Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Like Christmas Eve After You Learn About Santa

That's basically the way I feel about tomorrow. I'm excited... it IS Christmas after all. But I'm not as excited as I was when I was a wee li'l boy in 2005. It's still a damn good day. Just not as magical and special as it was. And as a kid, I as singularly focused on what was in front of me... now? I'm just as interested in looking around, and seeing what presents everyone else is opening. I've always been a baseball fan before being a Nats fan. That's just intensified with the losing seasons.

And we all know there's little hope this year. What's a reasonable % chance of playing interesting September games? 3%? At least there was a path forward towards winning -- hell, even last May, you could've sketched out a path to semi-competitiveness. Now sans Strassy, it's an uphill climb just to hit .500. My guess? 72-90.

My biggest concern this year? The offense. It's going to be farking terrible. Remember 2005, when the offense would do nothing -- NOTHING! -- for innings at a time, as out after out after out piled up. And on the rare time that someone got on base, Frank would either force them into making another out, or you'd find yourself with two on, two out, and Guzman at the plate.

This year's prolly gonna be sort of like that. It's a team of On-Base sinkholes. I just don't see how this team is going to consistently generate offense. Oh, they'll have stretches where the singles are dropping in... and when their slug-first bats rip 'em into the gaps, plating a bunch. But the 1-2-3 innings this year are going to drive you batty. Werth/Zimmerman/LaRoche are an ok core. (Just OK) So it's going to be like '05 where for the team to generate offense, it's going to need the right three guys coming up in the right situation.

Desmond? Best case OBP guess... .325?

Pudge? He's only been above .300 for OBP once in the last few years. Best case is .300. Ramos should be better, but best case is realistically something like .330.

Ankiel's terrible... best case would be like .315-.320. But it's just as likely to be sub-.300

Espinosa has a passable walk rate (nothing exceptional), but he's also likely a low average guy. So there's not going to be much OBP there.

That's 4 of the 8 lineup slots that are pretty close to on-base sinkholes.

LaRoche might be average overall, but below compared to other 1B. Morse is basically average. Zimmerman's pretty good. Werth solid. So all isn't lost.

Add it up, and it's a team that's not going to get on base much. So sustaining rallies is going to be especially difficult.

I dunno. I see an offense that'll have some great moments, but, in the end, is likely to be one of the 3-4 worst in baseball. Sure, Rizzo's emphasis on improving the pitching through improving the defense is important (if not inconsistently applied) but a run scored is just as valuable as a run saved. And I doubt that LaRoche's glove (and the hundreds of errors I've been promised he'll save) is going to make up for that on-base sinkhole.

Anyway... that's enough of that. My best guesses:

Atlanta over Philly in the east.
Cinci to repeat; eff you Greinke

Atlanta wins the pennant; Heyward MVP (why not!)

Boston over Tampa over NY
Detroit over Chi over Minn
Texas over Oakland

A drunken Miguel Cabrera leads 'em to the pennant; Gonzalez MVP

Atlanta wins. (I think I pick them every year)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

My Favorite Nyjer Morgan Memories


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Narrowest and Best

As a resident of the only city with two teams remaining in the NCAA tournament, I've been able to devote even less attention than normal this spring to the various Viera camp positional battles, which is to say I've scarcely followed them at all. Gleaning what little bits and pieces I deem pertinent, however, it seems that the biggest remaining issue is what to be done with centerfield, which has taken to resemble the Kia Motors commercial, except without the dope hamsters. Given the way it seems things will turn out, at least for now, maybe even more ignorance on my part is preferable.

I'm not sure how convoluted a decisional process is required to look at three options for the starting centerfielder -- Nyjer Morgan, Roger Bernadina, and Rick Ankiel -- and then decide, "Hey, let's go with Ankiel," as seems to be the call for now. (Or maybe it's an Ankiel/Jerry Hairston platoon, as if that combo sweetens the pot.) Ankiel has, I guess, made the best showing of the three so far this spring, or perhaps the least-worst is more apt. I'll withhold issuing the millionth observation about how it's silly to make big roster decisions based on small spring samples, but I will venture a comment on the related principle that spring training decisions should be, if possible, very narrow ones.

The narrow issue here is whether Morgan, the incumbent, can or cannot hold down the job. Presumably, the expectation during the offseason was that he could, given that the Nats made no big production in finding an adequate replacement. Although there were reports that it was all but certain Morgan would be dumped over the winter, he's in Viera now.

I'm not the biggest Morgan fan out there -- I'm somewhat skeptical of the defensive metrics that have rated him a demigod afield, and the praise heaped on him for his (admittedly blistering) performance for the Nats in 2009 always struck me as a tad contrived. Still, the guy can handle center and he does what he can on offense, given his limitations there.

In some ways, the path the club is taking with Morgan now is reminiscent of what happened with Endy Chavez during the spring of 2005 (a/k/a the Panera Bread Days). Endy couldn't do what management asked him to do, as Boz noted at the time, but perhaps the problem was that management was asking him to do something he couldn't do, as a somewhat less esteemed writer pondered. At any rate, the Nats jettisoned Endy -- and, to be honest, we all cheered.

But forget about Endy; we're talking about 2011. Let's say Morgan is wholly unsuited to be the starting centerfielder -- the folks in Nats management, after all, are the only people truly qualified to make that call (and, moreover, maybe they can't fit him on the roster at all). And if it's a personality thing, okay. That call requires moving on from the narrow issue, which is fine, provided that the narrow approach actually has been considered. The next issue is finding the best answer.

And this is where I get stuck. How is Rick Ankiel (or an Ankiel/Hairston platoon) the best answer? I simply don't see it. I trust the organization is being run with competence, of course, but I'm having trouble following the reasoning, other than "We're tired of Morgan, we signed this guy to an MLB contract, and we can stash Bernadina in the minors till we need him."

Seemingly having rejected the narrow approach, Morgan, the best alternative is Bernadina. He's not great -- in the same kind of sense that Morgan is not terrible -- but he showed a little bit last year. And you know he's not really a corner outfielder with the bat, so he just needs to show a little bit more, assuming he can handle center everyday. And you don't really know that until you try. Which you can't if Rick Ankiel is playing there.

Anyway, I need somebody to help me out on this.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

. . . and I guess the answer is Yes.

Nationals To Sign Oliver Perez.

Well, he's a better bet than Horacio Ramirez; we know that much already.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Someone was bound to ask . . .

Oliver Perez?

Come on, be honest. The thought did cross your mind, even if for just a nanosecond. Maybe two nanoseconds. The thought came and went so quickly that it probably didn't really even register fully. But it was there. It's okay -- you can can admit it.

Maybe just as a joke. Maybe out of pity (does it only seem that his special brand of incompetence has shown a bit more favoritism to the Nats?). Maybe because you're an anti-Lerner double-agent. Whatever the reason, the question has formed itself, however briefly, in your mind today.

And the answer, of course, is no. I mean, what's the point?

But let's completely waste our time for just a moment more. Is there any conceivable case, however fanciful, to be made for signing the guy to a minor-league deal? Yes. And that case is spelled "Horacio Ramirez."

In 2009, the Nats organization permitted Ramirez to start 16 games for Syracuse. Ramirez responded by going 3-7 with a 5.40 ERA, surrendering 111 hits in 85 innings while fanning fewer than four batters per nine innings. This was right after Ramirez had been released by the Kansas City Royals -- a ball club that was 12th in the AL in team ERA despite having the Cy Young Award winner, who lead the AL in ERA. This was two seasons after Ramirez posted a 7.16 ERA -- while having Safeco Field as his home park, no less.

By June 15, 2009 (the day the Nats signed him to a minor-league deal), Ramirez's prospects of ever being anything remotely resembling a big league pitcher again weren't just shot; they were riddled with more bullets than Matthew Bevilaqua. Is Oliver Perez, at this moment, any different?

Compelling, I know.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Feel the Excitement?

I got a package in the mail today, addressed to my daughter. Now, I was trying to convince my wife that it would be mail fraud for us to open it, since it wasn't addressed to us, but her. I argued that we should wait to let her tiny, five-month old hands open the package herself. But, no. As is the all-too-frequent case, I lost. We opened it up. And what was in there? Tiny Nats socks, a pink "My First Nationals Tee" T-shirt, a baby cap, and a Curly-W bottle. Cute. So now the baby can get all jazzed and thrilled for the Nationals season. Unlike her dad.

But my lack of excitement was before I read Cousin Mark "Billy Carter" Lerner's opus magnum (or is that magnum opus?)... 50 things to look forward to in 2011.

After reading that, everything is different.

HAHAHA. Almost had you there for a second. You don't come to this blog for serious analysis -- at least not in at least 5 seasons. You come here because you want to read an A-hole making cheap throw-away jokes. So here goes!

1. Opening Day. Packed house, a big win over the Braves. I had to list this first, right? (Yes, because you couldn't say this last year, could you?)
2. Jordan Zimmermann's evolution in first complete season since having Tommy John surgery.
3. The buzz at Nationals Park when Henry Rodriguez hits triple digits on the radar gun.
(Or the grumbles when he walks the bases loaded then gives up a bases-clearing double off the base of the wall)
4. The number of ways Jim Riggleman can pencil in Zimmerman, Werth, LaRoche in the 3-4-5 slots. Or will it be just one?
(3*2*1=6. But if you want to factor in all the potential double switches he could make, we could be here a while.)
5. Witness day-to-day Pudge's march toward 3000 hits.
(If you've ever wanted to experience what Sherman's march felt like from the other side...)
6. The new food options opening up during the season at Nationals Park. This won't be a small list.
(Wow! More places to spend money, and not pay attention to the lousy pitching! Huzzah!)
7. How much has Screech worked out this offseason? Will he again be svelte Screech?
(Note: This is No. 7 on the list of a major-league team)
8. Our outfield defense. You have to think it will be really strong under almost every alignment Rizzo and Riggleman come up with.
(This is Jim Riggleman we're talking about. Can't wait for the Morse/Ankiel/Stairs outfield)
9. Ian Desmond's defense. With a year of maturity and experience under his belt, and LaRoche's vacuum-like glove at first base, how many fewer errors will he make without compromising his elite range.
(I'll take overwrought superlatives for $400 Alex. Also: weren't only like 10 of his errors throwing errors? Some of those, nobody was getting to, so...)
10. Will Sean Burnett continue to be as good a left-handed middle reliever as there is in MLB? I bet he will be with continued good health.
(LOOGY FEVER: Expect It!)
11. Jayson Werth's professionalism and its affect on our clubhouse. And how his presence in the middle of our lineup will positively affect our run production.
(Wouldn't that first one be "effect" not "affect"? I assume the "How will we overcome Dunn's missing bat" question comes later.)
12. Roger Bernadina or Nyjer Morgan, who will have more bunt hits.
(Are we counting their stats in Syracuse and for the Long Island Ducks?)
13. Who will lead the team in hustle hits (aka infield hits)? My bet is on Ian Desmond. But watch out for Danny Espinosa, plus he gets more than half his at-bats from the left side.
(Who's going to hit weak squibbers the most? I can't WAIT!)
14. When will we see Rick Ankiel's legendary outfield arm pay dividends for the first time. Cannot wait.
(Legendary, huh? Arms are great, and a good one is exciting, but it's what? A 10 times a season sort of play?)
15. Will Tyler Clippard stick with "Peaches" as his intro song. Hope so.
(I wonder what Cousin Mark's intro song is)
16. How will Jim Riggleman use his bench, which is as talented and as deep as we have known here.
(Shouldn't that "use" be "overuse"? Morse... Yer outta there!)
17. How many pinch homers will Matt Stairs hit? How many of those will be game-changers.
(Far fewer than you're imagining... They'll really cut into that 5-run deficit)
18. Does Michael Morse put it all together? His prospects look good, don't they?
(No real mocking here, but the "He's the next Werth1!!!11" fanboyism is... well, just that)
19. How noticeable and tangible will our renewed emphasis on baserunning be? Should be really fun seeing a lot of first-to-third, first-to-home on a double, etc.
(Small Ball, FTW!)
20. See Livan throw a 'Bugs Bunny' changeup that registers in the low 60s on the radar gun?
(Low 60s? That's nothing. It's the 54 MPH ones that rock.)
21. Will Ryan Zimmerman win his 3rd straight Silver Slugger?
(Let's aim high!)
22. Can Ryan rightfully reclaim his Gold Glove? I bet "yes." Having Mr. LaRoche as a target won't hurt.
23. Interested to see Wilson Ramos' arm and, for kicks and giggles, ask Bob Boone how it compares to Pudge's when he was 23 years-old.
(Was Bob Boone alive when Pudge was 23? Wouldn't he have to ask Gus?)
24. With his new mechanics in mind, watch Ross Detwiler take the next step in his career (so far, so good this spring)
25. Watch who gets the majority of our saves.
26. Good weather, maybe highs in the 70s with plenty of sun, for Nats Fest on Wed., March 30.
(Take off work now!)
27. Want to watch the Mel Antonen, Tom Davis, Dave Johnson and Phil Wood pre pre-game show on MASN from 5-6:30pm weeknights. Also excited about Charlie and Dave on 106.7-WJFK FM. Good to be back on FM again!
28. Multiple All-Stars for the Nationals for the first time since 2005 (Livan, Chad Cordero).
(Hope you're not holding your breath)
29. With a small lead in hand, see who will pitch the 9th inning on Opening Day against the Braves.
30. Can Collin Balester clone his Sept. 2010 performance and reproduce it in 2011?
(For Syracuse?)
31. How many home runs will Bryce Harper hit in the minor leagues?
32. See who Mike Rizzo and his talented network of scouts pluck with the 6th and 23rd-overall selections in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.
(Now that they're fully staffed)
33. Excited to experience F.P. Santangelo on MASN 10 times in 10 days during a May road trip.
(Is that an entendre?)
34. Time (via a stopwatch) how long it takes our fans to fall in love with Jayson Werth and Jerry Hairston, Jr. Oh, and Todd Coffey and his sprint?
(Wow! Jerry Hairston! Kids, it's Jerry Hairston!!!!)
35. Further good health and prosperity for Jesus Flores, who deserves both.
(Wait, is this a wishlist, or a reason to get excited???)
36. Fewer trips to the mound for Steve McCatty as our starting pitchers consistently go 7 innings.
(The pedant would point out that it's the manager who takes the SP out)
37. Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond become the best and most athletic middle infield tandem in the NL. Heck, why stop there. Let's say best in MLB.
(And hey, let's pretend that I was the one who was lucky enough to be born the son of a billionaire. Hey, pretending is fun! Where's my damn pony!)
38. Adam LaRoche to be named as one of the sneaky-good signings of the 2010-11 offseason.
(Wish list again?)
39. Perhaps have a young opposing player swing twice when seeing a vintage Tyler Clippard changeup for the first time.
(Vintage. I'm not sure that means what he thinks it does)
40. With most of Taiwan watching, have Chien-Ming Wang make the first of his 20+ starts for us in May.
41. Read about an opposing player like Chipper Jones, Chase Utley or David Wright lauding the consistent hustle and effort of your 2011 Washington Nationals.
(Yes. Meaningless platitudes in response to banal beat writer questions make the heart swell with pride every time. "Well, we beat their asses in, but they hustled, even when down by eight.)
42. Require a calculator to tally the number of errorless games we string together in 2011.
(Get your head out of the damn spreadsheet and watch a game for once, statdork!!!)
43. Watch to see how we grow as a franchise through the prism of social media.
(BUZZWORD goes here)
44. See if Nyjer Morgan can regain his 2009 Mojo.
(Can I reuse the Long Island Ducks joke here?)
45. Watch Danny Espinosa homer from both sides of the plate in the same game.
(That was totally awesome when Jeff King did it. I'll never forget reading about it!)
46. Have Livan Hernandez rightfully claim his first Gold Glove.
(Will he hit enough?)
47. See Tom Gorzelanny make 30 starts and regain his status as a double digit-game winner.
(While trying to ignore the 140 walks)
48. See winning records and postseason berths in Syracuse, Harrisburg, Potomac, Hagerstown, Auburn, Viera and the Dominican Republic.
(Hear that, coaches? Screw development. Ownership wants a winner!)
49. Be present as Stephen Strasburg pitches in mid-September, a la Jordan Zimmermann in Sept. 2010.
(Hear that Strassy? The owner's goofball son is urging you to hurry back!)
50. Will Teddy win? I sure hope so! Maybe I'll ask Todd Coffey if he can work with Teddy on the fine art of sprinting.
(At least this one's in the right spot... dead last in importance)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Some Perspective

Status check: Are we still doing the Lerners-are-cheap thing? If we are, it’s been some time, so I'm just checking.

But no matter. The Lerners may be cheap, but their brand of cheapness is a mere cap pistol compared to what was Vince Naimoli’s hand-cannon of closefistedness. Oh, but Naimoli wasn’t only cheap. So recounts Jonah Keri, in this excerpt from his new book about how the current Tampa Bay Rays’ ownership did pretty much everything the opposite of how Naimoli did things, and, therefore, became successful.

By definition, professional sports team owners, having done something exceedingly few people can actually do (own a professional sports team), can be described aptly as “exceedingly” such-and-such. Even the bad ones. Some of the bad ones are exceedingly cheap, and some are exceedingly arrogant, and some are exceedingly mean, and some are exceedingly dumb. The lines dividing these descriptions are not always clear, so there’s often some bleed-over. But only a precious few are capable of blurring those lines so hamhandedly as Vince Naimoli.

When he owned the (Devil) Rays, Naimoli was exceedingly cheap, and he was exceedingly arrogant, and he was exceedingly mean, and he was exceedingly dumb. The Deadspin excerpt of Keri’s book provides a treasure trove of Naimoli’s cumbersome brand of backwardness. It’s not just the Snyder-level stuff, like threatening to sue the local paper for depicting him in an editorial cartoon as Tony Soprano. And it’s not even the cheap stuff, like holding out for years and years before flicking out the de minimis cash it cost to give his team employees official email addresses, and that's the kind of stuff that transcended even the most laughable instances of Lernerfied cheapness. Naimoli wasn't just an histrionic pug or a cut-rate operator; Naimoli was . . . fascistically inept:

The Devil Rays also banned outside food. Many other teams had the same policy. But the way personnel enforced the rule, and who did the enforcing, was unique. Not surprisingly, ushers were the first line of defense against the scourge of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. If they failed to detect the contraband, though, the Devil Rays had a backup plan: Detective Naimoli. The owner sat in the stands for most games, bringing him closer to the action, and to the fans. If he spotted a fan eating outside food, he'd walk over and ask where he entered the stadium. He would then call, find out who was manning that entrance, and have that person fired on the spot.

There's also a story about how a wheelchair-bound diabetic lady who came to the Trop on a seniors bus wasn't allowed in the park because Naimoli's crew discovered that she was carrying a bag of cashews. So the lady and her husband sat in the bus until the game was over. Big fun.

Anyway, somewhere along the way Keri discusses how Tampa Bay's current ownership group used Wall Street strategies to their great benefit on the baseball diamond, and I'm sure that's entertaining reading too -- buy the book. But, if we grasp nothing else from the story, we should thank whatever it is you or I thank at night that Vince Naimoli did not, does not, and never will own the Washington Nationals.