Sunday, September 30, 2007

As Tears Subside, I Find It All Amusing

There's plenty of time for the analysis later. For now, it's just the realization that the season is over, the third such for our Nats. Each season has taken on a distinct feeling, and although the ultimate result was similar in the last two, there are certainly many more reasons to be an optimistic Nats fan today than there were just a year ago.

It's strange, too. In my heart, I feel like there's a lot to like. Yet, my brain says that this year didn't really demonstrate much. We didn't really learn anything new about the bulk of our players. We just sorta treaded water, with a few developments along the fringes. Yet, it feels good. 89 losses never felt so good. Svrluga framed it best: "Rarely has mediocrity been deemed so glorious" (well, at least if you ignore the passivity of the sentence!)

Over the last few weeks, there's been far too much strutting and preening as the team has bolted past the 'historically bad' category. No reasonable look at the team could put them much below 100 wins simply because 2006's pitching was already incredibly terrible. It's not hard finding a pitcher that's more effective than Ramon Ortiz was. The Nats dug up 6 with a lower ERA than he had in 2005. And Mike Bacsik was only .07 runs behind.

But even as they bolted past expectations that really could've and should've been ignored, they started bolting past predictions that were reasonable. I didn't think they had a shot of reaching last year's record, and yet they passed it. While the division was a bit weaker this year, that's still an amazing accomplishment.

It's that accomplishment that fills us with hope, a belief that a piece here or there is going to be enough to propel us to .500. Or beyond. I believe that in my heart.

But then my head thinks about it a little. Where's that improvement going to come from? The Nats have a lot of near-average players and the kinds of players available on the FA market aren't going to mean that many wins over our guys.

But, like I said at the top, there's plenty of time for analysis later.

For now, I'm happy at what the team did. But sad that it's over.

There's something wonderful about having the game on in the background, listening to the cadence and patterns [ed: insert Bob Carpenter screwing up a flyball call here]. It'll be back soon enough. And this offseason should give us plenty to think about and plenty to over analyze.

Welcome, Mets Fans!

Welcome to the bandwagon! Have a seat. Have a beer. It's not too late to become a Nats fan. Besides, we've got a lot in common, being second fiddle in our own city and all.

You might recognize our manager, Manny Acta. He used to be your third base coach. He's a lot like Willie Randolph in that he's not the kind of guy who's going to scream and shout. Except Acta doesn't stare ahead blankly and passively while his team collapses around him.

You might recognize our backup catcher, Jesus Flores. He used to be a Met. For some strange reason, you guys let him walk away from your team for nothing. Apparently, catchers who hit 21 homers in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League are a dime a dozen with you guys. Must be nice! We hope our system is as fruitful as yours is some day.

We'd recognize -- well, at least those of us who are aware of where our team was before it moved here -- your General Manager, Omar Minaya. He's the guy who offered Phil Humber for Chad Cordero, but wouldn't go any higher. Apparently, you guys don't need any more relief pitching. And with as few innings as Billy Wagner has had to throw recently, he might be right. We also know him as the guy who raped and pillaged the Expos' farm system, trading away anything of value the Nats had. That might sound bad, but he seems to have gotten worse, as evidenced by him just giving Jesus Flores away. At least when he traded Chris Young away, he got Einar Diaz back.

So welcome aboard. You'll see we play hard. We've got some exciting players who maximize their talent with their effort. Stick around. You'll learn to like it!

  • I know I'm a bad fan, but I'm rooting for the loss today. Mets win, Phillies win, MIL beats SD and COL beats AZ and we've got a four way tie. They key to that all is SD losing. If they do that, all hell could break lose.

    As it is, if the Mets and Phillies have the same result, there's a playoff game there.

    If they both don't win, and SD loses and COL wins, there's a COL/SD playoff for the wild card.

    More baseball is a good thing! More win-or-else games are even better!

  • Friday, September 28, 2007

    For Your Consideration

    Ryan Zimmerman deserves the Gold Glove. But voting for the Gold Glove makes it clear it's not usually on merit. It takes a lot to depose an incumbent, and in this case, it's Scott Rolen, winner of 7 of the last 9 awards. But the old man with the creaky back has missed roughly 50 games with various injuries, which should preclude him from winning the award. Of course, Raffy Palmeiro once won it at first base despite being a DH, so who knows.

    Want some evidence? Go ahead and pop some popcorn. This might take a while.

    --Nut-crushing popup catch
    --Two great plays, one inning -- hard chopper down the line, quick snare to nab Jose Reyes
    --Suicide snare on a liner when he expected a bunt.
    --Not a defensive play, but you need a big bat to win the gold glove!
    --Playing deep, he charges in after the ball bounces off the pitcher, to barehand and fire a strike against a speedy runner.
    --Bob Carpenter completely nonchalants a spectacular defensive play while Sutton says something prophetic.
    --Another popup against the railing.
    --He can catch with things other than his glove.
    --Watch him make sweet love to the tarp.
    --A "routine" backhand that Don nails perfectly.
    --Watch how far he ranges on this ball, likely saving Felipe from a rushed throw.
    --Look where he was when he threw this ball.
    --Drawn in, he makes a PERFECT leap to snare a high chopper.
    --It was an easy grounder til that last hop.
    --His amazing reflexes let him play in shallower, and here he takes away a RBI double. LOVE the sound of the crowd.
    --Two things to watch for on this play: 1) the range to take away a likely grounder past the shortstop; 2) he LOVES going for the lead runner and took out a number of runners on second all year that he had no business getting.
    --On the replay, watch how quickly he gets up to full speed and transitions from catch to throw.
    --This one is obscene. Count the number of steps. Look at the position his body is in when he first makes contact with the ball. Look how he quickly turns his body, getting into a great position to make the tough throw.
    --It's a shame that the new park won't let him do this.
    --Another tough snare of a liner right at him -- something he's improved upon this year. Sutton's insights are right on.
    --Those balls ripped to your shins are tougher than they look.
    --Another Heimlich on the railing.
    --This is a perfect example of that lead runner thing. 90% of 3B in the league don't make the throw to second. He makes the running snare, throws 180 degrees behind and STEALS a double play, saving a run that most teams would have given up.

    You've seen the video evidence. Convinced yet? Well, what do the stats say?
    --First in putouts, 20 more than second place and 30 more than any serious competition.
    --First in assists, by nearly 30 over his closest competition.
    --First in double plays.
    --He's turned 7 double plays (where he records an assist AND an out), when nobody else has more than 1. Some of that is his greatness, but also his skill on the extreme lefty shift the Nats employ, where he basically plays shortstop.

    The knock on him is his throwing. He's made a slew of errors, many on throws. His 23 errors is tied for first with Miguel Cabrera. But another gold glove candidate, David Wright, has 21, just two fewer, despite having many fewer fielding opportunities. Zimmerman's .954 fielding percentage is 8th in the league among qualified fielders (2/3 of team's games, I believe). But it's higher than David Wright's.

    We need to look at those errors a bit more closely. Of his 23, 15 have been throwing errors. 8 came on bobbles/drops, those sorts of plays. He certainly deserves some of those errors, but I'd also suggest that at least 1/3 of them are a function of having Dmitri Young playing first. Dmitri has decent hands for things thrown right to him, but he has the range and mobility of a wounded elephant seal. Some of the errors (and I can't quote you a number, just going off memory) were on tough snares/picks and are throws that a more mobile 1B would've knocked down. In some cases, the batter would have been given a hit instead, but because the ball got past Dmitri and down the line, allowing the runner to advance to second, the error was the correct call.

    That's not to excuse his poor throwing, just putting into context that his high throwing error total might be a function of poor help at first.

    There are 7 other NL 3B who have more pure fielding errors (ie: not throws) than him, and again, he's had more chances than anyone else. If you want to do something screwy and recalculate his fielding percentage ignoring throwing errors (cheesy, I know), then Zimmerman shoots up to second in the league among qualified 3B. He's sure-handed, if not sure-armed.

    One last diversion... on zone rating. I've discussed it a few times before. Nutshell: each fielder is assigned an area of the field (a zone). He gets credit each time he converts a ball into his zone into an out, and the stat measures the percentage of balls hit into his zone that he turns into outs. Zimmerman is third in the league in the stat, converting 71% of the balls hit to the 3B area into outs. He's behind Rolen, who hasn't played much, and well behind Pedro Feliz -- who probably has a decent argument, but I'll rule out because nobody knows who the hell he is... plus he sucks with the bat!

    What's interesting, though, is the column next to that, OOZ. That measures those plays a fielder makes that aren't directly apportioned to a fielder's zone. Some of those tough snares down the line from the highlights above are likely out of the regular 3B's zone. So when you say "yeah, but Zimmerman gets to balls other 3B wouldn't," you've got your number: 70 of 'em. That total is good for second in the league, and it's well above those immediately surrounding him in zone rating.

    In other words, if you factor those in, it's entirely possible -- likely, in fact -- that Zimmerman has the best range statistically in the league.

    The numbers say he's a great candidate.

    The video and scouting observations say he's a great candidate.

    Ryan Zimmerman deserves the Gold Glove.

    Thursday, September 27, 2007

    Tim Russert Is The Devil

    You may have noticed the perpetually empty seats in the front row behind the Nats dugout the last few years. You may have also noticed on rare weekend days, they'd be occupied by a wild-haired, big-boned guy with the perpetual goofy smile of a drunk college student. How'd he get those prime seats -- sometimes alongside noted orc, James Carville? Easy, he's a celebrity -- wait, "celebrity" -- Nats fan.

    I can live with that I guess. If there's one thing I've learned in DC, it's that people more famous than I deserve special treatment.

    But hold on a minute. What's this? Tim Russert is hosting a debate -- a debate that's the height of masturbatory excess I might add parenthetically -- of the "candidates" for the President of "Red Sox Nation." Jesus, typing that makes me want to puke in Cordero's glove... At any rate, here's the key bit:
    Russert, an avowed Red Sox fan, will swing by Boston after moderating the Democratic Presidential Debate in Hanover, NH on Wednesday evening.

    "For decades, Boston has had a reputation of adoring its sports and its politics," said Larry Lucchino, the Red Sox' President/CEO. "We are honored that one of our top fans in Washington will moderate this discussion about baseball.

    (Emphasis Added!)
    Whiskey! Tango! Fox... eh... fuck it!

    This pseudo-celebrity knobgobbler should immediately have his tickets taken away, kicked to the back of the curb and forcibly made to sit in a place where the hottest parts of the sun would bake his sorry Buffalo hide each and every time some crappo like Mike Bacsik pitches.

    Stan Kasten, we look to you to do the right thing! Kick this wannabe Nats fan creepazoid out of the good seats, and put him in the back of the line with all the other fairweather idiots. You owe it to all of us who've suffered through two years of watching Ramon Ortiz, Pedro Astacio, Levalle Speigner and Joel Hanrahan pitch.

    Better Today?

    Harper at OMG has the rundown on whether we're truly a better team this year than last year. It's worth a quick read.

    It's definitely an interesting topic, one that I'm sure I'll beat to death once the games are over for the year.

    You Know Your Closer Sucks When...

    ... he's taking plays out of the Tom Gordon playbook.
    Ayala was on only because, when the Nationals called down to get closer Chad Cordero to warm up, Cordero rose -- and promptly threw up in his glove. Save the jokes about how that's what the Mets were doing all week. This was a serious situation.

    "It was kind of weird," Acta said.

    Cordero said he hadn't felt bad all day. But when he rose to warm up, he felt something. Some vomit escaped. "I grabbed my glove," he said, "and everything else came out."

    That's a hell of a quote.

    I'd suggest that the Nats Marketing Dept use that next year, instead of that stupid ass "Pledge Your Allegience" crap. Picture it: Nationals '08: Grab Your Glove And Let It Come Out.

    (That whole story is a perfect example of why so many people are going to miss that particular writer /asskissing)

    Wednesday, September 26, 2007

    You Know Your Team Sucks When...

    ...they lose a game started by Mike Bacsik and with a relief appearance by Joel Hanrahan!

    Mets lose, Phillies win, Arizona Loses! We're well on our way to a five- or six-way tie in the NL!

    The team's finally getting tired of Nook Logan. And Ryan Church has another HUGE night -- 3 hits, 4 RBi and a homer adding to the incredible .291 .355 .520 line he's put up since the All-Star Break. Might we have found our centerfielder of the future? (how many times have i said that since '05?)

    Radio Daze

    42,346.8-time Emmy Winner Jim Williams reports that the Nats are close to signing a multi-year deal to stay on 1500 AM. Under the deal, the Nats would buy airtime, but retain the right to sell advertising. It's similar to the arrangement they've had the last few years. Hopefully next time, their ad sales dept will do a better job selling commercials so we don't have to listen to those same three stupid Nats ads over and over and over and over again.

    One interesting note from the column... he points out that the Nats will receive around $50 million from TV broadcasts (local and national) alone. Keep that in mind when they're putting a $70 million payroll out there next year.

    Meister Williams also laments the loss of Bob Carpenter:
    In the ironic category, Dave Maffei of the San Diego-based daily North County Times recently ranked the best local broadcasting teams in baseball. Coming in second behind Los Angeles Dodgers legend Vin Scully? The Nats' team of Bob Carpenter and Don Sutton, whom he called “outstanding.” Shame they won't be together in 2008, as it was announced Carpenter will not be back.

    One catch. Here's that article by the esteemed Dr. Melfi. Although the Nationals are listed second, there's no indication that they're ranked second on the list, as Williams contends. While Dr. Melfi does use the superlatives Williams describes, read through the entire list. In Melfi's world, all TV announcers are from Lake Wobegon, and nobody's below average. So take that for what it's worth (not much).

    He also drops a bomb, intimating that Chip Caray is being connected with the Nats job.

    Ordinarily, this would have me worried, but since it's Jim Williams reporting it, I fully expect that the next time I hear from Chip, it'll be through the speaker at the drive-in window.

    Tuesday, September 25, 2007


    71 wins! I had 'em in the high 60s, and didn't really think that 71 was possible.

    I don't think the on-field success proves they're on the right track (although they are), since so much of it was built of the backs of the Bacsiks, Bowies and Belliards of the world, stopgap players filling out a roster.

    Still, I'll take it. It's been a surprisingly entertaining that isn't quite over!

    Today's 10-run outburst was only the second time the Nats have put up 10 runs in back-to-back games. They torched Florida for 11 in two straight games back in September '05. The power bats over the last few days have certainly been a pleasant surprise, and are hopefully a sign of what's to come in the shorter-fenced ballyard on the Anacostia.

  • Colorado!? is up early, and can tie for the Wild Card lead with a win!? Atlanta's just 2 out!? SD is down early, and they'd be one back. I'm rooting for a giant tie.

  • Monday, September 24, 2007

    Enough With Lenny

    Lenny Harris might be a good hitting coach. I don't really know. But it certainly seems like he hasn't done much to help, as the team's plate patience seems to have eroded post-Page. At any rate, has a puff piece on Austin Kearns, crediting Lenny with a minor adjustment or two that's helped Kearns to get on track. He hit his 10th homer of the second half today, doubling his first-half total. And coming into today, he's hit an excellent .283/ .387/ .451. He had a terrible first half, burying his chances of putting up overall numbers, but his second half has been right where we expected him to be; it's just hidden.

    The piece credits Harris for shortening the team's swings, since they were trying to hit too many homers. As evidence for his success, it points out that "The team is hitting over .260 since he came on board."

    First, I'd point out the complete and utter folly of using batting average to measure how well a team is doing offensively. The object is to score runs, not win the batting title or have the most hits. Second, is .260 really an accomplishment? The NL average is .266. And a .260 batting average would be tied for fifth worst in the league. As it is, the Nats are fourth worst. That's something to crow about?

    The next sentence is kinda funny too. Beware the passive voice! "Harris, who is credited for helping Dmitri Young become one of the league leaders in hitting and helping Wily Mo Pena learn to hit to the opposite field, acknowledged that it bothers him that the Nationals are last in the league in runs scored this season, but believes it will get better."

    While it's true that Dmitri's hot streak coincided with Page's leave, it started instantaneously, almost as if Harris worked his magic in one night. I suppose that Harris had some role on it, but let's not forget that Young was also coming back from leg and foot problems. He wasn't healthy at all until after Page left. Harris certainly got lucky in his timing.

    I, too, love the Wily Mo learning to hit to the opposite field line. He's had a few hits to the opposite field, mostly, it seems, on pitches that have fooled him. The balls went to the opposite field, not because he was looking for a sharp single, but because he's damn strong, and those little shots that would be flares or grounders to the second basemen are going over or through him. Luck? Design? Maybe it's Lenny's residue. And I really love the idea that what's made Pena so good is not his 8 homers or his .531 slugging average, but those 3 or 4 dinky flares the other way.

    If that's the height of Lenny Harris' offensive strategy, no wonder the team's in last place.

  • If you missed it back in July, I took a look at the team's results with Lenny and Mitchell, and pointed out that the team's walk rate and plate discipline plummeted with Harris. If I were to update the numbers, the larger sample of games would make the numbers slightly more favorable for Lenny, but the overall trends -- at least from the few things I spot-checked -- remain.

  • Pointless Blowout Lists

    Man, the Mets pitching blows. Mike Bacsik could probably be their #2 starter. I kid, I kid... well, sorta.

    Anyway, Matt Chico started and won, and had one of the funkiest pitching lines you'll see: 5+ innings, ZERO strikeouts, 11 base runners and only 3 runs allowed. When I saw that, I immediately thought of Russ Ortiz. I checked it out at and Chico is the 35th pitcher since 2000 to win a game while striking out nobody and allowing that many base runners. And, as I suspected, Russ Ortiz was the last pitcher to do it. Chico himself did it earlier this year, just a few days before Ortiz, when he took down the Braves. (For what it's worth, Ortiz appears on the list three times, so Chico's well on his way to being a career mediocrity!)

    The 13 runs scored by the Nats is one shy of the team record (DC version). You may recall the 14 runs they put up earlier this year against the Marlins, in a game they barely won. They've scored 12 runs 4 times, strangely, three of those times came this season. The '05 team maxed out at 11 runs a few times.

    The 9-run victory is the third largest they've had. They pounded the Cardinals in August to the tune of 11 runs and beat Florida by 10 back in Sept. 05.

    Since '05, this is the 31st time they've struck out 2 or fewer batters in a game. Not surprisingly, this is only the 8th win in those games. They beat Atlanta in '05 without striking a single batter out.

    Ryan Langerhans continues his late-season surge to avoid futility. His improbable rapture-inducing homer increased his batting average to .166. That would give him the 21st worst batting average of all time -- just a point ahead of Don Zimmer -- for anyone with his 240+ plate appearances. He's a solid six points ahead of Ken Williams' 1988 season, the worst any outfielder has had in major league history.

    Robert Fick (!!?!?) had another hit, extending his hitting streak to 10 games. With a hit in his next game, he'll have the third longest streak in Nats history. He's got a ways to go before he catches up to Ryan Zimmerman, who had 17.

    A surprising win, for sure. They now have 70 wins, one fewer than they had last year. One measly win against the Mets of Phillies ties their record, and likely clinches a third-place finish for Manny Acta in Manager of the Year voting.

  • Shawn Hill's recent struggles weren't just his left shoulder; his right elbow has been barking, and he's having surgery to 'decompress' a nerve, similar to what John Patterson went through. Egads. Hill's arm history is about as scary as Patterson's and neither of them can really be counted on for 180 innings. With them, you take what you can get from them. I just hope this fixes it for Hill, instead of being one of these nebulous and constant arm problems like with Patterson. Next year's win/loss record needs it especially.

    (I'd imagine the Nats would target a veteran arm or two, if only for innings-eating purposes, for next year, whether by minor league contract or by trading for someone -- to toss two stupid names out there: Padilla, Lowe -- who's on a contract that their team might be willing to part with)

  • 25 Down, Sadly 1 To Go

    I've written often this year about the Nats' ability to time their wins right. I know the world doesn't revolve around this stupid weekly recaps, but my reflection does, and it certainly seems that as we look back, a well-timed Sunday win lifts the spirits after what was seemingly a disappointing week. So I looked back.

    The Nats lost their first four Sunday games of the year. Since then, they're 14-6 on the day we praise Jesus (Flores) and root for Church (Ryan). I don't know what's in the water. A statistical fluke, of course, but also perhaps, a bit, because of team's resting some regulars on the day game after a night game, and Jesus' typical Sunday start, which takes one of the Nats' weakest bats out of the game. Regardless, I'll take it. As I took yesterday's fun (if slowly paced) victory.

    Nats Record: 3-4. Philly can't really be disappointed with what we did this week. They had a positive result in 5 of the 7 games the Nats played this week.

    Overall: 69-87, a 72-win pace. 72 is still going to be hard to get, but 69 ain't bad either! The Nats are 12/16 in the NL, three games ahead of Florida for the worst record. (Woohoo! Fourth place!) If the season ended today, they'd have the 8th draft pick. The 'best' they could likely do is 4th (and that'd take a truly terrible week from Baltimore -- so I s'pose we shouldn't rule that out!). They're likely not going to go any higher than 11th.

    Runs Scored: 40 (5.7/g), 636 overall, last in the NL. They're only 12 runs behind SF for next-to-last now, a huge improvement. Although it seems like the offense is pitiful, they're on pace to score about 25 more runs than the semi-contending '05 team did.

    Runs Allowed: 40 (5.7/g), 750 overall, 10th in the NL. It's unlikely they'll move from this position. They're 11 behind 9th and 40 ahead of 12th. Despite the 'success' of the staff, I need to hammer this point home again. Nationals starting pitchers have the third worst ERA in the league (5.08) despite pitching in front of an OK defense in a pitcher's park. When you adjust for those things, they're one of the very worst, if not the worst, rotations in the league. The Nationals success, such as it is, is from having a top bullpen pitching the equivalent of 7 complete games more than the league average bullpen. It's like getting 10 more starts out of Shawn Hill.

    Expected Record: 69-93. They 'picked up' a game this week.

    What's Good?
    1) Ronnie Belliard! Watching him swing from his heels is quite a sight. When he really goes for it all, he twists his whole body around, pivoting on his back foot, swinging with everything he's got. You half expect him to twist like a rope, like one of those cartoon sluggers. When it works, as it mostly did this week, it's a thing of, well, maybe it's not truly beautiful.

    2) Robert Fick!? He was having an all-time suck season, when Dmitri's concussion/obesity knocked him out of the game. He's responded by hitting the crap out of the ball, putting himself into dangerous territory, where the team might think it best to give him another shot next year -- didja see what he did in those 30 September ABs!?!?1! (while ignoring the 150 pathetic ones that came before.)

    3) Jason Bergmann's K pitch. Six innings and seven more strikeouts. Maybe there's hope next year. If he can keep the walks down, which he's mostly done since that disaster at the beginning of the year, there's no reason he can't take a step forward next year. Other than Hill's sinker, he's about the only pitcher on the entire pitching staff with anything resembling a plus pitch.

    What's Bad?

    1) Ryan Zimmerman. He really came across like he was trying to do too much. He sometimes, despite the success, seems to push a little too much in high-pressure situations, swinging and fishing at sloppy pitches that he has no business going for. The end result is either a K (11 of them in just 6 games) or a weak tapper on the infield, usually for a dp grounder.

    2) Shawn Hill. He finally laid an egg, sadly his second in his last few starts. Now that we know he's having shoulder surgery in his non-throwing arm, I wonder if that's affecting him. Not being able to have a full range of motion with his front shoulder could affect his delivery, throwing him off balance, causing him to leave some of his pitches up. He's had a solid year, and there's lots of potential if he can stay healthy. But, as we've seen with every other good pitcher we've had, that's a giant if.

    3) Joel Hanrahan. It's awfully strange seeing someone leave a game where he didn't make it through 5 getting a standing ovation when he's yanked. But with Joel, you need to grade on a curve, I guess.

    Weekly Awards

    MVP: Ronnie Belliard!
    Cy Young: Jason Bergmann!
    LVP: Ryan Zimmerman
    Joe Horgan Award: Arnie Munoz

    Weekly Whips
    9/17: 3 hits and 3 runs for Logan. I wish he had more games like this.
    9/18: Three hits and a three-run bomb for Belliard!
    9/19: Felipe Lopez' three hits weren't enough.
    9/20: Jason Bergmann deserved a win.
    9/21: Belly had two more hits, but Zimmerman kept stranding him.
    9/22: Tim Redding K'd 7 and BB's 0.
    9/23: Kearns Klosed the dump with 2 huge RBI.

    What's Ahead?
    3 in NY then 3 in Philly. Can the Nats get the two wins they need to pass last year's record? Seems so easy, yet so far away. Just enjoy the games. They're the last ones you'll see for six months.

    Sunday, September 23, 2007

    Hold The Schmalz

    We came not to praise it. Nor bury it. But mostly to soak up the sun for one last time, eating overpriced concessions (while hopefully avoiding e. coli), and to see some of our friends one last time before the weather turns.

    I'm one of those transplants, one of those people who don't actually live here so much as occupy some of its space. I wasn't one of those who had my childhood ripped away from me by a racist, then a cheap businessman. I'm just a schmuck who lived here, ventured up occasionally to Baltimore a few times a year to root for whoever was playing the O's, then was relieved to finally have a team closer. Sure, I've adopted them as my own, so much so that when the Nats played my previous team (rumored to be the Yankees), I didn't think twice about cheering for the guys in red and gold.

    All that's a long way of saying that, to me, losing RFK doesn't mean a thing. It wasn't something to celebrate, to weep for or to really care one way or another. It was a giant concrete dome with crappy services, dank hallways and corridors that made you want to continuously look over your shoulder to see who was stalking you from behind.

    Oh, today's game had some melancholy, but it wasn't for the dump. It was for the team on the field, the team I'm seeing for the last time this season, the team that's somehow surpassing expectations even though 1) they're not good, and 2) they've got about the same record I thought they would. No, that doesn't really make sense, but that's the way it is.

    I can't say there's a really likable player on the team. Zimmerman's obviously the 'star', but he's had a so-so season, and every time I've seen him interviewed, it's obvious that he's been to the Nick Johnson school of personality. Some like Dmitri, and he's a fun personality, but I've got my reasons for not wanting to root for the guy. Kearns? Meh. Lopez? pass. It's just a bunch of low-level jerks, mediocrities or paste-eaters.

    Yet, the whole is greater than the sum of their parts. They're a likable lot, even as the individuals stink. They play hard and look like they're giving effort, and that's what we've all fallen for.

    I usually mock the idiots behind third base for applauding anytime any pitcher manages to walk off the mound without tripping. But today those applause felt right.

    Days like today, when the barn is packed, and when the cows are mooing, it's a good time. The claps, chants, cheers, boos, they all add to the total ballpark experience, something that's really been lacking since about mid-July '05. It's something I've missed.

    It'll come more with winning. And it'll come with crowds that are consistently larger, as the new stadium should provide, at least for the first year. But it'll depend on what the bums on the field are doing.

    If they're giving us a performance like today, we'll be plenty loud.

    But I'm not weeping for the stadium. I'm not weeping for the ballplayers of my youth, parading on the field where they once lost so many games. I was smiling with my friends (when not drinking their mojitos), clapping with the hits, and keeping score for the first time since Jason Simontacchi's outing against the Tigers broke my will to live. So no tears. But just a sadness that that's the last time I'll see these guys for six months.

    At least we have six games left. Enjoy them and appreciate them while you can.

    Friday, September 21, 2007

    StanSpeak, 117th In A Series

    Wow! It's a busy week of Stan-Translating as the man who says the most without saying a thing has another interview with a non-pesky journalist. I was a bit worried when I fed this thing into the StanSpeak Translator this morning; it started to smoke and hum. I think all the BS is gumming up the works. We'll press on anyway. That's what we do for you, our dear reader. (Wait, there's more BS!)

    On the state of the franchise:
    We understood walking into the team that there were problems in the area of player development thanks to Omar Minaya's incompetence and Bud Selig's greed (not that that's a bad thing). You know my philosophy and the philosophy of our ownership is to build through strong development and to make gobs of money. That was job No. 1 and No. 2 and we set our attention to that. And How! I tell people that there were two surprises my first year: First, the rathole stadium that we were in was deeper than I realized before we got here. But the second surprising thing has been that I could not have predicted we'd have made this much progress this quickly, especially if I'm the one who gets to decide the status of progress. All of a sudden we are just overloaded with pitching prospects, even if they're all future #4s. I'm very proud of the scouting staff we have in place, both amateur and professional. They've done a great job finding good players that will eventually play for the minimum salary. Ownership has stepped up and signed the players we identified, which, frankly, shocked me. That's where it all begins. And because of that progress, I think our future is extraordinarily bright. I really do. I feel great about it. Besides, did you really think that I'd say that we suck and we're always going to suck?

    On the decision to retain Bowden and hire Acta:
    I'm real comfortable with both of those decisions. I have to be. I have to tell you that when I came here, I had an open mind that was already made up, but I really thought I was probably going to wind up changing Bowden's personality and keeping Frank Robinson until the end of the '06 season. That was my mind-set. In time, after looking, learning and observing and being told to back off by my boss, I wound up changing my mind on both scores. I'm very comfortable with both decisions. I have to be. They were very tough because I'm sick of managing Bodes.

    On Bowden:
    When I got here I saw the "plan" Jim had in place, and went about changing it immediately. How his vision was very much in sync with how I wanted to build it once I told him 'my way or the highway'. His work ethic was impressive. His analytical skills were impressive. I said to some of my friends (like 29 other GMs) who are frankly detractors of Jim, that what I needed here was someone to get me out of this ditch and be resourceful (read: cheap). He really is cheap. Look at the pieces he's put together cheaply. But don't look at Hanrahan too much. He'll burn your retinas. The non-deals last summer, the cheap free agents we picked up cheaply last winter, the way we went about it (cheaply).

    On the frustrations of building a team:
    I'm impatient like everybody else, but I have to be realistic about where we are. I tell people that this isn't the NBA, where if you draft Shaquille [O'Neal] you can go to the finals or sign John Koncak to a giant contract and shovel the final scoop of dirt on your franchise's future. You can't build a baseball team like that, especially that giant contract part. You can't flip the switch...And unfortunately the right thing takes some time. But the payoff [note to self: careful with the double meaning of words] is very well worth it.

    On the financial side of playing at RFK:
    It's been OK. We obviously cut back our expenses because we knew it would be a tough year financially at RFK, even though National TV revenue and payments from MASN are roughly enough to cover our player payroll even before we sold one ticket.

    On whether there are hidden costs at the new stadium:
    No question. That's always a battle. But that's not different than any other construction project, so that's why we're suing the city for several million dollars of improvements. There are things you find along the way that you want to add. And you do, if you get the city to pay for them. It's too bad that we came into the picture so late because we might have designed some things differently and bilked even more money out of the taxpayers who are building this beautiful place for us. I, for one, could really use a bigger office. The design was done when we got here, so there wasn't much structurally we could change. But where we could we've done that. And it's gong to take tens of millions of extra dollars. The Lerner family, in limited cases, is going to be doing that. They're going to step up to the improvements in anything we need in the ballpark, because it really was a travesty that our luxury boxes didn't have first-class toilets. We can't ask our Senators to piss in public. You saw what happened last time a Senator used a public restroom.

    On the prospects of a payroll increase next year:
    Obviously, we're going to spend more next year, because arbitration and contract extensions built in are going to increase the payroll by 20 million alone. and right now I don't know exactly how much that's going to be, although I have a solid estimate. We're going to be held to whatever promises we made, so that's why I never say anything publicly. I'd rather let rumor and innuendo fester, then when we do even a minor thing, I can say "AHA!" and point out that we've exceeded terribly low expectations that I never actually set in the first place. It's going to cost more money, but we're (me and Uncle Teddy) going to have more money next year. That's going to ramp up. I don't know how quickly exactly, but it's going to be ramping up. We can't pretend, though, that our pipeline is ready to produce up here. It isn't yet. We are stocked with prospects at the lower levels of the Minors. We're so stocked, in fact, we can barely fit any more prospects into our lower levels. We might as well close down.

    On whether the team will ever have a $110 million payroll like the Dodgers or Mets:
    Someday, like after a good half-century of 10% salary inflation. We'll be right up there in the $100-110 million range, easy.

    On whether they receive Revenue-Sharing payments (ie: welfare money from teams that give a rat's ass about growing their market and drawing fans):
    Oh yeah, at RFK, absolutely. Praise the Lord! Could that change next year? I don't know, but it is possible, though I hope not. That's free money, baby! First of all, we don't know what our revenue will be, but given how terrible our ticket sales were this year..., but revenue sharing is dependent on the other teams, too. It's impossible for me to predict. But, yes, it's absolutely possible that we can be a revenue-sharing payer next year, so at a certain point, we'll have to restrain ourselves in encouraging fans to come.

    Thursday, September 20, 2007

    One Question

    The one question I have after tonight is when are we going to take the gloves off with Manny? He's clearly got the motivation factor down, and he's handled the personalities of this tone as well as anyone could possibly do. And that's probably nine-tenths of a manager's job.

    But there's that other one-tenth.

    And there are times that the things Manny does drives me up a wall. There were probably three of those tonight.

    But he gets a pass because the bottom line isn't important.

    But next year? When expectations are a bit higher? When we'll expect more from our team, and no longer applaud when they manage to go a day without crapping themselves?

    You can lead with optimism. But you can't strategize with it. And too often, he makes moves based on hope, not on what's best for the bottom line. We'll see.

    StanSpeak, A Continuing Series

    Our good buddy Stan Kasten was back with a vengeance yesterday, filling the mouths of our favorite reporters with rubbery meats and their ears with hot, moist air. As always, when Stanley talks, we've gotta run it through the ol' StanSpeak Translator to figure out what the hell it is the guy is actually saying. A sampling:

    On how to improve the team next year:
    We know we need to acquire talented players unlike the stiffs like Fick and Hanrahan who pollute our roster. There's no mistake about that. We want to add low-salaried players to this team next year. I don't know how we do it because the Union won't let them work for in-kind donations. Perhaps [HAHA] it's free agency, but more likely, I think, it would be, hypothetically speaking, of course, through trades, either with veterans on the major league level (don't forget that we actually got people to take Royce Clayton and Vinny Castilla -- suckers!) or with prospects [Should I do the scare quotes with my fingers?]. We are not averse to trading prospects. If only we had some with upside outside of A ball. I wonder if we can fool someone into thinking that Mike Hinckley is still a prospect?

    On what they achieved this year:
    Our goal this year wasn't so much about standings, but about scaling back payroll, putting a pseudo-competitive team on the field, paying down debt and making a healthy profit, but also what can we do to build a champion, which we did in the Dominican, my second ring!!!!1!

    On whether they're happy with progress:
    Do not for a minute think I'm happy with where we are. This room is a dump. We have very far yet to go and much more money to drain from our fan's pockets. We absolutely do. We recognize that more than anyone.

    On the future of the General Manager:
    The general manager is here, period, because he's kissed the ass of my owner enough that I can't touch him.

    On pursuing Free Agents this offseason:
    We'll be talking to everyone, cordial chit-chat mostly. That I can promise you. But I don't think going after the big free agents is a way to build this team or to make me money. ... There are a top tier that will be overpaid because of their cunning agents, I imagine. For that reason, I wouldn't be interested in those players. There are a second tier of players. They also will be overpaid, but I wouldn't be interested in those because they are second-tier players, even though I've got third-tier players on my fourth-rate team.

    So Long And Thanks For All The Fish

    Bob Carpenter is out as the TV announcer for the Nats. Nice guy, by all accounts, but I can't say I'm disappointed.

    At first, most of my problems with him were with his folksy style, sort of a mid-western smalltown approach that I just didn't like, although I've readily admitted that others could find it appealing and that it was just a matter of taste.

    But as that grated, so did the other things: mis-understanding the rules, calling for strategies (ie a 2-out squeeze) that didn't make sense, and his tendency to anticipate the play, instead of calling it. (How many times has he called a double play in advance, only to watch one of our gruesome infielders botch it?) And SBF from Nats 320, certainly someone who's going to give the home team the benefit of the doubt, pointed out that he sometimes was a little too optimistic and, in the process, came across as if he thought we were suckers. Add it up, and I won't really miss it. Good guy. So-so announcer.

    Sure, the next guy might suck. And there are plenty of people who like him. But we'll find a new guy. Didn't take people long to warm up to someone besides Proctor.

    If I were in charge, and thank God I'm not, I'd throw Chuck Slowes in the TV booth and let Jageler (a superior announcer, if less of a voice) take over lead radio. Then find the next Jageler and bring him in as the second on the radio -- or even find an ex-player to provide a little more color?

    Tuesday, September 18, 2007

    Hey Mets Fans!

    Helpful Advice from the Mayo Clinic:

    Clearing the airway of a pregnant woman or obese person:

    • Position your hands a little bit higher than with a normal Heimlich maneuver, at the base of the breastbone, just above the joining of the lowest ribs.
    • Proceed as with the Heimlich maneuver, pressing hard into the chest, with a quick thrust.
    • Repeat until the food or other blockage [ed: Such as a pennant] is dislodged or the person becomes unconscious.

    Man, these last two games have been about as fun (once you get past the starting pitching!) as any that we've had all year.

    (Reading the similarly situated ravings of Red Sox fans is almost as much fun!)

  • Bonus Mets Taunting: Mel Rojas! Timo Perez in the World Series! Kenny Rogers! Armando Benitez! Billy Taylor! Bobby Alomar! Bill Pulsipher! Did I mention Kenny Rogers?

  • Old Friends, Various Places, 2006 Edition

    After having been traded to the Reds (where he hit .235 and slugged .329), Royce Clayton signed with the Blue Jays who inexplicably (the perfect word to sum up the latter half of his career) gave him enough ABs to sink their season (.253 .303 .342). They released him, he signed with the PawSox (why do so many of our players go there to die?) and then got called up by the Red Sox, which should automatically disqualify them from post-season contention.

  • Alfonso Soriano didn't put up the 50-homer season most of us imagined was possible, but he's still slugging almost as high. He's battled a quad injury most of the year, cutting his steals down to just 18, but if the Cubs are disappointed, it's only because their expectations were so high to begin with.

  • Marlon Anderson starred for the Dodgers down the stretch, slugging .813 -- no, that's not a misprint -- and being part of their back-to-back-to-back-to-back game-tying homer barrage against the Padres. As good as he was for them last year, he stunk this year, before getting released and bouncing to the Mets AAA team. Despite not hitting there, the Mets called him up and he's rewarded them with a terrific .323 .353 .565 line.

  • Good friend Damian Jackson was released early this season by the Dodgers and left with the same chipper attitude he displayed here: "I no longer have anything to do with baseball," an angry Jackson said before clearing out his locker, furiously shoving equipment and clothes into his duffel bag and knocking down two chairs on his way out.

  • Waterbug Bernie Castro was last seen not hitting for power as an infielder for Columbus.

  • Last year's secret weapon, Daryle Ward, picked up right where he left off, mashing lots of pinch hits for the Cubs.

  • Alex Escobar bought a house in Florida to ease the rehab process. (To be fair, he did play in 14 games this year)

  • Matt LeCroy did NOT retire to a forest, instead choosing to spend the summer in Rochester, before earning his callup to the Twins. There, he's 1/3 in limited play, but at least the ol' bug-muncher got one more hit in.

  • Last year's backup catcher, Brandon Harper, struggled to hit .180 to the delight of Columbus' poor oppressed fans.

  • The nomadic Wiki Gonzalez came out of hiding long enough to catch for the Charlotte Knights, smacking 10 homers in the process.

  • Folk Hero Brandon Watson was last seen hitting .313 for the Clippers, a higher average then Nook Logan ever had in the minors, and fielding like a drunken water buffalo.

  • Future Braves Superstar George Lombard spent his 9th straight year at AAA.

  • Everyone's favorite utility infielder, Melvin Dorta, (The Venezuelan Denny Hocking) struggled to hit .236 while bouncing between AA and AAA.

  • Mike Vento -- I know you don't remember him -- played a mean RF for the Syracuse Sky Chiefs, slugging .403 in the process.

  • After proving that it's never a good idea to give playing time to a Baltimore Orioles castoff 'prospect', Luis Matos bounced between Pittsburgh's and the Mets' AAA teams, delighting the fans of neither city.

  • The Worst Pitcher In The World (aka Ramon Ortiz) flamed out of a starting job with the Minnesota Twins, earning his release. Colorado, who apparently was either dumb or reallllly desperate (if not both), picked him up and he promptly pitched about as well as you'd expect Ramon Ortiz to pitch in COL: 8.25 ERA.

  • Irish Mike O'Connor returned to AA where, based upon his post-injury pitching (7.07 ERA), he's likely to stay for a while.

  • Pedro Astacio was last seen rehabbing somewhere, which is nothing new.

  • Beltran Perez, who was some people's darkhorse candidate for this year's rotation proving that basing a decision off of 20 innings of ERA is silly, especially when there are fundamental stats that show a different case /soapbox, was last seen pitching marginally effectively for AA and stinking for Columbus.

  • I have no recollection of Ryan Wagner pitching at all this year, which speaks wonders to the work my therapist has been able to do.

  • Bill Bray has spent the year (at least the parts he's not injured) demonstrating why gnashing your teeth over giving up a reliever in a trade is generally a waste of time.

  • Roy Corcoran took his squash goggles to Florida, well, to the Dukes, at least, and adjusted quite well to the altitude.

  • Felix Rodriguez seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth, so rest easy.

  • Last year's 14.29 ERA wasn't enough to scare off potential suitors for the services of Kevin Gryboski, although the Pirates farm teams probably wish it had been: 5.63 ERA.

  • Brett Campbell spent the year pitching for Harrisburg striking out a bunch of guys while walking too many.

  • I know you don't remember Santiago Ramirez, but after being released by the Nats, he's vanished into the ether.

  • Monday, September 17, 2007

    Old Friends, Various Places, 2005 Edition

    Brian Lawrence makes his long-awaited RFK debut tonight. Lawrence, you'll recall, wore a Nats uniform for about 23 minutes last spring, after having been acquired for Vinny Castilla. A torn labrum ended his season before he threw a pitch, and a declined option sent him to the wilds of wherever. But it got me thinking about what some of our favorite (and not-so favorite) ex-Nats are doing.

    Jose Vidro is DHing regularly for the Mariners. He's got his batting stroke back a bit, hitting over .300, despite little more than singles power. Altogether, it's his best offensive season since his Montreal days. Still, 56 RBI from a full-time DH?

    Marlon Byrd found his career (maybe next to his Escalade) as the Texas Rangers' new CFer. Byrd has had a terrific rebound season, batting .306 with 9 homers and 7 triples in part-time play.

  • Brad Wilkerson never had the season we expected he would as he toils in his second year in Texas. Wilkerson has battled injuries in both seasons, destroying his already shaky ability to make contact. He's a free agent at the end of the year. Could he be next year's Fick?

  • After last season's Tommy John surgery, Jose Guillen hurried back from rehab and I expected his numbers to suffer. They haven't, as he's played very well as Seattle's right fielder. Despite playing in a park that's death on right-handed batters, he's got his 20 homers, and there's a chance he'll get to 100 RBI, all while putting up an OPS+ that's consistent with his excellent 2005 season with the Nats. He's a free agent at the end of the year, and the Mariners are rumored to be interested in extending him. Good luck with that.

  • After being sold to the Rockies, Jamey Carroll had an amazing season, hitting .300 and belting 5 homers as their regular second basemen. He parlayed that into a multi-year contract extension and has stunk up the joint this year, hitting .215 and slugging under .300. He picked a hell of a time to have a career year.

  • Preston Wilson signed a bizarre multi-option deal with Houston, was promptly traded to St. Louis, where he inexplicably won a World Series, then stayed in St. Louis where his injury actually hurt the Cardinals.

  • Gary Bennett has stunk as St. Louis' backup catcher each of the last two years. He's had two PB this year.

  • Junior Spivey played in the minors for the Cardinals all last year, where he struggled to hit .200. This season, he got a few games in with the Pawtucket Red Sox.

  • Tony Blanco, the man who single-handedly lowered Billy Wagner's ERA a point, has spent the last two injury-filled years toiling around the low levels of the Nationals minor leagues.

  • After his release, Wife Beatin' Wil Cordero caught on with the Mets AAA affiliate in Norfolk. He thankfully appears to have retired.

  • Terrmel Sledge never turned into the star that forecast him to be, batting in the .210s in two seasons of part-time play with the Padres.

  • Outfielder Matt Cepicky, who blasted the Nats for jerking him around when he left town, has mostly floated around the minors and spent all of this season in the last bastion for shitty players, the Orioles farm system.

  • Rick Short continues to hit line drives and play bad defense for teams in Japan.

  • Endy Chavez has become one of the most popular Mets, even getting his own bobblehead doll.

  • After the Reds gave up on him, too, Brendan Harris (the pride of Queensbury, NY), has been a regular on the Tampa Bay infield, hitting well, but playing rangeless defense.

  • Kenny Kelly spent last year in the Nationals farm system before upgrading to the ChiSox'

  • Tyrell Godwin went to cinci before coming back to DC -- well, Columbus, at least.

  • Henry Mateo signed with Detroit and gave the Toledo Mudhens 300+ ABS of fury.

  • Livan Hernandez has given Arizona 200 league average innings, despite pitching regular batting practice sessions.

  • Esteban Loaiza, when he wasn't getting drunk and speeding, was mostly injured while pitching for the A's. Billy Beane (and Padres fans) was delighted when the Dodgers claimed him off waivers, where he's given up 12 runs in 15 innings.

  • When last we saw John Patterson, he was receiving treatment here.

  • Pirates fans are regretting the signing of Tony Armas, as if a 6+ ERA in 15 starts wasn't an improvement for them.

  • Tomo Ohka stunk in Milwaukee. Then he got injured and stunk in Toronto, Memphis and Tacoma.

  • The Braves signed Ryan Drese and saw him cough up 13 runs in 17 innings in A ball.

  • In return for their 1st round draft pick, the Angels got one good year and 1/3 of a bad one out of Hector Carrasco. He finished the year back with the Nats, pitching poorly (8+ ERA) in 15 games for Columbus.

  • Zach Day pitched for the Royals' AAA affiliate in Omaha. He put up a sub-4 ERA despite not striking out anyone and walking too many batters. Bring back Zach!1!!

  • Gary Majewski spent most of the year in the minors or injured on the MLB roster for Cincinnati. His 8.38 ERA in 27 games for the Reds hasn't improved most fan's attitude towards that trade. He had a 3.96 in his 38 innings with their AAA club in Louisville.

  • Frank Robinson's whipping boy John Halama pitched poorly for the Orioles in 2006 and seems to have dropped off the face of the earth.

  • Sunny Kim (bet you've forgotten about him!) pitched terribly in limited opportunity with the Reds and Rockies last year. This year, he pitched passably for the Giants AAA franchise in Fresno (8-8, 4.87 in 118 IP).

  • Joey Eischen signed with the Tigers after his rotator cuff surgery, but doesn't seem to have pitched this year.

  • Claudio Vargas has been a passable 4th/5th starter for Arizona and now Milwaukee; it's not like we needed one of those.

  • Reds fans continue to get heartburn every time they see Mike Stanton, who signed a mult-year deal, come into the game. His 5.87 ERA and .323 BA allowed versus lefties might be a good reason why.

  • Matt White (remember him?) pitched really well for the Dodgers farm team this year and found himself a mining billionaire.

  • Travis Hughes dominated out of the PawSox bullpen with a sub-2 ERA and nearly a K per inning.

  • Darrell Rasner, who Bowden gave away for nothing, pitched pretty well for the Yankees in a limited opportunity before getting injured and missing the rest of the season.

  • Joe Horgan was last seen giving up line drives in the High Deserts of Albuquerque. He has not been heard from since.

  • Jesus commanded CJ Nitkowski to pitch for Indianapolis in 2006 and was last seen filing dispatches from Japan for the Associated Press.

  • Tales of Antonio Osuna will continue to be used to scare DC's schoolchildren into the path of righteousness for decades hence.

  • 24 Down, 2 To Go

    Seven home games left. Seven more chances to not go to a game in the dumpiest park in the majors, the place where so many Nationals fans had their childhood suspended for 30-something years. To say I'll miss it would be a lie. To say I'll miss the season once it's over? Yeah, that's probably the case. I'll be there three times this week, not celebrating the loss of a stadium, but the last chance to catch a terrible team that seems better than terrible because, well, they play hard, even when they're getting their brains beaten in.

    The team really seems like it's running on fumes now, going 2-4 against the Marlins and Braves, including a midday thriller on Wednesday that made national news for who didn't show up. In the coverage (or at least the reaction to) of the 300 people or so who did, there was a lot of HAHAing at the lowly Marlins and their stupid fans, blah blah blah. I wonder, though, shouldn't we feel some shame in that? If that had been the Braves or the Padres, the crowd likely would've been better. Having a Nats team with now true MLB stars, and that's by all accounts (and record) a pretty terrible team had to have been a factor. I know I've blown off a Nats/Marlins game when something came up. Fact is, the Nats are the worst road draw in the National League. Combine that with the team with the worst attendance in the NL and what else did you expect?

    Nats Record: 2-4
    Overall: 66-83, a 72-win pace. They've played .500 ball over their last 114 games. Over their last 60, they're also playing .500 ball, but they've done that with a respectable 4.27 ERA.

    Runs Scored: 29 (4.8/g), 596 overall, last in the NL. The Padres pitching staff, which boasts two Cy Young contenders and a dominating bullpen have allowed 593 runs. It's like every game is against Jake Peavy and Trevor Hoffman.

    Runs Allowed: 37 (6.2/g), 710 overall, 9th in the NL. I wish it were easier to isolate how much of this is influenced by park. The Nationals have the second best home ERA in the league (Thanks, RFK!). On the road, they've allowed 5.27 runs per game, and only 5 NL teams have done worse. Road ERA, for various reasons, isn't a perfect corollary (see: Soriano, Alfonso), but it's an ok proxy, and the Nats pitching appears to, well, suck.

    Expected Record: 68-94. They're four games better than 'expected'.

    What's Good?

    1) Wily Mo Pena! 11 hits, 3 homers, 2 doubles and a .423/ .464/ .846 line? I'll take it! Since coming to the Nats, he's had 90 ABs and hit .289/ .340/ .589, which is about as well as he can possibly play. He still takes some ugly swings, but if you're focusing on the art, you're missing the point of Wily Mo. I do love the praise he's getting in some circles for "going the other way." The few times I've seen him get hits to the opposite field it wasn't because he was trying to do that, that's just where the ball went thanks to his strength and a mis-timed swing! Still, better to be lucky AND good!

    2) D'Angelo Jimenez! He got increased playing time this week, perhaps as an audition for a role on next year's team. You could see why some people preferred his bat to that of Alfonso Soriano's when the two of them were coming up through the Yankees' system: He's patient, typically showing a good eye. The results have never really been there for him, after a car accident that nearly took his life. Is there a role for him next season? Overall he's been terrible (.208 .358 .299), but more than acceptable over his last few months. (.283 .450 .435) Too bad he's a butcher.

    3) Ryan Zimmerman! He had his typical Ryan Zimmerman week (.308 .387 .500). He's showed good patience this week, drawing four walks. That's going to have to be the one part of his game he continues to work on. As he becomes more selective, he'll get better pitches to hit (or just plain get on base for whoever's behind him). He has to learn that he doesn't have to do it all himself, despite the perception that's being thrust on him. Since July 1, he's hit .296 .365 .526, which is right where we thought he'd be all along.

    What's Bad?

    1) Joel Hanrahan and Mike Bacsik. They blow. It's a shame that Brian "Snyder" hasn't developed them more.

    2) Teh Nook. Another bad week saw him hit .176. That's the problem with singles hitters who never walk or hit for power. If the hits aren't dropping, they're the equivalent of a 50-pound anchor on a row boat. To Cherrypick his stats, if we go back to the day of his 5-hit game and we include that, he's hit .244 .270 .302 over his last 90 plate appearances. Unacceptable.

    3) Teh FLop. He might be talking again, but he ain't hitting. I remember reading something a year ago or so, right around the time of the trade that painted him as a hard worker. In 2005, he cranked 23 homers for the Reds, mostly batting first or second. The Reds didn't think he was a true leadoff hitter, though, because of the power, but also because of his lack of plate patience. He walked just 50 times or so and only stole 15 bases, both numbers he should surpass. The Reds wanted a different player and Lopez worked hard. His homers dropped the next season, but he stole 44 bases and upped his walks by about 30, to the 80 range, a solid season in which he transformed his game. That resulted, of course, in him being traded away.

    So up comes 2007 and he's preparing himself to be the every day second baseman. Injuries happen. He moves to short. They unhappen. He moves to second. They happen again. He moves back to short. All the while he hasn't said a word. Meanwhile, the bat drops off, for whatever reason, and it's something he personally can't feel good about. And then he has to deal with people questioning (rightly so, of course) his attitude? After willingly turning himself into a leadoff hitter for the Reds then being dumped? Then turning himself into a roving utlity infielder for the Nats?

    Of course he's disappointed. And, yeah, he should pick himself up, and just play better. And, yeah, at times it does appear that he's disinterested and that his head isn't in the game. But he's not really a complainer; he's done what two teams have asked him to do. The results haven't been there, but he's worked hard, and doesn't seem to ever get any credit for it.

    I hope he does better next year. The Nats NEED him to do better next year. But we should also appreciate the smaller things he's done well, and without complaint.

    Weekly Awards

    MVP: Wily Mo! Gotta love that .846 slugging!

    Cy Young: Shawn Hill, by default. He wasn't terrific this week, but he kept the Nats in two games.

    LVP: Felipe. When you're getting outslugged by 26 points by Nook Logan, you've had a bad week.

    Joe Horgan Award: Jesus Colome (19.29 ERA). The boil on his ass is like the hair on Samson's head. (6.75 ERA since his return from ass surgery)

    Weekly Whips
    9/10: 2 HR for Wily Mo!
    9/11: Do you think that Justin Maxwell's going to remember his first hit?
    9/12: Another homer for Wily Mo!
    9/13: Three more hits for Wily Mo; he did it all! (except win more games)
    9/15: Game hero D'Angelo Jimenez just doesn't sound right.
    9/16: Jimenez was the only batter with more than one hit.

    What's Ahead?

    A date with history, and my gut still says, a date with futility. The Mets are the best team in the league, and the Phillies might be the best second place team. They both desperately need to beat up on us and the other Little Sisters of the Poor, so they'll be going for the jugular. The Nats have a chance to play spoiler, but there's a reason we're 18 games behind these guys; they're better than us.

    Seven left, and 3-4 would have to be a success, right? But I'm smelling 2-5 and a lot of battered arms.

    Sunday, September 16, 2007

    You: Complete Me!

    Never before has a major league team gone through a season without a complete game. Yet, the Nationals find themselves, with just two weeks left, one of three teams (Atlanta, strangely, and Florida the others) without a complete game from their pitching staff.

    About a year ago, the Nationals found themselves in a similar spot when Pedro Astacio (remember him?) threw an inexplicable complete game shutout against these same Braves. By game score, it was the second best pitching performance by a Nats starter since the move.

    Will the Nats finish the year with a complete game? It's likely going to take a blowout win, and today, if any day, seems as likely a chance, against a team that's only on the fringes of competition.

    Shawn Hill goes, but he's not an overly efficient pitcher. His career high in innings came earlier this year, when he went 8 against the Phillies. He started the 9th, but a leadoff walk earned him a hook. Five other times he's gone seven innings, with three of those coming this year. Looking at it the other way, unless he's terribly efficient -- lots of first pitch hacks, which is always possible on a get-away day -- he's only thrown 100 pitches in a game six times, and 110 once.

    Give his arm history, the Nats haven't shown a willingness to extend him.

    Is he our best chance? Our last chance to avoid one part of history? Will the offense give him enough? Or do we have to wait for him to go on the road and "hope" for one of those 8-inning complete games?

  • UPDATE: Jinx!

  • SECOND UPDATE: C'mon guys! You gotta give me partial credit for calling a complete game! And one of the three remaining teams, even!

  • Saturday, September 15, 2007


    Here are the two worst sentences you'll ever read:

    There are rumors swirling that assistant general manager Mike Rizzo is a candidate for the general manager's job in Pittsburgh. Rizzo, who signed Frank Thomas to his first professional contract, is a big reason the Diamondbacks have a solid farm system and the Nationals had a great draft in 2007.

    It's Only Fair

    ...that when the old professor dons the navy blue blazer with the brass buttons -- the ones with the little tiny anchors pressed into the surface -- descends from his Chesapeake Bayside mansion and has his driver bring him to a game turning, not north at the I-97 split, but continuing on Rt. 50 all the way towards the city whose name adorns the masthead of the prestigious publication for which he writes, to turn in a column about said city's rare-do-well baseball team, that I give appropriate credit.

    So, good job, Boz.

    Since I am who I am, despite my mother's best efforts, one quibble. You say, "In spring training, many experts predicted that the Nats in September might be on pace to break the all-time record of 120 defeats."

    Who were these "many experts"? The only people who talked about that regularly were the anonymous members of the team's own front office -- conveniently learning how to manage expectations; lucky Manny! -- and a group of nebulous scouts identified by (but usually attributed directly to) Buster Olney. That doesn't seem like many to me.

  • Sad news, fellow fanboys. With yesterday's excruciating loss (Cordero blows!!111!! Kill him!1!!1 1 Trade him to Baltimore!!11!), the Nationals have now been eliminated from playoff contention. :(

    So go ahead and make those reservations from a front-row seat at the dog track in October. Go ahead and get that Cubs hat down off the top shelf of your closet. The rest of this team's games are pure exhibition, completely meaningless for us. Alas. :(

  • Friday, September 14, 2007

    MASN Still Stinks

    Harper at OMG, who's one of the unfortunate (fortunate?) people in NC who can't get MASN has a field day breaking down the half truths and manipulative propaganda that MASN is spitting out in their PR derby with the local cable provider.

    The conclusion:
    I suspect, unless MLB changes its rules up, that MASN will eventually get on TWC one way or another. And if it does, great. More baseball is always good. But for now, I want MASN just to shut up or be straight up with NC. It’s not a local station. It’s a 60% Baltimore/ 35% DC Station that happens to have a bit of NC programming and some major sports Carolinians might be interested in. Shut-up and negotiate. Don’t try to leverage me.

    But the run-up to it is 90% of the fun!

    Farewell To A Dump

    I hope you have your hankies ready. Tonight's game against the skydiving Atlanta Braves marks the beginning of the end for the old dump and Svrulga and Loverro (I warned you that I'd have to start reading him) have the opening eulogies.

    Loverro's focuses on the attendance and how, even in a bad year, he feels the attendance should be sending up warning flags.
    This season's turnstile count, as a reflection of the performance of the owners, could be interpreted in two ways. Either they made serious misjudgments in the marketing of this team — i.e., they tried their hardest to get people to the stadium and failed — or they decided there was little they could do this year and that they would simply wait to pull out the promotional stops until the team moves into the new ballpark.

    Either way, it's not good. Trying and failing shows poor marketing skills. Not trying shows poor vision. Perhaps ownership hasn't noticed that you can't walk down a street here without running into someone wearing burgundy and gold.

    It will take years to add red to that mix. The Nats can't afford to give up one year, certainly not so soon after the rebirth of baseball in Washington.

    I'm actually sick of the 'marketing' boogeyman that anyone (especially on BPG) sites any time there's an attendance problem. It's not that complicated. You've got a lousy team that was expected to be lousy (lousiererer, I s'pose), playing in a dump of a ballpark, getting their brains bashed in 50% of the time in a market that's transient and more inclined to support a winner (ala June '05). Short of winning 90 games -- good luck doing that! -- what else could they have done?

    They made the gamble that they could punt this season, and live off the coattails of the new barn next year. It'll work, just as it worked in Pittsburgh and Milwaukee and every other cowtown that built a new barn. They're confident that the one or two year jump the new place gives them will allow them to get their feet underneath them, so that they're competitive (read: 85 wins+) and able to draw fans in to see exciting baseball once that honeymoon effect wears off.

    You can disagree with the strategy. But to call it a failure? Or a lack of vision? Seems like they've got their vision, and that it's got a pretty good chance of working.

    Svrulga's article takes a different tack. It focuses on how little the players will miss the place, especially because of the large dimensions.

    In doing so, he makes a common error -- really it's a shortcut -- when trying to quantify RFK's effect on pitchers' prowess. He points out that "Only one stadium over the past three seasons -- San Francisco's AT&T Park -- has yielded fewer homers than RFK, which coughs up an average of 1.63 per game. Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park, by contrast, allowed 2.96 homers per game in that same span."

    The problem with just summing up like that is that it doesn't adjust for quality of offense or pitching. Although Cinci's park is a homer haven, some of that homer total is because of how crappy their pitching is. Just as how some of RFK's lack of homers is because this is a team that really lacks a true power hitter.

    A better -- though more complicated -- method is to compare the rates of these events for individual teams on the home and the road. (Here's the basic formula, if you're interested).

    Thankfully, some other nerds do the math for us. And if you look here, you'll see that, for this season, RFK has been the single toughest place to homer, allowing 35% fewer homers than an average park. Now one-year factors are screwy. Even a season's worth of games aren't enough to get a true handle, and changes in wind/weather/El Nino/Global Warming/Thermonuclear War, etc can play a huge role in how a park plays in a given year. So most statheads use three years as a representative sample. If you click through the previous years in that link, you'll see that RFK is usually in the bottom 5, with roughly 25% fewer homers than average.

    The story also focuses on next year, and what we should expect out of the new yard. Though Bodes says it's going to be 'fair', Kasten's comment might be telling:
    "The truth is, we don't know," Kasten said. "I was there [last month], and the wind was blowing out. What does that mean? How will it blow through the openings? We won't know until we get in there."

    Wind and external factors are a huge consideration, but the dimensions certainly seem like a decent hitter's park. The left-center gap, according to the story, is 364. Right-center is 377. It's the deep power alleys that kill power at RFK. And right center is probably 30 feet closer in the new place. It's not going to just let warning track flies leave. Balls that are 20 feet in front of the track could leave the yard in the new place.

    I also suspect that RFK's outfield seats have a way of knocking flyballs down. I still remember Troy Glaus' towering fly balls dying in the wind in that opening series in '05, and most of the homers that leave are liners, not towering majestic shots. If the wind patterns are different there, that bodes even worse for the pitchers.

    I reiterate: Take my Bacsik, Please!