Monday, April 30, 2007

Welcome Back, Casto; Adios, Jimenez

Kory Casto's back, getting a callup. And D'Angelo Jimenez was designated for assignment.

Exciting moves that are sure to right the good ship National.

(Do you ever get the feeling that the people who run this team should be forced to take higher doses of ritalin?)

More later.... maybe.... ok, maybe not....

Four Weeks Down, Thousands More To Go

This morning, I read on one of Teh Internet's bestest Nationals forums, that "a run here or there, and the Nationals are looking at a four-game winning streak." While, right, that's the epitome of loser talk about a loser team. Sure, I guess it's literally true, but the reason the Nats stink (tied with KC for worst), isn't because of a run here or there. It's because of 10 runs here. And 10 runs there. Sure, good teams lose more one-run games than they should (and as we saw in '05, bad teams win more one-run games than they should), but it's the bigger things that matter.

The Nats lost this week, not because they couldn't get one run here or there, but because they couldn't get ANY runs at ANY point. And they lost in previous weeks because they couldn't prevent ANY runs at ANY point.

Don't think this is a good team because the pitchers suddenly got good and the flaccid bats went even more impotent. On that note...

Nats Record: 2-4; 8-17 overall (last in baseball)
Expected Record: 6-19. Yes, they're playing over their head. Worse, that's a 39-123 pace. Wow.
Runs Scored: 16 (2.7/g); overall, 78, last in all of baseball
Runs Allowed: 27 (4.5/g); overall, 134, 15/16 teams in the NL

What's Good?
1) Jason Bergmann! He's had four excellent starts in a row, and I want to be a believer. He had two starts, gave up three runs, and had a loss and a no-decision. That's some tough luck.

2) Ryan Church's Batting Eye! He cooled off considerably from his torrid stretch earlier (just a .235 batting average), but his team-leading 7 walks (4 more than anyone) gave him a terrific .435 on-base-average, allowing him to be stranded countless times by the feeble bats behind him.

3) Crappy Pitchers' Luck! Jerome Williams walked 5 batters, yet pitched a 6-inning shutout. Matt Chico allowed 10 baserunners in a smidge over five innings, yet gave up only two runs and got a win. Sure, we can curse our luck over the bats not doing anything, but the Luck Fairy sprinkled used all her magical dust on these two performances.

What's Bad?
1) Limp RISP. You saw the games. You know things were bad. They had 48 ABs with RISP this week, and had 7 hits for a woeful .148 batting average. Worse, they had just 6 RBI on those 7 hits. 11 times they came to the plate with runners on first and second, and they were retired all 11 times, with 2 GIDP thrown in for good measure.

2) John Patterson. I've said that there was a lot to like about Patterson's start this week, but the 6 runs allowed, definitely wasn't one of those things. Whether he gets his stuff under control or not, right now, he's Tony Armas.

3) Ryan Zimmerman. Remember when he was good? .217 .308 .261 ain't gonna remind you of that.

Game O' The Week
Thursday's afternoon game against the Phillies gave Shawn Hill his lone start of the week, and it also gave the Nats their first complete game of the year. With a 4-0 lead in the 8th, he hung a pitch to Aaron Rowand which he ripped for a homer. Hill got a chance to come back out in the 9th, but when he walked the lead-off batter, Manny Acta brought in Chad Cordero to give up some noisy outs, and make everyone nervous.

Weekly Awards:
MVP: Austin Kearns powered the Nats to at least one victory, when his three-run bomb held up against Los Mets. He had a solid week, batting .318 and slugging .727

Cy Young: No doubt it's Bergmann. Since that first outing, he's been as good, if not better than, Shawn Hill.

LVP: Felipe Lopez had a bad week. When your batting average is the same as your slugging and your on-base, it's tough. When your batting average is only .208, it's the worst. Throw in some bad defense and a CS, and it's not a week for his scrapbook.

Joe Horgan Award: Hopefully this'll be the last time John Patterson wins this. Yes, hope is something different from a prediction.

Weekly Whips:
4/24: Jason Bergmann did everything he could do but win the game. The Crappy Blowpen turned a close game into a rout -- three runs for the Nats is a rout!

4/25: Ron Belliard had 2 hits, but nobody really did much of anything.

4/25: Shawn Hill's 8+ innings make this the easiest pick of the year.

4/27: Pitching, Defense and Austin Kearns' Three-Run Homer.

4/28: Yeah, I know that Jerome Williams put the Nats in a position to win, but I was impressed by Jesus Flores' throwing, and without his laser to nab Reyes in the 8th or 9th inning, the Nats would've lost a helluva lot earlier.

4/29: Poor Jason Bergmann. What's a dude gotta do to get a win? (Hint: Don't pitch for such a crappy team!)

Looking Ahead:
Ah, the horrors of the Padres, then a chance to see our old friend Alfonso Soriano in his new uniform. The good thing about the Padres series is that we likely won't have a lead, so Cordero won't get a chance to yak the game away.

The first four pitchers the Nats face this week are Jake Peavy, Clay Hensley, Chris Young and Carlos Zambrano. Zambrano and Hensley have struggled, but they're very good pitchers, and I don't think this is the week the bats finally wake up from their slumber.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Twenty Five Random Stats That May Or May Not Mean A Thing

1) Nationals left-handed batters are hitting .134 and slugging .164 off left-handed pitching.

2) Nationals pinch-hitters are hitting .083 and slugging .083.

3) The On-base percentage of the 9th spot in the order is only .010 lower than that of the 2nd spot.

4) The team is batting .310 and slugging .571 when they connect with the first pitch.

5) If that first pitch is a strike, and they don't put it in play, they're hitting .209 and slugging .298.

6) If that first pitch is a ball, they hit .260 and slug .340.

7) With runners in scoring position, they're batting .176.

8) With the bases loaded, they've batted .130 and have a .214 OBP

9) With runners on second and third, they're batting .083, but pitchers have pitched around them, giving them a .316 OBP.

10) They have a .261 OPS in the first inning. Yes, that's the SUM of their OBP and SLG.

11) They have a .754 OPS in the second inning, which is when they've scored the second most runs.

12) They own the 6th inning with 15 runs and a .312/ .387/ .516 line

13) The third time they face a pitcher in a game, they beat him like he's Jerome Williams, .338/ .411/ .579.

14) Left-handed Nats batters have just as many GIDP (8) as right-handed Nats batters. (Jose Vidro already has 4 on his own!)

15) Opposing lefties are batting .375 and slugging .594 off Nats left-handed pitching.

16) Nationals pitchers have held the average opposing batter to a .263/ .352/ .445 line, an OPS that's pretty close to Austin Kearns'.

17) In wins, the team has a 2.50 ERA; In losses, it's 6.40

18) The Nats have allowed 13 unearned runs in losses, 0 in wins.

19) Nats relievers have allowed 5 fewer homers than Nats starters, but have pitched just 37 fewer innings.

20) On 1-0 counts, opposing batters hit .343 and slug .629

21) Nats pitchers have allowed 4 extra-base hits and a .250 batting average on 0-2 counts.

22) Opposing batters hit .300 in the first inning.

23) By the third inning, all the swinging and running tires them out, and they hit .179 (although they slug .474).

24) Nats relievers have a 2.45 ERA when they pitch in back-to-back games.

25) Opposing teams have slugged .505 off Nats pitchers when Jesus Flores catches, and .436 when Schneider does.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Sure, But Maybe He Should Be

When asked why Schneider and not Flores given today's day game and opposing lefty starter, Manny Acta said something about wanting Schneider to work with Hill. That's a reasonable explanation, and one that's really hard to disagree with given the results.
But Manny went further:
"Schneider's our everyday guy anyways," Acta said. "He's not a platoon guy."

He's right in that he hasn't been platooned, but should he?
2006: .251 .325 .333 .271 .304 .318
2005: .269 .331 .435 .265 .324 .294
2004: .260 .334 .409 .244 .286 .360
2003: .243 .315 .403 .179 .282 .358
TOTAL .255 .324 .395 .249 .309 .332

Almost every player has some sort of platoon split, so pointing out that a left-handed batter has a harder time with lefties isn't ground-breaking stuff.

Against right-handed pitchers, .255/.324/.395 is a pretty good line. That's basically league average for a catcher. When you factor in his defense, he's a solid, better-than-average backstop.

But against lefties, he's almost worthless. That .249/.309/.332 career line is execrable, and he'd have to be the lovechild of Johnny Bench and Pudge Rodriguez -- man, that'd be an ugly baby -- to be an asset to a team.

So while Manny Acta is right in that Schneider hasn't been a platoon catcher (save for a brief time in '05 when Frank inexplicably fell in love with Gary "PB" Bennett), maybe he should be.

Jesus might not be the second coming -- and in baseball, the devil you don't know is often preferred to the one you do -- but starting him against tough lefties to give Schneider a breather would make sense.


Just one week ago, the Nats were hoping to smack the Phillies around, giving them a two-game sweep and potentially ending the managerial career of Chuck Manuel.

They promptly went out and lost.

And now the Phillies have used the Nats as a trampoline, springing themselves onward to the path of respectability. The Phillies knocked the Nats around in the first two games, and now are on the verge of knocking us deep down to the bowels of patheticness.

The Nats send their 'ace', Shawn Hill, to the mound. The Phillies counter with their ace, Cole Hamels. Only their ace doesn't really need scare quotes.

Svrlgblg has the lineup, and it's a bit scary.

Josh Wilson gets the start, playing shortstop and leading off. My initial reaction was... well... I don't remember; I picked myself up off the floor after having apparently passed out.

But there's a bit of sense to it. Felipe Lopez does need the occasional day off. And Lopez is pretty poor against left-handed pitching. Given that, Wilson might not be a huge dropoff. I do have some concerns about defense, though. The last time Wilson got a start, it was also in a Shawn Hill start, and Wilson fielded the ball as if the Germans were rolling grenades towards him. With as crappy as the defense has been, that might be something to watch -- of course, Felipe Lopez isn't going to make anyone think of Luis Aparacio...

Michael Restovich starts in left. While I think that they're screwing around Chris Snelling a bit, this is a move that makes sense. Hamels is an especially tough lefty -- but the de fact two off days for Snelling makes the decision to start Fick yesterday even more curious.

My real objection is at catcher. Dayish game after a night game, and Brian Schneider -- you might remember him from such groundouts as the 6-3 and the 5-3 -- gets another start while Jesus Flores, who bats righty!!!, sits and rots on the bench.

Schneider's clearly not as bad as he's shown, but at a certain point, they need to give Flores some consistent playing time, and matching him up against a lefty, given Schneider's strengths and weaknesses, would make sense.

Oh well. We'll see how they do!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Good Movement, Sloppy Balls

Sure, Patterson's line looks terrible (six earned, thanks, in part, to a an outing by Micah Bowie that's really not worthy of the 'relief' tag).

But despite the results, there were some encouraging signs there.

The Red Snapper was back. His curveball had much of the bite back, ripping down through the zone and doing a pretty good job of keeping the hitters off balance.

His fastball was a bit faster today, but I'm still not too concerned with the velocity. What was impressive was the movement of it. Even though it's a four-seam fastball, it's got a nasty tail to it, darting slightly in on a right-handed batter.

His slider was decent, but it didn't appear to miss many bats, which is an indication that it lacked some of the zip of his other pitches. Sliders typically put the most strain on the elbow, so it would likely be the last to come back.

Given the crispness of his pitches, he failed because he didn't have control. He frequently missed his target, and as the game wore own, it looked like fatigue set in, as his fastball wasn't coming near. He got hit hard, a bit, but there was a lot more to like in this start than in the past. Despite the six runs, it's a good sign going forward.

What really undid him, though, was the shittastic defense.

I've ranted before about how stupid errors are for evaluating how successful a defense is. Today, the Nats made just one error and 8 of the 9 runs they gave up were earned. But on a crisp defensive club, 4 or 5 (if not more!) of those runs don't score.

Manny Acta talked a lot about how this team needs to do the little things and play tight defense. It just goes to prove that the more a baseball team talks about the fundamentals, the worse the are at them.

We saw balls fall in in the outfield, shortstops feel around the bag at second like a blind man stepping off a curb only to throw wildly to first, second basemen range waaaay out into the outfield where gunshy right fielders yield to the fat guy charging out, etc, etc.

The team plays sloppily, and they often don't do the little things a great team does instinctively. Some of these are the same kinds of mistakes that we got on Frank Robinson for allowing to happen. Perhaps it's as much the crappy players we have as the crappy manager.

Sure, the errors on wild throws kill. But it's those non-scorebook misplays that make the true difference between winning and losing. One look at the standings paints the true tale.

Hey, Manny


Unless Chris Snelling is hurt -- and we'll find out soon -- Fick should NOT be starting in the outfield. Fick is on the team to be a crappy pinch-hitter and to serve as the emergency catcher so that you can pinch hit for Brian Schneider at will, which you're unwilling to do.

Again, he hasn't had a slugging average above .400 since 2003. His career high OBP was .340. He's not an outfielder, even if the stupid one-per-team rules made him an All-Star once.

  • It's not even a matchup thing, as Fick is .308/ .308/ .308 (4 singles in 13 ABs) against Lieber.

  • Tuesday, April 24, 2007

    Since He Asked...

    Barry Svrluga has officially turned into a blogger, as the latest entry at Svrlblg resorts to the blogger's favorite trick: pointless lists of stats. Well played, old man!

    This one's actually interesting, and is something that I was going to do. But since he's done the heavy lifting, I'll point you in his direction. "What's it?" you ask. Just a listing of what some of our favorite former Nats are doing -- or in most cases, not doing.

    Of the scrubs we've given up, only Claudio Vargas (OPTIONS!!!), Hector Carrasco, Ramon Ortiz (!?!?!) and Livan Hernandez are pitching well. On the other side of the ball, only Brendan Harris, Royce Clayton (!?) and Endy Chavez -- who had the game-winner for the Mets tonight -- are doing anything with the bat. "Future star" Terrmell Sledge has stunk up the park, and apparently lost his job to Jose Cruz, Jr, who's working on his 42nd professional team.

    At any rate, it's an interesting enough exercise, but Svrlgblg goes the extra distance and asks its readers these questions:
    1. Who is the former National you miss the most?
    2. Who is the National acquired in a trade or free agency who you most like?
    3. What deal would you most like to see undone?

    1) Probably Livan, especially given the team's needs. At the very least, it'd be nice to have a pitcher who could do something with the bat.

    Jamey Carroll is a popular answer in his comments, and I certainly loved the guy, but let's face it; he wasn't that good. He'd have been more useful than the execrable Damien Jackson last year, but his sale to the Rockies didn't really mean a damn bit of difference to last year's bottom line.

    2) Most like? I'm allowed to like players? Hmmm... Nick Johnson's my favorite player, and he was acquired via trade, but he probably doesn't count! Of the current healthy guys, the one I enjoy watching the most is Austin Kearns, because he does lots of small things -- along the lines of hustling -- that individually don't win games, but add up over the course of a season.

    3) I'd love to replay '05 with Tomo Ohka lasting the year. I still wonder what the complete breakdown in the pitching rotation and the reliance on a four-man rotation for the final month did to John Patterson. Would things be different if he hadn't had to throw so many innings? (Over those final five starts, he pitched to a 6.68 ERA, after having a 2.44 to that point)

    It'd also be interesting to go back and undo the Soriano trade -- not because I think it was bad, but because I'd be interested to see 1) how it would have impacted our expectations going into this season and 2) what the Nats would've done with the $10 million they had budgeted for him -- remember that they were supposedly (wink, wink) in the competition for AJ Burnett in that offseason. What other tricks would Bowden have pulled off?

    What about you guys? Either chip 'em here, or throw them over there where someone'll read your comments, think they're brilliant, and offer you a job with a professional sports team.

    We Can Lose The Close Ones Too

    They did everything but win the game tonight, wasting another pretty good outing from the out-of-nowhere Jason Bergmann.

    This team isn't good enough to nurse a lead (they had a 3-1 lead in the 6th). Unfortunately they're not good enough to extend a lead either.

    As with many of their losses -- certainly all of their non-blowout ones -- it's their complete inability to do anything with runners on that's killed them.

    They didn't get runners home in the 3rd or the 7th, and it's the 7th inning which lingers in my mind.

    With a 3-2 lead, Felipe Lopez singled to left, then moved to second on a grounder. Ryan Zimmerman followed by lining a Ryan Madson pitch right back through the box for a sure run-scoring play. But the Phillies had him perfectly played, and 2B Chase Utley had no business playing where he was. He ranged behind second base, caught the liner, and stepped on second to complete the easy inning-ending double play. Excruciating.

    Jon Rauch picked a bad night to give up his first walk of the year. Despite his and Micah Bowie's inability to do the job, Manny Acta handled it perfectly, letting Bowie stay in an extra inning to try to get Utley and Howard, saving Rauch for Burrell and Helms.

    The second pitch Bowie threw to Utley went behind him, and appeared to knick his left arm, as he backed up into the pitch. Bowie did well to buckle down and get Howard on a tough slider for a K. Rauch wasn't sharp tonight. Despite getting ahead of Burrell 0-2 -- the crowd was tingling in anticipation of releasing their boo -- he fired four wide ones, putting runners on first and second. He jammed Helms, but he muscled it into center field on a weak flare -- the worst kind of hit in that situation in that it's clearly a hit off the bat, and it's slow enough that there's no chance to nab the runner.

    Ryan Church smartly threw to third, and the cutoff man let it go through. Ryan Zimmerman had to step off the bag to his right to nab it, but it bounced and went up and over his glove, but between his legs for an error -- Zimmerman's second error on wild throws this year. The ball rolled to the dugout and an extra run scored, and with the extra base the batter gained, he was able to score on Carlos Ruiz' ensuing single. Sigh.

    Things happen. You can make the right decision and not have it work, just as you can make the wrong decision and have it work out beautifully -- I'd make a comment about Frank and '05, but then I'll just have to answer more angry emails.

    I feel for Jason Bergmann. He's starting to make a bit of a believer out of me. I wasn't ready to knight him after one start. Not even after two. But now this is three solid starts in a row, and three solid starts where the batters -- save for the Burrell RBI double -- didn't really have much of a clue on his breaking pitches. He walked two batters, and struck out five, and his ERA is down to 3.27 now -- which is amazingly not anywhere near the league lead.

    I'm not ready to anoint him as our savior yet. I remember being burned by a Ramon Ortiz hot stretch. But the signs are there; the batters don't usually lie, and he's fooling them more often than not.

    Along with Chris Snelling, Jesus Colome, and Sean Hill, he's certainly been the most pleasant surprise of the season.

    Three On Twenty-Five

    Brian Schneider: He rarely makes hard contact, as you can see by looking at his line-drive rate and his infield popup numbers. When the batting average comes around a bit, he'll be improved, but his slugging is always going to be suspect because his Isolated Slugging (the part of slugging average that's NOT driven by batting average) has been in the crapper for two seasons. With three catchers, he really should see the bench more often, especially for a PHer.

    Dmitri Young: The amazing thing about him hasn't been his defense -- which is much better than expected, even if that's still not really terrific -- but his walk rate, which is more than double his career rate, and another sign that Mitchell Page, despite the struggles this team goes through, really seems to have an impact on its hitters. (Is that only one sentence?) Other than the walk rate, most of the rest of his numbers are in line with his career, so maybe he's not really playing over his head?

    Ron Belliard: He doesn't look really pretty out there sometimes, except when he's making the quick transfer from the glove on the double-play pivot. I'm not sure whether I'm impressed with his range because he's genuinely excellent out there, or if it's because I'm used to slow hoppers lazily rolling into the grass for hits. His walk rate is half of his career total, and he really needs to up that if he's going to be useful, especially as a #2 batter, because he won't have a high enough batting average to be league average.

    Ryan Zimmerman: He's finally starting to get hot, as over his last seven games, he's hitting .333. His performance this year with RISP shows the stupidity of RBI as an evaluating stat. It's not that RBI aren't important, but when trying to assess an individual player's value, they're one of the last things you look at because they're so dependent on what the other players on the team doing, and it's certainly not his fault that that Nats' #2 batters have a .225 on-base percentage.

    Felipe Lopez: He's continuing a trend he started last year, when the Reds asked him to work on his on-base percentage by taking more walks to become a complete lead-off hitter. Unfortunately, it's come at the expense of much of his extra-base hit power. He's still a useful lead-off guy and a pretty good shortstop, but unless he starts hitting for more power or zips his OBP up into the .380 range, he's probably below average at second base, all things considered.

    Chris Snelling: Snelling has easily been the Nats biggest surprise. He also shows why batting average alone isn't enough to evaluate a player, because he's been quite useful despite a .238 BA thanks to the walks, the extra-base-hits, and those beanballs. If he can get that batting average up -- and given his .312 career minor league average, there's hope -- he'll be one of the team's best players.

    Ryan Church: Church is finally living up to the promise he showed early in 2005. Confidence, for once, seems to be oozing from his body, which is why I worry a bit about how he'll react to being yanked for not hustling in Sunday's game. It's interesting to see how the perception of his defense moves with the perception of his offense, and I wonder whether he's really better out there, or if sources just appreciate the body language he's given off, even though he still will probably butcher the next screaming line drive hit right at him.

    Austin Kearns: I really like watching Kearns play defense, especially the way he hustles after balls to get into position to throw. It's something that's hard to see sometimes, but when you see a single to right with a man on first, watch how often the runner holds at second. He's been a terribly unlucky batter as you can see by looking at his line-drive rate, indicating that he'll get "better" once he stops hitting them right at the fielders.

    Robert Fick: He's more a character than a ballplayer. He hasn't had a slugging average above .400 since 2003. That's fine from a third catcher -- but not a primary PHer -- and how many games has he caught anyway?

    D'Angelo Jimenez: He hasn't had a slugging average above .300 since 2004, and he's left a trail of outs and shoddy defense wherever he's gone since. Manny Acta seems terrified to put him in the field -- likely with good reason. If he's not going to hit, and he's not going to field, why not get a fat slugger like Daryle Ward?

    Michael Restovich: When he signed a minor-league contract, I assumed that he was a near-lock to make the roster, because of his right-handed power. A platoon with Ryan Church seemed like the natural option. It didn't happen, but he's basically platooning with Snelling now, putting both batters into positions where they're more likely to succeed.

    Jesus Flores: We're rapidly nearing the time when Flores should be getting more PT. The Rule 5 process often harms players development, but with this dog of a team (and the dog of a starting catcher), what's the harm in giving him a chance? I've been impressed with his approach at the plate, where he's patient and doesn't swing wildly at pitches like a normal rookie, like Casto, does.

    Josh Wilson: I'm not sure that I've ever seen a perception of a player change as quickly as it has with him. During spring, he was a bright light, a hidden superstar, who Bowden assured us (wink, wink) was being asked about by any number of teams. One terrible, terrible game later, and he's all but stapled to the end of the bench, available only as a last resort when there's a lefty reliever on the mound.

    Shawn Hill: While not completely unexpected, his performance this year has been a very pleasant surprise -- and that's not just in comparison to the dregs around him. I worry about his health, especially with the reports that he's experiencing right forearm tenderness. All too often, forearms equal elbows, and he's already had plenty of elbow problems in his career.

    Jerome Williams: I guess it would be a bit surprising to find out that he's second on the team in innings, but that's mostly because he's been left out there to take a thorough beating. For the most part, pitchers only control three parts of their job: walks, strikeouts and homers. Williams is failing at two of the three, and even the strikeout rate isn't that exceptional.

    Matt Chico: I sorta feel bad for the kid. He's clearly over-matched in the big leagues. You just can't survive when you walk 15 batters and allow 5 homers in 18 innings of work.

    John Patterson: Just shut up and pitch. I'm tired of the excuses, whether it's mechanics or the weather, or a tummy that feels bad. If he's not healthy, shut him down, but if he's just building arm strength, leave him out there for a few beatings until he's ready to let it loose.

    Jason Bergmann: I'm not quite ready to hold the parade yet. Sure, he's had two great starts in a row, but the other 8 -- where his ERA is way over 6 -- count, too. I still want to know whether that extra zip on his breaking pitches is for real, or if it's just a hot streak.

    Jesus Colome: Would you have guessed that Colome leads the team in relief innings? He's been a pleasant surprise, but he still worries me when he pitches, and those 11 walks in 15 innings mean he's likely a ticking time bomb. He's succeeded because he hasn't allowed a homer, and because he's allowing far fewer hits than the number of balls in plays he's allowing indicates he should -- at least based on his career averages.

    Ryan Wagner: He's really a tough one to figure out. One game, he'll look brilliant, commanding his pitches, keeping them low in the zone, and keeping the hitters off balance. The next game, they're up, and wide, and he's getting smacked all over the place.

    Jon Rauch: For all the talk about how good he is, and how effective he is at his job, he does have a 5.56 ERA. While he hasn't walked a single batter, he's allowed two huge homers. Despite the occasional struggle, he's still our most consistent reliever.

    Levale Speigner: I still haven't figured him out. His control was shaky, especially in those early starts, but he seems to have improved. He's a decent enough 12th pitcher, but I really wish he were able to be a more effective long man because that's something this team could really use.

    Chad Cordero: His usage is one of the reasons why so many statheads dislike the notion of a closer. Despite nominally being the team's relief ace, he's fifth on the team in relief innings. Granted, they haven't had many leads to hold on to -- and he's choked away two of those with his ineffective pitching -- but Manny Acta needs to look for more ways to get him in the game. Of course, the one time he did that, it ended with Cordero batting with runners on, and squandering the lead half an inning later.

    Micah Bowie: If Jon Rauch' arm doesn't blow out first, then Bowie's the leader in the clubhouse given his 11 appearances already. Although he's supposedly the Nats' primary lefty, he's faced nearly twice as many righties as lefties. Thankfully, for him, righties have batted just .143, and strangely, lefties are ripping him for a .417 average.

    Saul Rivera: He's been terrific so far, as he was last year. He keeps his stuff low in the zone, especially his breaking pitches. What really makes him effective, though, is his splitter, which has action down and away from left-handed batters, which basically kills any chance of success they have off of him.

    Monday, April 23, 2007

    Three Weeks Down, Many More To Go

    Another week, another set of horrible losses. At least we can say we didn't lose all our series -- thanks to those stupid 2-game sets! There were plenty of little things to like this week -- the pen had some good games; the bats started batting -- and there were plenty to hate -- the pen had some bad games; the bats had problems batting.

    We saw the demotion of Kory Casto and the implosion of Jerome Williams. But we also saw Matt Chico's first career win, which after his appearance on Saturday feels like it could be his last. Add it up, and it's another week of losing baseball. So nothing new.

    Nats Record: 3-4; overall, 6-13 (half of our team's wins came this week), last in the NL
    Expected Record: 5-14; Pythagoras doesn't troll at these depths
    Runs Scored: 31 (4.4/game -- was 2.6 last week); overall, 62, which is next-to-last
    Runs Allowed: 41 (5.9/game -- was 4.1 last week when Boz was drooling all over himself to describe how wonderful they were); overall, 107. Last. Duh. There's one team with 97, another with 87, and those are the only two within twenty runs.

    What's Good?
    1) Ryan Zimmerman! Rumors of his demise were greatly exaggerated. We won't hold his one homer or his four RBI on the garbage-time grand slam against him. (.333/ .371/ .485)

    2) Saul Rivera and Jesus Colome! Off the scrap heap they came, pitching beautifully, especially in that extra-inning victory over the Phillies on Wednesday. Rivera got the callup when Burger King went down and has been sharp, even nailing down his first career save. Colome doesn't look pretty when he throws -- watch Schneider stretch and reach for every breaking pitch -- but the results have been there, including a sphincter-clenching three-inning scoreless appearance in that extra-innings game. Overall, they combined for 12.3 shutout IP with 10 Ks.

    3) Manny Acta! He's done well with a tough pitching situation and some of the buttons he's pushed -- Restovich, Colome, etc -- have been beautiful. There's also something to be said for how he handled Ryan Church's benching. If they're going to suck, at least suck the right way. (yeah, yeah, that's what she said, blah blah)

    What's Bad?
    1) The Ace Relievers. Let's just hope that when the Boston Red Sox come calling for a closer (as if), that their scouts were in Kansas City and all evidence of Cordero's performance (2 blown saves) has been destroyed. Same goes for Jon Rauch, who just gives up too many damn homers.

    2) Ronnie Belliard. I won't say "I told you so," but the warning signs were there when Manny Acta moved him up to #2. His hot performance was entirely driven by batting average -- zippo walks -- and there was no reason to believe that he'd continue to hit .400. The law of averages caught up, and Belliard hit a Castoian .161/ .235/ .258 this week.

    3) Manny Acta. Despite the good things he's done, there've been some head scratchers this week. Relievers batting. He never double switches early in the game when the team needs a mopup man. He bunted into a bunch of outs with non-bunters. He had an inconsistent explanation for Church's benching vice Robert Fick's non-hustle. Etc.

    Game O' The Week
    You'd think a 5-0 lead would be good enough to win, right? Shawn Hill pitched well on Friday, holding the Marlins to two runs over six innings before leaving after winding and hurting himself on a wild trip around the bases. But Jon Rauch and Chad Cordero couldn't hold the lead (built, in part, on Ron Belliard's three-run bomb). Into extras the game went, and Jesus Colome and Ryan Wagner kept the Marlins bats mostly quiet. In the 14th, the Nats snuck a run across thanks to a Chris Snelling single that looked like it went through the 1B, and held on when Saul Rivera -- the only healthy reliever left -- pitched a scoreless bottom of the 14th. Nats Win! phew

    Weekly Awards
    MVP: Felipe Lopez had a few tough errors, but his bat is what carried him. He got on base a lot, including 5 times against the Marlins on Friday. And he stole two more bases. .387/ .444/ .419

    Cy Young: Saul Rivera wins it for his rubber arm more than anything. 5 appearances, 6.1 innings and 6 Ks isn't a bad week for a middle reliever.

    LVP: Belliard and Church (.192) were putrid, but Brian Schneider wins this one again. Despite hitting a homer and having 5 RBI, he still somehow only 'hit' .130/ .231/ .261. His OPS+ is now at 40 (which was way below Guzman '05 levels), and it's time to see more of Jesus Flores. No matter what mythical abilities you want to ascribe to a scrappy catcher for pitch-calling and handling the pitching staff, it's clear that even that's left his body. How much worse could these guys pitch. Wait. Don't answer that.

    Joe Horgan Award: Jerome Williams was ghastly, but at least the man knows how to take a beating with flair. Dan Uggla's second tape-measure homer against the Nats is probably floating towards Portugal as we speak. Three homers and six walks in eleven innings won't get it done.

    Weekly Whips:
    4/16: Matt Chico got his first win, but he wouldn't have done it without Dmitri Young's two doubles and three hits.

    4/17: Chris Snelling scored two runs and drove in a run despite batting 8th, plus the sight of him steaming around the bases on a triple is worth the price of admission -- Do his pants have tight elastic bands around the ankles?

    4/18: They won it in extras, but they wouldn't have been there without Brian Schneider's where-did-that-come-from three-run homer.

    4/19: Nobody did much of anything against Old Man Moyer until the 9th inning, but at least Dmitri Young had two hits. Sigh.

    4/20: Belliard had three hits and three RBI, but I'll take Felipe Lopez, the leadoff guy with two hits and three walks; it's not his fault that Zimmerman and Young couldn't drive him in.

    4/21: A sloppy game all around, but Ryan Zimmerman sprang to life with two hits.

    4/22: Sure, Zimmerman had the slam, but Jesus Flores had two doubles and two RBI. (Can we forget about the rest of the game tho?)

    Looking Ahead:
    They're off today, before traveling to Philly's bandbox for 3, then returning to a road-team-packed RFK to face the dirty stinkin' Mets. Philly's rebounded slightly, and might be on their way to righting the ship. As for the Mets, if you're sitting in the upper deck in the OF this weekend, bring a glove.

    Watch for potential changes on the pitching staff. Chico's been as terrible as a starter can be without having a 10 ERA. And Jerome Williams has been as terrible as a starter can be with a 10 ERA. For bullpen preservation's sake, we're getting to the point where we can't really carry both. One has options; the other doesn't. Will we see the last of one of them this week?

    Friday, April 20, 2007

    Spring Training Stats Are Stupid

    I had this post typed out earlier in the week, but forgot to hit 'publish'. The numbers may have changed, but the overall sentiment remains... Spring Training stats are basically worthless.

    To this point in the season, Nationals regulars have 40-50 ABs.

    Ryan Zimmerman: Spring, .414. Regular Season, .204
    Brian Schneider: Spring, .371. Regular Season, .179
    Josh Wilson: Spring, .333. Regular Season, .000
    Ryan Church: Spring, .215. Regular Season, .341
    Ronnie Belliard: Spring, .229. Regular Season, .341

    So why are we basing -- or at least attributing -- any decisions in spring off of performance?

    Ace In A Hole

    Nobody wants to read my ramblings from a game we lost about 18 hours ago, so check out the pros instead.

    The topic of most of those, as you'd expect, is John Patterson. He had another ineffective outing, his 14th of the season, and it's getting to the point where alarm bells are buzzing all over.

    Patterson attributes much of his problems to a lack of arm strength, which is certainly a very reasonable excuse. Much has been made of his lack of velocity, which is worrisome to a degree. But, really, that doesn't concern me much.

    What's killed Patterson isn't his velocity, but a lack of command of his pitches. He can't throw the fastball to spots, just areas. His curveball is big and sloppy, not the tight slurvy pitch that he could aim over and over at the lower corners of the plate. And his slider? Yeesh. When he's thrown it, it's been more of a mediocre cut fastball. Are those problems of velocity? Nope. Are those problems of a dead arm? Perhaps. They're certainly reasonable problems for a pitcher who hasn't thrown a helluva lot since September '05.

    I keep asking if it's rust, or if it's something physical. Patterson, for the first time, is attributing some of it to the physical -- a dead arm -- instead of the cold weather and mechanics uses he's trumpeted out after his last few disasters. Is there more there?

    OMG has a thoughtful post looking at the evolution of perception with Patterson. He argues that lots of people are down on Patterson because we all had high expectations, and that because we don't really have an excuse for why he's sucking chrome, it's shading our perception of him even more. It's an interesting notion.

    But I wonder if some of the same is going on with Patterson himself. He's always been an emotional guy, an OCD-type who seems like he needs everything in exactly the same order and place, otherwise he gets distracted. Think back to those opening weeks of '05 when he was the most frequent critic of the RFK mound, strutting around and scratching at the dirt with his feet like a chicken outside his coop.

    If he's that picky about how the mound feels on his sensitive little feet, how's he going to react when his arm -- on which he's already had Tommy John surgery -- doesn't feel 100%?

    He's pitching like someone who doesn't trust his stuff. Yesterday, everything early was down, down, down, like he was nibbling, almost afraid of the batters. That's not the Patterson from '05, who would smoke the fastball up high in the zone with some zip, before changing the plane and dropping the curve at the knees.

    Of course, without a curveball, and without a zippy fastball, he is a different pitcher. The question is, will he come back, or was that jut a flash in the pan?

    If that fastball and curve don't come back, he's going to have to adapt. Hundreds of pitchers have succeeded without mid-90s fastballs. He's going to have to focus on command and timing, and refining that change-up he's supposedly been working on for three years would go a long way towards helping him.

    Thursday, April 19, 2007

    Stat O' The Day

    Courtesy of the WaPo's Sidebar:
    By the Numbers
    13: At-bats with runners in scoring position for 3B Ryan Zimmerman, who has three RBI. Last year through 15 games, he had 28 such at-bats.

    Fewer opportunities and less success in the rare chances he gets.

    Sophomore slump? Just one of those things? Regression to the mean?

    Wednesday, April 18, 2007

    Hammer The Nail, Nats

    If John Patterson pitches the way he should've been pitching all along, you've gotta think that Charlie Manuel won't be managing over the weekend, especially after the Manuel Boner in this game. Early in the game, he called for a righty reliever to face Michael Restovich before Restovich was entered into the game by the umpire. So Manny Acta got to send Robert Fick up as a PHer without having to waste Restovich's bat.

    And as the way things tend to go when you're a team that decides that having your ace starter be a reliever is a good strategy, Restovich's 13th-inning double set up Felipe Lopez' game-winning sac fly.

    Bang! Zoom! We're not even the second worst team in baseball anymore!

    Two Good ABs and $4'll Buy You Some Over-Priced Coffee

    Blame Jerome Williams. He stunk up the park in the first inning, eerily reminding me of Billy Traber's disastrous start against the Reds last year, wherein he was "saved" by a Gary Majewski 2nd-inning relief appearance. When a starting pitcher takes some hacks in the on-deck circle before throwing a pitch, you know it's going to be a long night.

    Williams had problems consistently hitting the strike zone. It was a bit hard to tell from my purloined seats, but it seemed like he was missing wildly with his changeup -- the one pitch he typically has command of. With that gone, they were sitting on fastball, and hitting it where they weren't.

    But something clicked in the third inning. After allowing the first two batters to reach -- and a run to score -- he turned into a groundball machine, getting weak grounder after weak grounder, retiring the final nine batters he faced.

    As these things go, though, too little, too late.

    The Nats tried rallying furiously, and had their chance late in the game.

    In the bottom of the 7th, John Smoltz came back out, despite having sat on the bench for what seemed like three hours as the Nats used 3 relievers to give up a run in the top of the inning. Brian Schneider singled, then Chris Snelling lined a double near the chalk to right field. When it rolled to the wall, Snelling -- who runs like he's about to have a potty emergency -- made it easily to third. Out goes Smoltz! Felipe Lopez later drove in Snelling, and the Nats had the would-be go-ahead run on first.

    With Ryan Zimmerman due to the plate, the Braves called for their flamethrower, Rafael Soriano for a showdown. Soriano throws hard, in the 95-97 range, which is especially tough to get around on a cold, cold night. Zimmerman battled hard, before fouling off five tough pitches on a 2-2 count, while Soriano alternated throwing the hard stuff inside and out. Finally, on the 10th pitch of the AB, Soriano threw him something off-speed away -- slider? -- and Zimmerman lunged, trying to simultaneously keep the bat in the zone a split second longer and reaching for the outside pitch sliding further away from him. No go, and Soriano had his K. Zimmerman reacted with frustration, knowing that he had swung at a ball. But he battled hard, and came close.

    As impressive as that AB was, Dmitri Young's was even more spectacular. It took 12 pitches for it to culminate, eight of which Young fouled off. Young's primarily a fastball hitter, and Soriano gave him what he wanted. It was amazing watching the two battle, strength against strength. Soriano got ahead quickly 0-2 before giving up a close ball, that could've been strike 3. He alternated his location in and out, not giving Young a chance to get his timing down on the super-fast heat. As soon as Young seemed to be getting his timing down, Soriano threw the pitch to the other side of the plate, or lobbed up something a bit softer, forcing Young to yank it foul. At one point, he threw him two offspeed pitches away, which Young barely got, before Soriano came back inside with the hard stuff, thinking that Young would have a hard time readjusting to the pitch, only to have Young smack it foul.

    On the 12th pitch of the AB, Young got a fastball outside, which he smacked to the opposite field. It looked like sure double that, at a minimum, would've tied the game, but the Braves had him played perfectly. Left fielder Ryan Langerhans was camped out near the line, knowing that if Dmitri was going to hit the ball in the air to left, it was going to be to the line, where he was just missing the pitch. (Conversely, they had him basically straight away, maybe shaded a bit towards the line in right -- if he was hitting the ball to right, he'd have gotten good wood on the ball, and was going to be pulling it.) Threat over. And the game, for all intents and purposes, over.

    Two great ABs, and nothing to show for it. But those two battles alone were worth the price of admission.

    So Much For Our Top "Prospect"

    The Nationals did the right thing, and sent Kory Casto down to Triple-A, purchasing the contract of right-handed all-or-nothing slugger, Michael Restovich (minor league stats).

    With the emergence of Chris Snelling, Casto was superfluous, and it makes sense to send him somewhere where he can get regular ABs. And the Nats have desperately needed a right-handed hitter on the bench. All too often, we've been forced to watch Josh Wilson flail away at Billy Wagner's pitches in crucial situations, hearkening back to the dark days of Tony Blanco.

    Restovich ain't much, but he's a power threat. That's one of the things this team lacks this year. Were have ye gone, Daryle Ward?

    I had been meaning to hack a few words together on Snelling v. Casto, and now's as good a time as any. It's been said before, but Casto and Snelling are the same age. Yet Casto 'feels' like a prospect because he's ours, and because he's never had a sniff of the big leagues. Yet, Snelling has a much higher ceiling.

    Here's what Snelling did in his first full year of AA: .333/ .371/ .468
    Here's Casto's line: .272/ .379/ .468

    They look like similar players, right?

    Well, Snelling did his as a 20-year old. Casto's was last year, as a 24-year old.

    Age matters. If a toddler learns how to use the potty, it's no big deal. If I'm just learning last week, then, well... that's a bit different.

    Snelling and Casto have put up similar stats at every level, but Snelling was doing it against tougher competition because his age was 'handicapping' him. Plus, as we heard all spring, his long injury history held back a lot of his performance, so if he's healthy, there's more potential for growth there.

    Neither is likely to be a star, but Snelling has a better chance of being average or better. Sure, Snelling's been around a bit longer, and he was never the Nationals Minor League Player of the Year (as if that's an accomplishment; I think I was ranked 14th!). But had Snelling been in our system all along, we'd be drooling all over him.

    Sending Casto down isn't going back on "The PLAN!" It's part of it. If Casto goes down and builds on his success at AA last year, he'll be back up before too long.

    Tuesday, April 17, 2007

    Stan And Me

    (Warning: this all-about-me entry represents the worst of blogging)

    I creeped out Stan Kasten tonight.

    I was running late to the game, so I just ducked my head at the top of the 300 section behind the plate so I wouldn't miss any of the game. If you've sat there, the press box looms in front of you, hanging from the upper deck. It has two levels of doors, connected by stairs and catwalks.

    After Jerome Williams put the Nats behind 3-0 (and the "ready to go?" refrain I always give my friend), the scurrying on the catwalks became a far more fascinating pastime.

    Don Sutton sure went out of his way to shake the owner's hand! Looks like Todd Jacobson is going to get a hotdog! Is that beer in Dave Jageler's cup? Hey, look, Charlie Slowes is going to the can! In a city where spying Jeb Hensarling in a restaurant is exciting, this was DC's red carpet.

    Mark Lerner strode to and fro, looking like a (cheap) Darth Vader in a long, black coat. More often than not, there was an attendant with him, ensuring that he wouldn't have to dirty his hands on those foul, foul door knobs.

    But the busiest of the bees was Kasten himself, running from one office to the other. From one door to the next. Always looking around, always smiling. And looking down into the few rows of crowd he could see on this, the non-field side. One of the times he looked down, he caught a friendly face, smiling and waiving to someone who would, on one of Kasten's later passes, get his attention and point out his daughter.

    All the while, my friend and I, stared at Kasten as our feeble pea-brains struggled to come up with something witty (read: sarcastic and insulting) about "The PLAN!" Needless to say, we came up as empty as Ryan Zimmerman with runners on. (Bang! Zooom!)

    By about the 15th pass, I got the feeling that he felt that he was being watched. He's a sharp guy after all. When they had the guess the attendance late in the game, my friend shouted out loudly, "9,000!" and I could swear that got a flinch from Stan, but given the 40 degree weather, there's a much more likely reason.

    I do know he saw us, although he wouldn't know who the hell I was anyway. There weren't more than 50 people or so in the immediate area in front of him, and with my wild mane of hair -- picture a chinchilla that's crawled up on someone's head and died -- I likely stuck out amidst a sea of empty seats and Braves fans. (One could make an argument that the Braves fans' seats were empty, but that's a philosophical debate for another time.)

    After the final outs of the game, we walked back to our car. Since, like Uncle Teddy, I'm frugal with my money, it's a significant walk back to Lincoln Square. By the time we got back to 395, it was about 30 minutes after the game. We passed a silver Mercedes, and both instinctively looked right. The driver in the other car looked left, sorta did a double take, then focused his gaze back to the lane.

    I looked at my friend. He looked at me. Was that Kasten?! It sure looked like him -- same dark suit, same yellow tie (admittedly, that disqualifies only about 3% of the DC population) He definitely gave us a look of confused (creeped out?) recognition. My friend slowed down a bit to get another look just to verify that we weren't crazy, but Kasten wisely (perhaps fearing for his life) peeled off and turned, heading off an exit.

    So either I saw Kasten, and creeped the bejeesus out of him -- a reaction I typically only get from the ladies.

    Or I've got visions of the plan dancing around and around in my head so deeply that I'm fantasizing (get your mind out of the gutters) about team executives.

    Either way, it's really a plea for help!

    Panda Express Update

    Yesterday, we found out that Andruw Jones had a gourmet meal at the Pentagon City Mall's Panda Express.

    That evening, he went 0-3 against our Nats. This is the same Andruw Jones who's already knocked Nats pitching around for 2 homers and had a .500 OBP against them this season.

    Coincidence? Definitely not.

    So the next time you're wandering around Pentagon City Mall, and you see a hungry ballplayer, point 'em to Panda Express.

    Better Lucky Than Good

    Matt Chico earned his first major league win with some less-than spectacular pitching that somehow got the job done. He threw 97 pitches of the game, and only 51 of them were strikes. Many of the rest weren't even particularly close. Blame it on the wind. Blame it on inexperience. Or maybe he just didn't have command of his curve.

    Ordinarily when a pitcher goes 5 innings, gives up 5 walks and 4 hits, it's an ugly night. But he pitched around his many mistakes, getting Edgar Renteria to ground into two double plays after he allowed leadoff singles -- practically ending the inning before it began. One of those came in the first where -- to show you how fine a wire he danced on -- he walked three batters and allowed a single without giving up a run. It was that kind of night. Nine times out of ten, he's in the showers in the third inning.

    When talking about Jason Bergmann's miraculous start last week, I brought up the old Jim Kaat line about how a pitcher will only have his good stuff a handful of times a year. Conversely, a pitcher will go out there with nothing about the same, and the pitcher's ability to battle in those starts is a big factor in how well they do overall. Last night, perhaps because of the wind and the cold, Chico had nothing. Yet he won.

    He really calmed down over his last few innings, keeping the ball on the ground, and letting his defense do some of the work for him. I was impressed that Manny Acta left him in there to start the sixth inning. Unfortunately, he walked the first two batters -- his only walks outside that first inning -- and got the hook. Manny wanted to see how far he could go. And with a three-run lead, there was some flexibility there. Chico was tired, but the pen was ready.

    And Saul Rivera was sharp. Despite not having pitched in a week, he came in and threw strikes to the corners. He allowed one of those inherited runners to score, but that's a tiny blip on what was otherwise a dominant two perfect innings.

  • It's nice to finally see the offense come around a bit. Dmitri Young looked mighty fleet in the #42, and cranked two doubles -- one of those, an amazing golf shot of a breaking pitch (splitter? curve) that was about to hit dirt. During the offseason, Ryan Church Dmitri received a lot of criticism from fans and media outlets, and he's proving those guys wrong, hitting .302/ .434/ .581, which is even better than Jim Bowden's wettest dreams.

    Ryan Zimmerman's corpse sprang to life, getting two hits. Amazingly, that's his first multiple-hit game of the year. He already had three by this point last year.

    Brian Schneider continued his torrid streak of productive non-hit plate appearances, when he walked with the bases loaded. All five of his RBI have come sans hit. When he came up, I was reminded of a game early in '05 where Cristian Guzman came up with the bases loaded. Everyone in the crowd knew that the team's only chance for scoring was if he didn't swing. We either needed a walk, or a strikeout to pass it on to the next batter, because something in play was going to be a GIDP. Poor Brian.

    Felipe Lopez smacked out three hits, though he was caught stealing again. As a team, the Nats have attempted just three steals, and have been thrown out twice. All three attempts have been by Lopez, and both caught stealings have been by Brian McCann. I'm not sure if there's a lesson in there.

  • A two-game winning streak and Boz goes loopy. It's worth reading, if only for the vaseline story.

  • Monday, April 16, 2007

    Some People...

    ...would say that the most exciting play in baseball is a triple with the bases loaded.

    On the other hand, Bob Carpenter seems to think that the most exciting play in baseball is a weak single to the opposite field. Especially if it happens in St. Louis.

    Did you know he used to broadcast for the Cardinals? Yeah, really. I know you probably thought the 62 references to the Cardinals each game was just a coincidence.

  • Speaking of which, here's an article about the most vacuous of announcer phrases, "a good piece of hitting."
    A good piece of hitting cannot be a home run or a solidly hit double down the line. It cannot be a bouncer, bleeder, trickler, or any other sort of hit that has eyes or relies on the misadventures of the defense. It must be hit well, but not too well, and preferably it should go the opposite field.

    Somewhere, Bob's nodding approvingly.

  • Nothing But The Finest For Andruw

    So let's say that you're a superstar professional athlete on the last year of a 6-year, $75 million contract. Let's further suppose that you're hungry.

    So where are you going to eat?

    Yep, the Pentagon City Food Court. But which gourmet restaurant? You'll have to click to find out.

    (Buck sez he misses tonight's game with the squits)

    Two Weeks Down, Still A Bunch To Go

    It's amazing what two wins and a rainout'll do to the psyche, eh? Hell, it's amazing that two measly wins is an improvement. Still, the Nats clearly played better the second week, but then again, not even the Cleveland Spiders played as poorly as our fair-to-mediocre team did. We ran the gauntlet and survived with three or four layers of skin intact. That's half the battle!

    Nats Record: 2-5; 3-9 overall
    Expected Record: 2-10 Yay for rounding!
    Runs Scored: 13 (2.6/g -- same as last week); 31 overall (15/16 in the NL)
    Runs Allowed: 21 (4.2/g -- over 2 fewer than last week); 66 overall (16/16 in the NL)

    What's Good?
    1) Starting Pitching! After that first week, whod've thunk it? With five games, each of the starters got one crack at it, and none of them allowed more than 2 earned runs. And Shawn Hill, with his masterful 7 innings against the Mets, picked up the first SP win of the year.

    2) Chris Snelling! The Waltzing Mathilda finally started getting regular playing time and delivered, showing a great eye at the plate (.533 OBP!) and leading the team in RBI for the week.

    3) Jesus Colome! The de facto mopup man pitched in three games and gave up just one li'l hit, winning his first game of the year. If his arm doesn't fall off, he's got a chance to emerge as an increasingly important cog.

    What's Bad?
    1) Ryan Zimmerman. When you come to the plate 23 times and only have one hit and one walk to show for it, you know it's a bad week. Just a bad week, or a sophomore slump? (Think Kasten's plotting on how to send him down to delay his arbitration clock yet? /cheapshot)

    2) The Setup Guys. It was a tough week for the guys in the middle. Jon Rauch buried the team in one game with a homer he gave up to Andruw Jones. Ray King pitched poorly, then went to the DL. And Ryan Wagner continued his up-and-down stretch with four more runs -- for all his promise, his ERA with the Nats is 4.97.

    3) The Cincinnati Kids. Felipe Lopez and Austin Kearns had a tough week at the plate, combining for one extra-base hit, three runs, one RBI, and a Guzmanic .170 batting average

    Game O' The Week
    Someday, about 50 years from now, Jason Bergmann is going to have his grandson on his knee, telling him (for the 45th time) about how he beat Hall-of-Famer John Smoltz, 2-0. He'll regale little Albert with how he struck out Hall-of-Famers Andruw Jones and Chipper Jones with a sharp slider, and how the team carried him off the field on their shoulders when the game was over -- every Grandpa has to embellish from time to time.

    Weekly Awards:
    MVP: Ryan Church. .444 batting average, Ruthian .722 slugging. That'll do it.

    Cy Young: Bergmann shut out the Braves, but Shawn Hill gets bonus points for the extra inning he pitched and the one walk he allowed.

    LVP: Ryan Zimmerman. Middle of the order guys really need to do more than a .045 BA.

    Joe Horgan Award: Which is scarier? Ray King's 54.00 ERA for the week, or his over 40 BB/9 total?

    Weekly Whips:
    4/10: Ummm... Chris Snelling had a double. That was about it for highlights.
    4/11: Ronnie Belliard continued his hot streak with 3 more hits.
    4/12: Jason Bergmann didn't get the win, but we won't forget his start.
    4/13: Chris Snelling. Two hits, a key RBI and an outfield assist? That's a good day.
    4/14: Sure, Snelling had more RBI, but it was Ryan Church's homer that gave the Nats a comfortable lead.

    Looking Ahead:
    The Nats are home for a pair of those stupid 2-game serieseses. Then they're off to Florida for three. The Phillies come to town with a record as dismal as ours, but they've got a helluva lot more talent than the Nats do. Could we be the death knell for ol' Chuck Manuel?

    Sunday, April 15, 2007

    60 Years Ago

    Nothing I could write could do justice to Jackie Robinson or his profound effect on the history of this country. The formidable numbers he put up aren't what make him great; it's what he meant to this country and what the trails he blazed meant at a time when racism was essentially a Constitutional right. There've been a lot of excellent tributes written about him over the last week or so. I'd really encourage you to pick up a book to get the full story of the man's amazing life. This one, by Arnold Rampersad, is excellent. There's a new one out, that looks like it could be interesting, too.

    I knew that Larry Doby became the first black player in the AL when he joined the Cleveland Indians later in 1947. And I knew that the Boston Red Sox disgracefully lacked a black player until twelve years later when Pumpsie Green joined the Red Sox as a backup infielder. But what about Washington?

    I know Washington had a strong tradition of supporting the Negro Leagues. Although many people associate the Homestead Grays with Pennsylvania, for many years they played a number of games in DC. Much of this history is chronicled in Beyond the Shadow of the Senators, and I'd recommend that one, too.

    Despite that, Washington didn't have a black player until September 6, 1954 when Carlos Paula was called up. Paula had a short career, and I really can't find much on him.

    What I find interesting though is that his birthplace is Cuba. Using the standards many are using when assessing the state of African Americans in the game today, he likely wouldn't qualify. He'd be considered a Latin player like Jose Reyes or David Ortiz.

    Some of you have been around a lot longer than I have. Do any of you know who the first American-born black Washington Senator was?

    For a time, the Senators were quite progressive in scouting and signing Cuban players; they had a minor league team in Havana for a time in the '40s. And Cuban players were free to play in the majors if their skin was light enough. Perhaps the most famous of these was Dolph Luque who pitched for the Reds in the '20s. (If you're looking for a book, The Pride of Havana covers a history of Cuban Baseball)

    Beyond the Shadow tries to get at why it took the Senators so long to integrate, and this Washington Times piece points to one of the reasons: economic self interest by owner Clark Griffith, while hinting at one of the other factors -- likely his racist attitudes.

  • Federal Baseball has an excellent post on Nat Peeples who helped to integrate the southern minor leagues. I'd really recommend reading that one.

  • The Power of the Passive Voice

    Once, I'll let it pass. Twice, I've gotta point it out.

    Today's notes section:
    More than just the fastball: Who said center fielder Ryan Church can't hit breaking balls? The home run that Church hit on Saturday against right-hander Orlando Hernandez came on a breaking ball.

    From a notebook earlier this week:
    During the offseason, Ryan Church received a lot of criticism from fans and media outlets, wondering if he was ready to become an everyday player again.

    Hmmm... I wonder who said it? I'm wracking my brain trying to think of a media outlet that was critical of Church... I can't seem to come up with any. Hmmm....

    Friday, April 13, 2007

    Sleeping With The Enemy

    If you've ever wanted to read me crap all over our team on a Mets Blog (convenient named MetsBlog), here's your chance.

    Thanks to the good folks over there for the invite!

    Wildly In Control

    After watching Jason Bergmann walk two of the first three batters he faced, after his previous start when he walked the first 27 he faced -- a reverse perfect game -- I was pretty sure that we were seeing his last major league start.

    But while I was focused on the result of the pitches, I wasn't focusing on what the pitches themselves were actually doing. But when he got Andruw Jones to swing at a few sharp sliders and curves in the dirt, it should've been a clue. Despite walking two batters, he struck out the side, and the game was on. BBergmann versus Smoltz, and BBergmann won. [insert cliche about how anything can happen]

    It's hard to say that BBergmann had more control last night. He really was making Brian Schneider do calisthenics with all the stretching he was doing reaching for the wildly flailing pitches. The difference was the bite on his pitches. For whatever reason, he was feeling it, and his slider, especially, had a real sharp downward zip to it -- just a perfectly tight breaking pitch.

    He's always had a decent fastball. He throws it with a little bit of pace, and just enough movement that when he's getting the corners, the batters have a hard time with it. But what's made him so hittable has been the inability to have a complimentary pitch. With his slider darting, he had it last night. Time and time again, the slider was darting down, getting the Braves to swing wildly. There were more than a few of those hilarious looking swings where the batter bends at the waist, scoots his butt away from the plate, and leans forward, weakly flailing the bat at a pitch in the dirt.

    The other thing that Bergmann did well was to let the natural movement of his pitches do the work. With as much as his breaking pitches were moving, starting them higher in the zone, and letting the action tumble them below the plate seemed to be effective. He kept his fastball high, mixing up the plane of the pitches. The Braves have been notorious for changing the plane horizontally; Bergmann did the same thing, but vertically.

    Very well done. Very surprising! I'll be interested to see if they worked on anything mechanical to get his pitches to have the bite, or if it was just one of those games where everything felt right. I remember Jim Kaat talking about pitching a few years ago, and he said that you go out there 5-7 times a year when everything feels like it's clicking. It's what happens in those 25 other starts that determines whether you're a winner.

    The worst part about all this, though, is that Jim Bowden's ego is going to be out of control. It's possible that his riot act to BBergmann was the difference maker. But correlation does not equal causation. I had some California Rolls for lunch yesterday; maybe that's why he did so well?

  • It was nice to see Chad Cordero get into a real meaningful game. It wasn't nice to see Bad Chad. The Braves sure do have his number, don't they?

  • Thursday, April 12, 2007


    A lead!? 10 games in and we've finally got a lead!

    (Buck sez Cordero yacks it up in the 9th)

  • Close! Bases Loaded, two outs, 3-2 count, and he threw ball four, but the batter swung.

    Nats Win! Nats Win! Wow! I'm numb!

    I hope the cheapo Lerner family sends in the order to Jostens. We need RingzZZzZz!!!

  • Depressing Stat O' The Day

    I'm listening to the Indians/Angels game, and they're mocking the Nats. (That we're becoming the laughing stock of AL radio broadcasters is a separate matter, and one that should make Uncle Teddy's heart swell with pride)

    Apparently, the only other team to not come to (I know I'm butchering what they said) to go 9 games without ever playing with a lead (a matter of semantics given the walkoff), is the 1884 Detroit Wolverines.

    I'll just point out (and keep in mind the Smoltz/Bergmann matchup tonight) that the Wolverines lost their 10th game by a 25-3 score. (They started out 1-16, and finished 28-84 -- a 41-121 pace)

    That team actually had a bit of talent. Charlie Bennett was an excellent catcher who played a lot at a time that catchers didn't wear any protective equipment. Ned Hanlon was a pretty nifty centerfielder, but he made the Hall of Fame as one of the great managers of all time. He managed the great Baltimore Orioles teams of the 1890s, and was responsible for foisting John McGraw on an unsuspecting populace.

    His 1894 team has to go down as one of the all-time greats. not so much for their dominant record, but for the sheer amount of talent and Hall-of-Famers on the roster. Six of the eight starting position players made the HOF (two of them as managers).

    Where was I? Oh, yeah. The NAAAts stink.

    The other stat they gave was that the only other team to never score in the first three innings of their first nine games was the 1931 Cincinnati Reds. They finished 58-96. But determining who the HOFers on their roster is an exercise left to the reader. (Hint: 3)

    Fact Checking Manny

    In Svrlgblg, Barry passes along Manny Acta's response on why he hasn't moved Ron Belliard to the #2 spot, putting the overmatched Kory Casto lower in the lineup where there's likely less pressure.
    I asked Acta yesterday, in fact (should've been in DMTP) about whether he thought about moving Belliard to second and moving Casto down. He said: "Belliard has never been a top-of-the-lineup guy," and pointed out that even in winter ball in the Dominican he wasn't used that way. Interesting.

    Doesn't this reek of the old Jamey Carroll line: "He can't play regularly because he's never played regularly?" (That was mocked beautifully by OMG, but it's long gone to the ether of teh Internets. This should be it, but it doesn't seem to be working for me)

    At any rate, Manny needs to do a bit more research, and spending a little less time contemplating his facial hair. Here're Belliard's career splits:
    Batting #1: 303 games, 1,423 Plate Appearances
    Batting #2: 176 games, 795 Plate Appearances.

    He has more PAs at those positions than at any other.

    Now there are some valid reasons for why you wouldn't want Ronnie Belliard batting so high. Namely, at this point, he's shown little plate patience, and his hot streak has entirely been fueled by hits. So moving him up is almost certain to correspond with a cooling down period, unless you believe that he's going to hit .400 for the rest of the year.

    The defense to that, of course, is that anything would be an upgrade over the man he's replacing.

    Manny's said a few strange things over the last few days, including giving Robert Fick a start at first over Dmitri Young based on an 8 AB sample. I don't know if these are things he really believes, or just explanations he's giving for routine decisions because he feels he needs to give the press something. I really hope it's the latter.

    Bowden On His Guys

    Bowden's weekly Examiner column is out, and I was prepared to like it. It's about the front office staff he's assembled, and what they offer the team.

    Interesting, right? Sorta. In typical Bowden fashion, we get him pimping for his friends: Bob Boone, Jose Rijo and Barry Larkin. The Boone section is almost laughable.
    He’s the reason Ryan Zimmerman is in Washington. A lot of baseball people were scared of Ryan’s mechanics, thinking he had a “bar” in his swing. Bob thought that, despite this, he still could bring his hands through the zone close to his body to hit the inside pitch. He also saw that Ryan could be a Gold Glove caliber third baseman. Before Bob told me I had to see him, Ryan was not on our radar.

    If that's true (and I don't believe it is, because he's just trying to pump up one of his buddies), then he should be fired. I don't know CRAP about amateur prospects and even I knew that Zimmerman was a Gold Glove fielder. That's all most people talked about!

    Coming into the '05 draft, there were 4 or 5 picks rated highly at the top of the draft, and Ryan Zimmerman was one of them -- along with Alex Gordon, Troy Tulowitzki (no, I'm not bothering to check the spelling!) and Jeff Clement. To imply that Boone 'discovered' Zimmerman or that only he could see through his flaws is a joke.

    Bob Boone may very well be the most brilliant baseball man there is. But this doesn't demonstrate that.

    He dedicates 294 words to Boone, Rijo and Larkin, and here's the sum total of what he says about the most exciting person in the front office, Mike Rizzo:
    And we added Mike Rizzo as an assistant GM. As Arizona’s scouting director, he helped take a farm system that was ranked 29th in 2001 to No. 1 before he joined us. Enough said.

    We can't pump up the guy who's going to take our job once Mark Lerner wakes up and realizes that the Emperor's hoohah is dangling in his face, huh?

  • Oh, and to prove how much he loves the little people, he spells the name of his Executive Assistant wrong. Sure, he probably didn't type it, but...

  • The One Recap To Read

    Why read Zuckerman, Ladson or Svrluga when you can read this?

    Fat guys dropping balls. Them's our Nats.

  • Or if you're looking for something a little more analytical, this'll work.

  • Wednesday, April 11, 2007

    If It Weren't Funny It'd Be Tragedy

    So I sat down with my gf to watch a movie while we ate dinner. As the closing credits rolled, I turned the DVD off, flipped to Channel 77 (Screw you, BookTV!), and what do I see? A 2-run Braves Homer.

    I'm actually sort of enjoying the losses. It's like a good screwball comedy. The guys are trying hard. They just don't have the ability to compete with the big boys like Atlanta.

    The offense'll come around at some point (it's desperately trying as I'm typing this), and they'll get some wins. But for now, I'll enjoy -- in a perverse sort of way -- all these losses, and how uncompetitive they are, despite their efforts.

    If you're gonna lose, don't lose agonizingly or incompetently. Go out there, and play hard! But lose big!

    Let's Go NAAAts!

  • Let's see... Fall behind early. Get no offense. Claw a little bit to think we're in it. Relief falls apart. Lose easily.

    How was this different from about 4 of our other losses?

    Part of me wishes that Hanley Ramirez had fielded Kory Casto's shot the other day. One more against Atlanta, three in NY, two with ATL and two with the Phillies. Feel reasonably confident about ANY of those?

    I haven't heard Stan Kasten break out that "The last time one of my teams was predicted to finish in last, we went to the World Series" quote lately. Have you?

  • The Tranquility of Losing

    Free from the expectations of winning, I'm kinda enjoying watching the game, and last night, it was a pleasure watching an elite pitch carve up the NAAAts. When Matt Chico takes the mound against Tim Hudson and the Atlanta Braves offense, what else would you expect?

    To show the difference in quality of the two teams, take a look at yesterday's Braves lineup. 2-7, is there any of those that wouldn't be batting cleanup for the Nats? Even Matt Diaz and Kelly Johnson (8 and 1 respectively) would be in the top half of our lineup. Poor Matt Chico. At least the Christians had the power of faith when they squared off against the lions.

    Despite that all, Chico fared well, no thanks to (watch for the recurring theme) his defense. In many ways, his start reminded me of Mike O'Connor's outing against the then-powerful St. Louis Cardinals. They were both lefty pitchers who don't throw very hard, going against thunderous lineups and both of whom probably aren't quite ready for the bigs.

    Despite the similarities there, there's a pretty big difference. Chico goes for it. O'Connor pussyfooted around the batters, nibbling on the outside of the strike zone, as if he were afraid of what the batters would do to his stuff. Chico, threw strikes, keeping the ball low, and mixing up his pitches enough to keep the Braves off balance. And for the most part, he succeeded.

    It looked like it was going to be a long night in that first inning. After getting Kelly Johnson to fly out, Edgar Renteria hit a slow grounder to FLop. His throw was a bit low and Dmitri Young dropped it, a play he should've made: E3. Chipper Jones followed by ripping a curve back through the box, and the Braves had a rally, which Andruw Jones would extend with a bases-loading walk. One out, shoddy defense, and the bases loaded, and there wasn't a Nats fan not related to Mr. Chico that had a glimmer of faith.

    All it took was one pitch. Jeff Francouer smacked the first pitch -- a slider? -- on the ground, for an easy inning-ending DP. He had pitched around the defense.

    He survived into the fifth inning, when he started getting tired. He started leaving some of his pitches up, and he was missing targets more frequently -- always a danger sign. With one out, Chico got Renteria to pop to short right, along the foul line. Ron Belliard ran out, twisted, bent, and contorted to get to the ball, which he had taken the wrong angle on, before letting it drop, fair. It's a ball that Austin Kearns probably should've charged harder. Perhaps he had a better play on it?

    Micah Bowie started warming in the pen, but Manny Acta wanted to nurse Chico through the inning, since the pitcher was due to lead off in the next inning. Chipper singled, Andruw lined out, and then Chico squared off against Jeff Francouer again, this time with runners on 1/2. He got ahead of him quickly, 0-2. Francouer is probably the most free-swinging batter in the league -- just like Guerrero, but without the power or the contact ability! He tried throwing a sloppy curve away, but he left it far too close to the zone, and Francouer smacked it to the gap in right-center, scoring two runs. Game over.

    Chico deserved better, and there were a lot of positives to draw on from the start. He worked a tough lineup into the fifth, and gave up only one earned run. He just needs strong defensive support, and he didn't get it.

    On the other side of the ball, Tim Hudson was masterful. I said this the other day before we faced Brandon Webb, but groundball pitchers are a tough nut to crack. When they're on, and when they're capable of striking out hitters, they are statistically the toughest pitchers to score on. Hudson had sharp command of three different and distinct pitches, all of which he was throwing right to his spots.

    His two-seam sinking fastball slid from left to right on the plate, jamming our right-handed hitters, and forcing them to make contact with the ball as if it were a shotput. Contrasting that was a sharp-breaking slider that dived down and in towards left-handed batters, in an opposite move of the fastball. You could aim for one or the other, but if you guessed wrong, you were missing by 6 inches. Then to really screw with the batters, his splitter was diving sharply straight down at the same speed as his sinker. Three pitches, three different directions. No wonder they looked helpless.

    I enjoy sharp pitching, and even though my team was the victim of it, it was a pleasure watching him toy with batter after batter. When a sinkerballer is on, the batters don't even look like they're trying.

  • Ray King came in late, got rocked, and left with tendinitis. The idea of King is nice, but he's a luxury I'm not sure we can afford. With the difficulties of the starting rotation, it's completely robbed Manny Acta's ability to match up anyone in the bullpen. For the most part, the guys he's sending out aren't being sent out because it's their role; it's because they're the only non-tired arms. With an inability to matchup, is having a reliever who can face only a few batters at a time something we really need? (especially when he's facing many more righties than lefties, and the few lefties he's faced have a .400 average against him?)

    Federal Baseball, too, wonders why Ray King.

  • Tuesday, April 10, 2007

    The Yutes Are Our Future

    Two must-read articles for the Nats fan who's ready to jump off a bridge.

    First, here's a look at how Arizona's farm team has supplemented the big club. 15 of their 25 players have come up through their minor league system. Why do you care? Because Mike Rizzo, our current Ass. GM was AZ's Farm Director, and many (most?) of these players are the fruits of his labor. If he can do it there, why can't he do it here? (I can tell what you're thinking: "But, but, but Jim Bowden...")

    Related to that is an excellent piece in the Hardball Times about what makes young players so valuable to a club. The answer isn't anything new, but it IS music to Uncle Teddy's ancient ears: They're cheap!

    Just something to read and think about while we're waiting for the Braves to murder Matt Chico tonight...

  • I want to highlight the excellent comment Scot made to this post:
    Of the 15 players drafted by the DBacks (when I say "first season" below, I mean first season with more than 100 AB or 45 IP, to weed out September callups):

    C Chris Snyder: drafted out of college in 2002; first season 2005. (3 years after draft)

    1B Connor Jackson: drafted in first round of 2003 out of college; reached majors in 2006. (3 years after draft)

    3B Chad Tracy: drafted out of college in 2001, reached majors 2004 (3 years after draft)

    SS Stephen Drew: drafted out of college in first round in 2005, reached majors in 2006 (1 year after draft)

    UT Scott Hairston: drafted out of college in 2001, reached majors in 2004 (3 years after draft), but didn't play much in the majors in 2005 or 2006.

    C Miguel Montero: signed as international FA in 2001, reached majors in 2007? (6 years after signing)

    3B Brian Barden - drafted out of college in 2002 draft, reached majors in 2007? (5 years after draft)

    UT Robby Hammock: drafted out of college in 1998, reached majors in 2003 (5 years after draft)

    SP Brandon Webb: drafted out of college in 2000, reached majors in 2003 (3 years after draft)

    SP Edgar Gonzalez: signed as international FA in 2000, reached majors in 2004 (4 years after signing)

    SP Micah Owings: drafted out of college in 2005; reached majors in 2007? (2 years after draft)

    RP Tony Pena: signed as international FA in 2002, reached majors in 2006 (4 years after signing)

    RP Jose Valverde: signed as international FA in 1997; reached majors in 2003 (6 years after signing)

    RP Brandon Medders: drafted out of college in 2001; reached majors in 2005 (4 years after draft)

    RP Doug Slaten: drafted out of college in 2000; first year in majors 2007? (7 years after draft)

    RP Dustin Nippert: drafted out of college in 2002, reached majors in 2007? (5 years after draft)

    Not drafted/signed by the DBacks:

    CF Chris Young, drafted out of high school in 2001, reached majors in 2006 (5 years after draft)

    UI Alberto Callaspo: not drafted, signed as international FA in 2001, reached majors in 2007? (6 years after signing)

    That gives me 16 guys originally drafted/signed by the DBacks (plus 2 other young players who caught my eye) - not sure who I'm over-counting or who the report missed. I'm surprised by how many guys were taken out of college - drafting college players has gotten a bad rap in recent years. But that's 12 guys taken out of college. Looks like the good college players typically reach the majors about 3 years after being drafted; the fringy college guys look to take 5-7 years. The high school/international signings seem to take longer - call it 4-6 years.

    What does this mean for Nats fans? That we probably won't see the fruits of last year';s draft (which was HS heavy) until 2010 at the earliest, and probably more along the lines of 2011-12. And any draft picks taken this year will be 2010 or beyond as well. It's going to take a fair bit of patience on the part of Nats fans to give the system time to become productive.

    I've read much about how the farm system can be ready really quickly, which isn't quite true. This goes to show it.

    The team has been coy about this subject and the timeline, leaving the impression (or at least not knocking it down) that this can be done quicker than anyone expects. It's in their short-term interest to let this persist; it gives us hope. But they better not raise the expectations too high.