Friday, June 30, 2006

Good News/Bad News

Good News: The Nats lost 11-1 to the Tampa Feckin' Bay Devil Feckin' Rays.

Bad News: Jim Bowden is the permanent GM now and forever.

Hey, I'm a relativist.

@#$@#$ this @#$@#$ing team. @#$@#$ them right in the !@#$@#. And hard.

Everything's Gone Wrong Since Canada Came Along

Another day, another loss. But at least Marlon Anderson can bat. Too bad he didn't save it for when it was actually useful.

But the joke's on Toronto. Those happy Canucks probably think they have dominant pitching. Little do they know, it's our impotent bats! Ha! Take that, overconfident Looney-lovers! (Actually -- and not that you care -- the Blue Jays are my darkhorse AL Team. I wouldn't surprise me to see them make a move in the second half.)

The story of the game, though, was John Patterson. He had nuttin'. And he left the game with *gulp* an injury.

He's claiming it's a 'dead arm' -- basically a period of fatigue that most pitchers have about 2/3 of the way through spring training. I'm not sure I'm buying that. His fastball was on, but his breaking pitches were poor. None of them had any bite, sort of rolling to the plate without the crispness we're used to seeing.

As I've said far tooooo many times, the forearm injury he had was going to affect his breaking pitches. Since his fastball was working (even if he didn't have as much control), I'm inclined to not trust what he's saying.

But we'll find out in his next start. You get through a dead arm by pitching. You don't get through tendinitis by pitching. Time'll tell.

  • Special mention should go out to Jose Vidro, who hit into another double play. He's now second in the league, and it's brutal watching him with men on base. He hits so many grounders, and he runs so slowly, it's almost inevitible. He gets the Duck, just for the hell of it -- well, that and all the rallies he kills.

    Frank had mentioned something about shaking the lineup out. This wasn't much of a shakeup. But one possibility he had raised was hitting Vidro leadoff. That might be a good idea. He still gets on at a decent clip -- even if it's all batting average and no walks -- and he'd have fewer runners on in front of him to wipe out with grounders. Go for it, Frank!

  • Livan Hernandez hurt his knee while shagging (presumably fly balls). Good news though! It's in a different spot than where he had surgery -- the surgery that he's done so well recovering from. Ugh.

  • Shawn Hill's elbow is stiff.

  • MLB helpfully provides the Stat O' The Day:
    With his 1 1/3 inning outing on Wednesday, Washington reliever Mike Stanton moved into a tie with Hall-of-Famer Hoyt Wilhelm for fourth on the all-time appearance list. Stanton will tie another Hall-of-Famer, Dennis Eckersley, for third place all-time with his next appearance.

    Everybody sing! One of these things is not like the other! One of these things is just not the same....

  • Stan Kasten gave a speech and reading between the lines, there's more indication that they're going to do things on the cheap. Hey Stan, are you going to run this team like a big market, signing stopgap free agents to put a semi-competitive team on the field seeing how there's no minor league depth, and you wouldn't be taking developmental time away from anyone valuable? "[T]he answer is no. It doesn't work. In my mind, there's a time and place for it. But it's the last step."

    I'd like Kasten a lot more if he came with Ted Turner's wallet/competitive instinct.

  • Boswell says that the NL is teh suck.

    Primates say that Boswell is teh suck.

    You can tell Boswell that he's teh suck at 11 today.

  • Anagram(s) O' The Day, John Patterson:
    Jot Harp Sonnet, Jars Net Photon; 'Neath Jots Porn

  • Thursday, June 29, 2006


    Thanks, Marlon Byrd.

    Nice Catch.

    Nice Swing (:58 second mark).

    Of course the whole effing team reeks of foot cheese.

    Why do I root for a team that's as clueless as this again?

    Why do I root for a team that sends out Marlon Byrd and Royce Clayton, as if either is capable of being productive Major League players?

    Why do I root for a team that lets Mike Stanton pitch when he's about half a decade after his expiration date?

    At least they scored.

    Wednesday, June 28, 2006

    The Ugliest Swing You'll Ever See

    Just watch and wait. At about the :18 mark, Soriano's at the plate, swinging at a breaking pitch that would've been behind someone standing in the left-handed batters box.


    Fouled-Off Bunts: In Their Own Words Edition

    OMG does actual analysis as opposed to the random numbers I sprayed out there the other day.
    it’s that the bottom of the bullpen is doing much worse. Or more accurately doing much worse far more often. In 2005, Horgan, Osuna, Nitkowsi, TJ Tucker, Travis Hughes (all the just bullpen pitchers with ERA > 5.00) pitched a total of 37 1/3 innings. In 2006, Stanton, Jason Bergmann, Felix Rodriguez, Santiago Ramirez, and Eischen have pitched 87 1/3 innings so far. (Even if you take out Stanton they are still at 50+ innings with half a season to go) We’ve wasted a lot of innings on pitchers who weren’t very good (X-Rod) or pitching guys the wrong way (Eischen held lefties to a .087 average, while righties hit .421 off him, yet he faced 23 lefties and 38 righties this year.)

  • NFA notes some positive developments in draft land:
    On Friday, the Nationals agreed to terms with the first of the Big Six draft picks, signing 1st round draft pick (#22 overall) RHP Colton Willems. Willems agreed to a $1.425 million signing bonus on Friday. The Nationals also agreed to give Willems up to $80,000 for college - $10,000 for each of eight semesters. And then Monday evening, the Nationals added a second one, signing their first draft pick 3B/OF Chris Marrero (#15 overall) to a deal including a $1.625M bonus.

  • NTP sez "Trade (almost) Everybody!"
    Everyone associated with the team has been careful to say that "building for the future" is not a synonym for "fire sale." The unfortunate truth is that the Nationals don't have enough premium talent to conduct a fire sale even if that was the plan. The clubs most attractive bargaining chips are Alfonso Soriano, Livan Hernandez, Jose Vidro and Jose Guillen. Let's look at each of them in turn:

  • Nats Blog tries to be the helicoptered water bucket with a scuba diver inside on the out-of-control brush fire that is Mets' hubris.
    If the Mets split with the Red Sox and Yankees this week -- no small feat -- they will be 50-31, the same first-half record as our beloved nine in 2005.

  • Beltway Boys feels the malaise:
    I don't want to complain about the Nationals' latest loss, a 6-0 drubbing at the hands of "Canada's team," the Toronto Blue Jays. Because the losses are becoming more regular, lashing out at the team's play, or desire, or even their uniforms, won't matter very much. You know the changes are coming, and they're probably coming soon.

  • Nationals Enquirer depresses us further:
    Assume the position: That thud you heard shortly after 10 pm last night? That was the sound of the Nationals touching down in last place in the NL East as Atlanta finished off the Yankees. Nats, Braves, tied for last at 33-45.

  • Yesterday stunk, but the Duck goes to Daryle Ward. Don't see his name in the boxscore? Barry tells us why:
    When Tuesday's lineup originally was posted in the Nationals clubhouse, Daryle Ward was listed as the designated hitter and cleanup man. Problem: Ward was in Washington. His flight to Toronto left from Reagan National Airport, but he mistakenly drove to Dulles. He tried to take a later flight, then was delayed by weather. Ward arrived around 7:30 p.m. for a 7:07 start.

    Reliever Mike Stanton missed the game because he was delayed by weather leaving his home in New Jersey. Both players were permitted to fly separately from the team -- which flew up Sunday night -- so they could spend time with their families. Robinson, though, said both will be fined.

    "This is still my job," Ward said, "and I'm supposed to be here."

    Had the Nats won, Mike Stanton would've earned the Whip.

  • Finally, let's listen to Jim Bowden's words, crowing about how happy he was NOT to have signed AJ Burnett (he of the 90-pitch CG shutout):
    Oh, and what if A.J. Burnett had accepted our four-year offer? Like Loaiza, Burnett hasn’t won a game for his new team, the Blue Jays, and is on the disabled list ... again. Remember, he got close to $55 million for five years.

    I’ve had plenty of e-mails from fans suggesting if we had an owner we could have kept Esteban Loaiza and signed A.J. Burnett, Kevin Millwood and/or Jarrod Washburn. So, for a mere $35 million for this year alone, you could have had a starting pitching rotation that is a combined 2-9.

    In fact, two of our signings, Billy Traber and Tony Armas, have as many wins as those pitchers combined.

  • Just Read This

    I'm in a rut, so check out this wonderful entry by Basil on the state of the team, or at least centerfield.

    Somewhere in there explains why I'm in a rut, I think.

    Monday, June 26, 2006


    Barry Svrluga's Notebook takes the bullpen to task for, among other things, too many walks. Let's take a closer look at the numbers though. The ones Barry passes along are correct, but they might not tell the full story.

  • Entering play yesterday, Majewski had walked 24 hitters in 47 1/3 innings of work, the second most of any reliever in baseball.

    Yep, Majewski's right here, second on the leaderboard. But take a look at the IP column, and the values of those surrounding him. No one is close to Majewski's 47.1 IP. In fact, that's also second in the league. Yeah, he's walking more batters than he should, but he's also pitching more than he should. Besides, what's distressing about Majewski is his inability to strike anyone out, despite his 95-mph fastball. (He's only 23rd in the league in relief Ks, despite the IP advantage, and he's tied with Chad Cordero, despite throwing 12 more innings of relief)

  • Lefties Joey Eischen and Mike Stanton each have 19 walks -- tied for sixth in the National League despite the fact that Eischen has been on the disabled list since May 31

    There's no denying that the Gruesome Twosome have been terrible. 19 walks!!? But there's one stat missing from Barry's note: They're 1/2 in INTENTIONAL walks. Eischen only IBBd 5, but of Mike Stanton's 19 walks, ELEVEN of them have been intentional. Take away just half of them, and Stanton drops out of the Top-40.

    Besides, aren't the least of Stanton and Eischen's problems their walk rate?

  • right-hander Jon Rauch has 17, tied for 12th in the NL.
    Rauch has intentionally walked 3 batters. Take away those three, and he drops from 12th, all the way to a tie for 29th. Rauch, too, has pitched a ton of innings. He's third in the league with 45.1, and his walk rate doesn't look out of place with his arm-slagged compatriots.

    Besides, shouldn't they be focusing on how dominant he is, with 42 strikeouts, good for 6th in the league? Doesn't a 42/17 K/BB ratio look damn good? By golly, that puts him in a group with great bullpen pitchers like Dan Wheeler, Billy Wagner, and Aaron Heilman. (Note Cordero's presence several rankings below). Talk about missing the forest for the trees!

  • This year, with the team on pace for an astonishing 265 walks out of the bullpen -- an average of 1.6 per game -- the relievers' ERA is nearly a run worse at 4.52.
    The Nats are second in the league in bullpen walks. If you drop out the bullpen's league leading 28 intentional walks (as well as that of every other team in baseball), the Nationals drop to 5th. Not great, but not the complete disaster that it seems like.

    Sure, the reliever's ERA stinks, but you'd think, given the horrors that Barry presents, that they're worst, right? Nope. They're 10th, and as close to 6th as they are to last.

    Just for the hell of it, if the CIA were able to disappear Joey Eischen from the recordbooks, the Nats bullpen ERA drops to 4.26 (9th place). Throw Felix Rodriguez onto the disappeared pile and the bullpen ERA drops to 3.86, which would be 4th in the league.

    Obviously all teams could play that sort of game with their toastier relievers, but the larger point is that Chad Cordero, Gary Majewski and Jon Rauch HAVE pitched well. It's the dregs of the pen: Stanton, Eischen, FRodo that have created many of these crappy numbers (and Frank's reliance on the four-fingered waggle as a defensive strategy).

    No, it's not humming along like it did last year, but it's important to not let your cherrypicked memories forget that the damn thing didn't hum much after July either. When you have three relievers who are as effective overall as Cordero, Majewski and Rauch, you're close to a Championship-quality bullpen. If Bill Bray can continue to make strides, that gives the Nats four excellent arms, which is more than most teams have.

  • Defending Montreal

    Last week, in an interview with, Frank Robinson took a shot at Montreal and its fans. It's no secret that you were not popular in Montreal, but, in Washington, the fans seem to understand what you are going through with this team. You seem to get a loud ovation every time your name is mentioned.

    Robinson: It's a whole different thing. I did nothing [as a player] in Montreal, and the Montreal fans are not baseball savvy like the people in the D.C./Baltimore area. I also followed Felipe Alou, and the Montreal fans were all into Felipe Alou. They thought he was God because he did a tremendous job.
    Apparently, and probably understandably, this caused a bit of an uproar in Montreal. A commenter in the thread where I originally pointed out the interview chipped in:
    The Frank Robinson interview touched off a firestorm in Montreal. Elliot Price and Shaun Starr really laid into him during the local sports radio station's morning show. Frank's reputation there was not high to begin with, and now he has probably moved himself into the ranks of Montreal baseball fans' most hated, along with the likes of the Commissioner of Baseball and Jeffrey Loria.
    Elliot Price, it should be noted, was the team's play-by-play announcer while they were in Montreal.

    When I read Frank's comments, I thought they were stupid, but decided to focus on other things. Well, today, Bill Ladson wrote a mailbag and took a question from an angry Montrealer. Here's the exchange:
    I take offense to Frank Robinson's recent comments in an interview conducted by you. Regarding his lack of popularity in Montreal compared to Washington, he stated, "The Montreal fans are not baseball savvy like the people in the D.C./Baltimore area." The reason he was unpopular in Montreal was not because we are not baseball savvy.

    Everyone was aware of his accomplishments through his Hall of Fame career. The reason he was unpopular was because of his poor choices as manager. Continuously putting the likes of Jim Brower, Hector Almonte and Rocky Biddle in key game situations is an example. Edwards Guzman getting 150 at-bats is another. His love for Ron Calloway and Henry Mateo are further examples.
    -- Jeffrey S., Montreal

    I'm baffled by his unpopularity in Montreal. I don't think anyone could have done a better job. Robinson, Omar Minaya and Tony Tavares should get a standing ovation for what they did over there with no money.
    And I think what Robinson said to me was legitimate because look how the fans and the media responded when he took Vladimir Guerrero out of his last game in Montreal in 2003. All Robinson was doing was making sure that Guerrero received a curtain call, which is done all around baseball. But what did Robinson get for it? Nothing but boos and criticism, which was wrong.

    As far as the players Robinson used in Montreal, what other choices did he have? Unlike in Washington, Robinson didn't have choices. The Minor League system was depleted and the Expos couldn't make deals on a regular basis to improve the club.
    Frank's comments, when combined with Ladson's (who was covering the team for MLB's news service), make this seem like an ego-fueled personality conflict. It seems that Frank was upset with the criticism he got, and made it personal. The people of Montreal didn't look at Frank as Frank Robinson, HALL OF FAMER ™, instead, choosing to evaluate him strictly as a manager. Frank, and, yes, I'm projecting here, but I think it's a reasonable projection, felt disrespected, and Tomo Ohka can tell you what happens when Frank feels disrespected.

    In his answer to the original query, Frank continued on, talking about his experience here in DC, which cements this belief in my mind:
    In the D.C./Baltimore area, I think it's the people who understand what I did in Baltimore as a player and what I've gone on to do. They saw me manage in Baltimore and the turnaround we had in 1989. And I think they are saying, "We appreciate what you did then and what you are doing now." A lot of the young people are saying, "My father told me about you and now we are seeing you in person." That's nice when people recognize me for that. That's the real difference.
    Frank has every right to be proud of his playing career, and what he did for the Orioles. But that doesn't make him immune from criticism, as much as he sometimes seems to think he is. That's probably why he inveted that "manage by the gut" meaningless stock answer. It cuts off all debate. Who are you to question Frank? He's managing by his gut, which has been in 4,000 more Major League games than you have.

    Jeffrey's question of Ladson notes that there's a distinction between what he did as a player and what he did as a manager. And he rightly points to several strategic decisions that, if you change the name, could be plucked from his tenure in DC. Take out Jim Brower and plug in Joey Eischen. Take out Edwards Guzman and insert Cristian Guzman. Frank has and continues to make curious roster decisions. His in-game strategy is brow-furrowing. And he's shown an inability to handle the personalities of a pitching staff.

    Ladson, in his response, rightly points to Robinson's success while in Montreal. It's certainly true that they exceeded expectations, winning 83 games in back-to-back seasons when everything was stacked against him. But the 95 losses in 2004 count, too. Things definitely were stacked against him -- the travel schedule, the roster, the resources MLB gave the team (scouting tools, equipment, etc). And that they did that well is definitely a point in his favor.

    But you watched Frank in action last year. While in some respects 81 wins was remarkable, don't you think that it's possible that, if things had been managed differently, a game or two here or there could've been swung in our favor? The Expos fan brought up crappy players being penciled in the lineup the same way that we got angry when Vinny Castilla kept getting penciled in the lineup despite Rick Short and Ryan Zimmerman hitting the crap out of the ball in the minors. Or, what would've happened had Frank shown any patience with Darrell Rasner or John Halama in August and September instead of riding the big 3 hard? Who knows. But it's not an unreasonable question, just as the Montreal fan's questions are legitimate -- questions that can't be brushed away with a 'manage by my gut' answer.

    When Ladson says that he's 'baffled' by Robinson's unpopularity, he's not looking at these questions, not evaluating Frank in terms of his on-field decisions. He's likely looking at Frank Robinson, HALL OF FAMER ™, and evaluating Frank's results on the macro level. There's certainly merit in that, but the opposite viewpoint shouldn't be baffling to anyone. Frank's more curious moves have to have the beat writers shaking their head from time to time. That's all that Montreal fan is saying.

    But, although I've rambled a bit, Frank's charge that Montreal fans lack "baseball savvy" is complete and utter horseshit. That they didn't respect Frank seems like it's the real issue.

    But, a Montreal fan could probably make an argument that Frank didn't respect them. Frank became the butt of SportsCenter jokes for weeks when he was caught napping in the dugout (something he did earlier this year). Another time, he was caught making personal calls on his cellphone while the game was going on. After an argument with Tony Armas, Frank 'resigned' only to change his mind the next day. You can understand how a Montreal fan could feel that Frank was just cashing the check between tee times. And coming after Felipe Alou (a point that Frank raises), that was a particularly greivous crime.

    Over the last 15 years, Montreal fans have been through enough. While I'm thrilled that we have a team, I still feel for the Montreal fans. They take a lot of crap, especially for the attendance problem in the later years, but they've been hamstrung with incompetent ownership for years. Why would the fans invest time and energy in a team that's constantly telling them that they're going to be contracted, or sold, or moved? Why put time into something that's just going away? When the team was doing well, the fans came out. No, they weren't going to draw 40K a night, but they could do well enough to be near the top of the bottom third. Sure, the media contracts weren't there at the end -- in part because of that crappy ownership situation -- but with a strong, dedicated owner, it could've worked. But that's a different debate.

    They are just as savvy about baseball as the fans of any team, and to insinuate that they're not is garbage, and reeks of pettiness. Frank should be above that.

    Twelve Down, Fifteen To Go

    Maybe that AL is pretty good, huh? This week should put to bed the idea that there's anything like momentum in baseball. Fresh from two amazing (some would say historic) victories over the Yankees, the Nats went out and crapped the bed. Last week, those Yankees games looked like a springboard. Now, in hindsight, they look like one of those stupid speed humps that wreck my car, in the midst of what would've been a 10-game losing streak. Nationals Baseball: Feel The Momentum!

    This week sees two more AL East foes, the Blue Jays (my darkhorse pick for the AL East flag and as Soriano's dumping ground), and the woeful Tampa Bay Stink Rays. If you're not doing anything tomorrow, and you're in Toronto, it's Gustavo Chacin cologne night. Yes, I'm serious. Check out the link for making-of videos and testimonials. Who needs a stinkin' fragrant bobblehead when you have Chacin?

    Nats Record: 1-5. 'They' say that good pitching beats good hitting, a fact that I'm not entirely sure I believe. The Red Sox did convince me, however, that good hitting beats bad pitching.
    Overall: 33-44. Half a game ahead of the last-place Braves, which is also 'good' for 26th place overall. Maybe we'll draft another Zimmerman!
    Runs Scored: 21 for the week, with 9 of those coming yesterday. That's 3.5/game. Overall, 346 (11/16 teams).
    Runs Allowed: 36 (6/game), 386 (13/16 teams).
    Expected Record: 34-43. It's hard to win games when you can't hit or pitch. At least we're catching the ball.... oh, wait.

    What's Good?
    1) Daryle Ward. The fat man continues to mash the ball, batting .571 for the week. One problem. Of ALL players who came to the plate this week, only one had fewer ABs: the mostly injured Nick Johnson. Hey, but at least Marlon Anderson got some game action, right? You're killing us, Frank! Killing us!

    2) That Patterson kid. Who is he? Some new guy? When did we pick him up? He pitched well enough to win. If he's able to snap off those curves like he did last year (his injury would mostly affect the feel he has for his breaking pitches), then he'll pick up right where he left off last year -- lack of run support and all.

    3) Royce Clayton. Yes, it pains me to write that. The man of many excuses/justifications came through with a big week, finally. He lead the team in hits, doubles, and RBI. But, Frank, if I ever pay money and see him batting third, I'm going to stand outside the team parking lot until...well... ummm... forget you read this. If it's premedidated, it's worse, right?

    What's Bad?

    1) Alfonso Frickin' Soriano. He's been worthless for almost a month now, and his struggles continued this week. The go-go engine of the team hit just .115 and he added 9 more strikeouts to his Wilkersonian total. If you've seen him hit, it's weak popups and dribbling little grounders. It's rare to see a hitter struggle THIS much. He's swinging at the breaking stuff away, and taking the fastballs on the inner half of the plate. When he was going so well early on, he was letting the soft stuff go, and hammering the fastballs inside. It's gotta be his head.

    2) All the pitching. ERAs by pitcher: Livan, 10.57; Hill, 12.71; Armas, 9.82; Stanton 18; Cordero 9. Only Gary Majewski was unscored upon -- and even he allowed 7 baserunners in four innings.

    3) Lineup construction. I alluded to it in the Daryle Ward comment above, but there's no way that Marlon Anderson should've started ahead of him at DH (or batted cleanup!?!?). Royce Clayton should NEVER hit third in a major league lineup -- he'd probably bat 7th or lower for the Long Island Ducks! Why did Frank bench the struggling Jose Guillen (.056/ .150/ .222), a player who really needs to shake off the rust, but leave the struggling Alfonso Soriano (.115/ .179/ .192) in the lineup? I just don't, and probably never will, understand 3/4 of the decisions this team makes. Maybe that's for the best.

    Game O' The Week
    Slim Pickens this week, so I'll go with Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Blowrioles. The Nationals played hard, but couldn't get the big hits when they needed them thanks to some craptacular baserunning by Brian Schneider -- he was caught stealing in the second, then ran himself into an out in the 9th inning, when it looked like the Nats were going to break through.

    Mike O'Connor pitched effectively, but it was Gary Majewski's wiggling in to and out of trouble that I'll remember most. In a tie game in the 8th, he loaded the bases with nobody out before getting a one out grounder to Zimmerman. Zimmerman fielded, stepped on third for the first out, then took an extra step before firing to first. His throw was wild, causing Nick Johnson to stretch and drop the ball. But, NJ grabbed the ball off the ground before the ancient Jeff Conine got to the bag. Inning over, game tied! Woohoo! (Then something happened after a long rain delay. Anyone know how it ended?)

    MVP Award
    Jose Vidro gives him a run for his money, but the extra half-foot of range gives Royce Clayton an undeserved weekly MVP award. If he promises to keep batting .409/ .458/ .545, I'll never complain about him batting third again.

    CY Young Award
    Well, I guess I'll give it to Patterson's 6 innings of 2-run ball -- thanks to a Royce Clayton error, only one of those was earned, but they still add up to a loss.

    LVP Award
    As bad as Soriano and Guillen were, this is the easiest call of them all. Ryan Zimmerman, despite the fielding, was horrid this week. A few years back, after he hit the homer that ended the Red Sox World Series hopes, Aaron Boone had a terrible World Series. The kid couldn't buy a hit. Someone, I think it might've been Joe Sheehan, had a great line: "It was just a home run, not diplomatic immunity." The same can be said for Wahoo Zim and the ONE hit he had this week. (.045/ .160/ .091)

    Joe Horgan Eischen Award
    Throw a dart and pick one. ::Thwack::
    Congrats, Tony Armas! Here's all you need to know about how bad Armas' start was against the Red Sox: Peter Gammons reports that Bowden offered him to the Sox, but that they laughed him off because waiver wire scrub Kyle Snyder pitched better than him.

  • Is there anything else you think I should track or look at?

  • Sunday, June 25, 2006

    This One's For You, Gladys

    It really isn't much of a rivalry. When two fourth-place teams with no history meet, what do you expect? Rivalries are forged through time. Rivalries are formed when teams play games that mean something, when one team knocks another out, when there's meaningful competition. It's an organic process. And the Battle of the Beltway(s) ain't there yet.

    After dropping the first two, the Nats 'blew' away the Orioles today, 9-5. Depressingly, the Orioles sent the House Money lineup out there, so fans got a steady dose of Howie Clark and Ed Rodgers. Still, a win's a win, and the Nats and Orioles end their first season series at 3-3.

    But before we get to today, let's start with Friday.

    John Patterson made his season re-debut, and looked sharp. His fastball was all the way back, even if he didn't have full command of his curve. Still, six innings with one earned run is lightyears better than the average pitching performance on the team. If the Nats are ever going to make a run at .500 (and they're 11 under now!?), his health is going to be the key.

    But the problem with that game is the problem with most Nats games, an impotent offense. Somehow, Frank, in his senility, decided that Marlon Anderson should be the DH and bat cleanup. Meanwhile, Daryle Ward sat on the bench, rotting away. Pointless.

    Jose Guillen, though, gets the Lame Duck. He came to the plate four times, each with a runner on base. He made an out each team, not even advancing any runners. Jose played well for a stretch when he first came off the DL, but he, like most of the rest of the team, has been lost since.

  • On a personal level, Saturday's game may have been the best of the year. A big group of us dorky blog-types met up before the game, and threw back a few adult beverages. The game, despite the outcome wasn't too bad either.

    Royce Clayton inexplicably batted third, but stumbled into a well-timed RBI groundout. Irish Mike O'Connor pitched really well, going his six innings and doing enough to put the Nats into a position to win. Jon Rauch cruised through another inning. Gary Majewski struggled, again, as he continues to be unable to get his 95-mph fastball past major league hitters.

    But the Lame Duck goes to Brian Schneider, who had two of the stupidest baserunning plays of the year. In the second inning, after Matt LeCroy had been thrown out trying to advance to second on a would-be wild pitch (lesson to Matt: If you hestitate, you're too slow to go!), Schneider walked. Then, on a two-strike pitch, he took off, and was easily thrown out, ending the inning. Wha?

    But the worst was in the 9th inning. With a tie score, he walked and was sac'd to second. Alfonso Soriano hit a scorching grounder into the hole and deep short. Watching it, Tejada immediately took a steep angle, storming for the ball. With Soriano running, even if he were able to snare it, it's an infield hit. But Schneider, for some freakin' reason, decided to take off from second. Tejada scooped the ball up in the hole, rotated and fired to third where he was easily thrown out. The Nats were robbed of a runner in scoring position, an out, and Soriano lost a hit. Just a brutal play.

  • I went back up to Baltimore for today's game, and after the offensive outpouring, I'm not sure whether to be happy or to just chalk it up to facing Daniel Cabrera. Actually, I probably don't need to give that one much thought!

    They worked Cabrera early and often, getting him to throw pitch after pitch. In the third inning, he threw 41 pitches, but, because they're the Nats, they only scored two runs.

    Daniel Cabrera threw 4 wild pitches, but many more got behind Javy Lopez. I lost count at 9.

    Nick Johnson, especially worked him hard, seeing 22 pitches in his 3 ABs against him. Marlon Byrd had a terrific at bat in the third inning, working the count full before fighting off three tough pitches, then looping a hard grounder past the bag at third. Daryle Ward had a similar AB in the 5th, before working a walk. Cabrera just wasn't near the plate, but when he was, they were able to just tick the tough pitches away, before he'd lay another 95-mph meatball over the plate (or throw it in the dirt for a walk) It was a nice approach at the plate for the Nats, even if it isn't an aesthetically appealing brand of ball. (I'll take an ugly win any day though!)

    Livan Hernandez wasn't throwing hard, but he kept the Orioles Triple-A lineup in check for most of the game. When he loaded the bases in the seventh (after the Orioles started jumping on his first-pitch fastball), it looked like Livan of old. But overall, it was a pretty effective outing. Good enough to win, at least. Bill Bray relieved and looked sharp, getting a sac fly to left, before striking out Luis Matos and Brian Roberts to end the threat.

    The Majority Whip goes to Marlon Byrd though. He's been a frustrating player to watch. His eye has been excellent all year, despite the struggles. It's just that he hasn't been able to make solid contact. He hit the double I mentioned above and a homer to left (that probably wouldn't have hit the warning track at RFK), before chipping in a key RBI single in the 9th, which put the Nats comfortably in front.

    What impressed me in the two games I saw in person was his defense. He looked much better than I had seen him before. Some of that, I suspect is the illusion of the field. Camden Yards really looks tiny compared to RFK, so it could look like he has more range than he does. Still, there were a number of liners sailing away from him into the gaps that he ran down, and there were a few balls that he did really well to charge hard, holding runners from taking the extra base. If he can just hit a little...

  • On to Toronto, Canada's capital, where we once again face off with our true Interleague rivals. Je me souviens, hosers!

  • Friday, June 23, 2006

    One More Thing About The Defense

    A poster at Baseball Primer has posted some tweaked defensive ratings that agree with every other defensive metric I looked at the other day: Clayton and Vidro are a disaster. They have Vidro as being 8 runs below average for every 150 games played and Royce Clayton at -11. Those numbers are reasonably in line with the other defensive stats I blogged about earlier this week.

    Two more things....

    1) Federal Baseball posted a logical explanation for the discrepencay in Alfonso Soriano's and Marlon Byrd's raw range factors when compared to the other defensive stats. The Nats have a pretty extreme flyball pitching staff, which is going to increase the number of chances they have, even if it's not helping increase the RATE at which they actually make plays. Nats pitchers, he uncovered, have allowed around 100 more flyballs than the league average. If 75% of them are caught, that's a lot of extra outs for a fielder for things that aren't really under his control.

    2) I was looking for this at the time, but I finally found it: League Fielding Stats. The Nats are dead last in all of MLB in double plays turned, with just 48 (almost half of the Astros).

    Sure, some of that is because of the high number of flyballs, but you've gotta think that, with the way the pitching staff and defense stink, that the Nats have had plenty of double play opportunities. It's just that Clayton and Vidro aren't converting them.

    Breaking it out further, Vidro is 14th in the NL in double plays. Clayton is 15th. Alfonso Soriano, for what it's worth, has 4.

    Their assists total is 26/30 MLB teams, too. Assists come mostly on groundballs and are heavily influenced by the team's middle infielders.

    None of those stats by themselves mean a whole heckuva lot. But when you add them up with the ones from my last post, there's absolutely NO evidence that either of them is a good fielder. All evidence points to them costing the team hits, runs, and wins.

  • Random, but interesting stat: The Nats have allowed the 6th most stolen bases.

  • Thursday, June 22, 2006

    Frank And Davey Not Sitting In A Tree

    In Ladson's interview with Frank, which I discussed in my last post, Frank alluded to his dislike for Davey Johnson.

    Barry Svrluga, writing in the Post, ups the ante, getting some more details about their 'relationship' with the Orioles. Excerpting it won't do it justice, and the full profile is worth a read, even if it's a long one.

    (Side note.... Svrluga would be perfect for SI or another magazine, where he could do more of these long-form articles, focusing on the colorful details and playing with the language, something that working a beat sometimes makes difficult.)

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Boston Stranglee Edition

    Thanks to Federal Baseball for summing up the Unhappy Recap:
         R   H   E
    WAS 9 22 2
    BOS 26 46 0
    No, that's not a misprint.

    The final game followed the same script as the others: bad starting pitching, shaky defense, impotent offense, confused managing. Sum it up, and it's a 9-3 loss, which really wasn't even that close.

    Renowned hoser Shawn Hill started, and skirted in and out of danger in the first, but yacked up (with some defensive help) a two-out rally culminating in a Big Papi Slam that essentially buried the Nats. He pitched into the sixth, but gave up 8 freakin' runs, two of which scored because Mike Stanton again proved that he's incapable of being a major-league quality relief pitcher. Still, Hill needed to do better, and he gets the Duck.

  • Since peaking at a 1.006 OPS on June 8, Soriano has been in a complete freefall. In those 56 ABs, he's hit a pathetic .179/ .258/ .304 for a dismal .562 OPS. Last year, Cristian Guzman's was .574. Even more worrisome is his complete lack of plate discipline. He's walked just four times (unintentionally) versus 16 strikeouts.

    It seems that teams have completely stopped challenging him with fastballs. He'll get them occasionally, but only as a setup for more breaking slop. Early in the season, when he was humming along, he was doing a good job of laying off the slop away. As he's started fishing at it again, they've been able to get the fastball in on him, causing a swing and a miss, or jamming him, resulting in a popup or a weak grounder. (If you've watched the games, you've seen a LOT of weak grounders lately, which is a terrible sign for someone who'se a flyball pull hitter).

    He's just completely out of synch, and he'll need to get better, if only to keep other teams interested in him. Of course, when you had a start as hot as his, it's going to take a lot of stinking to put a meaningful dent in his overall numbers.

    As far as trading partners, pick a team. Giants? Dodgers? Angels? Just keep checking here for the latest!

  • The Official Beat Writer of this particular blog has a decent interview with Frank Robinson that does a good job of showing off his human side. Ladson lets Frank defend his tenure with the Expos/Nats, and Robinson, a very prideful man, doesn't swing and miss: In your 16 years as a Major League manager, is managing the Expos/Nationals the best work you have ever done?

    Robinson: I think each organization that I was with, I felt like when I left there, they were better off on the field than before I took over. I felt in each place I wasn't given enough time and resources to turn those clubs into real winners.

    With the situation with Major League Baseball, I've been given the opportunity over a period of time to show what I might be able to do if I had the resources. ... This ballclub has not sunk into a deep hole of pity or stumbling around on the field or be an embarrassment to Major League Baseball. That has a lot to do with the coaching staff and the people that have been here. Don't get me wrong, I'm not taking the full responsibility of doing that. But I'm talking about the way the team has performed over the years. That's pointed toward the manager of the ballclub and the coaching staff that prepared the players.
    Certainly Robinson does need to be commended (man, that's a DC word if there ever was one) for that. I remember (probably not as well as Ladson!) reading about one homestand that had them fly from Montreal to Puerto Rico, then on the road to.....Seattle!? Brutal stuff. That the team didn't completely fall apart and that they made some noise definitely is a credit on Frank's side.

    Yet, I look at some of the curious on-field decisions. I look at how he's unwilling to lose big today to help the team more in the future. I look at the conflicts he's had with players (which was true in Montreal, as well -- including a Ohka-esque run-in with Tony Armas that had Frank on the verge of resigning). I add that up, and I wonder how much better the team could've been/would be with a different manager.

    I can't speak for the Expos days, but I'm positive the team could've won a few more last year with a manager who wasn't beholden to Vinny Castilla, Cristian Guzman or Preston Wilson. Or a manager who wouldn't bury viable, if not ideal, starting pitching options (Rasner, Halama, etc), resulting in a team running a four-man rotation for an entire month. And who knows what kind of effect that increased workload had on John Patterson's health this year. Correlation with last year? Maybe for Livan, too?

    Several times in the interview, Frank plays passive-aggressive, noting that he's disappointed that the Lerners haven't attempted to meet with him yet, and that he hopes to soon. When responding to a Ladson question asking him if he thinks that they understand what he's meant for the team, Robinson takes a veiled shot at Tony Tavares:
    At what depth, I do not know. I'm sure [general manager] Jim [Bowden] has told them a lot about it. I don't know if anyone else upstairs would have filled them in that respect or told them what I've done or the sacrifices that I've made.
    Tavares, you might recall, sat for an interview at the end of last year with Ladson and completely ripped Frank and his staff. It's clear that they're not friends!

    Not only does the human, emotional side of Frank come across, but it's also apparent of the deep respect that Ladson has for Frank, probably forged on many nights in mostly empty ballparks.

    It's also worth a read for his take on Davey Johnson's hiring. It's clear that he doesn't like Davey, and that he's hurt/angry at Johnson's new job.

  • Tom Boswell had another of his weekly email columns. This one focusing on one of the key differences with last year's team -- the inability of the starters to go deep. He notes how fragile the balance can be, observing that if every Nat starter 'just' went 2 more outs into a game, the relievers would've saved themselves 50 innings of work. (The Nats currently have 3 of the top 5 relievers in games pitched.)

  • Loverro likes community service.

  • The city and some developers reached an agreement on the parking garage situation. The city would sell the land to a developer who would build a mixture of above-ground, retail and below-ground. Kasten is blustering about how he doesn't want his fans to have to walk through a construction zone. Screw him. There's going to be so much development and construction in that area, it doesn't matter. At any rate, the best analysis was, strangely, on the BPG Forum. Here's the thread, and be sure to pay special attention to the posts of jacdupree. She runs the Near Southeast Website, which has been tracking development in the entire southeast area of DC, and, as such, she's about the only one I'd trust with crap like this. Check her website out, too, because she's really on top of the parking issue.

    She does point to this press release, which notes that the demolition of the construction site is essentially complete. Urban renewal through destruction!

  • I can't remember if I've linked to this before, but Clark Construction has a stadium site webcam that takes pictures once an hour or so. It's a neat way to check the progress.

  • If you've read me for more than a week, you'll know that I'm a big fan of Earl Weaver. Here's audio of a Manager's Show that he did for a broadcast, knowing full well that the game was going to be rained out and that it wouldn't see the light o' day. Don't listen if you have virgin ears, or if your cubicle-bound! (He doesn't like Terry Crowley!)

  • Today's Anagram O' The Day: Mike Stanton: Stink On Team (or) Me Stink A Ton

  • Wednesday, June 21, 2006

    Past A Diving...

    The defense lately has been brutal. If the batter's putting the ball in play, chances are it's rolling past a rangeless infielder or dropping in front of (or behind!) a clueless outfielder.

    Nats pitchers have given up a bazillion runs this month, and a large chunk of that, I suspect, is because the defensive play behind them is crushing them. Whether you've watched on TV and seen with your eyes, or heard Charlie say, "Past a diving Clayton," the evidence is staring us in the face. But what do the numbers say?

    First, a note about defensive stats. They stink! Defensive stats are the Enigma Machine, and we're still looking for the rotors. Some have come close, but I think the best way is to sample a number of them. They all have strengths and weaknesses.

    As far as this li'l exercise, I'm going to limit it to four positions: shortstop, second, left and center. These are the positions which, to me, seem to have been doing the most harm. (Besides, do we really need to look at stats to determine whether Zimmerman's good?)

  • Range Factor
    This is probably the most basic stat. The easiest way to think of it is the number of plays made. How many balls does a fielder get to? It's simple, but prone to noise. If you're pitching behind Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez, there are going to be fewer balls in play (because of all the Ks), lowering the potential chances a fielder has. If you have a staff of lefties who throw groundballs, the third baseman might look better than he is simply because of the people in front of him. I'm sure you can think of some others. Anyway...

    Jose Vidro: 4.51 (11/12 NL 2B)
    Royce Clayton: 4.25 (11/15 NL SS)
    Alfonso Soriano: 2.15 (3/12 NL LF)
    Damian Jackson: 2.95
    Marlon Byrd: 2.92 (Neither have enough appearances to qualify on the leader board, but they'd both be in 3rd place if they did)

  • Zone Rating
    It's range factor on steriods. They pay some guy to sit in the pressbox and chart where balls land. They have a handy dandy chart that assigns each location on the field to a particular fielder. If the fielder makes the play, he gets credit. If he doesn't make it, he loses a notch. Bascially, it's the number of plays made per opportunity (as judged by the pasty, white, non-athletic dweeb in the pressbox -- sign me up for that job!)

    Jose Vidro: .795 (9/12 NL 2B)
    Royce Clayton: .828 (10/15 NL SS)
    Alfonso Soriano: .841 (9/12 NL LF)
    Damian Jackson: .848
    Marlon Byrd: .843 (Both would be dead last among qualified NL CFers)

  • Rate2
    Catchy name, huh? This is one of those Baseball Prospectus stats that looks more confusing than it really is, at least if you don't care about how the sausage gets made. Essentially, it's trying to measure how many runs a fielder contributes or costs a team. An average fielder has a value of 100. A fielder with a value of 110 saves his team 10 runs for every 100 games he plays. A fielder with a 50 costs his team 50 runs for every 100 games he plays.

    Jose Vidro: 92
    Royce Clayton: 92
    Alfonso Soriano: 102
    Damian Jackson: 93
    Marlon Byrd: 98

  • Win Shares
    I'm not even going to attempt to explain this puppy. It's Bill James' grand stat, which makes a lot of complicated adjustments to stats, bascially working back from team results and attributing success and failure on an individual level. Lots of people love it. Lots of people hate it. If you want more, check out the Hardball Times. They're still working with it, and have made some adjustments to it in an attempt to improve it. Again, as with the other stats, we're looking for patterns, not specific numbers.

    Win Share are broken into three parts: hitting, fielding, and pitching. Each Win Share represents 1/3 of a win (don't ask!). Again, patterns, not specifics. (Team Stats)

    Jose Vidro: 1.1 (14th in NL 2B)
    Royce Clayton: 1.6 (13th in NL 2B)
    Alfonso Soriano: 1.6 (16th among ALL NL OF)
    Damian Jackson: 0.5
    Marlon Byrd: 1.6 Because it's a counting stat (meaning it accumulates with playing time), ranking these two agains other OFers isn't fair.

  • UZR
    Probably the best of the new stats, UZR takes play-by-play records, crunches numbers and all sorts of jazz, arriving at what's regarded as the most accurate of the defensive stats. Unfortunately, since their creator's method is proprietary and is/was working for the Cardinals, we only have old ones. And, unless you think that Jose Vidro's value from 2003 is useful today, they're not going to do a lot of good now.

  • Summing it all up.

    Looks about as bad as we expected, huh?

    Jose Vidro is consistenly at the bottom of the league in every defensive metric. Royce Clayton does better, but is still well below average in every category.

    It's the outfield where things get fishy.

    Soriano has an excellent range factor, but his zone rating is very low. I suspect that this is a function of how deep he plays and his arm. Assists count as plays made for range factor, so it's like adding 10 plays to his total -- a slight blip overall, but one that does exist. So he's getting to a regular amount of balls for where he's positioned, but, as we've seen, he's playing really deep, and lots of balls are falling in front of him, lowering his zone rating. Overall, he's probably somewhere in the middle. Rate2 and Win Shares love him. I'd be interested to see a comparison of doubles to left at RFK this year. I suspect they're down this year because of his depth, but that singles are up.

    Center is just as screwy. Range Factor says that Byrd and Jackson are gold glove-type CFers. But zone rating says they stink, by a lot. Some of that, I would guess, has to do with the large CF territory they must cover. There's more territory for a ball to fall in, which would penalize them, at RFK than at, say, Citizen's Bank Park. Still, that's territory that needs to be covered (all the more reason the Nats need a flycatcher in center -- the pitching staff, especially needs it!). Rate2 seems to jive with zone rating. And, at least with my amateur eyes, their range has been poor. What do you think?

    The stats clearly show that the infield stinks on ice. The outfield is a bit muddled, although my eyes lean me towards the stinking direction too.

    This is having a profound impact on the pitching staff. Look at the results this month; they've been hemorrhaging runs.

    The old baseball cliche says that pennants are won with strength up the middle. With some of the worst defenders in the league at second and short, and a questionable duo in center, it's no wonder that the Nats are the team that other teams are looking to beat up on.

    And with a pitching staff that doesn't strike out a ton of batters and playing in a park that maximizes the amount of territory fielders need to cover, defense is especially important.

  • So the next time you hear Charlie say, "Past a diving Vidro," know that a better fielder likely would've made an out.

    Tuesday, June 20, 2006

    Thanks, Livan!

    Thanks, Livan! Your crappy outing gave me a few extra hours of valuable time that would've otherwise been spent watching a crappy game! Man, what a stinker. At least you picked a day when the offense was as impotent as [&=senator_lastname].

    I'm leaning more and more towards the Livan is toast theory. He just can't get anything by anyone. While I felt that he was let down by his defense in his start against the Rockies, not even the '75 Reds could've ran down the liners/bloops he was giving up tonight.

    What's wrong with him? I think he's lost control of his fastball, for whatever reason. He's never been overpowering, but when he can't spot it where he wants it to go, he's leaving it over the plate far too often. I've also talked previously about his pitch speeds, and I think that that's still a problem. There's very little speed difference between his two-seam fastball (basically all he throws) and his slider. It's just that one floats from right to left, the other from left to right.

    Worse, he's not getting any bite on that slider. It's not snapping off the way a slider should, almost like how a frisbee really curves hard over the last few feet when you snap off a good throw.

    His breaking ball is rolling, so he's not really fooling them with location (there's no deception if it's not a late, hard break), and he's certainly not fooling them with speed. Everything sorta looks the same, and batters are just teeing off.

    Sure, he's got that beautiful rolling curve that bloops in there, but he rarely is able to throw it for strikes on a consistent basis, and batters can ignore it. But he's also hung a bunch of them. (A hanging pitch is a breaking pitch that doesn't get the right amount of spin, dramatically lessening the break, making it a fat, slow, juicy watermelon of a pitch.)

    BP fastball, hanging slider, curveball without control. 1,2,3. Add 'em up, and you've got a pitcher with an ERA of a bazillion.

    If we take a deeper look at his stats, there are some trouble signs. (These are before tonight's start, so they'll certainly be worse)

    Livan has always been a groundball pitcher, but he's giving up more and more flyballs this year. His walks per game are up slightly, and worse, his homer rate has skyrocketed. For his career he has allowed about .95 homers for every 9 innings pitched. This year, it's up to an ungodly 1.41 per 9. Accordingly, his slugging percentage allowed has jumped up to a scary .476! To put that in perspective, Ryan Zimmerman's slugging .477!

    Their states have his line-drive rate at 21%, which is less than last year. Something seems fishy about that. If you look at it in the context of the entire team, he's right there with Ramon Ortiz and Tony Armas in terms of suckitude.

    It seems to me that Livan's been getting blooped as much as he's been giving up liners. It seems that an awful lot of soft flares fall in, as well as regular ol' singles.

    Can he get better? Your guess is as good as mine. His peripheral numbers (strikeouts, walks, homers) have never been good, and statheads have been declaring his imminent death since he was still with the Marlins. Perhaps it's all caught up to him.

    He's under contract for next year, so the Nats better hope he finds it. His name has been floated as a possible trade candidate, but given his performance this year, as well as the large contract (which is very reasonable if he's pitching like he did last year, but wretched if he's like this) might make some team less willing to gamble -- or at the very least, unwilling to part with as premium a prospect.

    Whether he stays with us or goes, he needs to pitch better than he did tonight.

  • Frank made a key strategic error early in the game. In the ill-fated second inning, before the complete offensive orgy, Frank had the infield in with runners on second and third. Predictably, the batter singled up the middle, scoring the run. There's no reason for the infield to be in at that point (especially with one with as little range as ours). It was so early in the game that trading a run for an out is worth the gamble, especially with the high-powered Sox bats looming in the hole.

    Had Frank kept the infield back where it belonged, the grounder up the middle is a likely out, and the Nats escape the inning with only a run or two allowed, not the six that scored.

  • Sometimes I don't understand Frank's reliever usage either. This is the second time that he's left Bray out for dead. Bray had a rough outing a few times back, but he's mostly been effective, and has been excellent against lefties -- something that Mike Stanton most definitely isn't. So, sure, make him throw 50 pitches. At least we have an off-day coming up.

  • The offense was, again, pathetic. Of course when you have Marlon Feckin' Anderson (.256/ .306/ .400) DHing and hitting cleanup!?!?!, what do you expect? The party line? "Robinson put Anderson there because he doesn't strike out a lot and gives the Nationals some speed."

    Well, Frank Robinson is a feckin' doddering idiot then.

    Meanwhile, Daryle Ward (.291/ .394/ .636 WOW!) sat on the bench and Robert Fick (.250/ .250/ .375) played first.

    That speed sure helped, didn't it, Frank? At least we only struck out six times. Cause that's what matters.

  • Our good friend Bill Ladson reports that Tony Armas is having an MRI on his forearm coughUCLtearcough. He also says that Nick Johnson is having an MRI for his back. More than a simple strain? God, I hope not.

  • That same Ladson report gives us our Jim Bowden Passing The Buck Statement O' The Week:
    Bergman wasn't the only one who pitched well. The Nationals thought about brining up right-hander Roy Corcoran, who is 1-1 with a 1.93 ERA and five saves for New Orleans. He has Major League experience having played for the Expos in 2003 and '04.

    "Corcoran was given serious consideration, but [New Orleans pitching coach Steve] McCatty recommended Bergmann," Bowden said.

    Corcoran, as you probably don't recall, expressed optimism and disappointment that he hasn't hopped on the Express Train outta New Orleans.

    So, instead of logically explaining that the reason the kid didn't get the call was because there's no room on the 40-man roster, and that the Nats didn't want to risk losing a player to call up a reliever when there's a passable alternative, he blames the kid's pitching coach. Way to win friends and influence enemies, JimBo.

  • Bye, third place. Effing Marlins.

  • Anagram O' The Day: Livan Hernandez: Zen Held: Nirvana.

  • CHB On Frank

    Dan Shaughnessy takes on Frank Robinson, and, for once, he (Dan) doesn't come across as an ahole.
    ``If a player is proven to have used performance-enhancers, I think you should wipe their records off the book. All of 'em. Wipe 'em all out."

    Any resentment seeing Bonds and Sosa shoot past him?

    ``I don't resent that. I've got more important things to worry about. Life. Good health. What am I going to do?"

    Sure, Frank. But what if we got you and Aaron and Mays into a room and got you drunk -- what would you guys say then?

    ``You wouldn't have to get us drunk," he said.

    And there're more interesting comments from Baseball Primer.

    Quick Reminder/Angelos Rant

    This Saturday's Nats/Orioles game was originally scheduled for 1. It's been moved to 4:30.

    It's the same situation as with what happened with the Nats game against Philly two weeks ago. Fox had intended to broadcast the game, but pulled out a few weeks ago. Since they have an exclusive broadcast window at 1, the only way the game could be televised is if they switched the game time, something the Nats chose not to do.

    It's probably tin-foil-hattish for me to wonder why this is being done to televise the game when it's Peter Angelos' team involved, but when you have these interwebs of ownership and media rights, it's going to create these sorts of paranoid questions.

    Still, I'll be there, sweltering in the sun, trying to stave off the clap and other diseases, hoping to not get mugged on my way back to the car. Get In On It, indeed. (If you haven't seen the train wreck that is the city's new advertising campaign, it's online here. Brutal stuff that should ensure that an advertising exec is hauled out back and shot.)

    Back In Black

    Our friends at Baseball Primer point to this Yahoo story on MLB.TV's idiotic blackout rules. It turns out that we're not the most aggrieved; fans in Iowa are.

    It's an interesting article, but it makes one HUGE mistake. The blackout rules aren't in place to protect ticket sales, but advertising dollars. They want you watching your local sports network (ie MASN) so that the ratings go up and advertisers pay 'em more cash.

    Most interesting is this graphic, which shows which areas are blacked out from which games. You can see that Iowa is completely screwed. And you've gotta feel bad for baseball fans in Charlotte. They're really getting fecked.

  • UPDATE: As DM points out in the comments, he's written an excellent post on this issue, wondering what the cost would be for MLB to allow people to buy their way out of the blackout -- IOW, how much does the local broadcaster collect from you? The answer is surprisingly high.

  • Larry King Presents

    Hey, that Manny Ramirez is a heckuva hitter....If I'm playing one game, and one game only, I'm sure as hell certain that I don't want Tony Armas pitching....Have you ever seen a manager intentionally walk so many batters....Is there anything more beautiful than watching a homer bounce off a Coke bottle?....A ballpark just isn't a ballpark without obstructed views....Boy, that Daryle Ward is fat....That Kyle Snyder is a lucky sonofabitch....Isn't that Nat Pack great?....If you can see just one movie this year, don't....When I watch the ageless Mike Stanton pitch, I think to myself "they don't make 'em like they used to, and they sure don't pitch like they used to either."...

    I feel bad for Brendan Harris.....He's no Royce Clayton....Jason Bergmann is sure to give the team a lift....I wonder if he's related to Ingmar?....Jon Rauch is tough as balls....What's failing faster: Soriano's batting average or his trade value?....If you believe in momentum in baseball, look no further than Ryan Zimmerman....That Marlon Byrd sure fills out a pair of pants....Has anyone ever noticed that Coco Crisp is a funny name?.....

    The fans voting Soriano second among NL outfielders shows how beloved he is....Royce Clayton doesn't even register....Is there a prettier swing in baseball than Brian Schneider's?....With the bases loaded, there's no one I want at bat more than Jose Guillen....

  • Duck to Ryan Zimmerman. Two double plays, three left on, and one bad hangover.

  • Monday, June 19, 2006

    Eleven Down, Sixteen To Go

    This week was like the Badwater Ultramarathon, the grueling race that takes runners (aka idiots) from the lowest point in the US to the highest in the lower-48 in 'just' 135 miles. The Nats went from the lowest of the lows to the highest of the highs in successive series in a meatgrinder of emotion. It's that intensity of emotion, shifting up and down, varying in intensity that makes being a fan so fun, and, well, addictive.

    Still, despite the elation of the last two games, the week has to be a disappointment. With the woeful travelers, the Rockies, in town, the Nats were drooling, looking to take 3/4. Instead, four games later, thoughts of .500 ball went POOF.

    Onward they march, though, getting three against the Red Sox, a much-needed off-day, and three against the Orioles in the stinking armpit of the east coast, Baltimore.

    Nats Record: 2-5 *gulp*
    Overall Record: 32-39 -- if we had taken 3/4 from the rockies, we'd be 35-36 now.
    Runs Scored: 33 for the week (4.7/game), 325 overall (T10/16 teams). That's two straight weeks with 30+ runs, which pushes up two places in the leaderboard
    Runs Allowed: 53 for the week!?!? (7.6/game), 350 overall (13/16 teams). The Nats dropped 5 places in the league with a terrible pitching week. Brutal stuff.
    Expected Record: 33-38

    What's Good?
    1) Jose Guillen's Return! The guy might be batshit crazy, but he can hit -- when healthy. After two weeks off, and a winning streak that showed that Soriano is the team's true leader, Guillen came back, hit lower in the order, and produced. He's not going to get the 5-year, $50 million offer he wanted, but if he puts up solid numbers and is a model citizen, him coming back wouldn't be the worst thing in the world (assuming Bowden can't find a dance partner before August). (.273/ .385/ .545, 1 HR, 4 RBI)

    2) Giant Jon Rauch! Just when it looked like his arm was about to fall off, he whips off a week more like the ones he had at the beginning of the year. He's been one of the unsung heroes of the pen all year, and his clutch strikeout of Alex Rodriguez on Friday night brought a smile to many a fan's (especially Boston ones!) eyes. (4 G, 5.2 IP, 1 R, 3 K)

    3) Nick Johnson! The old guy finally missed a game (tweaked back), but when he was in the lineup, he beat the snot out of the ball (or watched the snot out of it, technically), having 6 walks to go with his 7 hits. Amazingly, 5 of those 7 were doubles. He was locked in, spraying the ball into the gap and down the line. Impressive to watch. But given Daryle Ward's monster performance as his replacement, maybe there was just some magic in that ol' first base bag? (.438/ .609/ .750, 5 2B)

    What's Bad?

    1) Starting Pitching. Brutal week for the starters. Shawn Hill's 4.50 ERA was the best on the team. Tony Armas' 21.00, the worst. They couldn't get anyone out, burying the Nats from the start, and straining the bullpen further.

    2) The defense. This is becoming a HUGE problem, and I think it's the primary reason why the starting pitching broke down. Vidro's range, which had improved markedly early in the season, is gone. He can't get to anything more than a step away. Royce Clayton is below average, too. Watch how many balls get hit up the middle or through the holes at second or short.

    Telling was Bob Carpenter drooling all over a routine play that Robinson Cano made on a slow Shawn Hill grounder towards the hole between second and first. It was a nice play, but a routine one, and Carpenter called that one as if Bobby Richardson were fielding McCovey's liner. But when your frame of reference is 70 games of Vidro, it did look like a spectacular play. It wasn't though.

    The outfield defense has been poor, too. Damian Jackson can't cut it in center. Robert Fick 'patrolled' a game or two in left. And while Soriano has shown excellent range to his left and right to cut off would-be extra-base hits, he plays so deep that he's letting a number of outs drop in front of him for hits.

    Add it up, and the pitchers look worse than they really are. And sometimes they'll have weeks like this where the dribs and drabs all come together and they get the bejesus smacked out of them.

    3) Everyone not named Nick, Guillen or Ryan. The offense stunk this week. I don't know how they did as well as they did, other than pure luck. Soriano batted .172 and 'slugged' .310; Jose Vidro batted and slugged .160; Royce Clayton batted .200; Brian Schneider batted .150, slugging .250. Nobody did nuttin'. But still, thanks to Nick, Guillen and Ryan (with an assist to Ward), they won.

    Game O' The Week
    Take your pick. Which do you like? Seven-run comebacks? Or walk-off homers? I don't know which one I'd take. Probably the comeback.

    MVP Award
    Ryan Zimmerman, was there any doubt? Sure, we'll remember his huge homer, but did you realize that he had 13 hits this week!?!? or that 7 of them were for extra bases? (6 doubles, 1 wonderful homer). He was on this week. It's a shame that no one else was. (.433/ .433/ .733, 6 2B, 1 HR, 8 RBI)

    Cy Young Award
    I'm tempted to leave this blank, as only Jon Rauch had an ERA below 4.50. But he did pitch well, even if he didn't pitch that much.

    LVP Award
    Jose Vidro just killed the team this week, not hitting for average, power, or walking, and playing some brutal second base to boot. Trade him, Jim! Trade him! (.160/ .192/ .160, 4 H, 0 XBH, 1 GDP)

    Joe Horgan Joey Eischen Award
    Lots of choices this week, but in the end, I can't overlook the 11-spot that Ramon Ortiz threw up. Sure, his 8.18 ERA is lower than Gary Majewski's 10.38, Bill Bray's 13.50, and Tony Armas' 21.00, but to be that bad over 11 innings of pitching takes a special kind of talent.

    Sunday, June 18, 2006

    As Thick As Hasty Pudding

    Truthfully, I wasn't much of a fan.

    Sure, I watched Friday night's meltdown where Lame Duck winner Gary Majewski turned a win into a tie, which Cordero would rend into another dispiriting loss.

    But Saturday? I was watching the USA/Italy World Cup match (and what a match it was!). I had a game-tracker of some sort running in the background, and after Ramon Ortiz' easily expected meltdown, as manifested in the Johnny Damon slam, the attention I paid was going, going, gone.

    A few minutes later, my friend called, telling me that the Nats were coming back, and reminding me of all the never-ending 4+ hour Orioles/Yankees games we've been to. He seemed optimistic. I was, I guess, too worked up over red cards to get into it. But I did reopen my game tracker.

    So, I saw, in some respect, Daryle Ward's bomb. (Though the tracker's description of it being a homer to "deep right" didn't really do it justice.) And I did 'see' Robert Fick's single.

    9-8? That I can watch. As the 93rd minute of the soccer game came and went, the final whistle rang, and the channel got flipped in time to see Soriano's mad dash.

    I know what the stats say: Stolen bases are overrated. Good luck convincing anyone who saw him scamper to second. Or tear off for third, only to come home on the Lecroy-like throw. Here comes the tying run!

    Then the fat man was there again, Daryle Ward doing what Daryle Ward has done all year, working the count, finding a way to get on base. (Who needs Marlon Stinkin' Anderson...til Sunday, at least!)

    When Jose Guillen drilled a hard liner that split the outfielders, it created one of those iconic sights that anyone who was watching is going to remember: A fat man running a 90-yard dash as if he were being chased by a ghost.

    It was the kind of baseball moment I love, full of mental calculus, full of questions that continuously adjust each microsecond as your eyes take in more and more information. Guillen swings: single? Can Ward get to third? He's looking slow now! OK, Guillen to second? Wait? They're still not to the ball, can he score? No, look how slow he is! But wait, are they going to send him? Where's Guillen? They're just now getting to the ball? Can he make it? Is he running out of steam? Is that relay throw good? Looks high? Is he gassed? YES! Holy Crap!

    Here's the play. Even now it makes me smile. I love the way Ward slows that 290-pound frame as he tries to shift his bulk 90 degrees when coming around third. So dainty are his steps! Can you imagine what was going through his mind? He must've thought the outfielders collided, how else to explain him being asked to go three bases? I love that stuff!

    Last year had Carlos Baerga's piston legs (thanks, Barry!) huffing and puffing, pumping up and down furiously while his body seemed to go nowhere. This year, we have an offensive tackle doing ballet before shifting the tractor back up into gear.

    Needless to say, he gets the Whip!

    But oh, to have been a part of it from beginning to glorious end! How sweet the victory must've been for the tired, sweaty fans -- or demoralizing depending on your color of hat. The fourth movement of Beethoven's Ninth (Ode To Joy) is spectacluar, but nothing can come close to it when it's the culimination of three previous moments. Sure, I enjoyed the mad dash, but to have been there and seen everything leading to it? I'm jealous.

  • But today, I was a worse fan. Today's game was part of my season ticket package. When Ryan Zimmerman hit his shot heard 'round the 'burbs, where was I? Skyline Drive. Yep. I gave my tickets away. So you're not going to hear from me about the majesty of the shot.

    Instead, watch this, and listen to Charlie Slowes' perfect call of the homer, and see the joy on everyone's face. (The highlight for most people comes at the 24-second mark, when a bejerseyed Jeter fan slinks off)

    You'll note that they use the radio feed instead of the MASN call. That's because Tom Paciorek is an embarrassment.
    Carpenter: Zimmerman!
    TP: YES!!
    C: There it goes!
    C: Yeah!
    Several seconds of silence....
    TP: [Cackles like the Emperor from Star Wars]

    You're not a fan, Tom. You're an analyst. You can be a homer without resorting to grunts.

  • After games like the last two, I like to see what other people have to say. Bronx Banter's my favorite Yankees blog, and it's interesting to skim through their game chatters to get their impressions and to gauge their feelings. Here's Saturday's. Here's Sunday's.

  • Triple Play notes that Saturday's pre-comeback score was eerily familiar.

  • Curly W was there on Saturday, and shares his story, and in the process makes me envious: I was jumping up and down in my seat so high that I almost fell over a railing.

  • Just A Nats Fan blogged both games, and got some interesting screen shots of a very excited Zimmerman.

  • Saturday, June 17, 2006

    Bang! Zoom!

    What a game! Sometimes a picture really does tell the entire story!

    Daryle Ward may be fat, but the man can run when it counts!

    Back in third place!

    More later...

    Great Moments In Prognostication, VOL I

    12/7/05, Baseball Primer's Transaction Oracle:
    Alfonso Soriano: .248 .295 .439, 27 homers.
    "Wow, this is an awful trade for the Nats."

    From the peanut gallery:
    "if Sledge realizes that projection in something close to a full season, then the Nats will have acquired Soriano for two players who are each better than him."

    "Why the #### would the Nationals ever do something like this? God that's mind boggling."

    "Wow! Is Soriano going to be look terrible at RFK?"

    "I was just looking at Soriano's HR/FB ratio of 0.13, which was very middle of the pack, and half that of the league leaders like Manny, Hafner, Andruw, etc.

    Based on that, I suspect that even the homerun projection here might be too high, considering he is going to a park where flyballs go to die, and will be playing another 27 road games or so in places like Florida, NY, and Atlanta.

    I think it's very possible the avg and on base projections are correct, but I think the homer totals and the slg % could be even worse than the projections here."

    And the Grand Prize Winner:

    "It adds up to about 18 homers, I think."

    Friday, June 16, 2006

    Divided Loyalties

    As most of you know, in a previous life I was a fan of tonight's opponent. I grew up in NY, so my choices were Yankees, Mets or Red Sox. I chose wisely.

    I didn't really get into baseball until the early '90s, so I saw a few years of mediocre, but improving baseball. I have vague memories of Jim Abbott's no-hitter (thanks, Carlos Baerga!), and lots more memories of losses. I can remember reading about, and being disappointed by, Andy Hawkins no-hitter in 1990, which he lost 4-0. But those, thanks to a combination of youth and seasonal disappointment, are vague recollections. The good memories start in 1994.

    No one wants to hear a Yankees fan reminisce about winning, but there are moments that, even ten years later, make me smile: Pat Kelly's Saturday night homer against the Blue Jays, which put the Yankees in the Wild Card lead, Jim Leyritz' extra-inning homer in the drizzle of the ill-fated Division Series against the Mariners, even Edgar Martinez' batting display for the ages, and the final, crushing blow off Black Jack McDowell.

    I went to my first game in 1996, almost 10 years ago to the day. It was a Saturday afternoon game, Baltimore against New York, Mussina v. Pettite. I made the three hour drive down from my home just to see the game. I had good seats. Got to see Pettite throw a gem. Bobby Bonilla hit the first homer I saw. Dale Polley (who?!) relieved, but John Wetteland got the save.

    That fall I moved to Baltimore, and lo and behold, who'd the Yankees play? My timing was poor though. I never saw the Jeffrey Maier homer, thanks to an ill-timed physics lab, but I did see the Bernie Williams game-winning homer (which everyone forgets about). Then came Columbus Day weekend, and as I headed to NY, the Yankees went to Baltimore, where Todd Zeile dribbled the ball into the ground, and Darryl Strawberry and Cecil Fielder beat the pus out the ball. World Series bound!

    There are so many plays from that first Series that stick out: 19-year-old Andruw Jones' two game-one homers, Jim Leyrtiz' swing on that Mark Wohlers slider, Andy Pettite's clutch fielding, getting a game-saving force play at third on a bunt, followed by (an inning later), Paul O'Neill's sprinting catch to save a 1-0 game. I'll spare you the boredom!

    That team gave me a lot of good memories. The 2001 World Series, especially after everything that had happened, was magical. Those two games in NY still give me chills, and my girlfriend still laughs at my 'happy dance' -- the one I used when Kim gave up the lead on consecutive nights so as to not wake my neighbors with screams of happiness.

    But, I have a new team now. Sure, I watched, and cheered for the Yankees in the post-season last year. But that loss didn't kick me in the nuts the way Sandy Alomar's homer did in 1997. Was I just used to winning? Did I not need it as badly? Or was it the new team in my life?

    I wasn't sure.

    But I think I know now. I've seen maybe one entire Yankees game this year. That's it. I still occasionally check the scores, and I still read the NY papers, but not so much for the Yankees coverage. The Yankees blogs that I read are down to one. And even that's irregular now. I just don't feel it like I did.

    So when they're there tonight, my loyalties won't be divided. I'll be cheering along with the 10,000 Nats fans as they try to drown out the 35,000 Yankees fans. Maybe when the playoffs roll around old habits'll die hard. But it's not like it was.

    I have a new team now.

    Red Warrior Needs Food, Badly!

    Another day, another loss. And we haven't even started to run the gauntlet yet. Four games ago, we were sitting pretty. Visions of taking 3/4 from the woeful Colorado Rockies brought the delight of two-games under .500 into our minds. Four losses later, it's time to throw another coin in the slot and start over, this time from eight under. Ouch.

    Yesterday was a brutal game played on a beautiful day. The Nats didn't do much of anything, and only scored thanks to the Rockies' thirdbaseman's sticky wickets. Jason Jennings shut down the Nats batters (really their B-team), flailing away at his half-speed fastball, and the pitch which is usually the death of the Nats, a hard, bitting slider. He cruised through inning after inning, only needing to grit his teeth once or twice, as the Nats went down silently, just like last year.

    On the opposite half-inning Livan rolled to the mound, pitching, well, meh. He wasn't great, but he wasn't terrible, either, getting blooped and bleeded to death thanks to some all-time bad defense. Soriano misplayed two balls, one for a double, one for a single (that fell in because he was so deep). Damian Jackson showed all the range of a wounded ostrich with vertigo. And Robert Fick, the right fielder, is really a third catcher. On the infield, Marlon Anderson is passable (no worse than Vidro, really), and Brendan Harris, a second baseman, played short, making an error, which means Frank'll probably staple his young ass to the pine til the end of time.

    When you have a pitcher who, essentially, pitches to contact, and you combine that with a defense that shows less range than Bill Shatner, you get games like this. Unfortunately, it's been a long stretch of poor pitching that's gotten us into this mess. The Rockies just totally destroyed the Nats, scoring 35 runs in these four games. No matter who you're playing, that's unacceptable. Chalk it up to a bad stretch. I hope.

    The Lame Duck, probably unfairly, goes to Alfonso Soriano, who did nothing with the bat. He had just two hits in the series, and has just seven over his last ten games. Ten days ago, he was hitting .310/ .363/ .628. Now he's at .289/ .350/ .585. Quite a drop. The team simply can't win if he's doing nothing.

  • We're now facing the make-or-break portion of the season, as we prepare to run the gauntlet. The next 9 games are deadly, and coming out of them 4-5 would be a huge accomplishment. We get the Yankees for three, then travel to Boston and Toronto for three a piece. Our pitchers got torched in the AL parks last year, and there's no reason to think it won't happen again. The offense is going to need to step up. At least this year, with Daryle Ward and Matt LeCroy, there are legitimate options to DH. The fire sale is probably all but inevitible. These next nine games will probably make it academic.

  • The biggest news yesterday was the firing of bullpen coach John Wetteland. The Post sez too many pranks, and some damage to road bullpens. The Times sez 'philosophical differences.' throws out the 'undermining' word and says that Majewski and Cordero were being negatively influenced. (If what he did do Majewski and Cordero was bad, perhaps Wetteland needed to influence Eischen and Stanton more)

    Nothing to get worked up over, really. The bullpen coach doesn't make a damn bit of difference. They're all perfectly capable of answering phones and waving towels when the reliever's fully warm.