Thursday, September 28, 2006

One More Thing

The surest way to know whether someone's an idiot or not is to ask them about the stadium, and the financing, as this DCist post and comment thread demonstrate.

The post, another half-cocked rant, from noted Hugo Chavez defender DCist Marty, basically says that the recent breakdown of the Herb Miller parking garage wonderland outside the stadium means that the whole deal is a sham, and that there's not going to be any development, and DC's going to be on the hook (because the revenues aren't there), and DC children won't have any money for schools, so residents will be forced to sell off their virginal daughters to the Nationals players to make ends meet, or some other such nonsense.

Thankfully, there's some sanity in the comments -- you can tell who has their facts, and which ones are talking out their keister in the manner of a fat guy who just ate three bean burritos.

Two points to remember in all this hubub and hullaballoo:
1) The parking ain't for you or me; it's for those fat cats that Stan Kasten drools over -- the ones who'll sit in the expanded Diamond Club section in the lower deck of the stadium, in their segregated section to keep riff-raff like you and me away so that we can't spoil their merlot and camembert parties. So don't weep for the lack of parking. Those fat bastards need to exercise to prevent gout from setting in anyway.

2) Develpment goes on, dammit! So, Herbie Miller's fully loaded Applebees won't go up right next to the stadium. OK, we'll have to walk a block if we want to get more Gap khakis. I'll live. Don't believe me? Check out, as always, JD Land for the info, and look at the bazillion and one square feet of space going up, even as we speak. Herb Miller or not, there's development going on -- as anyone who's sped past the craphole neighborhood in the last few weeks can attest.

She says it best: Well, just check it out here and here

I'd Like To Stay And Taste My First Champagne

You knew this would get me out of my 'retirement', didn't you? Barry had it first, and now the house organ reports it: Frank Robinson is done at the end of the year. He's had that dead-man-walking look for about 3 months. You knew it. I knew it. He knew it. Now, everyone knows it.

I'm torn.

On one hand, I can't stand the guy. He's a crapbag manager. Poor strategy. Poor motivation. His win-at-all-costs managing hurts the team just as much as it helps.

But I have a helluva lot of respect for the guy. He's had an amazing career, and really is one of the all-time greats. He won the triple crown. He hit 586 homers back when hitting even 500 actually meant something. He led two different franchises to the World Series, and has two shiny rings to show for it. He's a no-doubt, inner-circle Hall-of-Famer who had the misfortune of playing in a racist cowtown and a small east-coast armpit city, while being overshadowed by two players who were better than him (Hank Aaron and Willie Mays) -- which is not a slight in any possible way. If he played today, he'd be the best player in baseball. Hell, if he played in any era, he'd be the best player (even as there were years: 1961, 1966, 1962, etc) when he WAS the best.

Throw in that he was the first African-American manager in the big leagues, when he managed the Cleveland Indians, and there isn't much that he hasn't done. I think I've told this anecdote before, but it's one I love, and it says a lot about Frank. He was asked who the best player he ever managed was. His answer wasn't Vlad Guerrero or Joe Morgan, but himself. And he's right.

But his greatness as a baseball player and as a baseball man is separate from his role as a National. And his role as a manager is what makes me feel conflicted. And it really depends on how you look at it, from the big picture or from the small.

When you look at the big picture, it certainly seems like he's been pretty effective. He's taken a left-for-dead franchise, a nearly impossible job, and had them competitive more often than not. In back-to-back years, he brought the contraction-fated Expos to 83 wins, a remarkable achievement considering some of the stiffs MLB's ownership foisted upon him. And he deserves major kudos for the magical first half of last season. A 100-win pace!? Do you remember how wonderful it felt when they were running off that long winning streak in June, propelling them to a big lead in the division? If only we had played .500 baseball; it seemed that easy.

Yet, I look at the smaller picture, and I see last year's pointless obsession with the bunt. I see the way he chews through relievers. I see the way he rips and criticizes his players over and over to the press. I see the way he sends dysfunctional lineups out, when he's not riding his players hard day after day with little rest.

Sure, he's won more than we expected, but is it possible that his strategy and motivation tactics are preventing the team from winning a few more?

As far as today's news, it's a bit distressing that he had to learn about it by reading it in the newspaper, but in the bigger picture, it's a good thing. This lets him and, more importantly, the public know what's going on. With just a few games left, this weekend can and will turn into a celebration of his amazing career, and we'll have the opportunity to give him the sendoff he truly deserves.

Whatever his fault, Frank Robinson is a great baseball man, and he deserves our respsect and applause. I'll be there Sunday, clapping and cheering for him. And I have a feeling that I won't be the only one.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Something Something Down, Three (Wow, Only Three?) To Go

The season's winding down, and it really stunned me when I realize that there are only three weeks left. It's been a trying season, but it's somewhat depresessing that there are only a handful of games left. I'm sure the players are relieved that it's almost over -- as well as the beat writers -- but for now, I guess I'll have to enjoy what I have, even if the interest is waning. Three weeks left, and plenty of time to enjoy the way Soriano attacks the zone, Nick Johnson's eye, Jose Vidro's line drives, and Ryan Zimmerman's drive for the Rookie of the Year award -- perhaps the only thing left to play for.

All stats since 8/21, the last time I did one of these things....

Record: 7-12
Overall Record: 61-82, fifth worst in baseball -- only four losses behind 3rd!
Runs Scored: 93 (4.9/g) That's a pace that would make them first were they able to keep it up over a full season. They're at 663 total for the year, which is good for 10th.
Runs Allowed: 132 (6.9/g) No, that's not a misprint. The 2003 Detroit Tigers are considered to have one of the worst pitching staffs of all time. They only allowed 5.7 runs per game. I wanna cry now.

What's Good?
1) Austin Kearns! He was a one-man wrecking crew for a few of those games, and is finally hitting like the player the Nats thought they were getting when they traded a broken-down Gary Majewski. He led the team in homers and RBIs, putting up an incredible .279/ .416/ .607 line.

2) Nick Johnson! Bad defense aside, .333/ .486/ .614 is .333/ .486/ .614!

3) Alfonso Soriano! He's hitting fine, another 5 homers and a .576 slugging percentage, but what was impressive was his 9/9 SB rate. With the pressure on, he's not getting caught.

4) Ryan Church! .367/ .486/ .667! Not bad at all, eh? So what's the complaint now? Oh, his defense. On a team that has below average defense at left, short, second, first and catcher, who's fault is it? Yep, it's Church's. Funny, a certain beat writer notes his deficiency now, but I've somehow managed to miss all the accounts of Church's misplays in the field prior to this. I've argued before that the team needs a flycatcher in center. Nuke Logan fits that bill, but his bat is pathetic, even if he did manage to stumble into a .290/ .343/ .484 with the team.

What's Bad?
1) Jose Vidro! The newest whipping boy can't field. And he certainly didn't hit, even if he had a few key RBI in the rare Nats win over the fortnightplus. .222/ .236/ .296

2) Bernie Castro! The idiot questioner who asked the already linked mailbag of a certain beat writer needs to look at Mr. Castro's line: .156/ .229/ .188. If he's a major league second baseman, I'm Mr. Popular.

3) Starting Pitching! Bergmann: 5.66; Armas: 7.94; Astacio: 9.53; Traber 10.12. That's not a small sample size either. That's a combined 14 starts of pitiful baseball.

Game O' The Week
Well, I missed most of them on my summer sojurn, but I imagine that it'd be hard to beat Ramon Ortiz' near no-no, eh? Not only did he come close, but his 8th-inning homer nearly blew the non-existent roof off the ol' dump.

MVP Award
Congrats to Austin Kearns! With a hot stretch, he's up to .246/ .377/ .417 as a Nat, which is perfectly acceptable for a Gold Glove RFer. And we know there's room for improvement.

Cy Young Award
{null} I guess Ortiz gets it on the virtue of that start and being the one starter with a sub-5.00 ERA.

LVP Award
Vidro, Vidro, Vidro. Is there anything he does do well?

Joe Horgan Award
Despite giving up 2 fewer runs (in the same amount of innings) than Pedro Astacio, Tony Armas wins it for his mind-blowing 14 strikeouts -- a nearly 8/game pace.


What a brutal series. The Rockies violated us over and over again, getting big hits, and preying upon the Nationals many many many many many errors, as the Nats threw the ball all over the ballpark as if they were Mark Brunell trying to complete a 5-yard out pattern.

Fresh off my last 'the defense stinks' post, the Nats went out, and not only crapped the bed, they rolled around in it all night. 6 errors!?! If this were the deadball era and they weren't wearing gloves, then, yeah, that's acceptable. But the comedy (a black one!) of errors was just this side of disgusting.

The outfield play was abysmal in the entire series, missing, bobbling, lobbing every ball that got more than four feet in the air. Ryan Zimmerman fielded like Butch Hobson in '78. FelipE Lopez did whatever he could to not make successful plays. And Nick Johnson? Oh, Nick Johnson. How the mighty have fallen. Earlier this season he showed an amazing ability to misplay popups in foul territory. Lately, his hands have turned to stone, and his inability to scoop anything but the easiest of throws has hurt the other infielders (not to mention the pitchers!) Jose Vidro continues to play spectacularly bad defense, and I saw at least two plays where a merely competent second baseman would've turned double plays. Ugh.

Yesterday, the team didn't make any errors, but the pitching still blew chunks. Astacio couldn't make it out of the third, and someone called "Chris Schroder", perhaps distraught about his cat being in a box, loaded 'em up and gave up a Grand Slam to Todd Helton -- at least it wasn't Jamey Carroll.

The offense was fine enough, but this minor league pitching.... yeesh. That's what we're left to deal with though. And part of me hates it. But part of me realizes it's for the best. Although looking at the Fielding Independent Pitching stats, I realize that there aren't many keepers here either.

  • Jamey Carroll torched the Nats in this series and during the entire year, hitting .452/ .528/ .677 against our fair (fair as in mediocre -- wait, we're not even good enough to be mediocre!) team.

    Now I love Jamey as much as he loves the Lord, but let's not get carried away with the love and the pity and the anger and the.... Jamey's still a pretty mediocre player. He's a slap-hitting singles hitter who's playing in a park that accentuates the ability to slap singles. And he's playing full time for a lousy team -- something, even with as lousy as we've been, he wouldn't have done here. He went to a perfect situation where he could make Bowden look foolish.

    Sure, I'd have rather had Carroll to the sack of crap that was Damian Jackson, but the difference between Carroll and Jackson is negligible, even with all the 'little' things. Losing Carroll for peanuts sucked, for sure, and having one fewer likeable person on the team to root for sucked, too. But in the scheme of things, the bigger picture, we'd be just as lousy -- maybe one or two games less lousy. Who cares?

  • You know you're a bad team when the team's beat writer spends the first 11 paragraphs describing a completely inconsequential defensive indifference call.

    Am I the only one who's not enthused about Soriano's 40/40 chase? He's had a helluva season, but this one only marginally warms the cockles more than Preston Wilson's drive for 90 last season. Yawn.

  • Friday, September 08, 2006

    Hooray For Defense

    I've ranted before about how error totals and fielding percentage are pretty worthless when it comes to evaluating team defense. But in the Nationals case, last night's game, in which they booted the ball all over the ballpark, is one of the rare cases where the errors tell the story.

    This is a brutal defensive team. They don't get to many balls, and the ones they do, they boot with alarming frequency. I'm not a believer in stupid cliches like defense wins championships or pitching wins championships -- those sorts of hoary old sayings that grizzled old man recite while nodding their heads to each other in approval.

    But I do believe that much of our bad pitching is a function of the crappy defense. That's not to say that a gold glove defense would turn Ramon Ortiz into a Cy Young contender. But I do think that a better defense would shave half a run off his ERA. (something his FIP and xFIP -- two wonky stats that try to break out what effect the defense has on him by looking at just the factors the pitcher controls ( mostly strikeouts, homers, and walks) -- backs up)

    All of which adds up to lots of runs. Lots and lots of runs. The pitching is league-worst because the defense is league-worst. The Tigers, by contrast, have an excellent defense, which greatly helps their pitching. There's a synergy there. But for us, it's a parasitic relationship, not a symbiotic one.

    Now that we're both depressed, let's evaluate the defense. As he does every year, TangoTiger is inviting the fans to assess how the local 9 do with the glove. He asks fans of teams to consider the players they see most frequently to develop a 'wisdom of the crowds'-type evaluation. But for that to work properly, you need lots of results -- and he has very few from the Nats so far. You need to change that.

    I filled mine out a few days ago, and it's your turn. Take 5 minutes and visit his site.

    You don't need to evaluate every player or every category, but the more you do, the better.

    The categories might seem difficult or something you're unsure of, but think it through. We've seen Jose Vidro try to turn a double play, only to bail out avoiding the runner, putting himself in a position where he can't possibly make a throw to first: footwork gets a 1. We saw Jose Guillen, thanks to the rib and elbow problems, lob throws from the outfield that didn't come within 15 yards of the target: throwing accuracy gets a 1. We've seen Matt LeCroy, period.

    Don't look at stats. Just think of the impression this group of stiffs has made in your mind.

    Then, when you're done, look back and see how many 1s and 2s you've filled out and weep.

    But be sure to shed a tear for the pitchers. They're the real victims in all this.

    Wednesday, September 06, 2006

    What I Did On My Summer Vacation

    Missed me? I didn't miss you. I was having too much fun. In the scheme of things, thinking about a moribund baseball team led by incompetents playing out the string in the bland hopes of netting the 4th-best prospect in baseball instead of the 6th-best ain't nothing compared to sitting on the rocks watching the surf pound harder and harder as the tide nears its peak. So as exciting as the recent games were, to include Ramon Ortiz' where-the-hell-did-that-come-from start, they were about the furthest thing from my mind.

    Today was my first day in my office since that last post, which seems like it was about a month ago. In the meantime, I managed to dip my feet in Lake Tahoe and Penobscot Bay. All I needed was a sidetrip to Titicaca, and it would've been one wacky fortnight. At any rate, with the day game today and a mountain of unread email (not to mention another freakin' big project with a too-soon due date), I paid next to no attention to today's game either.

    All I knew is that when the clock struck 4, the game wasn't quite over, and if I didn't want to get stuck in the game-related exodus to Virginia, I'd have to scoot away from my desk a few ticks early. I got to my car right as Ryan Church walked, after having fallen behind 0-2, a good at bat, even if the pitcher's rolling 'em up there bocce-style. Good timing I guess. One strike to Vidro, 0-1. Then queue Charlie, as he ripped into cord-shredding overdrive, describing Vidro's game-winning hit rolling down the line.

    I can't say I felt the joy that I felt earlier this year. It's hard when this season, despite some highs, has been mostly full of lows and what-should've beens. But it did bring a smile to my face.

    And as I cruised ahead of the gameday exodus, hitting just a few bottlenecks thanks to the typically clueless Marlyand drivers, I was soon home. For better or worse.

  • Lots of crap has happened, most of which I'm not going to recap. That's what the other 14,534 Nats blogs are for. I suspect that I'll find a few words here or there to chip in on things as we go forward.

  • No pictures of just rocks this year, but if you're nice, I'll have some pictures of lighthouses and cormorants. Hello? Hello? Still there?

    This is neither, but I like it, even if it's busy. So there.