Monday, February 28, 2005

Frank Robinson's A Baaaaad Man

From Today's WTF Files...

'Frank Robinson, the Nationals, Major League Baseball and the Bonneville
Corporation ripped off my business, my airtime, and my dream!'

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 /PRNewswire/ -- The following is a statement by Mike
Vechery, host of the Mike Vechery Open House Hour:

Baseball Hall of Famer and Washington Nationals Skipper Frank Robinson
became part of an expulsion plot by the Nationals, Major League Baseball(MLB),
and Washington DC's WFED radio station, the station set to broadcast all
Nationals baseball games. On Wednesday February 23rd at 9:06 am in Frank
Robinson's morning press conference, I questioned Frank Robinson on baseball
and steroids, "Do you think there should be an asterisk next to the names of
the great home run hitters of late who may be associated with Balco and

Read on for the suspensful conclusion! And to see what magical powers FRobby has!

Sometimes A Baseball Bat Is Just A Baseball Bat

Over the weekend, the Post wrote a point-counterpoint-style article on being a fan. Confirming the thesis that writers can only focus on two issues at once, to be a fan means you either have to be a drooling fanboy, or a mindless dolt who complains because it “cushions the psychological blow.” Uh, yeah.

The article reads as if it was written by someone who doesn’t follow sports at all, or even by someone who doesn’t particularly like sports. And, looking at the last few articles the article’s author has written, I’m right. It’s written with the same sort of detached look at sports fans that’s borderline disdainful. It’s as if the writers only exposure to sports fans is through beer commercials. Yeah, there are certainly nutball fanboys who slather themselves in paint and there are certainly plenty of fat, shirtless guys who are willing to prostitute themselves for their seven-and-a-half seconds on television.

But, despite TV’s best marketing efforts, the majority of fans aren’t like that. Do you know anyone who’s gone to a game and painted themselves? I know that when I see a self-promoting idiot, I get annoyed, especially when their inane and usually grammatically incorrect sign blocks my view. (I’d launch into a diatribe about apostrophes now, but I best save that for another time!)

I’m glad that Distinguished Senators got the nod as the con-version of the article, but it doesn’t seem fair to lump him, nor any of the Nats blogs I read, in with the mythical ideal of what a fan is.

The majority of people watching and rooting for the team aren’t sitting on their plastic-covered couch, in yellow stained wife-beaters. Unfortunately, the NFL in particular, has done an excellent job of marketing sports fandom in this way. Because of that, you get junk science and urban legends that create the false belief that spousal abuse is up on Super Bowl Sunday, despite there being no evidence of that.

It’s possible to be a fan, to root like hell for them, and be educated and critical of the team, without it having some sort of deeper psychological meaning. I doubt that Ryan’s bashing of Jim Bowden has anything to do with how much he loves his mother and the quotes from psychologists in the piece are nice sound bites -- but they don’t actually say a whole hell of a lot.

Maybe his complaints are informed and accurate? Maybe he’s calling things the way he’s seeing? Doesn’t that seem likely? But, if you’re writing from the perspective of an outsider, who thinks that all fans stepped right off the set of a Bud Lite commercial, then that doesn’t even cross your mind. (I wonder if the reporter was surprised when Ryan talked with him on the phone and didn’t appear to be breathing though his mouth?)

The article ends with a telling anecdote.
Charlie Brotman, public address announcer for the Senators from 1956 to 1971, recalled a recent party full of Nats fans. They talked about baseball all night, he said, without ever really talking about the team.
"Nobody got into specifics," Brotman said. "The only conversation that anybody had was, 'Are you going to be there Opening Day?' "

Ryan’s not like that. Ryan’s followed the team since before most of us even thought about it. He’s the Methuselah Tree of the Nats Bloggers. He knows this team better than 99% of the people who would call themselves fans. When he complains about Inning-Endy, it’s because he understands. He’s thought about the issues, considered the alternatives and realizes that Endy is the Crystal Pepsi of the Nationals: interesting at first glance, but it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. And, when Ryan praises the team, which he has done from time to time, it’s from an informed perspective, not just the hopes and dreams of a raving fanboy.

There is a middle ground. Unfortunately, the Post failed to find it. But then, that wouldn’t make as good of a story, would it?

It's Snowing!

Another weekend of hiking, another weekend of movies, and another badly-missed weather forecast. Not bad at all. Here're the highlights of what I missed.

  • Good news: Jose Vidro's apparently healthy enough to play on Wednesday. That's not too surprising as he's already been caught playing basketball (Why, Jose, Why?)

    I just hope they don't push him too hard. There's no sense in pushing him in these meaningless games. As far as hitting goes, he seems to be the second coming of The Mechanical Man -- at least in his consistency, if not his results.
    "If he tells me he wants to play a couple of innings starting the first couple of exhibition games just to get the feel of things, fine. If he tells me he'd like to play every other game the first week or so, that's fine. Whatever he tells me and the medical staff tells me, I leave it up to the player in this situation out of respect for him."

  • Mike Hinckley, who desparately needs a nickname and I suppose that some variant of 'assassin' is over the line, will take over after Tony Armas in Wednesday's game. Everyone around the team says that Hinckley has a chance to make the team this spring, but I'd be shocked if he did, simply because he has minor league options left. They can send him down without fear of losing him, unlike some of their other players.
    [Pitching Coach Randy] St. Claire's rotation is set for nearly the entire spring, all with the idea of preparing each pitcher for the regular season. That Hinckley, 22, is positioned so prominently could be an indication of how serious the Nationals are about giving him a chance to make the team.

  • Zach Day's nickname is Harry Potter. Hmmm....that might work.

    Apparently, he's an artist too, and has done sketches and paintings of his teammates.

    Day, as I've said before, has the chance to be the team's best non-¡Livan! pitchers. Now, they just need to smarten up and ensure that he stays in the rotation, not the pen.
    "I like the challenge of starting right now," Day said. "I want to start right now. I'm sure [ideas] get knocked around. It's their job to try and find different pieces to the puzzle. I've kind of made my point that I'd rather start, but I'm not the one up top making the decisions."

  • The Times looks at what should be the strength of this team, the bullpen.
    "It's always good to have competition. That's what you look for. That's what makes you better," Patterson said. "You want to have people behind you pushing you, making you work harder, and that just makes the team better going into the season. ... We've got a lot of good arms. It's going to be a really strong pitching staff this year."

  • Apparently, Jose Guillen was involved in some sort of altercation with his old team, the Angels last year. I'm glad the Post is on top of this! It's too bad we didn't know before we traded for him.


Taking a four-pitch walk in batting practice is progress, right? Endy Chavez thinks so.
A leadoff hitter's batting average can be a deceptive stat. Managers, hitting coaches and scouts point to two other categories in determining his true value: on-base percentage and runs scored. In both departments, Chavez has fallen short over the years.

A decent leadoff man will get on base 34 percent of the time. The good ones? 37 percent. The really great ones? 40 percent. Chavez, in 41 games batting atop the lineup last season, got on 29 percent of the time....

In case he doesn't show progress, apparently they're considering something none of us have thought of before:
Manager Frank Robinson has made it clear this spring that Chavez must prove he's ready to be a reliable leadoff hitter, or else risk starting the season in the minors.

That's what happened a year ago, when Chavez suffered through a terrible spring, batting .200 in 55 at-bats, with an atrocious .228 on-base percentage. He was promptly sent to Class AAA Edmonton to open the season, a move even Chavez now admits was necessary.

It took me a few seconds of head scratching, trying to figure out why I didn't think of that, or why I've never seen any sort of reference to this possible solution to the outfield logjam before. Then, it hit me. I don't think he has any options left.

I believe that a player only has three years of options, which start once the player is put on the 40-man roster. A player uses an option year when they're on the 40-man, but not on the major league 25-man roster. Chavez played 14 games last season in the minors, using up one of those option years. Additionally, he split time in the majors and minors in 2002 and 2001.

The catch is, and maybe one of you reading this will know, is whether the 2001 time counts as an option. He was taken prior to the season by the KC Royals from the Mets in the Rule 5 draft, because the Mets didn't want to put him on the 40-man roster at the time. The two teams worked out a trade, which left Endy on the Royals, but allowed him to stay in the minors. I believe he would still count as being on the Royals' 40-man roster, but I'm not 100% sure.

If he would count, that would mean he'd have used three option years and would not be able to sent to the minor leagues without passing through wavers. (And as bad as we think he is, someone would be sure to pick him up, as he's an acceptable 5th outfielder.)

Friday, February 25, 2005

Our Youth Are Our Future

Our friends at Nationals MLB News have compiled their top-15 list of position players.

First baseman Larry Broadway, no surprise, leads the list. He's followed closely by the already-major-league-ready Ryan Church and Brendan Harris.

Here's 1-5; 6-10; 11-15

WTEM To Convert To Fiddle Music

Second fiddle music, that is. After getting rebuffed in their efforts to get the Nationals broadcasts, the increasingly banal WTEM is settling for the Orioles.
The O's games would no doubt rotate between WTEM-AM (Sports Talk 980), WWRC-AM (Progressive Talk 1260) and WTNT-AM (570).

Terms of the deal are near completion and it would be a cash deal much like those the O's have done in the past in D.C.

Ol' Mister Williams speculates that WTEM might use this year as an audition to show the kind of coverage they could produce, because the Nationals' current deal is only for one year.

Although, he also suggests this, eroding any credibility he may have:
My guess is they will slant the sports talk towards the hometown team. I have no doubt "The John Thompson Show" and "The Sports Reporters" will have plenty of Nationals talk.

I'm sure they'll squeeze that in after the lecture about how hard coaching is, how much 'heart' the Redskins need, and who their 6th-round draft pick should be.

Let Me See What Spring Is Like On Jupiter Or Mars

My office is a dead zone today. No one's here. Fridays are typically slow, but I guess people like abusing the snow while they can.

  • Former DC Council member John Ray, not to be confused with the biologist, has signed on to be MLB's designated lobbyist/arm twister. It's not unusual to need this kind of 'facilitator'.

    Although there's not much they could do to derail the stadium, they could complicate things, delay things and make it all-the-more expensive, which would only harm the schools and hospitals they claim to love so much.

  • Ibid, Cost Overruns Watch Part II:
    During the contentious stadium debate in the fall, Major League Baseball pledged $100,000 to renovate the athletic fields of the Fort Greble community center in Ward 8. But documents from the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission state that the renovation will cost $275,000.

    Alright, so we're 175% over budget here. And we're 40% over budget on stadium reconstruction.

    What's $5.6 million between friends anyway?

  • The Times examines the relationship between Brad Wilkerson and Brian Schneider. No, it's not like that! Get your mind out of the gutter! (Although, we know which one would be the catcher... *rimshot*)

  • Tony Armas starts the opening spring training game. Hopefully, he won't break.

    Jose Rijo has already started working his Domican magic, signing four players.
    "We need to sign more Latin players," Bowden said. "We haven't signed enough in the last few years. Forty percent of the big leaguers are Latin American, and in the last two years we haven't been aggressive doing it. We're aggressive now."

    Antonio Osuna finally waddles into camp today, after dealing with his sick father.

    Inning-Endy Chavez finally got around to signing a contract. Hmm.... does that make him more tradable? (Sadly, no.)

  • Brad Wilkerson is about to be a multi-media superstar. Hopefully, they'll film more than two of these this year, because if I have to see Al Leiter do calisthenics once more, I'm gonna... I dunno. But it won't be fun!

  • The Falls Church News Press looks at Zach Day, who I think will prove to be our best non-¡Livan! pitcher

The Red Revolution

Instead of focusing on individual players as they've done recently, the Post and Times get together to unveil the communist influence sneaking through spring training; it's full of Reds.

They could've brought in old Senators or Expos, but instead thought they could sneak relics of the old party past us freedom-lovers. Just look at the lineup: Jose Rijo; Bob "Red Menace" Boone; Barry Larkin; and Frank Robinson. They may claim to be just former Reds, but we know where their real sympathies are. Even our team's leader, Jim Bowden, was a former Red-head! And, as I once pointed out to Ball-Wonk, the innocuous-sounding team name, Nationals reveals their true goal: nationalization of the entire league!

Let's just hope they haven't brainwashed the true freedom fighter on this team -- the one who so boldly rejected these socialist roots, when he fled the stifling grip of his former country to assert his dominance on the National League, ¡Livan!

Havana Pete Showdown

Eric Fisher says the buying off of Peter "C. Montgomery" Angelos is close.
MLB has constructed a benefits package for Angelos believed to include guarantees to the Orioles' annual local revenues and future resale value and a dominant equity stake in a new regional sports TV network airing both the Orioles and Nationals. If the Orioles' annual local revenues fall below $130 million a year or if Angelos decided to sell the team and failed to get at least $360 million, MLB would make up the difference.

If it does proceed, the Nationals will finally be able to search for a TV deal for the upcoming season. Speculation is that both teams will be available on TV in the area, which probably makes sense.

I've said many times before that the revenue guarantees to Angelos are a really bad thing, because it eliminates all incentive to maximize revenue, and actually, in a perverse sort of way, could harm the team. Since Angelos is guaranteed a certain amount of revenue, what's to stop him from doing the bare minimum and sitting back and watching the revenues roll in from the league?

Thankfully, ol' Petey has too much civic pride to let that happen, but, at the same time, he's shown zero ability to guide a team, or to even put people in place who know how to build a team. And this guaranteed revenue stream would eliminate any need to try and find a solution.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Sound Effects

I can't remember where I found the link--and I'm too lazy to check my internet history--but I dug up some samples of one of our new radio voices, Charlie Slowes.

--Travis Lee defending. (Does he do anything else?)

--Rocco Baldelli beating the Orioles.

--Rey Ordonez hitting a homerun. (Certainly he mistook the player at bat?)

--Rocco Baldelli's first ML homerun.

Based on the 42 seconds of clips, he gets a thumb up.

I Don't Know? Third Base!

Keep the snow comin'. I wanna get out early!

  • Brad Wilkerson gets his day in the sun.
    "To be honest, I really don't expect that [hitting 32 home runs]," Wilkerson said. "As long as I hit 40 doubles and get on base a lot and knock in some runs, that's my biggest thing. The homers will come. I'm more of a 20 to 25 (home run) guy."

    We've kind of stuck with Bluegrass Brad as his nickname. I'm kind of coming around to "Kentucky Mash" though. I'll get back to the drawing board, I think.

  • Keith Bodie, the new manager of AA Harrisburg, is profiled.
    What Harrisburg is getting is a manager with a 911-838 career record built over 14 seasons developing players for Houston, San Francisco, Seattle and Kansas City.

    "I've been fortunate," Bodie said of reaching the playoffs seven times in 14 seasons.

    "I'm not going to say I'm good because I've won. That would be a bunch of crap. The players win for you."

  • Brian Cashman speculation begins. His contract is up at the end of the year and he has local ties.

    I've never understood what the love affair with Cashman was. He's made a few decent moves and a bunch of hideous ones. Yeah, he works for Steinbrenner, but that doesn't mean the abuse he's taken makes him a saint.

  • They' up to nearly 70 press credentials for the team. When do I get mine? :P

  • The original Capitol Punisher, Frank Howard, sounds off on the team. Nothing earth-shattering. He's retained the athlete's innate sense of giving quotes without actually saying anything. At least he's not a grumpy old man.

  • Everything you've always wanted to know about Bill Ladson, MLB's Nationals press agent beat reporter, but never thought to ask, because you really didn't give a rat's ass.

  • Apparently they're excited in Vierra.

  • Las Vegas is discovering that MLB likes to jerk cities around.

Who’s On The Bench?

The Times looks at the new-found depth of the team. One of the travesties of MLB’s ownership is how they’ve screwed around with the team’s ability to have any sort of depth. The worst example is in September. The Nationals, unlike other teams, haven’t been allowed to expand their rosters at all, because the players called up would be drawing pay at the major league minimum salary, instead of what their minor-league salaries are. As a result, they finished with only one catcher on the major league roster. That’s inexcusable.

Jim Bowden has done a good job at providing some depth. The Jeffrey Hammonds of the world, assuming he’s willing to go down, will be useful tucked away in AAA, in case something happens to one of the players in the majors.

But, at the same time, depth can’t excuse a lack of quality. And this team doesn’t have much quality depth. With the last infield spot essentially down to George Arias, or Carlos Baerga, you’re going to come out a loser, no matter which way you go.

And with Brad Wilkerson, Inning-Endy Chavez, Jose Guillen and Terrmel Sledge guaranteed spots in the outfield, how are they planning on fitting both Alex Escobar AND JJ Davis, both of whom are out of options? They wouldn’t carry six outfielders, would they?

I suppose they could scrap the Baerga or Arias idea and call Wilkerson the back-up infielder, but then the only player who could play middle infield would be Jamey Carroll.

Ideally, I’d like to see Chavez traded to clear up a spot that Brendan Harris could fill. But then ideally, I’d be a millionaire.

None of these questions are going to make or break the season, but they’re definitely still up in the air as we enter the final week of drills before things get really serious.

Where In The World Is Tony Williams?

He’s on his way to Florida, apparently. I guess it was inevitable that he would make an appearance, but I always wonder what the point of these kind of trips are. Is goodwill enough of a reason to spend the money?

At least Jack Evans, who would accompany Williams, realizes this.
Evans said he is not firmly committing to the trip until hearing more details on the funding.
"If this is going to be a huge issue with the budget cycle coming up, I don't want to do it. We'll have to see," Evans said.

Who’s In The Booth?

You can make all the Elliot phoning home jokes you want. He won’t be emigrating this year. The team had expressed problems with securing a visa before as an impediment. I think, but I don’t know for sure, that each team is only delegated a certain number of visas for foreigners. With the number of Canadians from the front-office who made the move, as well as the number of latin players on this team, there was probably a squeeze.

At any rate, the new guys are Charlie Slowes and Dave Shea. Slowes had been sentenced to broadcasting the Devil Rays for the last seven years and Shea had been broadcasting for the Boston Bruins who play in something called the NHL? I’ve never heard of it either.

I asked about them on Primer last night and only one person responded, saying that Slowes is decent, but nothing special. (Kinda sounds like the Nationals themselves!)

There’s something soothing about the sounds of the radio on during the summer. Hopefully none of them have obtrusive voices or Sterling-like heights of self-promotion.

Who’s On First?

The Post and Times gang up to answer that question: Nick “The Sick” Johnson. While not the Nationals best player, he is probably the one with the largest offensive upside, especially if he can stay healthy and come close to the numbers he put up in the minor leagues.

But, as LaVar Burton used to say, you don't have to take my word for it.

"Nick Johnson has always had potential," General Manager Jim Bowden said. "He hasn't done it for a full season. He's got to explode if we're going to win."
"Nick is the key to our offense as far as I am concerned," hitting coach Tom McCraw said. "If we want to be a good offensive ballclub, he is the key to that, if he is healthy and can perform the way we think he can perform. He has a lot to offer."

Using my patented CRAP projection system, I’d put him down for .275/.390/470. Bet on 20 home runs, close to 30 doubles and a boatload of walks. Ideally, I’d bat him second, to take advantage of his on-base skills, but the chances of that happening on this team are slim.

All that is, of course, assuming he stays healthy. Why not? He’s overdue!

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Bloviatin' Bowden

Jim Bowden 'writes' a column in Florida Today ahem today.

While he doesn't especially tell us anything new, he does give some insight into how the team will look when it comes north, and how the player's option-status really makes a huge difference.

If a player is out of options, he'd have to be exposed to waivers, where any team could freely pick him up, before being sent down to the minors. In the case of Alex Escobar, JJ Davis, Francisco Beltran and Claudio Vargas, it probably gives them an inside track at the majors. (Actually, Beltran's gimpy arm and Vargas' stinkiness probably preclude coming north, but that's another topic!)

It works the other way. Players with options can be sent back to the minors with no risk.
We have players who are major-league caliber (outfielder Ryan Church and pitchers Joe Horgan, Gary Majewski and Jon Rauch) that are at a disadvantage because they do have options and could be sent to the minors without first passing through waivers.

Bowden also says that the infield is mostly set, as we've already figured out. Wil Cordero backs up first base and Jamey Carroll bounces around the rest of the infield.

George Arias, Brendan Harris and Carlos Baerga!? are vieing for the last spot. Obviously Harris is the only one of those with long-term value, but he still has options and will likely start in New Orleans. If he has a decent spring, I'd imagine George Arias will rejoin the major leagues. Egads.

Why Let Facts Get In The Way Of A Good Steroids Story?

I guess this is my addendum to the rant below. In 2003, Terrmel Sledge was suspended from international competition for taking a banned substance.

The substance was a form of androstenedione (Andro), which, at the time, was legally sold over-the-counter and was not banned by baseball--nor any US professional sport as far as i know.

Yet, this is how the AP decides to play it today:
Washington (AP) - Washington Nationals outfielder Terrmel Sledge knows all too well the damage that can come from steroid use.

Major League Baseball didn't punish Sledge when he tested positive for steroids two years ago. But the damage to his reputation was more than enough to keep him clean.

This kind of crap really pisses me off. First, the substance wasn't banned anywhere, but in international competition. Second, there are many who would debate whether its a steroid or just a controlled substance.

I can't stand it when sportswriters mold the facts to fit their preformatted boilerplate templates. There's no need to tarnish or drag a player through the mud because it conveniently fits your storyline.

It's particularly stupid, because this story is over two years old. It was settled then and barely registered a blip then. Dragging it out now is unfair to Sledge and unfair to the readers who, not knowing the background of the story, will leap to conclusions based on tha paucity of facts presented.

It's a good thing this AP writer wasn't based in Salem in 1692.


Plinko was always my favorite Price Is Right game. (That or the Mountain Climber game)
  • The obligatory local steroids column. I don't wanna debate this here and now, partially because I'm not sure which way I lean on the issue, but it bothers me, not that Thom is doing it in this column, when sportswriters bring up Lyle Alzedo and Ken Caminiti as examples of why steroids are bad.

    In Alzedo's case, I'm open to the possibility that his use led to his tumors, but there hasn't been any conclusive medical evidence that that's the case. (Certainly there were many other pro athletes using heavily. Where are the other dead players?) But, in Caminiti's case, it's especially egregious. When they found him dead in the gutter, he wasn't pumped up on steroids. The massive amounts of cocaine were a much larger factor. I guess I'm just saying let's see some evidence before we jump to all these conclusions.

  • The DC Baseball Political Action Committee began buying its way towards success last night. At least the schools are getting funded, right Adrian Fenty?

  • The MRI confirmed that Francisco Beltran is screwed. He has a strained UCL that will keep him out at least a month--given how long others are out, that's probably a low estimate.

  • By this point, I probably don't need to comment on this. You know where I'll go with it.
    "I'm working on it, doing a lot of bunting to help my on-base percentage," [Inning-Endy] Chavez said. "It's going to be tough for my hitting. I'm going to try to work more and do anything I can this year to get on base."

  • The Supreme Court is considering a case on the proper use of eminent domain that may have implications for the baseball stadium. Here's some more background on the case. Regardless of its applications for the stadium, it's a very interesting case, one with pretty huge ramifications.

Vinny Castilla, Come On Down!

You're the next Washington Post/Times designated Nat-O-The-Day!

The Post writes one of the most informed, stats-conscious articles I've read.
Castilla is the proof of that theory, for his numbers at Coors are starkly better than in all the other parks in which he has played. Though he is quick to point out that he slugged 21 of his 35 homers on the road last year, over the course of his career Castilla has hit .334 with a home run every 14.3 at-bats at Coors, and just .256 with a homer every 24.4 at-bats everywhere else. Last year, even with all the homers on the road, his slugging percentage and batting average in Denver (.575 and .321, respectively) were drastically higher than either on the road (.493 and .218).

Sometimes numbers are meaningless (see: Boswell, Tom) and sometimes they're telling. This is an excellent use of appropriate numbers to help describe what's really going on.

I won't rehash what I've said before about Vinny. Instead I'll link back to something you may have missed before: Sabernomics's contention that Vinny is so overrated, he's actually underrated.

The Showcase Showdown

Remember, the closest to the actual bid, without going over wins. Except in the case of the stadium, because it's just tax money. Who cares about being resourceful? (Especially when we're already over budget)

There are eight bids in for the design of the new stadium. The original deadline was February 14, but the firms were given more time because they dumped additional reporting requirements on them at the last minute.

They expect to judge and have a winner by March 10.
The choice of the stadium architect will be made by a six-person review team including two members from the sports commission, two from the District government and two from the Nationals.

Lew declined to specify the members of the team, but he almost certainly will be involved in the choice along with Steve Green, director of Development for the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, and Nationals chief operating officer Kevin Uhlich.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

What Do The Sox Know That We Don't?

I dunno, but Peter Gammons says the Sox think they're smarter than Jim Bowden. (Feel free to insert your own punchline in the comments.)
The Red Sox are thrilled the Nationals got the opportunity to acquire Alex Escobar -- always a Jim Bowden favorite, one he thought he had acquired for Barry Larkin back in 2000 only to have Larkin nix the deal. To make roster room for Escobar, the Nats had to let go of 22-year-old middle infielder Alejandro Machado, who between Class A and Double-A last season had an on-base percentage of .385, batted over .300 and had tremendous defensive numbers. "He reminds me of all the great Venezuelan infielders," Red Sox scout Craig Shipley said

When the Nationals signed him a few weeks ago, this is what I said:
Machado can't slug his way out of the cliched wet paper bag. He's tried A-ball four times and AA-ball three times. Unless he finds his Wonder Boy, it ain't gonna happen.

While I was probably a bit harsh, I still don't see it. His advantage, I guess, is his youth. He's just 22. He spent 1999 and 2000 in Rookie ball, then progressed to Single-A in 2001, where he stayed through the 2002 season. In 2003, they bumped him up to AA. Last year, he played 93 games at AA and repeated 46 games back in A-ball.

The numbers he's put up have been decent, though nothing about them screams superstar.
AAA: .272/ .353/ .344
AA: .299/ .377/ .357

In those two levels, he's only hit 52 doubles in 473 career games, and doubles are typically a sign of future power potential. But, on the positive side, he's shown decent plate discipline.

Baseball America's garden-variety scouting report concludes the same thing.
He doesn't have much power at the plate, but he's a switch-hitter who has produced for average in the minors, draws walks, bunts well and uses the whole field. He's an average runner with good instincts on the bases. He plays a very smooth second base, making just four errors in 85 games there last year, and has the range and just enough arm to play shortstop.

I suppose it's possible that he'll develop into something useful, but it's not like the Nationals gave up the next Alex Rodriguez. (Wow. I just looked up ARod's minor league numbers: .340/ .393/ .624 at AAA)

There is a completely different point to be made and is probably a valid criticsm to be made. Machado isn't a completely useless entity and the Nationals gave him up for nothing--cause I'm pretty sure the Sox aren't going to give up anything of value as the PTBNL. With the sorry state of the franchise's minor league system, Machado is the kind of player they should be acquiring, not freely giving up.

The B-Sharps

I need to come up with a name for my round-up blurbs that becomes less and less amusing every time you read it. Hmmm. I'll work on it.

  • Full workouts begin in earnest today. (Second Item) All starters, except for Inning-Endy Chavez took BP yesterday.

  • Francisco Beltran went in for an MRI. (Third) He's been having elbow problems. This probably kills any chance he had of coming north. Hopefully, this isn't anything, because I've got a feeling we'll need him by the end of the year.

  • And then there were six. (Four) Alex Escobar and Francisco Beltran signed contracts. Bowden's a machine.

  • Today's Vinny Castilla quote-o-the-day...When asked what he knows about DC...? "I know the president lives there ..."

    I bet he doesn't realize that El Presidente is actually in Ft. Lauderdale!

  • Seth Greisinger is aiming for a spot in the bullpen. Enjoy New Orleans, Seth.
    "I don't think he'll go from a longshot to being on this club," Robinson said. "He would have to do an awful lot. What he can do is improve his position so when we need -- and we will need -- someone during the season, we can say, 'He's the guy who impressed me in spring training.' He can move himself up in the pecking order down here."
    He did say that his favorite book is "The Fountainhead". I've picked up "Atlas Shrugged" three or four times, never getting more than 2-300 pages into it. I just couldn't trudge through her text. I wonder if even 1/4 of the people who've claimed to have read it have actually read it.

  • Today's bonus Vinny Castilla quote-of-the-day.
    Castilla provided the best answer of the day, when asked why, at 37, he thought he could still produce.

    ''I was 36 last year and led the league in RBI,'' he said.

    Only one problem: Castilla was 37 last year and turned 38 on Feb. 6.

  • The Nationals may be on the cover of Sports Illustrated. (Last) Ho Hum. Does anyone actually read that anymore?

Reconsidering Guillen

Each day, the Post and Times have both run a feature on a different National. (I think that the Nationals own site has done the same. I just don't check it out more than once a week.) And each day, they've just conveniently picked the same player. I wonder if this is something the team is setting up, through their PR office, giving them an extended chance to sit down with the player?

Or are the papers just watching each other like a hawk, not wanting to cede ground to the other. When Zuckerman sees Svrluga interviewing Loaiza, for example, does he drop his coffee and danish and run over with his tape recorder in his hand? Yeah, there are definitely more important things I could be worrying about.

At any rate, today's apparently Jose Guillen day.

No one's questioning his bat. Everyone's questioning his attitude. Everywhere he's been, he's turned bridges into charcoal. Jose doesn't seem as worried.

"Everything is going to be perfect," Guillen said. "All the stuff going on is behind me. I don't even want to talk about it. New team. New teammates. Coming to a new town. Hopefully, everything will go well."

Apparently, he's taken some anger management classes. I dunno how helpful they'll be, but at least it represents an acknowledgement that he knows he might have a problem. And, as GI Joe told me, knowing is half the battle.

Offensively, he takes over right field, replacing Juan Rivera and Terrmel Sledge. He's an upgrade on both.

Guillen came up way too early in a misguided attempt to create a 'youth movement' in Pittsburgh. After tearing up A-ball, they hurried him to the minors, hoping he'd adjust. What they, and the resulting teams who acquired him, got was a disappointing hitter who couldn't live up to his reputation and who developed a chip on his shoulder.

Well, what did they expect? He was obviously overmatched in the majors and completely unready to jump straight from A-ball. When he showed that he was having a hard time adjusting his first year, what'd they do? Play him every day the next season as well. His numbers for both years are essentially the same; he showed zero improvement. You just can't learn to hit in the major leagues. And by not letting him go to the minors to work on his swing and to get some confidence, they really delayed the maturation of his career.

Is it any wonder that he developed an attitude? I'm sure there are some other factors involved, but think about his situation. He tore up the Carolina League, winning the MVP award and had to feel like he was the next big thing, so much so that the Show was calling. He was looked on as the next big Pirates superstar--I wonder how many people told him he'd be Roberto Clemente?

Next thing he knows he's struggling. He's hitting decently for his age and considering the circumstances, but a .267/ .300/ .412 line ain't much. I don't know how this would affect his confidence, but I'd imagine he was disappointed with himself and that he probably had some self doubts inside. And yet, the team kept running him out there and trying to talk him up to standards he probably wasn't capable of living up to.

When he didn't meet those standards, you began to hear the grumblings. He's not easy to work with. He's head strong. He's over-confident.
"He started acting, like they say, a little bit cocky," said Nationals pitcher Esteban Loaiza, who was with Pittsburgh when Guillen came to the majors. "For a young guy, he really wasn't listening to the big guys. . . . He just wanted to go out there and wanted to start taking charge, and a lot of people were getting mad."

I'm obviously playing armchair psychologist now, but I've always found that when people present a particularly strong personality, especially when it comes to confidence, it's because they're actually the opposite and are just trying to cover for it. Is it possible that he was just shaken up inside and acting out as a result?
[H]e used to stand in the outfield in Pittsburgh and launch throws from the warning track to home plate on the fly -- just to show off.

Isn't it possible that he was doing this sort of thing because that was the one skill that he was clearly superior at, one skill, like speed, that could translate from single-A to the majors, unlike hitting a slider? If he really did that pretty frequently, maybe that was his way of showing that he did belong?

Eh, I'm probably venturing off the deep end here, but it reminds of something Bill James wrote about Ty Cobb in his Historical Baseball Abstract. I don't have the book in front of me, but James writes about how some pictures of Cobb and his actions sometimes give off the impression that he was a very insecure person and that his lashing out was a way of dealing with that insecurity. Could Guillen be doing the same thing?

This is where Frank Robinson may earn his keep. Robinson, especially early in his career, carried many of the same labels, although he didn't act out in the same way. If Frobby can pull him aside, give him some pointers and get him to focus on the game and take his frustrations out on the ball, it'll do Guillen a lot of good.

Hopefully, with a new team, a new city and a track record of personal success over the last two years, it will be a fresh start in outlook for Guillen. If he can relax and enjoy the moment, he's capable of putting up some scary numbers.

Monday, February 21, 2005

No, 3.92 Runs Isn't Enough

One of the strange disconnects that I've noticed since I started hacking away at the keyboard is how the majority of coverage of the team has focused on the questions of the pitching staff and has been quite complimentary of the offense. It hasn't made sense to me at all.

Last year, they finished 15th out of 16 teams in runs scored per game. Their pitching was slightly better, finishing tied for 11th.

(Olympic Stadium/Hiram Bithorn played as a pretty strong pitcher's park last year. Based on Diamond-Mind's stats, the two parks combined for below average statistics in everything but doubles.)

Barry Svrluga seems to get it. In Monday's Post, he writes about the team's offensive outlook (No, I don't think that was an intentional pun.)
They couldn't get on base regularly. Too often, they stranded the runners that did reach. They ranked among the three worst teams in the National League in nearly every major offensive category, from batting average to slugging percentage to on-base percentage to runs batted in. Last season, when they played as the Montreal Expos, the Washington Nationals simply couldn't score. The biggest problem in that regard?

"Lack of offense," Manager Frank Robinson said....

"We just didn't get it out of the people that we expected to get it out of," Robinson said Sunday. "We struggled. Any time you don't get the numbers out of the people you are expecting to get it out of, you're going to struggle. We certainly did that."

Barry points to Vinny Castilla and Jose Guillen as sources of improvement. Unforunately, he cites RBI as a reason why they're better. (Ryan, can you deconstruct that one for me?) I think that Castilla and Tony Batista are probably a wash. And Guillen is probably slightly better than Juan Rivera. I wouldn't say that those two are a clear upgrade though.

Barry also cites "Inning-Endy" Chavez and Nick "The Sick" Johnson as the two most likely sources for improvement. We've been over Endy ad nauseum. I won't rehash it now, because you certainly know the drill. No power + No Plate Discipline = Singles Hitter Who Makes a TON of Outs.

NJ is much more interesting. Because of injuries, he's failed to live up to the potential he showed when he tore up the International League with Ted Williams-like numbers. If he can stay healthy, he's a good bet to markedly improve on the pedestrian .251/ .359/ .398 line he put up last year. Something like .280/ .400/ .470 is not unrealistic. If he hits that, this team will surprise some people.

Looking at the rest of the team, the most likely place for improvement is (You better sit for this) Shortstop. Cristian Guzman has taken a lot of abuse from many of us, because he has, at times, been the rich man's Endy Chavez.

Last year he hit .274/ .309/ .384, which is right about his career average. And the key factor in his case, is that he's just 26, meaning he still has a year or two to put up better numbers.

Guzman aside, the main reason I'm looking for improvement is because the man he's replacing, Orlando Cabrera, had one of the all-time bad seasons. He slipped under the radar for most of the year, especially because he was smelling like a rose by the end (Or maybe he reeked of champagne?). But, when he was in the land of the fleur-de-lis, he hit an execrable .246/ .298/ .336. (Probably much to the delight of Rey Ordonez and Ray Oyler.) Cristian Guzman could probably hit that next year even if he did nothing but bunt. That's going to be a huge improvement in the offense.

For the rest of the team, I don't see any breakout performances. Nor do I see any precipitous declines, as long as Vidro's knee isn't wretchedly wrenched.

It's a team that has had its share of offensive offense. But, it's also poised for some decent improvements. With the strength and depth of the pitching staff, if the offense can approach league average, .500 is beckoning loudly. And considering this team walked off the field in disappointment 95 times last year, that'd be a huge first step towards the greatness that we all hope will come in the future.

If You [Don't] Write It, They Will [Still] Come

Geez, what's wrong with you people? I take a day off to go hiking and you still click on the site? Don't you know it was a holiday? There can't be that many Montrealers reading this site! :) Do they celebrate Prime Ministers Day? (They DO!)

Here's today's round-up.
  • The Nationals signed Carlos Baerga to a minor-league deal. It'll be hard for him to play with the barbecue fork between his shoulder blades. He had a very good year for Arizona in 2004 (.343/ .396/ .464), but was miserable last year: .235/ .309/ .329. He's got next to zero chance of breaking camp. That is, unless he visits Mr. Applegate.

  • Esteban Loaiza is not only a mediocre pitcher. He's a mediocre practical joker.

    Glad to see that Vinny Castilla's in mid-season form with the cliches.
    "It's a young club with a lot of great talent," Castilla said. "It's a tough division, but we've got some talent. We're going to win a lot of games."

  • Frank Robinson likes the team's defense. Supposedly it's improved over last year, but is Cristian Guzman really better than Orlando Cabrera? Jose Guillen's acceptable in right and does have a cannon, but that's always overrated. Yeah, Castilla is better than Tony Batista, but you'll have an extra-gimpy, wonky-kneed secondbasemen watching ground balls scoot by him.

    It's not a bad defensive team, but it's not markedly better than last year's club--especially if Brad Wilkerson does end up in center.

  • Is there anything that DC doesn't do half-assed? Instead of making needed improvements to the Navy Yard station for the throngs of people who'll make their way to games at the new stadium, they're planning on leaving things as they are and forcing people to wait with the hordes.

    Why? Because, they're counting on thousands of pissed-off people to shop or drink instead of waiting in line. Yeah, sounds like a winning plan. You'll just be reaffirming the suburbian minset about DC and deterring people from making an effort to come into the city on non-game days.
    To save about $28 million off Metro's original $47 million expansion plan, they'll call for more fare gates and escalators but no new station entrance, as was originally proposed.

    The new plan, officials acknowledge, might create a logjam on sold-out game days that could keep hundreds or even thousands of fans milling about South Capitol Street and the surrounding area.

    That's precisely what the area's boosters want. Because time spent waiting for Metro crowds to thin out is time fans can spend in bars, restaurants and shops near the ballpark.

    "Anytime you get a crowd of people standing around with nothing to do, that's good," says Bruce Hoch, a managing director with DCG Corplan, an economic development consulting firm in Orange, N.J. "It's the whole notion of impulse buying."

  • Here's a fresh look at the bullpen. Apparently, they're a bunch of jokers. It fits the sportswriter template, I guess. Them and the wacky kickers.

    They'll also be one of the strengths of this team. But, that's for another article.

  • Can someone please tell Jim Bowden to stop scaring the pitching prospects?

  • I missed this the other day, but Boswell wrote a hagiography of Brian Schneider.

    Boswell notes that the team ERA with Schneider was 3.86. With the not-long-gone-but-already-forgotten Einar Diaz catching, it was 5.89. (I spot checked Einar's game log and it doesn't appear that it was just because he had the 5th starter spot. He had a bunch of starts by Zach Day and Tomo Ohka, especially early in the season. I guess he just stinks.)

    As a side note, hitting coach Tom McCraw sounds like a hard-ass.
    "Brian's a quality person who wants to be nice to everybody," hitting coach Tom McCraw says. "I sometimes think you have to be a jerk in this game. I'd like to see him get cocky at the plate. He lacks a little confidence. He needs to understand who's in control. Until two strikes, it's the hitter who's the boss."

Sunday, February 20, 2005


While I'll let others debate the merits of the PECOTA projection system, I'll just point out that in a recent chat, its creator gave out the standings that would result from the projections.

dantroy (davis, ca): Nate, How do you see the NL East shaking out?

Nate Silver: I think the NL East will be the stongest division in baseball, except possibly for the AL West.

We'll have the PECOTA-based team win totals up on the site soon, but I'm *guessing* they're going to look roughly as follows

Braves 90-72
Phillies 89-73
Marlins 88-74
Mets 84-78
Nats 70-92

That could make for one hell of a pennant race. The Phillies in particular seem to be underrated in some circles. I like things like the Jon Lieber signing, and they have a lot of guys that can be expected to improve upon their performance of a year ago.

I'll be debuting my own projection system soon. I think It'll be CRAP, Chris's Random-Ass Projections, ala Marcel the Monkey. (Actually, Marcel's pretty useful. If you have no idea what the hell I'm talking about. And I'm guessing that's mostly in the sane portion of my readership, then click the link.)

Here's Everything Else

-- Call him Green-Light Guzman (second item) We'll have to come up with a snappier nickname for when he gets thrown out. Despite his speed, he's been succesful only 102 times out of 154 attempts, which is below the break-even point for whether you're helping or hurting your team.

As far as offense, this sums it up(second item):
"It doesn't matter to me [where I hit]," Guzman said. "Two, nine, eight ..."
The career American Leaguer was reminded that you can't hit ninth in the National League.
"Oh, not nine," he said. "Unless the pitchers are hitting good."

-- The headline reads, "Thousands Seek RFK Stadium Jobs." It should read, "Thousands Seek Crappy, Low-Paying, Non-Benefit-Providing, Dead-End Jobs That Will Force You To Work Ourdoors In DC In August."

Frank Robinson plans on going with 11 or 12 pitchers (Third item). Early season gaps in the schedule usually allow you get away with a shorter pitching staff for the first few weeks. I'd be shocked if it wasn't 12 before too long.

It also notes that Livan Hernandez mildly strained his achilles. I'm sure he overdid it on his first day back, after overdoing it on the buffet circuit all offseason.

This is a beginning of a sentence you never want to see in your favorite team's notes column (bottom): "The Nationals named former Cubs and Red Sox third base coach Wendell Kim"

Thankfully, in this case, it ends, "to manage their entry in the Class A Gulf Coast League."

-- Former Mariner owner Jeff Smuylen is another of the names who's placed a bid. I couldn't place my finger on it, but something about his name troubled me.

Smuylen's no stranger to the idea of holding a city hostage for a better stadium deal.

Smuylen was the type of owner who did lots of damage to the fans with his relentless negativity about the stadium and the ballpark experience. He failed to make wise investments in the team and showed absolutely zero ability to put a winning team on the field or to put people in place who would know how to do it. He sold the team in 1992. Since then, they've been one of the more successful franchises in baseball, Woody Woodward, notwithstanding.

If he gets the team, it's bad news.

Lovin' Livan

Esteban Loaiza wasn't the only pitcher getting some love this weekend. Livan Hernandez finally made it to spring training.

The Post's story on him is particularly good, reminding us of where he came from and some of the difficulties he must've faced. (I like the thought of him trying to order langosta in Maine.)

Livan, despite once going postal, is indisputably this team's ace. He pitches the most innings. He wins the most games. He strikes out the most batters. Hell, he even hits better than the rest of the pitchers--and even some of the infielders!

He had a few off seasons with the Giants, but since the trade to Montreal, he's been one of the most durable and consistent pitchers in baseball. He's not in the Randy Johnson/ Johann Santana class, but there are only a handfull of teams with that kind of pitcher anyway.

But, beyond that, he carries himself as if he's the ace, the cock of the walk. I'm not a big believer in chemistry and some of that clubhouse mumbo-jumbo, but I think there's gotta be something to the person who walks into the middle of the room and just has a presence that says, "things are gonna be alright, gentleman. I'm here."

For this team, that's Livan.

Endy Under Fire

The pressure continues to mount for the lineup's main stinkhole sinkhole, the out-tacular Endy Chavez. There's nothing concrete going on, other than a universal acknowledgement that his approach at the plate in spring is going to be viewed microscopically.
The speedy 27-year-old batted .277 in 2004 but had a disappointing .318 on-base percentage, walking only 30 times in 502 at-bats. To retain his regular job and place atop Washington's lineup, Chavez will have to prove this spring that he's maturing as a hitter. Robinson's goals for Chavez include getting on base more often and scoring 100 or more runs for the first time.

"I want him to be the center fielder here because we're going to be a better ballclub if he is," Robinson said. "If he isn't and he doesn't give me all the things I want from him, then I have to look for someone else. I wouldn't say the job is his to lose, but he does have a foot up on everybody else."

The catch is that there isn't a clear solution yet.

Wilkerson in center full-time is a recipe for doubles. I doubt his range in center is Bernie Williams-like, but no one's going to confuse him for Tris Speaker either.

I still think that Alex Escobar is the darkhorse in this race. He has the pedigree, but just hasn't been healthy enough to put together a consistent stretch in the majors yet. Hopefully, he'll get his shot in the spring and ward off the injury demons. If he can live up to a fraction of the potential he showed a few years ago, he's a far better option than Endy.

By The Way, Didja Know He's a Two Time All Star?

Esteban Loaiza was apparently the pitcher of the day, as the Post, Times and Nationals own website weighed in with articles on the northpaw.

They indicate that the team's cautiously optimistic. And that's probably about all they should be. The quotes indicate they know that 2003 was a huge fluke for Loaiza, but, at the same time, they think he has a chance to return to form. And they're hoping that the cliched 'change of scenery' is what was missing.
"You just don't know what you're going to get," Bowden said. "Is he capable? Absolutely. He's done it before. Will he do it for us? We don't know."
The 2003 season "may have been an [aberration], because he's never done it before that and he didn't do it after that, but he's certainly a better pitcher than what his record indicated last year," Robinson said. "If he had [pitched like] the year before, he wouldn't be in this camp " he'd be someplace else. I'm happy to have him here. He makes our pitching staff stronger, and we'll be able to compete better with him here and I think he'll win his share of ballgames."

There's no doubt that Loaiza had an amazing 2003. But to continue to expect those kinds of results, when no other season in his career comes even remotely close is silly. But, if you subtract that year from his record, he has a 79-80 record for his career. That season, he had an ERA+ of 154. (ERA+ measures ERA in comparison to an average pitcher and for ballpark. Average is 100.) His next three best seasons? 111 in 2000, 110 in 1999 and 104 in 1997. Those incidentally, are the only seasons he's had an ERA below league average in his career.

If Shaquille O'Neal goes 10-10 from the free throw line one night, would we think he's finally solved his problems at the line? Nope, we'd chalk it up as a fluke.

That's all 2003 was for Loaiza. For whatever reason, everything fell in his favor. Sometimes that happens. It's not a bad thing. But, what is bad, is when everyone sits around and plans on him being able to recoup some of that greatness. As with all things in baseball, it's possible. But that doesn't mean it's even remotely likely.
After I finished this, I saw that Nationals Inquirer had already added his two cents--actually, from the look of it, it's more than two cents. :)

Friday, February 18, 2005

The Arms Race

I've been meaning to link to this for a few days, but Nationals MLB News has been doing an overview of the pitchers in the system and has produced a top-15 list.

No surprise, Mike Hinckley's on the top and Clint Everett's number two. (It does say something about the state of this team that the number two pitching prospect has a dead man's ligaments in his arm.)

He broke the reviews into three parts.

They're Slightly Defensive Down In Florida

Florida Today columist Peter Karasotis writes about how special DC fans are going to find Viera, spring home of the Nationals.

I don't know why, but I always get a kick out of these parochial articles--kind of like the fluff the local columnists write when they hold the Super Bowl. Yeah, I'm sure it's a boost to the local economy, but that's fleeting. Is anyone going to be inclined to visit Viera because of the connection with the Nats at any time other than during Spring Training?

So what if Washington Post columnist and PTI talking head Tony Kornheiser pokes fun at Viera, questioning where the town is by musing, "Viera, named for Meredith, I guess."

Ha, ha.

I guess when you have a major theater award named after you -- and not after your last name, but your first -- you can poke fun at us plebes. But the jab did ruffle Space Coast Stadium general manager Buck Rogers.

"If Tony wants to find out what Viera is all about, then he needs to come down here and take a look around, and welcome to the neighborhood," Rogers said. "This is a happening, growing town. And when they're done, it's going to be even more special than it already is."

Friday's Child

Alright, just some random notes today with my usual overly-wordy comments thrown in.

--RHP Claudio Vargas (last item) showed signs of tendinitis in winter ball and didn't participate in all drills yesterday. Vargas isn't expected to compete for a starting job, was pretty miserable last year, throwing up a 5.25 ERA in 118 innings. He started the year in the rotation, but was in the bullpen by the end. He was pretty effecive as a starter in 2003 and will have to hope he reverts to that level of ability.

--When asked about the lineup, Frank Robinson failed to list Terrmel Sledge. Conspicuously not absent? One Mister Endy Chavez. Although, it does note that pending Endy sucking hard, Wilkerson would slide over to center.

The Dry Erase Board knows all. At least for now.

--From the same article, Brendan Harris reported early. Harris, who came over from the Cubs in the Nomar-Cabrera four-way, should have a decent chance to make the team as a reserve infielder. But, if that white board is right, he's waaaay down on the depth chart. That's pretty ridiculous, because Harris is probably ready for the majors now. The good news is that he's still relatively young (24, I think?). Hopefully a solid season in New Orleans will give him a chance to push Vinny Castilla to the bench next year.

--The Times claims that Frank wants to go with more of a closer-by-committee approach. At this point, given Cordero's success in that role last year, I'm assuming that this is just posturing, not wanting to put additional pressure on Cordero and giving him some psychological breathing room.

I'd like to say that this represents Frank adopting optimal bullpen usage strategies, but I'm definitely not holding my breath.

--More on the radio front.
Selection of the radio announcers could occur as soon as today, a choice led by the Nationals with Bonneville input, and Tavares also is hurriedly seeking to expand the radio network with more stations in the region

--On a related note, the DC Examiner has an interview with a Bonneville Exec about the agreement.

Gonna Wash That Team Right Out Of His Hair

Boswell writes another entertaining column on how we're not the only ones trying to get to know the team. The team's trying to get to know the city as well and reconnect with each other.
"Somebody asked [reliever] T.J. Tucker to name the owner of the Washington Wizards. They gave him a choice of four names," said catcher Brian Schneider. "The name he picked off the list was the grandfather on 'The Simpsons.' "

Schneider then asked quietly, "Who is the owner of the Wizards?"

Tucker doesn't get the booby prize. An imaginative TV crew showed 6-foot-11 Jon Rauch a picture of D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, complete with his trademark bow tie, and asked the Nats' pitcher who he thought the person was.

"I have no idea," said Rauch.

Take a guess.

Rauch bent over, studied the picture seriously then said, "Pee Wee Herman?"

Told that the photo was the man who had helped liberate his team from Montreal and was trying to build them a new $550 million stadium, the towering pitcher, known for his enormous tattoos, looked horrified and said, "Oh, I'm really sorry."

Closin' Time

Svrluga profiles Chad Cordero, the presumptive closer. Cordero heads what should be a very strong, deep bullpen. There are enough arms in there that, if someone pulls a Biddle, there'll be someone else capable of filling his role. Just 22, Cordero has plenty of potential.
"I know I was young when I came up," Cordero said. "And I learned. It's a lot harder up here. The hitters, you make one mistake, they'll make you pay, whereas in college, you can throw a fastball right down the middle, and they might swing through it. You do that here, chances are it's going to get hit hard."

"He'd become a different person," said George Horton, the coach at Cal State-Fullerton. "He had a different makeup. I don't want to exaggerate it, but I'd say it all the time. He'd get that adrenaline rush, and it's like he went from Clark Kent to Superman. He'd take the glasses off, and he'd just take over."

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Outta Left Field


Nationals To Z104, WFED - 2/17 - This just in. All night and evening Nationals baseball games will be heard on Bonneville's hot adult contemporary Z104 (104.1 FM/103.9 FM). All daytime games will be heard on Bonneville's federal news talker WFED (1050 AM). The announcement was made on Bonneville all-newser WTOP's airwaves at 4:04 PM Thursday by Joel Oxley, who heads Bonneville's DC radio cluster, which includes Z104, WFED, WTOP, and WGMS. This is a surprise because it was widely reported that the Nats' play-by-play finalists were Clear Channel's WTEM and Infinity's WJFK-FM. The games will be difficult to hear on the Baltimore area airwaves because of Clear Channel smooth jazzer WSMJ at 104.3, which is adjacent to Z104's 104.1 frequency. That full-powered signal, however, originates from southern Prince George's County, and has some weak coverage areas in DC's northern and western suburbs. Z104's 103.9 FM Frederick area outlet is relatively low-powered, as is WFED, which runs only 1,000-watts by day.....

UPDATE--Z 104's press release

Straight From The Horse's-Ass's Mouth

Buster Olney (Villain to all right-thinking statistically-minded baseball writers) recaps the National League for ESPN today.

He thinks we're doomed.

They are the only NL East team not projected to be part of the division race...

[The Division's] four contenders will treat games against Washington as must-win contests, in the same way the Yankees and Red Sox have looked at their Tampa Bay games as must-win
That last one really hurt!

Not In Time(s)

The Times forgot to update their website this morning, which they're finally getting today.

They've got a notes column with a few of the same things the Post covered: Armas and Livan.

They also have our first quote from Esteban Loaiza, talking about the booing he got in NY.
"They didn't just boo myself, they booed [Derek] Jeter and A-Rod [Alex Rodriguez] all the time, but every time they came up with a big hit, everybody loved them," Loaiza said. "If you pay attention to that kind of stuff, it's going to wear you down. For myself, it wasn't bugging me at all."

Get used to it. There are lots of people who learned to cheer in NY and Philly. We've been stretching our vocal chords. It's spring training for us too! :P

Alex Escobar makes an appearance too.
I'm very happy with the trade," Escobar said. "It's a better opportunity, a legit opportunity, actually. I see myself in a better position than I was in Chicago."
If Escobar performs well this spring, there's a chance he could make the roster as the fourth or fifth outfielder.
"Right now, it's like a fresh start for me," he said. "There ain't no living in the past, I just move forward. My time will come. Hopefully, this is it. I'm mentally prepared to establish myself here and start my career like I should have four years ago."
Hopefully, Endy Chavez is paying attention.

Oh, and they answer my question from this morning. There are
just 10 players unsigned: outfielders Terrmel Sledge and Endy Chavez, infielders Henry Mateo and Brendan Harris, and pitchers Luis Ayala, Francis Beltran, Chad Cordero, Zach Day, Jon Rauch and Claudio Vargas

Veni, Vidro, Vici

The Times has a profile on the Nationals' All-Star second baseman, Jose Vidro.

I've written about Vidro before. He's the team's best player, but has some serious questions surrounding his health, and how that's going to affect his already-eroding defensive skills, especially as his contract runs through 2008. But, that's to worry about later.

Despite his injury, Vidro remains positive.
I'm happy now because things have turned out great," Vidro said. "Look, we've got great uniforms, we're going to play in the States. We've got a great team, and they went out and made this team better than it was last year. What more can I ask for?"
Hopefully he'll give Nationals fans some things to smile about too.

What Are The Odds Of My Head Hurting?

The Backward K discusses an over-the-top, but fun use of PECOTA, to try and beat the casinos.

Where else can you combine baseball statistics and a steamy tale of multiple regressions with his wife on Valentine's Day in Vegas?

Boswell's Honeymoon

Boswell shows that it's ok for sports columnists to do actual on-the-ground reporting--definitely a lost art in the business.

He writes about the honeymoon the team will have with the fans, and the leeway the people surrounding the team will have and how excited the people working for the team are to play in Washington.

Of particular interest was this little nugget at the end:
"We have the number four overall pick in the '05 draft. In all my years in Cincinnati, I never even sniffed a number four pick before," Bowden said, glad that the Nats had the sport's fourth-worst record last season. "The [small-market] teams that will pick before us may not have the money to sign the [real] number one player. But we probably will. If we get the best player in the draft and it's a starting pitcher, that may be our best acquisition this year."

I don't know what the prospects look like yet, but I hope that this is a sign that the Nats have been given clearance to start drafting players on talent and need, not just on signability. That will do wonders for fixing this farm system on the quick.

Wake Up Frank. It's Time To Manage.

Frank Robinson drops the first bomb of Spring Training. You better sit for this one.....

Livan Hernandez is going to start on Opening Day. Wow. Amazing, I know.

That's as far as Frobby would go in discussing his lineup though.
"Don't go there," he said. "I'll move people around this spring in different orders in the lineup and see how they perform and settle on one the last week or 10 days before the season."

Please tell me this doesn't mean he's going to be making all his decisions based on the results of 20 meaningless games. That's a recipe for Wil Cordero starting in left field. The only way making those decisions that way is if Endy Chavez has a horrible spring. Then, I wholeheartedly endorse it! :)

--The Nationals signed John Patterson and Joe Horgan to contracts. There can't be many unsigned players left. I should've been keeping track all along.

--Nick Johnson claims he's completely healthy. They better keep the other players away from him for the time being. It either means he's soon getting hit by a meteorite, or he's contracting whooping cough.

Armas' Arm

Barry writes about Tony Armas today. Armas was one of the key pieces in the trade that sent Pedro Martinez to Boston. When healthy, he's been a solid pitcher, and one full of potential. Unfortunately, he hasn't been healthy. He's failed to reach 100 innings in 4 of his 6 seasons, making only 102 starts in 6 years.

Because of those injuries and the uncertainty surrounding his status, he's sort of an unknown coming into the season and can be a pretty huge factor in how the season ends up. If he lives up to his potential and stays healthy, he's capable of winning 12-16 games and putting up an ERA under 4. That's a pretty big 'if' though.
"His stuff was just so nasty," catcher Brian Schneider said. "Hitters were talking about it. When he's healthy, that's what he's like, and that's what we need -- because we know he can do it."...

"It's almost like you could say, 'This guy is going to win 20 ballgames,' " Robinson said. "That's how good he was. That's the way he was throwing the ball."

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Damnit! He Found The Last Pun

A big Nats-blogger welcome to Barry Svrluga, who debuts his new blog, Nationals Journal. (Remember, this is the one without Charlie Cook.)

First on the docket, a mini-clustereff with Frank Robinson.

You also learn that Barry reaalllly hopes he's covered under the Washington Post's car insurance program.

The Cacophony Begins

Yep, Spring Training is actually quite brutal for a fan. I like what it represents but the two-month-long tease leading up to the big date in April just doesn't seem worth it. Good things come to those who wait, but that doesn't mean I want to be tortured along the way.

Lots of stories today, but, as the number of stories increases, the actual news content decreases. I've got my machete and I'm goin' in.

--Jose Vidro's beginning to take grounders, at least every other day, as he rehabs his knee. He's optimistic, as is everyone this early in the spring.
"That's one thing that me and the trainers are going to discuss," Vidro said. "Obviously, early in spring training it's not going to be able to go full. . . . It's a process, and even if I say I'm 100 percent, they're not going to let me go 100 percent out there."

--Boswell continues auditioning for the "Best American Sportswriting" series with his rhapsody on Frank Robinson and how he shapes the team's personality. I'm sure every columnist in the country writes a similar column at least once a year.

--The Times writes of FRobby's high expectations.
"I expect this team to play better baseball than 83 wins," Robinson said yesterday on the day pitchers and catchers reported for spring training. "I think we have more talent overall. I think this is the best all-around defensive team I've ever been around as a manager. We'll be solid at every position defensively, and that helps you win ballgames. So I feel like this team is capable of winning more than 83 ballgames."
(In case you're wondering, Frank Robinson was hit by a pitch 198 times in his career. I don't know how many of those nailed his head.)

--The pitching staff was rough last year, but there's room for improvement. This is probably the best assesment of the Nationals pitching that I've read. Good job, Barry!
"We have to be realistic," General Manager Jim Bowden said. "This team lost 95 games last year. But I think the good thing going in is we do have five pitchers, if healthy, that have the potential of being 12- to 20-game winners, that have the potential of throwing 180 to 200 innings. All five of them.

"Can we get it out of them? I don't know."
And I'll include this, solely for the unintended comedic potential:
[RHP John] Patterson missed 10 weeks with a groin strain, but said Tuesday he felt "rejuvenated."
I'll say!

--Here are your generic "Welcome to spring training" articles. Almost forgot one!

--The Post looks at efforts at expanding youth baseball programs in the city.
Backed by the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation and Major League Baseball, their goal is to have 10 Pitch, Hit and Run competitions in the city in April, with the hope that hundreds of children will participate. The prize, after several levels of competition, will be a chance to compete at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in June, where top area performers will earn a trip to a national competition during festivities at the Major League All-Star Game in Detroit in July.

--DC United released their schedule. Their biggest trick will be the game on April 23, sandwiched between Nationals games on the 21st and 25th.

--More love for Jose Guillen:
[The Angels] weren't about to put up with the talented but mystifying Guillen, who hit 27 homers but was self-absorbed and sensitive to criticism. The Angels traded him to the Washington Nationals, where he'll get his seventh "fresh start."

--MLB bought Given their recent power grab for fantasy baseball rights, it'll be interesting to see how the consumer gets screwed this time.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Ten Burning Questions: Spring Training Edition

While Spring Training is interminably long, this one might be different. Of course, the extra anticipation might make it even worse!

Either way, we’ve got two months to kill and plenty of questions that need to be answered. If you’ve got anything to add, chip it in in the comments!

It’ll be interesting to see if our answers are any different come April.

1. Whither Endy?
Endy seems to be the lynchpin of the spring. If he can show the improvements he needs to and develop into the lead-off hitter everyone’s hoping he can be, the team will be better off. Wilkerson can drop down in the order, utilizing his power potential and the team won’t have a complete offensive zero in centerfield.

The bad news is that 1,100 major league and 2,100 minor league at-bats give us a pretty solid track record to go on. It’s safe to say the kind of player he is: a slap-hitting, non-patient enigma. Maybe this spring will bring something different.

2. How’s Vidro’s knee?
Jose Vidro is probably the team’s best player, when you adjust for position. He’s a solid doubles machine, the really poor man’s Nap Lajoie. Unfortunately, he had knee surgery last September. Hopefully, he’ll be fully healthy by the time the season starts without any lasting impact. He’s already reported to camp and is reportedly rehabbing hard.

It’s especially important because, by all accounts, he’s a pretty wretched defensive second baseman. Most every defensive system I’ve seen agrees. Assuming the benefit of the doubt, that he’s average, at best, his knee surgery can’t be a good sign for his mobility in the field. Second basemen aren’t known for their long-term durability and with his huge contract, the Nationals better hope he shows a solid recovery.

3. How exactly do you play four people in three spots?
This is the corollary to the Endy question. With Chavez, Nick Johnson, Termell Sledge and Brad Wilkerson all fighting for playing time, someone’s going to be the odd-man out, especially because they’re all left-handers, so platooning isn’t an option.

Barry Svrluga suggested that Sledge is on the trading block, but for what, I don’t know. Absent a trade, it’s going to create some interesting rotations to keep steady playing time for everyone. And I don’t expect that Frank Robinson is the second-coming of Casey Stengel when it comes to running a platoon.

4. Is Guzman really a good defender?
Although he’s been brought on for his defense, Guzman’s defensive record is quite spotty. I’ve suggested that much of his poor showing may be a reflection of the environment he played in and just an illusion--one that disappeared when the MetroDome turf was changed.

We’ll have plenty of opportunity to see if the old numbers were right, or if the scouts were. The pitching staff really hopes it’s the latter.

5. Can Guillen be a model citizen?
His problems have been documented elsewhere extensively and no one’s ever accused him of being a nice guy. But as Mel Ott can attest, nice guys finish last. He doesn’t need to be mister personality, but he certainly needs to keep his head on straight and in the game.

It’ll be interesting to see how he meshes with Frank Robinson. Frank had a bit of a hot-headed reputation, especially when he came up early in his career. I imagine the two will be sitting down to some long conversations in the warm Florida sun.

6. Will Day like the bullpen?
Various reports have indicated that Day may be headed to the bullpen. This doesn’t make much sense to me, because Day has the potential to be one of the team’s best pitchers. Just 26 years old, he’s had an ERA above average every year of his career and shows a lot of promise.

I guess the thinking is that he’ll be able to avoid some injury and will provide them with strong middle innings to bridge the game to Cordero. With his sinker, Day’s a pretty extreme ground-baller, he could be very useful in situations where a double play is needed--kind of like Ramiro Mendoza was used by the Yankees a few years ago.

But, that’s also contingent upon Rauch or Patterson stepping it up in spring. There’s definitely some potential there and it’ll be interesting to see how it all shakes out in the spring.

7. Can Loaiza set the clock to back before midnight?
Last year, he was definitely a big fat pumpkin, and batters teed off him like he was throwing them to the plate. Loaiza’s a player who’s been mediocre his entire career except for that one magical Cy Young Runner-Up season. For his career, his ERA is 2% below league average, but he does give you innings. And with the various injuries this team had, there’s certainly value in that.

It’s been claimed that he suffered from a tired arm last year, after having thrown a career high in innings the year before. He still has a pretty solid sinker, which was especially powerful when combined it with the cut fastball, a pitch he learned before his 2003 season. Hopefully, the time off will give him his command back. And who knows, maybe come August, we can trade his sorry carcass for a prospect or two.

8. Will any of the kids get a chance?
There are definitely a few spots up for grabs, particularly in the back of the bullpen and in the outfield. Will players like Ryan Church, John Patterson or JJ Davis get a fair crack? Or, will the lack of consistent playing time mean they’re being shuffled down to the bayou and players like Jeffrey Hammonds and George Arias get a chance? In Church’s case, he’s got options left, so I’m sure he’ll be eating gumbo. In Patterson’s case, it’ll be DC or bust. Which ones get a chance and how will those final 3 or 4 roster slots be used?

9. How does the bench look?
This one’s a variation on the previous question. Right now, catcher Garry Bennett, 1B Wil Cordero and IF Jamey Carroll are probably locks and form the corps of a pretty weak bench, at least offensively. None of them have any power, although Cordero has a pretty decent history of mashing lefties. With JJ Davis and Alex Escobar the favorites for the backup OF slots, somebody’s going to need to step up and show they can hit major league pitching.

Versatility is a great asset on an NL bench, but hitting ability sure comes in handy too!

10. How many long relievers does a bullpen need?
It's another riff on the kids question. Livan, Ohka, Loaiza, Armas and Day should form the starters (Although Day’s slot is in question.) Cordero, Ayala and Osuna are the relief aces.

That leaves about 4 slots open for other relievers to make their mark. Rauch, Patterson, Vargas, Beltran, Tucker, Horgan and a cast of thousands all have excellent chances to make the bullpen as well. Throw in a youngin’ like Mike Hinckley and the Nationals are a team with a solid and deep middle relief corps.

I, nor anyone, has any idea how that’ll all sort itself out. But, the games and performance over the next few weeks will give us a pretty good answer.