Monday, May 30, 2011

Ah, Memorial Day

They (and they're usually right) always say that you shouldn't really pay attention to where the team is 'til Memorial Day. Hot starts merge with cold streaks. Slow starts (coughmorsecough) become torrid. After 55 games or so, things start evening out a bit.

So where are we? Third worst in baseball. Last in the East. Yep. That's about right.

More broadly (stats heading into today), they're 12th in runs despite being 6th in homers. Their batting average and on-base are next-to last. In other words, they're a team that doesn't get on base, but gets the occasional home run.

And that's exactly what anyone who thought about it for a second should've expected. Where was the offense on this team going to come from? Even with a healthy LaRoche and Zimmerman, there are far too many near automatic outs. Sure, they can smack the odd homer, but how many solo shots have we seen over the last fortnight?

So that's why all the talk of dumping Eckstein is silly. This isn't the case with Lenny Harris where players were getting worse with him, or that he's preaching an approach that doesn't work. This is more like the last year with Mitchell Paige, where the hitting coach is handed piles of crap, and asked to mold it into something less stinky.

Other than Desmond, every single Nationals batter is hitting basically what you'd expect them to hit. Sure, Ankiel's a bit worse, I suppose -- but if you were expecting anything decent out of Ankiel, you're either related to him or Will Leitch.

We are what we are... occasional homers. no patience. few extended rallies. they need to scrap for runs in the types of rallies that make Bob Carpenter leak in his pants. Otherwise, we'll sputter for 3 solo shots, and hope our pitching can hold 'em to two.

In other words: HAHAHAHAHHAA!

Expect it!

Friday, May 27, 2011

I Know You're Angry Too!

Five years or so ago, when I used to blog every day, a dumb column from one of the professional writers could really angry up my blood. Looking back, I can't really figure out why. I suppose I was too close to the subject, recreationally and emotionally. Even if my thoughts on the Nationals only mattered to perhaps a dozen other people out there, those thoughts mattered to me. I recall this feeling of disgust that overcame me when Tom Boswell -- the great Thomas Boswell -- forgot (didn't realize?) that Juan Rivera had been traded.

Now, though, whatever. Dumb crap like this is pretty much just an annoyance, assuming I get around to reading it in the first place. In this case, Jayson Werth made some frustrated and cryptic comments that offended the sensibilities of Jason Reid. Reid used those comments as the casus belli for a rather jumbled missive of a column that essentially labels Werth as an overpaid, underperforming troublemaker. Thus begins the narrative, I suppose.

Although Reid certainly could have spun the column in a different direction -- e.g., why on earth is this roster loaded with such useless, veteran dreck? -- Reid's within his rights as an opinion columnist to set his sights at Werth. No debate there. Blaming a team's failures on its best player is a time-honored tradition, and Werth is Washington's best player at the moment (with Ryan Zimmerman out). And Werth makes a lot of money, as Reid reminds us a couple of times. But it strikes me that if you're going to go with a hit piece based on a fairly slight offense, you might as well go much stronger and dumber than Reid has here.

Like this.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I'm Angry!

So it turns out that Adam LaRoche, Washington's okayish solution at first base, is not in fact okay. LaRoche's shoulder is hurt. And not just hurt, but really hurt, the kind of hurt that only medical science peppered with a bit of the miraculous can fix. Whoopsies.

Meaning no disrespect to LaRoche, this news strikes me on the surface as more of an annoyance than a tragedy. Whatever happens from here, the Nationals will cope. The results won't necessarily be great -- perhaps, given the alternatives, the results necessarily won't be great -- but those are the breaks.

The underlying issue here seems to be whether the team's training staff, led by veteran head trainer Lee Kuntz, is or should be considered negligent. From my seat, obviously I cannot say. Aside from tallying up time lost to injuries, I'm unaware of any objective measure even approaching a meaningfully comprehensive way of evaluating a training staff's effectiveness. Much of the calculus, so to speak, has to be subjective -- and I don't really know what people in the industry think about Kuntz and his staff. Why would any of us know? As with any professional collective (physicians, lawyers, sanitation experts), I'm sure the sports training subculture presents a certain collegiality that is disturbed in only the most extreme situations (malpractice suits, license revocations, permanent liquidations). If Lee Kuntz is a bad trainer, no one's really going to tell us.

We could infer this if the Nationals were to let him go, and they haven't. That they have kept him for several seasons suggests either that they like his work or that they like the idea of stability, especially in the wake of several years of transition and disarray. I guess that's the "outsider-insider" take, which is perhaps a tepid endorsement of the guy's work.

I know Kuntz comes across negatively, especially right now. In addition to the casualty list that has compiled on his watch, he's provided several quotes to the media that seem quite foolish in hindsight, increasingly so in the past year. But if those quotes are "data," wouldn't the relevance or meaningfulness of such data depend on whether other teams' trainers also are available to the media, so that we could have quotes and outcomes to compare? And, in this instance, the Nats appear to be a special case: according to Will Carroll, the fact that the Nats let Kuntz give media briefings apparently is rare among professional sports teams.

The upshot is that, although the results speak more than the words, Kuntz has much more of an opportunity to come across negatively, given the access given to the media in this case. Given that he's been in the profession a long time and has been employed by three major league organizations, there's got to be at least a rebuttal presumption that he can be a capable head trainer for an MLB team. Which isn't to suggest that the LaRoche situation presents as the textbook case of injury detection, or that there aren't even deeper questions to consider about what the purpose of a team trainer actually is.

Thursday, May 12, 2011


The primary benefits of the rise of online journalism -- relative immediacy and increased coverage space -- are also its greatest drawbacks. What's the line between "news" and "dreck"? It's hard to discern sometimes, so you assume the risk by clicking on a link that you'll end up wasting a minute or two of your life reading the content therein. "Sure, go around and wade in that sea of seemingly endless information; just look out for the barges hauling around the sewage." It's not a terrible dilemma, as Faustian bargains go, but sometimes you're tempted to wish you never dipped your toes in the water.

Only a few years ago, when the print media outlets were still mainly "print" outlets, a manager's reluctance to bestow the actual title of "closer" on a young pitcher essentially serving that role might have been addressed as a throwaway line deep inside an article, or perhaps as a short item inserted into a notebook column, if it was mentioned at all. An astute reader might notice this detail and assign from it some sort of strange reluctance on the part of the manager, but the item would not seem much of a story in itself.

Even more recently, a blogger probably would notice the same item -- and then proceed, on his/her own blog, to magnify the item's significance by spinning the issue into some sort of analytical direction. For instance: "Hmmmm, what does this mean about Manager's confidence in Pitcher or Pitcher's 'make-up'? {Insert five paragraphs of armchair psychology}" Or, more likely: "Abner H Doubleday, who the hell cares? The 'closer' role is some sort of stupid made-up thing that didn't really even exist until very recently. {Insert eight paragraphs summarizing stuff Bill James has written a dozen times by now}"

Now, however, the writers themselves are in on this sort of caterwauling -- or at least are paid to drive the fans' caterwauling. Very few details or quotations can be left unmagnified, for fear that a subject that might resonate with the readership (for whatever reason) and generate page views might remain unexploited. I don't know if the writers particularly want this role, but it is certainly a part of their job. The writers covering the Nationals all seem to perform the core functions of the job very well; the problem is that the job now requires that they toss a lot of dreck our way, too.

Consequently, we are exposed to non-stories like this. Keep in mind I'm not insulting Goessling by calling this article (post?) a non-story; hell, Goessling more than tacitly acnknowledges the same. Goessling writes, "Even if Riggleman wants to stay away from bestowing the closer's title, and whatever pressure goes along with that, on Storen, he's effectively serving in that role." Therefore, since MASN must think that driving some sort of "discussion" is a component of the "maximum access" it advertises, Nationals fans are treated to nearly 350 words covering a point of semantics.

Basically, the writers are taking the bloggers' jobs. And there was so much fear of the reverse happening!

* * * * * * *

Beyond the "Who cares?" component of Goessling's submission here, well . . . I'm having a hard time thinking of anything other than who cares. If Riggleman doesn't want to call Storen the closer, then fine. Riggleman's the manager. He could call Storen the point-forward, or the barrista, or the axe-wielding manic, and it wouldn't necessarily be wrong -- those might just be Riggleman's terms describing the role he's assigned to Storen. What matters is how Riggleman uses Storen (and, of course, whether Storen makes that usage pay off), not what Riggleman calls that usage pattern.

And, as for Storen's usage, I could go either way. On the one hand, using Storen in "traditional" closer-type increments seems a little bit unsatisfying when I scan certain box scores like this one. On the other hand, using Storen as the closer places a restraint on Storen's usage and might minimize the risk of burning him out if he's asked to be a heavy-duty firearm for the short-term benefit of the team. That's why you have Tyler Clippard around, after all.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

A Timeless Sentiment

From Baseball Prospectus:

Whether another team gives [Felipe] Lopez an opportunity is to be seen, but he seems like a player who could fit on a few teams.

Sure he could. I mean, what is this, the fourth consecutive baseball season in which this musing has been uttered? He's the Rasputin of indolence!

Monday, May 02, 2011


My wife and I made the hundred-mile drive up to Nationals Park yesterday -- our only Nats game for this season, perhaps. Frankly, we scheduled to come up for the Giants series pretty much because Brandon Belt, who looked like a moderately-capitalized version of Roy Hobbs for Double-A Richmond, was San Francisco's starting first baseman when we made our plans. But then he got sent down to Fresno. Oh well. At any rate, we got to see the Nats post a fairly tidy 5-2 victory over the Giants yesterday.

Some thoughts:

- You know what the difference is between Jordan Zimmermann and Tony Armas, Jr.? It's the instinct to cheer a pitcher on as he guts out one more pitch against the desire to hang oneself if he has to throw one more pitch. Zimmermann may have taken 10 pitches to finish off pesky Nate Schierholtz and round out six solid innings of work, but TA2 lived to torture us even on his best days.

- Although we discussed Zimmermann versus Werth for a moment or two, my wife, in her sound discretion, voted for Zimmermann as player of the game.

- Not to put too fine a point on it, but I believe that Justice Holmes had in mind the 8% who would vote for Alex Cora as player of the game in any game when he wrote the opinion in Buck v. Bell.

- Tyler Clippard looks like a nerdy Terminator out there. Just love the guy. Eight of Clippard's 14 appearances have been for more than three outs. Surely he's due for a couple weeks' worth of implosions at some point fairly soon, but when he's in a groove, he's good for performances surpassing today's (at most) one-inning, one-inning, one-inning litany of middle men.

- Which reminds me: Is that kind of usage pattern smart long-term? FJB has touched on that subject a couple of times (here and here). Well, a couple questions are begged -- Do the Nationals think they'll be good this year? and Is any middle reliever a steady enough performer that he needs to be "saved" for future seasons? To combine the questions into one, I'd suppose the issue is whether the Nats anticipate if they'll be able to rely on Clippard when it comes time to contend.

- And that reminds me of the Saul Rivera Principle from years past. This principle comes from the "Light it if you've got it" line of reasoning. Basically, you might as well run Saul Rivera into the ground because, well, he's Saul Rivera. Use him a lot when he's pitching well (because you've got no one better), and then discard him when he's not (and hope you have someone better by that time). Tyler Clippard's a better pitcher than Saul Rivera, of course, but is just he a better version of Saul Rivera for a better version of the Nationals? Or is he a part of a contending bullpen -- whenever the Nats become a contender?

- And say, the Nats look okay! As Phil Wood reminded motorists dozens of times after the game, the Nats have held their own without Ryan Zimmerman -- sure enough, they have. Who knows if the pitching will hold up, but it's very pleasant to see the Nats comfortably below the league average in team ERA. What is more, the Nats are benefitting from a reversal of pretty much a return-to-DC-baseball-long trend -- their starting pitchers are now going deeper into games than the average NL club, deeper, in fact, than just about any team that doesn't have Halladay and Lee fronting its rotation. Going five innings or more in 27 straight games is a neat piece of trivia, but the real key has been the value that the starters have added by going consistently beyond that fifteenth out.

- Still, to have Hairston, Cora, and Bixler all on the roster at any given point in time seems sort of pathetic -- and that's not even getting to Matt Stairs. Phil Wood seemed to be suggesting something sort of creative, like Morse putting in some time at third. I dunno. But here's a fun fact: Morse was Seattle's starting shortstop for that 2005 Tony Armas torture game linked above. That was before Morse's career reinvention, though.

- This is a bit unfair to mention, since it was the first day of May (and rather chilly and drizzly at that), but Nationals Park was pretty much dead throughout. The stupid between-innings stuff was still stupid, but felt more like an afterthought -- they've stopped even trying to sell it. Only the slow-reveal game with the Topps card on the video board seemed interesting, and that's just because I was imagining all the mischief you could do when September call-ups come around. "Oh, sorry kid, it was Joe Bisenius." The Presidents Race seems very pro forma at this point.

- Finally, yes, the horn kind of sucks.