away from him. He caught up to it, just getting a piece of it with his glove, knocking it to the ground, and keeping Vidro to a double.

    Nick Johnson, who's been in a terrible rut over the last three weeks or so (but who scorched a few hard hit balls in yesterday's game), came up, and saw two pitches, fouling one off, taking the other for a ball. Then, he did the somewhat unthinkable. He bunted a high pitch, barely getting the bat on the ball and knocking it towards the first baseman, scooting Vidro over to third.

    Do you really want your team's cleanup hitter, even if he's slumping, bunting a runner from second? Isn't it better to have the next three batters take their cracks at the RBI single? Also, as a left-handed batter, isn't it likely that, if he puts the ball in play, it's going to be to the right side, driving the runner to third anyway?

    What about the context of the game? The Astros only had six outs left, but they're a capable and powerful offense, and our bullpen is shaky. Would one run be enough? What about the successive batters? Jose Guillen hasn't hit crap this year, and I'm not sure that he's capable of driving a ball -- his sac fly to short right, should've been a closer play at the plate. Ryan Zimmerman's been good, but he's not George Brett, yet.

    I dunno. I wouldn't have bunted NJ there. I can see the arguments for it. But...

    Regardless of what decision you make, the story was the power. Of the five runs in the game, four of them came on homers, three by the Nats, one by the Astros. Damian Jackson ripped a drive deep to left in the 5th. And Alfonso Soriano and Daryle Ward hit back-to-backers in the ninth. Soriano's was a monster shot to dead center field, but Ward's was the one we'll remember, lauching high and far into the upper part of the upper deck in right. When you see a no-doubter like that, especially in this park, it's a sight to watch!

    While it's good to see the Nats play small ball, I prefer the sort they used to frustrate the Orioles with -- hit-and-runs and steals and bunts with the crappy players. Small ball is for non-entities like Royce Clayton and Wiki Gonzalez, simply because they can't do anything else. Let the mediocrities play small ball; let the big boys play long ball.

  • Pitching was the other story.

    Ramon Ortiz pitched his best game of the year, handcuffing the Astros through seven innings, while allowing just one run -- a homer by Morgan Ensberg. Amazingly, he struck out five batters (but you need to adjust that for Preston Wilson's presence).

    Ortiz didn't give up as many screaming liners as he has in past outings. Flipping through my scorecard, previous appearances are full of 4Ls and 7Ls. Even his outs have been ugly. Other than the homer, the hardest hit ball was a slicing liner down the left field corner, which Alfonso Soriano made a terrific sprinting catch on.

    But the Majority Whip goes to the unsung hero of the game, Gary Majewski. When he came in, it was with that tenuous 1-run small-ball lead. Majewski had a formidable task: Craig Biggion, Lance Berkman and Morgan Ensberg. He carved them up, getting Biggio to pop weakly to second. Berkman battled him, but ultimately succumbed to a fastball that I swear buckled his knees the way a big looping curve would. And Ensberg ripped the first pitch he saw down the 3B line, where Ryan Zimmerman was guarding, fielding the ball easily. 1,2,3. It doesn't look like much now, thanks to the later homers, but at the time, that was the game.

  • Other random notes, which don't mean anything....

    --In the third inning, Craig Biggio hit a grounder into the hole at first. NJ fielded, then AGAIN couldn't decide whether to take it to the bag or shovel it to the covering pitcher. By the time he decided to take it on his own, Biggio has almost stolen a hit, the way NJ stole that one against the Braves.

    --In the second inning Jose Guillen worked the count beautifully, but checked his swing on a 3-2 pitch. The home plate umpire called him out, and Guillen fumed. Guillen wanted an appeal, but that's at the home plate ump's discretion. When it didn't come, Guillen got right into the ump's face, held his arms out at the universal angle for "What's your problem, pendejo?" and stood there arguing for 15-20 seconds. The ump showed amazing discretion in not tossing him for the display.

    What struck me as odd, though, was that Frank didn't move a muscle from the dugout, just standing there, watching. Tony Beasley stormed down from third to separate Guillen from the ump, but that was it.

    Good job by The Beas-ster, and the ump!

  • The Nats aren't quite hot, but they are when you consider how dead they were. 4-2 in their last 6 feels good, at least! Three more against the Astros, then three against the Dodgers. At least the Nats are starting to play well at home.

  • Conspiracy Theory

    Yesterday's notes had a section about Brian Schneider, which I ranted about last night.

    It quoted an anonymous baseball source as saying that Brian Schneider has become complacent since signing his four-year contract, indicating that that helps to explain his poor start, and, presumably, why, in part, he's on the DL. It followed with some brief comments from Schneider indicating that it was just a slow start, and that he's confident that he'll hit better, and that he doesn't know why anyone would call him complacent since he's involved in the games (ie: he's not a Ryan Church).

    Yet, when you look at the notes this morning, it's gone. Why?

    It can't be because of space considerations. There isn't a word count on the internet.

    Did someone from the team complain? Was Bill Ladson citing something that was completely off the record?

    It just smells fishy, doesn't it? For an outlet which strives to maintain some sense of impartiality from the team it covers, it certainly raises a lot of questions.

    Monday, May 22, 2006

    If You Didn't Think This Team's Leadership Was Incompetent Already

    ...Let's throw another log on the fire.

    Alex Escobar, who replaced Ryan Church on the roster, is injured ALREADY. He hurt his hamstring on Sunday, didn't tell anyone until late today, and had to be scratched from the lineup (might this clubhouse's premimum on manly men with giant balls have played a factor?). At any rate, the team is considering their options, and they're talking about Double-A outfielder, Frank Diaz.

    What the hell!?? Diaz is hitting .289/ .325/ .434 in DOUBLE-A! What do you think he'd hit in the majors?!??

    Seriously. Why the hell would you even consider that? Is this just Bowden trying to show off his 'farm system' roots. "Look, Stan, we've got young players! I developed him!" Meanwhile, Ryan Church rots. New Orleans only has Mike Vento, but if you're reaching into Double-A, you're doing something wrong.

    Plus, there are outfielders up the wazoo on the team. Damian Jackson and Marlon Byrd can play center. Soriano, Guillen, Byrd, Jackson, Anderson, Ward, and Fick can all stand around in the corners. I just don't get it!

    But that's not ALL the stupidity....
    A baseball source said that it looks like catcher Brian Schneider has become complacent ever since he signed four-year, $16 million deal last January. It hasn't helped that Schneider is off to a slow start, hitting .230 with one home run and 14 RBIs, and is currently on the disabled list.

    Yeah, complacency. Bill, I'm not sure if you read this, but tell your 'baseball source' that they're farkin' incompetent, and that they should retire, even if they're a Hall of Famer.

    I'm so sick of this team running down its players to the media. Have you ever seen another team go to war with its players like this one? What does it serve? What's the point? Is anyone being motivated by it? It's garbage. Pure garbage.

    This team stinks on ice. You can smell it halfway to Topeka. And the personalities on this team -- from the huckster drunken SOB GM to the senile, incompetent manager -- make it really hard to root for. I WANT to like them. I just can't sometimes.

  • The weekend featured news that's a steaming pile of crap, too. Why are Joey Eischen, Felix Rodriguez, and the other stiffs on the team still? Cause the team can't afford to release them.

    Ordinarily I'd go into the standard rant about sunk costs; We're paying Eischen regardless, so why not cut him and bring up someone who's actually useful.

    But the problem goes beyond that. They can't do that because Major Leauge Baseball will NOT give them the money to call up a minor leaguer. Yeah. Read that sentence again.

    A minor leaguer is going to make the minimum salary, which is roughly $350K. That's prorated for the season, and the season is roughly 1/4 over. Further, because the ownership transfer is to happen in 6 weeks or so, MLB would only be on the hook for $75K or so. I'd sure like $75 K, but there's probably that much hanging behind one of Bud Selig's skin tags.

    It's ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous.

    Telling to me is that neither Kasten or Lerner have stepped forward saying that they'll foot the bill -- in front of or behind the scenes. Instead, we're stuck with watching Joey Eischen strike out batters in between scorching line drives, and watching Felix Rodriguez do his impersonation of a High School pitching machine.

    Seriously, why should I be a fan of this team? The players are unlikeable jerks. The field management is incompetent. The front office lost its three-year plan when Bowden spilled his Schlitz on the cocktail napkin it was written on.

    Yet, here I am watching, listening and writing about them every farking night.

    I feel like Wil Cordero's wife.

    Sure, tomorrow'll be better. I know you're trying, dear. I know, I know. You'll never hurt me again.

    Game time's 7 tomorrow, right?

  • Seven Down, Twenty To Go

    All things considered, the week went pretty well. The Cubs pitched like Cy Young Winners, the Orioles like John Halama. The rivalry with the Orioles isn't quite there yet -- even if booing the Bird feels good -- but it's nice to have something to cheer for once.

    The Nats have seven games in seven days against two tougher opponents. Four against the Astros, three against the Dodgers. We're about due for a hot stretch, aren't we?

    Nats Record: 3-3
    Overall: 16-28. We can still win 90 if we just go 74-44 (.627 ball)!!!111
    Runs Scored: 17 this week, 187 overall. (14th/16)
    Runs Allowed: 21 this week, 214 overall. (10th/16)
    Expected Record: 19-25. We picked up a game! At this pace... Nah, forget it.

    What's Good?
    1: Winning A Series! The reason the Nats are where they are is because they never win series. By taking 2/3 from the hated Orioles, the Nats win just their fourth series of the year, and their first since the Pirates came to town at the beginning of the month. The others: Florida, 4/14-16; Philly 4/18-20

    2: Well Executed Small Ball! I know that it often hurts your team more than it helps, but when hit-and-runs, steals, sac bunts, and squeeze plays work, it sure is fun to watch. Frank's repeatedly hit the wrong lever this year, but something clicked this past week, and it was fun to watch. (6 SB, 4 bunts, 2 SF

    3: The Bullpen! Much-maligned, Frank's starting to find his way with the pen. Majewski, Rauch and Stanton are the setup guys, and Franks' realized that FRodo and Eischen are to be used only in case of emergency. It's not perfect, but it's enough to hold the few leads we have.

    What's Bad?
    1: The Offense! Were it not for a homer barrage in the final game against the Cubs, the Nats would've scored one run in four games. As it was, they didn't even average three a game, yet they won as many as they lost. NJ, Wiki, Byrd, Clayton and Church were terrible, combining for just 10 hits and 1 double.

    2: Plate patience! When Alonso Soriano leads your team in walks, something's gone wrong. Only Nick Johnson (4/2) and Royce Clayton (2/1) had positive K/BB ratios this week.

    3: Roster Management! Regardless of the merits of Church (And considering his non-performance, defending the decision is pretty difficult), this team is screwed up. We're carrying three catchers, but only one plays. Fick and Ward are being used as pinch-hitters, exclusively, and they're both left-handed. Damian Jackson is the only player capable of playing shortstop, and he's proved that he's neither physically or mentally able with all his errors and misplays. There is not a backup third baseman. And Jose Guillen is wasting a roster spot because they refuse to DL him -- or he refuses to be put on the DL, pendejo.

    Does anyone have a plan?

    Game O' The Week
    Thursday's 5-3 win over the Cubs was pretty exciting. The Nats used the longball (four of them) to get all their runs, while Ramon Ortiz scratched and clawed his way through 5.1 innings. He turned it over to the bullpen where Rauch and Stanton quelled a rally. Majewski gutted through two innings of relief, where, impressively, he struck out the nearly unstrikeoutable Juan Pierre on the 14th pitch of their battle. Cordero came in and made it interesting, like he's obligated to do in his contract, and the Nats went home with a win.

    MVP Award
    Alfonso Soriano cranked three homers, drew four walks, and stole four bases, including two in the first inning yesterday. In a week where no one did much of anything, he was the star.

    CY Young Award
    Livan Hernandez!? Who'da thunk it? He went 14 innings this week while giving up just three earned runs for a tidy 1.93 ERA. I hesitate to say that he's back, but the hanging sliders are gone, at least!

    LVP Award
    There's lots of competition this week, including Ryan Church's dreadful .000/.000/.000 line, but it goes to Nick Johnson, who's been in a terrible slump. He hit just .118 this week and had just one meager double. He's shown an annoying tendency to jump on the first pitch in pressure situations --remember the St. Louis game a few weeks back or yesterday's bases-loaded situation? That's fine if you're going to drive it, but in both cases, he tapped out weakly to first. At least hit a liner at someone.

    Joe Horgan Award
    Felix "El Toasto" Rodriguez wins this one for his brutal pitching and the scary 11.57 ERA this week. He throws damn hard, but he has NO control over where his pitches go, just hurling them up there like that elephant who paints.

    Sunday, May 21, 2006

    Frank's Good Weekend

    It's gotta feel good to be Frank Robinson tonight. He had a pretty damn good weekend. Ignore Friday's loss (and Lame Duck winner Daryle Ward, who'd make a pretty good statue, would like you to), and things went pretty well.

    He ran his least favorite outfielder off the team, since he's not man enough or something. He became a Doctor and got to wear a funny robe. He won two games. And lo and behold, he managed pretty damn well! Up is down. Democrats are Republicans. Let's check the temperature in hell.

    Here in the real world, the temperature was gorgeous, the kind of day that was made for baseball. I had my sausage. I had my beer. And we had a pretty good game!

    I've criticized Frank in the past for, when the team is struggling, his tendency to push too many buttons to make things happen. He puts too many players in situations where they can't succeed. But not today.

    Twice he put the hit-and-run on with Wiki Gonzalez at the plate and Marlon Byrd at first, and twice it worked. In the fourth, the hit-and-run produced a sinking liner to right, which moved Byrd to third and drove in a run for kicks. In the 6th, the same combo worked to perfection, as Wiki's hard grounder went right to shortstop -- the very shortstop who had decided to cover second on Byrd's movement.

    Frank hits and runs too much, but this is a pretty good combo to do it. Wiki's not a strong hitter and getting the fielders to dance around can only help. It keeps him from hitting into the double play. And Byrd's a decent baserunner (especially with Javy Lopez catching!) The night before, Frank got the hit-and-run to work two or three times. Considering how infrequently it worked early, the Nats were due!

    Frank's best decision, though, was the trap. After the sixth-inning hit-and-run, Frank had Livan sacrifice Byrd to second. The trap was set. Alfonso Soriano was up and Royce Clayton was on deck. Earlier, the Orioles had Intentionally Walked Soriano to get to Clayton (about as automatic a decision as there is). The Orioles would do it again, but Frank had a surprise. While the balls were being delivered, Royce went to the bench, and Nick Johnson hopped out of the dugout and was announced as a pinch-hitter to an ovation as loud as the boos were for the O's mascot.

    That Nick Johnson would hit into a double=play on the first farkin' pitch is beside the point. Frank trapped Perlozzo into a situation where Frank had the team's best hitter (even if he's slumping) up at a critical time with the bases loaded. The Nats had one big bullet, and the Orioles basically walked 40 paces closer.

  • Livan pitched pretty damn well, going seven innings and giving up just 1 run. He struggled a bit in the fifth inning, when a walk, single, and bunt hit loaded the bases with nobody out. He got Tejada to hit a scorching grounder which Zimmerman misplayed into a single forceout (Zimmerman either could've gone to the plate to cut the run down, or, perhaps, started a double play). Jay Gibbons hit a high popup to Jose vidro, and then Javy Lopez hit a sinking popup to right, which Marlon Byrd made a diving catch on.

    At the game, I though Byrd had misplayed the ball, because it was in the air for about a month, but watching the replay, it seems like it was a good effort.

    Livan did it with the bat, too. In the fourth, he hit a perfect squeeze bunt, slapping at a high and away pitch down the first base line to drive in Marlon Byrd from third. He added a bunt later, which set the aforementioned trap.

    This is two straight decent starts for Livan. Is it a trend? We can hope! Regardless, it's his first Majority Whip of the year.

  • Alex Escobar is pretty scary in centerfield. He completely misplayed a ball in the second inning, that resulted in a Soriano-like assist. With two outs and a runner on first, Bruce Chen hit a fly ball to center, which Escobar ran after. While running at 3/4 speed, he backhanded the ball, dropped it, kicked it into right, ran after it, fumbled with it, and danced in a circle for a bit. Meanwhile, the runner on first came streaking around third, at which point Escobar picked the ball up in short right, and fired to home, where his throw beat the runner by 10 steps. I'm not sure how many tools that took, but he used a lot of them on that play.

  • A special Lame Duck goes out to Tim Russert. Not only does that bastard ensure that those prime seats go unusued 50 times a year, but he left in the 7th inning anyway. What a fan. He deserved Scott Norwood.

  • Saturday's game was a good ol' rout (or at least what passes for one with the Nats).

    Alfonso Soriano wins the Majority Whip for his big day with the bat. While he had just one hit -- a two run homer after Robert Fick singled with two outs -- he did walk twice, including a spectacular at bat with the bases loaded. He got a pitch way out of the strike zone, then went for it, taking his mightiest cut on the next two pitches, missing a slider away, and golfing at and missing a pitch in the dirt. With two strikes, Manon attacked with breaking pitches away, hoping to get him to flail at one. Soriano knew what was up and, after having taken his chances earlier in the AB, he held up, drawing an RBI walk.

  • Tony Armas was shaky. While he gave up just two unearned runs through five, he left a lot of runners on, and the Orioles just couldn't get the big hit.

    I'm not sure what this means, but it's worth considering. If you look at his game log, he's had two games where he's thrown a lot of pitches. After both, he had shaky outings.

    On 4/28, he threw 110 pitches against the Cardinals. The following outing, he lasted just 2.1 innings, giving up five runs to the lowly Marlins.

    On 5/14, he lobbed 119 pitches against the Braves. Saturday, where he clearly wasn't sharp, followed.

    He's just not capable of throwing that many pitches and coming back five days later. His arm might be better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect.

  • One final note, because I've rambled for far too long. It seemed like the team made a conscious decision to focus on hitting offspeed/breaking stuff up the middle this weekend. Rodrigo Lopez saw slider after slider ripped back up the middle. And Bruce Chen's curve/change found its way to centerfield quite a few times.

    When a hitter's going well, that's where those pitches get deposited. Was that a conscious effort to focus on those problems given how many difficulties they've had with anything but fastballs this year? Or is that just a byproduct of facing two struggling pitchers?

    We'll find out against the dreaded Wandy Rodriguez tomorrow night!

  • Friday, May 19, 2006

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Guillen's A Wus Edition

    The manliest of the manly men has a wittle weg cwamp. Ahhh.... :-( Poor baby. Now he thinks he's heading to the DL. I thought only girly girls in lace panties went on the DL?

    Kidding aside, it's clear that he's not right. His wrist and shoulder have combined to sap him of much of his power, and he's just not making hard contact consistently. Hopefully the time off for the leg will give him some time to heal the upper body. Considering how he's in a contract year, he certainly better hope so.

  • I forgot to make mention of it at the time, but Robert Fick made his season debut the other night, promptly striking out. He took a high curveball for strike three, turned to the ump and instructed him to do something anatomically impossible, but that the ump probably wishes he could do. Yep, he got ejected.

    I wonder how many players have been ejected from their first game with a new team?

  • Ho hum. The ownership's official. They're now slated to take complete control sometimes between June 15th and the All Star Break.

  • The Baltimore Sun profiles Mike O'Connor, tonight's starting pitcher. He's from Maryland, grew up watching the O's, went to GW, and now starts for Washington against his former favorite team -- the kind of story that writers are glad to have write itself.

  • The Sun also has Roch Kubatko blogging about all-things sports, and it's probably worth checking it. Apparently the Orioles aren't staying in town. They'll be driving back to Baltimore after each game. If you see the team bus, be sure to run it off the road.

  • The Frederisckburg paper looks at Brandon Watson, who's struggling a bit in the minors, mostly due to injury (and things like regression to the mean).

  • Federal Baseball, like all good baseball fans, can't make sense of Frank's centerfield situation: "[M]ake the decision in an organized and reasonable fashion. Don't bury one player---Church or Byrd---for a week or two at a time and then expect the buried player to produce."

  • Our friends at the Farm Authority took in two in Potomac and provide the happy recaps. They also point to this Washington Post article about attending a game at Harriburg -- look for appearances by Danny Reuckel and Alex Escobar.

  • Nats Blog, fresh off reading some vintage Bill James, wants to change the world. It's an interesting essay, in four parts, about the minor league systems, and how baseball's monopoly power has created what we have, and how it could all be different, if we embraced a revolution. Parts 1, 2, 3, 4.

  • Watching the game? Listening on the radio? Just plain lonely? Kibitz along at Yuda's GameDay, where we'll be hiding in shame before, during, and after the game.

  • A Call To Arms

    Can you feel it in the air? The tension? The enemy is just 35 miles to our north, and they're advancing quickly. There'll be blood in the air tonight when the Baltimore Orioles march into town only to be ridden out on a rail. You bring the tar. I'll pluck the feathers off Screech. And we'll meet up with torches a blazin', ready to defeat the army of Czar Peter. Bloggers are certainly ready. (And when you have blogs on your side, what more could you need?)

    I had the displeasure of living in that rathole of a city to the north, and was sentenced to several years of watching that team play, flipping dirty nickles to the Greek God of lechery and vileness. No more! I shan't miss it.

    Well, maybe I will. I enjoyed going to the games, rooting for the other team. It's hard to explain how much joy I took from Orioles losses, especially listening to the post-game wailings on WBAL as caller after caller complained, longing for the "Oriole Way" -- I still instictively wretch when I hear that phrase. I fondly remember sitting in the seats rooting for Gary Disarcina to get a game-winning hit, which he did. I remember cheering Ben Grieve's RBI double. I won't forget Shane Spencer, the Home Run Dispenser, hitting one of the 10 or so Grand Slams he did that one September. All moments I cherished.

    Ah, the memories. Of taunting Brady Anderson from the center field bleachers. Of booing Cal Ripken (which always got a bunch of stares). Of being lectured by some old lady after I laughed and yelled at Ryan Minor when he swung three weeks too early on a changeup.

    I witnessed history. Jesse Orosco's record-breaking games played appearance. Cal Pickering's first major league homer. Jeff Reboulet somehow playing regularly. Then there was that thing with Cal Ripken. He did something or ended something some night I was there, but I don't really remember it; it didn't seem to get much coverage.

    I've sat everywhere in that godawful park. The overpriced seats down the line. The nosebleeds down the wings in the upper deck, where you have a better view of RFK than of the actual game on the field. The Club seats right behind the plate where you have a strange mixture of Baltimore's pseudo business class yammering on about synergy and people (with the classic MD box-shaped head) who think they're at the WalMart in Dundalk.

    I miss Jim Hunter and Michael Reghi. The latter famous for the automated way he made calls and his faux cowboy "Pardner" -- not to mention the unintentional comedy of him overusing 'fisting', especially with respect to the aforementioned Mr. Anderson. But Hunter? He's a special kind of hack. He replaced Jon Miller, which is a bit like firing Michelangelo halfway through the Sistine Chapel and replacing him with one of those Airbrush T-Shirt guys who makes what most Baltimorons think is the height of style. If a player has a cutesy nickname then Hunter's sure to use it. I really do miss his extended interviews with "The Bird" which consisted of some doofus playing a slide whistle and Hunter pretending that he's carrying on a conversation.

    Oh, I definitely miss Peter Angelos the most. What's not to love about that wonderful asset to humankind?

    Baltimore, I miss ye. I miss ye crabs and syphillis. I miss ye open air drug markets. I miss ye child beheading scumbags. I miss it all!

    So, maybe tonight, my allegiences will be torn. I'll put up a brave face, but inside it'll be rough. There's just so much to love about Baltimore. Somehow I'll soldier on!

    GO NATS!

    Quote O' The Day

    "In a lot of ways they [the Nationals] are partners and we have a stake in their success." -- Orioles spokesman Spiro Alafassos

    Thursday, May 18, 2006

    Meatballs For Everyone

    Will wonders never cease? (Don't they have to sorta begin before they can cease?) The Nats did about the only thing they're capable of doing lately, hitting for power, and beat the Cubs, sparing them from the complete embarassment of being swept by the Cubs.

    I read a stat, which be damned if I can find again, that the Nats are leading the league in the percentage of their runs scored coming via homer. The number was roughly 47%, and after today, that number ain't going down. Five runs came on four homers: Zimmerman, Soriano, Anderson, Jackson.

    Earlier this season I had noted that the Nats approach at the plate was light year's better than what it was last year. Over the last few weeks, though, they've reverted back to form, swinging at crap, and generally looking like they don't have much of an approach at the plate. That's leading to some of the offensive struggles -- they only managed 2 walks today, 8 for the series. That's not a horrible total, but they stuck out 28 times. While focusing solely on Ks is overated, that 25/8 K/BB ratio is ghastly.

    While I'm sure Frank wants the team to hit more doubles and singles, I'd focus on having better at bats in general. Because lately, the Nats are hitting only when the opposing pitcher makes a mistake.

    Look at today's game, for example:
    1) Ryan Zimmerman's homer came on a meatball of a changeup right over the plate. If you watch the video, it'll show the standard view. Just concentrate on where that pitch is when the bat makes contact. That's a mistake!

    2) Damian Jackson's was a better swing, but this is a situation where (being the 8th place hitter) Wood was probably trying to pitch around him. He left a fastball up and in, but in the zone, which Jackson does a good job of turning on.

    3) Soriano's was a complete meatball. Soriano only drives fastballs, and he gets one right down the middle of the plate, which he'll rarely miss.

    4) Anderson's was a pretty good piece of hitting, especially coming off the lefty, but, again, focus on the location -- a fastball low, but splitting the plate in half.

    I'm not trying to disparage the hitters. When it came down to it, they DID hit the balls. But the Nats are a fastball hitting team. And they're a mistake hitting team. They got both today.

    When the pitcher has good offspeed stuff, or a decent slider, the Nats have no chance. Carlos Zambrano shut them down with a hard fastball and slider, the same formula that worked for Bronson Arroyo. Witness Sean Marshall's one-hitter yesterday. He kept the bats fooled by mixing up speeds, and varying the location. The Nats just couldn't get their timing.

  • Ramon Ortiz was effective through five innings. Then came the sixth, where he seemed to just run out of gas. Frank stuck with him a batter or two long, and it made the game interesting, but somehow they held on.

  • Gary Majewski did a yeoman's work, earning himself a Majority Whip. He was pressed into two innings of service when Frank Robinson did his typical chew through the bullpen routine, using John Rauch and Mike Stanton for two outs. And since Frank doesn't understand what a double switch is, it was either Majewski for two or Felix Rodriguez and Joey Eischen. AIEEE!

    Majewski, who supposedly had rotator cuff tendinitis, has pitched quite well over the last few weeks. He wasn't economical, throwing 44 pitches, but he was effective overall.

    He's still a bit of a quandary to me. His fastball is thrown very hard, and his slider's a decent enough pitch, but he still doesn't strike that many batters out, just 13 in 22 IP. That's a decent enough total, but for a guy with a 95MPH fastball you'd expect more. He survived last year because he didn't allow homers. His two this season match his two from the 86 IP he threw last year.

    For now, it's six scoreless appearances, but, more importantly, he seems to be out of Frank's doghouse, and back into the 8th inning role, at which he excels.

    Now if Frank starts using Rauch in the 7th and extending him like he has with Majewski, we've got ourselves a bullpen!

  • The game ended on a bizarre play. With the tying runs on base, non-entity Neifi Perez bunted with two outs. He hit a weak ball right back to a no-doubt surprised Chad Cordero -- who probably had to stop himself from laughing before throwing the ball to first. offers the story that, after walking Jacques Jones, the tying run, Frank Robinson stormed to the mound, challenging Cordero, asking him if he "was the right man for the job." That's probably one of the few times that challenging a pitcher like that is a good move. Cordero did need to stop nibbling (perhaps gunshy after all the strikes the Braves peppered around last week?), and Frank knew what he needed to do to get him to stop.

  • Damian Jackson butchered another ball, proving that he's not capable of playing shortstop at the major league level. (and we got rid of Jamey Carroll for that?)

  • With Jose Guillen out with a strained hamstring, Frank started Daryle Ward in right, but benched Ryan Church. It looked like Frank had worked out the CF platoon, but his comments to indicate he's basically making it up day to day since both players are 'equal'. Alrighty....

    The one good thing that's come out of the last few days is that Frank's realizing that Marlon Anderson is quite a versatile player. He's played him in the outfield in each of the last two games. Marlon, despite being overpaid, is a pretty good NL bench player because he can play the IF and the corner OF. It's just that Frank was letting him waste, never giving him a shot at the OF til recently.

  • Dave Jageler did the radio broadcast solo today, and was excellent. I really have grown to like Dave's calls; he's got a smooth voice, and doesn't rare into the screaming territory that his partner tends to visit from time to time.

    It was also a treat not having a booth where numbers were constantly being shouted. Charlie Slowes has an unfortunate habit of just reading stats off the stat sheet, as if he were reading the phone book. It doesn't make for good radio. And when that mixes with the CONSTANT out-of-town score updates and the godawful Stock Updates, it's complete number overload.

    Dave stuck to the minimum using just enough numbers to illuminate; with Charlie there, it's sometimes like being stuck in a tanning booth.

  • I Hate Errors

    Yeah, the offense stinks. If you want to read about that, check out the Post, Times, or

    What's worried me these last two nights has been the defense. It's completely imploded, even if errors aren't being charged.

    One of the problems with errors as a statistic is that it's a judgement call. What might be an error to me, might not be an error to you. Yet the Official Scorer is the voice of God; only his voice counts.

    It's also troubling in that errors are usually only awarded if the player gets a glove on the ball. It doesn't account for players with no range or cases (such as a popup between two players on the infield) where an out clearly should've been recorded. Witness Soriano. He's allowed a number of balls to drop in that average fielders would've gobbled up. How is letting a routine flyball fall in front of him because he's playing on the warning track better than someone just dropping a flyball? The former isn't an error. The latter is. Yet the team gets hurt the same way.

    I also have a problem with the stat in that all errors 'look' the same in the stats, when there's clearly a huge difference between an error that allows an extra base (like when an outfielder makes a bad throw to third) and one that turns an out into a hit (like when a shortstop boots a ball). There's even a huge difference between that and when the shortstop throws away a ball to the second baseman on the front end of a sure doubleplay. The last is magnitudes more costly than the first, yet they're all lumped together.

    Soriano's made a ton of errors according to the official scorer, but how many of them have been in the second category and how many have just allowed an extra base? You don't know by looking at the stat. So what's the point?

    Last night, it was poor Zach Day's turn to be victimized. If you look at his stats (4 innings, 4 runs), you'd think he had had a bad night. He didn't. It's just that in his first three innings, the defense played terribly. The Cubs had extra outs to work with, and they made him pay.

    In the first inning, he had two outs with a runner on third when Michael Barret hit a grounder to third that ate up Ryan Zimmerman, bouncing off him and rolling into foul territory. That's a play that he HAS to make.

    In the second, the Cubs had a runner on first when the pitcher hit a soft flair towards Damian Jackson at shortstop. Jackson, who clearly caught it on a short hop, held up the ball to the ump, as if it were a line-drive out. After a beat or two, when the ump didn't give him the out signal, he lobbed the ball to first, where the pitcher (the pitcher!) had beaten it out. In the books, that went down as a single to short, not the error it should've been. Jackson could have made the play, but chose not to, especially because it's a difficult throw when your head's up your ass. For further aggravation, the runner who was on first had run all the way to second, so even if Jackson HAD caught hit, he'd have had to throw the ball to first to double it off. It was a HUGE brain cramp that cost the Nats two runs. But brain cramps aren't errors, so Zach Day gets charged with those runs. Fair?

    In the third inning, Jackson got another grounder, which he promptly airmailed to first. He got under his throw, lobbing it high, and Nick Johnson made a tremendous leaping snare to keep it from going into the dugout. Somehow, the Cubs didn't score that inning.

    Tuesday's game had some of the same problems. Regardless of how pathetic the Nats bats are (and against a legitimate ace like Carlos Zambrano, they're going to look foolish), the defense didn't get the job done.

    It all fell apart in the fifth inning for Livan Hernandez, who actually pitched a pretty decent game, even if it came against the nearly impotent Cubs.

    Carlos Zambrano hit a slow groundball to Royce Clayton, who promptly threw the ball to Beloit for an error.

    Juan Pierre came up, and hit a sacrifice bunt about three feet in front of the plate. Catcher Wiki Gonzalez ran out, fielded the ball, thought about throwing to second, double clutched, turned and decided to throw to first instead. Late. If he had just made the play, Pierre would've been out easily. The bunt wasn't that good. That's another play that should've resulted in an out, yet isn't called an error. But it's still bad defense, even if it's a mental error.

    The next batter, Matt Murton bunted down the third base line. Livan, who's strangely a pretty good fielder, pounced off the mound but played the ball as if he were an elephant seal looking for a mate. He stumbled over the ball, all hands were safe, and some bad stuff happened and that Nats lost. This, too, wasn't an error. This, too, was a play that needed to be made.

    There have been far too many brain cramps on this team. And far too many plays not being made. With as shaky as the pitching is, the Nats simply cannot play like this. There record is pretty self-evident of that.

    The weird thing is that the team's Defensive Efficiency Ratio (a measure of how many balls in play are turned into outs) is actually pretty good. When it's put in play, Nats fielders are turning the ball into an out 71% of the time, which is 6th in the league. Something's not translating though.

    The Hardball Times, using play-by-play data aims to break down the defense further. Their stats (scroll to the bottom) According to them, the Nationals have recorded 19 more outs through the air (fly balls and line drives) than they should have. (Here's an explanation of what they're trying to do with the stat) Is the outfield defense better than it looks? Is that an illusion of the huge park, which gives fielders room to catch balls that'd be out of the park elsewhere? Is it just random noise?

    Given what I've seen, I'm guessing it's random noise. Soriano certainly isn't above average. Guillen's a decent fielder on things hit in the air, but he's not Clemente out there. Something just doesn't smell right.

  • I've been deficient on naming Whips and Ducks lately, but we'll give last night's to Damian Jackson for his two terrible plays. Tuesday's goes to Royce Clayton, the man who never makes the plays.

  • Today's an afternoon game. If you're bored/watching/listening/whatever, join us over at Yuda's, where we'll be kvetching about today's mental mistakes.

  • Wednesday, May 17, 2006

    Why Patterson's Arm Scares Me, Part XXXIII

    I was digging through the ol' memory vault, and two examples popped in my mind as to why Patterson's injury concerns me (as if Ryan Drese wasn't a big enough example).

    To refresh, Patterson was diagnosed with a flexor strain, which is typically listed, in shorthand, as a forearm strain.

    Mike Hampton reported 'tightness' in his forearm, putting him on the DL twice last year. Despite just being a 'forearm strain', when it didn't get better, they discovered an elbow injury, leading him to Tommy John surgery, which is keeping him out for the year.

    Staying in division, but to the north, crappy pitcher Victor Zambrano had the very same flexor problem. He was able to pitch through it occasionally -- missing time here and there -- but eventually, it snapped. And how he, too, is undergoing Tommy John surgery. Since it's his second, his career's probably over.

    These injuries can be tough to diagnose. Witness the two changes in Drese's diagnosis for an example of that. But Patterson's date has been pushed back twice (just as Drese's was), and he's had a visit to Dr. Andrews, where pitching arms go to die.

    There are lots of alarm bells going off. I just hope it's all a false alarm.

    Stack 'Em Up

    If you were around last year, you'll remember that I took periodic looks at the offense and how it compares to league average at their position. I think it gives us a pretty good idea of where our strengths are and where the weaknesses are. Although anyone with a pulse (not named Boswell) could tell that Guzman was the gaping hole of last year.

    One thing to keep in mind is that RFK still suppresses offense by a decent amount, roughly 15% for runs, so you'll need to make a mental adjustment upwards with some of the stats. (Were I any sort of saberista, I'd break out the abacus and twirl some beads to give you some adjusted numbers, but, eh, that'd be work and stuff)

    LG Average .264 .325 .386
    Matt LeCroy 33 .273 .306 .545
    Brian Schneider 99 .232 .309 .293
    NATS 143 .259 .318 .364

    Overall, the production's not terrible, even if it's below average. Schneider didn't seem right, and defensively, he was certainly off. Runners ran on him and LeCroy, but at least Schneider would occasionally throw through to second. The Nats are sure to improve here when Schneider comes back, if only because he can't continue to be this terrible.

    LG Average .279 .363 .503
    Nick Johnson 144 .313 .421 .583
    NATS 149 .309 .415 .570

    That Nick Johnson guy's pretty good, huh? I'm not going to jinx him by bringing up the blindingly obvious thing that he's done this year that he's failed to do every other year in his career. I'll just hope he'll continue to do it all year!

    LG Average .273 .339 .380
    Jose Vidro 139 .338 .415 .439
    NATS 154 .325 .403 .422

    This is vintage Vidro, giving the Nats a clear offensive advantage here. The only worry is that his stats are batting average heavy -- that is, he's not walking a ton, and he's not hitting many extra base hits. If those singles stop dropping in, his overall production grinds to a halt. Still, he's been a good line-drive machine throughout his career. It could just be a slump. (I hope!)

    LG Average .275 .347 .443
    Ryan Zimmerman 147 .265 .335 .435
    NATS 153 .261 .329 .425

    Those who were predicting a .300 average out of Zimmerman were wildly optimistic. He's doing about what reasonable expectations thought, perfectly replacing Vinny Castilla's production, even as he's improved on the ol' guy's defense. If he could just get over the throwing yips, which he shows only one the easiest plays, he'd be unstoppable.

    Lg Average .265 .327 .381
    Royce Clayton 126 .246 .300 .333
    NATS 136 .243 .293 .324

    Black hole! He's putrid offensively, and anyone who claims that that's acceptable because Guzman was so bad is missing the point. He's also pretty poor defensively, showing, at best, average range, but has booted too many balls (when he's not throwing them away.) If you're going to hit like Rey Ordonez, you've gotta field like Rey Ordonez.

    Like last year, this should be priority #1 for the Nats. Like last year, they'll ignore the problem.

    LF Average .265 .351 .435
    Alfonso Soriano 161 .280 .322 .534
    NATS 172 .279 .319 .523

    He's well below the league average OBP, but when you can slug like that, who gives a feck? Still, when you factor in the terrible defense, you've gotta wonder how much better than average he is, and all for the bargain price of $10 million.

    LF Average .261 .333 .392
    Marlon Byrd 72 .264 .354 .389
    Ryan Church 50 .180 .317 .340
    Brandon Watson 27 .185 .214 .185
    NATS 153 .222 .316 .340

    Oy. As bad as this has been, this is another position I think'll improve, especially as Frank figures out that the Church/Byrd platoon that I've been yammering about since about May of last year is the way to go. Defensively, this position's a bit of a worry. Church has a strong, accurate arm, and seems to make all the plays, but sometimes his routes are a bit funky. I've never been impressed with Byrd's defense in center, and now that his ass is the size of a Buick, I'm even more skeptical.

    Lg Average .275 .347 .456
    Jose Guillen 129 .217 .261 .395
    NATS 149 .242 .316 .497

    We knew that Guillen stunk! This position is saved only because this is where Ryan Church did all his damage, cranking out three homers. Take him away, and this position, too, is below average. Guillen's defense has slipped. He seems to have lost a bit of range, and his throws have been poor, both weak, and inaccurate.

    Lg Average .128 .160 .154
    Livan Hernandez 20 .250 .250 .550
    Tony Armas 15 .067 .067 .067
    Ramon Ortiz 12 .083 .154 .083
    NATS 79 .127 .138 .340

    I've thought about expanding this into a bigger post, but the Nats pitchers are wretched batters, Livan excepted. Armas and Ortiz are two of the worst batters in the league, and with Al Leiter retired to stud, they might be THE worst. What's particularly problematic with those two (especially Armas) is his inability to get the bunt down either. That just kills a pitcher's chances -- especially with the low margin of error they have on this team.

    LG Average .241 .305 .333
    Marlon Anderson 22 .182 .333 .227
    Daryle Ward 13 .231 .412 .538
    NATS 66 .197 .349 .318

    The pinch-hitting extraordinaire isn't really getting the job done, but Ward has excelled, showing a strong eye, and working out some walks in critical situations. Frank's cheated and had him lumber around the outfield a bit, which, if he picks the spots right, might not be that bad. Sometimes this team needs to punt defense to get more offense --lord knows they're trying in left!

    Sloppy Thinking

    There were two pieces in the Post and Times over the last few days that have rubbed me the wrong way, and Distinguished Senators and Federal Baseball have taken cracks at them. The pieces are examples of sloppy thinking (or unthinking). The pros definitely write better than me (lord knows they have better copy editors!), but some of the stuff they write is drivel. It may be pretty-sounding drivel, but if you wrap a pile of dog poo in a pretty little bow, it's still not something you want to give to your mom for Mother's Day.

    Let's start with King Homer, Tom Boswell. Last week, he wrote an article extolling the virtues of Soriano. Unfortunately, Boswell's debating style is similar to what you'd expect out of a low-level RNC or DNC toadie. Instead of sticking to the facts (which certainly have made a pretty compelling case for Soriano, right?), he's turned to exaggeration.

    Anyone who's watched a game knows that Soriano's weakness is his defense. So Boswell has to massage the facts to fit his case (instead of making the reasonable case that his offense overcomes):
    He's misjudged a few difficult fly balls and looked awkward, but has also outrun the ball for a few fine catches. And he hasn't butchered even one simple play.

    Hasn't even butchered one simple play? Sure, Boz. Sure.

    Meanwhile, Boz was challenged on it in his chat last week, and didn't back down. Barry Svrluga, writing in the same paper, took a shot across Boz' bow last week, devoting the bulk of a column to Soriano's misplays and getting several people, including Soriano himself, to acknowledge his shortcomings.

    Distinguished Senators has the complete rundown of all those quotes, but also adds another distortion (which is probably best termed a lie!) in his Barry Bonds column from yesterday. Read the whole freakin' thing.

    I just watched Rashomon last night, and it's central theme is that different people can have different interpretations of events, that truth is only what you perceive. I suppose that Boz could be using that as his defense. Rashomon Boz? I kinda like it.

    The other article that ticked me off was from the Washington Times. Once a week or so, Mark Zuckerman has taken to writing a column. This week's was on John Patterson's injury and whether he's truly an ace considering all the nagging injuries he's faced.

    A big chunk of his column is questioning Patterson's current injury. He asks a series of rhetorical questions:
    So what's really going on? Can a strained forearm really keep a pitcher out six weeks? Is the injury perhaps more serious (which may explain why Patterson visited esteemed orthopedic surgeon James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., last week)? Is Patterson's tolerance for pain just not strong enough?

    The Fed helpfully asks some follow-up questions:
    1. Who knows? That's why the journalists are here, presumably.
    2. Who knows? That's pretty similar to what's bothering Ryan Drese, right? Why not compare notes?
    3. Who knows? But doesn't a visit to Birmingham sort of imply that? And---not to tangle HIPAA into this or anything---why not contact Andrews and gauge what kind of recovery time is typical for a strained forearm (flexor)?
    4. Who knows? Might Bowden or Robinson? They don't appear to have any problem cutting on other players' tolerance for pain, right? Why beat around the bush?

    And that's what bothers me about his column. The guy's the beat writer. He should be able to answer some of those questions with his own reporting. Just throwing rhetorical (even though they shouldn't be rhetorical!) questions out there is the kind of thing that lazy bloggers (like me!) who don't have access do.

    The questions he asks would contain VALUABLE information. But he only asks them. Why not answer them?

    It's especially curious in light of yesterday's revelation that Ryan Drese, who was diagnosed with the EXACT SAME injury as John Patterson, a flexor tendon strain, does have a torn ulnar collateral ligament. They're going to rest Drese another month or so and see if it gets better, which it's likely to not, before deciding whether he needs to have Tommy John surgery. (As another aside, how does an injury that's initially diagnosed as a UCL injury turn into a flexor strain, then back into an UCL injury?)

    Is this the same fate that Patterson has? How are Drese's symptoms similar to Patterson's? Are they being overly cautious with Patterson because his long arm history, including a previous Tommy John surgery?

    I can only ask the questions. I don't have the ability to walk up to Patterson or the doctors (nor do I really want it.)

    But it's troubling that they're only throwing questions out, too. Perhaps they've tried, and they're just not getting answers. But then why ask questions in the column?

    Tuesday, May 16, 2006

    Black And Blue Pen

    Frank Robinson has made the contention that the loss of Luis Ayala has cost the Nats six wins so far this season. Where'd he come up with that number? Is it like when he said that the loss of John Patterson has cost the team three or four wins, even though the Nats have only lost two of Mike O'Connor's starts (and only one that wasn't caused by the bullpen)?

    Is he right? I dunno, but our number-crunching friends at Baseball Prospectus can help clue us in.

    Let's start with Adjusted Runs Prevented, ARP. The name sounds friendly enough, and it's based on a relatively simple concept. It aims to figure out how many runs a reliever allows when compared to a typical reliever.

    ERA is not an especially good tool for evaluating relief pitchers. If Joey Eischen comes in with the bases loaded and allows two singles and a walk before getting the final out, he'll have allowed three runs to score without being charged for a run, despite completely failing at his job.

    ARP tries to get around this by considering the context of the performance. What is the situation when the pitcher comes in? And what's the situation when he leaves? It looks at something called a run expetency table, which is nothing but a listing of how many runs a typical team scores. Here's a sample one using run totals from '99-'02. If you look at it, you see that the average team scores .555 runs per inning when there's nobody on and no one out. When the bases are loaded and nobody's out, the typical team scores 2.417 runs. Easy enough, right?

    ARP's a little trickier. Using their magical stat gnomes (file photo), they've managed to produce a table which adjusts for league AND for park. Bases loaded with nobody out at RFK typically scores fewer runs than the same situation at Coors Field. We don't have access to that, so we have to nod approvingly at our Prospectus overlords and trust that they're not screwing us over.

    Using the table we DO have, though, let's look at an example. It's the 6th inning, and Ramon Ortiz allows a single to Edgar Renteria and then a double to Chipper Jones. Frank trudges out to the mound to bring in Gary Majewski. With runners on second and third with no one out, the typical team scores 2.053 runs. Majewski gets Jones to fly out to deep right for a sacrifice fly, but Chipper holds at second. In a fit of tempetuousness, Frank storms to the mound to bring in Joey Eischen to face Adam LaRoche.

    To figure out Majewski's stat, we look at how the state has changed. He's now leaving a game with a runner on second and one out. The typical team scores .725 runs in that situation. So when you subtract the state he entered from the state he left and account for the runs he actually allows (2.053 - .725 - 1), you see that Majewski did his job, saving .328 runs above what a typical reliever would.

    When Eischen comes in, he promptly walks LaRoche on four pitches before giving up a three-run bomb to Francouer, at which point, Frank begrudgingly yanks him, handing the reigns to Bergmann. Eischen started with .725 and left with the bases empty and one out (.573) and yielded three runs. .725 - .573 - 3 = -2.848 runs worse than average. Ouch.

    So let's look at some real-world results, eh?
    John Rauch:       9.9
    Gary Majewski: 4.5
    Chad Cordero: 0.6
    Mike Stanton: -0.9
    Jason Bergmann: -3.1
    Felix Rodriguez: -3.9
    Joey Eischen: -9.9

    That's pretty brutal, huh? Only Rauch and Majewski (who knew?) have been well above average. Meanwhile, Rodriguez and Eischen have been disasters, which isn't surprising if you've watched the games. It's pretty amazing to think that the difference between Rauch (who's actually the second best reliever in the NL according to this metric) and Eischen (who's the WORST reliever in the NL according to this metric) is nearly 20 runs.

    Ordinarily, 10 runs saved is about equal to one win. But in the case of relievers, it's not clear that that really holds. If Eischen's giving up bombs in a game the Nats are already losing, the runs he's allowing don't really mean anything. But if he's giving up three-run bombs to Ken Griffey in the bottom of the 11th, they mean a whole lot.

    Thankfully, Prospectus tries to help us there, too. They have a horribly named stat, WXRL, which aims to take those runs saved and allowed and adjust them for the context of the game situation and the actual batters faced. (So if Cordero has a 1,2,3 inning against Pujols, Edmonds, and Rolen in the 9th inning of a tie game, it's more valuable than one against Brian McCann, Brian Jordan, and Pete Orr in the 4th inning of a game the Nats trail by 17).

    It also, for some Godforsaken reason which doesn't really concern me, expresses these values in terms of value over a replacement player -- the kind of player like Jason Bergmann or Sunny Kim that you can grab for nothing if injury strikes. Oh, the most important thing... it tries to convert the runs total into how many wins that pitcher has created in comparison to the waiver-wire pluckee.

    Let's see how the Nats fare:
    John Rauch:        .546
    Chad Cordero: .294
    Felix Rodriguez: -.004
    Jason Bergmann: -.114
    Gary Majewski: -.367
    Mike Stanton: -.386
    Joey Eischen: -1.094

    Ouch! Even though Rauch has been the second-most effective reliever in terms of runs prevented, his contributions haven't been that valuable because of the timing of them. If you think back to the beginning of the year, for example, Rauch was coming in almost exclusively after Ramon Ortiz or Livan got their brains beaten in early in the game.

    Cordero, on the other hand, has been more valuable than his stats indicate. Yeah, he hacked up the game the other night, but think about how many times he's come in this year in tie games in the 9th inning. That's VERY valuable, and this stat recognizes that keeping a game tied is almost as important (maybe even more?) than holding on to a lead. He's done more to help than hurt.

    But if you add those numbers up, you get -1.671. The bullpen has cost us about two wins beyond what a gang of castoffs would, which is nowhere near the six games that Frank is pinning on Ayala. Rauch, who's been wonderfully effective, has been barely worth half a win. Relievers, especially middle relievers, just don't pitch often enough and in high enough leverage situations, to rack up that kind of effect on games.

    Sure, the bullpen's stunk on ice this year. There's no denying that. But there are useful pieces there. Cordero's a solid reliever. Majewski's about where he was last year (overuse not withstanding) and Rauch can do a pretty effective Ayala impersonation -- it's just that it's taken (perhaps takING) Frank a bit too long to figure that last one out. Stanton's not great, but he has his uses, especially if you spot him. FRodo's a disaster, but he's also mopped up innings in situations where it's not really hurting the Nats.

    It's probably not going to be what we had last year, but it's still a solid bullpen. Take Eischen out, and it's not bad. Supplement it with Bray or someone else, and it'll be pretty good.

    But six wins good? Nope. Nice try, Frank.