Friday, October 22, 2010

Most Random National

On the one hand, this topic is totally stolen from the Royals Review blog. On the other hand, the Nationals have not done a whole lot in the recent past to merit much blogging creativity. So our apparent options here are 1) to do a bunch of graphs and stuff about Wins Above Replacement, 2) to post lots of photos from Nationals Park, 3) to recount a steady stream of Twitter activity, or 4) to steal ideas from good blogs of bad teams. Fine ideas all, but I'm going with door number four.

You might ask what it means, in the context of this discussion, to be "random." Well, we're certainly not going to labor over a rigid definition. In my view, there are multiple factors to consider. For instance, there's the realization of "Huh, I've never heard of this guy before." Call that Type A Randomness. But there's also "What in the world is this guy doing here?" (Type B), as well as the very relevant after-the-fact consideration "Wow, that guy played for them this year?! I hardly even REMEMBER that . . . " (Type C). You kind of have to assess a player's randomness in the totality of those factors. Not all factors will be present for every random player, and then there are other factors that sort of cut against randomness, such as spectacularly bad play. Call that one the Joe Horgan Factor. So there's not necessarily a correct answer. For 2009, the most random National might have been Wil Ledezma; that's my pick anyway. But good arguments could have been made for Corey Patterson, Jamie Burke, Zack Segovia, or Victor Garate.

So let's call the question: Who was the most random member of Our 2010 Washington Nationals?

To ease the analysis, I've grouped the contenders:

The Hey-You, I-Know-You-I-Know-You Group. They're not really contenders; basically, they're all Type C and not much more. We know them because they have a history in the organization, but they made almost no impression in 2010 and, therefore, at least they make the list of candidates.

- Garrett Mock. Almost impossible to claim the title since he was the No. 3 starter when the club broke camp. Or was it No. 4? Who cares -- doesn't make any difference, especially on this team. The point is, he was in the team's plans. That he actually started only one game, never to return to the big leagues for the remainder of the season, is a pretty weak Type C factor.

- Jason Bergmann. A sort of low-level fan favorite and/or whipping boy, depending on your perspective and on the team's relative fortunes, so again, we're not really looking at a Type A or B random guy. But unlike Mock, Bergmann had been with the Nationals for so long (parts of every season since 2005) for so little gain that I could imagine some people just figured he was gone already and his short early-season stint with the Nationals in 2010 (4 appearances, 2.1 IP) left almost no impression. He pitched very badly, but he was used in garbage time, to the extent he was used at all. We're not talking Brian Bruney here.

- Matt Chico. Now we're getting somewhere. Going into the 2010 season, Matty Chico hadn't pitched for the Nats since early 2008 -- and very badly at that -- and had undergone arm surgery. However, while he was a mere memory for all but the really obsessive Nats nuts out there, boy wonder was still plotting his great comeback. And he did come back. And he pitched very wel . . . well, more like functionally. For only one game. And then he was gone -- like a fart in the wind, as the warden from Shawshank would say. Did those five emergency innings on May 8 really happen? Yes, yes they did, or at least Baseball Reference says so . . . So okay, Chico's got some Type B and loads of Type C going for him. But was he the most random Nat in 2010? Wait and see, but I think it's doubtful. He was, we recall with lamentation, the team's most dependable starter in 2007. It's not as if Jason Simontacchi or Mike Bacsik had dropped in for just one start.

The Scombroid Food Poisoning Group. The decayed remains of once-serviceable veterans; do not ingest! Symptoms from rostering these guys usually show up within just minutes and, according to Wikipedia, include "skin flushing, throbbing headache, oral burning, abdominal cramps, nausea, diarrhea, palpitations, a sense of unease, and, rarely, collapse or loss of vision. " (Or, perhaps more accurately, not so rarely.) These guys are quintessential Type B -- and, depending on the extent of decay or the length of the stay, might qualify as Type A or C as well. You know something is fishy about them after a couple of bites, so keeping them around for the full meal is not advisable.

- Willy Taveras. Brought on for added depth in the outfield, begging the question whether there is a such a thing as negative depth. His signing paid off for precisely one day, April 10, when Taveras started in right field, had two hits, and somehow drove in all four runs in a 4-3 win. This earned him weeks of effusive praise from Rob Dibble and another two starts in right while Willie Harris subbed for Zimmerman at third base. After those two games, Taveras's batting average stood at .143, and that was all she wrote. A zero move all the way -- on a team with Morgan and Harris, Taveras started all of one game in center -- but he stuck around until May 15, rendering him not much of a Type C.

- Kevin Mench. A strong contender for most random, and he would have been even more so if we lived in a rational world. Mench is in the Kevin Reimer tradition of Texas Rangers pseudo-sluggers whose fortunes die with a trade to the Milwaukee Brewers. Mench has been at most a blip on the screen since mid-2006, and he could have spent 2009 playing indy league ball in suburban Gwangmyeong for all we know. Mench signed a minor league deal with the Nats and was called up by the Nats on August 7, which happened to coincide perfectly with the beginning of the "Aw hell, why can't this thing end sooner?" phase of the schedule. He was a persistent yet somehow imperceptible presence on the club the rest of the way, going to the plate 29 times (all but 3 PAs as a pinch-hitter), batting .111, and compiling his lone run "batted" in on a bases-loaded walk.

The Fugly Catchers Group. Pudge Rodriguez did all he could to bridge the Jesus Flores Era to the Wilson Ramos Era, but the guy has been a big league starting catcher since that fateful week in June 1991 when EMF's "Unbelievable" ruled the land. (Had he debuted one day later, Pudge would have ushered in Bryan Adams's summer of "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You.") In relief, there was Wil Nieves, who is, by definition, a player of Wil Nieves quality, which is to say very bad. What's another rung down from Wil Nieves? These guys!

- Carlos Maldonado. No relation to Candy, the preeminent Maldonado to make the major leagues, out of a sample size of three Maldonados. (Carlos here, having compiled 0.0 WAR in 25 MLB games, seems comfortably entrenched as number two on the list and the top dog in the more specific competition for greatest Carlos Maldonado of all time.) Big guy, definitely paid his dues, making a brief MLB debut in 2006, a decade after signing his first pro contract and eight years after first reaching Triple-A. Initially reached six-year minor league free agency in 2002, and didn't exactly come into greater demand thereafter; his Baseball Reference page is one massive cut-and-paste of the phrase "Granted Free Agency." So if you knew who this guy was prior to his Nats debut on May 27, you are either omniscient or play in the world's deepest fantasy league. And he was gone within a week. But Maldonado also played a key role in the Nationals' single biggest offensive explosion of 2010, a nine-run seventh inning against the Astros on May 31, when he smacked the second of a pair of three-run shots off Chris Sampson in that inning. So Maldonado's clearly got Type A and B chops, but that one bomb might be memorable enough to cut into Type C randomness, since the Nats were still playing okay ball at the time and within early-season striking distance of the division lead. A conundrum, I suppose.

- Jamie Burke. Journeyman catcher, at this point more of a back-up to the back-up catcher type, got into one game with the Nats in 2010 and didn't even come to bat. If you blinked, you missed him. Type A value is affected by the fact that he also played for the Nats in 2009, but we're only talking six games and 13 PAs there. Although it's close, I think, in a head-to-head comparison, Burke was a bit more of the random Nat than Maldonado.

The Ghost of Steven Shell Group. These are the completely unknown relievers who, if things break right, might actually help the bullpen. They're not prospects in any significant way, but these guys arrive with some low-level form of acclaim from the organization, usually coinciding with whatever one skill the guy possesses that has been used to exploit minor league hitters. Shell worked out, for a fashion. Less successful versions of the type include Santiago Ramirez, Chris Booker, and Winnie Abreu, among others.

- Jesse English. Made only seven appearances and was gone by late April, so there's that. However, he was a spring training darling, he pitched pretty decently in the real games (including a nice showing on Opening Day) and the demotion wasn't really due to his performance. Didn't exactly light it up in Syracuse and was shut down by the end of June, but it's too soon to say he'll be completely forgotten.

- Joe Bisenius. Here we go. This guy pitched two innings for the Phillies way back in 2007, then made a few late-season appearances with the Nats this season. If you tuned out in September, you wouldn't have noticed he was there. Anyone in the baseball world could have thrown those 4.2 innings. Type A, B, and C. There's one catch, though -- his one skill is such a skill that he attracted more than the average share of Ghost of Steven Shell sentiment. So you might have noticed him, after all. Incidentally, Bisenius throws harder than Chris Booker (Bisenius throws harder than almost everybody), but he's pretty much the same story. Booker was a journeyman reliever -- on his fifth organization in two seasons when he came to the Nationals -- but he posted just absolutely silly strikeout rates in the minors, so he attracted some attention when the Nationals picked him up. But nothing really came of it. We'll see what becomes of Bisenius and his 98-mph fastball.

The Verdict. I think it comes down to Burke and Bisenius. Maldonado and Mench are also in the discussion, but probably lose in the semifinals. Flip a coin, and Burke wins. Bisenius attracted some attention, whereas literally no one cared about Burke (no offense to him). Burke was the Moonlight Graham of the 2010 Nationals; hell, Tim Burke could have come out of nearly two decades of retirement to play in one game but not bat.

When it comes to random Nats, Jamie Burke wins.


  • This one's a strong contender for "Most Random Blog Post" of the offseason. Well done.

    By Blogger Nate, at 10/22/2010 5:46 PM  

  • Obviously I follow the Nats too closely because I remember all of these guys.

    Burke is a good choice although I remember Riggleman making a comment about Burke when the Nats acquired him last year -- "He is a good catch and throw guy" -- which I took to mean the Nats needed a body to squat behind the plate so the ball wouldn't hit the backstop. And it stuck with me, so I remember Burke better than I have a right to.

    You'd think Kevin Mench would be a good alternate pick -- he made zero contribution to the team -- but he's much too bald to be truly forgettable. Every time that cueball head would pop out of the dugout, my wife would ask me again "Who's that guy?" If only he'd get hair plugs or something, he'd be a shoe-in for this award.

    By Blogger Mythical Monkey, at 10/22/2010 7:37 PM  

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