Wednesday, March 31, 2010

F@$% This!

A few years ago, I wasted about a half-hour out of my day in creating a junk stat called Fielding- Unassisted Precisionlessness, or “F-UPs” as it would have been commonly known if it for some strange reason had ever become commonly known. Actually, to say that I created this junk stat might stretch the truth somewhat; all I did was cobble together a dumb “metric” with the aid of some established statistical categories. I did, however, create the name of the junk stat, in so doing paddling fearlessly against the course of the “IPs” revolution that dominated stats-nerd nomenclature during the Aughts (DIPs, FIPs, ZiPS, and so forth).

To put it simply, F-UPs is a pitching stat that expresses a team’s combined walks, wild pitches, and hit-by-pitches per nine innings pitched. It’s designed to be a quick-and-dirty way of determining whether a team’s pitchers have, generally speaking, any idea what the hell they’re doing out there. Call it the Moron’s ERA.

When last I visited the subject, early in the 2007 season, the Nats were pretty notorious eff-ups, so to speak. Nats pitchers in 2006 had posted over an F-UP per nine innings greater than the NL average, and 2007 wasn’t off to such a hot start. As it turned out, the Nats’ F-UPs exceeded the NL average in both 2007 and 2008. And 2009 certainly wasn’t great in that regard either.

In 2009, the average NL team pitched 1444 innings, issued 564 walks, hit 53 batters, and tossed 55 wild pitches. That comes out to 4.19 F-UPs per nine innings.

(By the way, the average NL ERA last year was . . . 4.19. Ha!)

By comparison, in 2009, Nats pitchers threw 1424.1 innings, with 629 walks, 48 hit batsmen, and 74 wild pitches. Thus, the Nats recorded 4.75 F-UPs per nine innings, well above the league average yet again.

Not to belabor the point, but it’s rather evident that the Nats don’t have a great recent track record according to my junk stat. This might tend to reinforce the impression, corroborated by the won/lost record, that the Nats haven’t been especially good. While it’s certainly not impossible for a team to thrive despite a bad F-UP tally (the Dodgers, who exceeded the league average in all three components, also had the best record in the NL), you’d think that high aggregate totals of BB, HBP, and WP would generally reflect a team lacking the essentials.

Of course, F-UPs has its limitations, as you’d expect from a junk stat. First, it’s not exactly a “fielding-unassisted” measure; the difference between a wild pitch (on the pitcher) and a passed ball (on the catcher) isn’t always clear. Second, the degree to which managers feel comfortable issuing intentional walks is certainly not uniform. And third, given that there are ten times as many walks as hit-by-pitches or wild pitches, it’s largely an overly-elaborate way of expressing a team’s walk rate; accordingly, if a team (like the Nats) tends to exceed the average walk rate, it will tend to have an above-average (below-par) F-UPs figure. Just so we’re clear, therefore, I’m not pitching this idea to Baseball Prospectus.

But the fact is that the Nats have consistently sucked by this measure, as evidenced by their outrageous walk total last year. As noted above, walks are the driver in the F-UP equation. Oh, those walks. Last year, the Nats issued 629 walks, a silly total, the most in the NL by far. John Lannan led the team with 68 walks, but he certainly wasn’t the problem. Rather, it was a drip-drip-drip of errant tossers who contributed to the excessive total – Wildassery-by-Committee, if you will.

Nobody horrific stayed around too long, but there were a lot of horrific performances in rather short but stinky bursts, so combinations of them serve to demonstrate how much these guys skunked up the works. Add Daniel Cabrera (35 BB in 40 IP) to Garrett Mock (44 BB in 91.1 IP), and you get 79 walks in 131.1 innings from what was essentially the fifth slot (I guess?) in the starting rotation. Perhaps that’s not fair to Mock, but whatever. Add Mike Hinckley to Ron Villone (who replaced Hinckley), and you get 41 walks in 58.1 innings of lefty relief. Add Julian Tavarez to Kip Wells, and you get 45 walks in 61.1 innings of righty relief. That’s just scratching the surface.

The bullpen, in particular, had some guys with really bad walk rates. My impression is that Rizzo likes pitch-to-contact guys in his rotation, but will tolerate relievers who issue walks. A lot of last year’s junk is gone, but he brought in Brian Bruney and brought back Mike MacDougal. Regardless, it’s a given that the Nats need to cut down on the free passes in 2010, and you don’t need a junk stat to reach that conclusion.

But the other components do add up. According to this site, for instance, the linear weight for each wild pitch (or passed ball) is 0.28 runs. Let’s run with that figure. The Nats were bad with wild pitches last year; their total of 74 was third-highest in the NL. Based on a league average of 55 wild pitches, the Nats were 5.32 runs below average in terms of wild pitches – about half the total of a mythical win. In terms of linear weights, the difference between the most wild pitches in the NL (Arizona, with 79) and the least (St. Louis, 28) was about a win-and-a-half.

* * * *

Okay, so we’re got (1) a high walk rate, (2) exacerbated by lots of wild pitches. Some thoughts:

- If you’re really bored, you can adjust F-UPs to account for intentional walks. The Nats issued 59 IBBs last season, fifth highest in the league, ten above the league average. Riggleman tended to be a bit more liberal with the tactic, with 33 in 75 games (as opposed to 26 in 87 games from Acta).

- This discrepancy might be explained to some extent by circumstance, but there’s some data pointing to differences in managerial philosophy. The Nats issued a below-average amount of IBBs in both of Acta’s full seasons. Riggleman’s teams were NL leaders in IBB three years running (1993-95). Although he had stepped off the pedal somewhat by the late 1990s, Riggleman has called for an above-average number every full season he’s managed. Not that we should do this, but the 33 IBBs under Riggleman’s watch, projected to a full season, would have led the NL last year.

- As it were, for the entire season the Nats issued 10 more IBBs than league average, and that figure accounted for about 15% of the difference between the Nats’ total walks and the amount of walks issued by the average NL team.

- You can also adjust F-UPs to account for Daniel Cabrera. In addition to the 35 walks in 40 innings, Cabrera uncorked 10 wild pitches. For the record, Cabrera managed to F-UP 10.58 times per nine innings.

- Nevertheless, the Nats had a lot of wild pitches even adjusting for Cabrera. They also threw a lot of wild pitches, relative to the NL, in 2007 and 2008. It is entirely possible that these figures are attributable to any or all of the following: a) really crappy pitching (a given), b) crappy catching, and c) dumb luck.

- To the extent the wild pitches are attributable to crappy catching, well, the Nats have had different primary catchers the past three seasons so that’s pretty diverse crappy catching. Then again, the Nats have been crappy in general (or worse!) the past three seasons, so it seems plausible that they got crappy catching too. Brian Schneider was pretty well regarded, but wasn’t 2007 the season he was alleged by one reporter to be “complacent”? (Maybe that was 2006.)

- The Houston Astros, on the other hand, had a comparatively low total of wild pitches in 2009, and Pudge Rodriguez was their catcher much of the year. But they also had a greater than average number of passed balls last year, which suggests that’s a matter for the official scorer. However, the league-wide number of passed balls is so low that the total number of wild pitches and passed balls by the Astros was still pretty low. Thus, to the extent a catcher’s defense effects the number of wild pitches thrown, it might be an interesting experiment to watch whether the number of wild pitches the Nats throw is affected by Pudge’s apparent regular playing time (at least until Jesus Flores returns, if and when).

Five Questions

The good folks at The Hardball Times, despite their better judgment, asked me to chip in with my thoughts about where the Nats stand. So here you go.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Survey Says...

Alright, here's your chance to do your part.  Think you know how much various Nats are going to play?  Want to help make the bestest projection system ever?  Then help out ol' Tango with his community forecasts.  The Nats have a pitiful showing (duh!), so take 5 minutes and fill it out so we can have some accurate projections for this crapbag team!

A Few Days Late and A Buncha Dollars Short

If you're a cynical jerk like me, you found the other day's news about Ian Desmond wresting the starting job from Cristian Guzman to be amazing in that I was surprised that the team actually made the right move.  I'm just not used to that.  (Odd too in that the Guzman news happened what?  yesterday?  But because of the way news floats through the series of tubes, it seems like ages ago.)

It's the right move, as I've said a few times.   Guzman has no future here; Desmond possibly does.  End of analysis.

But what kind of player is Ian?  Change is nice.  Change for change's sake isn't necessarily.  And sometimes, as your tea-party-loving friends will tell you, change leads to a bunch of crap.

Here's Ian's minor league record.  Check 'em out.  I'd recommend hitting the 'hide partial seasons' link at the top, so you can get a measure of his progress.

What do you see?  You see three seasons where the best you'd say is "Yuck!"  You see a 2008 where you'd upgrade that to a "meh."  

So you're left with two good seasons, last year and 2007.  And one of those, well, honestly, both, require some caveats.

First is '07.   His .264/.357/.432 line was put up all at Potomac.  It's a decent line.  So-so average.  30 doubles and 14 homers mean decent power for an infielder.  50-something walks... good, not great.  It's the line of a non-terrible player, but hardly the line of a superstar.  What's worrisome about it, though, is that this was his third straight year at Potomac.   He had already put up 650 or so ABs in the league, so you'd hope that he'd finally learn how to adapt.  When players repeat, they tend to naturally improve.  So should that worry us a bit?

But it's his '09 season that's propelling him forward. .330/ .401/ .477 is a terrific line.  But here's the thing: do you really believe that a player who hit .259 in his minor league career is suddenly a .350 hitter?  nope.  It's possible that some of it's improvement; that he's learned to be a better hitter with experience.  But he ain't Tony Gwynn.  (Working in his favor though, is that he actually improved when they promoted him from Double-A to Triple-A, which is a good sign.)  If you believe that he's not really a .330 hitter, than you've gotta assume that some of that's a fluke.

So just play a little thought experiment.  Let's say he really did improve and is a .280 hitter; the rest is luck.  Knock .050 worth of singles out, and you're looking at a .280/.351/.427 line.  You'd still take that, wouldn't you?

So even though his Triple-A performance is a bit fluky, there's still the makings of a solid player in there.

What impressed me last year when he finally came up was the power.  The .561 slugging sorta makes that an obvious point.  But think about how often you saw him drive the ball to the warning track; even his outs were smoked.   He was a decent doubles hitter in the minors, and that often portends future power.  As long as he doesn't suddenly think he's Babe Ruth, maybe he's got a chance to turn into a poor man's JJ Hardy?

A quick note on defense.  You hear the phrase (as if it's a Word macro) about how he "has difficulty with the routine plays."  You know how else has difficulty with the routine plays?  Ryan "let me stare at this ball in my glove before I chuck it wildly past first" Zimmerman.  Despite the occasional error, we recognize that he's a great fielder.

I'm not suggesting that Desmond's that level of fielder.  I really don't know, and neither do you.  Time, as we'll certainly see, will tell.  But if he does have problems with the "routine play" and that's all you focus on, you could be missing half the game, as you'd be if that's all you focused on with Zimmerman.

And let's not forget that the man he's replacing isn't a gold glover.  Guzman has slightly below average range, and a mediocre arm.   Guzman, on average, makes 15-20 errors a year.  Let's say Desmond stinks the park up and makes 35 errors. (Mark Reynolds, at 34, is the only player to make more than 30 in the last 4 seasons.)  That's what?  Maybe 15-20 more plays that Guzman would've made than Desmond?  15-20 more outs that our young pitching staff would have to make?

How many more balls do you think that Ian Desmond, with his young legs, is going to get to than a hobbling Guzman with creaky bunions?  Think that worst case he can get to those 15-20 more balls, basically (not exactly, but basically) making up for the difference?  That's one more play every 8-10 games.  Think Ian can do it?

I certainly do.

So enough with the "routine play" stuff.

And finally, here's what the projections say:
Bill James: .282 / .338/ .432
CHONE: .265/ .326/ .412
Marcel: .280/ .343/ .472
ZIPS: .270/ .334/ .388

Not a superstar, but a very useful player, no?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Don't Pinch Me; Kick Me Instead

I present to you the worst lede in the history of the English language:

"Add Nationals outfielder Willy Taveras to the mix of right-handed hitters who could platoon with Willie Harris in right field."

I had to read the full thing 8 or 10 times to see where someone with the team was suggesting it.  Upon reading it for the 10th, I realized that any attribution doesn't really exist.  (Though to be fair, it is one of about 15 names that Riggleman rattles off) Such is the power of the word "could."

Related sentences:

"Add disgraced former Reds outfielder Pete Rose to the mix of switch-hitting batters who could platoon with Willie Harris in right field."

And that's just as correct.

"Add a giant macaroni sculpture in the shape of the Taj Mahal to the mix of right-handed objects that could platoon with Willie Harris in right field."

Still journalistically accurate!

Yet here we are, a week out and the team has no idea what to do with rightfield given the axing of Dukes.

There's an old saying in the restaurant world: "You don't fire the dishwasher 'til the end of their shift."

Not only did Mike Rizzo fire the dishwasher before the restaurant even opened for the day, he's bringing in some waterphobic bums with shaky hands who were just fired from Chuck E. Cheese's down the street.


My official position: Platoon Bernadina and Maxwell.  They're the only players on the team with any sort of future, and it's now or never.  See what you can get out of 'em while the games don't really matter.  The idea of Wily Taveras is not only laughable, it's embarrassing.  

The Case for Storen

Nobody can rationally quibble with the Nats' decision to sends Stephen Strasburg down to the minors.  Money, service time and a few other things mean that there's a legit case to be made.  The short version: it's far more important to this franchise's success that they get a full season of a fully developed Strasburg in 2016 than it is for this year.  If he starts (assuming he sticks), that 2016 season's probably happening in New York City. (New York City!)

But with Storen, there's much less of an argument.  Dude deserves to start in the majors.

What's the difference, asks you?

Let's go back 6 years.  To the heady year of 2005.  The world was magical then, full of wonder and delight before the Lerners sucked the soul from this team's baseball fans.  Like Al Bundy remembering the 3 touchdowns he scored for Polk High, Nats fans are going to cling to those memories 'til our dying day.  You certainly remember that the bullpen was a strength.

So here are some of the names of those key relievers who were on the young side:

Chad Cordero
Gary Majewski
Luis Ayala
Jon Rauch
Sunny Kim

That's every reliever under age 30 who threw 20 or more innings.  How many of them would you want in your bullpen today?  Rauch, and that's it.

Expand that to 2006 and you can add Saul Rivera's name to the mix.  You want him back?  How 'bout Ryan Wagner?  Chris Schroeder?  Bill Bray?

So here's the point: While Drew Storen looks like he's got all the talent in the world, relievers are disposable.  There aren't THAT many relievers who pitch 6 solid years in the majors, so use 'em up while you control them.  I had no problem with the way they (over) used Saul Rivera, for example, because you knew, mostly based on his stuff, that he wasn't the kind of guy who'd pitch for 15 seasons.

Maybe Storen is that kind of guy.  But the Nats shouldn't concern themselves with his future in a way that they should with Strasburg's.  (If you need to know why, think about position scarcity)

So it's a mistake to not have Storen in the majors.  It's doubly a mistake when people like Jesse English and Miguel Batista still have outside shots at the roster at this point in the Spring.  Storen deserves to come north.

The Potomac Conspiracy

With the news that Stephen Strasburg is off to Harrisburg, there are probably a few suckers who are feeling sorry for themselves.  Trading off of Strassy's good name, the P-Nats marketed some open-ended ticket vouchers as a Strasburg season-ticket plan.  Give ol' Uncle Arty some of your money, and he'd send you some ducats you could use at his Woodbridge pleasure palace.

But alas.  It's not to be.  Both he and Mr. Storen are off to the city best known for its nuclear meltdown, Harrisburg.  They're set to play on a park in an island, free to fend for themselves against armies of seagulls, mosquitoes and the worst kind of pest: the loser autograph seekers.

So why Harrisburg?  Why not Potomac?  Well, besides the fact that the idea of Strasburg pitching in the Carolina league brings visions of Gibson '68 to ones mind?

I, for one, think it's a conspiracy.  The Nats didn't want to embarrass themselves and wanted to preserve their gate.

Had they sent King Strasburg to Woodbridge, it would've meant a massive emigration from Nats Park on days he pitched.  Sure, for every SBF who already has purchased his 14 tickets, there's an ice-hearted jerk like me who only buys $5 walkups and $8 chili nachos -- money that'd be heading down to Woodbridge with me, instead of being spent in the home of giant, generic pre-cast concrete walls.

With every Strassburg start in Potomac, that's less money for Uncle Teddy and the gang.  And with the way ticket sales have gone (they haven't googled me!), it's all likely the 6,000 sitting in the rusty metal bleachers in Potomac would outnumber the 400 disinterested souls watching Matty Chico take another one for the team.

So they save money AND they save face.  

Makes perfect sense, right?  {dons tin foil hat}

Saturday, March 20, 2010

This Isn't Hard, Part 2

So Guzman can't throw.  And he doesn't think he needs to compete for the shortstop job.

There's an easy answer to this; I laid it out 2 months ago.

If that doesn't work, maybe Uncle Teddy needs to talk to one of those enforcer-types he, no doubt, came into contact with during his development days.  I'm sure there's a bridge pylon that, for the right price, could have Guzman's name (and other things) on/in it.

Or if one's more of a pacifist, given the recent birth of a kid, maybe the team could start leaving brochuers about the Family and Medical Leave Act around the clubhouse.  I'm sure somone in HR could put together a Powerpoint.  Who wouldn't want a few weeks of guaranteed leave? Avail yourself, Cristian!

I'm Shocked!

Who could have seen this coming!??!?

And, no, I'm not talking about the heart-breaking MATT CHICO!!!! news.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

It Is Enough

This is the theme for today.

Elijah Dukes, no matter his potential, is not a great player.  Last year, he wasn't even a good one.  He was, frankly, terrible.  His non-existent WAR didn't even reflect the horrific nature of his craptastic base-running.

He's injury prone.  He's a bit of a headcase.  He hasn't seemingly wanted to put the extra work in to become a great player.

And you know that one guy in the office that everyone's sort of afraid of?  The creepy guy who you think's kind of unstable, and who could lash out at any time, so you just kind of smile and nod at him, rolling your eyes and shaking your head once you're out of his vision?  (My coworkers certainly do!)  Well, that's Dukes.  While he wasn't an active disturbance, it's not like you're able to avoid that creepy guy in a small clubhouse, charter bus, or plane ride.

Elijah's definitely the guy you're hoping doesn't sit next to you on Metro.  Now imagine trying to live with him for six months.

He's a guy who, because of the nature of his previous instability/immaturity, required special treatment.  How crazy is it that the team had to have an employee to go with him anywhere and everywhere?  A full-time chaperon -- is he going to the Sock Hop after the game?

He's a guy who's stinking hard this spring, after a season where his head was so far up his butt, not even Manny Acta could see the upside.  He's a guy who once showed promising command of the strikezone, but who seemingly lost all control.  Dude used to dictate ABs in a way only Nick Johnson could; now he's a swing-first hacker with all the self control of Alfy Soriano.

He's regressed, and he hasn't shown the ability to make the kind of adjustments -- either in actual talent, or in work ethic -- to demonstrate that he's ever going to pull out of the spiral.  So why put up with the extraneous crap?

He's never shown the ability to be reliable, either in his personal life or in his ability to stay on the field.  His constant injuries -- particularly to his legs, which often turn into chronic injuries -- took huge chunks out of his last two seasons.

He's been a terrible defender.  His former decent defense, thanks to the leg issues, turned him into a joke in the outfield.  On a team that's emphasizing defense to help out its young pitching staff, his glove out there would be big trouble.

He's a horrible base-runner.  Just one bone-headed move after another.  Then another.  And then when you think you've seen the stupidest play since Milledge was traded, he does something even worse.

And here's the other thing:  Yes, he's got options.  But, really, how do you think that Elijah Dukes is going to take it when you tell him he's headed to Syra-feckin-cuse?  Do you really think he has the character and strength to learn a lesson, apply himself, and really improve?  Isn't it more likely he rages and spins out of control, yelling, screaming, and kicking now, and for the next few weeks?  It'd just piss him off, and whichever team officials would end up wiping his ass in the minors.

So what choice did they have?  Sure, they could've traded him to, say, the Pirates for a 27-year old A-baller, but what's the point?  I'm sure we could just sign Josh Labendiera as a minor-league FA if we wanted to.

Releasing him cuts the chain, and gives everyone a clean break.  It makes a whole lot of sense.


OK, that's what the team could've said.  But they didn't, at least in so many words.  So we're left looking at them dumping a 26-year old with decent talent potential because Rizzo didn't like his aura, and left reading this lame type of after-the-fact tea-leaf reading.

If Stan Kasten had spent half the time explaining the move in these sorts of terms as he did fighting Jim Bowden's twitter feed, there'd probably be quite fewer pissed-off Nats fans tonight.

Stan Kasten's Creepy Minions

Via the always terrific Big League Stew, we find out that Stan Kasten has a cast of a thousand Google Monkeys, willing to suck every last bit of private information out of your life!

Damn Patriot Act.

This Year's John Patterson Memorial Surprise Release Goes To ...

You shouldn’t replace a player until you know who is going to replace him. I’ll give you one guess who wrote this. Well, Bill James wrote this – more or less. The statement makes sense. It’s applicable in ways other than baseball. You shouldn’t waive a legal argument unless you’ve got another one to rely on. Is that example a little nerdy and/or esoteric for you? Okay then, you shouldn’t blow your paycheck unless you can identify another one to follow. And you shouldn’t dump your car in the river unless you’re sure that you’re getting the insurance money for it.

Maybe that last one’s not such a good example. But it’s probably bound to tie in to the legal argument example. And it might well relate to the blown paycheck example. See, all of this is relevant!

Anyway, the Nationals released Elijah Dukes today. This isn’t news by now. It probably seemed like big news when it was “first broken” – probably via Twitter, probably moments before the team’s press release announced that Dukes had been released. Not traded, but released. See. You. Later.

Aside from the obligatory (but deserved) you-dead-dawgisms, the prevailing sentiment that I’ve seen concerning the decision to release Dukes is that it’s sort of peculiar, but isn’t the type of decision that the Nats will really live to regret. This is the baseball world’s version of the harmless error doctrine. Even assuming the decision is in error (or, to use the vernacular, really f&*%ing dumb), what’s the big deal? It is no big deal, so ultimately disregard it.

As applied to Dukes, the thinking is that he's inconsistent and injury-prone, so his chances of emerging as an impact player are greatly reduced. Sure. I'd add that (as a matter of practical effect more so than logic) the chances of him reaching some level of stardom, despite his talents, were sliced down to the nub with his release today. I mean, how many future stars were outright released, full stop, at age 25? Not too many, one would suppose. Mike Rizzo insists that he tried to trade Dukes, but there were no takers. So it's not like the Nats tossed away tremendous value today.

This reasoning makes sense as a conceptual matter, but it can also teeter ever so close to the proverbial b.s. dump, effectively insulating what could actually be a pretty dumb decision, even if not a really dumb decision. I mean, who wants to see their favorite team make even pretty dumb decisions? And, on the face of it, the decision to release Dukes appears a pretty dumb decision because there's no one around right now to replace him.

Keep in mind that I'm talking about real replacements, not the stuff being put forward -- which ranges from instantaneously accelerating Justin Maxwell from "Nope, not ready yet" to "Kid, this is your Big Break!", to hauling in Jermaine Dye on a three-months-and-flip-him job, to a muddled melange of Harris, Morse, Bernadina, and Maxwell. (Whoops, can't forget Duncan, Mench, and Taveras too. This team doesn't lack for crap options!). These alternatives seem uninspired -- and that's without even dignifying the "Make Ian Desmond a Rightfielder!" stuff. For instance, meaning no disrespect to the Bench Guy With a Heart of Gold, making Mike Morse a starting corner outfielder is a pretty decent indicator that you're not serious about winning. And the Jermaine Dye idea is somehow simultaneously pointless and pie-in-the-sky. Willie Harris is the UZR demigod, we all know, but that only takes you so far. The reality is that the Nats have given up on Dukes without an adequate replacement for him.

Dukes will probably never live up to whatever star potential he had, but you don't need a lineup of eight stars to be a winning team. He was a good player, albeit injury prone, in 2008 -- and he'll probably be a good player, albeit injury prone, in future seasons. The Nats obviously tired of him, and they probably had good reason. And maybe a good enough replacement for him materializes, whether a single player or a platoon arrangement. But for now this looks like a waste.

All of this raises an inference that there really was some big incident that led to Dukes's release, but all parties (other than Jim Bowden, apparently) deny this. Maybe so. I've meandered enough at any rate. I'm sure Herr Needham has a thought or two.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Round 'Em Up

A few quickies today -- reminds me of that time.. well... nevermind, kids.

The thing I like about Harper, the ex OMGer, is that he usually writes exactly what I'd write.  His treatise on Nyjer Morgan and how the Nats' fanboys need to simmer down is EXACTLY what I've alluded to here, there, and a few other places -- but mostly in my head, which has been too excited by the wealth of cat videos on youtube to properly figure out how to write it.

Did you know that Steven Strasburg could be the next Tom Seaver?   Yeah, and I might be rich and well liked.

Incidentally, El Rizbo said he's going to the minors.  I've got no problem with that.

Fangraphs released their annual organizational rankings.  Good job this year to break it down into separate articles, at least.  We've got a lot of digging to do.

This just in: Ted Lerner is still rich.

The popular thing to do around here is to beg your readers to send you to far-off locales.  I'm not going to beg you for your money for that.  But I will beg you for money for this.  What's the price of one of those U.S. Air shuttles from DCA to LGA?  We can all pony up for that, can't we?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Your Guide to the Nats Staff

If you're like me, you know the Nats have a few right-handed pitchers who all sorta do the same kinds of things and who all sorta stuck. JD Martin, Colon Battlestar, Craig Stammen and Garrett Mock... who the hell's who? It's like Iraq and Iran -- they all sorta sound the same and they're way off in the back of my mind, so let's let the people smarter than me try to figure out what the hell the difference is. That's what the Division of Labor is for!

But that's not why you read thishere blog. You read it for... umm... I don't know why, really.

But I'm not going to leave you hanging like that. I'm going to help you figure out one crap pitcher from another. So I've created this handy matrix for you.

First, we'll pull Craig Stammen out. You can remember him: he's the one with dreamy eyes. {swoon}

So that leaves Mock, Battlestar and Martin.

Terrible CommandOK Command
Terrible StuffMockMartin
Blah StuffBattlestarMythical Pitcher Nats Haven't Yet Acquired

You're Welcome!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

That's Our Boz

If the Nats can extend Dunn for three years for close to $40 million, they should do it -- and fast. His defense may improve. If it doesn't, he's still a bargain because the stat lovers have probably overshot in their zeal for quantifying. It's the way of things. They themselves may be the new inefficiency in the market. Dunn's defense should slash his price, but not slaughter it.

While I think he's right in that the statheads are looking at a bunch of slivers of part-time play, adding them, and calling Dunn "Hitler with a Glove..."

Why would the Nats sign a player to more money than they were willing to commit to him a few seasons back when there's no real indication as to whether he can actually handle the position? 3/40 isn't a ton of money, but that's a ton of money to tie up to someone who, while very good, is not elite. He's not Pujols. He's not Teixeira. He's in that second tier of pretty good, but not superstar, players. Why lock it up when 1B is so easy to fill -- as we did two seasons ago when we plucked Dunn off the unemployment line?

If Dunn goes on the FA market, I bet he'd be looking at something much closer to the deal Pat Burrell got than what Boz is suggesting.

I'm as big an Adam Dunn fanboy as there is, but as I've said ad nauseum, the time to extend him was two seasons ago, when you could've had him on a long-term deal at a very nice rate. It's better to find the next 'bargain' and stick him at 1B than to overpay to re-sign the one we've got. I think this team's track record with extending its own players should show you how difficult a process that sometimes can be.

The Best News You'll Read All Day

(Note: About the Nats, so by definition, it's uninteresting/unimportant)

"I've said it the whole time: We're going to play the best 25 guys that give us the best chance to win," Rizzo said. "[They] are going to go north with us. I continue to say that. If [Desmond is] one of the best eight guys that we can put out there to win games, he's certainly to be. He's in the running to be an everyday guy.

"The money is out of the equation. Money has nothing to do with who's going to play and who's not going to play."


Of course, Rizzo's lied to us before, but we'll happily slurp up the Flavor-Aid here.

Can't wait for opening day then! Guzzie on the bench, Strasburg starting, and Storen nailing down the win, right? {crickets}

Friday, March 12, 2010

Time for New Scouts

The Nats dumped the bloated corpse of Eddie Guardado today, shoving him off Cocoa Beach before a marine mammal emergency could be declared. Fair enough. Teams dive in the dumpster, and sometimes they come up with a mouth foll of bananas with greasy, black peels. Minor league deals = no harm. Might as well see what the dude's got.

But this one struck me as kinda funny. For one, when the team signed him, they made a bit of a big deal out of it, going so far as to announce it in a press release. While the release is mostly a mindless regurgitation of statistics/record -- of the sort that Chuck Slowes loves to rattle off -- it's also somewhat indicative of where the team viewed him. After all, "senior vice president and general manager Mike Rizzo made the announcement."

Eddie was a bit of a courtship. There were a few articles leading up to his signing, and one of 'em includes this gem: "team scouts told general manager Mike Rizzo that Guardado would be a big help to the club."

Such a big help that they cut the guy about 4 days into spring training, eh? Good thing we beefed up that scouting department! Though, in fairness, this might've been Rizzo's dad. He probably played with Eddie back in Class-C ball in the '30s. And in fairness, too, it doesn't say HOW he'd be a big help to the club. Maybe he did some decorative scrimshaw to improve the clubhouse? Perhaps he was conscientious about making a new pot of coffee when Riggles drained the first one?

Another article says that Eddie "is expected to be a mentor as well as a setup man." The ol' passive voice hides the subjects, so maybe this is correct: the senile scouts and Eddie certainly thought that.

But at least it's just these faceless scouts who figured the first guy cut was going to be key to the Nats' resurgence this year, right?



Hey, Riggles! What's improved this season? "I think Mike Rizzo has improved our roster a great deal since the end of last season ... Two areas that were targets, most importantly, were pitching and defense and we feel like those two areas have been addressed with the additions of Pudge Rodriguez and pitchers [Jason] Marquis, [Matt] Capps, [Brian] Bruney, [Eddie] Guardado and [Tyler] Walker."

Well, at least it's just the field staff. Eddie hasn't cast a spell over everyone, right?



Hey, Mark Lerner! What's worked this offseason? "The most important thing we did was stabilize our team leadership -- building the kind of brain trust that will position us to see more young talent others might not, and to develop the ones we sign... We also grabbed veteran reliever Matt Capps. He is a proven setup man and closer. We certainly needed bullpen help, and he will make a big difference. Other bullpen help could come from Brian Bruney and Eddie Guardado."

At least he said 'could'. I can cling to that, right?



Thursday, March 11, 2010

My Computer Hates Me

I was trying to get this to post as a comment to the last post, but it's not working, so it goes here. With respect to yesterday's post and the comment there...

i didn't say he was going to be a bum, or that control was going to be a problem. i even said that he has quite good control.

i just was pointing out that while everyone's buzzing about the quality of his stuff, you need to look at the whole picture.

i've seen him twice and his fastball command has been spotty both times. i'm not drawing broad conclusions from it, but pretending i didn't see it doesn't make any sense.

  • Oh, and go read this. For all my general crankiness about the crappiness of spring training and the coverage, when 1) something unique pops up and 2) it's from someone who's been around more than a week and who knew to look for it in the first place; it's a good thing.

  • Related to that, if you want to see why I was cranky about spring training coverage, THIS is why. Ladies and gentlemen (and grizzled old fogies), that's called a microcosm.

  • Wednesday, March 10, 2010

    So About That Pitcher...

    Whatever the hell his name was. Now that we're a day or three removed from it, what'd you think?

    Stuff's there. Nobody's going to question that.

    But what about his command? Seemed like he was hitting his spots with the breaking ball, when he threw it. But the fastball? Didn't it seem like he was missing the glove? Now you can afford to do that when you're throwing a billion miles per hour; you don't need to be as fine as MATT CHICO!!!!

    But... is that something to watch? I sorta vaguely remember the same thing from the UVA game last year. Great command of secondary pitches, but the fastball didn't usually hit the spots. Now he doesn't have bad control. Cause when he needs to, he can lay it in there a bit and still not get hard. But is this something to watch going forward? Might that be the argument the team uses when they send him down? And if they do, is it a bad thing?

    Pitching in the majors is sure as hell a lot different than pitching in the minors. Dude's obviously gonna be good. But is he polished yet? Maybe not.

    I thought this was an interesting approach to figuring out how he'll do. Figure out what he's likely to do, then reverse engineer his ERA. You'd take 100 innings of 3.75, wouldn't you? For now, at least.

    Monday, March 08, 2010

    The Exception to the Rule

    Remember when I said Spring Training sucks? Well, tomorrow's not one of those days, at least for the first 45 minutes of the game or so. STRASBURG!!!!! And unlike my faux interest in Matty Chico, this one's genuine. There'll probably be more people watching tomorrow's Nats spring training game than watch a typical late-August Nats game. STRASBURG!!!!

    I've only see The Burg pitch once, probably the same game most of you saw him pitch: his loss to UVA in last year's regionals, or whatever the hell round it was. You don't need my scouting report, obviously. But even while getting cuffed around a bit (by his standards), it's not hard to see the raw materials he's working with aren't quite the balsa wood and scrap tin that Mr. Chico possesses.

    I'm pretty gosh darn excited to see him. And to hear my friends, Sunshine and the Meathead, call the game, of course. Take a swing of sarsaparilla when Carpy calls him a "special human being" (Two swings if it's "special young man")

    Should he start in Washington? I dunno. His contract is such that dicking around with his service time to save bucks really doesn't make a ton of sense, since they've pretty much laid out his salary progression for the next few years anyway. A few weeks here to gain an extra (and expensive) year on the back end makes some sense, but there's little reason to hold him 'til July. Let the minor league affiliates get their paydays with an ExtStrassyGanza, then call him up ASAP.

    Even lazy, obnoxious, cheap ol' me'll run out and get tickets for that one.

    Sunday, March 07, 2010

    Matt Chico!!! Matt Chico!!!

    The greatest left-hander in franchise history made his spring debut today, and all I can say is "WuhuhuhuhuhOW!" He's back, baby! Chico, who hasn't pitched in the majors since forever ago told reporters/bloggers/blogging-reporters that he was nervous. He pitched two scoreless innings today, which is about 14 more scoreless innings than every other Nats pitcher combined. The dude's a stud, and this is the first step back to his return to superstardom.

    Consider this:

    In 2007, he started 10 more games than any other Nats' pitcher. He started over 50% more than the number two starter in terms of games pitched -- he's a horse! Only one other starting pitcher had a lower ERA than Chico, which by definition makes him a solid number two pitcher. He tied for the team lead in complete games AND shutouts, so he really knows how to work deep when he needs to. He threw like 50 more innings than any other pitcher on the entire staff. Dude's a horse, a regular Livan. He led the team in strikeouts, showing that he's got pure and filthy major-league stuff. Batters don't dare mess with his filth! No pitcher on the team had fewer balks than him. He's composed.

    Add all that up, and there's never been a better left-handed pitcher in franchise history. Dude can do it all!

    So when we last left him, he was a CLEAR and EFFECTIVE number two pitcher in the major leagues. And he did it with an injured elbow! Now that he's fully healthy, not only is he going to reassert himself as a number two, but he -- thanks to his youth -- still has a chance to grow. HE VERY WELL could be an ace this season.

    I, for one, am THRILLED that Matt Chico, the hidden weapon of Our Washington Nationals is unthought of by many. The longer he hides under the radar, the more he'll surprise when his ace-like stuff rips through the league.

    Strasburg's getting all the pub, but he hasn't done crap in pro baseball. Unlike our former number two, Matt Chico.

    Friday, March 05, 2010

    In Case You Didn't Realize...

    ... I'm a jerk. And as a jerk, I do jerky things. You know what's one of the jerkiest things I do? I kinda sorta root for Drew Storen to fail. No, I don't want the kid to die, have his arm fall off, or to never make the majors. I just don't want him to blossom into an elite reliever. Were I truly vindictive, I'd be hoping for the Ryan Wagner career path, but I'd be ok with, say, Steve Reed's career path (Minus the MS). I hope he'll settle into a long career of being a sort of ok guy.

    It's not Storen's fault. He, by all accounts and interactions, seems like a pretty good guy. It's Rizzo's. It was Rizzo's steadfast insistence that signability (ie: his willingness to work cheaply) was NOT a factor in the team selecting him with the 10th overall pick. Nevermind that this was in a draft where they knew they'd be giving a record portion to whoever the hell it is they drafted first overall. (What happened to him? Why haven't we heard more about him?). And nevermind the fact that Storen was willing to immediately sign for about $400K than the last few 10th overalls had.

    I don't have a HUGE problem with the team making a signability pick there (OK, that's a lie, but go with it), but if they were going to do it, to quote noted philosopher Judith Sheindlin, don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining. My shoes are all wet and Rizzo's fly is open. I know what probably happened. Just man up and admit it.

    Not only did he deny it, but he smugly claimed that Storen was his favorite pitcher of all time... or something to that effect. Rizzo was insistent that Storen was his guy. And so he was.

    Thusfar, Storen's done nothing to prove Rizzo's choice wrong, and the nice part of me hopes that continues. But that ahole part? That part hopes this is the beginning of a long Steve Reedesque career.

    See. Told ya I'm a jerk.

    Today's Question

    Would a good franchise make a roster decision primarily based upon the fact that one of the players, whose contract is about to expire, is making a bazillion dollars?

    Thursday, March 04, 2010

    As You Consider the Results of Today's Game...

    Keep in mind that they have about as much pertinence and importance as any random game from July does. (Hey, that Bacsik guys looks like a stud! That SS hit a homer too!)

    Looking for some more projections? Looking for more analysis (with an emphasis on 'anal') from me? Then go here and purchase this fine product and/or service.

    I've also written a few other things, which you won't have to purchase... A look at Ed Wade.

    But this one's a bit more pertinent... it's why I think that spring training is the most boring time of the year.

    My gut's saying 73-89, but that's about what my gut's said for the last three years. Bright side: no more Manny Acta trotting Saul Rivera out there because "He's my 7th-inning Guy." That's gotta be worth a few wins right there.

    Tuesday, March 02, 2010

    So Miguel Batista, Dana Brown, and Jim Bowden walk into a bar, and . . .

    I suppose I’m coming around to Chris’s way of thinking, because I’m done with spring training before it’s really even started. Maybe it’s the team, maybe it’s the coverage, or maybe it’s an overriding desire to see some baseball that actually matters – I don’t know. I do know that it doesn’t much interest me which two out of four scrubs were able to muster dribblers against Sir Strasburg during live BP -- although perhaps even that interests me more than imagining what Wil Nieves’s “wow look” looks like.

    Anyway, I’ve moved onto something arguably even less productive: schedule watching!

    Take a look at this sucker. The Nats play 42 games before interleague ball makes its triumphant return. This first quarter of the season goes accordingly: 3 against Phillies, 3 at Mets, 3 at Phillies, 3 against Brewers, 4 against Rockies, 3 against Dodgers, 3 at Cubbies, 3 at Marlins, 3 against Braves, 3 against Marlins, 3 at Mets, 4 at Rockies, 2 at Cardinals, 2 against Mets. Of course, a lot can change from season to season, but going by 2009 results the weak sisters among this group are the Mets (70-92) and the Brewers (80-82).

    Yuck it up with the Mets bashing, because they might be the Pepcid in an otherwise groan-inducing early season schedule. All four of last season’s National League playoff teams are on tap for the Nats prior to the quarter-pole. Lord only knows if, by mid-May, we’ll either be tired of the Rockies or sick and tired of the Rockies. The Nats get ‘em for four during a week in which they host last year’s best in the NL West – and then, just as things seem to settle into a predictable Marlins-Braves-Marlins type of drip-drip-drip, the Nats have to do it again with the Rox, this time at their place. That nine-game road trip to New York, Denver, and St. Louis might prove to be, as Bob Carpenter would say, with much profundity, really “interesting.”

    I can’t say with much confidence whether playing 31 of your first 42 games against teams with winning records the year before (thank you, Mets!) is in any way notable, but it doesn’t seem to be a particularly propitious circumstance for Our Washington Nationals. What follows are in no way predictions, since this exercise is severely hindered by all kinds of moving targets, but would this be unreasonable?

    - Phillies: 2-4
    - Mets: 4-4
    - Brewers: 2-1
    - Rockies: 3-5
    - Freeway Dodgers: 1-2
    - Cubbies: 1-2
    - Fish: 2-4
    - Braves: 2-1
    - Cards: 0-2

    That adds up to 17-25. I tried to account for home park effect and some random variance crap, so adjust at your leisure. At any rate, that kind of start over the first 42 games (a tiny bit over a quarter of a season) would project to 67 or so wins over the course of a full season.

    Of course, that’s not how it actually works – what you do in 42 games needn’t determine what you’ll do in the 120 games to come. And, with that in mind, we reach the second part of the schedule: 3 against O’s, 3 at Giants, 3 at Padres, 4 at Astros, 3 against Reds, 3 against Pirates, 3 at Indians, 3 at Tigers, 3 against White Sox, 3 against Royals, 3 at O’s. That’s 34 more games, through the conclusion of the interleague slate.

    What this next group of 34 games reflects is how much the first 42 games will set the tone for the Nationals’ season. Let’s use the 17-25 record doodled above as a point of reference. Alter the record three or so games in either direction, and the season looks a lot different. Mark the Nats down to 14-28 or 13-29, and things scarcely look prettier than they seemed in Acta Land. But boost them up to 20-22 or (heaven forfend) .500 through the first 42 games, and you know what the reaction will be? Well, on the broader national level, it will probably be indifference, but for those following the team it will be a pleasant sense of surprise and the hope that maybe, just maybe, the Nats will be relevant on Independence Day.

    Take a look again at that 34 game stretch. The 9-game swing out west doesn’t look appetizing, but at least the Padres and Astros don’t amount to much. They can really try to make some hay with home series against the Reds, Buccos, and Royals. They travel to Cleveland, but who knows if the Tribe will even have a rotation by then? The six games against the O’s are sort of a toss-up. If the Nats don’t get slaughtered in the first 42 games, and if they don't encounter disaster on that long road trip out west, and if they beat up on the little sisters, then there’s an avenue for the Nats to be somewhere in the neighborhood of .500 when they take the field in Atlanta on Monday, June 28.

    Obviously, that's a lot of ifs. And ifs are pretty much the domain of bad teams. "If the starters hold together, and if a couple of reliable relievers emerge, and if the bats come together, and if the fielding tightens up, . . ."

    Sound familiar?

    Not all of those things will work out -- not over the entire season, at any rate. But if the team holds up well during that rough first six or seven weeks, the season might be much more interesting for much longer than you might guess at first blush.

    Monday, March 01, 2010

    Coverage Continued

    Nothing new yet... but interesting comments in last night's thread.

    I haven't gone through the whole thread here, but this comment struck me as being on the money. Though it's in reference to Twitter, I think it applies to all forms of coverage, in line with what I was hinting at yesterday:

    I'm pretty sure this guy has a point. Twitter feeds are the journalistic equivalent to statstitical false precision. You're just gushing raw fatoids out to the public randomly rather than doing your job and condensing the facts into a narrative, providing some sort of context and frame, and informing the public as to the meaning behind a set of facts. Twitter may or may not have its uses - I'm skeptical personally, but such is my standard outlook on most things - but journalism is absolutely not one of those potential uses.

    Off to mine the rest for more points to rattle around my peabrain.