Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Attention Bargain Shoppers

Those wacky stat illusionists at Elias released their Free Agency rankings today. Short version: They group players by general position, rank them by a bunch of pointless stats, and spit out an ordered list. Guys at the very top are Type A FAs. Guys just below that are Bs.

When you lose a Type A you gain the other team's first round pick and get a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds. If you lose a Type B, you get just the ham on rye pick.

Although... in the Nats case, they fall under the protected pick category. The teams with the 15 worst records (that's us!) can't lose their first rounder, so they burp up a second rounder instead.

Don't put any stock into the actual rankings of the players. Elias is a stupid, stupid company and the ratings have little basis in actual win/loss production. Just look for the category. Here's the NL. Here's the AL.

Of note... since the Nats seem to lust for a CFer:
Hunter and Rowand are type As. Andruw Jones and Speedo Cameron are Bs.

The other interesting thing is that Dmitri Young didn't end up being a B, as I thought he might've been. When I wrote that, there was a decent possibility, but his late-season slide and inability to stay on the field pushed him down -- coincidentally, below Ryan Church.

I'm not sure if this changes our perspective on whether they should've traded him or not. On one hand, trading him would've been the only way they could've gotten compensation (although they couldn't have really predicted his concussion). On the other hand, if they had kept him without signing him, they wouldn't have gotten anything had he walked anyway. Eh... whatever.

Just get healthy, NJ!

  • NFA points out one somewhat grating fact: Belliard would've been a B. Although the risk of offering him arbitration and him getting $5 million or so given how well and much he's played over the last few years, probably would've negated the Nats offering him arbitration -- at least without one of those wink wink gentleman's agreements teams sometimes have with players who conveniently decline the arbitration offer.

  • Un-O-Fishul Schedule

    Svrulga posts the Nats tentative 2008 schedule. They're apparently still working on the Sunday night game to open the season, otherwise, they'll reprise last year's home opener with the Marlins on the Monday after the season begins -- hopefully this time with better pitching!

    If you've got complaints, send 'em to Barry.

    That's One Expensive Tube

    Somewhere, Uncle Teddy is smiling... Via Mets Blog comes this Buster Olney note:
    It sure as heck seems like the Angels are gearing up for a run at Alex Rodriguez, in reading Mike DiGiovanna's story this morning. There's another revenue stream that the Angels, and every other team, is now drawing once unexpected millions from: the money created by the success of The annual check that the Angels (and every other team) receive from this source may well exceed $30 million, by now.

    Ignore the ARod crap. $30 million! Hell, even if it's half that, that's a crap load of money. And with the extra TV money from the TBS contract, these guys are probably turning a profit before they sell a ticket!

    Nice work if you can get it, huh? (anyone got half a billion I could borrow?)

    Tuesday, October 30, 2007

    The Baseline

    Alright, we've just taken an exhaustive look at each position on the team to see what they did, with a slight nod to what we might be able to expect from each slot next year. There's reason for optimism at some of the spots -- third, right, etc -- and reasons for pessimism at others (read: Guzman, Cristian).

    Before we go too much further, we need to figure out what we're locked into and what's probably going forward. Here's my best guess (and, yeah, I've done something like this a billion times before, but deal, dammit).

    Lopez, ~$7 million (arb, $3.9 last year)
    Guzman, $4.2 million
    Zimmerman, $.5 million (potential for a multi-year extension)
    Young, $5 million
    Kearns, $5 million
    Pena, ~$4 million (arb, $1.9 last year)
    Church, ~$.6 million (pre-arb)
    Schneider, $4.9 million
    TOTAL: $31.2 million

    2B, Belliard, $1.6 million
    1B, Johnson, $5.5 million
    C, Flores, $.4 million
    OF, Logan/backup, ~$.5 million
    MI, Jiminez/backup, ~$.5 million
    TOTAL: $8.5 million

    Starting Pitching:
    Hill, $.5 million
    Bergmann, $.5 million
    Patterson, ~$1.5 million (arb, $.85 last year)
    Redding, ~$1 million (arb, first time eligible -- non-tender candidate?)
    Mystery Man...
    TOTAL: $3.5 million, plus...

    Cordero, ~$6.5 million (arb, $4.15 last year)
    Rauch, ~$1.5 million (arb, first time eligible)
    Ayala, ~$1.5 million (arb, first time thru process, was $1.1)
    Rivera, $.4 million
    Colome, ~1 million (arb eligible, was $.6 -- non-tender candidate?)
    Schroder, $.4 million
    TOTAL: $11.3 million.

    OFFENSE: $39.7 million
    PITCHING: $14.8 million
    GRAND TOTAL: $54.5 million

    It's been claimed, most frequently by Svrulga at the Post, that the team is going to bump up payroll to about $70 million or so. That means that the team has about $15-20 million to upgrade what we've got.

    Seems like the most obvious solution would be to upgrade the starting pitching, but it's not clear who to target, especially when mediocrities like Carlos Silva are going to make something like $50 million over 5 years.

    I was going to recommend one particular name (and it's not Livan), but USS Mariner beat me to it -- and they made a better and more convincing argument than I'd be able to do anyway. I'll look at that a bit closer sometime later this week/month/year/millennium.

    But I just wanted to get a baseline, to see how much of Uncle Teddy's money we'd be looking at spending as we head into the offseason.

  • Side note...

    As one of the originators of the LERNER IS CHEAP!!111! storyline, that $70 million figure is THE example of what I was most afraid of with their plan from last year. Who can criticize them for nearly doubling the major league payroll? It's a sizable bump up that certainly should be applauded (assuming, of course, that it comes to fruition, and wasn't just the product of a beat writer's fertile imagination.)

    But just $70 million? Seriously? With a cash cow of a stadium opening, a pleasure palace that was specifically designed with the fattest of cats in mind, with every conceivable device to suck every last nickel out of their wallets and their companies' expense accounts? They're going to make money hand over fist next year with revenues they couldn't have even dreamed of at RFK, and the entire league is awash in revenue like never before.

    So, yeah, be grateful that $70 million is bigger than $40 million, or whatever the hell they ended up spending this year, but it's likely not what they could be spending given the revenues they're extracting from this nation's finest defense contractors and lobbyists.

    I realize that it has to be a ramp-up. You can't simply decide to spend $50 million one offseason -- especially if there's not $50 million worth of junk to buy. But it's just something that, in general, concerns me, and something I'll be watching in the future.

  • Monday, October 29, 2007

    Memo To Stan

    SIGN AROD1!!!1!11!!11!!1!!

    I know, I know.

    Just chew on this -- I'm not doing the RC analysis tonight, but Felipe Lopez' Batting Runs Above Replacement was 6 (meaning he was 6 runs better than the average scrub you could pick up off the waiver wire. Alex Rodriguez was 86 above.

    An 80-run improvement! Oh, if only... if only...

  • The first person to make a comment referencing share of payroll and Texas gets tasered in the nuts, especially if they don't acknowledge the tens of millions that team wasted on Chan Ho Park, Carl Everett or the $3.25 million they spent on Jay Powell!?!? $7 million to Darren Oliver? Seriously!?

  • Friday, October 26, 2007

    Nationals Review: Starting Pitching

    Repeat after me.

    The starting pitching sucked.

    The starting pitching sucked.

    The starting pitching sucked.

    Keep that in your head. You'd never know it from half the pronouncements and things written or said about the team. But it's the truth.

    Would you believe that the starters' ERA was only .2 runs better than what the '06 team did? Did you realize that the Nats were 15th in the league in starter ERA?

    Other "fun" facts:

    -- Led the league with 1.41 homers allowed per 9 despite playing in a park that reduces homers by about 20%! If they had had a league average homer rate, they would have allowed thirty fewer homers.

    -- 15th out of 16 teams with the most walks per 9. A league average walk rate would have yielded fifty fewer walks.

    -- Dead last in strikeout rate. A league average rate would have yielded 100 more strikeouts.

    In general, those are the only things you need to look at to evaluate a pitcher. Great pitchers do all three things well. Bad pitchers do none of them well. Good pictures can succeed by excelling at one or two even if they're not good at the others.

    In the Nats case, they did none of them well. And they didn't pitch well. It's just covered up by the fact that they pitched the fewest innings in the majors, 72 innings less than the average NL rotation.

    Now that's not a criticism of how Acta used him. He did tend to baby his starters, but the combination of their injury histories and ineffectiveness forced his hand. He rode them as far as he could before yielding to the strength of the team, the bullpen. Overall he got good results, and probably maximized the talent and contribution of the starting pitchers. It's just that the starting pitchers are basically talentless in the first place.

    Before I ramble on, do yourself a favor and read this, the definitive take on how to evaluate pitcher talent. I've linked it a few times before, but it's worth reading again. It explains which statistics are most valuable and why things like ERA often isn't quite good enough to get a true read on a pitcher's talent. I'll use some of those ideas in the capsules below.

    Thirteen different pitchers started a game for the Nats. Seven of them sucked rocks through a sippy straw. Four were meh. Two were eh. Here we go. I'll include some of those component stats from that article on evaluating pitchers, and color code the ones that are particularly good or bad.

  • Matt Chico: 4.9 K/G; 3.9 BB/G; 1.4 HR/G; 33% GB%; 47% FB%; 5.75 xFIP
    Chico led the team in innings pitched with 167 and had a decent year, all things considered. Early in the year, he rarely made it out of the fifth inning, in part, because he was walking way too many batters. He wasn't quite nibbling, but it seemed like he just couldn't throw strikes sometimes.

    After that initial struggle, he had a decent run of starts where he pitched effectively, keeping the Nats in a bunch of ballgames and working through the 6th. But then his control abandoned him again in July (perhaps also because he was facing quality offense like Philly, Cinci, and the Mets) and he struggled, putting up an ERA over 6 over five starts.

    Faced with a mini roster crunch, the Nats sent him down for a week or two, calling him back up in September and he was again excellent with a decent 19/9 K/BB ratio and a 3.38 ERA.

    There's a lot to like about how he pitches. Despite the control issues, he doesn't appear to be afraid of the opposing batters. But if he's going to succeed, he's going to need to learn how to miss some more bats. He doesn't really have a plus pitch -- neither his fastball or curve seem anything more than average -- so he's forced to use command and change of speeds to keep hitters off balance. When he's feeling it, he's successful. But when he's off, he's walking hitters and giving up long fly balls (many for homers!) when he comes in the zone.

    He was helped greatly by the dimensions of RFK. It'll be interesting to see how he adapts to the new park going forward.

  • Jason Bergmann: 7.0 K/G; 3.4 BB/G; 1.5 HR/G; 33% GB%; 50% FB%; 5.01 xFIP
    Bergmann's season could be divided into three acts. The opening act is just one game, his April 5th start against Arizona where he couldn't find the plate, walking 6 batters in 3+ innings. After that game, Bowden ripped him a new one and Randy St. Claire worked with him to alter his delivery and he was a new guy.

    The second act lasted 7 games, where he was a truly amazing pitcher. A new grip on his pitches really bumped the sharpness of his slider and he was able to harness his curve. He'd throw the hard breaking stuff low, getting swings over top, and throw the high riding fastball up in the zone, changing the plane of the swings and getting misses or harmless balls in play. Over those 7 games, he pitched 45+ innings and struck out 41 batters while walking just 15. You don't walk anyone and you strike out a bunch, and you'll have a low ERA: 2.18. Opposing batters hit just .146/ .220/ .285 against them; he turned the average batter he faced into a so-so hitting pitcher!

    Then came the injuries. His elbow. His legs. He fell apart. Save for one September start against the Marlins, he never really got his stuff back. Over his last 13 games, he pitched like the same inconsistent Jason Bergmann that we had seen over the previous two seasons: 13 homers in 66 innings with 21 walks and a 5.70 ERA. For further proof of how he'd changed, opposing batters ripped him for a .277 .336 .508 line -- basically, the average batter was Ryan Zimmerman.

    Where's the real Bergmann? The dominant second act was definitely for real. Those pitches he was throwing were untouchable and like nothing I've ever seen him throw. But it's also apparent that the torque necessary to get that zip on those breaking pitches is what led to his barking elbow. His body just won't let him do what he needs to do to succeed. After the elbow then the leg injuries, his pitches lost a lot of their crispness. He's still got the plus fastball, but he's not going to be able to succeed as anything more than a 4th starter if he can't harness those breaking pitches. And he cant' harness those breaking pitches if his arm won't hold up.

    Tough situation, huh?

    I've got a lot of faith in him, but that faith is predicated on his body holding up. And given the track record of most of these Nats' pitchers, I might as well start praying to the porcelain gods.

  • Mike Bacsik: 3.4 K/G; 2.2 BB/G; 1.95 HR/G; 41% GB%; 41% FB%; xFIP 5.43
    Did you realize he was third on the team in IP? Yikes. He demonstrates what I was talking about before. He's an excellent control pitcher, but because he doesn't control the other two huge aspects -- he strikes out nobody and allows homers like a pitching machine -- he struggles.

    It's an approach which is heavily defensive dependent, not to mention one that requires a lot of luck to work. Because he doesn't K anyone, batters are putting a lot of balls into play. If the fielders are good or those balls are hit to the right spots, he can really cruise through a game. But there are also games where the fielders aren't having a good day, or his balls are finding holes. Or those scorching liners which he seemingly gave up every third batter are rolling to the wall. When that happens, it's ugly.

    And because the quality of his stuff isn't good, when he misses spots, he gets hammered. The number of homers he gave up is jaw-dropping. He gave up three homers in a game four times. He gave up two homers in a game four times, too. He only had seven starts where he didn't give up a homer.

    With the style he has, there's really no way of him 'improving' much. He's not a completely terrible guy to have stashed at AAA in case of emergency, but if he's 3rd on your team in IP, you know you stink.

  • Shawn Hill: 6.3 K/G; 2.4 BB/G; .88 HR/G; 55% GB%; 28% FB%; xFIP 4.03
    Ah, all that green looks beautiful, doesn't it?

    Shawn Hill is about the perfect pitcher. Save for the injuries!

    All things being equal, a ground ball is better than a flyball. (mostly since it's hard to double and impossible to homer on a grounder -- it's also pretty tricky to GIDP with a flyball!) So when you've got a groundball pitcher who can strike the occasional batter out, you've got a good combo. Every strikeout he gets is one less chance for a grounder to find a hole. Sum it up, and you've got a pretty good arm.

    But, oh, those injuries. At first it was his non-throwing shoulder, an injury he suffered from a bit of loopy baserunning. The off arm prevented him from swinging the bat properly but, more importantly, it probably affected his delivery slightly since every jolt of movement probably caused it to yip a bit. He also complained of slight arm pain throughout the year, but said it wasn't anything he couldn't pitch through. Yet, he had arm surgery to decompress a nerve, similar to the type of surgery that John Patterson once had.

    But that first stretch of games, pre-injury, were magnificent, and he was easily the pitcher that I had the most fun watching. His ability to combine that hard sinking fastball with the similar motion of a much-slower changeup really upset batters' timing, keeping them out front, knocking that heavy sinker into the ground time and time again. And for good measure, he had pretty good control of a pretty nifty little breaking pitch that he'd throw outside to keep them honest if they cheated inside to nab the fastball. All around, it was good stuff.

    From the end of August to the end of the season, he wasn't quite the same. It was apparent from his performance that his arm really was acting up, and he got knocked around quite a bit.

    So much promise, but so little ability to demonstrate it. When he's healthy, he's a legitimate #2 starter, the poor man's Brandon Webb. But, as with just about everyone else, that "when" is more of an if.

  • Tim Redding: 5.0 K/9; 4.0 BB/9; 1.06 HR/9; 38% GB%; 40% FB%; 5.38 xFIP
    Redding is a perfect example of why ERA is sometimes deceiving. Yes, it's a perfect record of what he actually did, but you need to look a bit deeper, sometimes, to see whether there was a little bit of hocus pocus behind it.

    In Redding's case, that appears to be so. Redding had a 47/38 K/BB ratio, which is hardly indicative of a strong starting pitcher. He just got a bit "lucky". (I really hate using that word; it's a BS dump for things we can't really explain). Redding had a career low in his batting average on balls in play, meaning he allowed hits at a lower rate than he had at any time in his career. And he also had a left-on-base rate of over 80%, which is quite high.

    Some of that, certainly, could be skill. We know that Livan was always excellent at turning it on when the pressure was boiling. But it also seems a bit fluky. League average is about 70% and the best pitcher in the league rarely crack 80%. It seems like he got a bit lucky in that and that if he regresses towards his career rate (which is much closer to 65%), then he's going to look worse, even if he pitches about as well in all other facets of the game.

  • Jason Simontacchi: 5.1 K/G; 2.8 BB/G; 1.6 HR/G; 34% GB%; 44% FB%; xFIP 5.41
    Simontacchi's sort of the opposite of Redding in that he looks slightly worse than he actually pitched. Some of that, I'd suspect was that the 10-run beating he took against the Tigers really screwed with his overall stats. Take that out and his actual ERA is much closer to his fielding independent one.

    Anyway, Simontacchi did the job they asked of him. Come to town, add a service year to your pension time. And get beaten like a mule because we've got no real upper-level arms. He did his job admirably, and I'd hope there's a nice shiny watch and a key to the city waiting for him in Columbus.

  • Joel Hanrahan: 6.8 K/G; 6.0 BB/G; 1.4 HR/G; 31% GB%; 44% FB%; 5.79 xFIP
    Yeesh. Hanrahan was basically about what we should've expected given his minor league track record -- a decent power arm with no ability at all to control the strike zone. He gets his K's because he's got good stuff, stuff that's good enough to make major leaguers miss. But when he's missing his spots, ouch. It's ball four or over the wall.

    He's not really someone the Nats should give up on. There's too much good stuff in that arm. But as any Daniel Cabrera fan can tell you, if you wait around too long, you'll learn to hate the guy. I can't imagine that he has any options left, which puts the Nats into quite a bind if they wanted to send him down. There might be some team willing to take a chance on him.

  • John Lannan pitches superficially well. But he's not going to be anything much more than a younger Bacsik until he starts missing some bats. In his 34 IP, he only struck out 10 batters. He offset that by keeping the ball in the park and in the ground, but it's an area he's going to need to work on. He could surprise later, and he's certainly got guile, but he doesn't scream anything other than "future 4th starter" to me yet.

  • Micah Bowie, Jerome Williams, John Patterson, Billy Traber and Levale Speigner
    What a motley crew. Here's two words on each of them:

    Ancient stopgap, broken-down has-been, potential still, check please, ye gods

  • There's POTENTIAL there for a decent staff. A healthy John Patterson, a healthy Shawn Hill and a healthy Jason Bergmann COULD be a solid 1-3 in a rotation, as good as any in the league. But if we're hoping for that, we might as well hope for something useful like World Peace or a billion dollars in my bank account.

    The rotation was held together with bailing wire last year, and Acta's efficient use of their talents made the group seem better than they really were. If the Nationals get ANY sort of improvement in their rotation, they could take a slight step forward, but here's the catch-22:

    The Nationals allowed as few runs as they did because they had a dominant bullpen that pitched a lot of innings. If next year's starting pitchers pitch more innings (even more effectively than they did this year), it's entirely possible that the team allows MORE runs than this year because you're subbing out 1 excellent relief inning a game for 1 pretty good SP inning. It's a funny balance next year, one that Acta's going to have to manage carefully.

    With him and St. Claire, at least we know we're in good hands.

  • Thursday, October 25, 2007

    Nationals Review: Second Base

    What happened to the Nats at second base this season demonstrates how important a thorough plan is. It isn't enough to just identify the front-line talent and to sketch out a starter, but you need to have backup plans in case the first doesn't work. In past seasons, when Jose Vidro wasn't available, the Nats turned to mediocrities like Bernie Castro and (yes, I'm about to say it, so deal) Jamey Carroll.

    This year, when plans fell through, the Nats had a capable backup, and we didn't see a repeat of the dreaded Spivey/Ohka trade.

    This was especially important because the Nats have NO upper-level infield depth. None. It's a vast wasteland of crap.

    So on Opening Day, when Guzman's injury forced Lopez to short, the Nats were in capable hands with Ron Belliard, one of Bowden's turned-over-rock finds, manning the position for the bulk of the year.

    Belliard started out red hot, hitting .444 over his first 9 games while batting 7th. With the team's offensive struggles -- remember that inability to ever score in the first? -- there was a loud clamoring for him to be moved up. So Acta threw him in the 2 spot and he quickly cooled.

    I remember writing at the time that the move was a bit premature. Belliard's hot streak was entirely batting-average driven. He hadn't walked at all and when some of those singles would stop falling in, his numbers would drop, and the Nats would have a crappy batter at the top of the order.

    So what happened? Well, those singles stopped falling in. Like clockwork. Belliard started every game at second, batting second, through May 5 (when Guzman returned). In that stretch, he hit .225 .281 .292 and managed to score just 4 runs despite batting where he did.

    After Guzman's return, Lopez took over again at second, shifting Belliard to the bench -- a move that was trumpeted as a strengthen of the bench, which to that point had been as woeful as the Blanco-led '05 version.

    Until Guzman's injury on June 24, Lopez got the majority of starts at second, save for a once-a-week appearance by Belliard. And Lopez, sadly, performed about as "well" as Belliard had. His disappointing season continued, despite a few big hits, and he managed to hit just .215 .253 .355, all while batting first or second in the lineup.

    The Nationals found some sweet relief from their second-base misery when Guzman went down for good. Lopez shifted back to short (where he still didn't hit much) and Belliard was given the job for good, save for a few appearances here and there by D'Angelo Jimenez.

    Belliard was a hitting machine in July. His .295 .358 .484 line helped spark the offense and he seemed to be hitting a double just about every time the Nats needed one and this was coming off a hot-hitting June where he played mostly off the bench. When August rolled around, he cooled off a bit, but rebounded to finish strong down the stretch in September: .330 .362 .495.

    Along the way, Belliard earned himself a 2-year contract extension and played himself into, at least, a utility role. He's a good guy to have around on the bench, a decent NL-type player, and as he showed, he won't kill you if you have to turn to him when your original plan goes to hell.

  • Offense

    Belliard ended up with a pretty solid season overall. He hit .290, ripped 35 doubles and was a league average hitter with a 100 OPS+ -- not bad for an infielder!

    If we look at his RC totals, he comes out slightly better than that.

    The average NL 2B created .178 runs for every out. Belliard's 386 outs time .178 means an average 2B would've created 69 runs. Belliard created 71. So he comes out just slightly better than average, in a group with Kaz Matsui, Luis Castillo and Dan Uggla.

    I don't have Felipe's numbers broken down by position (and there'd be sample size issues there anyway). If we do the same calculation with him, an average 2B would have created 87 runs given the number of outs he used. Felipe, however, only created 69, making him nearly 20 runs below an average 2B (over the course of the entire season). Yikes.

    Had he played second, that total would've made him the third worst 2B in the league, just ahead of the undead Craig Biggio and the .290-slugging Adam Kennedy.

    Here's your pointless numerical masturbation stat o' the day: If Chase Utley had put up Felipe Lopez' line, the Phillies would've scored about 65 fewer runs last year. Imagine what that number would've been had he not lost a month after Lannan's HBP!

  • Defense

    Belliard has a pretty unique defensive style, playing deeper than just about any other 2B in the league, likely to help compensate for his somewhat limited range. The tradeoff seemed to be worth it, and he was definitely an upgrade over the statuary that occupied the position last year.

    I don't think he was an asset, per se, but he played where he needed to play to minimize his weaknesses. He was just below middle-of-the-pack in range factor. He made just 6 errors, good for second in fielding percentage -- no small feat with Young at 1B.

    The strength of his game (as the announcers told us every game) was his ability to turn DPs. He turned the 6th highest total in the league despite having the 9th most innings, a pretty good indication that our eyes weren't deceiving us.

    The defensive stats don't really give us a good read on Lopez. They have him pegged roughly average in most categories, though it's tough to draw broad conclusions from the limited time he was there. To my eye, he was quite good. The things that make him a weak shortstop -- namely poor footwork and an inaccurate arm -- aren't quite as important at second. And he had worked the entire offseason and spring on the transition to the new spot. I don't think he'll ever be an asset at second, but in his best years, he could be an average defender.

    If we again look at the Reds Blogger's attempts to convert range into runs, we can get a little sense.

    Belliard checks in at basically dead average, -1 run over the year. Lopez also comes in at one below. And Jimenez shows up at .5 runs above average. It's a big crapbag of average! The only one of those that seems funky is Jiminez' but 1) it's a really small sample and 2) I think our minds are recalling some of his disastrous SS play and letting that bleed over.

  • Overall

    Belliard's an average hitter and an average defender. That's a pretty good player, and a true bargain at $1.5 million or whatever the hell they're going to pay him.

    Lopez? The jury is out. He clearly had a terrible year with the bat. If he reverts to past form, he could be ok.

    Just to check, let's see how his track record compares. I'll use the same weighted formula I did before (3 times his '07 performance + 2 times '06 + '05). Over those three years, we get an established level of 79 runs created while using 477 outs.

    Over those 477 outs, the average '07 NL 2B would have created 84 runs, so Felipe is only slightly below average, on the order of 5 runs -- and remember, that's HEAVILY counting his terrible '07 season. If he repeats his '06 or '05 seasons, he's a slight asset with the bat.

    Which is the real Lopez? This year's version or the one of the last two seasons?

    If it's last year's version, the Nats have their in-house solution: just plug in Belliard. If it's the previous version, then the Nats aren't doing too poorly.

    It's a position that's easily upgradeable in theory, but there ain't much out there. Seems like the Nats' best option is to hope that the player they traded for is the player they get. Bad years happen. Even to good players.

  • Wednesday, October 24, 2007

    Nationals Review: Catcher

    There's probably no more misunderstood position than catcher. There's probably also no more lionized position than catcher. It's because the things that a catcher does is so hidden, tucked away in the corners, immune from any meaningful statistical analysis, that we're left with nothing but appeals to authority. We have to trust those "insiders" who fill us with stories about how great they are in the clubhouse.... how many runs they save by blocking the plate... the value of framing a pitch properly to steal a strike from a dozing ump... and the ability of a veteran receiver to shepherd and develop a pitching staff.

    We saw all those this year with the Nats. And certainly much of it is warranted. Brian Schneider IS a terrific defensive catcher, with a strong, accurate arm. But those other things? I'm sure he contributes and is an asset there, but to what extent? and how much over what a different catcher would do?

    When the Nats started the season, they carried 2.5 catchers in the lineup. Brian Schneider earned the starting job. And with a young 22-year old Rule 5 pickup who had never played above A-ball in the lineup, the Nats brought Robert Fick back to be the emergency catcher -- though he'd never see an inning behind the plate.

    It seemed like the perfect situation to break in a young catcher, at least offensively. Since Schneider swings from the left side, spot starts of Flores against tough lefty pitchers would play to his strengths, while eliminating one of Schneider's weaknesses.

    But the team was not focused on offense at all. For this season, at least, catching was purely about developing a relationship with the starting staff of castoffs and emphasizing defense. The team didn't quite trust Flores -- given his age and inexperience -- and rode Schneider hard... early and often.

    He ended up starting 14 of the first 15 games the Nats played there. Flores' first start came against right-handed Livan Hernandez while Schneider would bat against a lefty four times in that stretch.

    The team seemed to be emphasizing Schneider's work with the rotation, and the numerous quotes from various people affiliated with the team, praised his work. But after the fourth pass through the rotation, things started breaking down. Patterson and Williams went out as did Hill. Simontacchi, Bacsik and Speigner came in. With the jumbling in the staff and none of the replacements being purely long-term guys, Flores got handed the keys a few more times, getting a start at least once a week, usually every 5-6 games.

    Schneider struggled mightily in that first month, but during May, he rebounded a bit, hitting about what you'd expect him to hit: .277 .333 .410. Good. Not great.

    Meanwhile, Flores was tantalizing us all. Through the end of May he was hitting .244 .380 .341, showing a decent batting eye and patience at the plate, but also a strong, accurate throwing arm.

    As Flores took on a more regular role, however, he struggled. The adjustment from A to NL is a giant one, especially for such a young kid and at such a demanding position. It especially doesn't help that Acta didn't spot him against lefties, instead doling out his starts based on when Schneider needed a rest. From the end of May to the end of August, Flores barely hit. (.222 .255 .333). But when he did hit, they were usually important hits.

    It was around the beginning of August, though, that Acta changed their roles up. Flores took on an increasing share of the starts, starting once for every 3-4 games that Schneider played and getting the assignment more often than not when a tough lefty like Cole Hamels was on the mound. It wasn't a platoon in the strictest sense, but it was pretty close.

    Schneider was making this an easy decision with a dreadful .161 .309 .232 line in July. He wasn't hitting for power, but he was showing a decent batting eye and ok selectivity at the plate. It seemed like he had decent pitch recognition, just that his body didn't have the skill to do much with it besides flip the occasional fliner over the second baseman's head.

    Down the stretch, it was a full job-sharing arrangement, and Schneider hit reasonably well (.283 .400 .377) as did Flores (.250 .313 .386). The Nats had a pretty good two-headed monster (note: not actually scary) for a few weeks, and it gives one some hope for next year.

  • Offense
    Neither catcher particularly stood out. Schneider ended up at .235 .326 .336, a 77 OPS+. Flores was basically the same, .244 .310 .361 with a 78 OPS+

    But the whole there, is a whole lot greater than the sum of its parts -- if assembled in the right way.

    Both players had pretty extreme platoon splits.

    Schneider (career) versus righties: .254 .325 .389
    Schneider (career) versus lefties: .247 .313 .336

    Flores versus righties: .220 .276 .297
    Flores versus lefties: .270 .343 .427

    You thinking what I'm thinking?

    Here comes stupid, incorrect math: If we weight 2/3 of Schneider v righties and 1/3 of Flores versus lefties, we get a catcher who hits about .259/ .331/ .402

    I'll take that! The league average catcher hit .257/ .318/ .394, so the platoon 'o doom would outpace that by a considerable margin... even more when you factor in their rocket arms.

    But that's the world of wishing. Not reality.

    In the real world, Flores had more plate appearances against righties than lefties. And Schneider came to the plate 50 more times against lefties than did Flores. Add it up and it's still kinda ugly.

    As with the other positions, I'll compare them to league average using Runs Created. The average NL catcher stinks, creating .149 runs for every out they make.

    If we multiply that .149 figure by the 338 outs Schneider made, an average catcher would've created 50 runs. Schneider created 46. As bad as he was, he wasn't THAT much below league average.

    If we do the same for Flores (.149 * 142), we get 21 runs created versus his... 21 runs created. Flores, with a 77 OPS+, was basically league average.

    Wow, catchers suck.

  • Defense

    I'm not even going to attempt to quantify a catcher's defense. I'll just throw some random stats that may or may not interest you.

    Nationals pitchers had the 4th most wild pitches. They're "pitches" of course, but there's a school of thought that a good catcher can take away some of those.

    Only 2 regular catchers saw fewer SB attempts against than Schneider -- they respect his arm.

    He tied for the highest CS% in the league. So the few times they did run, he nailed them. He's as good at shutting down the opposing running game as any C in the league.

    Only 4 NL catchers had a higher rate of WP+PB per game than Schneider did. Some of that can be explained by a terrible Joel Hanrahan and sinking and diving breaking pitches by Bergmann, but...

  • Few other bullets....

    Much was made about how Schneider sacrificed his offense for the good of the pitching staff (and the team) this year. It's a nice story, I guess, but it doesn't pass the smell test when you see that he was just as terrible offensively in '06.

    The other myth that took on a life of its own was that Schneider helped to develop all the Nats young starting pitching talent. Is that true?

    First, I'd question who those young starting pitchers who developed were.

    13 pitchers started a game for the Nats.

    We can strike stopgap crap and flameouts from the list: Bacsik, Simontacchi, Hanrahan, Bowie, Patterson, Williams, Speigner and Traber.

    That leaves us with Hill, Bergmann, Redding, Chico and Lannan.

    I'll pull Lannan out of that list; he started only 6 games and any developing he did came in the minors.

    Perhaps you could argue that they "developed" Redding, especially since his ERA went down when he got promoted. (But I'd point out that he's 29 and that his ERA is much lower than it should be given his BB/K and HR numbers).

    I like what Bergmann did in the first half, but he had a 5.60 in the second half. Did he develop? or did he just have a hot run of games?

    I'm comfortable with saying that Hill and Chico developed. Not really anyone else. And perhaps Schneider deserves credit there -- he caught the majority of Chico's starts. But there weren't nearly as many young pitchers developing as the team liked to portray, and there were certainly many more who crapped the bed. So there's not an overwhelming mountain of evidence to support that assertion either, even if there may be a grain of truth in it.

  • Tuesday, October 23, 2007

    Yay For Defense

    Apparently it stinks in the minors, too.

    Baseball Prospectus
    takes a swing at team defensive stats, and says that the Hagerstown Suns were the 3rd worst defensive team in the minors. They argue that it dramatically affected a few semi-prospects, including Marco Estrada, Jhonny Nunez and Cory Van Allen.
    The slow resurgence of the Nationals farm system began at its lowest levels this season, and while the play of many among this year's crop of Suns was cause for optimism, the team’s defense was atrocious. The pitcher most affected was Jhonny Nunez, a live-armed hurler acquired from the Dodgers for Marlon Anderson a year ago. While Nunez did manage to allow fewer hits (97) than innings pitched (106 2/3), better defense could have created a better ratio, and generated more recognition. The team also had a pair of pitching prospects stop by briefly, Estrada and Van Allen, and despite good strikeout rates, both players were affected by the team's bad defense. While Estrada has the better arm, Van Allen’s command from the left side (just six walks in 54 2/3 innings at the level) might make him the more intriguing prospect. While the everyday defense didn’t feature any noteworthy prospects, the team had brief help from high 2006 picks Chris Marrero and Stephen King. If the team DER is at all reflective of their play, Marrero has a lot of work to do in the outfield, and King might need to be moved across bag at the keystone.

    Here's Hagerstown's team stats.

    It looks like there was a lot of shifting players around this season, especially as the few prospects the Nats have passed through town. If you look at centerfield on that link, for example, Justin Maxwell was getting to half a ball more per game than most of the other CFers who played. Obviously, there are lots of factors like who was pitching that affect those kinds of numbers, but Francisco Guzman looks like he's auditioning for Sweeney Todd no matter where he played.

    Sure, That'll Work Out

    The Mariners announced their coaching staff for next year, and amazingly Mel Stottlemeyer -- who never met a strikeout pitcher he wouldn't change -- isn't the funny part.

    Meet their new first base coach, Eddie Rodriguez.

    M's fans, you better hope he comes nowhere near your lineup card!

    Monday, October 22, 2007

    Opening Night?

    If the Daily News sez it is (or could be), it must be (or could be):
    While neither has been finalized, the Mets are moving in the direction of making a spring-training appearance in the Dominican Republic as well as opening the MLB season in the Nationals' new stadium with the opening game on Sunday, March 30, in Washington, D.C.

    It would mark the second straight year the Mets will have christened the season. They opened 2007 with a Sunday night game in an NLCS rematch at St. Louis. After one game against Washington, the Mets would be expected to return to South Florida for a three-game series against the Marlins, then continue to Atlanta before the home opener against the Phillies.

    Wow, That's Depressing

    Today, three long years ago, I did something stupid. I started this blog.

    Then I did something even stupider just about every day since. I wrote another entry.

    Wow, where did my life go?

    At least the Nats were nice enough to send over some thank you wishes.

    (I apologize for posting that at lunchtime)

    Anyway... thanks for reading and all that. My girlfriend appreciates that I can 'talk' baseball with someone other than her. It keeps her sane (at least the other parts I haven't driven crazy).

    Nationals Review: Shortstop

    It's hard to remember how we got to where we did -- which was practically nowhere -- but Opening Day started with Cristian Guzman at short. I had practically forgotten it. Given the three years of shortstop play that Nats fans have witnessed, I hope I could be forgiven.

    I'd say that short has been the team's black hole, but that implies that the Nats have had just one. It has, however, probably cost the team more wins than any other position, which certainly wasn't what Jim Bowden had in mind when he signed Cristian Guzman to a 4-year contract three years ago.

    Guzman's latest attempt to salvage his contract lasted 5 innings, when he left with a hamstring injury, which would cause him to miss a month.

    In his place came Josh Wilson, the Quad-Aish "shorstop" who won the utility job out of spring training thanks to line drive after line drive and a .333 average. He started game 2, behind ground-ball machine Shawn Hill and played some of the worst shortstop I've ever seen in my life. He only went in the books for two errors, and I've managed to black out most of the game, but he managed to misplay at least 43 balls -- or at least that's what my memory is telling me. So terrible was his play that the Nats made a move, shifting Felipe Lopez back to his former position and playing Ronnie Belliard at second.

    That didn't quite work out either.

    Lopez neither hit nor fielded, putting up a miserable .266/ .319/ .294 Carrollesque line through the first month. Lopez deserves a lot of credit for his ability to adjust in that he had been preparing all season (and all spring) long to be the second baseman, only to have plans change 18 innings into the season. But credit can only carry you so far. You have to produce. And he didn't.

    So when Guzman's hamstring was healthy, he came off the DL and assumed his mantle as the one true terrible shortstop. But a funny thing happened on the way to mediocrity. Guzman hit? Guzman hit! For the next 6 weeks, Guzman carried the team offensively!? Let that sink in for a second! While Dmitri was ripping liner after liner, Guzman was pounding out as many hits as anyone on the team.

    From his return in May to the end of June, Guzman was an asset at the top of the order, hitting .335/ .388/ .476, numbers that even now don't quite feel right. At the time, it really seemed like he had changes his approach. He had a more patient swing, keeping his hands back further. Too often in '05, he was lunging and slapping at the ball, hitting it weakly. It seemed that by staying back, he was getting more of a base, lunging less and driving the ball more. He certainly found more holes.

    It's that finding of holes that's going to present a problem, I think. I remember thinking a few times that he was getting lucky and that fielders were just missing a few of his balls. the stats back that up to a degree.

    Guzman's batting average on balls in play was a career high by a mile. That stat is exactly what it sounds like -- what is a player's average once he actually puts the ball into fair territory. In Guzman's case, his .364 BABIP is way higher than his career .300 average. While we have some anecdotal evidence -- changed stance, eye surgery -- to think that his talent/ability may have changed, it also appears that he "got lucky," putting the bell where they ain't more than he had at any time in his career. Is that a repeatable skill? Would you bet on it? I don't think I would.

    Plus, if you look at the underlying stats, it was a typical Guzman season. His isolated numbers (slugging minus batting; and on-base minus batting) aren't all that different than his career totals. .380 OBP - .328 BA = .053 ISO for '07 versus .039 for his career. .138 Isolated Power for '07 versus .115 for his career.

    In other words, he wasn't walking significantly more or hitting for much more power than he had during his career. He was just getting more singles. That's not a bad thing, of course, but is it a new level of ability or just a 5-week hot streak? Seems to me that that stretch has more in common with a Nook Logan bender than the second coming of Ichiro.

    At any rate, the Nats never had a chance to find out. Before he could -- if he would -- regress, he got injured, tearing a ligament in his thumb. He would come back again at the very end of the year, but would only come to the plate once more, his season effectively over.

    With him on the shelf, the Nats went back to Plan B to see if Lopez could be any better than his first go-around. They stuck with Lopez for the rest of the season and he played practically every day, save for the odd dalliance with the immobile D'Angelo Jimenez towards the end of the year.

    At first, Lopez responded. He had a pretty good July -- at least by the low standards he had accustomed us to. His .274/ .349/ .400 was roughly where most had had him pegged, maybe a bit lower than we'd have liked. But then he fell apart again, hitting poorly in August and September, a combined .250 .324 .357.

    I don't have any great insights on Felipe. Was it something mechanical? Did he need a fix like the one that spurred Kearns on to a good second half? Is it all mental? He supposedly had some off-field distractions, and he's always seemed like a fragile kid.

    But he's also been someone who's done whatever the team has asked him to do, moving from position to position without publicly complaining. And when he was with the Reds, they jerked him around a little, trying to make him into a different kind of player. And he did that, re-working his game without complaining. (I wrote a little about that here)

    So he might seem disinterested, but he's always done what the team asked him. And I usually hate ascribing motive based on body language, since that's what leads us to things like benching Church for 3 months or watching another team trade Jim Edmonds for Kent Bottenfield.

    It's enough to know that he's not an instinctive player and that he sometimes makes bad decisions. But he, by past evidence, seems to work hard and doesn't complain. Isn't that really what we want in all our players?


    NL shortstops created 1537 runs while making 8334 outs. Dividing that out, the average NL SS created .18 runs for every out.

    Felipe Lopez created 69 runs, the 10th highest total in the National League. (this is for his entire season, not just his time at SS) But Lopez also had a terribly low .308 on-base percentage, so he ended up making the 3rd most outs of any NL SS, 486.

    Using 486 outs, an average NL SS would have created 87 runs (.18 * 486), so Lopez was about 18 runs below average. Only Omar Vizquel was worse. (For comparison's sake, JJ Hardy and Khalil Greene were basically league average offensive shortstops.)

    If we look at what Cristian Guzman did, it's even more amazing. In those few weeks of play (roughly 6 weeks), he created 33 runs, half of Lopez' seasonal total. And he did so using just 120 outs. 120 * .18 = 22 runs on average, so Lopez was 11 runs better in his short time this year.

    Just for giggles...

    If we pretend that Guzman could've kept the pace up all year and gave his playing time to Lopez, he would've created 134 runs, 65 runs more than Lopez put up -- roughly double his production!

    If the Phillies had had Lopez instead of Jimmy Rollins, they'd have had 48 fewer runs scored. That one makes my head hurt (and is, of course, pure numerical masturbation)

  • Defense

    If you thought the offense was ugly...

    Lopez is as much a major league shortstop as I am. He has little range, and sloppy footwork, leading to wayward throws.

    He's near the bottom in terms of Zone Rating. No shortstop with a similar number of defensive innings made as few plays outside his immediate zone as he did. He led the NL in throwing errors. His total of 15 is 2 higher than Hanley Ramirez' total and Hanley played nearly 400 more defensive innings. His .957 fielding percentage is worst among qualified NL shortstops.

    But, you know what? Guzman isn't much better. His Fielding % was a point lower than Felipe's. His zone rating, had he played enough time to qualify, would've been a neck above Felipe's but still among the worst in the league.

    That Reds Blogger's attempt to convert range into runs tells the ugly story.

    Lopez: -16 runs
    Guzman: -5 runs

    and just for good measure: Jimenez: -1 run.

    Ugly, ugly stuff.

  • Overall

    Terrible offense and terrible defense made Felipe Lopez' '07 season probably the worst of any player in the majors, 30-40 runs or so below an average performance and even below the kind of performance the team could likely get from some stiff picked off the International League Waiver Wire.

    Meanwhile, Guzman's range -- thanks to age and injury -- continues to erode, taking away much of the value of his bat. If he's hitting like he did this year, you can live with it. But expecting him to hit like he did this year is likely a fool's game.

    This is clearly the one position where the Nats could use a clear upgrade. Yet it's likely that they'll stick with Guzman for another year, the last on his contract, and we'll be looking for another upgrade next year, off a season with another below average performance.

  • Sunday, October 21, 2007

    Anyone Catch This?

    An emailer sent along a story that was apparently on for about 30 seconds. I'm not sure if it's legit and since I have zero journalistic bones in my body, I ain't checkin' it out; you can email Stan for the 'no comment' yourself.

    Anyone seen/heard anything? Anyone see this on its limited run on Is someone just pulling my chain, seeing how terribly, terribly low my standards are?

    Ordinarily I'd question it a lot more, but 1) that particular writer has yanked a few things off the website (including Soriano's love of a naked Denise Richards) after ticking off the wrong person and 2) it starts out with "It's no secret", which is his favorite throat-clearing phrase, the one all authors turn to and overuse.

    The catch is that the 'story' refers to a specific person who a quick google search doesn't actually connect with said company. So who knows. We'll find out eventually, eh?

    WASHINGTON -- It's no secret that the Washington Nationals have
    been shopping the sponsorship of their new 41,000-seat stadium,
    near South Capitol Street and the Navy Yard
    in Southeast, to a plethora of major corporations. Could one the
    nation's largest defense contractors be line to put its name on
    Major League Baseball's newest stadium scheduled to open next
    April? According to a source within the Washington Nationals
    organization, who wishes to remain anonymous, the Northrop Grumman
    Corporation is in final negotiations with the Washington Nationals
    for an exclusive 20-year, multifaceted strategic marketing and
    partnership that includes naming rights. The fully integrated
    partnership purportedly includes, for Northrop Grumman, brand and
    business unit presence throughout the new ballpark; rights to the
    and new ballpark marks; the launch of community outreach
    initiatives; and the
    development of international business opportunities in sports and

    It goes on with standard boilerplate and with a quote from that aforementioned goober (which is another part of it that doesn't quite pass the smell test; I'm not sure there'd be a quote from someone, even prospectively looking ahead.)

    Eh. Whatever.

    Thursday, October 18, 2007

    Quick Note On Hunter

    Torii Hunter said that he'd be interested in playing for the Nats. As usual, with thise puff FA interviews, it leaves out the second clause, "if the Nats are the highest bidder for my services."

    At any rate, here's a quick, non-rigorous analysis.

    I've been in love with Runs Created lately as a quick and dirty way of estimating player value.

    I averaged his last three years of performance, giving him more credit for last year and the previous year (on a 3/2/1) value. Basically, I multiplied his RC values for last year by 3, '06 by 2 and added in his '05 value. summed it up, then divided by 6.

    Doing that, he has an established value of 88 RC while using 442 outs. Note that this is generous to him, giving him more credit for his terrific '07 season, and valuing his previous injury-filled seasons slightly less.

    As I explained yesterday, the average NL CF created .181 runs for every out they used. Multiply his 442 outs X .181 means that an average CF would've created 80 runs over the same number of outs. His 88 minus the average 80 means that he's about 8 runs better than an average NL CFer.

    If that seems low, it's because you're not considering his low on-base percentage. Over the last three years, it's hovered between .334 and .337, which is low for the typical middle-of-the-order hitter. As a comparison, Grady Sizemore had 98 more plate appearances than Hunter, but only caused 10 more outs. Those extra 80 outs really add up and detract from his value.

    So we've got him about 5-10 runs above average offensively.

    Defensively, he's lost a step from where he was, which was the best CF in the game. He's battled through leg problems the last few years. You might remember a play from the playoffs two or three years ago, where he looked completely terrible, butchering a ball that fell for an inside-the-park homer. Still, at worst he's league average. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and say he's 5 runs better than an average CFer (even though he's sure to decline more over the next few years).

    Add it up and he's a 5-15-run player... 1-2 wins better than average. Good. Not great.

    He's already turned down a 3/$45 million offer from the Twins and is supposedly looking for a 5/$70ish offer. There's no way he's worth that. He's asking to be played like an elite player when he's more like Austin Kearns... someone who's above average, but isn't the kind of player who can carry a team.

  • Just for giggles' sake, let's try the same with Church... just to get a comparison.

    Using the same weighting method, we get an established level of 57 RC and 264 outs. That's .216 runs created for every out that Church makes.

    If we give him Torii's playing time (Hunter's 442 outs X Church's rate .216), he would create 95 runs versus Torii's 88 and versus the 80 RC an average CF would create.

    If that doesn't seem kosher to you, consider that last year's disappointing .349 on-base percentage is 12 points higher than Torii's career high and that Church's also disappointing .464 slugging average is just 5 points below Hunter's career mark, despite Church playing in a pitcher's park.

    As crazy as it sounds, Church might actually be a better offensive performer, on the order of 5-10 runs.

    Now, obviously, he gives back some of that on defense. He'd give TONS of it back if this were the Hunter of old -- a player who was probably +20 on defense. Even if you assume he's the Hunter of old, Hunter only comes out about 10 runs better than Church, all things considered.

    Is that worth $75 million?

  • I like Hunter's style, but I also think he's a pretty bad teammate. Here's an example. He's repeatedly ripped Joe Mauer and some of his other teammates for not playing hurt (uhoh...sounds like Guillen!). Meanwhile, check out his games played total. Do we really need that?

  • Wednesday, October 17, 2007

    And The Check Is In The Mail, Too

    Thanks to the always invaluable JDLand, WTOP sez that the Nationals might be willing to pay for the costs associated with changing the name of the Navy Yard Metro stop to make reference to the ol' ballyard.

    The snippets are typical Kasten. They're "considering" it and "talking about" it, likely about as much as I've "considered" and "talked about" winning the lottery, quitting my job, and lounging on a beach like a drunken whale for the rest of my life. In both cases, it ain't gonna happen.


    There's a mention that they're also sorta waiting to see what the new place is going to be called. If it becomes Summer's Eve Field, would they ask the Summer's Eve corp to bankroll the signage changes (plus a little extra for the extra pub they'd get)? Would Metro let them 'advertise' a company like that, instead of something generic like "ballpark."

    As always, I have no answers. Just stupid questions. Why are you reading again?

  • Tucked into the bottom was this ol' nugget:
    For baseball fans, there is nothing better than taking the day off of work and heading to a ball game. Well, WTOP has learned the Nationals first season in their new ballpark will have only a handful of day games.

    Nationals President Stan Kasten says there'll only be three or four day games on weekdays this season.

    Interesting in that the day games seemed to have drawn slightly larger crowds than some of the night ones. I guess they scaled them back, despite the appeal, because of the uncertain parking situation, but also because of traffic going home, where getting in and out of the new place is going to be significantly more difficult than the old one. (Wonder if Metro had any input on this one as well?)

    Part of me loved the day games; it is nice to bail out. but then there are days where you just couldn't do it. I've been on the T/Th/Su ticket plan and the majority of them fell on Thursdays... there've been quite a few over the last two years where something's come up at work (dammit!).

    Maybe I should do more of that "considering" winning the lottery thing?

  • Tuesday, October 16, 2007

    DEEP TO LEFT! Now The Right Fielder Comes In A Step

    The Nats have offered Bob Carpenter a 1-year deal to continue to anticipate double plays that have no chance of being turned on Nats broadcasts.

    Won't someone offer him a 2-year deal? Please!

    Hat Tip to Loyal Reader RL

    Nationals Review: Center Field

    Every team seems to have one, a position they just can't seem to fill. They'll cycle players through for a month or two at a time, maybe settling in with some journeymen for a few years at a time. The Cubs were never able to find a 3B. The Yankees always seemed to have a new LFer every year.

    For the Nats, it's been a rotating cast of characters in center since day one. This year was a relatively stable year at the position, yet the Nats used six difference center fielders. Last year it was 10. Remember Luis Matos? They can never seem to find an answer.

    But part of the problem, I think, is that they don't really know the question to ask. The problem the franchise has had in CF is that they've wanted to shoehorn that position not just into a defensive role, but also into an offensive one. They want a slick-fielding, speedy runner with a high OBP to bat leadoff.

    One problem.

    There aren't many of them.

    Here's the exhaustive list of all MLB CFers who have had a single season with a .350 OBP and 30 or more SB since 2000.

    It's happened just 16 times.

    30 teams x 8 seasons of play means there were 240 opportunities for just such a player, and it's happened only 16 times. No wonder the Nats couldn't find that. It's practically an endangered species.

    If you lower the SB threshold down to 20 -- since SB are down league-wide -- you still get just 28 individual seasons. The Nats are looking for something that just isn't there, trying to either shape the personnel they have into unfair roles (as they did with Endy Chavez) or hoping that their marginal talent will bloom into Kenny Lofton (as they have done with Nook Logan).

    It hasn't worked.

    It was that hope that led Nook Logan to the starting CF job coming out of spring training. It certainly wasn't his .245 spring BA or his career .334 minor league OBP. As fate would have it, Logan strained his foot on opening day while going for a catch deep into the gaps. He would miss a month.

    When he went on the DL, the Nats recalled Kory Casto and shifted old hand Ryan Church to the position that they worked hard to not give him over the last two years. He would flourish.

    Through that first month, Church caught most everything he needed to catch, and was quite the sparkplug for the offense, one of the few players to really be doing anything. He hit .284, got on base at a .392 clip, and thanks to 12 doubles in 30 games, he slugged .490.

    But with Casto flailing away and the team's OCD-like need for CF defense, Church was needed elsewhere. Nook Logan came off the DL and the team sent Chris Snelling away for Ryan Langerhans, and a platoon was born. From the beginning of May til mid-June, Langerhans and Logan would alternate.

    It wasn't a strict platoon, as Logan's switch-hitting ability ("ability"?) allowed him to face some righties, too. And you could tell that Acta WANTED to settle on someone, giving both 3-5 game stretches to try to establish themselves. But it didn't work. Neither batter really did all that much.

    Well, anything, really. Logan "hit" .198/ .235/ .272 over those 81 plate appearances. Langerhans faired better, sometimes coming off the bench and filling in at the corners: .257/ .382/ .432. It was towards the end of that run that Logan gave up switch-hitting, choosing to bat right-handed for the remainder of the season.

    So with neither player really doing much, the Nats shuffled the roster once again. Robert Fick went to the bereavement list to deal with the death of his mother and Brandon Watson -- he of the 43-game minor league hitting streak -- got another chance in the majors.

    Manny gave him his chance, writing his name in the lineup for five straight games, and he slapped enough singles to give the illusion of usefulness, batting .273. (Just pay no attention to the .316 OBP or the .333 SLG) During this time, I heard Bowden interviewed on the radio, and he downplayed Watson's accomplishments in the minors, constantly mentioning that AAA pitching isn't like NL pitching (although Mike Bacsik's performance could render that point moot). He also criticized his defense (there's that bugaboo again!). So it wasn't any surprise that he was back on a plane to Columbus once Fick was ready to rejoin the team.

    In Watson's place came the headless platoon. Again. Only this time with a solely right-handed Logan. Logan would respond, a bit. (or at least he'd get lucky with some more of those singles dropping in). Over the month of that latest experiment, he got his line up to .250/ .333/ .357. Solidly below average, but when you factor in the defense he was playing, he wasn't a complete crusher. Over that same period, Langerhans would crater, hitting .127/ .200/ .309. Only a performance this terrible could make Nook's look excellent.

    So that led to the newest plan: All Logan, All The Time! And proving that this is one weird game, it worked. Logan started hitting the ball a bit better, making more consistent contact, and actually getting those balls to drop in. Luck, perhaps. But it also could've been a change in his approach thanks to the abandonment of his switch-hitting. Either way, the Nats were happy for the catalyst a .364/ .403/ .439 line provides.

    But then the Nats would trade for Wily Mo Pena, and Manny flirted around with Church and Kearns in CF for a game or too, instead of leaving Logan out there every day.

    Well, it screwed with Logan's mojo. (or maybe that was just regression to the mean! OK, it was entirely regression!) From mid-August to the end of the season, Logan got the bulk of the starts with the odd Church one mixed in. (at least til the very end of the season, but we'll get to that in a second.) Logan didn't do well. The batting average dropped back down, and he's never walked nor hit for much power. So when he's batting .250, as he did then, the team's offense is going to suffer.

    Then finally, at the end of the season, Acta turned CF over to one of the only position prospects the Nats have, Justin Maxwell. His raw power impressed the hell out of everyone, given his towering flyballs, but the plate patience wasn't there with a 8/1 K/BB ratio. But, oh, that power!

    So all that flailing around, the 14 different plans, and what did the Nats find out?

    That Ryan Church isn't a terrible stopgap CF. That Nook Logan probably can't be a regular CFer. That Ryan Langerhans is meh. That Justin Maxwell is intriguing.

    Didn't we know all of that before the season began?

    So barring a free agent signing, the Nats will go into next year with CF continuing to be a question, especially if they're not content to give Church the job. And next year, unless Maxwell develops even more quickly, we still won't have an answer to the question.


    Logan ended the year at .265 .304 .345, an on-base percentage way too low to be usable in a major-league lineup. Church started 39 games at CF and thanks to some good timing, hit .292/ .394/ .555 at that position. Langerhans got 33 starts and hit .170/ .273/ .283.


    As a whole, NL CFers created 1481 runs, using 8187 outs in the process. They created .181 runs for every out.

    Nook Logan created 37 runs, using 259 outs in the process. The league average CFer would've created 47 runs (.181 * 259) if he had used Logan's same number of outs. Subtracting that out, (37-47), Logan was 10 runs below a league average CFer. (Despite playing only about half a season)

    I can't do a direct comparison with Church's CF numbers (and there's a sample size problem there as well), so I'll use his full season numbers. He created 77 runs in 359 outs. So he'd have been 12 runs above average had he spent all season in CF.

    (For an apples to apples comparison, had Church created runs at the same rate he did all season (77/359), he would have created 55 runs in the same number of outs as Logan did, making him ~18 runs better on offense over Logan's half season.

    Sum up the totality of the Nats CFers, and you're probably around 10 runs or so below average on offense.


    I've got a theory about Nats CFers. No real stats to back it up, just a gut feeling.

    Logan took a lot of criticism for his defense this year. Truthfully, he deserved some of it -- if I saw him back off on another can of corn between outfielders for fear of a collision, I was going to scream. But he also got a lot of criticism for playing deep and for too many balls dropping in.

    I think that's an optical illusion.

    RFK is so massive, the outfield walls so far back -- especially in the deepest part of the gaps -- that it skews our perspective. CFers have to play a bit deeper and when they do come in to make a catch, it doesn't seem as tough as it is because our minds make us think there's less territory out there than there is; we're not used to seeing so much fair area.

    Look at the Rockies last few games in Coors Field. The announcers have made much of the size of the fair territory making it a tough place to play defense. Now it's probably a bit larger than RFK (in spots), but there's still a lot of grass to cover and the occasional bleeder has blooped in. That doesn't mean that the team was playing bad defense, just as the occasional dying quail into RFK's CF doesn't mean the fielder was playing poorly. With that much territory to cover, things are going to drop in.

    The other notion I have back in my mind is that this "first step" thing has been a constant criticism of every Nats CFer. We heard it about Church, Wilkerson, Wilson, etc. (At least in Wilson's case, it was deserved.) But I remember Wilson saying something (and getting told to shut the hell up) about how hard it was to play CF there because of the rim of the stadium. I wonder if that's a factor and if that "park effect" (if you will) is contributing to some of our heartburn about defense.

    But enough of that... what about the stats?

    Well, they love, love, love Nook Logan.

    Among CFers with 700 defensive innings, his zone rating (the percentage of balls in his area that he turns into outs) is third in the NL, just behind Andruw Jones and Carlos Beltran. He was 10th in the league in plays made outside of his zone (42), which is higher than the totals of those immediately around him in defensive innings. Think of those as "stolen hits", the plays that the 'average' CFer has only a so-so chance of converting.

    Sure, he's got a terrible arm, but his speed and the jump he gets helps to take away plenty of hits, especially in RFK's massive gaps.

    If you aim to convert his range to runs, he's about 10 runs better than the average defensive CFer. If you prorate that to full-time play, he's about 15-20 runs better than average, putting him right there just below the absolute best, far above average.

    Church, incidentally, rates at roughly league average for his time in CF as does Langerhans.


    It really does appear that Logan makes up for his limp bat with his strong glove. He's roughly 10 runs below average offensively, and 10 above defensively making him a roughly league average CFer. Church hits the hell out of the ball a lot more and doesn't make as many plays, but he still comes out ahead, roughly 10-20 runs or so better over a full season.

    What's the answer for next year? Do they tread water with Logan? Give Church a chance? Sign Andruw Jones? Who knows.

    (And because I know I'll be asked...

    Andruw Jones was 8 runs below average this year offensively and about 20-30 above defensively, making him a 20-run player. He wasn't much better than Ryan Church would've been this year.

    If you chalk it up to injury, a typical Andruw Jones season (I'll use '06's stats) is in the range of 20-30 runs above average with the bat. If you put '06 Jones on the '07 Nats, you've improved the team by about 30-40 runs over the course of a season. That's a pretty sizable bump, even if it doesn't seem like much.)

    Monday, October 15, 2007

    De-Fense. Stomp. Stomp.

    The results of the Fan Scouting Report are in and it's no surprise that Ryan Zimmerman and Austin Kearns were voted our best fielders. Nor is it a surprise that Dmitri Young is at the bottom -- one of a handful of the worst fielders in the game. Here are all the Nats.

    The ratings scale you see sets 50 as an average. The standard deviation is 20, so Zimmerman is in the top 10% of all MLB players.

    Few results jumped out at me...

    Fans thought Flores' arm was just as strong as Schneider's, just not as accurate.

    Among NL 3B, it's the half-dead Scott Rolen (booo!), the anonymous Pedro Feliz or Ryan Zimmerman for best fielder.

    Ryan Church seems inexplicably low. He's got a much better arm than the fans said he does and he can battle CF to a draw. Of course, his overall ranking is only slightly below average, but he seems a bit better to me.

    FLop is way too high. I'm not sure he does anything particularly well in the field. Even if you adjust for position neutrality, he should be lower. Terrible first step/instincts. Release and Accuracy seem about right.

    Kearns as 3rd best NL RFer seems about right.

    Belliard at exactly league average seems about right. Much was made about his ability to turn the 6-4-3 -- and he does do that well -- but I can't think of anything else he does above average. OK range. OK arm. Just kinda meh. Of course that's a huge step up over last year.


    Just a thought while stealing crap from other blogs...

    Right after the season, the Nats made a few rumblings about immediately bringing back their coaching staff. That initial rumble was just a dead, shifting down to just some quiet whispers. Could, like the Mets appear to be doing, this be a sign that they've got their eye on someone already under contract?

    Rudy Jaramillo is probably the most respected hitting coach in the game. It'd be great if the Nats made a push for him.

    I know nothing (of course!), but the delay in announcing the signings definitely piqued my interest.

    Thursday, October 11, 2007

    Words That Instill No Confidence

    Nats 320, when not modeling the latest in Nats regalia, interviewed yet another person. This time it's the man at the top, our good buddy, the man with "The PLAN!", Stan Kasten.

    Part one, dealing with stadium, parking and all that boring crap is up. Check it out.

    But what caught my eye was his answer to some questions about the food policy at the new place and his less-than precise answers. As always, he's trying to be so deadly accurate with his answers that he couches and qualifies things so as to leave either 1) the question completely unanswered or 2) the exact opposite impression of what he actually means.

    I know a lot of folks are going to ask this. Will food be allowed from outside the stadium to be brought into New Nationals Park? (SBF)

    “I think the policy will be just what it was this past year--as I recall.”

    In the past, you can bring in bottled water, your own sandwichs, meals, snacks, food stuffs—just not Large Coolers or things like that. (SBF)

    “I think that’s what it was, and I don’t recall off the top of my head, but my recollection is the decision is just what it was last year. That may change between now and opening day, but I don’t remember exactly.”

    Recall that the team (pre-Lerner) hid behind the DCSEC in banning outside food and water, pointing to some signs that were posted initially. After a little public outcry, they reversed course, so much so that the goober who sat next to me last year would eat homemade eggplant parmigiana during the game, stinking up the entire section.

    When Kasten's Turner Field opened, outside food was also banned, to the displeasure of just about everyone (save Kasten's accountants).

    So I'm a little skeptical given all the parsings, and hemmings and hawings and couching in his statement. He's the Team President, the guy who paints himself in charge of every single thing, and he doesn't "remember exactly." I know the guy's got a lot on his plate, especially with the seating assignments almost done, but this would also had to have been something he signed off on, and may have (almost definitely) been something that came up while negotiating with the new concessionaire. I'm chalking this one up to convenient amnesia; any good lawyer knows that the "I don't recall" or "my recollection is" are the ideal phrases you want your witness saying when there's an uncomfortable questions being raised. You just can't prove someone's thought process.

    Worse, as I've said, the guy's an honest broker. Notice how he slips that one phrase in there? "That may change between now and opening day." Sure it might. And if it does, he's said nothing specific enough here to be accused of lying or misleading fans later.

    Such is the beauty of StanSpeak!

    In the meantime, start saving up your nickels. You're going to need them to feed the vendors.

    Tuesday, October 09, 2007

    Nationals Review: Right Field

    When the Nationals traded off some spare relievers for Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez, the reaction was practically universal. It was a heist. A complete steal. But at the halfway point of 2007, it seemed like Bowden's deal had more in common with Jack's trading for three magic beans than anything. Lopez was struggling. And the All-Star outfielder Bowden thought he had acquired was anything but.

    I've always been a fan of Kearns. He's the kind of player that's hard to appreciate. He doesn't do anything particularly well, excelling only at some of the finer points of the game that are hard to appreciate unless you're watching him on a daily basis. He's not a slugger, but he hits for power. He's not a walking machine, yet he gets on base. He doesn't hit for average, but he's not a hacker. He's average a lot of different things, adding up to a player who's probably better than the sum of his individual parts.

    Kearns played practically every day, starting 156 of the team's games. Fick (3), Langerhans (2) and Pena (1) were the only other players to start games for the Nats.

    His season, it seems, could be boiled down into three distinct phases: 1) Unlucky; 2) Bad; 3) Good.

    The unlucky streak came early. While not a true power hitter, he started the year hitting cleanup before the team realized what they had with Dmitri Young. After a few so-so games, he shifted down to 5th, where he stuck for most of the season (126) games. For that first month, he was getting his fair share of hits, but without really excelling.

    He ended up hitting a pretty decent .283/ .360/ .455 for the month, but it's two counting stats that stick out: 2 homers, 7 RBI. Despite acceptable on-base and slugging numbers, he wasn't hitting for power the way some people thought he should, and he wasn't driving in runners. He even went 13 straight games, despite hitting 5th, where he didn't drive in a single run.

    I remember this stretch, and some of the surrounding games as being one of just bad luck. Kearns was hitting the ball hard, but it wasn't finding holes. I remember looking at his line-drive rate and it was near the team lead. He just wasn't getting results as ball after ball found leather. He was doing everything right, but he wasn't getting results.

    May was particularly difficult for him. He hit a woeful .225 because none of the balls he put into play went for hits. His .241 batting average on balls in play (ie: what he does when he doesn't strike out or hit the ball over the wall) was way below his career averages, and it would be the worst month of his season.

    At some point during the month, though, he stopped hitting those line drives. Perhaps he adjusted his swing to 'counter' the results even though hitting liners is what every batter strives to do? For whatever reason, he went into a two-month haze, hitting grounders with increasing frequency, at least when he wasn't hitting towering flyballs in a park where towering flyballs are manna from heaven for a pitcher.

    From May 1st through the All-Star Break, Kearns was a complete drain on the team's offense, hitting .235/ .306/ .330, a line not all that dissimilar to Cristian Guzman's 2005 campaign.

    At the break he was hitting .250 and slugging .369 with just 5 homers, a pathetic line for a centerfielder, let a lone a corner position.

    But somewhere right around then, talk began of how he had altered his swing, and he worked with hitting coach Lenny Harris to get back to where he was.

    Whatever advice Lenny gave him, it worked.

    Kearns had a terrific second half, leading the team in homers and walks, second in RBI and runs scored. Just as important, he led the team with a terrific .390 on-base percentage and upped his slugging to .461, right about where you'd expect it to be.

    And his performance upped those terrible first-half numbers all the way up to a tolerable .266/ .355/ .411 good for a league-average OPS+.

    With his early struggles, you can't say it's a fine season. But at the same time, you can't look at two bad months and ignore all the other contributions the guy gives you. He's not good enough to carry a team, but that's hardly an insult. His typical .265/ .360/ .460 line, especially when you consider the defense he plays, makes him an above average outfielder. He walks just enough. Hits for just enough power. And he helps the team win ballgames. That's about all you can ask for.


    Because he played every day, only one other RFer in the league created more runs than Kearns. But because he didn't play especially well, he's far from the most valuable offensively. That honor belongs to Brad Hawpe of the Rockies and Corey Hart of the Brewers.

    If you look at how many runs he created compared to how many a league average right fielder would have using the same number of outs, Kearns was about 5-6 runs better than average. (Hawpe and Hart were roughly 18 above.) Kearn's total puts him roughly on par with Ken Griffey and Jeff Francouer in the league's second tier of hitters.

    Kearns has been reasonably consistent throughout his career. If we just chalk those 2.5 months up to just a fluke, we can probably tack on another 5 runs or so to his value. But, up until the last two years, he's also been very injury prone. So there's always a chance of losing him and replacing his performance with Ryan Church's -- which offensively would only be a slight dropoff, if that.

    There might not be a better all-around defensive right fielder than Austin Kearns. He is terrific at just about everything a right fielder has to do. He has a strong arm that's pretty accurate (though he did have some accuracy problems late in the season). But what makes him such a great outfielder is his hustle. He gets a good jump and runs hard to the ball to take away doubles in the gaps and singles in front of him.

    He's also especially good at charging hits, getting into good position to make a strong throw to third, enough so that runners take the extra base on him far less than many other right fielders. They don't challenge him not so much because of his arm, but because he's on the ball quicker than many other rightfielders, some of whom play defense with a casual indifference.

    You can tell that he puts a lot of pride into his defense and that invisible sort of hustle, the kind that never shows up on the stat sheets, adds a lot of value. But, there are some cases where it does show up in the stats:

    -- Two errors all year, leading the league in Fielding Percentage
    -- First in double plays
    -- First in putouts -- by 50!
    -- First in Zone Rating
    -- Most plays made outside his defensive zone

    If you convert his zone ratings numbers into an estimate of how many runs he saved relative to an average RFer, it's a staggering number, roughly 16 runs.

    That's likely a bit high; I think RFK's spacious outfield distorts the numbers a bit -- though that's just speculation.


    It's that defensive component, the one that's so hard to see and measure accurately, that gives Austin Kearns so much value. Even if you think that the 16 runs saved is high, if you assume he's saving 10 runs relative to the average rightfielder, it closes up most of the gap in value between him and the league's top offensive right fielders.

    Hawpe, for example, is a slightly below average defender by these stats. Even if you pretend he's average, his overall value in terms of runs scored and allowed is roughly that of Kearns.

    When you factor in his range and his ability to hold runners, Austin Kearns is one of the 4 or 5 best right fielders in the league, even in a year that was somewhat off.

    He's never going to be a 40-homer slugger. He's never going to throw 25 runners out. He's never going to drive in 120 runs.

    But each little thing he does adds up, combining to make a solid, strong player.

    The Nationals are a better team because of Austin Kearns, even if you sometimes need to cock your head and squint your eyes to see it.

  • Monday, October 08, 2007

    In Which The Author Rams His Head Into His Desk

    So, Mr. Beat Writer, what's your biggest surprise and disappointment of the year?

    Answer: "It was sickening to hear some of the players blame Robert F. Kennedy Stadium for their problems with the bat. I never bought into that theory, because the opposing teams didn't have a problem hitting home runs at RFK."

    So RFK had no effect on the team? Seriously?

    The fact that superior lineups were hitting against Quad-A pitchers like Mike Bacsik this year or Ramon Ortiz last year might affect how many homers the team gives up, perhaps?

    The fact that the power alleys are almost 400' from the plate has no effect on the team's ability to hit homers?

    That the team nearly doubled their homer output AWAY from RFK means RFK had no effect? They've had more homers every year! Same for the pitchers. Every year they allow a lot more on the road than at home!

    It just stuns me that someone watching the team closely doesn't think that park factors exist or play a significant factor in how a team does.

    For the season, RFK allowed 30% fewer homers than an average major league ballpark. On average, over the last three years, it's been about 20-25% fewer. It's a significant factor in how the bats AND pitchers do, making the bats look worse than they are and the arms look better than reality.

  • Special bonus statistical oddity: 4 of the questions/rants in this week's mailbag are from our friends north of the border! Apparently, DC Nats fans aren't much interested in the ol' Nats mailbag!