Wednesday, January 31, 2007

StanSpeak: Third In A Continuing Series

Since this blog is secretly underwritten by the NSA in an effort to covertly disseminate anti-jihad propaganda, I can get my hands on some pretty amazing technology. With a few clicks of a mousepad and with a few marks on some punch cards, I'm able to decode what it is that Stan Kasten is thinking as he communicates with the masses.

In reply to a dunderhead saying NATS IN 2007!11!11 or some other such nonsense.
I love your enthusiasm and optimism. You're just the kind of crazy nut who's going to buy tickets. Can I send you a brochure? The truth is none of us can know how far we will go, since predicting the future is technically impossible. I remind people that the last time I had a team predicted by some to finish last was in 1991...and of course that team went to the seventh game of the World Series (Screw you, Lonnie). That's not a prediction since I'm not stupid , but it's just a reminder that a season is full of many surprises, and a few breaks along the way can carry a team farther than you might imagine, such as to 63 wins.

On what the team's weaknesses are:
Of course, we all realize that we have big questions about starting pitching, ("Pitching, pitching, pitching,"they say) and so that's why we have spent as much time as we have trying to assemble as many young (As compared to Livan) arms and prospects as we can. I don't know how soon that element will really come together considering how crappy Jason Simontacchi and Joel Hanrahan are, but we are working hard on that every day with little success. Adding more quality without spending a dime more than we need to.

On seat selection and pricing at the new park:
[W]e'd also expect to announce much higher ticket prices , which haven't been determined yet, but rest assured we think enough of our fans to know that they'll be willing to pay a premium price. As most of you should know by now (because it's our only selling point for 2007), the priority for seat selection will go to our existing customers starting with our oldest ones first, allowing them to gobble up the 1,400 or so affordable seats.

On the future of MASN:
MASN is a very sucky new business and is growing right alongside the Nats, and is probably even more terrible than us. There almost certainly will be HD in the future , but not in 2007, or as long as we would have to pay extra for it. And whether or not the studios wind up being located in one place or another , you can count on a real and growing DC presence on the broadcasts and throught all of the other programming because, like you, I'm sick of looking at that Baltimore radio lady's horse face and listening to her fake like she knows what she's talking about.

On the parking situation at the new stadium:
Garages are there, but since you're just a common rube you'll never get to park in them, and planty of lots surrounding the general stadium area , by the time we move in , in 2008. But Metro is gonna be an even better alternative than it's been all these years at RFK since, to be candid, we don't really have enough parking or street congestion improvments. Half the distance to the new ballpark, which is actually a shame, since I've seen how out of shape most of you are. A little walking would do you good.

And for those of you who are curious , go to the new stadium renderings on our website and you'll notice that you can't really even see the garages (especially if you're seated in the LF bleachers) from the seating bowl, since we had the renderer erase them. Did you see the pretty trees?

On what the highlights of the new stadium are:
In addition to great sighlines (DAMN YOU, FREUD!) and all the best modern scoreboards , we will have so many more places to eat and spend money , much more variety to spend money, a number of other entertainment areas for kids and adults alike, which will probably cost money , bands, (I hope that local acts work for free) games to spend money on, etc. In general , just a whole lot of ways to enjoyably spend three or four hours worth of money addition to what we expect to have as an exciting young team that might be worth the money.

On what the season ticket base for 2007 looks like:
Truthfully , the number is fluid at this point in time, which means that I can't estimate it to the 10s digit, as it is for most teams this time of year...

Advertising and sales for new season tickets are starting right now as we enter our two busiest sales months of the year, even though the exact pair of 'best available' full season seats online has been unpurchased for months, I should have a much better handle on things by , say, mid-March and I'll be letting everyone know then in a manner that presents the franchise in the best possible light.

On an online rumor stating that John Patterson is actually injured:
BEWARE OF ONLINE RUMORS !!!! You can't trust anything you read on the internet, especially from those jerkwad bloggers. I haven't heard that one, but knowing his history, it wouldn't shock me. John is raring to go , and I fully expect him to be our opening day starter, and break down by May.

On a question by someone who doesn't understand the arbitration process about why they're paying John Patterson so little:
I thought we had a strict rule against agents logging on to this site, and we still need a rule banning agents from the game entirely. I don't know what you mean about his worth. Afterall, what is a man really worth? Human life is precious, and we can't fairly put a pricetag on it. That being said, We think he's going to be very important for us and compensated correctly, presuming we win our case. The way I know that is that a neutral arbitrator will decide the correct amount (which is ours, dammit) and that's what he'll get or we'll find another way to extract the $1 million from his ungrateful hide.

Got Any Brisket Questions?

Late to the party, but the official Team President of this blog (since Dan Topping) Stan Kasten is chatting with the masses at You'll have to log in and give up your first born to Selig's heirs to see it. I'll be back with some of the good stuff when it's over.

  • Does this link work without logging in? If so, click 'chat log'.

  • Wow. A new low. I haven't seen questions that insipid since the last "Small Wonder" convention I attended.

    I'm patiently feeding the answers into my computer as we speak. It'll take it a while to crunch all the data, but the StanSpeak Translator should be online in a few hours.

  • Tuesday, January 30, 2007

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Sue Me, Sue Me, What Can You Do Me? Edition

    As the kids say, the new park is on time and on budget. (depending on your definition of "on budget."

  • These quotes by Ryan Zimmerman about how excited he is to be batting behind Felipe Lopez and Cristian Guzman (with subtle commentary by Barry) demonstrate again that listening to players talk isn't worth the effort 99% of the time.

  • Leave it to children to cut to the heart of the matter. From one of the caravan stops: "Will this be worth anything one day?" the kid asked. "Like if you get into the Hall of Fame?"

  • Manny Acta continues to demonstrate that patience is a virtue, plus more indications that LF is Church's job to lose. Wither Snelling?

  • Thom Loverro lobbed more stink balloons at the caravan.

  • Jacobson pins down Mike O'Connor. We re-confirm that he was injured long before he let on, and that he's unlikely to crack the rotation til Memorial Day (assuming he doesn't get smacked around in Triple-A)

  • Yet another reason for soccer fans to hate baseball.

  • The Mariners had a fanfest, and the natives were restless. There were lots of tough questions about the big trade. Apparently, they've isolated the problem with Vidro as his legs (oh, really?), and they're confident they can fix it. Good luck!

  • What do the Colts have in common with the Nats?

  • WaPo's Style Invitational recently (OK, it was two months ago; sue me) asked for its readers to transport Comic Strip characters to different eras and situations. One of the honorable mentions:
    "Peanuts": The Washington Nationals hire Charlie Brown, 65, as general manager, stating: "He's worked with teams composed of nothing more than a bunch of no-talent kids, a dog and a whining girl -- which makes him perfect for us."


    --Caps Nut looks at the funny player selections for the Washington Nationals 2007 calendar. As he notes, at least they had the good sense not to put FRobby on the cover.
    --A rigorous statistical analysis proves that the Nats pitchers suck. (How does one rigorously analyze the unknown; I can't name any sure bets for the pitching staff!)
    --Distinguished Senators is glad that Cap'n Leatherpants has thick skin.
    --Federal Baseball says that Joel Hanrahan (one of the Gang of 13) is going to have a hard time succeeding because of poor control.
    --NFA interviews the Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations for the Harrisburg Senators. He hasn't yet noticed any major changes in how the team is being run day-to-day.
    --OMG looks into what objectivity means and how perceptions of such come about.
    --Banks takes a few hacks at the Boz column from last week that I liked so much.
    --Eucalyptus found an even more objectionable line than Uncle Ted's own in the recent coverage of his talk at TW.
    --What's more fun than sportswriters in hard hats? (Comment three wins the award for most obscure, but appropriate, snark)
    --Steinberg shows what happens when you take a good and insightful reporter who doesn't take things too seriously and give them a blog. His account of a construction worker meeting Mike O'Connor wouldn't ever make the print paper, but it's something worth reading.

  • And finally... Nats 320 gets an audience with his excellency, Master James Q. Bowden. Part 1; Part 2 -- I like the anecdote in the comments to the first part from Tom about Manny Acta and the hecklers. I wish SBF had taken a picture of the magical white board. For those of you who've been around since the beginning, you'll recall that they have amazing powers of prognostication.

    I'll echo the comment I made there, too. Bowden defends the decision to not offer arbitration to Ramon Ortiz. At the time they declined, I though it was foolish and that their $7 millionish figure was crazy. Given how well they did with the other arbitration cases, it's safe to give them the benefit of the doubt on that one!

  • Monday, January 29, 2007

    Where Have We Heard This Before?

    The official online-only beat writer of this here blog, Bill Ladson, gives us an update of presumptive ace, John Patterson:
    "My arm feels great," said Patterson, who will turn 29 this week. "I've haven't [SIC] had any issues with my arm at all. It's really exciting to know that I got it behind me. The strength in my arm feels great. It's like it's never happened."

    Phew! I'm glad that's all settled.

    What's that? Oh, I should? Google, you say? Well, ok.

  • "It's just one little thing. My arm feels great. I still have life on my fastball." -- Gary Majewski.

  • "My arm feels great right now." -- Brian Schneider

  • "I’ve been feeling good and my arm feels great" -- John Patterson!!?!!

  • "My arm feels great" -- Francisco Liriano (Related story)

  • Friday, January 26, 2007

    The Plan From The Outside

    Tom Boswell has a column in today's Post that sounds like it could be written by me. (If I had any sort of writing talent, that is) He thinks the pitching staff is an embarrassment and that it doesn't reflect well on the ownership. It's certainly an interesting column and worth the 2 minutes it'd take to read it. (I especially like his line about the umpires hoping for a mercy rule!)

    The column got posted on Primer and there's an interesting discussion (basically me reacting to other people's posts). I'm linking because it's interesting to see how others view the team, but also for the strange novelty of me defending the plan and Jim Bowden.

    Scrubbed Mission

    The Beltway Boys has an interview with beat writer Bill Ladson. When you ignore his thin-skinned comments and paranoia, there's actually some interesting stuff in there. He covered the LA Kings!?

    But, as is usually the case when it comes to evaluating players, Bill is off base. Rather than rehashing it, I'll point to a few of those other evil, malevolant, overly personal, Satan-worshiping bloggers.

    Banks takes on Ladson's endorsement of Nook -- an argument I made a few days ago. And OMG takes on the tripe about "heart" being the most important thing in baseball.

    I'm reminded of one of Bill James' essay about Reggie Jackson -- a player, incidentally, that I'm pretty sure that Ladson has spoken approvingly of. James took issue with Reggie's continued assertions that his success was because of his strong character and his will, instead of his natural God-given talents. For sure, some players let those things to to waste, and certainly some border-line talents can work their asses off to improve. But in the end, who succeeds and who fails isn't so much a question of character; it's a question of talent.

    For all I know, Jason Bergmann could be the nicest guy on the face of the earth and the kind of player who shows up three hours early and leaves three hours late. But he just doesn't have the talent to be a star on the Major League level. No amount of talent is going to give his fastball the hop, or him the control he needs with his breaking pitches.

    Conversely, take Ryan Church. I'm not in the clubhouse, so all I have to go by is the reports from Ladson and others. From those, we can divine that Church probably isn't the hardest worker, or at least he's not the most intense player out there (A charge similarly thrown at a number of California players -- Jim Edmonds comes to mind.) What I'm left with, though, is a statistical record of actual results that show that Church is a decent major league outfielder. Sure, if he had more 'heart', if he had the 'fire in the belly' he might be able to better harness his talents and turn into Jim Edmonds. But that doesn't negate the value that he provides. It's been a repeated refrain about this team's management, extending to players beyond just Church, but they need to focus on what they have, and not what they WISH they had if only there was more heart.

    Character is important. But so are the numbers.

    Distinguished Senators has a look at the interview from a different perspective that probably won't interest 89% of you, and won't fully make sense to even more than that.

    Wednesday, January 24, 2007

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Little Birdies Say Cheep Edition

    The WaPo follows up on yesterday's comments by Uncle Teddy, demonizing those crazy players and their wacky salaries, which they obtain by using their vile Satanic powers to manipulate poor, unsuspecting owners.

    Contrast this statment: Still, team officials acknowledge that they must persuade fans to share their view.

    "People will get tired of hearing about 'The Plan,' but it's the truth," Mark Lerner, Ted's son and one of the club's principal owners, said in an interview.

    With this: Mark Lerner said that while he didn't believe it made sense for the Nationals to invest heavily in a free agent market that he called "shocking," the club plans on raising payroll beginning with the 2008 season.

    And this: Mark Lerner said his father is so involved in club business that he "checks every expense sheet, because that's how you find out where mistakes are being made."

    I was pleased to see this: But team officials added that they don't intend to take "a dime out of the team for at least 10 years," Kasten said

    It's wonderful that Mssrs Kasten, Lerner, Lerner, Cohen, Tanenbaum, and every other of the 14,000 or so other Lerners that appear to be coughemployedcough by the team are doing it for minimal compensation.

    How many Lerners are there? So many that Uncle Teddy can't even keep straight which one is which. (Hopefully that's not the same eagle eye he's using to studiously scan the balance sheets)

  • Alex Escobar signed a 1-year contract for $530K. The Nats offered $500. He wanted $590. Only Patterson, Cordero and Kearns are left on the arbitration pile.

    The amazing thing about Escobar is that it only took him 125 Major League Games to become arbitration eligible. (For injuries incurred while on the MLB roster, service time continues to accrue)

    What's even more remarkable is that Chris Snelling, whom the Nats settled with last week, only took 59 games.

  • In an ironic twist, Frank Robinson has been hired by ESPN to take Jim Bowden's old Cold Pizza job. He'll report on most ESPN shows, especially about Jackie Robinson -- this is the 60th Anniversary year.

    Knowing the four letter's proclivity towards synergy, expect Mr. Frank to pop up on next week's Desperate Housewives as the cranky old neighbor who waters his driveway in his slippers and yells at passing children.

  • The official online-only Nationals beat writer of Capitol Punishment has a look at the competition in left. It's a Casto/Snelling/Church/Escobar fourway o' doom.

    This makes me hate Nook Logan even more.

  • The story of the day comes from The Sports Bog. There are any number of ways one could go with this, especially in light of the league-low salary they're paying Manny Acta. But when your manager is reduced to bargaining for a second-hand jacket in a public appearance at a grocery store? (Do you suppose that Acta's in charge of clipping all the coupons from the Sunday Paper?)

  • Shocking news out of S. Capitol Street -- the stadium is having more cost overruns. Who could've seen that one coming? (Expect a "Stay The Course, Stan" jpg at BPG any time now)

  • The late and lamented Distinguished Senators returned from his dormancy last week. He's back again this week, pointing out that Tony Womack might be Manny Acta's first test.

  • Harper at OMG takes a crack at predicting the team's record using projections for the offense, and some best guesses with the pitching.

  • MissChatter learns something about the best laid plans of Nats and men.

  • Nats 320 speaks with Chuck Slowes and the nattily attired Dave Jageler, getting them to badmouth Tony Armas and Ramon Ortiz!

  • Today's "Ummmm.... yeah" post of the day is brought to you by this guy.

  • Tuesday, January 23, 2007

    Who Said It?

    "What concerns us the most at the moment is the free-agency signings that have been occurring the last 90 days and could take baseball out of control."


    No! Nook of the North

    Barry Svrluga has some good news in today's Post: Manny Acta is considering someone else, besides Cristian Guzman, for the #2 hole. Unfortunately, it's Nook Logan. Despite the presence of a superior offensive talent on the roster, and last year's hubbub over whether there was a CF competition or not, Acta is insistent that CF is Logan's job to lose: "He's going to spring training as our center fielder. He's going to be his own competition there, and that's it."

    The case for Logan rests entirely on his defense. It's something that the Nationals were disappointing at last year, and Acta is right to want to improve it. "We need to play better defense, and we will play better defense," Acta said. "Nook is a big part of that. That's a premium position. You have to cover a lot of ground in center, especially when you play at RFK."

    Svrluga builds on that further, appealing to authority with nameless "baseball men": "Baseball men think there is more to it than the spectacular. Before Logan was acquired, Nationals pitchers allowed an average of 9.6 hits per nine innings. After the trade they gave up 8.96 per outing."

    Ooooh! Baseball Men have conclusively proved that Logan saves a hit per game!11!1 That's incredible!11!

    This is why I hate stats. Although the numbers there are true, it's completely misleading. It's a disservice to the reader to cite those numbers, because it's leaving a false impression.

    Logan didn't take over until September. Was there anything different in September? Well, we had Bernie Castro taking over for a hobbled Vidro. We had an experienced Soriano instead of the raw novice early in the season. We had Austin Kearns for most of the month, instead of an injured Jose Guillen. We had Felipe Lopez who had slightly better range than Clayton, even as he committed more errors (which don't count for hits!)

    So, yeah. Logan saved all those runs all by himself.

    It's example #43,976 of why nameless "baseball men" are usually the ones with their head furthest up their asses. I wonder if these same nameless "baseball men" are the same ones that were confident that Preston Wilson was a good defender?

    That being said, Logan IS a good defensive center fielder. Defensive metrics remain the Holy Grail of statheads, but there's some good work being done. USS Mariner helpfully provides an overview of what's out there. There is, though, a general consensus that the best center fielders will save about 20-30 runs over the very worst -- here's one methodology that shows that Ken Griffey stinks. If we assume that Logan is among the best, then he's saving about 15 runs per year over an average CFer. And if you assume that Ryan Church is below average, which the team seems to be doing, then Logan is worth 20-25 runs more than the Nats' best alternative.

    Manny Acta believes in his potential offense, too: "I think he can develop into a top-of-the-order guy," Acta said.

    And if you look at last year's stats, there's a little bit of promise. He did bat .300/ .337/ .389, which is quite good for a solid defensive CFer. But he did that in just 90 ABs, and it raised his career totals to a thoroughly mediocre .270/ .319/ .347.

    If you look at the stats a little more closely, though, there are some warning signs. His isolated numbers (OBP - Average, and SLG - average) are quite low. He doesn't walk at all, and he doesn't hit for any power, slapping singles ala Jamey Carroll. He doesn't control the strike zone at all, combining that lack of walks with a surprisingly high number of Ks (nearly 1/4 of his ABs).

    He did bunt quite well, and was successful on 9 of his 13 attempts -- a rate of success much higher than any other year. Was that improved skill, or a fluke in a small sample? Despite his speed, he only had 2 infield hits -- a sign that he's not really hitting the ball well.

    But there's one large warning flag with Logan's acceptable performance from last year. He had an ungodly high BABIP (batting average on balls in play). Without getting too deep into the weeds, it simply measures what happens when the player makes contact and keeps the ball in the park. Some statheads ascribe large fluctuations in this to luck. I don't know enough about it one way or another, but his BABIP of .377 last year was roughly 50 points higher than his career average. To put that into perspective, everyone went gaga over Endy Chavez' year last year, and his BABIP was 'only' .341.

    If Logan can repeat his high BABIP, the Nats have a player. But if he doesn't -- if he reverts to his career totals -- he'll have fewer singles. And if he has fewer singles, he doesn't walk or hit with enough power to really be useful. If he's batting .270, his OBP and SLG are going to both be in the low .300s. That's borderline Guzman territory. And we've already got a Guzman in the lineup!

    Nook Logan is a career .261/ .325/ .334 hitter. Scary, huh? Worse, those are his minor league stats!

    What it comes down to is that unless Logan has dramatically changed his approach at the plate (and I suppose that it's possible), then he's going to be closer to his career numbers than to 2006's seemingly fluky performance, and if that's the case, he's not an acceptable starting CFer.

    There are a lot of "ifs" with Logan. If he can get some more patience. If he can bunt for some hits. If he can leg out some doubles. If he can get on base.

    Doesn't this sound like last spring training with Brandon Watson?

    And doesn't this sound like the spring training before that with Endy Chavez?

    How did that work out? Three weeks of flailing before they turned to Marlon Byrd and Ryan Church. Fool me once, something something something... But fool me three times? Ye gods.

    Monday, January 22, 2007

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Lots Of Good Stuff Edition

    Felipe Lopez and the Nats split the difference of their arbitration requests, giving FLop a 1-year, $3.9 million contract.

    Of the 6 arb-eligibles, Lopez and Snelling have signed. Cordero, Patterson, Kearns and Escobar remain.

  • Mike O'Connor, after having elbow surgery, is not going to be ready for spring training and is likely to start the season on the DL.

    O'Connor tried to pitch though the elbow problems last year. If you look at his game log, you can pretty much see the day he hurt it.

  • The Minnesota Twins signed Ramon Ortiz to a $3.1 million contract. He's obviously not worth the money, but it's an especially strange move for a Twins staff that has upper-level pitching that's ready for the majors that he's blocking. As Twins Uber-Blogger Aaron Gleeman points out, it's one thing to develop minor league talent; it's another thing to actually have the guts to give them a shot.

  • Brian Lawrence signed with the Rockies where their poor fans will soon learn that Colorado is probably not the best place for a pitcher who had middling stuff even before all the arm problems.

  • Tomo Ohka ruled out the Pirates today [vice versa?], leaving the Blue Jays, Mets and Nats [!?] as his remaining suitors. We haven't heard anything about the Nats interest since that initial flurry (and before the Jerome Williams signing). Is this legit interest still, or is this the agent trying to manipulate the bidding process?

    Is there a role for Ohka on the team? I guess. With him, if he's healthy, the Nats staff wouldn't be completely terrible: Patterson, Ohka, Redding, Hill, Williams. That's not a division winner, but that's a staff that could be league average -- light year's better than the crap from last year.

    But Ohka's health is a huge concern. He had rotator cuff problems last year, and with free agency on the horizon, he chose not to go under the knife, preferring rest and rehab to strengthen the shoulder. It's possible that it would work, but a quick look at Ohka's game log after his return shows that he was toast: Over his last 12 starts, he pitched to a 5.71 ERA with 4.4 K/9 (dreadful!).

    There are plenty of alarms, bells, whistles, fireworks and neon lights around his name. But that, of course, is why he's only going to get a one-year deal.

  • Any chance of Ryan Church ending up in Wrigley seem about gone, as the Cubs seem content with giving Alfonso Soriano first crack at center.

  • So how do you get the DC Council to approve $36 million in funding for the godawful above-ground garages? Easy! You slip it through during a transition so it gets approved automatically.


  • Brian from Nationals Farm Authority meets his white whale, getting an interview with the Nats scouting director, Dana Brown. Brown's a sharp guy who certainly knows how to stay on message. I was glad to see some specifics on the manpower improvements to the scouting department. Brown says that the Nats are up to 15 area scouts who cover certain regions of the country, which is roughly what the typical team has. They've also doubled the number of cross-checkers (basically a more senior second set of eyes) to four.

    NFA also notes that the Nats have released a few minor league stiffs. The name that'll seem most familiar is Rhys Taylor, one of the two players the Nats got for 72 hours of Mike Stanton.

  • Basil at Teh Fed gets around to crunching numbers that I've been noodling around in my head. Using Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projects (I referenced them last week in terms of its similar batters) and a lineup simulator, he tries to see which CF/LF combo would yield the best results for the Nats. So how many fewer runs would a lineup with Kory Casto and Nook Logan score than a lineup with Ryan Church and Chris Snelling? You'll have to check out Basil's results yourself.

  • Just A Nats Fan got the rundown of the recent Dominican Republic trip for Fredericksburg Daily Lance-Star Free Bugle writer, Todd Jacobson, and has some interesting pictures. The contrast between Smiley Gonzalez' shack and Jose Rijo's mansion's gazebo is pretty striking.

  • Not to be outdone with the Jacobson love, Nats 320 scored a fairly candid interview with Jacobson. (Parts 1 2 3 4)

    There's some interesting stuff buried in there, including an interesting description of Damian Jackson and how he was to deal with, his belief that Vidro was looking forward to a trade, an insider's look at Kasten, his feelings on Ryan Church and the team's treatment of him, and lots of other stuff!

  • Nationals Enquirer continues their series of exclusive looks at some of the other pitchers the Nats have signed.

  • The Sports Bog is all over Manny Acta, Nook Logan and the National's Winter Caravan. Wherein you learn that:

    --Screech likes to grind on children.
    --Dave Jageler doesn't understand verbal irony: By the way, Jageler just introduced "one of the most exciting players in baseball," and it turned out to be Nook Logan. Go figure.
    --Nook Logan likes the Cowboys and the Tarheels. (Left unsaid: He stinks)
    --Manny Acta is good with kids (insert your own rotation joke)
    --Manny Acta probably secretly thinks that the Lerners are Teh Cheep11!1!

  • And now for something completely different...

    Ever wondered how the Washington Nationals and the new stadium could you help you come to terms with the morality or the immorality of abortion? Yeah?! Then it's your lucky day!

  • Sunday, January 21, 2007

    Reconnaisance Mission

    I recently traded scouting reports with our good friends at the Phillies blog, Beerleaguer. Here's my blah rundown of our offseason -- pitching, pitching, pitching!

    And here's Jason's account of the Phillies.

    Bullpen woes could hinder high-motor Phillies

    Jason Weitzel / Beerleaguer

    What started as a mission to land Alfonso Soriano and trade Pat Burrell ended with the acquisition of a couple of starting pitchers, positional reinforcements and a beleaguered slugger back for another round.

    With less than a month until spring training, the 2007 Phillies forecast into a sound team, led by reigning National League MVP Ryan Howard, all-star Chase Utley and star shortstop Jimmy Rollins, the nucleus for what writers are calling a “high-motor” changing of the guard. Nevertheless, there are questions, including serious concerns about the bullpen.

    Starting pitching: The Phillies have three pitchers in Freddy Garcia, Brett Myers and Cole Hamels, all at different stages of their career, and one could make a reasonable case for all of them as the team’s No. 1 starter. Knowing Charlie Manuel’s tendencies, Garcia, acquired from the White Sox for Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez, holds the inside track after a 17-win season. At 26, Myers has shown flashes of greatness, but gets in his own way. His curveball may be the best pitch in the organization and he added a splitter late in the season. Some see a slow-but-steady career rise, but others doubt his mental makeup. His pending arbitration could get hairy. At 23, Hamels has the poise of a seasoned vet to compliment his other gifts. If he can avoid the injury bug and master his breaking ball, the sky’s the limit. Not to jinx him, but fans are secretly thinking he’s the one. If Myers’ curve isn’t the best pitch in the organization, Hamels’ changeup is. Moyer, the 44-year-old left-hander, re-upped for two seasons and brings much-needed experience to the staff. The crafty vet was a savvy late-season addition and is considered a good guy to have around the young players like Hamels. The fifth starter is less certain, with Eaton as the likely choice. signed a three-year, $24 million deal in November, but has missed significant time with an ailing finger. Jon Lieber is due to make $7.5 million this season and indications are the Phillies want to move him for bullpen help. At this late stage, it’s likely Lieber will be in Clearwater to audition for scouts before any deal is made, or he could stick around as insurance. Health is the primary concern of an otherwise solid rotation.

    Bullpen: Nobody seems to know the status of Tom Gordon’s shoulder, but if last season is any indication, the 39-year-old is holding on by a thread. An all-star season in the first half quickly dissolved after the break. When he returned from the shelf, his curve had no bite and he wasn’t dependable in tight spots. They also have no good answer for the setup role. Geoff Geary had a surprising year, showed excellent command and kept the ball down, but doesn’t have the stuff most setup men posses. Ryan Madson does, but after a back-and-forth season, nobody knows where he’s at and his command was the worst of his career. Matt Smith, acquired from the Yankees in the Bobby Abreu deal, defaults as the top lefthander. Pending a physical, Antonio Alfonseca is in the mix, along with a cast of inexperienced hopefuls. Right now, this is the worst bullpen in the division.

    Infield: Wes Helms was brought in to erase several seasons of offensive futility at third base, but the problem is he’s never held a regular job there because of his glove. Flyweight hitter Abraham Nunez will revert back to futility infielder. Rollins, Utley and Howard need no further mention, but contract-wise, Utley is looking at about a $5 million raise, although the Phillies may try to hammer out a long-term deal.

    Outfield: Bodies don’t equal depth for the Phillies outfield. They’ll find out this season whether Shane Victorino can handle a full-time role, but some feel his small size, wild swing and lack of power may translate better as a fourth outfielder. Burrell was hounded by slow healing foot problems and will look to get fickle fans off his back. It’s important to note he ended last season as a part-time player, and seemed to respond well with extra days off. He is still considered Howard’s primary lineup protection, a hot topic of debate this offseason. Aaron Rowand returns to center field and is in his walk year. Jayson Werth, the former first-round pick of Toronto, was an intriguing pick-up and could pick up at bats if his wrist is ready. Beyond that, former Met Karim Garcia, slashing rookie Michael Bourn, switch-hitting speedster Chris Roberson and multi-purpose reservist Greg Dobbs will battle for the final spots.

    Catching: The Phillies signed Rod Barajas away from Texas, but second-year man Carlos Ruiz is the player to watch. Expect a fairly even split between the two, with Ruiz emerging late when he gains experience. Following a Cinderella season of unexpected clutch hitting, 34-year-old Chris Coste will get a look as their primary pinch hitter.

    Expectations: By now, fans are conditioned for the same result year after year, where the Phillies hover close to the Wild Card but ultimately fall short. They desperately need a strong start following two consecutive seasons of April futility if they are to make believers out of anybody. Once again, it could all boil down to pitching.

    Depth Chart:

    C: Rod Barajas, Carlos Ruiz, Chris Coste
    1B: Ryan Howard
    2B: Chase Utley
    SS: Jimmy Rollins

    3B: Wes Helms

    Bench INF: Abraham Nunez, Greg Dobbs, Chris Coste
    LF: Pat Burrell
    CF: Aaron Rowand
    RF: Shane Victorino

    Bench OF: Jayson Werth, Chris Roberson, Karim Garcia, Michael Bourn, Greg Dobbs

    SP: Freddy Garcia, Brett Myers, Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton, Jon Lieber
    Cl: Tom Gordon
    RP: Geoff Geary, Ryan Madson, Matt Smith, Antonio Alfonseca

    Pitchers to watch in spring: Fabio Castro, Clay Condrey, Eude Brito, Brian Sanches, Jim Ed Warden (Rule 5), Alfredo Simon (Rule 5), Kane Davis, Joe Bisenius, Zach Segovia, J.A. Happ


    I haven't looked at things too closely, but this seems like it's going to be an even tougher division than the last few years. The Mets took a step back in their rotation. The Phillies have a powerful offense and improved pitching, but Jason has no confidence in their pen. And the Braves have really strengthened the Achilles heel that was their pen last year. I could see any of those three taking the division.

    Cinco Preguntas

    Joining the rest of Western civilization, I've traded questions and answers with the good folks at Curly W. My curmudgeonly replies to their questions should pop up on their site sometime today. [Hey, look at that! They've magically appeared on his site. (It took me a long time to find a picture that looked sufficiently grumpy)] In the meantime, here're Brandon's answers to my mediocre questions.

    1: What makes a baseball blog good?

    For me, the best baseball blogs are the ones where I can feel the writer's enthusiasm jumping out of the screen at me. I love writing that makes me feel something. I think that blogs are the ultimate in personal expression; only a blogger's passion and personal values constrain the content. I enjoy reading the beat writers' accounts of games, but I've never read a piece by any of them and really felt what it must have been like to be there and experience it. I love reading Screech's Best Friend's posts (for example) because when he uses all caps YOU GET PUMPED UP WITH HIM! I love MissChatter's firsthand accounts of Nats events because you know she's psyched to be there. Anything that makes me smile, laugh or think "hell yeah!" is a great blog.

    2: Who is your least favorite Nat, and why?

    This is a tough one. We Nats fans have been blessed so far to not have anyone eminently hateable on the team. I'm not talking about unpopular players like Guzman, I'm talking about villains like Rafael Palmeiro or Barry Bonds. I guess my least favorite current Nat would have to be Tony Womack, only because of what his signing means about the desperation of this club at this moment in its history.

    3: With the prospect of facing regular losses, why'd you decide to spring for season tickets this year?

    Because there are very few things in this world I love more than an outing to RFK. Sure, I want the team wins and I hate watching them lose, but I can honestly say that my life has been so enriched by having this team here for the past few years. I've shared so many awesome moments at the park with my friends and family, and even by myself. I went to a game last year with my Dad and it was probably the first baseball game I've attended with him in fifteen or twenty years. I've had a blast tailgating before and after games with old friends and new. I can vividly remember these moments I've spent with the people that matter most to me, but I can't remember if the Nats won or lost.

    Oh, that and I wanted to get priority for the new stadium.

    4: What qualities do you look for in a good GM, and which of those does Bowden have?

    Bowden is such a controversial figure, but there is no question that he is nothing if not tenacious. The dude will never give up and he'll never take no for an answer. That kind of resolve is a very powerful force if it's aligned with the greater interests of the team. Bowden goes astray when he starts shining that laser on himself, as he did last winter when things were in limbo. Even after two and a half years it's still hard to comprehensively evaluate his performance with the Nats because the equation has changed so much.

    5: If Jim Bowden weren't involved in professional sports, what would he be doing? Would you still be blogging, if you couldn't write about baseball or football?

    If Jim Bowden weren't involved in professional sports I think he'd make a heck of a lobbyist or salesman. After all, he got Krivsky to take Tex! (snicker)

    I don't know if I'd still be blogging if I couldn't write about baseball or football. I tried to start a general-purpose blog of snarky commentary on current events back in early 2004, but I got bored with myself and it died.

    Super-Duper Bonus Question: Nook Logan, Alex Escobar, Chris Snelling, Mike Restovich and Ryan Church all climb into a steel cage. Who wins? Would your answer be different if we gave Church a metal folding chair?

    I think Church wins even without the folding chair. He's got to have a belly full of anger inside him. Fate has just not been kind to him for some unexplained reason. I'd love to see the guy get a shot here but at this point I'm rooting for him to get traded so he can hopefully get a fair shake somewhere else.

    Friday, January 19, 2007

    I Don't Get It

    The Nats made official a slew of moves that've been hinted around for months, while adding some new names to the list of sundry scrubs they've signed to minor league contracts. Yesterday's stroke-inducing Tony Wo [Damn, I can't even type it without that little vein in my temple bulging out] was just one of 12.

    --Jesus Colome is a hard-throwing right-handed reliever who was the Oakland "Closer of the Future" back in the 1880s. They traded him to Tampa Bay where, like all people not named Crawford, he stunk. He's been respectable in the minors, but not nearly the dominant pitcher that Chuck LaMar thought he'd be. He could be a darkhorse this year, filling the valuable Jason Bergmann get-shelled-for-30-innings role.

    --Anastacio Martinez pitched for New Orleans last year, striking out a ton of batters. Despite the near daily shuffling of players from minors to majors, he never got his chance. Presumably, he's back to be Columbus' fourth starter.

    --Luis Martinez doesn't seem to have pitched last year, as TBC only has 2005 Japanese League stats. He pitched a few years in the minors, and from his stat line, he looks like he throws decently hard, but has no control over his pitches. IOW, he's exactly like 42,000 other minor leaguers.

    --Arnie Munoz is great if you're looking for a double-A pitcher. Triple-A? Not so much.

    --George Lombard, the mediocre former Braves "prospect", returns to delight the fans of Columbus with his once-decent speed. Lombard was passable for NO last year, but absolutely terrible in his brief shot with the Nats. Given how deep ("deep"?) we are at reasonably competent OFers, he won't have much of a chance of making it back up this year.

    --OFer Abraham Nunez (no, not that one, the one you haven't heard of) is likely a Mike Rizzo selection because of his AZ pedigree. ("pedigree"?) Low average, low power, excessive strikeouts? What more could you want in a corner outfielder?

    --Melvin Dorta, a favorite of certain part-time writers of the NFA blog, gets the chance to thrill the minors with his slap-hitting versatility. Dorta, which is Spanish for "McEwing", can do it all. (Provided you don't need power or on-base ability)

    --D'Angelo "Beverly" Jimenez, former Yankee uber-prospect, never developed, in part, because of a severe car accident which broke his neck and nearly killed him. He has a reputation as a bad clubhouse guy, and a poor defensive player (Jose Guillen meets Jose Vidro?) He's never put it together with the bat in the majors, although his career line would be acceptable as a backup. He probably can't handle short anymore, but could be viable at second and third. He's a darkhorse for the backup roster slot. (NO WOMA [dammit, I still can't type that out!]

    (I forgot to mention the best part of Jimenez. Check out his pitching line. Maybe he could start?)

    --We've talked about the ancient mediocrity that is Jose Macias before. That he's well over 30, hasn't played in the majors in 2 years, and hasn't had a decent season with the bat since Double-A in 1998, are just a few of the many reasons why this is a terrible idea. Since Acta has experience with him, and has praised him, I suspect it was his doing. If so, that's another strike on Acta (A total of three, if you include his public proclamations for Logan in center, and Guzman batting second)

    --I remember Jorge Toca with the Mets, a big lumbering first baseman who hit like Pee Wee Reese's vertigo-riddled cousin. I guess Harrisburg needs a bat?

    --The 'intriguing' name on the list is Travis Lee, failed prospect with a sweet glove. While I can understand wanting to have a backup plan if Nick isn't healthy, and if Larry Broadway flames out. But, is Travis Lee part of "The PLAN!"?

    If Larry Broadway flames out, let him flame out. Give him 100 or so ABs at the beginning of the year to show it. With Lee looming on deck, it puts extra (and unnecessary) pressure on Broadway (How do you think he felt, reading that today? They're basically admitting they think there's a chance he can fail). If Broadway isn't hitting after 30 ABs, don't you think the odds are pretty good that he's going to get the Watson/Chavez treatment, an immediate demotion to the minors? (That's not to say that neither Watson nor Chavez deserved it)

    But we're at a different point. Broadway's old for a prospect. He's really not much of a prospect, but there's really not much left for him to do in the minors. If there's an opening in the majors, it should be his chance, not some 30-year old who, despite the great glove, has already proved that he isn't capable of hitting like a major leaguer. (He's worse than Doug Mientkiewicz with the bat!)

    If Broadway's hitting .050/ .100/ .075 after 50 ABs, that's fine. The team knows they're not going anywhere (hence the complete lack of interest in non-scrub pitchers), so why are they bringing in veterans at a position where it could block one of their few major-league ready prospects. (Insert your own scare quotes where you think appropriate.)

    It's a different situation than with the pitching staff, because there aren't that many MLB-ready arms, and certainly none that carry a 'prospect' label, just a bunch of suspects. If Larry Broadway sucks eggs for 100 ABs, he's not going to blow his arm out in the process.

    I know the team is starting to emphasize defense. That's a good thing, and the terrible play of our fielders last year was a constant drumbeat of mine last year. But emphasizing a first-base glove over development or any sort of offense? Can't you just see Brett Myers' eyes lighting up at the prospects of a lineup with Guzman, Logan, Lee, Schneider and Casto?

    If Broadway can't cut it, give it to Fick. Give Snelling or Church a first baseman's mitt. Call up Joe Thurston or somebody from Triple-A. First base is easy to fill.

    I dunno. I just don't get this one at all.

  • To make room for the officially signed Jerome Williams, they outrighted Tony Blanco to the minors. (Outrighting passes a player through waivers, exposing him to all other teams to claim. If cleared, which he did, he's taken off the 40-man roster)

  • Thursday, January 18, 2007

    The Plan With Kearns

    Austin Kearns is one of the Nats up for arbitration. This is his second go at it, and he'll be a free agent after the 2008 season. Does it make sense to lock him up? We need to figure out what kind of player he is first.

    Kearns was Jim Bowden's first-round pick (7th overall selection) in the 1998 draft out of a high school in Lexington, KY. Kearns signed quickly (a hallmark of Bodes' selections?) and reported to beautiful Billings, MT. (minor league stats)

    He hit well for an 18-year old swinging his first wooden bat and earned a promotion to A-ball the next year. He hit for a ton of power, but the average dropped to .258 and the Ks piled up. He repeated in 2000 and destroyed the league, cranking out 68 extra-base hits and a .305 average. 2001 was a struggle. A promotion to double-A and a torn thumb ligament (the first of many nicks) kept him out of a majority of his team's games.

    That spring, Kearns was set to start the year in AAA. They sent him to double-A instead, and he sulked, jumping camp for a day after he found out the news. He relented, went to double-A, smacked the crap out of the ball, and got the promotion he wanted -- to the majors!

    As a 22-year old in the majors, he had the kind of season that was expected of a first-round pick, hitting a terrific .315/ .407/ .500, and finishing 3rd in the rookie of the year balloting (just behind Brad Wilkerson). He likely would have won the award, but he strained his left hamstring in August, forcing him to finish the rest of the season on the DL.

    The next few years, he didn't live up to that potential. Injuries really hampered his performance, and prevented him from getting into any sort of groove.

    2003: Elbow surgery to remove bone chips, bruised rotator cuff when Ray King fell on him, bruised quad after crashing into the wall for a catch, then season-ending surgery on that rotator cuff, labrum and assorted other shoulder parts.

    2004: Recovery from that shoulder surgery, fractured left forearm after a HBP, an open sore on his right thumb (which caused him to miss a ton of time!?), surgery on that thumb (keeping him out two months), and pink eye

    2005: No injuries in the first part of the year, but Wily Mo Pena and Ryan Freel stole his PT and the Reds optioned him to the minors (also in part, because they thought he was getting lazy and out of shape), and a sore right hamstring.

    He finally stayed healthy in '06, at least until his collision with Nick Johnson. Not so coincidentally, he had his first really good season since his rookie year, finishing with a decent .264/ .363/ .467 line, and playing in a career-high 150 games.

    So what are we left with? Over his 5 seasons, he's hit a respectable .265/ .361/ .463 line, but that's in only 100 games per season because of those injuries. Over 162 games, he's averaging 25 homers, 33 doubles and a decent 94 RBI. Just as with Nick Johnson, when healthy, he's a decent player.

    Kearns' strengths are easy to see. He's got a strong, powerful bat, and a pretty good batting eye (78 BB/162 games). He's a terrific defender. Despite his size, he gets a good jump on the ball, accelerating quickly. I was impressed at how adept he was at cutting balls off before they rolled into the gaps, saving a number of extra-base hits. He's been a decent performer in center throughout his career, but is one of the 2 or 4 best defensive RFers in the game. (One metric calls him one of the best of the last 20 years, and shows that he's about 7-10 runs above average each year)

    The weaknesses, though, are just as easy to see. Despite the good eye, he's a fairly undisciplined hitter, striking out a ton, especially for the mid-level power numbers he puts up. And the injuries. Oh, the injuries.

    The above-average offense and excellent defense make him a pretty valuable player. He's not Vlad Guerrero, but with the defense added into the equation, he's probably not as far away as you'd think. To use one stat, Baseball Prospectus' WARP3 (Wins above replacement value, which factors in offense and defense to calculate just what the name says) says that Kearns was worth 7.3 WARP last year. Guerrero was worth 7.8, a relatively negligible difference. Most of that difference comes because of the glove. Guerrero still has the arm, but he doesn't have the range, and he made a bunch of errors.

    Much of Kearns' value is hidden. It's not easy to see a double that he holds to a single. But it is easy to see one of Guerrero's three-run bombs.

    Baseball Prospectus also has a projection system they use called PECOTA. It's a complicated system that can be explained fairly easily. It adjusts stats for era, league and park, then takes physical factors such as height and weight into account to figure out who a player is most similar too. It then uses these similar players to get a feel for the type of career a player is likely to have. Obviously it's not perfect, but it's a helpful tool.

    Before last season, who were his top comps? Pat Burrell and Dale Murphy. Encouraging names like Bob Allison, Tim Salmon and someone called Frank Howard all cracked his top 7. He was in pretty good company. I'd take the careers of any of those guys. All were All-Star talents, and Murphy has a legit case for the Hall of Fame -- even Howard has an outside case.

    This season, I don't have the full list, but his top 4 are: Bob Allison, Dale Murphy, Ivan Calderon, Dwight Evans. You'd take three out of those four, wouldn't you?

    Obviously nothing is guaranteed, but Kearns has put up the stats of and is the type of player you can probably build around. Injuries have been the biggest impediment and, for the first time, they were under control last year. With his age 27 season (traditionally the best in a player's career), the sky could be the limit with him.

    I was on the fence about committing to him long term, but the more I think about it, the more I think it might be a smart move if you can get him on a deal like Nick Johnson had, getting him to give up some salary in exchange for long-term security.

    It'll be interesting to see how the Nats handle this. Kearns, for obvious reasons, if a favorite of Bowden, and I'd imagine that he'd want to try to lock him up. If so, will Kasten let him? Should he?

    Wo' Is Us

    Tony Womack!!?!?

    37-year old Tony Feckin Womack1!?!?!?

    .317 career on-base % Tony Womack!!?!?!?

    Just 36 homers in 5,000 career ABs Tony Womack1?!?!?

    73 OPS+ Tony Womack!?!?!?

    Thankfully it's just a minor-league contract, but Tony Womack!?!?!?

    He's part of the plan, Tony Womack!?!?!?

    I'm liking this Manny Acta guy less and less, Tony Womack!?!?!!?

  • The Primates are amused, as you'd expect, Tony Womack!?!?!?

  • Tuesday, January 16, 2007

    Let's Make A Deal

    The Nats and a bunch of players exchanged salary arbitration figures today. If they don't come to an agreement within about a month or so, then it's up to an arbiter to pick one salary or the other.

    The Nats and Chris Snelling have already come to an agreement: 1/$450K. Despite being the key piece in the Vidro trade, there really hasn't been much buzz about his role on the team, but he's out of options and would have to stick in the majors. To send him down, the Nats would have to expose him to waivers, where some other team would likely gobble him up. Barring injury (and you can't really do that with him), he'll be on the Major League roster come April.

    Our good friend Bill Ladson has the details:

    Chad Cordero wants $4.15MM, the team wants $3.65, a relatively tiny difference. With the escalation in his contract that he's likely to see, the Nats would be smart to offer him a long-term deal to buy out the remaining three arbitration years, and, perhaps, a year of Free Agency. Would 4/$22 get it done? Would it be worth it?

    John Patterson wants $1.85, the team countered with $.85. That one's going to be trouble. Patterson's a strange case given how meager his statistical case is. He's been injured so much, he just hasn't put up any significant stats. I'd bet that the Nats would be able to win that hearing, but is $500K (assuming they could split the difference) worth it when you're pissing off your would-be ace?

    Austin Kearns wants $4.25MM, but the Nats only want to pay $3.65. That's another difference that's almost meaningless. I want to look at Kearns a little more closely later. He's had a bunch of injuries that've prevented him from fulfilling his potential, but there's a lot of potential there. He's another player the Nats might want to lock up, building for the future with him. Would 4/$25 be worth it? Would he do that?

    Felipe Lopez filed at $4.1, and the Nats offered $3.7. Seems like the Nats did their homework with the numbers, huh? As I said earlier, I'm not sure I'd go long-term with Lopez until he can prove that he can handle second.

    Finally... Alex Escobar asked $590K, the Nats $500K. Their contracts guy (who is it now that Siegle is in SF?) deserves a bonus! They'll settle, and we'll settle for 34 games from Escobar.

    Just for laughs and giggles, when I did my salary projections earlier this offseason, this is what I guessed:

    Cordero: $3.5 (oops!)
    Patterson: $1 (close enough)
    Kearns: $3.5 (I'm cheap!)
    Lopez: $4.5 (Lopez' agent is my agent)
    Escobar: $500K (ka-CHING!)

    Would you try to work out long-term deals with any of them? What's a reasonable offer?

    Monday, January 15, 2007

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Nothing To Say Edition

    The worst part of this offseason has been the lack of real news or the lack of anything worthwhile to investigate. The last few years there've been things that I've wanted to look at -- whether it was learning who these players were in '05 or taking my best guesses at how Soriano would do last year. This year? The questions surround Jason Simontacchi, Joel Hanrahan and a cast of thousands -- none of whom we really know much about. There questions surrounding the teams are mysteries. They're things we won't uncover until the later days of Spring (if even then). I've got some rough ideas for expectations of certain players (sell on Beltran Perez and Mike O'Connor, for example), but how many ways can you say that Guzman sucks, and we need him to rebound? The only thing I've thought about 'investigating' is the offense/defense trade-off with Nook Logan and Ryan Church. But even that doesn't interest me that much.

    So I'm reduced to reacting to short news blurbs and pointing to links from other blogs. Yee-haw. On we go.

  • Don Sutton was ofishully named the color commentator. My immediate reaction? Which one was he? Other than Skip (Hip? Lip? Rip? Gyp?) Carey, don't the other three TBS announcers sound the same? Three droll, monotone voices that sort of blend into the background. Other than the silvery mane of pubelike curly hair (retro!), could you pick him out from Pete Van Wieirn?

  • Buried at the bottom of that blurb is the real news of the day:
    "Chad Cordero, Alex Escobar, Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez, John Patterson and Chris Snelling filed for arbitration Friday."

    Maybe that'll be worth a post later. I think the Nats need to work on long-term deals with Cordero and Patterson to buy out the next two years of arbitration. Cordero stands to make $3.5-$4 million next year, and that'll only go higher in the next two years as he continues to pile up the saves.

    I'd wait before making a long-term commitment to Lopez to see if he can adjust to second. It's assumed, with a wave of the hand, that'll be an easy adjustment, but it might not be. The throws, which is what he had the most problem with, are from a different angle and, although they don't require as much juice, can be more difficult, especially on the pivot. I'd want to see Kearns replicate last season -- staying healthy, mostly -- before signing him beyond his arb years.

    (As a reminder, players who have between three and six years of service time (and some guys with nearly 3 years also qualify, but let's not worry about that here) can go through the arbitration process. The player and the team each submit salary figures and argue before an arbiter using similar players based on stats and service time to make their case. The arbiter picks one side or the other; he can't split the difference. Generally, the player and team come to an agreement before the hearing, because nobody wants to hear their boss tell them they're incompetent to pay them a lower salary than they feel they deserve!)

  • I thought it interesting that our good friend Bill Ladson doesn't think that Tim Raines is a hall of famer. If that's his opinion, I say that Bill Ladson doesn't know baseball. No less an authority than Dayn Perry (the late and lamented Distinguished Senators' favorite writer) says that Raines should be a lock.

    Raines is probably one of the four or five best lead-off hitters of all time. He just had the misfortune of playing in the same era with the best leadoff hitter of all time: Rickey! (the late and lamented Distinguished Senators' favorite player).

    Raines, for what it's worth, has more career WARP (one of Baseball Prospectus' wonky stats that tries to estimate how many wins a player was better than the typical AAA dreck that fills in during injuries) than Andre Dawson does, despite about a bazillion fewer homers. Other than slugging, Raines was a better hitter -- more average, more walks, more steals at a better clip. Add it up, and he gets the nod over Dawson.

    That being said, given the explosion in power and the hanging-on he did at the end of his career that clouds the short-term memory of our stinky little pea brains, I don't anticipating him getting in any time in the next few years. But, I think he'll get in before his eligibility is up when people look at the body of his career, and not just the pine-riding at the end.

    (Despite all of that, I like this guy's mailbag answers better anyway)

  • The Cubs seem content to give rookie Felix Pie (mmmm -- When in Duluth, try Betty's Pies. Thank me later) the first crack at center field, and they're calling the prospect of acquiring Ryan Church a "long shot". Given that this was a Tribune report and that Tribune owns the Cubs, I'd give it about as much credence as... ummm... Iraq War analogies are still prolly outta line, huh? Nevermind.

  • I heard the John Thompson/Stan Kasten exchange referenced on this BPG thread last week. Kasten handled himself really well (as you'd expect) on a very delicate issue. During the interview JT emphasized the respect he has for Kasten and how he knows he's not a racist. I didn't hear the post-interview discussion that's talked about here, where JT apparently went back on it, arguing that Frank Robinson's dismissal had a racial component to it.

    What a mess. Kasten's right, though, in getting it out of the way now. Nobody's paying attention to the team, and they're certainly not going to get much lower PR-wise than they are this offseason. By next April, all sins'll have been forgiven -- well, most of 'em, anyway.

    The interesting thing that I took from the interview, and I really wish that JT were a competent enough interviewer to ask the right follow-up question was Kasten's insistence that he had honest intentions of offering Big Frank a legit job entering the offseason, but that he had recently come to a different conclusion. I'd love to know what changed his mind? Buck sez it's money (and that's not a LERNER IS TEH CHEAP!!!! response).

  • Federal Baseball helpfully provides us with some Minor League Equivalencies. Essentially, it's an attempt to translate a minor-league batting line into a major league contract. In short, if Larry Broadway hit like he did against AAA pitching, how would he have fared against the NL (Answer: Not well!)? Here's his intro. You'll have to scroll up for the rest.

  • At the top, I did say that I didn't have anything to say, right? What was that? 4,500 words ago? Jesus.

    Two quick recommendations for ya: 1) See Pan's Labyrinth. It's one of the best movies I've seen in a while, a beautiful sort of adult fairy tale that blurs the line between fantasy and reality. If you're looking for a good night out, see it at Cinema Arts Theater in Fairfax (A cute li' independent cinema that cares about quality movies) and mix it with dinner/lunch at China Star -- my favorite Chinese restaurant. If you like spice (and even if you don't) you'll love it, and it's not nearly as nasty as half this stuff sounds!

    There's supposed to be a 2), but I've forgotten it. Oh, I didn't know this, but those stupid Coinstar machines don't charge you service fees if you dump your money into a gift card. I lugged a bunch of jugs to the grocery store today and bought half a Wii on Amazon.

    (Just be glad that I'm not posting cat pictures again)

  • Friday, January 12, 2007

    Arms, At Last

    The Nats have signed right-handed pitcher Jerome Williams to a one-year deal. Lefty Brandon Claussen has agreed to a minor-league contract.

    Williams is an intriguing signing. While his last season stunk, it stunk for most every Cubs pitcher not named Zambrano or Howry. And he has youth on his side. He's turning just 25 this year.

    Despite that, there are some warning signs. Since his wonderful 3.30 ERA as a rookie, he's declined across the board every year. He hit the pitcher's trifecta o' death: More walks, fewer Ks, more homers. Everything, even his lowly 4.2 K/9 performance in the minors, points to him having lost his stuff.

    Williams has had conditioning issues in the past. He's had a tendency to put on weight, and without really having seen him, I can't tell if that's still an issue. At the very least, it could point towards his work ethic. If he's to rebound, the Nats are going to have to hope he gets the fire, and not just donuts, back in the belly.

    Although his later performance in the minors didn't warrant it, I'm kind of surprised that the Cubs bailed on him so early last year. He had a rough spring training (6.65 ERA) and started in the pen. Of his three outings, he gave up only 2 earned in just one of those appearances. They gave him a start against Pittsburgh, and he shut them down for six innings. Then he got the crap beaten out of him by the Cardinals in his next start and that was it. On a team that bounced around starters even more than we're projected to, it was surprising that they bailed on him so early. By the end of the year, he had worn out his welcome, was waived and picked up by the A's, who never put him into a game.

    Given the steady three-year decline, I'm not overly optimistic that he's going to rebound. But as far as he's fallen (take a look at how good those minor league stats were), he's facing a personal challenge. If he works hard, he's got the opportunity to reposition himself and have the career most people thought he'd have after those first two excellent seasons. If he works, there's no reason he can't be a solid #3 starter, giving the team 180 innings of near-league average ball.

    Basically, there's no downside to his signing. If he shows up fat and lazy, they can cut him. If he works out, the Nats get his performance, plus, because he doesn't have 6 years of service time, the Nats would control him for the next year or two. And he's young enough that, if he does rebound, he could stick around for a few years.

    But let's not get ahead of ourselves. This is a pitcher who's seemingly lost it. It's up to Randy St. Claire to find it. And, for all his wonderful individual successes, this is the same pitching coach that presided over the disastrous staff of last year.

  • I'm much less excited about Claussen. If he threw with a different appendage, he'd be dumped in the Simontacchi dustbin. That being said, he's a flyball lefty who pitched in a tough park with a lousy outfield defense. He strikes out enough batters, but walks a few too many. If he has his health, which is a huge if with him, he could be a surprise. If the Nats got his 2005 performance out of him, they should be ecstatic.

    Eh... hit publish too soon. Claussen had arm surgery late last year to repair a torn rotator cuff. That's usually the kiss of death for pitchers, so he'd be unlikely to show up on the radar before mid-season anyway. He's not one to count on for innings, even after he does come back, as it usually takes some time to get the touch back after that surgery -- assuming he's able to, at all.

  • Thursday, January 11, 2007

    Newsflash: Manny Acta Has Two Balls

    No genetic freaks here. No sir. Read all about it here.

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Now With 100% Unoriginal Content Edition

    Nats 320 is back with the second and third parts of their interview with Kasten. Other than the news that they're phasing out Screech, Part 3 has all the good stuff.

    The big news is that he overruled his staff on Soriano. Bowden, it seems, wanted to trade him for the best offer at the time, but Kasten didn't think it was a good enough deal: "We were about to trade him for NEXT TO NOTHING!! And that’s, when I had to step in, and say--NO!!. We are not going down that road. WE ARE NOT GOING TO DO STUPID THINGS!!."

    (Presumably, Kasten didn't speak in CAPS)

    He does get off another dodge about payroll:
    "I couldn’t tell you what our Opening Day payroll will be yet. I just don’t know. Part of it being, I don’t know what my revenues will be, until I get closer to Opening Day."

    This is where you have to parse the language again. He damn well knows what his revenues are going to be. They know what they're getting from local and national media. They just don't know how many tickets they're going to sell, but they certainly have a pretty damn good idea of how many. They're not going into the process blindly, especially this late in the offseason.

  • In scrapheap pitcher news, Ryan Franklin signed a $1 million deal with the Cardinals -- too rich for our blood! And John Thomson signed a $500K deal with the Blue Jays. Too rich for our blood! (Damn those minimum salaries preventing us from paying our players what they're really worth!)

  • Ho-hum. The Nats signed four Dominicans.

  • Apparently Jacobson had the scoop. Only now, after being spoonfed it at a press conference, do the Post, Times and get around to reporting the no job for Frank story. (One of those stories is not like the other two, which is quite interesting. Quite interesting, indeed.)

    Frank's cantankerousness (Is that really a word) in the two that aren't like the third, really comes off the wrong way, I think. I'm supposed to feel sympathy for him, which I do in some respects, but his bitterness really makes that difficult.

  • At the bottom of the article is some actual on-field news. Acta says that Nuke Logan will be the assumed starting center fielder heading into spring training. (Memo to Church: Apparently there's no competition either!) Acta cites improvements needed in the defense. To be sure, that's something that really needs to be tightened up, especially with the pitching staff that's trotting out there, but I really worry about an offense that's carrying him and Cristian Guzman (not to mention Schneider and, potentially, Casto).

    I'm interested, too, to see how Lopez adjusts to second. Range-wise, he's basically average, maybe a bit below. But it's his throwing that's a problem. At second, he has more time, and the throw isn't as long, but it's a more intricate play for the 2B on the DP. He's certainly going to be a 10-run (or more!) improvement over Vidro, but... We'll see.

    The team also plans to carry 12 pitchers. I think that's a bit of a mistake, especially starting out on Opening Day when traditionally, a boatload of offdays allows you to skip your fifth starter for two weeks or so. But I also think that that's a bit of a mistake in the NL, where a bench is so vital.

    12 pitchers and 8 starters leaves 5 spots. One goes to Flores, the other to Fick. You need a backup MI (Wilson?), a fourth outfielder (Church, who's out of options or Snelling -- is he out? He's gotta be close), and then there's just one spot left. That really eliminates flexibility, especially for PHing and Double switching, which, with Guzman and Logan, are going to be necessities. Where's Daryle Ward when you need him?

    And Crushing all faith I had in his ability to be a competent manager, Acta says that Cristian Guzman is the leading candidate to bat second. Refuckingdiculous. Hopefully that's just Acta talking up a crappy player, but even Frank Robinson, the worst strategic manager in the history of the game, gave up on the Guzman batting second experiment halfway through '05.

    Brian Schneider would literally be a better #2 option than Guzman. With a higher obp, why not? (I'd prefer Church or Snelling, but eh, who asked me?)

  • Those of you with RSS feeds of this ol' blog have seen a bunch of strange entries pop up over the last week or so. When I debuted the ol' Organizational Tree earlier, I mentioned that I'd be adding things to it. I've started creating little mini pages/profiles/scouting reports of various players -- works in progress. I got a little bit of feedback from a few people that they enjoyed the capsules, so rather than backdating them, I'll probably just run them as I do them.

    If you're interested, these are the ones I've done:
    Luis Ayala
    Chad Cordero
    John Patterson
    Jon Rauch
    Brian Schneider
    Nick Johnson
    Ryan Zimmerman

  • Tuesday, January 09, 2007

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Catching Up Edition

    I had an emergency last week that required me to go out of town over the weekend. It's certainly hard to tear myself away from the fast-paced action of being a Nats fan, what with the constant rumor, signings, personal appearances, etc, etc. But those are the sacrifices one must make for family. Time to catch up.

    The biggest news is that SBF from Nats 320 took off his pajamas, put on some workin' man's clothes and scored an interview with Stan Kasten. The first part's here. While there aren't any particular revelations, it's good that he's on the record with a number of things, including a contention that every dollar of revenue is being plowed back into the team this year. You'll have to read the whole thing for that.

    The interview does highlight my biggest frustration with Kasten. I believe that he's an honest broker. He's not the sort who's going to lie to your face. He'll tell you the way things are -- within reason; nobody really expects him to say, "Yeah, we're punting '07". But in doing so, some of his sentences are so precise, so loaded with clauses and conditionals, that a casual reading can leave someone with an incorrect impression.

    Here's the example that stuck out in my mind this time: "[I]f I thought there was a player that was reasonable and would fit into here, and did not set back the development of younger pitchers, and who, himself, had a role to play in the long term, we would certaintly [sic] consider that, and have."

    A completely reasonable position, right? Who could argue with that? But count the "ands." I lost track at about 32. He's narrowing the definition down so much that his phrasing has the net effect of the opposite of what he's actually saying.

    I'll come over tomorrow after work and wash the dishes of anyone who emails me. So long as there aren't too many dishes, and you're using Dove liquid soap, and there aren't any pots that I have to scrub, oh, and I refuse to wash anything saucy, etc, etc. Sure, it's an offer, but it doesn't really have much value.

    The point of this isn't to rehash the "to sign, or not to sign" debate, but to just point out the frustration of his phrasing.

    On one hand, he's an honest broker, but when you parse him, you're left with what? A 100-loss team, some overpriced brisket, and the chance to buy tickets at a stadium that's 16 months from opening.

  • The Nats have officially broken ties with Frank Robinson. Other than Frank Day when the Os are in town, he won't be on the field or in the front office.

  • Former Ass. GM Tony Siegle caught on with San Francisco.

  • Late last week, the Nats announced that they had offered contracts to 5 pitchers: Tony Armas, Ramon Ortiz, Jerome Williams, Jorge Sosa and Stevie Trashcan. My one-word comments, in order: Jesus, Christ, Hey!, Meh, @#$@#$@.

    For a more substantive discussion, try Nats Triple Play, Banks of the Anacostia or Federal Baseball. While you're at the Fed, check out his continuing series on why pitchers need to pitch innings... or something like that. At any rate, he throws up charts and junk to show that we need innings.

    Oh, and Ryan Franklin's kicking around, too. (I think he might be #2 behind Williams on my list of crappy pitchers the Nats have been associated with.)

  • NFA has been whipping out the good stuff. First comes his updated list of the Top 30 Nats Prospects. He also points to Baseball America's -- the bible of prospectdom -- top 10 Nats. They see Chris Marrero as the only All-Star-potential player in the system. But, of course, things change. NFA interviewed one of the Baseball America authors about the list and about the system in general. It's a good, informed outsider's perspective. NFA also traded questions with a different prospect hound who's high on Smiley Gonzalez.

  • and OMG remind us that Cristian Guzman is still kicking around with this profile and rant. (Don't you love how seems to have only three photos of Guzman? There's that one that hides his face, the posed program one where he's holding the bat over his shoulders, and my personal favorite.

  • Hey, season tickets are on sale!!! Better hurry before they're sold out. Did you know that you'd have priority for next season?

  • Monday, January 08, 2007

    Why Can't We Be Friends?

    Today's Bill Ladson mailbag:
    Ryan Church does need work on hitting the curveball. But don't all players have a weakness? The reason he did not play was Frank Robinson just did not like him. Let the new manager judge him. Church has the tools.
    -- David, Lompoc, Calif. [ed: certainly an uninterested observer]

    Blaming Robinson is totally wrong. When Church was in the Minor Leagues, it was Robinson who called Church on a regular basis to see how he was doing and check if he was improving his game. Church revealed this story. There is no question in my mind Robinson was in Church's corner.

    OK, so Frank was in his corner.

    And from his 12/28 mailbag: "I also think it's wrong to say that the Nationals don't respect him. It was general manager Jim Bowden who compared Church with Jim Edmonds as a hitter."

    OK, so Jim was in his corner.

    Phew. I guess it's all a big misunderstanding then! Everyone loves Church!

    Sunday, January 07, 2007

    The Single Worst Phrase In Customer Service

    "We regret the inconvenience."

    No you don't.

    Tuesday, January 02, 2007

    Awwww.... They're So Cute!

    JE has been all over the Cordero to Boston rumors. That they're being reported in Boston, and that Bowden has really run a leak-proof organization makes me think there's more smoke on Boston's end of the deal, but who really knows.

    I was perusing Sons of Sam Horn, the preeminent Red Sox Message Board, and they have an entire thread devoted to the latest rounds of rumors. Instead of doing something substantive with the rumors (I don't really like dealing with rumors), I'd rather take random stupid posts from that thread and make fun of them. I'm mean like that. Frequently, their posts display the worst form of statheadism -- complete devotion to the numbers without really understanding what they mean -- and other times it shows that it's possible to be too close to something.

  • I hate how the Red Sox have built a bullpen this offseason-- wasting precious resources on aging mediocrities like Brendan Donnelly, Joel Pinata, J.C. Romero, and of course Mike Letemin-- but am afraid that Cordero is as likely to compound the problem as solve it.

    Cordero's an aging mediocrity? Well, I guess he's aging in the sense that we all are.

  • Any pitcher in the National League should by definition be considered "second tier," and evaluated as if you were promoting someone from Pawtucket.

    Josh Beckett sucking isn't the NL's fault! ;)

  • Cordero has enjoyed a fip-era of 1.78 and 1.27 in the last two seasons. This means he benifited from good defense.

    Ah, there's that statheadism we love. Just think what Cordero would've done with a BAD defense!

  • I have not read about any leaks that suggest Boston has interest in dealing top prospects for a so-so closer.

    Isn't that what's been causing this whole run-around in the first place?

  • Manny Delcarmen is a better pitcher than Cordero is right now.

    Ah, but what's Delcamen's FIP? Delcarmen's career MINOR LEAGUE ERA, btw, is nearly 4.

  • Cordero is more like a slightly better version of Bob Wickman

    Now if he had said "Has Wickman's body type" I'd have nodded in agreement.

  • He had some bad luck on HR/FB rates, sure, but once you normalize those HR/FB rates, you're still left with a guy who profiles as allowing 4.30 runs (earned and otherwise) per 9 innings pitched.

    We better hold on to the guy! He's the luckiest SOB on the face of the earth! His career ERA is HALF that.

  • Hire me, Theo!!1!! I'm smrt!1!! I dew nunbers!!11

    OK, I made that one up.