Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Last Vestiges Of My Sanity

I know that this is the lamest tool in the blogger's giant bag o' hackery, but induldge me. Work has been beating the crap out of me this week, and besides, it's not like there's anything meaningful to write about. If you want something better, check out one of the 14,000 or so Nats blogs I added to the sidebar.

Without further ado, the top 10 search engine referrals I've had over the last week. (Take your naval-gazing comments elsewhere!)

10: freudian analysis of the characters in comic strip charlie brown
Don't ask me! But I know that I always get frustrated when the girl I'm playing with tugs the ball out of the way at the last minute. I suspect that this particular researcher didn't find what they were looking for.

9: differences in punishment for crack and crank use
Didja ever see Midnight Express?

8: washington nationals starting pitching sucks
I'm guessing that this yielded about 4 million hits.

7: recipe for vomit inducer
Strangely, this page didn't come up. Nor this one.

6: picture of man prayin
Not too much prayin' here lately; we've been damning our fates a lot more. I wonder if this pic came up in the search?

5: midi "a spoonful of sugar"
A MIDI search? Seriously? What are the odds that this person is straight?

4: i have no soul
I'm glad I'm not the only one.

3 (tie): body sox punishment and ball punishment questions
I'm not running either of those through google to see what pops up for fear of the FBI knocking on my door 14 minutes later.

2: who made the first cast iron stove
How many pages with the correct answer did this person have to weed through before stumbling on my site?

1 (tie): chris needham assault and christopher needham dead
I can think of a few people who probably have these searches bookmarked.

Ticket Exchange Programs

In their continued efforts to get me to renew my season tickets, I brought up the lack of flexibility in a 20-game plan as one of the big reasons why I didn't renew. I have a set of tickets from 2005 that were returned with a terse letter from someone in the office pointing out that the ticket exchange programs were only for full season ticket holders. As a lowly 20 gamer, I was SOL.

Apparently, they've changed their policy, and now 20 game plans are eligible for these programs. Unfortunately, I hadn't heard about it until they emailed me. It's listed on the website and might've been a bullet point on the info packet they mailed, but it slipped past my non-eagle eye.

Anyway, here's the info about the program, which is a welcome change. If I'm reading it right, you can exchange a whole slew of your tickets in advance if you want to bring a group of friends to a particular game. Or if something comes up and you miss a game, you can trade that unused ticket in for certain other games throughout the season.

I really wish they'd have done more to publicize this, or at least give more info on the website. It definitely has me on the fence now.

Unused Ticket Program for Season Ticket Holders (81-41-20 game plan holders)

Season ticket holders may exchange their unused tickets for 6 specific games –

Thursday April 19th 1:05 PHILA

Tuesday May 29th 7:05 LA

Wednesday June 30th 7:05 DET

Saturday July 21st 3:55 COLO

Monday September 3rd 1:05 FLA (Labor Day)

Friday September 21st 7:05pm PHILA

Unused tickets must be exchanged 48 hours in advance of the new game and will be the best available seats in comparable seat category (based on availability) or in the 400 and 500 sections of RFK Stadium. Unused tickets may only be exchanged once. To exchange unused tickets, please mail them to the Washington Nationals Ticket Office, Ticket Exchange, RFK Stadium, Gate F, 2400 East Capitol Street SE, Washington, DC 20003 with the date of the game for which you’d like to exchange and your account information. All exchanged tickets will be mailed directly to the season ticket holder’s address on file.

Season Ticket Exchange Program (81-41-20 game plan holders)

Future Monday – Thursday tickets may be exchanged for different future Monday – Thursday games

Future Friday – Sunday tickets may be exchanged for different future Friday – Sunday games as well as for future Monday – Thursday games

Tickets may be exchanged at the Washington Nationals Box Office or via mail

Exchanges at the Nationals Box Office must take place 48 hours prior to both the game(s) being turned in and the game(s) for which tickets are being exchanged.

Exchanges by mail must be received by the Nationals at least 14 days prior to both the game(s) being turned in and the game(s) for which tickets are being exchanged.

Tickets may be traded only once and Season Tickets are traded on a ticket-for-ticket basis. Locations are subject to availability and refunds will not be given for downgrades. Additional payment is required when trading Season Ticket(s) for tickets of greater value.

(Does this make me a shill?)

Work Sucks

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

  • The Nats played an intrasquad game yesterday, resulting in a tie. What this proves conclusively beyond any ability to make a rational argument against, is that the team is unclutch.

  • Nook Logan still stinks. 0-3 with a K. I hate rooting for player's failure (Yes, I know that you know that I know that you know that that's a lie, but we'll pretend anyway), but I reallllllly want to see his ineptitude force the team to go in a different direction. If you can waive a player at the end of spring and he clears, as you'd likely be able to do with Logan, it's a pretty good sign that he shouldn't be your starter.

  • Here's Svrluga sympathizing with the fans over the flip-flopping that's going to be required of a Nats fan who wants to watch TV. Hmmm.... there's gotta be some connection with "The PLAN!" since everything that's ever happened, to hear some people tell it, is because of It.

    More later.... maybe.... if I don't go postal.... REDRUM REDRUM

  • Distinguished Senators has some more books for you to read. At least he had the tact to not say that Baseball Dynasties is a perfect book for the can.

  • OMG continues my Gang of 13 series that seems to have whithered on the vine by looking at John Patterson. (Any request for other pitchers I should do? I just can't get excited about Mike Bacsik.)

  • Aaron Gleeman takes a look at the Twins pitching staff and is ruing the Ramon Ortiz contract. It's interesting because he's essentially calling for a PLAN!-like infusion of young talent -- as opposed to the way idiots like me thrashed against parts of it. The big difference is that the prospect pitchers the Twins have actually have some sort of long-term potential. I love Tim Redding and all, but...

  • Tuesday, February 27, 2007

    Hell Hath No Fury...

    ... Like a deejay scorned. At least that's the impression that you'll get if you read Svrluga's follow-on to the PA story from yesterday.

    If got nothing but wonderful things to say about Mr. and Mrs. Clarke. [ouch, stop twisting my arm] They're a credit to Washington [dammit, that hurts] and are what we should [seriously, I think you're going to break it!!] all strive to be.

    Anyone wanna take odds on whether he ends up keeping his Potomac job?

    Still Busy...

    Still a busy day, so maybe I'll dump random links here throughout the day, in between trying to sling together three coherent sentences -- something very rare here -- for the part of my life that actually pays.

    We've got Spring Training Intrasquad lineups! It doesn't get any better than that!

  • Oooooh! I couldn't let this one pass!
    "I've never worked for anyone who was smarter than I am," Bowden said.

    (That's why he keeps Bob Boone around.)

  • Today's important lesson: Baseball fans are not like soccer fans.

    God Love 'em, but thank God all the same.

  • Monday, February 26, 2007

    Bitter Much?

    Busy day, busy day...

    In the meantime, read the bitter rantings of everyone's least favorite recently fired RFK deejay. (Just look for the postings by natspa)

    (Is the "With the way they treated Frank" line going to be used by anyone ever let go by this franchise?)

    Friday, February 23, 2007

    Fouled-Off Bunts: So A Fat Reliever Walks Into A Bar Edition

    What more can you say about this story? [edit: the posting appears to have been pulled! Hmmm... I'm having my detectives get to the bottom of this one!]
    As good as this all was, it only got better. Not five minutes after Rijo leaves, Ray King comes romping into the Sushi Bar, with two HOT BABES hanging all over him. The noise level of this rather quiet restaurant went up a few decibles. Ray causing a scene just by talking to Schneider, Johnson and FLop. Everyone talks about his belly. Ray loves his beer. Japanese Beer. Sapporo is his favorite. He ordered a few right away. The babes giggling away.

    The African Queen asked me who this guy was? I told her relief pitcher Ray King. She shockingly replied" "NO WAY!! NOT WITH THAT GUT!!"

    Read the whole thing to find out why you don't mess with Ray's women.

  • More on Cordero's signing and how he turned down a 2-year deal from the Nats. Reading between the lines, I'm going to up the Trade-o-meter a few notches. From this and other things I've read, Cordero is turning into a strong union guy. And Stan Kasten is going to near the front of the line at any anti-union rally. Well, it's not so much the union as it is those pesky salaries. (He's even endorsed a plan that would do away with player's agents, letting the union itself do negotiating.)

    Cordero feels pressure from the Union to take the team for everything they're worth, thereby establishing the future salaries of other college closers -- a recent draft phenomenon. Kasten, meanwhile (as any good businessman would), wants to pay his guys as little as possible while ensuring some sort of cost certainty.

    Those two positions can't really coexist.

    I don't think this means that they're going to rush out and trade him just to be done with him. But, perhaps, instead of waiting for two A prospects, they'll take an A and a B? I dunno... just some idle speculation.

  • Good news about Ayala (second item). He's started to throw his slider in BP. That pitch, more than any other, would be the one that would make his elbow bark.

  • Ibid, we've got a new PA guy.

  • Tom Boswell praises the recent stathead game strategy approach that Manny Acta's talked about recently. Fewer bunts, less stealing, etc, etc... But he laments that Acta's non-frank lameness might cost us the #1 pick. Gee, Tom, just yesterday you assured us that this team would be better than last year's. Now you're using words like "may" and "could"?

    Tom can write circles around me. And he can probably analyze a rhombus or two around, too. But this flip-flopping, weasley approach where he's always giving himself outs or completely contradicting what he wrote just THIRTY DAYS ago!!! really kills any credibility he has.

    --OMG takes a closer, stat-ier look at yesterday's factually dishonest Boz column

    --Distinguished Senators, who can write circles around Boz, has a book for you to read.

    --Mets Geek has an article looking back at the Roberto Alomar trade, which I'm only pointing out because the Nats have 3 of the participants in camp.

    --And today's fun read comes to us courtesy of this guy. He's compiling links after link of all those stupid spring training stories where generic athletes say that they're the in the "best shape" of their life.

  • Thursday, February 22, 2007

    A Pro's Pro

    Ever seen a flying ham? (That's a video)

    Manny's Memory

    Todd Jacobson shares Manny Acta's praise of Chad Cordero: (TJ really needs to get his tech people to give us permalinks!)
    With Chad Cordero’s arbitration hearing behind him, the talk turned to his on-the-field talent, and Acta recounted a story of Cordero’s debut in 2003, straight from Single-A. The bases were loaded, and Cordero came in to face Ivan Rodriguez, “when he was on fire with the Marlins. Right there this guy showed everybody here what he was made of. The guy [Rodriguez] hit a rocket. But he got him out.” Sounds a lot like the Cordero we know now.

    Whenever I hear stories with that amount of detail, my BS detector fires off. The wonderful thing about the internet, is we can factcheck their ass. Well, that Manny guy is pretty good!

    Here's Cordero's first game, an easy inning.

    I thought we caught our manager in a web of lies, shaking our trust to the core, so I checked his second game. And there it is, in the sixth inning, he came in to relieve the immortal Vic Darensbourg to face Ivan Rodriguez, getting a liner to third.

    Ah, but the bases weren't loaded! There were runners on the corners! Manny's a liar! A dirty, stinkin' liar! If we can't trust him on this, what CAN we trust him on? He's lost ALL credibility with me now!

  • AHA!

    Nats 320, who finagled a press pass for the day, reports that Acta said that this happened on Cordero's first appearance. For shame, Manny! He's a bald-faced liar! I demand his immediate resignation!

  • Don't Grumble Give A Whistle

    If it's Thursday, it means that Tom Boswell has changed his tune. Instead of whistling past the graveyard, as he did as little as 30 days ago, he's now singing and stomping along to a bright military march. It must be the gamma rays of the hot, Florida sun.

    Boz tackles the pitching staff, and sees the bright side. There's certainly a lot of merit to his argument. As I've done those interminable Gang of 13 looks at the scrubs in camp, I've seen glimmers of optimism here and there. Boz' central argument is that the pitching staff can't be any worse than last year's collection of ghouls; and, he argues, that it could even be better.
    The surprise of camp so far is the growing realization that the mocked Washington rotation will be better than it was last year. In fact, the case for a better rotation in '07 is so obvious after a real analysis that it's actually closer to a promise than a prediction.

    The other central point of his column is something I argued the other day. Since the pitchers are one giant blob of humanity, you can basically take them in any combo without losing effectiveness. That's to say that you can ride the hot hand -- arm, if you will -- to take advantage of who's healthy and throwing well.

    But there's a little bit of statistical dishonesty with Boz' first contention. This paragraph sort of hits at it:
    Last season, the four gentlemen cited above started 104 games with an ERA of 5.43. How incredibly bad is that? Excluding Washington pitchers, only two men in the entire NL who qualified for the ERA title had a mark above 4.98.

    I guess it's fair on a gross comparison level. Nothing in that statement is incorrect. But it is misleading. The reason that nobody who qualified for the ERA title pitched as badly is because teams are smart enough not to give 162 innings to pitchers that terrible.

    Last year, even the Nats had their limits, pulling Jay Bergmann after 6 starts with a near-7 ERA. Traber had just 8 starts with a 7.75 ERA. Even the Mets, who had the best record in baseball gave 7 starts to Oliver Perez who put up a 6+ ERA.

    It's not that last year's Nats starters were unusually terrible. They were just given an unusually long leash.

    And this year, with as much pitching depth (that should have scare quotes) as Boz talks about in his second main point, there's no reason that anyone will have a leash that long. But all that means is that we're going to get a number of performances like Traber's and Bergmann's from last year, where the starter goes out for 4-5 starts, crapping the bed every time, until the team realizes that he can't cut it as a MLB starter. And that's an improvement?

    Putting up a 5 ERA isn't "easy." Of course we shouldn't celebrate it as an accomplishment. But to assume that the Nats are going to find the right combo in a short amount of time -- and further, labeling it as a "promise" -- can only be done when wearing a giant "NATS #1!" Foam Finger.

    I have no doubts that the Nats, barring a bunch of injuries, will have a better set of starters at the end of the season than they had mid-season last year. But overall, when you include what's likely to be an even greater number of disaster starts, the pitching staff as a whole is likely to be worse.

    Sure, we'll be able to cherry pick the Nats' best 4 or 5 starters in October and compare them to the stiffs Frank Robinson trotted out there every night in '06. But in doing so, you can't ignore all those Joel Hanrahan 2.1 inning, 6-run performances.

    Wednesday, February 21, 2007

    Stuff You Can't Get Anywhere Else

    From Nats 320's never-ending coverage of the minors.
    During a Pitchers Session covering the suicide squeeze bunt, Reliver Ray King [ed: File Photo] could not get his rather large belly out of the way, on seven straight attempts to field the rolling ball and toss it home to the catcher. EVERYONE was just cracking up. John Patterson, at one point, yelled out--"JUST PUT A FORK IN IT, RAY!!"

    Cordero Wins!

    Chad Cordero beat the Nats in the arbitration process. His agents came through the way he can't versus the Padres.

    He'll make $4.15 million next year instead of the Nats' offer of $3.65 million.

    Accordingly, Stan Kasten will likely announce that the team is renting out Jim Bowden's office to save money.

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Random Links Edition

    I'm not giving you everything. If you want more links, check out DOB or WFY. They've got most everything covered.

    --Guzman has tendinitis in his shoulder, but should be ok in a few days. He had an MRI yesterday that showed that his labrum had healed, but to get a really good MRI, they have to inject saline into the area, creating soreness, and keeping him out 'til Friday.

    --Back before he started writing the same column over and over and over, Bill Simmons had a good one about the standard storylines for every spring training: "Rehabbing pitcher finally healthy;" "Outfielder changes diet, shows up in shape," etc, etc. Here's this year's standard story on clubhouse leaders.

    --Chad Cordero's arbitration hearing was yesterday. We should have a decision sometime today. The Post reported yesterday that the team was offering him a two-year deal. All for naught, apparently.

    --I mentioned this a week or two ago, but there's a bit more on the Dmitri Young signing. Here's's piece. Meanwhile, his manager from last year, took issue with Young. It was quite a year for young. He got released from a pennant-winning team, went to drug and alcohol rehab, was diagnosed with Type-2 diabetes (geez, could his tip-top physical condition have played a role?), and pleaded guilty to choking his girlfriend after blowing off an initial court appearance.

    The guy's life is a mess, and he deserves a second chance. I just don't want it to be on my team; I'd prefer he goes somewhere where I can boo him. He might be a fat guy with a big smile who's great to reporters, but that doesn't make him a good person.

    --Interested in pre-sale tickets? They're online here. You just have to figure out what the password is.*

    --Looking for your Matt Chico fix?

    --Boswell writes some purty-soundin' fluff.

    --Manny Acta talks about his managerial strategy here. I haven't watched it yet, but I'm sure it's good, at least based on what I've read from him before. Todd Jacobson offers a summary: less stealing, fewer bunts.


    Nats 320 is down in Viera and is hot and heavy with the coverage. There's actually some good material buried in there. Just click, read and scroll! Just A Nats Fan just returned from a weekend trip.

    Federal Baseball ties Dmitri Young into a Supreme Court hearing. Somehow it works.

    NFA says there's no new stadium for Potomac; Reviews a book called "Growing the Game" and writes about the lessons the Nats need to take from it; Gives us the Nats' Accelerated Minor Leauge Roster (those youngins who aren't headed north who could use a little extra work), and recaps the restructuring/firing of the minor league development staff.

    Banks runs down some Cordero rumors.

    Distinguished Senators reminds us that T(h)om Loverro is no friend of teh internets.


    Tuesday, February 20, 2007

    Ask And Ye Shall Receive

    Over the weekend, in a long and rambling post, I mentioned that the Nats' website was not allowing people to buy 20-game season ticket plans in the $5 section on the website. It was particularly bizarre because the team had been doing a heavy radio ad campaign featuring the $100 plans as a great way to get your priority for next year. (Apparently, there's some sort of stadium opening up -- who knew?)

    Continuing a surreal month or so, within about 30 minutes of me posting it, I had an email from somebody with the Nats, thanking me for pointing it out and assuring that it'd be fixed.

    If you're interested in a mini-plan, you can now lay out a meager $100 bucks to watch our pitchers get bombed in 2o spirit-crushing games. If you're lucky you'll be on the John Patterson plan, and catch an inordinate number of his starts. Over the last two years, I was on the Ramon Ortiz and Tony Armas plan -- shoot me now!

    Good job by the Nats in getting that fixed.

    (Man, this really comes across as horn-tooting, doesn't it? I hate that)

    Monday, February 19, 2007

    10 Burning Questions: Spring Training Edition

    Position players are due to report tomorrow in beautiful Viera, Florida, and spring training will finally be in full bloom. It's going to be an interesting six weeks (yes, only six weeks 'til opening day!), but not necessarily exciting ones. The Nats, as we all know, have a lot of chaff that they have to sort through to construct some semblance of a major league roster. Making any sort of prediction at this point is sheer folly. But there are a few things we need to look at, and a few big questions that need answers.

    1) So is it really Patterson and someone and someone and pray for a forfeit?
    Since day one, the tired refrain of Jim Bowden has been, "Pitching, pitching, pitching." Yet with each successive transaction the pitching has successively gotten worse. Nobody can know what to expect out of this year's version -- or even WHO to expect. With 10-15 guys who have a legitimate chance at heading north with the club, certainly one of them is going to excel for a short time, and one is likely to have a surprisingly good year. But it's likely to take quite a while for that person to emerge.

    Unless someone really takes a huge step forward this spring, we can probably make some safe guesses as to who heads north. With a large amorphous blob of roughly similar pitching talent, it behooves the team to use it as a resource, maximizing the number of arms they have. Which is a long way of saying that they're likely to use these guys depending on their roster and contract status.

    Tim Redding and Jerome Williams are on the 40-man roster. I'm not going to do the math on it, but I suspect that both are out of options, so if they didn't make the opening day roster, the team would have to expose them to waivers and could lose them for nothing. So unless they completely crap the bed, they're in the rotation. Matt Chico, on the other hand, is young, and there's no real need to start his service time clock, or to waste an initial option year (if he stays down in the minors for the entire year, no option year is used -- or, depending on semantics, he gains an extra year), so unless he looks like '99 Pedro Martinez, he's going to the minors.

    If Shawn Hill is ready to go, that's four starters there, and there's room for a 40-man guy like Jermaine Van Buren, or to stretch out Emiliano Fruto or Lavelle Speigner, who would have to stay on the 25-man roster (barring a trade with MN) because he was taken in the Rule-5 draft.

    When/if any of these guys flame out or get injured, then the NRI and minor league guys like Colby Lewis or Jason Simontacchi would get their chance.

    2) Is Patterson truly an ace?
    If you look at his 2005 performance, the answer is 'probably.' But an ace needs to stay healthy, which he's never done. Patterson's strengths are his breaking pitches -- a decent slider, but really a curveball. Sure, he's got the high, riding fastball, but it's those other pitches that make the batters clench their sphincters. Unfortunately, it's those two pitches which are most affected by the elbow/nerve problem he had last year.

    Patterson's surgery wasn't as bad as we feared, but it's been 9 months since he's thrown a ball competitively, and it might take him some time to shake the rust off -- especially with the precise feel a pitcher needs to properly spin the ball. If you get a chance to see him pitch, look for the sharp downward snap of the curve. If it's there, dropping to the bottom of the zone consistently, he's back. If it's rolling, and falling to either side of the plate, it's going to take some time. Watch his K/BB rates. He'll likely walk a few more batters than usual while shaking off the rust, but if he's going well, the Ks should be there.

    Supposedly, as he was last year, he's working on a changeup. With that as a fourth pitch, he really could take the next step this year, giving him a powerful weapon against left-handed batters. He just needs to be healthy. (Sound familiar?)

    3) Who's on first?
    Nick Johnson is out 'til at least June. Hell, let's make it the All-Star Break. Larry Broadway, the Nats pseudo-prospect really should be given a mile-long leash to see whether he sinks or floats. But the team has brought in Travis Lee (praising his glove) and Dmitri "Wife Beater" Young.

    This is really one of Manny Acta's litmus tests -- and the test for "The PLAN!" Travis Lee shouldn't ever make the roster. He's an offensive zero. Sure he can field well, but that's all he does. It'd be like making Billy Traber the closer because he's the best distance runner on the team. I can sort of see the argument for giving Young a chance, but I see three straight years of decline, and it's not like the prospect the Nats would get back IF (a big if) he hit is going to be a star. If they wanted a prospect that badly, they should've given a few extra bucks to Shawn Black.

    Will Acta give Broadway the job, showing him patience even as he may struggle to adjust to the majors? Or will he go for the quick fix, going with the fat bat or, worse, the impotent glove?

    4) Is Endy Chavez 3.0 worth upgrading to?
    For the third spring in a row, the team has their hearts set on a slap-hitting speedster winning the centerfield job. Manny Acta has made him the presumptive favorite and discussed how valuable he thinks his glove is going to be. There's little doubt that Nook Logan is a pretty good defensive CFer -- although the amount of praise he's receiving for his D is starting to border on the level of over-compensation. But it's his bat that's really the question. Other than a handful of ABs last September, Nook has never really hit anywhere he's played, majors or minors. A lineup like the Yankees can afford to carry a waterbug, but in this lineup, it creates a few too many easy innings.

    Can he slap his way to a .300 average, which would make him marginally useful? Or is he going to come closer to the .261 career minor league average, which he put up in 6 seasons and nearly 2,300 ABs?

    If it's the latter, what's the teams plan? What if he's a complete zero during the spring? Would they put Ryan Church back in center after badmouthing his defense for the last 4 months? Would Alex Escobar, who's hurting already, be the next choice? Or will they suck it up and let him stink the park up, all in the name of defense? Even the Mets fans grew tired of Rey Ordonez after a few years.

    4) Whither Church?
    The darling of us outsiders who know nothing but statsheets, Ryan Church is the presumed favorite to win the left-field job. The team wanted him to go to Mexico to work on hitting breaking pitches (though the efficacy of going to a crappy league and hitting against crappy pitchers could be debated). He didn't go, but instead worked with a visualization specialist to recognize spin better. We'll see. Regardless of his faults, at the end of the day he's put up very solid numbers -- all the more impressive when you consider the near-minimum salary he's been playing under. When you're getting league average offense at a minimum salary, you have a steal.

    If he just does in a full season what he's done in a bunch of parts, he'll be one of the team's 2 or 3 best offensive performers. And if he's doing that, he becomes a very tradeable commodity. But will his performance this spring allow him to have the opportunity to become an asset?

    5) How much can one shortstop stink?
    Despite not playing one inning last year, Cristian Guzman's '06 was better than his '05 season. He's supposedly still experiencing some shoulder pain after having season-ending surgery early last year. Coming off shoulder surgery, a year's layoff, and one of the worst statistical seasons of the last decade, what can we expect? As I said a number of times last year, even if he 'improves' to his previous next worst season, he's still about 2 wins better than his '05 performance. And, even if he does that, he'll still be the worst shortstop in the league.

    He's supposedly still a little sore. Will he be able to hit this spring? And what about his defense? It's talked about now as if he were a gold glover, but that wasn't my perception back in '05. (Ever notice that the worse a player bats, the more they talk about his defense? The converse is true, too, it seems.) Will his shoulder allow him to make the tough throws? How are his fielding instincts after a year's layoff?

    6) Will Felipe not FLop at second?
    Felipe Lopez was clearly a below-average shortstop. He was probably a notch below average with his range, but what killed the team was the ghastly number of errors. I'm not sure what the breakdown was, but it seemed like the majority of those were on poor throws.

    Given that, is he really going to make a good defensive second baseman as everyone with the team assumes? Second baseman have the luxury of not having to make a clean initial play on the ball. They can usually boot it and still have time to make the shorter throw. But on a double-play pivot, that return throw needs to be strong and accurate. That doesn't sound like Lopez' forte, so I'm skeptical. But we'll see.

    7) How's the elbow, Luis?
    Luis Ayala seems like he's rushed back from last year's Tommy John surgery. It certainly takes different players different amounts of time to heal, but it also takes pitchers different amounts of time to be fully healthy. With Ayala, there's a chance that he may have to alter that low, sling-arm delivery, which likely placed tremendous stress on his elbow. If that's the case, it might take longer for him to develop some consistency. Watch his control in the spring. If he's walking a bunch of batters, he's not going to be the Ayala we're expecting for a few months.

    8) Is Jesus really the answer?
    Rule-5 steal Jesus Flores is the presumptive backup catcher for the Nats. Flores has never played above A-ball, and is going to have the duel pressure of having to learn how to hit major league pitching while trying to prevent the other teams from teeing off on his guys. He really could use some more developmental time, but can't be sent down without the Mets taking him right back (barring a trade).

    This spring, he's going to have to tether himself to Brian Schneider's side, watching and learning anything and everything he can do to make himself a major-league catcher.

    9) Who has options?
    Just as with the pitching staff, option status is likely to make a few roster decisions. Outfielder Chris Snelling, who does merit a starting spot, is guaranteed to stick since he's out of options and would have to exposed to waivers before being sent down. A more marginal player like Mike Restovich (who's also likely out of options) would stand a greater chance of clearing waivers. And Kory Caston, because he has options left, is the longest of the long shots to make the Opening Day roster.

    As the end of spring draws near, you'll hear options discussed, and they'll greatly shape who makes the team and who doesn't.

    10) How does the bench look?
    There are a number of veterans competing for backup spots on the team. Besides the clustereff at first, newly signed Ron Belliard stands a good shot of beating out the other stiffs for a backup IF job. The team might want to carry an extra shortstop, which could be the chance for one of the team's younger options like Josh Wilson. Robert Fick is fighting for a spot and could make a good third catcher/1B/corner OF utility guy, especially with Jesus Flores' inexperience.

    Watch the battles in the spring. See who's hitting, and listen to Acta's words carefully to see the things he's caring about and which players seem to be praised most often. Those will go a long way towards solving the roster puzzle.

    Sunday, February 18, 2007

    Belliard Signs

    The Nats actually suckered Ron Belliard into signing a non-guaranteed minor league contract for $750K, a surprisingly good signing. Belliard is a solid performer who, if there was a merciful god, would be taking Guzman's slot in the lineup.

    (Someone'll correct me if I'm wrong, but on a non-guaranteed deal, a certain percentage of it is guaranteed if the player isn't 'cut' by certain points during the spring, up to a maximum of about 25% of the value of the contract? -- and if that's the case, do you think that Bodes slid it by Kasten by calling Ron "Rafael"?)

    The Times says that Guzman showed up today and that his shoulder still isn't 100% healthy. Another Ryan Church-style Wus! What's wrong with these guys? Why can't they play through their pain and be leaders of men like Jose Guillen?

    He's got a good bat for a second baseman, roughly league average. He's more of a line-drive hitter, which could be a great fit for this park. The last time he played in a park conducive to doubles, he cranked out 36 and 48 of them.

    He doesn't have the classic second baseman's body. He's much more Vidro-like. Accordingly, I've never thought much of his defense, but the Cardinals and Indians, the last two teams he's played with, are on the forefront of the statistical revolution, and both teams have done a lot with defensive evaluations. If he were a drain, I can't see either team doing anything -- and I can remember a sterling play or two from him in the NLCS. He's older, and second basemen decline earlier than most other positions, so who really knows. Of course, you could put him out there with a bar stool and a pool net, and he'd be better than Vidro.

    Saturday, February 17, 2007

    I Have No Soul

    T(h)om Loverro says that people who ridicule Frank Robinson "have no soul." Since he vaguely speaks of reading this ridicule on the internet and because most bloggers are inherently egotistical, I'm going to assume that that's partially a shot at me. Lord knows I've certainly been one of Frank's biggest critics.
    But you know what? No matter how it went down, Frank Robinson gets a pass as far as I'm concerned. He's Frank Robinson, baseball royalty, and I am stunned at the lack of respect by some Nationals fans on the net for this man. It's one thing to be critical, but to read some of the comments of people who couldn't get a sniff of the greatness that was Frank Robinson -- breaking into baseball just nine years after Jackie Robinson and playing in a racially-charged city like Cincinnati -- is absurd.

    Is not being as great as Frank Robinson really an insult? Loverro couldn't get a sniff of the greatness that it Tom Boswell or Shirley Povich, but so?

    If anyone reading this doesn't think that I have respect for Frank Robinson, then they're only reading selectively. (And given how many words I churn out, I can see why!) I've written before that if you consider the totality of his career, there's likely nobody, to include Jackie Robinson, who's done as much for and made as many contributions to the game of baseball. From his inner-circle HOF playing career, to his role as the first black manager, to his long run in the league office, and then as caretaker for the red-headed stepchild of MLB. He's done it all, and done it mostly well.

    Thom goes on to make the case that Robinson is a better manager than most think by citing a few seasons in isolation, but mostly by bizarrely comparing Frank's performance last year with what Joe Girardi did with the Marlins. Sure, the Marlins had better pitching, but does Thom really think that Frank got max effort from the team? Wasn't it about mid-August where it seemed like it was everyone for themselves, with the team pretty much in disarray?

    Frank's managing is reasonably OK if you look at it at a macro level. From a telescope, 2005 was good, and maybe 2006 wasn't as bad as it felt at the time. But Loverro's there most games. He's seen Frank run relievers into the ground from overuse. He's seen Frank send relievers up to pinch hit. He saw Frank not DH Daryle Ward, letting Marlon Anderson bat cleanup. He saw all those feckin' bunts in 2005. He saw Frank run Vinny Castilla out there game after game after game on knees that were hamburger while Ryan Zimmerman sat on the bench. He saw Frank give Preston Wilson playing time in CF, despite having zero defensive ability, in a drive to get a mercenary veteran 90 RBI. He saw Frank screw up the pitching staff by dicking over John Halama (not to mention a number of other pitchers) perhaps precipitating John Patterson's arm injury thanks to overuse. He likely heard a few more juicy quotes and grumblings from Frank Robinson other than the near-daily criticisms of various players that made the paper.

    Thom should know that those things count, too.

    Pointing out that Frank Robinson is a poor strategic manager isn't the sign of someone soulless, Thom. Pointing out that Frank Robinson's attitude and the way he handles some off-field stuff isn't the best (even if it can help spur a team in short burts) isn't done out of malice, Thom.

    Frank Robinson definitely is baseball royalty, but royalty is not immunity.

    The criticism of Frank is directed at him as a manager. Not as a person. Not as a hall of famer. Not as a trailblazer. Thom doesn't want to view it that way. He prefers the macro approach, looking at the big Frank Robinson statue way high up on a pedestal. That's fine, I guess. But to suggest that those who don't choose to elevate mortal men to a near Godlike status are "soulless"? You can do better, Thom.

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Turf War Edition

    Everybody is blogging now. Barry Svrluga brings back Nationals Journal -- home of the Panera joke. Todd Jacobson dusts off the lamely named Notes on the Nationals. And the Washington Times' Nats Home Plate section now features the lovely blogging stylings of Mark Zuckerman, T(h)om Loverro, Ken Wright, Tim Lemke and Sun Myung Moon on their "Chatter" blog. Hmph!

    Oh, so those stupid point-headed "journalists" think they can do this bloggin' thing, eh? They think that their stupid journalism degrees, and years of experience, not to mention the attention they pay to the craft of writing are going to make them superior? Ha! They think that just because they have access to the players and the things going on on the field that none of us can see that they can blog? Ha! Don't they know that this is our turf, dammit? Go back to where you belong, journo-boys!

    To see how they like it, this blog is going dark next week in its electronic form. We'll be publishing an all-paper format to cut in on their action, bringing these so-called "professionals" to their knees. If you want a copy, email me 25 cents, and I'll throw it in the mailbox.

  • Nick Johnson says he's going to be out until June, and with the limp he has at the end of this video, we might be lucky if it's only that long!

    This explains the Dmitri Young signing. I still don't really see the point, but, eh, whatever. He's better than Travis Lee, at least. I don't think highly of Larry Broadway (minor league stats) certainly not as much as some misguided people do (see, that's not personal!), but the team really should give him the 300 ABs or so to see what he can do. If he stinks in April, so what? Give him time to work out of it without worrying whether he's going to be replaced by a fat, drunk wife beater. If he has 300 ABs in a row, and he's still flailing and sucking, then you've got a pretty good idea that he can't do it. But if the wife beater gets those ABs, you'll never really know.

  • Chad Cordero and the team have met a number of times, while working on a long-term extension mostly to avoid Tuesday's arbitration hearing. The team and Cordero are only $500K off, so a settlement should be able to get done. We can tell that Chad has been listening to the union:
    "To me, if I'm going to do a long-term deal, I just want something that's fair," said Cordero, who is seeking $4.15 million through arbitration. "Not something that's trying to low-ball me or end up low-balling anybody else behind me for the next couple years. That's what I want, something that's fair."

    Chad's case is basically a precedent-setting one. More and more teams are drafting college closers and turning the reigns to the 9th inning over to them at a young age. The Union wants his salary as high as possible so these other college closers and young relievers can pry their way up the salary bar, too.

    If you listen closely, you can hear Stan Kasten seething.

  • Bill Ladson (who needs to get a blog like his brethren), reports that the Nats are interested in Ron Belliard as a backup infielder. The only problem is that Belliard apparently wants to be paid, and the team would prefer more of a pro bono relationship. Belliard is a solid second baseman who could be a decent bat off the bench. (Ideally, he'd replace Guzman in the lineup, but I wouldn't be holding my breath.) The team doesn't really have much minor-league depth, with Josh "Cool Mustache" Wilson and Joe "Sloppy" Thurston being the primary "kids" (note the scare quotes) in line for a backup job. Yes, I left out Bernie "Sucks" Castro intentionally.

  • Alex Escobar is injured already. Well, "still" is probably a better word choice, as he's recovering from the same shoulder separation that ended his season LAST AUGUST!?!!? Not even Ryan Church is that much of a wus!

    Sez Escobar: The shoulder is good," Escobar said. "I'm halfway there. I haven't had any problems. I saw Dr. [James] Andrews a month ago and he was impressed with the improvement of my shoulder.

    Given the number of times that Dr. Andrews has likely seen him, the good doc is likely impressed ANY time that Escobar is even mobile, so I wouldn't read too much into that!

  • Three of the Nats injured pitchers threw yesterday, all without problem. John Patterson was able to snap off some curves -- which is the key for him. And Luis Ayala threw his "fastball and his sinker," which, since a sinker IS a fastball, is a bit redundant. The Post says that he's not limited by his arm... yet. Oh, and Micah Bowie did something, but who really cares? It's Micah Bowie!

  • If you had Billy Traber (Run, Billy, Run story) in the fastest mile pool, you win! It's refreshing to know that at one point in my life, I could've outrun a professional baseball player.

  • Single-Game Tickets go on sale in a week, the 24th. But if you're a season ticket holder, or if you've ever thought of being a season ticket holder, or if you've ever heard of such a thing as season tickets, there's a pre-sale starting this Wednesday. The presale codes (and ensuing cries of moral outrage) can be found here.

  • Memo to Stan (only because I know I lost him 2,200 words ago): Your ticket office stinks. Remember when you suggested to me that I should downgrade to the $5 seats for just $100 to hold my priority? Well, your craptastic website doesn't have those seats on sale for the 20-game plans. I've heard the advertising (the Zimmerman and spring commercial is pretty good!) and it touts the $100 plans, yet there's no place to buy them. Fix it!

  • Here's an interesting story on some rule changes for the coming year. Supposedly they're going to make an effort to crack down on batters who step out of the box and pitchers who take too much time between innings. But the key ones are the ending of ties. Games won't be replayed from the start, but picked up where they left off. And they're also changing the rules on how Defensive Indifference is awarded for certain late-inning steals. I, for one, am glad that they're finally getting around to making the baseball rulebook gender neutral. Who among us cannot say that MLB is on top of today's hottest issues?


    (It's been mostly tepid lately...)
    --NTP has the Nats' NRI All-Stars.
    --The Enquireer links to an old video of Tony Batista making a pitcher crap his pants.
    --NFA finalizes, more or less, the draft pick order for next June.

  • Friday, February 16, 2007

    Frank, My Dear, I Don't Give A Damn

    Frank Robinson, former manager of the Nats, has declined the team's offer of a Frank Robinson Day to honor his many contributions to the game of baseball.

    Anyone wanna check the Pro-Am Golf Tourney calendar for May 20? Perhaps the appearance fee they were offering wasn't high enough? Perhaps he's just too full of pride to do something on behalf of an ownership group that, for whatever reason, backed down from what they said they'd do?

    Frank was a helluva player, and a true pioneer in the game. You can make a convincing case that he's had the greatest career in baseball of anyone ever.

    But getting rid of him on the field was the right decision.

    And although Stan Kasten has repeatedly declined to give a reason as to why he was let go, he has said that there were things that changed his mind, so presumably it wasn't a decision made lightly, particularly given the backlash.

    All that being said, it's a loss for Frank. The fans -- even I -- appreciate what he's done. And he's missing out on a chance to feel the love for one last day. And he's depriving the fans of the right to honor him. That's a shame.

  • Here's my favorite Frank Robinson moment from 2006.

  • Thursday, February 15, 2007

    Gang of 13: Joel Hanrahan

    As I've looked at each of the pitchers in this series so far, I've managed to convince myself that things might not be as bad as I thought. Each one has had something going in their favor, be it minor league success or just unluckiness with injury. In Joel Hanrahan's case, the closer I look, the less I like.

    Hanrahan was the Dodgers 2nd round pick in the 2000 draft. He's a pretty big, hard-throwing right-hander. His fastball zips along in the low to mid-90s, and he has a decent slider. His problem, which is the problem of many a hard-throwing pitcher, is that he has times where he has no idea where either are going.

    He made his pro debut for Great Falls, the Dodgers' rookie Pioneer League team in 2000. Just 18, he held his own with a decent, but not spectacular performance. Over the next two years, he'd slowly chug up the ladder, finishing up with 3 starts in Double-A as just a 20-year old. Double-A batters weren't kind to him, but he used his fastball/slider combo to strike out 10 of them in just 11 innings. When you add in his A-ball performance, he K'd an impressive 149 batters in '02. Through those two years, he showed a pretty good ability to keep the ball away from bats. He struck out a bunch, didn't allow too many hits and kept the ball in the park. For good measure, he chipped in a no-hitter while with Vero Beach.

    Despite those strengths, his early performances pointed to one weakness: along with that powerful stuff, came an inability to really control it. His mid-3 walks per game totals don't scream out as a huge red flag, but when he had as much of an advantage as his homer and strikeout rate seemed to indicate, it's likely a sign of someone who was getting by on pure stuff, and not command of his pitches.

    With that caveat, you'd expect his first full year at double-A to be a learning experience. It wasn't. He dominated the Southern League, winning their best pitching award, winning 10 games with a 2.43 ERA and 130 strikeouts. Even more amazingly, he allowed just 5 homers in over 130 innings -- perhaps the greatest sign of his dominance. The Dodgers pushed him up at the end of the year, getting him a crack at Triple-A as a 21-year old. Just as double-A batters smacked him around in his late-season attempt the year before, so did triple-A batters. Through 5 starts, he had a ghastly 10.08 ERA, and he managed to walk 20 batters in just 25 innings.

    Still, he had nothing left to prove at double-A and when 2004 began, he was in Las Vegas, pitching in the PCL. He wasn't able to make the adjustments he had the year before, and was hit hard. The PCL is a pretty strong hitter's league, so his 5.05 ERA isn't as much of a problem as it looks. But those 75 walks are. He did strike out 97 batters, but his Ks per game dropped by about 1.5. He wasn't getting by on pure stuff any more. At the close of the year, the Dodgers would shut him down with shoulder tendinitis. Hanrahan had been struggling with the shoulder all season, perhaps explaining his difficulties.

    The last two years have been step backs. The Dodgers, due to his difficulties in Triple-A and his shoulder tenderness, took it easy, working him mostly at double-A, where he had that brilliant 2003 season. He still had the brilliant K rate, but even at the lower level, his control regressed to the point where he walked over 5 per game last year at double-A. (Again, because of the quality of his stuff and his ability to keep the ball in the park, his ERA was quite good: 2.43)

    They gave him another chance at Triple-A at the end of last year, and the results still weren't great. His ERA was a passable 4.48, but his 46/39 K/BB rate was putrid, and the luster of prospecthood was gone. After the season, the Dodgers took him off the 40-man roster, and the Nationals signed him as a minor-league free agent.

    If you have him at Double-A or below, he's light's out. Triple-A, and he's a mess. So how's he going to fare at the MLB level? Uhoh.

    Only two projection systems took a crack at him. ZIPS thinks he's good for a 5.23 ERA with a ghastly 5.2 walks per 9. PECOTA is eerily similar, going with a 5.27 ERA and 5.6 walks per 9. With those walk rates, I really don't see how they can project an ERA that low.

    If there's a bright side to him, he's still young. 2007 is his age 25 season, and there's still time for him to harness his stuff. He's supposedly a hard worker, and he's going to need to focus on his delivery to have a consistent command of his stuff. As his performance at triple-A showed, it's not enough to throw hard and overpower batters. He needs to be able to control his pitches and throw smartly.

    I look at the sum total of things, and all I have is a little bit of hope. But hope, at least for me, doesn't breed optimism.

    Pic O' The Day

    giant ball of gas

    Meet Ray King, who hasn't yet learned where to strategically position his belt.

    It Hurts Because It's True



    Were I not such a disciplined, restrained person, who's always struggling to see the positive in everything, giving you the alternative bright-side perspective to the "tradmed", I'd be railing about the pointless cockamamie signing of the eternally sucky Tony Batista and Wil Cordero All-Star, Dmitri Young -- In Soviet Russia, wife beat you!

    The Twins dabbled in Tony Batista last year and floundered with his crappy offense and immobile defense for about two months. They cut him, filled his position with an athlete and rocketed to the top of the division while Tony, who has the nicest eyebrows in the majors, sat on his couch eating Doritos.

    Since I'm Mr. Positive, I'll let others do the ranting. Uber Twinsblogger, Aaron Gleeman takes the hatchet to Batista here. Opening line: Any optimism I had in regard to the Twins' offseason was ruined yesterday when the team signed Tony Batista to a one-year contract. But perhaps more importantly, he previously used the pathetic case of Mr. Batista to show the folly of focusing on RBI as a measure of performance.

    In Young's case, he's an interesting hitter, but one who carries around a ton of baggage. Fat, Drunkard, Wife-beater: pick your poison. The Tigers dumped him mid-season last year under circumstances that've never been entirely cleared up.

    Regardless, he's been on a four-year slide. Now 33, his severe inattention to his conditioning has turned him into the poor man's Daryle Ward.

    Bowden says that he's accumulating assets to trade in the pennant race next year, but that's folly. Both Batista and Young sat on their asses during the pennant races, unclaimed, even though both would've been freely available to play for the major league minimum.

    The only way they'll be in a pennant race is if Columbus does what it looks like they're capable of doing. The Clippers are going to be loaded, and have to be one of the favorites for the IL crown. Interestingly, it looks like the average age of the Triple-A team is going to be higher than the MLB roster. And I can't wait for the press release at the end of the year trumpeting the Nats improved minor league record in 2007, built on the backs of 35-year old retreads, is an indication that "The PLAN!" is humming along.

    Wednesday, February 14, 2007

    But, But, But.... GIL MECHE!!!

    The punching bag contract of the offseason, and the refrain most Kastenites use when defending the team from spending any money ever is the sad tale of the Royals and Gil Meche.

    Joe Posnaski, who's the best sportswriter in the business with his combination of amazing writing skill and damn good analysis, gives the Royals side of the contract, and tries to explain how a franchise could decide that paying Gil Meche $55 million over 5 years makes sense. It's still a silly contract, but this is at least a reasonable argument for it.

    Kasten Reconsidered

    Federal Baseball examines "The PLAN!" and Stan Kasten's role in its development with the Braves. We know all about the highs, but what about the lows? Not everything that Kasten touched turned to gold (insert Thrashers joke here), and Basil tries to examine some of the moves that didn't work out and some of the strategies they tried before ultimately getting the results they got. Sometimes it's as instructive to examine the misses.

    Check out the whole stinkin' thing. It's worth it.

    How to apply this knowledge to the Nats? Well, they must develop young talent, obviously. And other than that? That requires whatever other secrets the Braves employed, which aren't really forthcoming, which is why the loyal fanbase has embraced the concept of "The Plan." When I read Nats320's great interview series with Kasten, I imagined Stan the Man chuckling a bit at the mention of "The Plan." Not because no such plan exists, but because it cannot be as fundamental, principled, and Sinai-esque as some fans out there on the message boards make it out to be. It's a slogan. It's a catchphrase. It's political. There is no book lying around bearing the title "The Plan." To the extent there is one, I'd imagine it is Branch Rickey's "Little Blue Book," a book Kasten (as well as most baseball executives, I'd imagine) attests he keeps close to his heart.

    This was the same Branch Rickey, of course, who famously wrote that "luck is the residue of design." Sometimes, you just have to be willing to be lucky---which means you need to be prepared to be unlucky, and then learn from that unluckiness. It's not Kasten's past successes that interest me; we know all about them. It's what he's learned from the Braves' disappointments that interests me more.

    Tuesday, February 13, 2007

    Gang of 13: Colby Lewis

    As crazy as it sounds, Colby Lewis might be the guy to watch this spring. That sounds silly for a guy with a 6.76 ERA in 46 major league games who's on his third team in the last few years, but when you cock your head to one side, squint a little bit while staring at his minor league performance and some scouting reports, you can convince yourself of some pretty stupid things.

    Lewis was a first-round pick (38th overall) of the Texas Rangers back in 1999. He signed quickly and got 14 starts for Pulaski of the Appalachian League and simply dominated. That first year's stats are jaw-dropping: 64 innings, 1.95 ERA, 46 H, 84 K, just 3 HR allowed. The only knock was his walk rate. With his overpowering stuff, he allowed too many free baserunners, walking nearly 4 per game. I'd guess that that's a symptom of him being relatively old for a rookie league (where he'd likely be facing a lot of high school hitters), and a lack of command.

    He zipped up the ladder relatively quickly, keeping his K rate up over 8, while cutting down the walks. When 2002 rolled around, Lewis was the Rangers' top pitching prospect, and a decent spring earned him a spot in the bullpen.

    Unfortunately, those command issues that you could gloss over because he was dominating teenagers become a little bit more of a problem when he faced MLB hitters. Lewis walked 26 batters in just 34 innings, and his 28/26 K/BB ratio was ghastly. He got sent back down to Triple-A and got his control back, walking just 2.4 per game, while pitching very effectively. He got two more cracks at the majors that year, including four starts at the end of the season where he walked 17 more batters.

    His 2003 season should be held up as the example for why single-season win/loss record is meaningless. Lewis finished 10-9 in 127 innings -- seemingly a decent season. But he did this with a 7.30 ERA. Yegods! Lewis' control failed him again, walking almost 5, but he couldn't keep the ball in the park (23 homers) and he gave up a crapload of hits (163 in those 127 innings).

    In the middle of that dreadful performance, Lewis was sent back to Triple-A for a month. Over those 7 starts for Oklahoma, he was effective, even as he continued to walk too many batters. He had nothing left to prove in the minors, but he just couldn't translate that success to the majors, and he was reaching the point where careers start to flame out.

    He did enough to cement a starting job that next spring, but he got just three starts (and 13 more walks). He reported right shoulder stiffness and went on the DL. Right as he was about to begin a rehab assignment, an MRI revealed multiple tears of his rotator cuff. He had surgery in May and missed the rest of the season. At the end of the year, the Rangers put him on waivers, and the Tigers happily scooped up his potential.

    He spent all of 2005 rehabbing for the Tigers, including a separate minor surgery on his shoulder. He was finally healthy in 2006, and he pitched most of the year for Detroit's top farm team, the Toledo Mud Hens. The results were encouraging.

    For many pitchers, a torn rotator cuff is a death sentence. Many pitchers are never able to recover their previous potential, and it's the type of injury that can lead to other problems. Any Nats fan who saw Tony Armas pitch and wondered what the hell all those scouts were raving about can chalk the difference between perception and reality to his rotator cuff surgery a few years back. Cubs fans can do the same with Kerry Wood's constant shoulder problems.

    But Lewis seemed to have overcome all that. In '06, he greatly improved his control, walking just 36 batters, but his strikeout rate did drop into the mid-6s, where it was typically above 8 previously. Lewis would get two appearances mid-season with the Tigers, but they dropped him from the 40-man roster at the end of the season, and he signed with the Nats as a minor-league free agent in November.

    It's hard to say what the Nats should expect from Lewis. He's clearly got a solid track record in the minors, and he showed an ability to adapt post-surgery, but we're left with an ungodly track record of performance in the majors. Still, the bulk of it came in that weird '03 season where he had the misfortune of pitching in front of a lousy defense in a sun-baked park that strongly favors the batter.

    He's got a solid low-90s fastball, and a passable breaking ball, but he really needs to develop a third pitch. Of course, if he can't command the first two -- which clearly seems to be his problem -- it won't matter. The projection systems think fairly highly of him (Well, highly for a Nats pitcher).

    CHONE: 4.70 ERA
    Marcel 4.74 ERA
    ZIPS: 5.28 ERA

    It's going to be a challenge for him, but the potential is there. If 2006 represents a new level of command for him, and if he's able to solidify a third pitch, there's no reason he can't surprise as a passable 4th starter. And if he doesn't stick? Well, the fans in Columbus won't be disappointed.

    Worse Than The Royals?

    The DC Sports Bog has the thumb-breaking Las Vegas mobster beat down, getting the scoop on the odds for the coming season. Therein, we find out that the Nats are regarded even worse than the Kansas City Royals.

    Behold the power of Gil Meche!

    Party At Uncle Teddy's Tonight

    John Patterson lost his arbitration case, and he'll earn the club's recommended salary of $850K, instead of his request of $1.85 million. If you heard a loud cork-popping sound, it was no doubt the sound of celebration from Lerner Worldwide Headquarters as they're now a million bucks richer! While, I'm sure this million will be put to good use to gold plate some bidets at the new stadium or to sign 78,000 new Dominican shortstops, I'm just glad it didn't go to one of those greedy players who don't know their place in the pecking order.

    Patterson's case was an interesting one. He clearly has the talent to warrant the higher salary, but his never-ending list of injuries has presented him from accumulating any sort of valuable statistical record, which, in the end, is what likely crippled his case.

    I'd be interested to hear who presented the case for the Nats. (I'm sure that whoever it is will get a crisp new $5 bill extra in their paycheck on Friday.)

    Chad Cordero remains unsigned, and his arbitration case is next Tuesday, barring some sort of agreement between now and then.

    Reporting For Duty

    This is where the hack writer would look out the window and draw some sort of cheesy now-cliched parallel to the snowstorm out my window and the beautiful weather in Florida, so pretend I've done that here.

    In the meantime, Pitchers and Catchers report today, down in beautiful Viera, FL. I've never really found this day to be exciting, since they don't really do much of anything. It's sorta like your first day at a new job, when you spend most of the day filling out the endless reams of paperwork, and getting shuffled around from office to office to meet various people whose names you'll forget 10 minutes later. Colby, I'm Nook. Nook, I'm Jesus. Jesus, I'm Jesus. Blah blah blah.

    Wake me up when they actually play a game.

  • The official online-only beat writer of Capitol Punishment has a good rundown of the improvements that the Nats made (or rather, had made for them) to the spring training facilities.

    His story indicates that the Nationals Director of Florida Operations has learned the wonderful art of obfuscation with stadium deals. Consider these two grafs:
    To get the stadium fixed, the Nationals went to the Brevard County commission and received $2.6 million from the tourist tax fund.

    "The dollars contributed by the board of county commissioners in Brevard County has come out of the Tourism Development Council," said Jack Masson, the Nationals' director of Florida operations. "Our contractual agreement is with the board of county commissioners -- they own this stadium and we lease it from them -- but those dollars that go into [the stadium] are not taxpayers' dollars."
    Since it's from a tourist tax fund and laundered through a Commission, it's not actually tax dollars? Alrighty. Thanks for clearing that up, Jack.
    Shapiro, Blush and Masson declined to say how much money the Lerner group put into refurbishing the stadium, but a source outside the organization said the group spent from $300,000 to $400,000 on stadium operations such as grounds keeping and clubhouse equipment.

    Apples and oranges here. That $300K isn't an extra contribution by the Nats. That's regular operation of the stadium, which is typically paid by the team, regardless of any upgrades to the dump. To torture an analogy, that would be like me being questioned by the IRS about not filing a return last year and citing my electric bill as proof that I lived up to my responsibilities.

  • Meanwhile... Tom Boswell pens a love letter to Stan Kasten. Would you believe that the Nats are further ahead than the Braves were in rebuilding way back in the day? No? Me neither. Boz argues anyway.

  • Monday, February 12, 2007

    Gang of 13: Jason Simontacchi

    What a long, strange trip it's been for Jason Simontacchi. When he checks in with the team tomorrow, it'll have been his...well, I lost count. He's bounced around here and there and back again. The kid has to love the baseball life, cause I can't think of any other reason why he's hung around so much.

    His journey starts way back in 1996, when the KC Royals drafted him in the 21st round out of Albertson College in Idaho. He pitched poorly in 1996, then got worse in 1997. After putting up an ugly 6.97 ERA as a reliever, they released him.

    Undeterred, he pitched for a franchise that doesn't exist any more in the Independent Frontier League. There, he pitched exceptionally, winning 10 games with a 2.95 ERA, catching the eye of a different woeful MLB franchise, the Pirates. They signed him, gave him a year of so-so, but not exceptional pitching before coming to the same conclusion as the Royals; they released him.

    So what does a 26-year old who's flamed out of two different franchises do? Why go to Italy, and pitch in the Italian league! The story goes that he went basically on the strength of his last name, but he seemed to have found some success overseas since he earned a spot pitching for the Italian Olympic team in 2000, and then had his contract purchased by the Twins in 2001.

    Back across the Atlantic he came, pitching in Edmonton, of all places. 7 wins, 13 losses and a 5.34 ERA later, and the Twins released him. Sensing a pattern yet?

    But for some Godforsaken reason, the St. Louis Cardinals picked him up in 2002, sending him to Triple-A Memphis. He pitched solidly for the Redbirds for about a month, and then amazingly he got a callup! It took four organizations, two continents and three nations, but he got his chance.

    He had amazing early success. Through his first 13 starts, he went 7-1 with a 2.82 ERA. The league figured him out a bit towards the end of the year, but he finished with a 4.02 ERA in 24 starts. Simontacchi had emerged as a passable major league pitcher, and when spring training rolled around the next year, he found himself with the same franchise for the first time since his professional debut in '96 and '97.

    He started out as the team's fifth starter, but struggled a bit. By the time July rolled around, his ERA was over 6, and the Cardinals turned to rookie Dan Haren. He pitched effectively out of the pen, putting up an ERA under 4 and winning 4 in relief. That would be his role the next season, but after some early struggles, the Cards sent him down to Memphis. He would bounce up and down most of the year, filling in as the long man in the pen as injuries popped up in St. Louis, but he would get just 15 more innings in the majors, and the Cardinals would soon release him.

    At the end of the year, Simontacchi would have surgery to repair a torn labrum, explaining, in part, some of the struggles he faced that season. The injury would force him to miss all of 2005, but when 2006 rolled around, he signed a minor-league deal with the Chicago Cubs. But after a few visits to Dr. James Andrews (whom a pitcher never really wants to meet), the Cubs voided his contract and released him.

    But, of course, given where he's been, the story wasn't going to end there, was it? Where would he show up next? Why, Bridgeport! He pitched for the Bluefish, the pennant winners of the Atlantic League. There he played with other MLB luminaries like Matt Anderson, Nick Bierbrodt, Will Cunnane, Brian Boehringer and Donovan Osborne. (Check the roster, it's a 1990 who's who, and it features one ex-Nat!)

    He got his 10 innings of dominant ball in, and the Nats must've liked what he was doing there and in the Dominican Winter League. Now he's here competing with 100 other guys for the four rotation slots not manned by John Patterson. And he, amazingly, has as good a chance as any.

    To this point, I've just rambled about his international wanderings, but what kind of pitcher is he? The obvious answer is a mediocre one, but he does do some things well. In the minors especially, he had pinpoint control, walking fewer than 2 batters per game. He's not an overpowering guy -- he couldn't even K five batters per 9 IP in the majors -- and he did give up a bunch of taters while with the Cardinals. The projection systems don't know what to make of him. Only one of them even takes a stab, and MARCEL (which is really a crude system designed, basically, as a joke to show how stupid projection systems are) takes a guess, giving him a bizarrely low 4.68 ERA. That's based largely on a career high K rate and a low homer rate. Ummm... yeah.

    Now 33, I can't see a lot of upside here, since his stuff is so marginal, but he's certainly capable of giving a Ramon Ortiz-like performance if the others flame out.

    I'd be surprised if he got a chance in Washington this year, but he should team up with some of the other stiffs to give Columbus a pretty solid Triple-A rotation. Given his history, it'd only be appropriate for him to split time in two cities.

    For Prurient Interests Only

    Oh, I'll have none of this, thank you, Sir. But if you're one of those foul pots of lust who can barely contain your most base urges, you can certainly find some satisfaction here with Felipe Lopez' wife.

    You clicked that? For shame!

    Maharishi Everts

    Apparently, "The PLAN!" includes some far-eastern principles as the NY Times looks at a trio of Nats minor leaguers (including two of our top arms), and their devotion to yoga. They use it to control and focus on the mound, putting them in a calm state of mind.

    (Here's the best out-of-context sentence from the piece: They stretch each other’s quads and hamstrings in a way that is rarely seen during batting practice at R.F.K. Stadium.)

    Thanks to loyal reader Kevin for the link...

    Sunday, February 11, 2007

    Gang of 13: Jerome Williams

    Jerome Williams is at a crisis point in his career. A former first-round pick (39th overall) of the San Francisco Giants, Williams has been on a steady slide for a few years, and this could be his last chance to prove himself. Williams is just 25, so there's still plenty of potential in that arm, especially with his pedigree, but the results just haven't been there. If things break right, the Nationals could have themselves a steal, since the Nationals will continue to hold the rights to his contract for three seasons beyond this one.

    There have been two basic problems with Williams. First, he's not much for conditioning. At one point, he reportedly weighed around 260 pounds. That works if you're a slop-throwing Cuban, otherwise it's just sloppy. (Doesn't he resemble him here?) It's hard to maintain command and consistency of a delivery with poor conditioning, mostly because of increased fatigue. He's rarely going to give you much more than five innings.

    The second problem is that he's basically a two-pitch pitcher, mixing a low-90s fastball with a pretty good changeup. By all accounts, he's never been able to develop a usable third pitch to compliment those. You can get by with two if you're a reliever, but by the second time through the lineup, a starter with two pitches isn't deceiving many. Pitching coach Randy St. Claire is going to need to work hard with him on a good breaking pitch.

    Even just with two MLB-quality pitches, Williams tore through the minors. He made his pro debut as a 17-year old and lived up to his draft status. He started seven games and allowed just nine earned runs. He zipped up the chain over the next two years before starting the 2002 season in Triple-A Fresno. Despite being just 20 years old, he started 28 games with a 3.59, which is even more impressive when you realize how much of a hitter's league the PCL is.

    He would start the next season again at Triple-A, before getting a callup for an emergency start at the end of April. The Giants sent him back down to Triple-A, and he picked up where he left off, dominating the PCL with an even more impressive 2.68 ERA. When June rolled around, the Giants, who were competing for a post-season spot, called him back up. Williams, still just 21, stuck in the rotation for the rest of the year, winning 7 games with a 3.30 ERA.

    Since then, it's been a bit of a battle. Williams showed up to spring training the next year out of shape and overweight. He battled a right arm strain which was diagnosed as elbow tendinitis at mid-season. The tendinitis would eventually require surgery in August, and he would miss the rest of the season. At the end of the year, he had 10 wins, but his ERA had risen to a disappointing, but still respectable, 4.24.

    The following spring, he would have to reassert himself in the eyes of the Giants. Unfortunately, his father had a liver and kidney transplant during the spring, which caused him to fall behind. (His mother had died a few years before from breast cancer.) Predictably, he got smacked around in the spring, but he still headed north with the team as the fifth starter. After just three starts, the Giants didn't like what they saw, and they sent him to the minors to work on his command.

    His time in the minors wasn't much better. As good as he was in Fresno previously, he was as bad in 2005, walking more batters than he struck out. In late May, the Giants traded him to the Cubs, and he pitched much better with their Triple-A affiliate. The Cubs called him back up, and he pitched effectively through the end of the season.

    Despite his relative success, there were some warning signs. He set a career low in strikeouts per IP, and career highs in walks and homers per IP -- the exact opposite of what you'd want in a successful pitcher.

    When 2006 rolled around, Williams pitched like he was toast. He'd appear in just 5 games for the Cubs, but those three key stats would all get worse. When they shipped him back to Iowa, he pitched as if he'd lost it. He gave up more homers there than he had at any stop in his career, and he struck out just over 4 batters per 9 innings -- a woeful rate that would pretty much automatically disqualify any pitcher from an extended period of success. You simply can't consistently succeed in the majors without missing bats from time to time.

    So what happened to him? Is it physical? Was he having arm problems that were making his performance tail off? Is it mental? Is his head just not in the game? Is it just a conditioning issue? Damned if I know!

    But I do know that if there really is such a thing as a St. Claire Special, Williams is the guy the Nats need him to work on. There's a TON of potential there. What he was doing as a teenager and a 20-year old is special. A pitcher who's that young shouldn't be holding his own in Triple-A or in the Majors. Yet Williams did.

    Somebody has to get through to the kid -- whether it's putting the fear of God into him that this is his last chance and he better show up at a proper weight with the desire to match the talent he has, or it's just St. Claire refining his slider, giving him a third pitch to counteract to left-to-right break of his change.

    The projections systems are all over the map with him:
    CHONE: 4.91 ERA
    Marcel: 4.56 ERA
    ZIPS: 5.28 ERA
    PECOTA: 5.21 ERA

    He's certainly capable of beating all of those. But will he? Williams is probably a pretty good barometer of the Nats' season. If he's pitching well, the Nats are going to surprise. If he's stinking on ice, then they'll be living up to their low expectations.

    If he does succeed, the Nats are in a great position. Realistically, he's the only one of the huge crop of stiffs they brought in who could reasonably be termed a part of "The PLAN!" since he's the only young one with any real upside.

    It's a lotta "ifs", for sure. But this is shaping up to be an iffy kinda season.

  • He's in camp already. That's a good sign!

  • Friday, February 09, 2007

    The Department of Stupid Ideas

    Today's Dunderheaded Move of the Day comes courtesy of who else? Peter Angelos and the not-good folks at MASN.

    First, the good news. We'll get 8 spring training games (although how you'll distinguish them, given our pitchers, from the regular season ones remains to be seen). The downside is that four of those are with the Orioles, cause Lord knows we don't get that stinking team rammed down our throat enough.

    OK, here's the stupid part. Take it away, Barry and Jorge:
    On the roughly 100 regularseason dates when Baltimore and Washington play at the same time, the network will offer MASN2, which will be available on every cable system that carries MASN. The Nationals and Orioles will likely alternate between MASN and MASN2 so that neither is labeled as second-tier.

    Rather than making the Nats the primary team in DC and putting the O's on the primary channel in Baltimore, they're going to float the two teams around whenever and wherever they feel like it? Wanna catch that Nats/Pirates game Friday night after a hard day of work? Good luck finding it. Is it MASN1? MASN2? And what the hell channel is MASN2 on? (You can bet it's going to float depending on whether they want to pre-empt NewsChannel 8 or QVC).

    No, it's not a big deal, but why inconvenience the fans like that? And all because Czar Petey (who's probably in mourning over his Cuban Commie friend's illness) doesn't want his little feathers ruffled. What idiocy! In Peter Angelos' world, there are no grades, no losers, and everybody is a winner! Yay! Let's not even keep score next year! Peter thinks everyone should finish 81-81, and we should all share the World Series trophy for a week or two in the off-season, and we can all go out for sundaes in October and have a big pillow fight at the end of the night! Won't it be fun? Nobody's second tier! We're all teh bestest!11!

    I'm someone who regards reflexive anti-Oriolism -- as if that rat-infested, syphilis hellhole compares to this shining city with a Hill -- as just a notch or two above cretinism. But Mr. Angelos' policies are making that a much more attractive option than his delusional utopia of equality.

    Thursday, February 08, 2007

    Gang of 13: Shawn Hill

    The story of Shawn Hill is the story of a lot of young pitchers. It's one filled with potential. And it's one filled with injury that destroys most of that potential. Hill, a right-handed pitcher, got a brief chance with the Nats last year, starting 6 games. And other than a start against the offense-heavy Red Sox in Fenway, pitched solidly, giving the Nats a chance to win the other 5.

    Hill was born in Ontario and was drafted by the Padres in the 33rd round of the 1999 draft, but didn't come to terms. The Expos drafted him the following year in the 6th round and he signed quickly. He progressed steadily through the minors, relying mainly on a sinking, two-seam fastball. Hill never had the kind of dominance you usually like to see in a minor leaguer, striking out around 6 batters per 9 IP. But he kept the ball on the ground, in the park, and in the strike zone, allowing him to succeed. The Expos advanced him one level at a time, and he maintained his solid production at each level, slowly building a solid case for promotion.

    By the time 2004 Spring Training rolled around, Hill was though of enough where he was competing for a spot in the back of the rotation, despite never pitching in Triple-A. Hill lost out in the battle to John Patterson, and was sent back down to Double-A, where he held the opposing team to a measly 3.39 ERA. When John Patterson (what else) got injured later that summer and Claudio Vargas couldn't hold a spot, Hill got the call.

    He made his first start against Philadelphia, and it's not one he's going to tell the Grandkids about. He struck out two of the first three batters he faced in a perfect first, but a double and three walks gave the Phillies two in the second. The Phillies sent nine to the plate off him in the third and six of them scored, ending his debut.

    Amazingly, he followed that up with a 5-inning, one-run outing against the Blue Jays, although this was a lineup with both Chris Gomez and Dave Berg in it. As a footnote to the game, this was the last one between the two Canadian rivals, and, demonstrating how stupid MLB is, it was played in Puerto Rico.

    He got knocked around in a third start, and was sent back to the minors. In his first start back in Harrisburg, he reported elbow pain, and was put on the DL for two weeks. That two weeks turned into a year. He had Tommy John surgery at the end of the season, putting him out for the all of 2005.

    After the time off, he started back in Harrisburg, pitching solidly until a mid-season callup to Triple-A. One effective start later, and he earned a trip back to the majors to replace the always-injured Zach Day. Hill would get those aforementioned six starts in 2006, but his elbow would again flair up.

    The team, hoping it was just an issue with the post-surgery scar tissue, put him on the DL to rest him. They gave him a rehab start at double-A where he threw nothing but fastballs to avoid the strain the curve puts on the elbow. Despite the restrictions, his elbow still ached, and they shut him down for the year.

    Even with his health, Hill's stuff isn't good enough to make him much more than a mid-rotation starter (as if that's a bad thing!). He's the kind of guy who, when things are breaking right, can give you six innings without being blown out. But, as the question is with most of the Nats, will his arm hold up enough to let him maximize his talents?

    It typically takes a pitcher 18 months to recover from Tommy John surgery. While some take less, others take more. The dangers of rushing back are that there could be a relapse, or the pitcher could adjust his mechanics to avoid elbow strain, thereby harming something else -- typically a shoulder, which would then be the end of him. The Nationals did the right thing in shutting him down last year, and it seems like he did the right thing too, in letting the Nats know that he wasn't healthy. Too many players (especially on this team) try and play through the pain until their elbows snap. (See: O'Connor, Mike; Guillen, Jose)

    What I saw of Hill last year, I liked. He's the classic groundball pitcher, throwing heavy pitches that get pounded into the dirt, and he used his change and curve just enough to keep the hitters off balance. When he's in or right near the strike zone, especially on the lower half, he can succeed without having overpowering stuff. If he's healthy enough, and St. Claire can work his magic in perfecting the changeup, he'll have an effective pitch that dives down and away from left-handed batters, keeping them off balance in the way the curve works with righties.

    The various projection systems love him:
    Chone: 4.35 ERA
    Marcels: 4.73 ERA
    ZIPS: 4.27 ERA
    Pecota: 4.51

    Any of those numbers would've made him the Nats' "ace" last year.

    Let's hope the ol' guy can stay healthy!

  • Our friends at Nationals Farm Authority interviewed Hill a while back. It's worth a look again as he recounts his experience in the Olympics and talks about tearing his UCL (basically the Tommy John Ligament) back in '99.

  • Tuesday, February 06, 2007

    Dotting Ts and Crossing Is

    The Nats agreed to contracts with 12 more players, which is certainly more impressive than it sounds. These players were all under the team's control, and none of them were arbitration eligible since they lacked the three full years of major-league service time. (Here's where the pedants point out that Tim Redding has more than three, and here's where I point out that he was signed as a minor-league free agent, which trumps the arbitration process for this season)

    That's not the interesting part though ("Duh," says you). There are four players left unsigned. Two are arbitration cases (Patterson and Cordero) and the other two are Nook Logan and Ryan Zimmerman. I'm not sure why they can't come to terms with Logan. He has barely over a year's worth of service time and, as a result, the team can basically tell him what they're going to pay him.

    Zimmerman's is a slightly different case. As a rookie, Zimmerman made the league minimum. The Nats are within their rights to offer a token raise, telling him to stick it. But, for obvious reasons, the cheapest solution might not be the smartest. The Nats did that with Chad Cordero, for example, paying him $525K last year, even though that was way above the minimum they needed to pay him. You want to keep your star guys happy, and if that makes you pay a few extra K, so be it.

    The interesting question for me, though, is what to do about Zimmerman's future? He's clearly part of "The PLAN!" and is going to be the centerpiece of the franchise for years to come. So why not lock him up long-term like they did with Kearns?

    Kearns has over three more years of service time and was already arbitration eligible. Zimmerman, on the other hand, won't even be eligible for arbitration until the 2009 season, and he won't be a free agent until 2012. So there's no pressing need to lock him up. But, if the Nats were to do it, they could likely do it at a lower price now than if they waited until 2009.

    What would it take? First, the Nats would probably want to buy out all three arbitration years. They'd be guaranteeing themselves cost certainty. Under the arb process, salaries climb, climb, climb. And if Zimmerman ever turns some of those doubles into homers, he'll go through the roof. At a minimum, the Nats would want a 5-year deal -- 6, if they want to try to buy out one of those free agent years.

    The dollar value would be a bit trickier. They'd have to figure out what he'd be likely to make if they let the arb process play out, then make adjustments for the value of inflation on contracts and money, as well as try to assign some value for the risk of the length of the deal. For that risk, though, they'd likely be able to get Zimmerman at a lower value because he'd be gaining long-term security, so if he had his leg gnawed off by a rogue shark while surfing off the coast, he'd still be set for life.

    Just for sake of argument, let's assume that Zimmerman makes the following amounts:
    '07: $400K
    '08: $500K
    '09: $4MM (first year of arb -- compare to the inferior Aramis Ramirez and his $3MM arb deal in 2003)
    '10: $7MM
    '11: $12MM

    That gives us a rough estimate of about $24 million for those five years, with a reasonable chance that it could actually be higher than that. How much of a discount from that do you think the Nats could get? 5 for $18?

    The nearest comparison of this I could find is what Tampa Bay did with its two young outfielders, Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford. Crawford, after his second full year (so the equivalent of Zimmerman at the end of this season) signed a 4-year, $15MM contract with club options that could buy out his first two free agent years. After his third season (with one missed to injury), Baldelli signed a three-year deal for $9 million with a 2-year, $17MM option for his first two free agency years. They sound more complicated than they are.

    I'm confident the Nats have their contracts people considering this sort of thing, and it would certainly fit into the long-term vision of what they're trying to do. It's probably a bit much to read into the delay in renewing Zimmerman's contract, but it'd sure be nice if it happened.