Monday, March 31, 2008

I Could Get Used To This!

Here's what our friends at Baseball Analysts said about today's game:
Matt Chico is one of the worst starting pitchers in baseball. His strikeout and walk rates are well-below average, which spells trouble for an extreme flyball pitcher. Brett Myers, in his return to the rotation, won't enjoy an easier matchup all year (at home against a mediocre hitting club and a weak pitcher, not to mention the fact that the Nationals will be coming down from their high after celebrating Ryan Zimmerman's walk-off home run in the team's opener at its new ballpark).

I quote that not to mock (although calling our offense mediocre is RFK-type thinking), but to show how improbable these things are.

Chico just doesn't impress me, using a smoke and mirrors approach, but dammit, it was good enough today. He didn't walk anyone, despite lobbing balls up to the plate as if he were (dammit... I don't know how to finish the analogy).

Meanwhile, the offense hums along. It's really something to watch. I don't like to make too much out of a game or two, but it just SEEMS like a better lineup. Kearns is hitting! Nick Johnson is picking up where he left off in '06 -- with some DAMN GOOD baserunning in these last two games. Milledge had a bomb! What's not to like!?

Oh. Ray King. Nothing worse than watching a LOOGY give up the tying run to someone swinging right-handed. Saul Rivera continues the march to 140 appearances. Hanrahan pitched better than his line would indicate. It'll be interesting to see how Manny handles him in the future given today's failing.

The Nats didn't convert one squeeze bunt last season. Today, it worked. Sort of. With NJ on third and Lo Duca -- who for whatever his faults as a player sure can handle the bat, and Acta is terrific about putting players in positions to maximize their strength -- attempted a bunt. He didn't get the pitch, and the throw to nail NJ (who had played the non-bunt perfectly) was wild, scoring him, and giving the Nats a freebie run.

Remember last year? 9-25? Not scoring in the first inning in how many straight games? 22 or something like that? Remember how nobody could do anything with the bat? Well, forget all that, dammit! Enjoy what we've got -- for the moment, a full 1-game lead in the division!

  • Your fun fact o' the day, courtesy of WFY: This is the first time the Nats have been above .500 since October 1, 2005, when a loss to the Phillies dropped them to 81-80.

  • Send Outfielders! (And Maybe Some Arms, Too)

    It's amazing how quickly problems like depth stop being problems, huh?

    The Nats -- well, the fans, at least -- were worried about how Manny Acta would split ABs betwee Pena, Dukes, Milledge and Kearns. As Acta said at the time, injuries will sort it out. We just hoped that it wouldn't be at the same time!

    Yesterday, Dukes was pulled from the game, and later added to the DL. His replacement is not another outfielder, but reliever Chris Schroder -- who probably deserves to be up more than Colome anyway. They didn't call up another outfielder, so now LF will be manned by some combo of Rob Mackowiak or Willie Harris (both left-handed hitters).

    This weakens the bench a bit, in that now there are only 3 PH options: Young, Lopez and the other outfielder who's not starting. Edit: Why do I always, always, always forget about Aaron Boone? (besides the fact that he blows) With the way Acta runs the pitching staff, it could force him into a spot where he's going to need to keep a pitcher at the plate in a situation where he might not want to. Or it's going to force him to use his backup catcher in a PH spot -- something he's done in the past anyway.

    Taken together, though, I wonder how much this reflects on Chad Cordero's injury status. A last-minute scratch from last night's game, he was diagnosed with tendinitis, which (to steal a line) means "he's hurt, but we don't know what's wrong." Usually tendinitis is just a sign of overwork and some rest cures it, but that's more with the forearm. This is in the shoulder, which is a bit more worrisome.

    It doesn't appear that any of the beat writers have reported it -- a quick search doesn't pull up anything -- but some places are saying that he's had a cortisone shot, which isn't really a good sign either.

    Cordero's velocity was down all spring, and it's an indication that he hasn't quite been right. Sometimes cortisone helps. Sometimes it doesn't. But given the Nats offensive needs (and the resulting 12-man pitching staff), there should be some alarm bells ringing today.

    Seen Any Good Games Lately?

    Warning! Random Thoughts Ahead!

    Stadium: Not bad! Definitely a more comfortable (and clean!) place to watch a ballgame. I like the open feel of it. You don't feel like you're stuck in a dirty, filthy concrete donut.

    I ended up getting seats about 10 rows from the dugout, sitting amongst all sorts of Senators and other washington-type celebrities. The view, as you'd expect was incredible. Seats are narrow, though. I like the angle of the seats there, though. They're pitched enough so that people in front of you aren't in your way.

    The crowd -- and it could be where I was sitting, of course -- didn't seem to have much life. Nobody was really into it, which was a bit disappointing. Even when Odalis Perez mowed through the first few batters, getting to 2-strike counts, the crowd barely reacted. That's disappointing.

    How 'bout that Zimmerman, eh? It's funny, when he came up, the crowd actually came to life, for the first time since booing Bush. I turned to my friend -- being the cynic at heart -- and proclaimed the idiocy of the fans. Yeah, sure. We haven't had a baserunner since the first inning. Sure. Yeah, he'll hit a homerun. Idiots.

    Isn't it amazing how the guy with the rubber chicken managed to get great seats behind the dugout again?

    I counted about 3/4 plays at first that Nick Johnson made that I can't really imagine Dmitri making. I had a perfect view of the throws coming across the infield, and Guzman really made some poor throws. He ole'd a ball, but it seemed like there were a few funky bounces through the infield all game. The Braves SS, Escobar, made a few tremendous plays, showing off a good bit of range.

    Kearns played RF terrifically last night. Not just the assist, but he got to a bunch of balls, including two or so that I thought might drop in. He's got a good way of making those things look routine. Milledge looked a little shaky out there at times, but he made all the plays he needed to.

    Being at the game, we didn't obviously know about Dukes injury. I was a little confused, and trying to figure out what was going on, thinking that this was a continuation of Manny's one-run-lead strategy from last season. Defensive subs are very useful, but it seemed awfully odd to turn to them so early in the game!

    Same respect, I thought (not knowing the injury) that brining in Rauch was a brilliant move. Cordero stinks against the Braves; even with the lesser Jones gone, there were still two batters who'd hit grand slams off him to win games in the lineup (and due up that inning).

    So how 'bout that Jon Rauch as closer thing? How many people said he never blows games like Cordero, that he's more reliable? All closers blow games from time to time. It happens, especially when it's just a one-run lead. (The league save % in that situation is something like 70% -- it's no sure thing.)

    It's hard to get much of a read on Odalis Perez. He didn't look terrible, but he didn't look especially sharp either. He's got a good way of working himself into jams. Whether he has a good season or not depends on his ability to escape them. As we saw last night, Manny's not going to give him too much rope to hang himself -- at least yet.

    I liked the dance of moves Acta made when Cox went match-up in the 8th inning. With the pitchers' spot due up and a lefty on the mound, Aaron Boone was on deck. When Cox brought in the righty, Acta showed Young. But once Belliard made the second out, he sent up FLop instead... no sense wasting the big bat with two outs and nobody on. And if by some miracle, Lopez had got on, he's in a great position to try to take the extra base.

    I haven't seen the replay, but I've heard some teeth-gnashing. Good call by the scorer on the PB? (I've seen enough of that guy's calls to just assume that it's wrong)

    Ready for another game today? First pitch at 3:05!

  • And finally.... blind item guessing game time!

    Which curmudgeonly sportswriter was overheard (god bless the passive voice) ripping one of his coworkers, saying that this beloved columnist "has his head so far up the Nats' asses..."?

  • Who Needs RFK?

    Isn't it nice to see some balls actually clear the fence that'd have been 15 feet short of the warning track at the old dump? Woo!

    Sunday, March 30, 2008

    Send Tickets!

    Seriously, go there now!

    I just snapped a pair behind the dugout. Upgrades, baby!

    Tonight's The Night

    Got my tickets. Got my scorecard. Got my mittens. Gonna get some beer. It's gonna be a great night!

    Despite being a cynical bastard here, I'd tab myself as more of an optimistic realist. I can love something with faults. (Maybe because with so many faults of my own, I need a patient person to love me back!)

    My head tells me that the Nats are going to win somewhere in the 70s. But tonight's not about my head. It's about my heart. (and my gut full of chili nachos)

    You know what? This team really could surprise. There IS a lot to like.

    Ryan Zimmerman, protected by actual bats around him, has a chance to relax, work on his pitch recognition, and come close to that Ladson Triple Crown.

    Nick Johnson picks up where he left off, getting on-base like a motherhumper, and stroking those line drives up into the jetstream to right that some are already mentioning.

    Austin Kearns fulfills his promise and hits those 30 homers that Jim Bowden envisioned when he first drafted him years ago.

    Cristian Guzman defies the naysayers, showing that his recent suckiness really was because he couldn't see or swing the bat without his shoulder popping out.

    Paul Lo Duca pipes up, keeps the clubhouse in order and focused, while hitting .280 and driving in a bunch of runs with all the runners in front of him.

    Wily Mo Pena gets healthy, hits 35+ bombs in 75% of a season, and fuels a long winning streak in June that makes us all recall 2005 fondly.

    Elijah Dukes stays clean off the field and takes a step towards living up to the potential that made him a former top prospect.

    Shawn Hill shows how tough he is, fighting off pain that's like a constant kick to the funny bone with every pitch, gutting out 140 ballsy innings with an ERA in the mid-3s.

    John Lannan comes up in May and picks up where he left off, bedeviling opposing batters with an assortment of slop that adds up to greater than the sum of its parts.

    Matt Chico's leg kick gives him the extra oomph on his fastball to raise the profile of his secondary pitches from 'meh' to 'not bad', allowing him to anchor the back half or the rotation with steady innings all season long.

    Chad Cordero shows that the ballpark isn't a problem, pitching as effectively as he has each of the last three seasons, and approaching the franchise record for saves in a year.

    Jon Rauch pitches in ninety games, racking up hold after hold, and stopping opposing rallies before they ever get a chance to begin.

    Odalis Perez finds that a year in the NL and some work with Randy St. Claire is enough to spring him back three or so seasons when he was a legitimate mid-rotation starter, giving the Nats an effort like they got from Loaiza in 2005: Just enough to win, rarely enough to lose.

    Would you bet against any single one of those things happening? None on their own seem too far fetched. What if a little magic happens? What if a new home, free from rats, and fears of having their cars broken into helps? Can't you just see it?

    On Closer Inspection

    The pretzel doesn't look any tastier.

    Oh, for a non-Curly W!

    As you'd expect, Nats320 has a billion other photos you can gawk at.

    Saturday, March 29, 2008

    Need A Ticket?

    Keep hammering this. They've been releasing scattered singles all night.

    Can A Reliever Relieve Himself?

    From Svrulga's thread on ballpark reactions...
    First the top moment of the game was in the bottom of the 2nd or 3rd inning when Zim was at his second at bat. One of the pitchers in the bullpen decided to christen the stadium in his own way by pissing in the far left corner of the bull pen. There was a lot of noise from the fans in my section when it happened and one guy said it was Chad Cordero, but as the player was wearing his wind breaker I could not see a jersey number.

    And Kasten probably thought that I'd be the only one pissing all over the stadium experience!

  • Update: False alarm!
    The Nats pitcher--Joel Hanrahan--wasn't relieving himself in the bullpen. He was put on "time out" by the veterans in the bullpen...kinda like a Kangaroo Court thing. I told him after the game he looked like he was going to the bathroom out there, and he told me what happened. Hilarious.

    There's still time for one of us to christen it then! I've got dibs on the cherry trees!

  • Season Preview

    The last few years, I've done haiku season previews. This year, I got lazy. (and, well, every Tom, Dick and Harry does haikus now, and I need to stay hip and on the cutting edge of what today's kids want)

    So, instead, I present what's going to happen (take it to Vegas) in the internet's second-laziest "art" form, the six-word novel.



    New York (96-66)
    Big bats overcome a diving Jeter.

    Boston (94-68)
    Old guys, overrated kids: bad combo

    Toronto (86-76)
    WHAM! Window shuts loudly. Too late.

    Tampa Bay (82-80)
    Exorcised the devil. On righteous path.

    Baltimore (62-100)
    Orioles Magic? Their fate now tragic.


    Cleveland (89-73)
    Cleveland rocks with Sabbathia's ever step.

    Detroit (88-74)
    Big bats. Big waists. Overrated arms.

    Minnesota (80-82)
    Ya darn tootin' we miss Santana.

    Chicago (75-87)
    Put another "L" on the board

    Kansas City (74-88)
    Far East meets Midwest. Mixed results.


    Seattle (86-76)
    War of attrition creates strange winners.

    Los Angeles (84-78)
    Pitchers drop. Batters creak. Expectations suffer.

    Oakland (77-85)
    Magic Beane trades. Team still wins.

    Texas (64-98)
    Team bloats, stinks in oppressive heat.



    New York (94-68)
    Randolph smiles. No public executions. Yet.

    Atlanta (90-72)
    1995 grows one year further away.

    Philadelphia (88-74)
    Poof! Crash! Smoke and mirrors disappear.

    Washington (75-87)
    Acta walks toward the mound, again.

    Florida (66-96)
    The game continues, enveloped by silence.


    Milwaukee (89-73)
    Tears of joy make watery beer.

    Chicago (87-75)
    100 years of solitude last indefinitely.

    Cincinnati (82-80)
    Dunn's homers don't clog the bases.

    St. Louis (79-83)
    Have another Bud. Summer lasts long.

    Houston (73-89)
    Houston has problems. Mission is scrubbed.

    Pittsburgh (69-93)
    Incline rises. Fortunes will, too. Soon.


    Arizona (91-71)
    In Pythagoras' battle, youth shall win.

    Los Angeles (89-73)
    In Western gunfight, youth shall rot.

    Colorado (84-78)
    Red hot fires burn out eventually.

    San Diego (78-84)
    Immobile outfield gives more than it takes.

    San Francisco (59-103)
    Bats match zeros Lincecum puts up.


    AL MVP: Ichiro
    Shiny batting average makes writers drool.

    AL CYA: Erick Bedard
    If he stays healthy, K's mount.

    AL CHAMP: New York
    Kids aged 8 can't count ringzzzz.

  • NL MVP: Jose Reyes
    Rounding third. Home safe -- This year.

    NL CYA: Johan Santana
    Here's the pitch. Strike three, called!

    NL CHAMP: Atlanta
    Before the sunset, one last ride.

    World Series Champ: Atlanta
    Dixie hopes third time's the charm.

    Friday, March 28, 2008

    Previews Galore

    You can read my thoughts on the entire NL East at Baseball Analyst's Two on Two preview. You can also get a bit of an outsider's perspective on the Nats (hint: they suck), too.

    I also answered some questions about our beloved team for our friends at Phillies Nation. Check it out!

    Do I Hear $100 Million? Going, Going...

    Bid #1: "Already, the Lerners have shelled out $20 million that Major League Baseball agreed the new owners would contribute to the new stadium—on top of the $450-million price tag."

    Bid #2: "The owners of the Washington Nationals plan to spend at least $30 million to improve the city-financed ballpark under construction"

    Bid #3: "The D.C. Sports Commission is aware of $10 million in Lerner-financed stadium improvements, including the restaurant expansion that will cost $2.5 million and the club-level suite changes that will cost $2.4 million, according to commission spokesman Tony Robinson. Lerner said that, as additional projects arise, the family might pay more than $35 million in adjustments. A D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission source, who asked not be identified because of the sensitive nature of the stadium issue, said a $30 million estimate for all of the improvements Lerner has mentioned is "not unrealistic." The upgrade to the main scoreboard could cost as much as $7 million alone."

    Bid #4: "Mark Lerner, who has taken the lead on the ballpark planning, said the family has spent more than $50 million on upgrades, which include a high-definition scoreboard."

    Inflation's a bitch!

    Thursday, March 27, 2008

    Eat, Drink and Be... Holy Crap, That's Expensive!

    DC Sports Bog gives us the beer menu for the park. Plenty of choices for plenty of money. $7.50 for a smaller sippy cup of non-swill.

    Nationals Pride gives us the food menu, complete with locations and price. I don't know what the hell a crab pretzel is, but for $10 it better bring me to completion.

    Thanks to SBF at Nats320, we've got the signage at the stadium, pointing out the locations of the stands. If you look at the third picture there closely, you'll see that the financing department is down the third baseline. 18% compounded biweekly might seem like a lot, but when Junior wants a crab pretzel, a loving father's gotta do what a loving father's gotta do.

    Hold Your Boos

    Controversy Averted!

    There was a bit of a hullabaloo earlier this week when some blogger roused some rabble, by suggesting that the Nationals first-pitch ceremony would be marred with controversy with Paul LoDuca catching a pitch from a former drug abuser. {re-reads story} Errr... what, with the President, an outspoken critic of drug abuse in sports (except when he was an owner; then he could turn a blind eye to it) pitching to the star of the Mitchell Report, our own beloved drug pusher, Paul Lo Duca.

    Have no fear, the unseemly combo is gone. Faced with the prospect of getting traded to Basra for an ITBNL (insurgent to be named later), Lo Duca has stepped aside, allowing Manny Acta to share the spotlight in the memorable occasion -- but also so that the triumphant and deserved cheers for the greatest manager since John McGraw overpower the inevitable boo or three aimed at the greatest president we've had since the last one (whoever that is.... my encyclopedia's out of date).

    So all the pinko commie bastards out there (and you know who you are -- and we know who you are, since we can smell the patchouli and hemp) should hold your boos. Don't boo the guy throwing the pitch. Cheer for the guy catching it, the people's choice, the one with the higher approval rating. Cheer Manny! Don't boo the other guy!

    Wednesday, March 26, 2008

    Not One Dime Of Profit

    That's going to be a hell of a farm system!

    With ticket prices in the upper echelon of Major League Baseball teams and attendance likely to top 2.5 million a year, the Nationals are expected to boost revenue by as much as $50 million, according to some estimates. And with a favorable stadium deal and strong interest from sponsors, the team should find itself among the more financially stout teams in baseball...

    Meanwhile, industry sources said the Nationals' deal with Centerplate, the stadium concessionaire, could be one of the most lucrative in baseball, giving the team more than 50 percent of regular concession revenue plus a share of any money taken in from catering.

    Good thing they assured us that the owners aren't going to be making any profit off this operation.

    New Dogs, New Tricks

    I'm always skeptical when a player finds a slight mechanical fix and suddenly all seems right in the world. In the case of Matt Chico and his magical new leg kick, I'll believe it when I see it. I've sometimes liked Chico's approach, but I've never been wowed by what he throws. Sometimes when you're watching a game, you'll see a pitcher make a pitch, fooling a batter, and you'll smile at how effective that was. I can think of Hill's sinker, Bergmann's breakers in the dirt, Rauch's fastball, etc. But Chico? Does he have a plus pitch?

    While the leg kick likely isn't going to improve the quality of his individual pitches, it does seem as if it's affected his velocity.
    In the past, the Braves knew Chico as a guy who threw in the low-to-mid 80s. But, on Wednesday, they were surprised to see that Chico was throwing in the 90s.

    "Now he is getting up to 90," said Braves second baseman Kelly Johnson, who went 0-for-2 against Chico. "Somebody said it was up to 94. I don't know if that was accurate. Regardless, he has more velocity. He looks good. He was moving the ball around. He is someone you have to battle with a little. Whatever he has done, it has worked."

    Here's a list of everyone who threw 100 or more innings last year sorted by average fastball speed. Just a few ticks below Mike Bacsik is Matt Chico. Chico's in a group with slop-throwers like David Wells, Livan Herandez, Woody Williams and Steve Trachsel. That works if you're a wily veteran with some ok secondary pitches. For a young Chico? Meh.

    If he gets that up into the 88-90 range, he's in more familiar company, with some decent pitchers. Velocity alone isn't enough, but having a few extra MPH never killed anyone. (except Ray Chapman)

    Free Skittles For Everyone!

    Those cries of pleasure you heard last night? Ray King, Dmitri Young and Nick Johnson cried out in howls of ecstasy: The Food Nazis are gone!

    About a year ago, mired in a godawful slump, Brian Schneider and John Patterson led a coup d'etat and banished all non-healthy food from the clubhouse. Gone were the skittles and twinkies, and in came walnuts and a salad bar.

    Said Schneider of his KFC Hall Putsch: "You want to give the guys choices and options. If they want to eat healthy, we have given them that choice." by taking away the yummy stuff. I hope Ray King slapped his dick in the lettuce.

    At any rate, with Patterson's untimely demise, the gruesome duo is gone. Will the yummy food return? Where's the media on this important issue? Our fat ballplayers demand answers!

    I still think it's telling that after the Skittles S.S. shortsheeted the clubhouse spread, the two stormtroopers sucked. Serves them right.

    Schneider batted .235 and "slugged" .331
    Patterson, the pansy-armed priss didn't even feckin' pitch! He rested on his jumbo jet ERA, while traipsing all over the world looking for some magical cure for his pansy-arm!

    Screw 'em both! Bring back our skittles!!!

    Spring Training Answers

    The Opening Day roster is set, with few surprises. Everyone we assumed would make it made it. Injuries give us Flores and take away Hill, and Hanrahan's dominance has been a bit of a surprise, but if you scan the 25 names today, they're probably not all that different than the 25 names you would've picked four weeks ago.

    Five weeks ago, I listed the ten questions that I thought would be key to the spring. Well, now that spring essentially has sprung, let's see what we found out.

    1) How is Patterson's Curve?
    I wrote about how his curve would be the bellwether of his success. Shows what I know! The curve was ok, the fastball stunk, and Patterson found himself on waivers.

    I heard Bowden on the radio today saying that the consensus was that even if they gave him thirty starts this season, he wouldn't improve one bit. We'll certainly find out by August whether his lost fastball is a sign of an arm gone bad, or one that just needs some work.

    2) How are Hill's breaking pitches?
    Same situation here. With Hill's arm problems, it's his breaking pitches that really take their bite out of his arm -- not that the fastball's been a picnic for him either.

    Regardless, he's starting the year on the DL, and given how he's still throwing with pain, I'd bet a pretty large sum of money that it won't be his last stint, even if he gnaws on a musket ball through each start.

    3) Will FLop be able to dislodge the boot from his butt?
    By all accounts, he's worked hard, and had a good attitude. He just hasn't hit that well, even if the bat's picked up over the last two weeks or so. He'll likely start on the bench, but should see plenty of time, especially with Guzman's injury history (and regression to his typical level of suckiness).

    4) Can Guzman repeat?
    Incomplete, but I'm still verrrry skeptical. Guzman hasn't walked this spring, and though he started out hot, he's cooled off, dropping his average quite a bit.

    I don't think we'll see 2005 Guzman. But I'd bet a plate of chili nachos that we won't see '06 either. As I said in the preview post, I won't surprised if he's not the regular SS at the end of the year.

    5) What's the rotation going to look like (at first)?
    In the preview, I pointed out that barring spectacular failure, we could basically fill out the rotation then. My guess: Hill, Patterson, Perez, Redding and one of Chico/Bergmann/Lannan. Patterson qualifies under the 'spectacular failure' corollary, and Bergmann slides in his place, along with Chico. Lannan is poised on the fringes if Hill can't go. Talk of Mock and Detwiler was mostly a pipe dream, and it would've taken an amazing performance (and some big-league chokejobs in front of them) to make the roster.

    There was more talk of competition than actual competition.

    6) Can Dukes be a model citizen?
    So far so good. But ya never know!

    7) Who's on first?
    This was another question that was answered even before spring given everything that Manny Acta has ever talked about, barring that darn corollary again! NJ showed up, hit, fielded, threw, and slid. DY showed up, grunted, strained, and ate.

    Although it would not shock me if NJ gets traded once he shows he's healthy, that constant drumbeat early in the spring about how the Nats have to trade one of them sure seems silly now.

    8) Detwiler to the pen?
    Seemed stupid when it was first raised. Seemed even stupider when he was one of the first demotions.

    9) Who rides the pine?
    The Nats backed themselves into a few tough roster decisions with all the contracts they handed out. Pena's injury gives them a little leeway, but once he comes back around May, Willie Harris or Rob Mackowiak should look over their shoulders -- assuming Jimbo can't get the Dodgers to bite on Harris or Belliard.

    10) Do the stats matter?
    I said not much, and in the end, not much. Can you point to any decision that was made on the basis of spring training stats? Hanrahan, perhaps, although he was always a likely contender for MR because of his option status. Pete Orr hit well, and what did that get him? Willie Harris barely hit .200 and he makes it. Jason Dubois hit over .500 and that's probably only the second time you've heard his name. Odalis Perez had the highest ERA of any pitcher with more than 7 innings pitched, and he gets the opening day start. Tyler Clippard had a 3.38 ERA nobody talked about him after that first week.

    The performances matter, and the in-person evaluations matter. Options and contract status matter.

    But the stats? Eh. Not so much.

    Didn't Soriano Teach Us Anything?

    The Post runs its baseball preview today. The theme of the thing seems to be 'how will the new park affect the players?' It's an interesting question, and one that's going to shade everything that happens this season, moving from RFK's canyon-like dimensions.

    But, in some cases, they're falling into the same sort of trap that many fell into before the Soriano trade. Pure Home/Road splits, especially in a small sample, aren't enough. You need to look at a player's range of skills.

    Take this pdf, for example. It lists every Nats' home/road splits for the last few years.

    You'd be surprised to see that Matt Chico's ERA is higher at RFK than on the road. That leads Boswell to conclude that Chico had little help from the stadium.

    The numbers show it, but is that a firm conclusion? You mean to tell me that an extreme flyball pitcher (4th in the majors in flyball % last season) wasn't helped by RFK? Does that make sense to you? It doesn't, despite what the numbers say. One season isn't really enough to get a good read on it. He faced different opponents home and away. He went through hot and cold streaks throughout the season, regardless of where he pitched as he worked on mechanics and developed as a pitcher. There are so many other variables, that focusing on just one -- while ignoring other things -- doesn't make a lot of sense.

    Given his flyball ways, you don't have to struggle too much to imagine him getting completely shelled had he pitched all his home games in Philly, right? That's what matters. What he does and how he pitches translates well to RFK regardless of what the misleading, contextless stats say.

    Take a look at Bergmann. He's around 4 at home and near 7 on the road over the last few seasons. His style is similar to Chico's. They both walk a lot. They both give up lots of homers. (It's just that Bergmann can get the ball by the occasional batter.) Bergmann's splits are more indicative, even if they're subject to some noise. (Bergmann's performance before and after his injuries -- as well as before this season -- make a direct H/R split full of all sorts of variables)

    On the other side, we know that Dmitri Young has a line-drive, gap-to-gap swing. He's a good match for RFK, and the stats showed it. Austin Kearns is more of a flyball-hitting slugger, and RFK punished him. The stats show that, too.

    So sometimes we need to think about the context of the stats, and not just look at them.

    As it is, Sheinin's piece on how teams adapt to their new parks is a fair look, especially on how initial impressions aren't necessarily correct. I like this quote by Gerry Hunsicker, formerly with the Astros:
    "We were ridiculed all over the country when the new park opened. But four or five years later, it settled back into the middle of the pack. So I really believe it's a little dangerous to try to tailor your team to your park -- because it's the players who have to make adjustments, especially pitchers, more so than the team making adjustments."

    By and large, tailoring your players doesn't work, since they have to play a bunch of games on the road, too. Get good players, period, and you'll have a winning team! (Warning: does not apply to Jose Guillen or Vinny Castilla in RFK!)

    Tuesday, March 25, 2008

    Patterson's Not A Wuss

    Or so sez Texas' pitching coach (and Patterson's original pitching coach) Mark Connors. (via Lone Star Ball)
    Connor caught Patterson on the road, driving through Alabama on his way back home to Texas.

    "I said, 'Just be honest with me, tell me where you're at and everything else.' He said, 'Goose, I'm healthy. My arm doesn't hurt.' He said, 'I just need a little more time. My arm strength isn't there yet.' He told me he was throwing 83-85 miles per hour and that's exactly what our reports were on him."

    Time is something the Rangers have to offer Patterson. They can let him build up his arm and work his way back at his own pace. They don't feel a need to rush things, like the Nationals did.

    "If we can get him back to where he was two years ago, he's a pretty good pitcher," Connor said. "If he can get back to the 88-92 [mph] range, the way he pitches and the command he's got, he can help us.

    "When he was with us in Arizona, he was a kid with a big upside. He came out firing bullets, 95-96 miles an hour at that time."

    OK, that was then. Now Patterson has earned a reputation as a pitcher who is constantly hurt. So how do you delicately ask someone if a guy has turned into a wuss?

    With Goose, you just ask.

    "He's got good makeup," Connor said. "I can't really speak for what's gone on with him in the last seven years, but I've never heard that he was soft....

    Connor hopes to have him out on a back field sometime today so he can get a sense of where Patterson is at physically.

    "It sounds to me like he needs to get on a long-toss program, maybe not every day, mix in some bullpen sessions, and when we feel like the time is right, then get him back on the mound and face some hitters," Connor said.

    After that, maybe a rehab stint at Oklahoma City, and then, who knows?

    "He could be ready to go by the end of April or sometime in May," Connor said.

    If I had to bet, I'd say that what happened is that the Nats asked him to go to the minors to build up the arm strength. He refused, so they cut him instead. Patterson's always seemed very headstrong (going back to his draft-eluding maneuver) and given the history he's had with the team's current management, I can't see him going out of his way to help them out, even if that means accepting a reduced role and less pay in a different city. Sometimes you'll do things for the new boss you like that you just wouldn't do for the leather-pants-wearing prick at your old job.

    Sentences That Are Better When Taken Out Of Context

    Way to slip it past the editor, Barry..."Indeed, this is serious business to Lo Duca. He envisions a future beyond baseball -- and considering he turns 36 next month, that might not be far off -- in which he is a breeder."

    I hear he likes the Phillies...

    Monday, March 24, 2008

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Bully For Billy Edition

    Congrats to Bill Ladson for being the first reporter to get Paul Lo Duca on the record about his former drug-pushing ways.
    Asked if staying in the Dodgers' Minor Leagues system for eight-plus years was the reason he started using performance-enhancing drugs, Lo Duca said, "I had a bad injury in the Minor Leagues. I got run over at home plate. That was part of it, but that's not an excuse. I did it to get healthy, and then I saw the results and I did it again.

    "You see guys that might have done it or you suspected [of using it]. I was in the Minor Leagues for a long time and I thought this might get me over the hump. It's just a mistake that I made [and] I wish I could take back."

    That's probably the most specific that any current (or most former!) players have been in addressing the Mitchell Report. Great stuff.

  • Shawn Hill is still hurt. He threw more and dealt with more pain, but he's going to try to suck it up and throw through it. Take that part away, and this seems an awful lot like Patterson's whole story. Still, Hill deserves tons of credit for trying to pitch through it. He likely realizes this is his last best shot. Either he pitches through the pain, manages it, and succeeds. Or he goes back in for more surgery, effectively ending his career before it began. I don't envy the choice.

  • Jason Bergmann is starting to throw a sinker. Good!

    Bergmann's been a pretty extreme flyballer in his years with the Nats, owing to that high 4-seam fastball. It's important in that a flyball generally leads to more runs than a groundball (owing to doubles and triples, and the fact that it's hard to hit a grounder over a fence!)

    Bergmann's peripheral numbers were quite good last year. He struck out a bunch. He got the walks under control, to a normal level. He just allowed homers like a madman. And moving to the smaller park, that was going to be a bit more of a problem. Throwing a sinker and getting more groundballs likely alleviates some of that.

    Svrluga's report notes that he's aiming to throw about half and half 2- and 4-seamers. I'll be interested to see the kind of movement he's able to generate on the 2-seamer. Acta certainly seems impressed by his quote there.

  • Jesus Flores officially starts in the majors. Good!

    All the talk about Will Nieves starting the season as the backup didn't make much sense to me, primarily because of 40-man implications. I assumed that the intent with that, especially if it's a short-term problem, was to keep Flores down the entire season, thereby gaining an additional option year. (players who stay down for a full year get an extra year). Anyway, the better player's coming north to start.

  • BS Prediction Time!

    SG at the Replacement Level Yankees blog runs his annual prediction blowout. He takes all the major projection systems, runs them through a simulator a bazillion and one times, then spits out the results. Post 1. Post 2.

    Bottom line: After 6,000 sims, the Nats average 70 wins among the six projection systems he uses. One of the individual systems has them as high as 74. A different projection system has them at 68.

    My number based on my RS/RA analysis was something like 75. My gut says it's a bit lower than that, but I'll have my final number before the season starts.

  • Spring Training Stats Are Stupid, A Continuing Series

    Player A: 10/54, .185
    Player B: 3 for his last 16, 8 for his last 30
    Player C: 11 for his last 34, .324
    Player D: 1 for his last 22, .045

    One's Felipe.

    One's Guzman.

    One's Belliard.

    One's Ichiro.

    Who ya got?

    Hint: Player C doesn't smile.

    Sunday, March 23, 2008

    Patterson Pulls A Short

    John Patterson is set to sign a minor league deal with the Texas Rangers.

    Rangers fans are wary, but like the price.

    So, Did I Miss Anything?

    Thanks to the 1,100 people who emailed me to let me know about the Patterson move. I'm impressed by the number of creative ways you came up with to say "Your stupid!11!"

    My quick, relatively unfiltered thought process

    1) Something must've happened behind the scenes that we don't, won't and can't know about.

    2) No matter how shittastic, I'm not sure this team is in a position to be cutting anyone. We're trending that much closer to the Bacsik line!

    3) Lerners ARE CHEEEEEP!!!! OK, I always think that... I do wonder, though, how much of this was a financial decision. Cutting him, they're on the hook for just a portion of his salary. Cutting him, they owe him 45-days pay, about 25% of the $850K, so ~$200. Cut him after the season starts, and they'd be on the hook for the full amount. Not sayin' that's the reason. It's just one of the facts in this case.

  • Sweeping through the billion and four posts in my RSS reader....

    I like NTP's take.
    If the team legitimately thinks John Patterson is done as a healthy, effective Major League pitcher, that's one thing. It's a reasonable opinion to hold, particularly given that they have access to information that we as fans are not privy to. But if someone in the front office or the owner's box looked at J-Patt and said, "Why are we about to pay this guy $850,000 for putting up a 7 ERA in Spring Training after what we've put up with the last two years?" that's a problem.

    Here's OMG:
    For John Patterson he was on his last chance and the idea of letting him work back into shape during the course of a full season to find out where he stood wasn’t appealing to the management. They wanted an answer now on Patterson and when the response came back yet again “We need more time” they decided to cut him.

    Nationals Enquirer:
    "The Big Nasty Truth: Ted Lerner reportedly seen this afternoon burying the ~$600K he saved by releasing JP today under home plate at Nationals Park. Kidding, of course."

  • Wednesday, March 19, 2008

    Yes, More Lopez. Sigh.

    Check out OMG's take on the whole Lopez thing.

    He gives the rundown of which players should be playing depending on what you're looking for out of the season.

    I like this part, too:
    It’s a tough choice, but it looks like Belliard and Guzman to start the season. That should make the fickle fans happy. They don’t want Lopez. Bad seed. Bad Apple (probably grown from that bad seed). Stank last year. Get rid of him. I was confused for a moment by this Lopex-hate but it’s all about perceptions. Lopez is a disappointment. He was supposed to be a potential cornerstone of good offense in the middle infield. He’s disappointed the fans and now they are taking it out on him. Contrast that with Ronnie Belliard who had nothing expected of him, or Cristian Guzman who went into 2007 with the hope that he wouldn’t accidently kill himself with the bat. They didn’t disappoint - they suprised. Good feelings matter as much as good play.

    (side note - this is the crux of the whole “Hill is a unlucky warrior saddled with injuries” and “Patterson is a pansy who can’t man up and play” juxtaposition I despise. Patterson disappointed the fans, Hill never did, so even they are both relatively in the same position - injured pitcher with decent potential - to Joe Fan Hill’s a hero waiting to happen, Patterson the loser waiting to fail. Joe Fan…what a maroon)

    I'm Over There

    The good folks at The Hardball Times (despite their better judgment) invited me to chip in a Nats preview as part of their 5 Questions feature.

    So if you're just itching to read 2,300 words on the Nats, check it out!

    More FLop

    Here's another story on FLop's "Hell No!" comments.

    A few quotes cherrypicked:
    "I really don't care about spring training," Belliard said. "I've seen a lot of guys get hot in spring training and start the year slow. Sometimes, I told the guys: 'I don't want to hit no more. I don't want to get no more hits. I want to save them for the season.' "...

    Acta has praised López's attitude this spring...

    "It's really tough," he said. "You got Guzie and Belly, their numbers are there. I don't have the average, but I'm hitting the ball and having good at-bats. So whatever happens, I would like to stay here. But I'm not going to be happy on the bench. Hell, no."

    Given that stance, López was asked if he would rather have a trade.

    "I'm not saying that," he said. "I'm just saying I don't know what's going to happen."

    Boone is hitting just .189 but has impressed officials with his bat speed and defense [Performance matters only if you're not related to the front office, apparently]...

    In declaring his strong preference to start, López did not appear angry....

    "I'm just having fun, man -- for real," López said. "I don't even think about competition or whatever. I'm having a lot of fun. The guys are playing hard. I like these guys here. I like what the Nationals got going on."

    And this from Svrulga on his blog: "Lopez is right about his stats -- his at-bats are a bit better than his average shows."

    Tuesday, March 18, 2008

    Fire In The Belly

    The Front-Runner for this year's Churchie in honor of the player most likely to lead to drastically differing viewpoints is [drumroll] Felipe Lopez!

    So now Felipe Lopez doesn't want to go to the bench.
    "Being on the bench? No. [Heck] [ed: "Hell" is too strong for!?] no," Lopez said. "I feel good out there. The numbers are not showing it, but I'm hitting the ball hard. I'm playing great defense. I feel good. I would like to stay here, but I would not be happy on the bench."

    It wasn't more than three minutes that those stories got posted that I got an email from a friend kvetching about Mr. Lopez. And some of the blog/msg board comments show that my friend's opinion isn't unusual.

    I'll admit. I'm in the bag for Lopez... as much as someone can be in the bag for someone who could suck a baseball through a straw. I won't excuse his performance. And I won't pretend that he's not a bit of a headstrong headcase. But there's a lot about him that we simply don't know and that we can't glean through the TV just because he's not smiling. He played lousy defense when he was hitting well, and he played lousy defense last year. He doesn't play lousy defense because of attitude problems; he plays lousy defense because he's a lousy defender.

    One of the complaints about him is that he didn't show passion last year. Fair enough. Well, he's showing passion here, right?

    "But he hasn't earned it," you chirp! You're right. He's hit just .200 this spring.

    But fer crissakes! How many times have I told you to ignore spring training stats? They mean almost nothing! Even for bums coming off terrible seasons.

    Willie Harris is batting .179. Nick Johnson is at .214. Wily Mo Pena was at 226. Kearns is at .236. And all of those guys are coming north.

    Jason Dubois hit .545! Why isn't he coming north? Why wasn't he even in the conversation?

    Because spring training stats don't matter!

    I really wish this article weren't behind the pay wall. But you can get enough of a feel for what it is by just what you can see. With as few ABs as these players get in spring (against uneven competition, and while working on different things), you might as well throw a dart up there than use the numbers. (Or perhaps you thought that Brian Schneider was going to hit .357 all last year).

    Anyway, by all accounts, he's worked hard this spring, even if the results haven't been there. I haven't seen one complaint about his attitude or how hard he's been working this spring. Of course none of the beat writers saw fit to let us know that he hadn't been playing second base at all, so who the hell [heck] knows?

    I don't mind a little attitude in my players. I don't mind when my players want to play, to not settle for being on the bench. Sure, it makes him look spoiled and petty, especially compared to Ronnie Belliard, who'll do anything asked. But Ronnie Belliard is closer to the end of his career than Lopez is, and Belliard doesn't have to go too many springs back (read: 1) to remember when he was begging for a job, hat in hand, even though he was coming off a World Series win with the Cardinals.

    Sure, it'd be nice if Lopez was hitting .400 like Belliard is, and I don't think that Manny Acta should hand him the job just because.

    But Lopez has the higher upside. He's apparently played hard, and done what's asked of him. He just hasn't had results in a short stretch of time.

    So why would starting him be an affront to all that's right with America?

    If he's still hitting .200 after 100 ABs, then cut the bum. But there's a pretty good chance that he won't be. Just as there's a pretty good chance that Nick Johnson won't be hitting .214 when Memorial Day rolls around.

    Monday, March 17, 2008

    A Dawg-ed Plan

    Svrulga has a tremendous story about Elijah Dukes that's really worth a read. He presents a balanced picture of the kid and gives us a little more depth into his background without excusing his behavior.

    What's striking about it though, is the plan the Nationals put in place to deal with Dukes and to change his environment and provide him a network of support, and how much thought they've put into it to rehabilitate a player. It's not the kind of effort that they could impart for every player. But not every player needs that level of hand-holding either.

    Moneyball is often misunderstood as a book about on-base percentage. It's not. It's about finding things that are undervalued, and this, in some ways, is an outgrowth of that. They've focused on the good, and tried to find ways to minimize (or neuter) the bad. It's certainly working so far.

    I still have my problems with the guy. I don't begrudge him a second chance (or, to be accurate, a tenth or a thirteenth), but I can't say I've been thrilled it's on my team. But as long as he is, I'm impressed at the efforts the team is going to to make it work out.

    The Ian Desmond Effect

    Here, and around, I've read a few comments already about how John Patterson is toast based on yesterday's shellacking by the O's.

    It reminds me of spring training '05, when everyone latched on to Ian Desmond as the next Alex Rodriguez because he had a big hit and a pretty spectacular play or three in the field.

    That was our only exposure to the kid (thanks, MASN!), so that's what lingered in our mind, elevating a pretty rough prospect into a finished diamond in our eyes.

    Is that what happened in reverse with Patterson yesterday?

    I see his overall numbers on the spring, and the 7.00 ERA looks scary, but as I've said before, you should pay almost no attention to ERA, nor really any spring training stats.

    The one that I've cited is his K/BB ratio, and with a 7.00 ERA, it's gotta be terrible, right? Try 7 K, 0 BB. He's clearly doing a few things right.

    He's getting hit, but some of that could be defense behind him. Some of it could be random luck. Some of it could be him tinkering with his other pitches and building arm strength.

    There are any number of reasons why he's getting hit beyond "he's toast."

    That he's still striking guys out, and not walking anyone is a pretty good indication that we don't need to pull the fork out from between his shoulders. Is he perfectly ready? Nope. But there's hope buried in there. You just need to squint your eyes and look beyond the Desmond effect to notice it.

    Sunday, March 16, 2008

    In Which Mr. Boswell Discovers Baseball Reference

    Boz writes a fun little column using Baseball Reference's similarity scores to compare today's players to old guys who are probably dead.

    The team indicates that they futz around with similarities from time to time.
    Last winter, Manager Manny Acta consulted with a stat-fanatic friend who suggested that inconsistent starter Joel Hanrahan should be switched to the bullpen because other power pitchers with similar minor league statistical progressions had made the switch. Last week, Hanrahan struck out eight Braves in three innings. "He was throwing 95 to 98 [mph] and made some good hitters look real stupid," Bowden said. "It's too early to tell with Joel. But when you find career parallels, pay attention."

    The key is that the BBRef similarity scores are toys more than hardcore examples of analysis. The big flaw is evident:
    In the case of the Nats, some of the answers are shocking. It's no surprise that Zimmerman's offensive numbers after two seasons are virtually identical to hitters such as Cal Ripken, Ron Santo, Eric Chavez and Greg Luzinski. However, who would think Pe¿a's career, through age 25, compared plausibly with Albert Belle, Willie Stargell, George Bell and Jermaine Dye?

    These sim scores don't adjust for era. Given the offensive explosion of the last 10-15 years, today's above-average player is going to look like a great player from the '60s.

    I love Zimmerman, but he's not Ron Santo -- who had the misfortune of starting his career in the low-scoring '60s. Same thing with Lopez. Further in the column, Boz compares him to Bobby Grich, a border-line Hall-of-Famer. Nope!

    About a week ago, I looked at the similar players from Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projections. Those are adjusted for era so that a great player in the 60s is the same as a great player in the 90s.

    There, Ryan Zimmerman is compared to players like David Wright and.... Ron Santo.... So forget what I said!

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008

    CRAP: Pitching And A Win Total

    How the hell, exactly, do you project the pitching staff? I tried it last year and after making subjective adjustments for what I thought would be defensive improvements over the '06 club, I came up with 810 runs. They ended up with 783 allowed. Close, but not quite.

    The problem last year was that I just didn't know who to pencil in in the rotation. I started with the first 5, gave them rough guesses on innings, then built a fudge factor of replacement pitchers, who I assigned a generic 6.5 ERA. As it was, I ended up predicting a 5.21 ERA for the starters; they ended up at 5.11. I missed badly on the relievers, using the same general methodology, guessing 4.43 instead of the actual 3.81, missing mostly on the huge number of mopup innings I threw in in the bullpen.

    At any rate, I think the general approach is the right one. I just think there are too many variables to come up with a close match. But we can come up with some scenarios, and get a range. For by however many runs I did miss it last year, it did show that those historically bad projections were poppycock, and that the maligned pitching staff wasn't going to be much different than the terrible one that played a year before it.

    With that in mind, I think we need to make a few assumptions.

    First, the starters NEED to give more innings. The Nationals were last in the league in starters innings. League average was 928.5, and the Nats were at just 856. For sake of argument, we'll look for 890 innings from the starters next season (which would've bumped them up two spots)

    Second, the average team had about 1450 innings pitched. Eight of the league's 16 teams were between 1440 and 1450. If we use 1450 as our guide, that means we need 560 innings from our bullpen.

  • Let's start with the bullpen. We have fewer headaches there.

    We'll pencil Cordero in for 75 innings and a 3.25 ERA. Rauch gives us 80 and a 3.75. Ayala, 75/3.25. Rivera, 75/4.00. King 40/4.50. I'm fairly comfortable that those will be in the rough ballpark. Now we've got Colome/Hanrahan/Schroder, some of the unknowns. For sake of argument, let's give each of them 50 innings with a 4.50 with the understanding that we just don't know!

    Add it all up and we're about 65 innings short of our goal. We'll plug that in with some mopup guy TBD. We'll give him a 6.25 ERA just to be conservative. In reality, only two relievers were over 6 for the team last year.

    So we've got 261 ER in 560 innings, a 4.19 ERA. Seems reasonable enough. It's up .38 runs, but given the park change, that's a decent enough guess. It drops the Nats about 7 spots in bullpen ERA, but there are a huge number of teams tightly bunched there, so it's not as bad as it initially seems.

  • Oh, the starters. Where to begin?

    At this point, it looks like Patterson, Bergmann, Perez, Redding and Lannan with Hill licking his wounds, waiting in the wings. Do you feel comfortable projecting any of 'em?

    I sure as hell don't. So I'm going to let those projection systems I referred to in those prior CRAP posts do the work.

    Patterson: They're all over the place with IP totals, as you'd expect. He doesn't seem to be having any arm pain, so let's be optimistic and give him 140. The ERAs seem high to me, if he's healthy, but we'll stick with the lowest one there, 4.25.

    Bergmann: Average IP is about 120 with a 4.25-4.50 ERA. I'm not optimistic that his arm will hold up, so I'm going to lean high here, up to a 4.75. (His ERA was 5.60 in the second half).

    Perez: They're guessing about 130 innings with an AL projected ERA of about 5.30. We'll tick a few points of that for the NL, and call it 4.80.

    Redding: His projections are all over the place. I think last year was a bit of a fluke. His K/BB ratio was pretty poor, and he hasn't improved on it this spring. I think he'll be in the 5.25ish range. If that's the case, how long is his leash? 80 IP?

    : We know he has giant brass balls, but does he have the stuff? For players with little MLB experience, I trust ZIPS and CHONE a bit more. They're ~5.00 ERA and ~120 IP. 5.00 might sound bad, but that's basically what Chico would've put up in a neutral park, and that didn't seem bad for a rookie, did it? My gut keeps screaming 5.25 and 100 though.

    Hill: We know what he's capable of. But we also know how often he's injured. And we know he's not 100% healthy now. Tough decisions here. All those systems project about the same, ~4 ERA, ~120 innings. I'll be a pessimist and knock it down to 100 IP.

    We're about 220 innings short of our goal.

    Chico's going to get a chance at some point. I think he'll have a tough transition to a newer park, so 80, 5.25?

    Let's give Tyler Clippard a few innings. 70/5.25? Balester probably gets a chance at some point. 40/5.50?

    We're down to about 30 IP now. Let's just assign a general mopup value to those. Whether they go to Bacsik, Speigner or Mock, it doesn't matter. The 6.50 ERA we'll use is ugly though!

    Sum that all up and we've got 482 earned runs in 890 innings, a 4.87 ERA, which is actually down from last year's 5.11. That seems somewhat hard to believe at first blush, but the team did have around 200 SP innings from guys with ERAs over 6. Clearing out Speigner and Jerome Williams helps a lot (even if there's a chance that one or more of this year's guys could duplicate that performance!) 4.87 from the starters would've been good for 12th in the league, so it's hardly a good number.

  • If we add the starters and relievers together, we get a 4.61 ERA in 1450 innings, which is basically the same ERA as last season (4.58).

    But we need to take one more step before we can figure out a run estimate. We need to figure out our unearned runs. We'll use the brute force method. Last season, the Nats allowed 47 unearned runs. League average was 58. I think there's a chance that the UER total could decrease with a real 1B to catch throws, but at the same time, a move from an extreme pitcher's park is going to make it easier for teams to score after an error. So we'll just stick with 50 and be done with it.

    Add it all up, and we're at 792 runs, up a few from the 783 allowed last season.

  • The full spreadsheet in all its gory glory is here.

    You can tinker around with the numbers for difference scenarios on your own! What if Patterson's a Cy contender? What if Hill stays healthy? OK, I can't resist those last two. Let's give 'em both 180 IP of 3.50 ERA! We'll drop Clippard and Balester to make the total IP come out, and we're at...750. So that's not as good as I figured!

  • Wrapping up...

    If we're in the 790 range with runs allowed, and in the 770 range with runs scored, we're looking at about 79 wins.

    Would you take that?

    Before beginning this pointless exercise, my gut said 75-77. So we're in the ballpark.

    I'll probably take another look at these projections right before the season starts, when we've got more of a sure handle on the pitching staff.

  • Tuesday, March 11, 2008

    Your Line Of The Night

    Thanks to Michael for pointing out Joel Hanrahan's night -- which is undoubtedly ticking off beat writers who have to consider re-writing copy for a feckin' spring training game.

    Threeoh Hanrahan has pitched 3 innings, while striking out 8 and walking none, a dominating night. And it came against the Braves' A team, not the D teams that sometimes populate these spring training games.

    I've written a few times that you just need to ignore spring training stats. The exception, I said, was for pitcher's K/BB ratio. This outing definitely helps that! Hanrahan's now up to 12/1 there, a far cry from the scattershot pitcher we saw last year.

    There's been some speculation that throwing him into the bullpen would allow him to focus on just one or two of his pitches, letting him concentrate on a repeatable delivery and improving his control. If that's what's happening, maybe the Nats have found themselves a secret weapon!

    But let's not get ahead of ourselves!

    In the meantime, Hanrahan's performance makes the Nats likely preferred option of sending him to the minors all the more difficult. I think he's out of options, which would mean he'd have to clear waivers. With that performance, that's not going to happen. So if he stays, who goes? Does Ray King get kicked out? Does his performance come at the expense of Chris Schroeder (10/2 K/BB)? Does Saul Rivera (3/2) still have options?

    Actually, Jesus Colome only recently got his work visa, so he's probably behind schedule. That might be a possibility.

    It definitely makes Bowden's decisions a little more difficult, but it's a good problem to have!

  • Well, one beat writer doesn't worry about re-filing it, using the blog instead. Now featuring rosterbation and a soliloquy on Patterson's velocity.

    Others play it straight.

  • Orb-Weaver

    Ladson updates a story that made the LA Times this morning. The Nats are interested in signing Jeff Weaver. Weaver's a Boras client, and Boras clients always want a lot of money, even if they'll settle for short-term deals. But this is the second straight year that Weaver's been left standing when the music stopped, and with a few other guys like Lohse out there, he's probably getting antsy.

    I can't remember if I wrote it here, elsewhere, or in an email, but in the period right before the Perez signing, he was the guy I'd target.

    Now Weaver really isn't any good anymore. And he looks like he's already driven his conversion van halfway down the cliff, but....

    You don't have to go toooo far back to find out a time when he was a league average starter. He's fairly durable. And he has bouts of effectiveness.

    Even last year, when he was terrible, he had a long period of sustained mediocrity, which is better than it sounds! After he came back from a DL stint (which was basically a contrived excuse to send him down for sucking), he pitched to a 4.76 ERA over his last 21 starts. Good? Nope. Bad? Nope. Mediocre? Definitely!

    Now there's reason to believe that he might be even better than that. He's pretty much a slight flyball pitcher, though his FB% was the same as Matt Chico's (an extreme flyball pitcher) last year. Why do I bring that up? Because the Mariners had one of the worst feckin' outfields in the history of mound.

    There's Ichiro in the middle, then two DH's. Jose Guillen hobbled around terribly most of the season. And Raul Ibanez has been a 1B/DH for about the last 10 years. The crappiness of the defense has been a constant refrain of the always excellent and analytical M's blogs.

    Since Weaver gave up more flyballs than normal, and pitched in front of a mummified defense, it stands to reason that he'd do better with non-statues in front of him.

    The team has money coming out its ears. Signing him, even if they were to throw a few million his way (if it takes even that much) isn't going to hurt the Lerners or the farm system. But it stands a good chance of helping the MLB team, especially with Shawn Hill's vaguely Patterson-like arm problems lingering. All we need is a solid #4! And the more warm bodies we have, the less the chance of Mike Bacsik staining the new ballyard's mound! Win-win, baby!

    CRAP: Offense

    So we've made some projections for the outfield, infield, and catchers. If we've got performance, and we can take a swing at playing time, we can estimate runs.

    I'm going to use the runs created cheat that I've used a few times. It's definitely not the best. It's not the most accurate. But, as usual, I'm looking for a range, not a number with three significant digits. When I did this little exercise last year, I came up with 697 runs scored. They scored 673. Off by 24... not great, but close enough.

    The basic estimate formula I use is AB * on-base percentage * slugging average. As a spot check, last season, the Nats had 5520 ABS, a .325 OBP, and a .390 SLG. Multiply it out, and you're at 699, right about where my initial guess was. Close enough!

    The key is estimating playing time. To do that, I looked at the average # of ABs each Nats position had last year, as well as what the league average # of ABs was, and assigned an AB total. I then divvied up the AB totals between the various contenders for playing time to get an AB estimate for each player at each position.

    At catcher, for example, LoDuca gets 60% of the PT, Estrada 35% and Flores 5%. Multiply the OBP and SLG projections from the last few days' posts by those AB and sum up the position, and we can expect about 68 runs from our catchers this year. Last year, the Nats got about 64 runs, so it's a slight increase.

    Rather than walking through the entire sheet position, by position, check it out yourself.

    Quick note on a few of the PT assumptions:
    -- NJ gets 65% of the time at 1B and Young gets about 200 ABs.
    -- I've scaled back Lopez' playing time, giving him 25% at 2B and 30% at SS.
    -- Dukes serves as the 4th outfielder, splitting time at all 3 positions, getting roughly 400 ABs all over the place.
    -- For PHers and P, I just used the league average numbers. Because their AB totals are so low, even big sweeps here aren't going to change the overall numbers much.
    -- I totaled up the team ABs, and they're within 50 of league average, within 1% of the total.

  • What's the bottom line?

    We're due for about 795 runs, an improvement of about 120 over last year. I'd guess that ~half that is due to the move from the park. The rest is due to position-by-position improvement.

    795 runs would've put the team 6th in the league, up from dead last. Since we're not looking for precision, it's probably better to look at the range: there are a lot of teams bunched up together just below Philly and COL. +/- 15 runs, and the Nats are likely to finish in the 3-7 range, well above league average.

  • Where does the improvement come from?

    If you look at the full chart, next to the positional box, I list the 2007 total for that position, using the same ab*obp*slg methodology. The two biggest improvements are in left and center, where the Nats are using Dukes to fill in the hundreds of deadweight ABs given to Logan, Langerhans, Fick and Casto. Replacing their cumulative line with Dukes' potential (if he hits it!) is a pretty big net plus for the team.

  • What if they trade NJ?
    Here's where it gets fun. We can make a few fun assumptions to get a rough estimate of various decisions.

    Trade NJ and let DY play full time? 779 runs, a drop of about 20.

    Cut Lopez? 793 runs, basically the same.

    Lo Duca gets suspended and Flores plays every day? 799 runs, a slight uptick.

    Zimmerman hits .300/40/120 and the Ladson Triple Crown? 840 runs

    Zimmerman breaks his hand early in the season and Boone fills in? 760 runs.

  • So a lot can really happen. And it ain't perfect. But there's a pretty good chance that this is going to be a good offensive club.

    Now about that pitching...

  • Monday, March 10, 2008

    But Why Is Boone Here?

    From an interview with Nats 320, Rob Mackowiak answers one of life's basic questions:
    Why did you come over to The Nationals? (SBF)

    “I don’t really know."

    Me neither, Rob!

    Unreasonable Expectations

    I've written before about the sometimes unreasonable expectations in the mailbag (here's one on Kearns). Today's mailbag sets an unreasonable standard for Ryan Zimmerman, giving a prediction so ungodly that there's practically no way (barring a trip to Lo Duca's dealer) that young Zimmerman can meet it.
    Do you think Zimmerman will have a breakout season in 2008?
    -- Dylan H., Leona Valley, Calif.

    There is no doubt in my mind about it. With his wrist 100 percent, Zimmerman will hit over .300 with 40 home runs and 120 RBIs. I think he's that good of a hitter.

    That's a hell of a season.

    You know how many times the Ladson Triple Crown has been done? Since 1901, it's been done 128 times. That sounds like a lot. It's not. (fully half of those have been done since 1996, too... I wonder what changed in '96... hmmm...)

    Let's look at it a little closer though. Ryan Zimmerman is about to enter his age 23 season, still just a tiny tot in the scheme of all things baseball. Giving a little fudge factor, how many times do you think that's been done by someone 24 or under?

    Just 19 times.

    Looking at the list, there are a bunch of stiffs that I've never heard of. Chuck Klein? Jimmie Foxx? Mel Ott? Orlando Cepada? Who the hell are those guys? I think I've heard of that Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio person. Oh, there's Hank Aaron, too.

    Every single person on that list save for Hal Trosky and Jose Canseco (what was it that changed in '96 again?), is in the Hall of Fame or WILL be in the HOF once eligible. It's a list of bang-up, slam-dunk, no-doubt, wow-my-god-he's-awesome Hall-of-Famers.

    And that's our expectation of Zimmerman?


    Crazy numbers in and of themselves aren't a problem, but there's a difference between hoping and a difference between expecting. As was the case with Kearns, if we're setting the bar that high -- so high that it's, for all intents and purposes, unobtainable -- then the player can do nothing but be a failure.

    Zimmerman's a great player (well, actually he's probably only good at this point), and he's got a world of potential. Let's not get ahead of ourselves and expect him to morph overnight into an inner-circle hall-of-famer! Let's not set him up for failure.

    CRAP: Catchers

    So far, we've looked at the outfield and the infield. We'll move on to the backstop, the position that's undergone the most turmoil since last season.

    The good news is that treading water on the offensive side of the ball likely won't be that hard. Nats catchers hit .245/ .325/ .354 last season. As bad as that looks, that's really not far below league average, which should tell you everything you need to know about the state of catching in the league.

  • Paul Lo Duca
             HR  RBI  AVE  OBP  SLG
    BJ 8 56 289 338 402
    CHONE 8 51 267 315 370
    Marcel 7 52 281 325 386
    ZIPS 5 47 279 325 374
    CRAP 5 45 270 315 380

    Lo Duca doesn't walk, but he also doesn't strike out. He puts the ball in play, and good things sometimes happen. (and some GIDPs too) He's had a tendency to wear out in the second half over his career, and he's no spring chicken. Last year was near a career low for BABIP as a regular catcher. Either it was just a down season and he'll revert some, or he's hanging by his fingernails off the cliff. If his cellphone weren't TOAST, maybe he'd be able to call someone for help.

  • Johnny Estrada
             HR  RBI  AVE  OBP  SLG
    BJ 4 30 295 339 420
    CHONE 9 54 277 315 403
    Marcel 10 60 276 309 404
    ZIPS 6 48 269 306 368
    CRAP 5 30 270 305 380

    He's another tough one to judge because his performances have been so wacky. One year he's an all-star, the next year a double-A catcher. We know that last year was affected by an arm injury, so there's some hope for a rebound. But we also know that he's still not healthy this season, though that could just be related to the healing process for the surgery instead of something crippling. We just don't know. Still, I'm banking on the low side of the other projections; I think he's nearer the end than the beginning. And, still, even in his death rattles, if you compare him to league average, he's not that far below. Man, this league's catchers suck.

  • Jesus Flores
             HR  RBI  AVE  OBP  SLG
    BJ ----------------------
    CHONE 11 43 227 285 368
    Marcel 7 38 270 340 412
    ZIPS 12 42 243 295 412
    CRAP 4 18 240 315 400

    The team has been pretty adamant in insisting that he's not going to play in the majors this season, going so far as to say that he won't even come north if one of Lo Duca or Estrada aren't ready to go.

    Truthfully, that makes a lot of sense, even as much as I love me some Jesus.

    We all can agree (I hope), that he's not a finished player. He needs a bit more work offensively, and likely defensively. The argument goes that since he has to learn still, why can't he just learn in the majors. I think learning in the majors, especially how to hit when you're facing Smoltz and Hudson and Pedro, is exceedingly difficult, but even if it's not, there's a bigger reason to send him down.

    Teams control players for six seasons of play. If Flores stayed up the entire time, he'd be a free agent after his age 27 season. He'd be a FA right in the prime of his career, and if it goes according to plan, he'll be making a crapload of money from someone (hopefully us!). By sending him down, they're pushing back the time for his FA eligibility. If he goes down this season, he won't be eligible for FA until after his age 28 season.

    Would you rather have a season of Flores learning on the job in a part-time role as a 23-year old, or a developed Flores as a 28-year old wrecking Omar Minaya's Mets 18 games a year (assuming that Omar isn't shitcanned before then!)? It's a pretty easy call. Send him down, let him learn, reap the rewards later. Hell, send him down for part of the seasaon in 2009, too, and you'll get his age 30 season while you're at it!

    I love the guy and I want to see him do well, but I think I'll love him a whole lot more in 6 years. It's best for his career (if not his future salary!), and it's certainly best for the franchise.
  • Sunday, March 09, 2008

    CRAP: Outfielders

    Yesterday, we looked at the infield, seeing what various projections say about our fair-to-mediocre team.

    We'll continue along, using the same stats and the same sources. See that post for an explanation, if you missed it.

  • Austin Kearns
             HR  RBI  AVE  OBP  SLG
    BJ 22 88 272 368 457
    CHONE 19 71 255 351 423
    Marcel 18 76 264 356 438
    ZIPS 16 64 262 351 425
    CRAP 24 85 270 365 470

    I'll admit to being a bit biased here. A few factors for why I think he's doing to break out: 1) He's 28. 2) He's due for a better season, now that he re-tinkered his swing. 3) He's out of RFK.

    Those numbers are within range of what he did in '06 and it's only a modest power bump over his career numbers. The other systems don't see the adjustments he made, and they don't see how hard he works at his game. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt -- yet without going wacky and expecting 40 homers and 120 RBI.

  • Lastings Milledge
             HR  RBI  AVE  OBP  SLG
    BJ 18 78 286 350 463
    CHONE 12 55 275 342 413
    Marcel 9 42 275 344 436
    ZIPS 15 55 276 360 462
    CRAP 17 60 275 355 470

    Call me a fanboy again. The CHONE and Marcel projections just seem toooo low to me. Milledge is someone who's already established that he can handle MLB pitching at age 22, having hit .272/ .341/ .446 in nearly 200 ABs last year. Maybe that itself would be a reasonable prediction, but the guy oozes potential, and with a manager and team that nutures his abilities instead of dwelling on his toughness or what kind of 'punk' he is, he can focus his energies on honing his talent, not ticking off the next cranky old white guy.

  • Wily Mo Pena
             HR  RBI  AVE  OBP  SLG
    BJ 23 69 277 335 495
    CHONE 16 44 257 323 458
    Marcel 15 52 275 334 467
    ZIPS 15 40 269 332 476
    CRAP 25 65 255 320 500

    Pena's a bit of a wild card, though all the projections are similar -- the big difference is in their playing time estimate. What you see is what you get... low average, high power, lots of strikeouts, and an inability to hit the curve.

    I'll side with the "consistent playing time" camp for why he hasn't put it together, but that's definitely a fanboy defense. Still, at age 26, there's no reason he can't hit his career numbers (.259 .316 .472) or beyond.

  • Elijah Dukes
             HR  RBI  AVE  OBP  SLG
    BJ 11 36 253 351 459
    CHONE 10 36 254 350 428
    Marcel 11 35 243 340 419
    ZIPS 11 36 231 334 425
    CRAP 13 50 255 350 470

    How the hell do you project him? We can figure he's going to get at least 300 ABs splitting around the infield, filling in on injuries and such. But he could get more if one of the others struggles or breaks down. Or he could get a lot less if he reverts to psychotic form. How do you account for that?

    That out of the way, I'm going to assume he can live up to his ungodly on-field potential. Take a look at what he did in the minors. He hit for power and got on base everywhere he went (while being a circus on and off the field between ABs). Then look at his age. He was beating up on every level of the minors while being one of the younger players at each of those levels. He's a scary good All-Star-type bat. But there are some HUGE Ifs in there!

    Last year's .191 average in TB looks scary, but look at those isolated numbers, the spread between his batting average and on-base and slugging percentages. They're huge. If he gets a few more singles to drop in, and gets that average up to the .260ish range, and his isolated patience and power (which are in range of what he was doing in the minors) stay roughly the same, he'll have a great season. A few extra singles and last year's a .260/ .380/ .450 season. Not bad.

    With the off-field, hometown distractions gone, a manager and organization focused on milking his potential, and a fresh start, he has a damn good chance of living up to that potential. So my projection might be high -- if I was in Vegas, I'd bet the under -- but it's also damn possible that he blows past it too.

    As with everything we the kid, we just don't damn know.

  • Willie Harris
             HR  RBI  AVE  OBP  SLG
    BJ 2 17 257 339 353
    CHONE 4 35 244 328 343
    Marcel 5 35 263 338 384
    ZIPS 3 30 254 332 375
    CRAP 2 15 240 320 340

    Harris, I suspect, made his deal with the devil before last season. He rode a hot two months into a full-season role, and hitting .214/ .294/ .354 in the second half. Other than those hot first months, he was basically the same lousy player he was before.

    That being said, he's not a bad 25th man on the roster. He's got speed. He can presumably handle the bat. He's versatile, playing infield and outfield. With Dmitri and Dukes ready to be top PHers off the bench, his bat isn't needed. Good thing, too. I just don't think he can OPS Dmitri's weight.

  • Rob Mackowiak
             HR  RBI  AVE  OBP  SLG
    BJ 7 36 279 353 419
    CHONE 7 38 254 332 373
    Marcel 8 43 270 341 398
    ZIPS 5 30 256 332 354
    CRAP 5 35 255 340 390

    He's another good NL bench player. He doesn't have the speed of Harris, but he's a better hitter. You don't want him as the first option off your bench, but if he's back there for a double switch, you're ok. He's played 2B before, but it's been a few seasons, and he'll mostly stick to 3B and the corners of the outfield.

  • There are a few other guys back there like Langerhans and the Rule 5 kids, but I just don't see the room for them starting out. I don't think the Nats really have the room to carry all the guys I've listed so far, as it is.

    As I've tinkered with the numbers further, it looks like the outfield is ~50 runs better than last year's, owing mostly to the ungodly number of ABs not being given to Logan, Fick and Langerhans this season. Dukes is basically replacing all three, and even if he flames out, he's not going to be worse than their contributions.

    I'll have more on that later, as I try to piece all the numbers together to figure out how many runs this team's going to score.
  • Saturday, March 08, 2008

    CRAP: Infield

    It's that time of year again! Time for BS projections! I've brought back my world famous CRAP projections. For those unfamiliar, CRAP is my patented (pending) statistical projection system. CRAP, which stands for Chris' Random-Ass Projections, is a highly sophisticated multi-variable regression formula using over 1,000 different inputs. It's been fine tuned from last year, and the sooner we forget about that version (Chris' Random Ass-Projections), the better we'll all be.

    Alright.. basically, it's an informed guesstimate, where I eyeball other projections, the player's age, then adjust to see where I think they may be off.

    The projections used can all be found at fangraphs. BJ refers to the Bill James handbook projections. CHONE is done by this guy. Marcels makes no assumptions, but just weights the last three years of stats. ZIPS are from Baseball Primer, and the Nats projections are here.

    So let's start with the infield.

  • Ryan Zimmerman
             HR  RBI  AVE  OBP  SLG
    BJ 24 98 288 353 493
    CHONE 22 97 284 355 475
    Marcel 19 83 287 352 474
    ZIPS 29 100 282 348 501
    CRAP 27 100 285 360 500

    If you move Zimmerman to a neutral park, his career slugging jumps up to right around .485, so .500 is in line with a natural career progression. I think he'll take a jump in his walk rate, since he won't feel pressured to carry the team on his shoulders. It dropped down slightly last season, and even if he goes back to 2006's levels, it'll be a pretty decent bump in OBP. So far, his wrist seems like it's ok. If it is, him surpassing that projection wouldn't be surprising either.

  • Nick Johnson
             HR  RBI  AVE  OBP  SLG
    BJ ----------------------
    CHONE ----------------------
    Marcel 8 37 286 405 484
    ZIPS 19 87 283 422 492
    CRAP 20 90 285 420 475

    Don't knock the Marcels. That's intended to be a straight projection using nothing but the player's recent history. I'm cautiously optimistic on Nick. He's got a great swing for any park.

  • Dmitri Young
             HR  RBI  AVE  OBP  SLG
    BJ 17 57 287 346 462
    CHONE 14 54 274 337 441
    Marcel 14 54 284 341 451
    ZIPS 13 50 287 352 459
    CRAP 7 35 285 350 450

    The big variable with him (besides his waist size -- i almost spelled that 'waste', which i guess is a completely different joke) is playing time. If NJ is healthy, I imagine that he'll get the lion's share of the playing time, making DY the new Daryle Ward. There's still likely to be a few hundred ABs in there, as a pinch hitter, an injury replacement for NJ, and to give NJ rest, especially against tough lefties. The numbers are a drop down, but keep in mind that he had a career year last year, he's not especially healthy, he's had (even last year) a bunch of chronic, nagging injuries, and he's 34. If he falls, he could fall hard. (make your own seismic joke)

  • Felipe Lopez
             HR  RBI  AVE  OBP  SLG
    BJ 14 64 264 336 395
    CHONE 12 57 255 329 378
    Marcel 12 56 268 339 399
    ZIPS 12 55 264 344 383
    CRAP 10 50 265 335 385

    I was hopeful that he'd ride a hot spring into a starting gig, but he's been poor with the bat so far (even if spring training results are pretty much meaningless). They key with him is that he's giving the team every reason NOT to play him. If I had to guess, I'd say he's going to get 2/3 to 3/4 of a season's worth of ABs shuffling around the infield. He's a better player than he's shown; he just needs to dislodge his head from his tail.

  • Ron Belliard
             HR  RBI  AVE  OBP  SLG
    BJ 13 66 275 331 414
    CHONE 13 55 273 325 411
    Marcel 12 62 277 326 418
    ZIPS 12 55 270 329 405
    CRAP 10 50 275 320 400

    Solid, but not spectacular. I think Belliard played a bit over his head last year. Given his conditioning and his age (33), he's likely to take hop backwards this year. The indicator for me is going to be the quality of his defense. He plays far back, likely to compensate for some lateral movement. If that's the case, and he loses another step, he could move from asset to liability pretty quickly.

  • Cristian Guzman
             HR  RBI  AVE  OBP  SLG
    BJ 6 45 270 313 379
    CHONE 4 30 265 319 379
    Marcel 4 25 264 320 390
    ZIPS 2 22 254 301 340
    CRAP 5 40 265 310 370

    I can hear the fanboys wailing. With the caveat that eye surgery and his new swing are positives in indicating optimism in his performance... Last year was a fluke. He had 175 good ABs fueled by some strong performances, but also some lucky, lucky bounces. His batting average on balls in play was so far out of whack with the rest of his career, that he HAS to take a step back. He'll be somewhere in between what he did in '05 and what he did in '07. If he hits his career numbers (.263 .302 .378), we should all be reasonably content.

  • Aaron Boone
             HR  RBI  AVE  OBP  SLG
    BJ 8 39 249 325 389
    CHONE 8 24 253 328 389
    Marcel 8 40 256 328 387
    ZIPS 4 28 249 330 363
    CRAP 5 25 240 320 380

    Bad knees and coming off a career year. Red flags abound. If he gets more than 150 ABs, the team is in trouble.