Sunday, August 13, 2006

Fouled-Off Bunts: A Tale Of Two Pitchers Edition

So how 'bout that Billy Traber? How 'bout that Jason Bergmann? If you had asked me prior to Friday, I'd have set the over/under for the two of them at about 8 innings and 12 runs. Instead, Traber threw a gem -- one of the few Nats pitchers to see the 8th inning -- and Bergmann was effective, even if no one's going to remember his performance. All told, it added up to 12 innings of four-run ball. That's good enough to win.

Friday night was Negro League Tribute night, and the Nats wore the uniforms of the Homestead Grays who split time between Pittsburgh and Washington. The Grays were the Yankees of the Negro Leagues, and they featured two players who were the best at their positions, and who would likely rank at the best of all-time in all of baseball.

You've likely heard of Josh Gibson, the power-hitting catcher. Stories of his titanic blasts almost sound mythological. Gibson was a huge, powerful man who was likely the best hitting catcher that baseball's seen. Imagine Mike Piazza with a decent arm, but with more power. Or, perhaps, Mark McGwire as a catcher. There's a good discussion of Gibson at the Hall of Merit, including some stats, which help to put in perspective how dominant a player he really was.

The player that's less well-known is Buck Leonard. It's a shame that he's not as well known, because he was every bit as good a hitter as Gibson, but he played first base. Gibson was a line-drive hitter with enough power to split the gaps or drive it over the wall. He wasn't a raw slugger, more of a doubles hitter, but he had a terrific batting eye, drawing walks by the bunches. He was also, by all accounts, a terrific defender, quick to the ball and accurate with his throws (an underrated part of 1B defense). The Hall of Merit discussion puts him into context, and one person's comparison to Edgar Martinez makes a lot of sense.

But back to today.... Billy Traber impressed me in his first few starts with the Nats. He's an interesting pitcher, throwing nothing but slop. He relies on a fastball which sees 90 only when thrown from the upper deck. The rest of his repertoire is slop low in the zone -- a rolling curve, a bloopy changeup and a splitter that dives sharply. His last start before the callup, he was tentative with those pitches, which, because of his mediocre fastball, he needs to succeed. He got knocked around hard and sent back to New Orleans.

I theorized, at the time, that Matt LeCroy's presence at catcher might've had an impact. LeCroy, who has about as much business being a major league catcher as I do, isn't known for his ability to block pitches in the dirt, and with thighs like ham hocks, he's not going to spring to and fro chasing that splitter. Traber kept everything up, and struggled to throw strikes. When he fell behind, the Reds pounced.

On Friday, he had Brian Schneider behind the plate, and Traber threw strikes, walking none in his 7+ innings while allowing just run, a homer to the teenager-chasing/gambling-addict/cheater catcher. Traber threw all his pitches, and seemed to have the confidence he lacked in his previous outing. Is it as simple as having confidence in a catcher? Or is it a fluke? Thankfully for him, there ain't nobody left, so he'll get his chance to prove himself.

On Saturday, Jason Bergmann took his shot. Despite what the announcers said repeatedly, this was NOT his first major league start. In the dark days of September (on a day which causes people to make stupid comparisons), he got an emergency start, throwing two innings on one of those rotation-by-committee days. After getting his butt kicked earlier this year, they sent him to the minors and converted him to a starter. Usually it works the other way (failed starter into reliever), but with this organization, the more you can do, the better.

I can't say that I particularly think much of Bergmann. His stuff's decent enough, even if his fastball seems a bit straight. He doesn't have much of a curve, and only threw 2, maybe 3 yesterday. But, other than the third inning, he kept the Mets off the board. He started with the biggest sin of all, plunking the pitcher. Reyes, LoDuca and Beltran followed up with two triples and a single -- one of the triples should've been cut off by Alex Escobar, who was playing center. But still, those weren't weak fly balls dropping in; they were lasers.

I'm not convinced that he's going to be an acceptable alternative, but that's what this season's for. Stranger things certainly happen, and, at the very least, he could prove himself useful as a swingman out of the pen next year, that bridge from the 4th to the 6th inning when the starter takes an early shower.

  • Brian Schneider had the big hit of Friday's game, a two-run double that hooked just inside the bag at third, one of two hits he had in the game. He's starting to heat up a bit this August, batting .273 for the month, though that's with little power or many walks.

  • Felipe Lopez continues to hit. He's now up to .280/ .381/ .400 as a National, which is excellent for a shortstop. He still makes too many errors, but he's also getting to quite a few more balls than Clayton was. You're not seeing those grounders through the left side anymore, are you? Where's that balance between increased range and increased errors? I don't know, but his bat likely makes up for any deficit, if there is one.

    For what it's worth, they ain't happy with Clayton in Cinci. (People abbreviate it Cinci because they can't remember whether it's two Ns or two Ts in Cincinn(?)att(?)i)

    Q: It is clear that Royce Clayton is not an upgrade at shortstop. Why can't Rich Aurilia player shortstop to keep his and Edwin Encarnacion's bats in games? — Tom, Dayton

    A: This is the Question of the Week. Seven questions on Clayton's defense were in the ol' inbox. I agree on Clayton. He has not been an upgrade defensively and I thought this before he botched two plays in the first inning Wednesday that led to a grand slam home run by Jim Edmonds. His defense isn't much better than what Felipe Lopez gave the Reds and Lopez gave more offense.

    Don't let the fact that Hal McCoy is legally blind affect your judgment. He's still a better judge of talent than half the hacks with keyboards around the country. And besides, he doesn't like Bowden, so he's a good judge of character -- check out the rest of the questions for more on that, including the original derivation of the name "Leatherpants."

  • The other part of that trade (and it's really better for my sanity and mine if we ignore Ryan Wagner), Austin Kearns isn't doing much with the bat, even if he has an impressive eye. He has just one homer as a Nat, but 19 walks, giving him an impressive .393 on-base percentage.

    The Nats now have 6 regulars (7 if you count Church) who are above the ~.350 league average mark. That's how you build an offense. There's been a lot of hand wringing about all the LOB lately. That's just a function of having a team on base in the first place. We went entire homestands last year without leaving 12 on base, as we did in a game earlier this week. Be happy. Those hits'll drop in at some point.

    It's nice having an offense which can come back. Last year, if we were down two, you could turn the radio off. This year, they can comeback. It's just that the Zephyrs' bullpen forces us to do it 2 or 3 times a game.

    Imagine where we'd be with this year's offense and last year's pitching!

  • The NY Press is already salivating over the thought of Soriano in orange and blue.

    Assuming equal 4-year $55 million deals (a pipe dream, but humor me), who would you rather have? Barry Zito or Alfonso Soriano?

  • The Astros finally realized that Preston Wilson sucks.

  • Comcast is taking another shot at MASN, blaming their impending rate increase on MASN. MASN claims that they're charging Comcast $1.25 per subscriber, yet Comcast's rates are going up by $2.

    I don't want to defend MASN, and I'm certainly sure that Comcast's expenses are going up, but I really don't know how the hell Comcast's spokesman can live with himself. Does that lying sack of crap really expect us to believe that Comcast, one of the worst of the corporate behemoths (and who owns its dominance not to the value of its products but to its abuse of the monopoly status granted to it by local communities), wasn't going to raise rates even without MASN? My cable rates, as yours have, I'm sure, gone up about $20 dollars over the last 5 years, and that's just for the regular basic package, none of that fancy digital cable crap. It's ridiculous.

    Does he really expect us to swallow that crap? If they're such a caring consumer, I'm sure that my internet rate's not going to go up anytime soon, right? And I'm also sure, since they're such a thoughtful business that we're going to be getting a rebate on our cable bill because Comcast SportsNet no longer has to pay out millions for the rights to the Orioles games? Just like the rebate we got for the money they didn't have to pay out for the rights to the Washington Capitals season that was never played, right?

    So go screw yourself David Cohen. You're a disgusting money-grubbing sack of shit. Feel free to lie to the consumer and to spin, spin, spin everything, as long as it keeps you in a high-paying job with a salary paid from my money, because some asshats in a city hall decided that going with your shitty company was in my best intereest.

    How does he live with himself? Did he feel guilty writing lies like that? I don't think that everyone needs to be altruistic with what they do. I work at a non-profit and make probably one-eighth of what that guy does, but I can go home at the end of the day knowing that I've helped to make a difference in millions of people's lives. Not everyone needs that or wants that, but what kind of satisfaction does he get from lying like that? Who is he serving? Not the consumer. I hope he enjoys his quiet, cold McMansion and his trust-fund children.


    • The last two paragraphs of this post are pure gold. Well said. I don't care if they start airing the games or not, I am bailing on Comcast and taking the $171 dollars I spend on internet, phone and cable each month with me. I can't wait to make that phone call and tell the indifferent customer service person why I'm cancelling.

      That is, as soon as Verizon finishes building out their fiber in Arlington.

      By Blogger Brandon, at 8/13/2006 11:42 AM  

    • I have one word for you guys:


      I had my fill with Comcast 6 years ago. I cancelled them and went with DirecTV and I've never regretted it. I've been able to see every game since MASN struck a deal with DirecTV last spring.

      Even without all of the premium programming, DirecTV is a better deal than Comcast anyway.

      By Blogger Joe Riley, at 8/13/2006 1:11 PM  

    • Crash, you're right, and I'd have DirecTV in a minute if I could. But I live in the second story of a two-story walkup condo and have no balcony or other means to affix the dish.

      Sadly, there are a lot of people like me here in Arlington. We literally have no choice but to subscribe to Comcast.

      By Blogger Brandon, at 8/13/2006 4:17 PM  

    • The high LOB number is more a function of the Nat's hitters total inability to hit in the clutch than it is a function of a high OBP number. One of the biggest culprits is Soriano. He great for a lead off homer but bring him up with the bases loaded and the game on the line and he is an automatic out. Kearns is a total bust too. The only decent clutch hitters the Nats have are Zim and Nick.

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/13/2006 6:13 PM  

    • According to Comcast subscribers paying the new $2 monthly fee will provide $38.4 million in annual revenue for Comcast. If Comcast were to earn the same $38.4 million that by selling subscriptions only to 150,000 likely Nats TV viewers, they would have to charge them $44 per month. That’s money they can more easily extract from by charging all 1.6 million Comcast customers in the DC area $2 each.

      It gets better. Comcast extended basic TV comes with 76 channels, which for the sake of argument, provide 24 hours of programming for the local-monopoly price of about $46 per month. So 100 hours of TV on any of those channels will cost DC area residents about 8.3 cents.

      Because Comcast cut a deal with MASN at the very end of the 2006 season, they will broadcast a maximum of 22 games this season. So for the seven months between September of 2006 and Major League Baseball’s opening day of April 1, 2007, Comcast will broadcast about 66 hours of Nats games for the low, low price of $14. That comes out to $21.21 per 100 hours of programming, more than 250 times the price of normal Comcast cable programming.

      More details at:

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/14/2006 9:54 AM  

    • I dropped Comcast for RCN 18 months ago when I couldn't get a satisfactory answer from Comcast about the MASN channel. I finally realized Comcast doesn't give a rat's ass about their customers. They have no understanding of serving their customers or providing what their customers are simply asking to receive. If you have the ability to pick up another cable provider or can go with the dish you should dump Comcast. The $2 hike in rates is a rip off and to blame MASN for their greed is incredulous.

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/14/2006 10:26 AM  

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