Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Things Could Be Worse

Today's homer by everyone's favorite foul-mouthed thug followed yesterday's homer by everyone's favorite tall-assed weird stance guy, giving the Nats' two primary pinch-hitters their first two homers of the year. It's a far cry from last year when Daryle Ward hit a pinch hit homer every other game. (Or so it seemed; my memory's a bit fuzzy).

The interesting thing about today's game was that it was a giant FU to all the people clamoring for Cordero's head. Cordero was effective in two innings, shutting down the Dodgers -- guess he got those mechanical issues worked out, eh. Meanwhile, it was Luis Ayala, the man many thought should get the chance to close, who blew not one, but two leads. The team, as I've said, is teetering on the brink. These next four weeks are going to be ugly, and I'm fascinated to see 1) how Manny handles it or 2) if having your date puke all over you at then end of the night makes you forget about the good time you had in the middle.

At any rate, things could be worse. Here are the players every Nats fan should be thankful we don't employ:

1b: Richie Sexson, .208/ .298/ .405, 89 OPS+. Sure, he's got 21 homers, but that's ALL he's doing.

SS: Tony Pena, .261/ .280/ .343. Ahhhh, brings back the memory of Guzman, eh? Supposedly he's got a great glove. He'd have to catch everything between Nebraska and Middle Tennessee to make up for that "bat" though.

2b: Josh Barfield, .243/ .271/ .325. Cleveland thought they were getting a star 2B when they traded Kevin Kouzmanoff. Just looking at that OBP gives me a headache.

3B: Little Nicky Punto, .198/ .288/ .256. If you want to know why the Twins suck this year, this is a good place to look. Those are stats that would kill a deadball era catcher with embarrassment (assuming there's one who hasn't been dead for 75 years).

LF: Craig Monroe, .221/ .262/ .371. Yeesh. No wonder the Tigers DFAd him! He boasts an impressive 96/20 K/BB ratio!

CF: Juan Pierre: .289/ .323/ .346. Stolen bases, blah blah blah. He's got that going for him, I guess. And he's an ok defender, even he throws like me. (and I throw like a girl... a crippled girl)

RF: Delmon Young: .291/ .321/ .410. Those aren't terrible stats, but it's a STRONG year for MLB RFers, and Young has the worst OPS+ of any regular RFer. Sucks to be him.

DH: Sammy Sosa, .246/ .306/ .451. Again, not bad. But you'd want better for a DH, especially in that park.

C: Brad Ausmus, .231/ .312/ .313. You mean there's someone worse than Schneider!? Laird and Kendall are also worse than "Snyder" by OPS+, and neither of them are the defender that Schneider is.

RHS: Ervin Santana, 5-12, 6.38 ERA. Remember when some (I love hiding behind that!) wanted us to trade Soriano to the Angels with him being part of the package?

LHS: Mike Maroth, 5-6, 6.79 ERA. One of the things people cited about the pathetic 2003 Tigers team was that they were willing to give their SP playing time, and that they'd develop in the majors. Look at the roster. Other than Bonderman, have any of 'em worked out? Do we have to put an APB out for Nate Cornejo?

CL: Dan Wheeler, 11 saves, 5.19 ERA. See, anyone can be a closer!

How many games do you think that team would win? Brutal!

Surprisingly, 4 of those 12 players are on teams that would qualify for the post-season if the season ended today.

  • With that, I'm off again for a few days... off to Minnesota to eat fried foods at the fair. Contrary to the rumors, I'm not scouting out bathroom stalls. Have a good Labor Day, and enjoy the Giants series; that might be our last chance for a series win this year!

  • Tuesday, August 28, 2007

    A Key Start

    The game just started, and I'm looking forward to this one as much as I've looked forward to most any Nats games in some time. I don't really care about the wins/losses tonight. It's all about how well Jason Bergmann pitches.

    Someone reminded me of something I had written about him earlier this year about Bergmann, after it finally looked like he was harnessing his talents.
    He keeps that low-90s fastball up higher in the zone. It's not overpowering on its own, but you can see the late tail on it, tugging it away from bats at the last minute.

    Then he throws that mid-80s slider, which zipped away from right-handed batters, rolling further and further away. On the rare time a batter made contact, it was a slow tapper foul. When it's away and had as much movement as it had last night, it's practically unhittable.

    His other main pitch is a sharp little curveball. It's not a huge 12-6 break, more of a short, quick break that comes in in the mid-70s. He pounds that pitch low in the zone. But to the batters, who have to be wary of that high, tailing fastball, it starts out high like the #1 does. They have to swing early in case it is, leading them to pop the curve, as they slow and drag the bat through the zone, hoping to catch a piece of the much-slower pitch.

    When all three are moving, and he's spotting each of those three, batters have no chance. Some of the swings the Braves got tonight were laughable. They missed the fastball by a foot. Or they lunged and flailed at a slider a foot off the plate. It was a pleasure to watch.

    I have a strong memory of those pitches. I can picture them in my mind and how each counterbalances the other. Tonight is key -- though certainly not the final determining factor. He's been pretty much terrible since returning from his elbow injury at the end of June, including two disastrous starts that looked like the Bergmann of old.

    He needs that tight breaking ball -- both the slider and curve -- to keep opponents off balance. And tight breaking balls make elbows bark. And it was the combo of a change in his grip and Bowden's complaining that caused something to click way back in April.

    Can he keep it up? Will he be able to maintain the same grip on his breaking pitches without blowing out the elbow? Will any changes to his motion/delivery he has to make to compensate for the elbow injury reduce their effectiveness?

    We're about to find out. And those, perhaps, are the last questions the Nationals can answer this year.

  • FIRST INNING: I'm not counting every pitch, but... he threw only two non-fastballs. One sharp curve -- looked solid -- low, just out of the zone. That's the one the Braves flailed at helplessly. Then he threw what looked to be a change in there. I don't really remember him throwing one before.

    Fastball's moving a bit, but it's slower than usual, topping out at around 91. Might just need more time to warm, or he's holding back a bit. With the movement, I wonder if he's throwing a two-seamer?

  • SECOND INNING: Couldn't let this one pass, as Sutton continues to praise Schneider for anything and everything. He talked about how "Snyder" is unlucky because of the 'quality of contact' he makes. One problem. Check out the LD% rate. Schneider is hitting liners at a career low. Sure, he's not finding the holes, but that's because a 10-hopper to short only gets past Jeter. (or Lopez)

    Well, he let loose with the breaking pitches this inning. I counted 10-15 or so. I don't think he threw one for a strike, save for the CB he hung over the zone that was smacked through the short/third hole. His curve looks pretty poor today. Two of them were really sloppy, but luckily out of the zone. The Slider is consistenly low and away (to a RHB). That's the spot he needs to throw it, but he needs to be near the zone.

    FB is alllll over the place. He's got almost no command of it, and it's s-l-o-w, 89 or so. There's no consistency of the movement in it, which shows how little command of it. Sometimes it spins hard to the right. Sometimes there's little lateral movement. I wonder if the side spin is more of a cutter movement than a two-seamer?

    Not a good start.

    He lost command of the slider that inning. Location was bad, but more important the quality. It just sorta rolled up there, lazily. Had it been in the zone, it would've been hammered. Last out of the inning was a lazy slider in the zone that was lined hard to short.

    The homer to Kent was on a good-quality curveball. The location stunk on ice though, catching a chunk of the plate, low. Obviously, he needs to keep it down, but he's hurt as much by the location of that one as he is by his inability to command the FB, especially up in the zone. If he's getting the hard stuff up, and getting it for strikes, that curveball is a hell of a lot harder to hit lower, even if it's catching too much of the plate.


    He seems to have settled down with his command quite a bit, getting more consistent movement on the FB. It took him a while, but he's settling into a bit of a groove with it.

    So, overall... decent movement on the breaking pitches, just horrible command of location. They haven't really been hitting him terribly hard, likely because of the movement. But at the same time, there's not enough sharp movement to miss bats, as shown by his 1 strikeout.

    Not great. Could've been worse. Next start'll be interesting...

    Enough for tonight.

  • Point And Laugh

    Hey, if you can't win, at least you can revel in the misery of others:
    The Baltimore Orioles and their flagship radio station WHFS-FM 105.7 are reshuffling 10 of the team's game broadcasts to make way for the University of Maryland's 2007 football season.

    Beginning Aug. 29, the Orioles' five remaining Wednesday night games will be broadcast on WHFS sister station 102.7 Jack-FM. The move will be made to broadcast Terps head coach Ralph Friedgen's weekly radio show.

    They're shuffling the Orioles around for a Coach's show!

    THAT'S how you know you've hit rock bottom!

    (please don't dredge this post up next year when WTEM preempts Nats games for audio of a Joe Gibbs' colonoscopy)

    Scout For A Day

    Tangotiger from The Book -- available at finer book stores nationwide -- is back with his annual fan survey of defense.

    He asks fans from around the country to evaluate the play of their local 9, judging them on a range of categories. He then aggregates the data to find what the consensus is around all of baseball to rank the players defensively.

    Please help out with this, by visiting his site and filling out the sheet for the Nats and any other team you've seen regularly this year.

    The key when filling out the ballot is to not consider position. Evaluate the player's skills relative to all players. So if someone is fast for a catcher, don't give them an "excellent" for footspeed like you'd give Jose Reyes.

    If you post on any messageboards or other blogs related to the Nats, share the link. The more people we get to participate, the more accurate the results are. And traditionally, the Nats/Expos have some of the fewest participants. Let's fix that!

    Monday, August 27, 2007

    MASN Sucks

    No Matter The Picture, When Bacsik is in it, it's ugly.
    Why does this crap keep happening? Look at that crappy picture. I can't be the only one who's seeing this crap, right? It's zipping in and out, the sound's coming in, then popping and disappearing for a second or two (note: not a bad thing when Carpenter is talking). Then it gets wavy and distorts the entire picture, bending it and stretching it, making it look like one of the channels your parents didn't subscribe to but that you'd spend your pubescent evenings tuning into hoping to glimpse something you probably wouldn't quite understand even if you recognized it.

    This happens on no other channel. Yet it happens on MASN (at least on Comcast Alexandria). Over and over and over and over again.

    More Cordero Numbers? Sigh

    Alright... last time... I promise*

    From 2005 to 2007, do you know how many relievers have had more perfect appearances of 1 IP or more than Chad Cordero? Take a guess.

    Two: Joe Nathan and Bob Howry.

    The more "dominant" Jon Rauch has 25 fewer perfect outings, despite pitching in more games than Cordero.

    Now to be fair, he's also on this list, relief outings with 3 or more baserunners, where he's 11th. (That list doesn't have any truly great pitchers, but take a scan; there are some quality relievers there, including our very own Jon Rauch, who has just 6 fewer of those games than Cordero)

    But if you really want to crush him, you look at this list, the most games with a homer. He's tied with Jorge Julio for second on the list.

    Breaking that list down a bit more... When he gives up a gopher ball, he...
    Has 5 saves and 11 blown saves. The Nats went 5-6 in those blown saves, making them 10-6 when he allows a homer in a save situation. Of his 11 BS, he personally gave up the lead in 4 of them, taking a loss. The other two losses came later in the games.

    The team is 11-15 in the 26 games he's given up a homer, meaning that they're 1-9 when he allows a homer in a non-save situation (such as against the Rockies over the weekend). The poor record reflects his usage; they're putting him in, for the most part, in end-game situations where one pitch can make a difference. And nine times it did.

    Interesting, control is not a problem in those situations; he has just 5 walks in those 26 games.

    Of those 26 games, he allowed just a solo homer in 13 of them for a 6-7 team record.

    No, I don't know what any of those random numbers mean (and the trivia ones at the end mean nothing), but I figured I'd throw them out there....

    (Wasn't I supposed to be defending this guy?)

    *promise does not hold in VA, MD or DC

    21 Down, 5 To Go

    Sometimes the baseball season -- as in May -- seems interminably long. Other times, such as when you realize that there's barely a month left, it seems too short. So enjoy what you can.

    It's been a tough few weeks for the Nats. Since finishing up with the Giants -- doesn't that seem like ages ago? -- they've played postseason contender after postseason contender (note: does not include Astros!). As the quality of teams has increased and as Dmitri Young has consumed all the team's pixie dust -- MMM! Sugary! -- the wins have wilted away in the heat. They're 2-10 against these non-pretenders, with only the 3-1 record against a terrible Houston team deluding us into thinking we're still ok.

    Every game in September is against a playoff contender, save for the serieseses with the Marlins and Giants. I just have the feeling that things are going to get ugly again, a bookend to the season's opening shots. I hope that doesn't happen, but...

    Now covering the last fortnight...

    Nats Record: 4-9. Thank you, Houston!
    Overall: 58-73, tied for 13th in the NL, but only 1 game out of last place. They're in a huge cluster of 7 teams with roughly the same record; they'll either finish 3rd worst or they'll finish 10th, so there's lots of room to move.

    If we look at the May 9th rock bottom record, they're still 2 games above .500 (49-47), but they're middle of the pack now, 7th best in the league.

    Runs Scored: 54 (4.1/g), 517 overall, dead last in the majors. They're not within 40 runs of any other team and have scored 183 fewer than league-leading Philadelphia. The average Philadelphia game sees both teams score 2 more runs than the average Nats game.

    Runs Allowed: 66 (5.1/g), 619 overall, 8th in the NL. Barring the return of Walter Johnson, they could finish as high as 7th. But there's a lot of room to drop with lots of games against NY, ATL and PHI coming up.

    Expected Record: 68-94, the same record as last time. By winning percentage, they're on pace for 72 wins.

    What's Good?

    1) Shawn Hill! 3 games started, 3 runs allowed, and 3 walks. Add it up and you get -- WHAT? -- 0 wins! What's impressive about Hill's outings lately is that he's missing bats and getting strikeouts. In terms of run prevention, every ground ball a pitcher gives up yields fewer runs than a flyball. And every K a pitcher allows yields fewer runs than a ball in play. So a groundballer who Ks batters is about the best combo there is!

    2) Dmitri Young! His season really has been incredible. It's not so much the individual feats -- tho batting .330 isn't anything to sneeze at. It's how he's done it, consistently hitting the ball week after week. Other than at the beginning when he recovered from his May foot injury, he hasn't had a really torrid stretch. It's just been 2-3 months of just smacking the ball around one out of every three times he rolls up to the plate. These last two weeks are no different and his .333 .417 .571 line could be dropped into any other two week stretch this season without missing (or adding!) a beat.

    3) Austin Kearns! Supposedly he made an adjustment with his hands a week or two ago, allowing him to handle the inside pitch better. It really did seem like he was getting jammed consistently in the middle of the season. He's had a rough season. Early, he was hitting liners all over the park, but at gloves. Then he had a long stretch where he just stunk. Hopefully he'll continue to build off these successes so he can finish strong. .391/ .500/ .587 on the week.

    What's Bad?

    1) Felipe Lopez. He was another one who looked like he had turned a corner. If he did, it was just into a dead-end alley. .140/ .218. .180

    2) Chad Cordero. Everybody's favorite scapegoat DID have a rough week, yakking a game away that the Nats should've won. What's surprised me about his line was that he pitched just 3 IP over the last two weeks. Is Manny holding him back for save opportunities only, which he didn't do earlier in the year, or are their unspoken fatigue issues, something he battled back in 2005.

    3) Catcher. 9 hits in 48 ABs. One extra-base hit. Two RBI. But at least they call a good game, allowing such precision pitching...

    Game O' The Week

    It may not have been the most exciting game of the last two weeks, but Tim Redding's and Dmitri Young's 7-0 demolition of the Astros sure felt good. It's nice to be able to breath easy for once!

    (Bi!)Weekly Awards

    MVP: Ryan Zimmerman. What's better? 12 RBI in 13 games or his .680 slugging average? Maybe I'll take the .340 BA instead.

    Cy Young: Shawn Hill. The poor man's Webb wins the mini version of the Big Webb's award.

    LVP: FLop!

    Joe Horgan Award: Tie, Hanrahan, Chico, Rauch, Cordero.

    Majority Whips:
    8/14: Shawn Hill deserved better with 6 innings of 1-hit ball.
    8/15: Tim Redding wasn't particularly sharp, but his 2-run hit sealed the deal.
    8/16: Kearns had a nice night. 2/2, with 2 walks and a SB.
    8/17: Zimmerman had 3 hits and 2 runs scored; can the man pitch?
    8/18: Two doubles for Zimmerman wasn't quite enough either; can the man pitch?
    8/19: Shawn Hill deserved better. Hey, that sounds familiar.
    8/20: Think the Astros wish they had Redding instead of Jennings?
    8/21: Five hits for Logan!!
    8/22: Kearns' two-run homer wasn't enough.
    8/23: Belliard's first-inning tomahawk homer really blew the game open.
    8/24: The more we focus on Zimmerman and the less on Cordero, the better we'll feel. (That's what she said! -- they tell me the cool kids say that now.)
    8/25: Chris Schroder kept the game "close", cleaning up a bases-loaded, zippo out jam and chipping in 3 shutout innings of his own.
    8/26: Kearns had 2 hits, 2 RBI and a nice wall-crashing catch he'd probably like to have back given what happened immediately after it anyway.

    What's Ahead?
    Three with the struggling but 'contending' Dodgers then a trip back home to face the punchless Giants.

    Jason Bergmann returns off the DL to start tomorrow and it'll be interesting to see how he does. He's been terrible since returning from his mid-season injury, and it seems like he hasn't been able to spin the slider the way he was early in the season. If he doesn't do that, he has no chance. But will his arm allow him to do that? The Dodger bats will let us know!

    This week also sees the playoff rosters lock, so it could be a final farewell to lovable tub o' goo (with apologies to Terry Forster), Ray King. Is there anyone else who's even a remote possibility of being wanted by a playoff team?

    1/3 against the Dodgers would be good. 2/3 against the Giants would be better. 3/6 on the week would be an improvement. Can we do it?

    Saturday, August 25, 2007

    Some More Pointless Cordero Data

    First, if you missed it a few weeks ago, here's my post showing that Cordero has blown only one more save than an average closer would've over the last two seasons, when you adjust for the difficulty (ie: one-run versus three-run opportunities). In other words, he's dead-average in effectiveness in a closer (if you define a closer's job as racking up saves).

    So here are some more comparisons. I took the three seasons since '05 and found all closers who have saved at least 35 games or more. There are 29 of them, which should tell you that at the bottom of the league, closer is a volatile position full of crappy pitchers.

    Cordero is 6th in baseball in saves with 104. That's more than Mariano Rivera and Brad Lidge. He's just a few saves behind Billy Wagner, Joe Nathan and Todd Jones. So, really, the number of saves doesn't tell you a hell of a lot, other than it's a proxy for the consistency and quality of a reliever. Small difference in save totals mean nothing.

    He's 6th in wins, tied with Houston Street. The underrated Joe Nathan and Mariano Rivera lead this category with 17 and 15 respectively.

    He's 15th in losses, with 11, despite being a closer for all three seasons, unlike a few of the names on the list. Ryan Dempster, Danys Baez, Todd Jones and Derrick Turnbow lead the league, and none of those are pitchers any of us would think of as elite closers.

    He's 12th in ERA with a 2.76, just behind Trevor Hoffman. The average of the 29 relievers (note: not adjusted for playing time, just the mean of their aggregate ERAs) is 3.03. Jonathon Papelbon laps the field with a 1.58 ERA. Turnbow, Borowski, Benitez and Baez all have sub-4 ERAs (despite averaging over 50 saves a piece).

    If we look at ERA+, which adjusts for league strength and park effects with 100 being perfectly average, he's 13th with an ERA+ of 153.

    The chief criticism of him is his homer-prone ways. The stats back it up. His 1.29 HR/9 is third highest behind Armando Benitez and Eddie Guardado. 8 closers succeed because of their homer stinginess with a HR/9 of under .5. The group average is .8 HR/9.

    The other criticism of him is that he's too darn hittable. The numbers don't back this up. 13 others of this group are more hittable than him as measure by H/9. He's allowed just .2 more hits per 9 than Mariano Rivera. Bob Wickman, who has just a handful of fewer saves than him, allows 1.4 more hits for every 9 IP.

    Another gripe about his pitching is his lack of control. He walks too many batters! Well, that's not true either. He has the 9th best walk total of any closer as measured by BB/9. He's sandwiched in between Papelbon and Wagner on the rankings. Among this group, Cordero walks .5 fewer batters for every 9 IP, a solid total.

    Ah, but he doesn't strike anyone out! OK, you got me there. His 7.6/9 total (which, despite what Bob Carpenter thinks, is HIGHER than Jon Rauch's 7.2/9 IP total) is near the bottom, 7th worst among the group. (I'll just note that that's 2 places above Trevor Hoffman).

    Finally, if we look at baserunners (using WHIP: Walks + Hits / IP), he's above average here, too. His 1.12 is 10th out of the 29 closers I looked at.

    Look at the bigger picture. He's basically average at every test of a closer's (and relief pitcher's) success. He allows too many homers and probably doesn't K as many as we'd like, but those are overcome. He doesn't give up many more hits than an average guy. And he doesn't walk more. He has strengths and weaknesses.

    We expect perfection from our closers. It doesn't happen. They fail. Even the best do. Nobody's arguing that Cordero's the best. He's clearly an average closer. Yet, we act as if he's the worst. Get a grip, and take a look at the bigger picture. Not every team has a Papelbon. Most teams, even good playoff teams like Cleveland, Detroit, Arizona, etc, don't have a truly elite closer.

    Don't expect so much out of the guy at the end of the games that you ignore the things that he does well.

    Could he be better? Sure. But if perfection is your standard for all things, then you're never going to be happy watching any baseball game.

    If you want to see the full data, here's the spreadsheet with all the closer data.

    Good Closers Never Give Up Runs

    Trevor Hoffman has never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever had a bad game.

    Mariano Rivera is always always always always always always always perfect.

    That's not to say that Cordero is either of them, but even great pitchers have bad outings from time to time. It happens. Chad Cordero is a league average closer. He's not a bad pitcher. He's not a great pitcher. He's an average closer.

    It's too easy to remember the failures while ignoring the many many many many (I'm not listing all 110 scoreless saves he's earned; the list is here) successes.

    Everybody Loves Bob: A Continuing Series

    Weep for the CAPSLOCK KEY!!!
    What REALLY bothers me about Bob Carpenter on MASN is his propensity to CALL THE PLAY before it develops in front of him. If runners are on first and second with one out--and a hitter knocks a hard shot at an infielder--Carpenter IMMEDIATELY says: "THAT's AN INNING ENDING DOUBLE PLAY BALL!!" Many times, the fielder boots the knock. Its embarrassing. Bob did it again tonight on a hard smash to D'Angelo Jimenez at shortstop. Leading off the bottom of the third inning, The Rockies Jeff Francis grounded sharply to shortstop. Carpenter called out: "There's an easy out!!" Only to see Jimenez throw the baseball away. Only Dmitri Young coming off the bag--saved the out from being an error. Time and Time Again, Bob Carpenter does this. I am tired of it.

    The other call he makes that drives me up the wall is when a batter makes a nice hit--and WITHOUT EVEN MAKING THE CALL ABOUT WHAT HAS OCCURRED--Bob says: That's a NICE SWING!! Its the sign of an announcer who believes he knows more than he really does. He is talking down to the audience. I don't like it. Call the action--please. Let Don Sutton give the expertise. And, each time Carpenter misjudges a call--Don Sutton remains silent. That's telling. Come on Bob!! Let everything play out in front of you. Describe THE ACTION!! Don't Describe What YOU THINK YOU WILL SEE!!! And, please don't try to be the COLOR ANNOUNCER. There is a Big Difference. Sutton is one of the best--let him do his job. There is a good reason why Don is signed to a four year contract.

  • Did I mishear him last night, or did he say that Cordero and Rauch would be charged with Blown Saves? If that's what he said, man...

  • Friday, August 24, 2007


    At least it wasn't a walk-off slam...

  • The WPA graph mirrors my blood pressure!

    Why is my left arm going numb?

    [slumps in chair]

  • Thursday, August 23, 2007

    One Bat Or Two?

    The Nats extended run of .500ish goodness has everyone salivating at the possibility of next year. The more deluded amongst us sees images of a wild card run, perhaps aided by a few more well-timed John Lannan pitches. But even the sane can see the possibility of a .500ish team. And in the NL, mediocrity central, a .500ish record into September gives you hope. (Were we .500, we'd be about 4.5 games out)

    This is a variation of a post I've written once or twice before, but it's interesting to look at.

    Winning and losing in baseball revolves around runs scored and runs allowed. You score more than your opponent, you win. Simple, right. That's blindingly obvious on a per game basis, but it also holds over the course of a season. Good teams outscore their opponents. Bad teams get outscored. Bill James came up with a formula for estimating this, the Pythagorean formula, which says that a team's winning percentage is equal to:

    (Runs Scored ^ 2) / ( (Runs Scored ^ 2) + (Runs Allowed ^ 2) )

    There are variations using different exponents that are more accurate, but for 90% of baseball teams, this formula predicts a teams record within 4-5 games. The formula says the Nats are a 54-73 team; they're really a 57-70 team. Pretty close.

    Using the formula as a baseline, you can make some rough estimates about improvements the team would need to make for various records. It's a hell of a lot easier to project offense, so lets make some basic assumptions about the pitching.

    The team is on pace to allow 755 runs (120 fewer than last year). Amazingly, they've only had four starters completely crap the bed: Simontacchi, Patterson, Williams and Speigner. The rest have ranged from great (Hill) to passably mediocre (Chico).

    If we make the assumption that the team gets more out of Hill and Patterson (or some FA pitcher), when we factor in the move from RFK to a more favorable hitter's park, we can probably safely assume that the Nats will allow roughly the same number of runs next year. They could improve and still allow the same number because of the park.

    So to get to 81 wins next year, the team would have to score around 750 runs.
    85 wins: 790
    87 wins: 810
    90 wins: 840
    95 wins: 895

    The Nats are currently on pace for right around 635 runs. Yikes. That's a lot of improving.

    Some of that will come from the park. How much? Damed if I know. The Nats are on pace to score about 20 more runs on the road this year than average. It was dead even last year. And the road team in '05 outscored the average by 60 runs. For the hell of it, let's call it 30 runs attributable to park, but I have a hunch that with a medium-power team like this, it's more dramatic.

    So if we factor in ~30 runs for the park, the offensive improvement needed for each of those targets is:
    81 wins: 55 runs
    85 wins: 95 runs
    87 wins: 115 runs
    90 wins: 145 runs
    95 wins: 200 runs

    .500 certainly seems doable, doesn't it?

    Now some of those runs will come from this year's slumping players.

    If Schneider's bat awakens and he splits the difference between the last two years and '04/'05, that's 5 runs or so. Kearns splitting the difference between this year and last gives another 10. Zimmerman doing the same is another 5-10.

    It adds up quickly.

    Of course, you'll have to subtract a few for Dmitri -- can you really EXPECT (different from hope!) him to do this again next year? And probably a few from Belliard, who was over his head for half a season.

    Make some rough estimates, and you can see that the Nats are one bat away from being a .500 team and one All-Star-type bat from being in the 85-87 range.

    So who's out there?

    Adam Dunn over the last three years creates about 110-120 runs per season. Subtract a few runs for defense, and he's a solid 100-run a year contributer. When healthy, Torii Hunter is a 75-90-run bat and probably a few runs on defense, considering that Logan isn't a complete butcher (other than on easy popups!). If we chalk this up to a fluke season, Andruw Jones is a solid 100-115-run guy with the bat.

    There are options there in the offseason, enough bats to push the Nats, if they choose, to .500 or beyond.

    Of course, all this is predicated on the Nats' pitching being as solid next year as it has been this year, which is never a truly safe assumption.

    But if it works out, maybe we ARE closer than we think.

    Wednesday, August 22, 2007

    Some Ribs, A Museum, And Drab Concrete

    Business took me to Kansas City over the last half week or so. It's the first time I've been there, and I can't say that I particularly enjoyed it. I didn't really get a chance to explore too much, as the lack of a rental car and job-related demands kept me pinned to the downtown area -- and wouldn't you know, the one week I'm there is when the Royals are out of town.

    The downtown area is a complete mess, with construction on half the streets and others just dead-ending in a blaze of flashing yellow lights and cones. The city has a few of the traditional big-city glass and steel skyscrapers, but it's mostly filled with early century brick buildings and pre-war, art-decoish concrete skyscrapers.

    Other than to the casino where I robbed Missouri's school children of $70 worth of books, I only ventured more than 3 or 4 blocks from my hotel (which was named for the same guy that the Royals original stadium, Muehlebach Field, was named after) twice.

    Once was to eat half a pig (and a quarter chicken), and the other was to visit the Negro Leagues Museum.

    I was worried that I wasn't going to get a chance to visit the Museum, but a later-than-expected flight out of town gave me the time.

    The museum is in the 18th and Vine section of Kansas City, a three or four block long section of town about 3 miles east of downtown. They've tried hard to restore the character of the original buildings, including opening up what probably was a helluva movie theater back in the day. There's a well-known jazz club, the Blue Room, right next to the museum, which sits in a building taking up half a block, and which also houses the American Jazz Museum.

    Being 9 AM on a Tuesday, there wasn't much going on in the neighborhood when the cabbie dropped me off. I walked a few blocks towards one end, noticing that the cute little storefronts on the far side of the street were actually murals showing the types of shops and businesses that populated the place in its heyday.

    When you walk in the museum, you hand your ticket to a guy behind a window and pass through a turnstile. The opening room of the place features a large mural of all the teams, listed by city, that were affiliated with various incarnations of the Negro Leagues. There were five or so different ones listed for DC, including a major one that I don't know a whole lot about, the Washington Potomacs, a member of the Eastern Colored League.

    To the left stands a life-size bronze statue of Buck O'Neil, gazing off on to a giant baseball diamond in an adjacent room. Buck has his displays, but the museum is anything but a tribute to Buck alone. As you make your way around, displays featuring old newspaper clippings, photographs and artwork tell the story of the inception of the Negro Leagues and the role black ball players had prior to Cap Anson and the intolerable "gentleman's" agreement that kept so many deserving players out.

    It, of course, touches on Moses Fleetwood Walker, the true first black player in the major leagues (42 games in 1884), and Cap Anson whose power and influence as the game's biggest star and manager created the line that would not be crossed for decades.

    What I enjoyed about the museum was that it recognized the contributions of lots of the smaller starts. Everybody's heard of Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige and the other inner-circle stars in the league. But it told stories about Louis Santop, a dead-ball era catcher who slugged with the best of them and Pete Hill, the fleet-footed line-drive machine from the same era. (Both of whom were finally -- and deservedly -- admitted to the Hall of Fame last year)

    The museum proceeded chronologically, building up to the creations of the true Negro Leagues -- or at least the baseball everyone associates with them -- in 1919. Rube Foster, who had been a star pitcher in the league earlier in the century, realized that the loose confederation of barnstorming teams would do better if they were coordinated and organized. The Leagues were created right there in Kansas City at a YMCA not more than 2-3 blocks away from the site of the museum.

    The museum had much to say about the heyday of the league, showing some of the trophies won by the champions, and emphasizing the quality of play of the league, that it was not the minstrel show of clowns that some think of it as. It was a league of hard-working, hard-playing, supremely talented baseball players who were denied any shot whatsoever because of what Buck O'Neil called his "beautiful tan."

    The museum ends with the integration of baseball, showing how stars of the Negro Leagues were the stars of baseball through the '50s and '60s. (I particularly liked the photo of a 16-year old skin and bones Hank Aaron from the day he left to go play pro ball -- his nickname at the time was 'porkchop' because that's the only thing he ever wanted to eat)

    There was a nice video near the end getting the star players of the '60s to talk about the transition, and for others who came later to reminisce and talk about the climate. Many of the interviewees, including Frank Robinson and Willie Mays, mentioned the disgust they had with the American League, which was generally much slower to integrate than the NL was.

    The next section featured lockers from all the inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame who were associated with the Negro Leagues. Sadly, it featured just reproductions of their uniforms and didn't contain any real artifacts from their playing days.

    That, if there is one, was my only disappointment with the museum; there just weren't many things. It did a great job of telling the story through newspapers and photographs, but seeing Josh Gibson's bat or Willie Mays' Negro Leagues uniform would've added to it. I understand, though, that most of those treasures are long gone, and the acquisition costs of some of the existing items are likely prohibitively high.

    As you make the last turn, there's a wall with hundreds of autographed baseballs from celebrities -- politicians, athletes, singers, etc -- who have visited the museum. It was an interesting mix of people, all paying tribute to the great place. The final exhibit was that ball field that we looked in on at the beginning over Buck's shoulders. It was the Negro League dream team, bronze statues of the best players at each position: Buck Leonard at first; Satchel Paige pitching to Josh Gibson; Cool Papa Bell and Oscar Charleston roaming the outfield alongside; Ray Dandridge, and Pop Lloyd on the infield.

    I spent about 90 minutes there, and I would've spent more were it not for that flight. Sadly, I was the only one there during my time. I had the entire place to myself.

    I stopped at the gift shop on the way out, looked at the hats and t-shirts before settling on a copy of Joe Posnanski's "The Soul of Baseball." I had been meaning to pick the book up for a while. As I've alluded to before, Poz is my favorite baseball writer, combining a willingness to learn and study the game with the ability to craft wonderful stories. He's Boswell in 1983. I love his writing because he's an optimistic person. He doesn't rip for the sake of ripping, and he always tries to see the bright side. But he does it without spinning or condescending, as it seems like Boswell in 2007 does.

    The book is about a year he spent traveling around the country with Buck O'Neil. It's a series of vignettes, events that show the humanity of Buck, and what it is that made him such a tremendous ambassador for the Negro Leagues.

    It's a terrific book that's easily readable -- I whipped the thing off on the flight. But it's not about baseball. It's not really about the Negro Leagues. It's about life. It's about optimism -- something I have more of than most of you probably think! It's about slowing down, living life, not taking things for granted and without bitterness for what's happened in the past. Appreciate what you have now and be thankful for the opportunities you DO have, not what could've been.

    That's a universal lesson, one all of us can stand to learn from. That it's being taught by a man who, more than any other, could be full of bitterness and disappointment makes it all the more powerful.

    I'm not really an overly emotional sort. But the end of the book, wrapping things up with Buck being passed over for the Hall of Fame and his death got to me. A man full of life, full of positivity lived that up to the end. Most of us would damn the fates and wonder what we did to ever deserve this. But in the end, you can practically imagine him smiling. The conflict between the expected emotion and the likely reaction, the tension between sadness, disappointment and contentment with one's station, coming on the day I toured his museum, his baby, seeing his story, and seeing the leagues through his eyes, got to me. It choked me up.

    At the time the decision was made to induct just about everyone else but Buck into the Hall, I could see the argument for it. The rules are the rules, and the way the Committee was set up, it was to consider only their on-field contributions. After seeing the museum and reading the story, I think they -- and I -- missed the point.

    I hope the Hall corrects its mistake. Buck wasn't a Hall of Fame player. Maybe he was Mark Grace. But as a human being and as an ambassador for all of baseball, but especially the Negro Leagues and the dignity of the great players who were screwed over for no good reason, there's nobody better. He's in the inner circle.

    Holy Crap!

    As Warner Wolf would say...

    If you had Baltimore +26, YOU LOST!

    Can't A Dude Take A Vacation?

    Did I miss anything?

    1) Wily Mo for Fruto

    Jimmy finally found his grail, Wile E. Pena. We know it's been inevitable for months, since the idea of Pena in the home whites sends a tingle through Jimbo's tight leather pants.

    Losing Fruto isn't a big deal. Though the Nats were starting him, his lack of command of more than 2 (if that!) pitches likely made him a reliever in the future. So, we're getting a starting outfielder for a reliever. Sounds familiar? I hope they sent Fruto's medical records along... but then again, AZ's front office isn't as feckin' stupid as Cincinnati's.

    2) Adieu to Langerhans
    Is he toast, injured, or just having the year from hell? Regardless, he now has the lowest batting average of any outfielder since 1901 who has as many ABs as he has.

    Worse, he now has the 8th lowest batting average of ANY position player with as many ABs. The full list is here, and it's dominated by crappy catchers and shortstops.

    3) Nook Logan is hotttt

    Back in spring training, I said that Logan is probably about as valuable in center as Ryan Church was if he could hit about .280. (I just doubted his ability to hit .280). Since July 31, he's hit .408. Church ain't doing that. No, he won't keep it up, but he's now up to .291/ .335/ .379 over the last calendar year. If he can just learn to call for the feckin' ball, that's a CF you can live with at the bottom of your lineup.

    I'm still skeptical. But at a certain point you have to trust your lyin' eyes and not the numbers way back in the past.

    4) Nick Johnson's done.
    After hip surgery, he's definitely out for the year, but the prognosis used the phrase 'months'. That ain't good. I really do wonder how much of this the Nationals knew when they signed Dmitri. As I said at the time, unless they had suspicions that Nick wasn't going to be back, the deal didn't make a whole helluva lot of sense.

    But if they did know? Then it's not so bad.

    5) Matt Chico got sent down.

    It's hard to argue with it given the results he had over the last few games, yet I feel bad for him in that he's been the loyal soldier -- or at least the healthy one -- going out there every 5 days. I still wish we had more firm knowledge on whether he's fatigued or whether that 12-start stretch in which he excelled was just a hot streak.

    6) I'm everywhere!

    I contributed to's Face of the Franchise thingee alongside my good friend and now colleagues Jayson Stark and Bill Ladson. I can assure you that messers Stark and Ladson are wrong, wrong, wrong. I can also assure you that the person I picked might be surprising given some of the things I write around here. I know one occasional reader who will be stunned by it.

    I'm sure my choice won't win, but that's probably a good thing, especially in the long run.

    Thursday, August 16, 2007

    Only Little Birdies Say Cheep!

    Woohoo! Yes!

    They definitely surprised me, that's for sure. I really didn't expect them to pony up the money, especially $1.8 million to get the deal done. So I thrashed, ranted, raved, foamed at the mouth. And in the end, I was left with high blood pressure, some crapped-in pants, and a poo-eating grin on my face. (To be technical, I s'pose it was this morning.)

    The strategy and evolution of the whole event is fascinating. From death's door, to stop and go, to today's miracle of life, it's been a roller coaster of emotion. Yet they came through.

    There's no doubt that the Nationals had the most successful draft of any of the 30 major league teams, and that's just on paper. When you look at what their picks have done ALREADY, just 2 months after the draft, they're well on their way to building something special.

    I've always had faith -- never doubted -- the ability of the scouting department to identify these guys. The track records of Brown and Rizzo are among the best of any in baseball, and they have ultra-high reputations in the industry, as you can tell from reading others' praise of them.

    I've just always been cynical about ownership's willingness to properly fund the process. But they did. And they deserve credit, too. They lived up to their promise -- indeed, the obligation -- and put their money where their mouth is. They haven't always done it, at least from how it appears on the outside, but for now, they did. And they deserve our thanks. (I suppose I should avoid the weasel word there, and say they deserve MY thanks. They do.)


    Now as far as you jerks (said lovingly!) and your comments in the last entry... yeah, you're right. I'm a cynical SOB who flies off the handle and makes inappropriate rants. But that's what this blog is. It's me being an overly emotional fanboy and reacting to things as they happen. Sure, I could wait til the end of the day, all the news is in, and provide a deep, probing, stimulating essay about how wonderful everything is, or you could just wait a day or two and pick up Tom Boswell's next column. (He's a much better writer than me anyway).

    But that's not what I do. I read. I react. I write. Then when I get proven wrong (repeatedly!), I revise. Yeah, I ripped the hell out of them once Svrulga reported that they were holding off because of internal politics. But, really, if that was the reason they hesitated, they deserved it. And there's likely not too many of you who weren't pissed off, just wanting them to get the damn thing done (as the bulk of the comments to that post attest).

    Would I be better off waiting til the full story was in? If I was a reporter or a columnist, sure. I'm not. I'm a fan with a keyboard and a job that's especially slow this week (Thanks, Congress!) who reads and reacts and rants with too many words.

    Do I say stupid things from time to time (read: every day). Yep. Am I apologetic for what I say? Sometimes; even I think I can cross the line from cynicism to causticity from time to time. But that's what you get here.

    Anyway... I've seen enough of my belly button now. (I think I need to get that mole checked out though).

  • Thanks, Stan!

    I hope you enjoy the fruit basket. You won't need to use an intern as a test taster this time!

  • Wednesday, August 15, 2007

    Twenty Minutes Left

    I'm going to bed. If, when I wake up in the morning, I'm not greeted with cheerful news about the Nationals buying out a young man's college education, I'm going to be royally pissed.

    Bring your pitchforks and torches to work tomorrow, boys. We're gonna be a-rallyin' in the afternoon.

    Hey MASN and Comcast

    Can we please get a goddamn signal that doesn't look like we're trying to pick up a low-wattage UHF station broadcasting out of Beloit?

    Do I have to encase the cable running to my TV in aluminum foil and dangle the cable around in different directions to get the signal coming in ok?

    From The Inbox

    Someone sent this to me, and it makes a lot of sense... it blends in with the last few posts, so I wasn't sure where to put it. So I'll throw it here, dammit.

    "Off the topic . . . While your point about a penny being saved this year doesn't mean that penny is spent next year seems to ring true given what we know about baseball owners, I do wonder if it's actually correct.

    To my knowledge, there's nothing really foreclosing the possibility that a bigger than expected gain during Fiscal Year 1 (which we'll define as ending on Dec. 1, since that's the way MLB defines a championship season) can't be allocated (or a portion thereof) to the operating budget for Fiscal Year 2. Just because that money isn't preliminarily budgeted doesn't mean it won't be applied to the next year's operating expenses. Without seeing their books, we never could tell if even a cent of it was/will be, or not. But it seems reasonable that, given the team stands to make a ton of money this year (the local media rights very nearly cover payroll alone!), the team will have to apply some degree of that money in a future year rather than pocketing it all lest its vague claims about its financial status (as all teams make vague claims about financial status) start to receive some scrutiny. So I think the "safer" point to make is that invariably some of this year's "savings" will be applied in the future, but we'll never know the extent to which they are. Does that make sense?

    Now, for the cynical part: From what I know about closely held corporations (which the Nats are, basically), this type of decision (transferring past proceeds to future expenses, as distinguished from mere cash-on-hand issues) would require a vote of the operating board. And there are several Lerners on that board. So . . ."

    I never meant to imply that the team wasn't 'saving' for the future at all. We know that they're earmarking some of this year's profits for future years of stadium construction, for example. But it's a good email, raising some interesting counterpoints and issues.

    Superseding Indictment


    Svrluga says that's sources might be wrong. There's a chance that the Nats could still sign McGeary!?!!

    The key thing from the article (and, yes, this'll be hard for me to type!), is that it's NOT ABOUT THE MONEY! In some ways, though, the hold up is even worse. The Lerners are political cowards, hacks of the worst sort, who are unwilling (so far) to stand up to Bud Selig, the man who screwed over Montreal and Washington DC baseball.
    From what I'm told, money is not going to be a problem. The question, rather, is are the Lerners - new to baseball, trying to make inroads into a very political operation - willing to (potentially) ruffle a few feathers by signing a sixth-round pick for first-round money? According to Baseball America, MLB wants picks after the fifth round to receive no more than the last slotted bonus in that round, which was $123,300 this year. Clearly the Nationals would have to go well, well beyond that to land McGeary, who - just like No. 6 overall Ross Detwiler and No. 31 overall Josh Smoker, lefties already signed by Washington - was in the top 15 on the Nationals' draft board....

    What, though, does upsetting MLB mean? There are no financial penalties for paying draft picks more than their "slot" value - a value suggested by MLB and assigned to each choice in the draft....

    The Lerners, though, feel they're in a precarious position. One of the reason they won the eight-horse derby to get the Nationals - and a reason Commissioner Bud Selig and his people capped the bidding at $450 million, so they could choose their favorite group - was that managing principal owner Theodore N. Lerner preached a conservative fiscal approach.

    If money isn't a problem (which we all know it really shouldn't be, and the only holdup is because of internal political squabblings with a liver-spotted commissioner and the Lerners' unwillingness to put the health of their franchise -- the franchise that MLB dicked over for so many years -- then that's perhaps a worse indictment of the quality of the ownership we have.

    They'll put cronyism ahead of what's right for their fans.


  • NFA, who usually takes a dispassionate approach -- at least publicly! -- says just get the damn thing done.

  • Another Data Point

    With the news that the Nationals aren't going to sign Jack McGeary, letting him walk to Stanford, NFA has tallied up what the Nats spent on the '07 draft.

    All in all, it was a successful draft. The Nats got a number of highly rated players, some of whom are already succeeding in the lowest levels of the minors. Even without McGeary, the consensus is that the Nats had one of the top drafts in the league, and all involved -- Mike Rizzo, Dana Brown and their staffs -- deserve a ton of credit for what they've done.

    Most importantly, the Nats signed practically everyone they should've signed. Only McGeary, a sixth-round pick, went unsigned among the top 20 picks. (NFA has a good breakdown of position/age of those players)

    But what caught my eye was the bottom line. In the end, the Nats spent around $5.8 million (edit: see below) on their draft picks. The number, by itself, is basically contextless -- yeah, it's less than what Detroit spent on their kid, but then so is the GDP of Suriname.

    So I asked Brian to compare that to last year's Nats' draft. They spent, strangely, roughly the same amount of money, while signing fewer players last year.

    Two ways to look at it. One, it's great that they signed all those guys. I won't deny that. And I won't deny that it was a successful draft.

    But (while admitting that McGeary's overall demands may have been unreasonable), it's that bottom-line figure that has me scratching my head.

    When they cut payroll they said it was to invest in the farm. Yes, they've hired lots of scouts to find the great picks they've made, but where's the rest of the money? They didn't up the draft budget at all. Internationally, even as they've made some low-key signings, they haven't had a big splash like they did last year with Guy Smiley and his $1.4 million signing bonus. Did that budget flatline too?

    Infrastructure and capital costs for the baseball operations department have probably gone up, but the player acquisition budget hasn't gone up at all. Does that jive with the public pronouncements team officials have repeatedly made?

    Every one of the criticisms that I've leveled at the Lerners over the last year has had a "yeah, but...", a positive interpretation. This "yeah, but" is to look at how well the draft turned out and how well the kids are already doing. I can't argue with that.

    But it, like so many of the other minor little things, is just another data point, another indication that when it comes to finances, actions don't always live up to the lofty words.

    Any individual data point doesn't mean a damn thing in isolation.

    But after a while, when you start seeing more and more data points, pretty pictures start to appear.

  • Edit: Brian sent me some revised numbers that are slightly different. They're showing about $6.3 million this year and $5.8 last year. That's an improvement, for sure, and it probably changes things slightly. But last I checked, $30 million was greater than $500 thousand.

  • He's Alive!!!

    Tom Boswell has discovered that there is, in fact, a baseball season going on in the city of the paper he's been writing for since back when he was actually insightful. This is his first Nats-focused column, indeed, the Washington Post's first Nats-focused column in a month.

    Of course having read it -- other than his admirable use of extensive quotations, which too many columnists in distant, far-away lands, are afraid (read: lazy) to obtain -- it's the same sort of "golly, these boys are great" column I remember him writing last time. That's refreshing, in a way, I suppose, in that it marks probably the second time since mid-June of '05 that he hasn't contradicted himself in subsequent columns. Such are the advantages of ignoring a major league team for a month.

    "It's an amazing story that's surprised everybody in baseball. We need 17 more wins to equal the 71 we had last season. Who in their right mind would have thought that could happen?" said principal owner Mark Lerner, who assumed at least one disastrous season might be the price the franchise would pay to free $50 million to $60 million in payroll for future free agents.

    Question: Is the $50-60 million an assumption of Lerner's (Ha! I s'pose I know the answer to THAT one!) or of Boz? And if it's Boz, why hasn't he looked at the payroll outlays and seen that they've only got about $20 million to spend next year if they go up to the $70 million range?

    Once, it was assumed that hot prospects Collin Balester and No. 6 overall draft pick Ross Detwiler would have to be hurried to RFK in September, partly out of necessity. Now, all that's changed. "Why rush them?" said Kasten, grinning.

    I'm assuming that Boz' editors trimmed the sentence there. It originally read: "Why rush them?" said Kasten, grinning, while rubbing his hands together malevolently knowing full well that the longer he keeps the kids in the minors the less he has to pay them. (Yeah, yeah, yeah... here comes the barrage of commenters telling me I'm too cynical. whatever)

    "We're messing up our number one pick," Mark Lerner said. "But that's okay. We'd rather win."

    I'm assuming that Boz' editors trimmed the sentence there. It originally read: "We're messing up our number one pick," Mark Lerner said. "But that's okay. We'd rather win and not have to pay the premium price the 1st overall pick demands, so good job by Stan and Jim to make us just mediocre enough to slide into the middle of the round to save $3-4 million!"

    Tuesday, August 14, 2007

    Lazy Feet, Lots of Sliders, A Homer and a Joe Horgan Jersey

    Random thoughts....

    Shawn Hill is Teh Awesome! What impresses me is his intelligence as a player. He managed the rundown of the runner off second perfectly, tried bunting for a base hit when the 3B was camped out in Petworth, and something else I made a mental note of but have now forgotten...

  • Were all the bunts he did because his lead shoulder is still bugging him? Was he afraid to swing?

  • Hard to tell from where I was sitting, but it looks like he was throwing from a lower arm slot. That's usually not a good sign, but what the hell do I know?

  • His slider (was it a curve?) was deadly. I can't tell you how many ugly swings I saw on that thing, where the batters were way out in front and off balance.

  • Memo to Manny: Next time, put one of the defensive subs in section 468.

  • Is the CORDERO SUCKS!!!! crowd going to be calling for Rauch's head today?

  • Have you ever seen so many missed/failed bunts in one game as this one? Why is this team so terrible at it? It's been that way for 3 years, and even seems to be worse this year. Fix it, Manny!

  • I'm sure Philly fans were quaking in their boots having to face the dreaded Langerhans, Schneider, Logan, Jimenez in the bottom of the ninth.

  • Ryan Zimmerman is a sloppy player. His errant throws aren't a result of his arm, but his feet. He repeatedly and consistently refuses to shuffle his feet into a good throwing position, especially when he has time. His E in the 8th was a perfect example, where he had plenty of time to make an easy throw. Instead he threw off his back foot, off balance, and the throw went wild.

    All he has to do is take a step or two. It's the same problem that has afflicted Lopez.

    Bad throws are generally sloppy feet. Fix it, Manny!

  • An emailer let me know that he saw a Joe Horgan jersey at RFK tonight. As we know, Joe Horgan sightings mean bad things pitching-wise for Nats fans. Damn you, Joe Horgan!

  • When Tony Alfonseca waddled in from the pen, I wondered when the Nats had traded Ray King.

  • I love that little swagger/waddle that Ray King has when he comes off the mound. He sort of rotates his hips as he walks, so his dainty little feet and legs make small circular motions, while the bulk of his upper body rocks from side to side. He reminds me, in a vague sort of way, of the gears of a clock turning a pendulum motion into a rotational motion. If we split him open, is he part robot? (A gooey robot, perhaps)

  • Austin Kearns is terrible. That is all.

  • Did you realize that his double is only Tony Batista's second XBH of the year? Did you know it came on a slider you could've hung a three-piece heavy wool suit, complete with overcoat, on?

  • At one point, the Phillies had a conference on the mound - had to be the 7th -- and the entire infield came to the mound save for 3B Greg Dobbs. He stood at his position, kicking the dirt at the edge of the grass with his head down, looking like he had zero interest in joining the team and that was the only thing he could figure out to do so he didn't look like he was ignoring them. After a few beats, he slowly trotted in, just in time for the meeting to start breaking up. He hung around, grabbed the resin bag, looked around, watched everyone leave, then spiked the bag as if to say "go get 'em, team!"

  • Lohse came up and in on Zimmerman once or twice. I don't think there was intent there, but it'll be interesting to see if they try to get one back at some point in this series for the Utley injury.

  • Saul Rivera came in, again. I wonder when his arm is going to fall off. The man pitches in EVERY game. Despite missing the first two weeks of the season, he's second in the league in appearances.

  • Belliard continues his freefall. He swings at EVERYTHING. It's particularly painful watching the pitchers toss him anything high and hard. He comes out of his shoes, stretching his small body high, swinging with everything he has to catch up to the cheese. (He probably wishes that it really was cheese)

  • Wouldn't a better headline for this be "Nationals Fail To Sign Sixth-Round Pick?"

    "Lerners Cheap Bastards" probably wouldn't fly over there.

  • Shawn Hill is Teh Awesome!!!

  • It's Smoker!

    Thanks to NFA for pointing to the Washington Times' scoop: The Nats have signed Jeff... errr... Josh... errr.. Jerry... J. Smoker, and will announce it a 4:30 press conference.'

    In the end, he got $950K.

    So how 'bout McGeary? [crickets]

    City Under Seige: CHEEEEEP Watch Day 423

    Tick Tick Tock goes the stately clock, another night, another day, and we'll see if McGeary or Smoker are the one. The deadline for signing them (and all '07 draft picks) is tomorrow at midnight. And it's another test for whether the Nationals words match their actions. At a minimum, one of them needs to be signed. In an ideal world, they'd tell Herr Selig to go stick an HGH-filled syringe into one of his liverspots.

    But that's not likely to happen.

    Major League Baseball exerts a ton of pressure on clubs to stay within the recommended signing bonuses. There's no official requirement that they do, but teams typically want to stay within Bud's good graces, especially if they want delicious cookies tossed their way, such as the All Star Game.

    And with Stan Kasten, a noted hardline labor guy, and the hand-picking of the Lerners, there's a chance that the Nats won't rock the boat.

    It seems like they're a few hundred thousand apart on Smoker. I'd bet anything that that would get done. There's a few million apart on McGeary, whom they drafted in the sixth round knowing he'd want first-round money. He's much less likely, but, really, they should make the commitment to the kid.

    NFA, in a way, argues otherwise. He argues that you can't point to the major league payroll and investment there and use that as a hammer to beat the Lerners with for not signing the kids because the nature of the money is different and because MLB and the Union have set up a system where kids and vets are treated differently.

    He's right to an extent. The money IS treated differently. Typically, major league teams have set budgets in various areas, and money doesn't bleed from one area to the other. A dollar spent on the MLB level (provided its within the budget caps they've set) doesn't really take away from that on the minors. So, yeah, you can't really point to the money blown on Dmitri Young and day that they should've spent that on McGeary.

    But, as he does acknowledge, the ultimate source of the money is the same. And when you're talking about a few hundred K in McGeary's case, you can find that under the average MLB team's cushions. Know how you save $300K next year? You don't re-sign Alex Escobar. His minimum-salaried roster replacement cost that much. Calling up Joel Hanrahan (or whoever) to replace an injured John Patterson cost the team that much. These are tiny amounts of money in the scheme of things. No, it's not the same account (or "color" as NFA suggest), but if that's the problem, reprogram the money. Shift an extra $300K from some other account and get it done.

    (His other point about how the teams CAN stick it to the kids because of collective bargaining issues is exactly correct. But it's also safe to say that while it behooves the industry to keep things down, it doesn't make sense for any particular team to do so; that's why you're seeing so much more pressure on clubs to keep $$$ down)

    To the end of reprogramming money, Svrluga shares some good news:
    Yesterday, the Nationals held their regularly scheduled ownership meeting downtown at the Washington Square offices of the Lerner family, the corner of Connecticut and L NW. It is my belief that the baseball operations people pushed for more money to sign Smoker and McGeary, and there is some thinking that - in order for the Lerners to live up to their pledge of building through scouting and player development - they have to come through and sign these kids (particularly Smoker), whatever it takes.


    This team made a promise to invest in the long-term future of the club when it slashed payroll by $30 million in the offseason. So far, they've lived up to it, hiring the best employees and really making a commitment. But the draft is the biggest commitment they have, and it makes no sense to spite themselves over $200K for Smoker. And ideally, $1-2 million over McGeary.

    Next year, in the new park, money is going to roll in, even far beyond the projected payroll increase. They owe it to the fans of this team, the suckers like us who still follow this team no matter what, to spend that extra piddling amount, that drop in the bucket.

    One other note on that. Because the Nats don't have any compensable free agents this year (having re-signed Belliard and Young), the Nats will have fewer draft picks overall, fewer high (1st, supplemental and 2nd round) draft picks, and it appears that they'll have a lower draft position (ie lower slotting value). Again, this goes to the whole color of money argument and how they likely won't spend next year's money this year, but they'll be spending LESS money on draft picks next year. Shouldn't that then free them up to spend more this year?

    Just a quick eyeball of the slotting chart from NFA shows that they'll be spending about $1.5 million less, if all things stay the same, next year. Couldn't they find a better use for that money THIS year?

    Monday, August 13, 2007

    19 Down, 7 To Go

    The resiliency of this team is incredible. Not only do they come back within games (twice yesterday!!!), but they just don't go on long losing streaks. They had that one 8-game stretch in early May, but since then, they've only lost more than two in a row three times. Over that time, they've had five stretches of at least three wins in a row. They're not, as OMG pointed out a week or two ago, streaky, but the WLWLWWWLLW pattern makes it hard to get really down about how they're playing. (Remember April? sigh)

    Same thing this week. With Micah Owings shutting them down, it looked like first-place Arizona was going to sweep. Then a bang, a zoom, an Oh crap!, and another bang and a zoom, and the Nats won, and all was right with the world.

    Nats Record: 3-4. Considering the competition and the hoopla, that's not a bad result.
    Overall: 54-64, a 74-win pace. If the season ended today, the Nats would have the 8th pick.

    To get to .500, they'd have to go 27-17, a 99-win pace.
    To get to 100 losses they'd have to go 8-36, an 18-win pace, which is worse than they started out.
    To get to my projected 68-94 record, they'd have to go 14-30, a 52-win pace. Shows ya what I know, huh?

    Since July 4th, they have the third best record in baseball, and have allowed the third fewest runs. They've played at a 95-win pace since then.

    Runs Scored: 24 (3.4/g); 463 overall (3.9/g), last by 28 runs.
    Runs allowed: 33 (4.7/g); 553 overall (4.7/g), 8/16 in the NL

    Expected Record: 68-94; we're to the point where we can safely ignore ol' pythagoras, I think! (Ask the D-Backs about that!)

    What's Good?
    1) John Lannan's Balls! The guy has to have the biggest set in the clubhouse. Here's a kid who started the year in A-Ball pitching to snot-nosed teenagers. He does well, rises quickly, then finds himself right in the middle of the Barry Bonds soap opera. (Note: the word 'soap' is not an indication of cleanliness) He gets Barry all three times, including a GIDP and a killer K late in the game, blowing his so-so fastball and curve past the aging roid monster. Then, in his next start, he takes on the defending Cy Young winner and matches him pitch for pitch, ball for ball. Two outings, two challenges, and the young man with the so-so slop pitches met them both. Did you see that Young Chico? Let that be a lesson to ya!

    2) Teh Nook! The guy has the baseball instincts of a three-toed sloth, but he doesn't run like one. His overall numbers this week (.333/ .357/ .370) are those of a crappy player who's getting lots of hits. But hey, he got those hits. And at least this week, he finally decided to play some defense.

    He's been hot lately, but if you take the longer view, this is what he's done versus RHP since he gave up switch-hitting: .257/ .296/ .312. Focus on the difference between his batting average and the other two numbers (obp and slugging). The differences are roughly the same as with his hot week, right? He's not walking any more. He's not hitting for power. It's just that he's suddenly a hot hitter.

    If you have faith that last week's hot hitting is a newfound ability, then we've got a player. But if he's more like the 110 or so ABs he's had as a RHB against righties, well, SIGN DUNN!!!!

    (Isn't this supposed to be the positive part? Oh yeah... Good job (this week!), Nook!)

    3) Felipe Lopez! Did I read something somewhere (or hear?) that he said he had off-field issues earlier this year that were distracting him? Well, whatever it was, it looked like it cleared up this week! .391 with the team lead in homers, rbi and runs. Over the last month, he's hit .278/ .366/ .474, which is on the high side of what we could've expected this year. If he's hitting that, you can live with his "defense."

    What's Bad?

    1) Mike Bacsik. Two games, 5 runs a piece. One trip to the bullpen. The idea of Bacsik and his line drives o' death in the bullpen scares the bejesus out of me, but if you look closer at the man he's replacing (Billy Traber), you'll realize that he's just there to be a warm body. Thanks to the eagle eye of a loyal reader in Richmond, we can say that Billy Traber is the ultimate garbage time pitcher. He appeared in 12 straight losing games and 13 of his last 14 appearances have been in losses -- mostly in long relief.

    The team is 9-19 when he pitches, owing to the fact that he's only appeared in games with a lead six times. Save for a three-inning mopup stint when Bergmann got knocked out early on July 24, Traber had not appeared in a game with a close lead (defined as anything less than 11 runs!?) since mid June.

    Bacsik can handle that!

    2) Ronnie Belliard. I haven't wanted to rain on the parade all year, at least since his miserable early stretch, but Ronnie Belliard's season has been fluky. He regressed a bit this week. Belliard was succeeding because his singles were finding holes. Not because he was driving the ball particularly hard or well. And not because he was selective at the pitches he hit (hack, hack, hack, especially if it's above the shoulders!) Sure, he had big hits, and he deserves credit for those, but it was a battting-average heavy sustained run of excellence. When the luck turns, sometimes it turns hard.

    He's down to .232/ .301/ .343 over his last month.

    3) Ryan Zimmerman. Just when it looked like he had turned the corner, he ran into another wall. .143 on the week with three BRUTAL double play balls. He now leads the majors, which is fairly impressive for someone who strikes out as much as he does.

    Game O' The Week
    Does anyone know who won the game when Hank Aaron hit his record-setting homer? Nope? So why would anyone care whether the lowly Nats beat the lowlier Giants? Yesterday's game was far more important, because of who the Nats were playing and because it meant so much to Arizona. Two late rallies with six runs in the 8th and 9th, and they stole a game. Another heroic big hit by Jesus Flores, who seems to ALWAYS come through in those late-game situations, and a big homer on Sunday by Ryan Church who seems to ALWAYS have big homers on Sundays. I love the WPA graph; it looks like a hell of a ride.

    Weekly Awards:
    MVP: Felipe Lopez. Keep it up, and maybe we'll tender you a contract!

    Cy Young: Young Mr. Lannan. Let's get a win next time though, k?

    LVP: I'm tempted to type Brian Schneider here out of habit, but it's gotta be Belliard. At least Schneider homered.

    Joe Horgan Award: Ray King appeared in three games without getting an out, giving up five baserunners and earning the dreaded infinite ERA.

    Weekly Whips:
    8/6: Dmitri Young's 10th-inning homer should've held up.
    8/7: Three hits, a homer and a walk for FLop; that's what he should've been doing all along. Oh and Bonds who?
    6/8: Felipe had two hits. It's too bad that Redding was tossing BP.
    8/9: Hanrahan wasn't pretty, but Lopez bailed him out.
    8/10: The bullpen imploded, but Kearns got them to that point.
    8/11: John Lannan is a true American hero.
    8/12: Jesus Flores is a true Venezuelan hero. (I'm linking his name, cause I'm sick of this popping up as one of the first google hits for his name; hopefully it's no relation!)

    What's Ahead?
    Home, sweet home!

    Oh crap. It's with the Mets and Phillies, actual good teams. And they're bringing their mouth-breathing fans to the park. Hide the women and children!

    Both teams have been treading water for the last few weeks, and both teams SHOULD beat the Nats. But this team doesn't roll over for anyone, and with some of the decent pitching performances they've had over the last few weeks, ya never know! Six game homestand... 3-3 sound good?

    Sunday, August 12, 2007

    That Boy Is Out Of Control

    Friday night's 5-inning, six-walk performance marked the sixth straight sub-par outing by Matt Chico. He has now started 24 games in his major-league career. 12 have been excellent. The other 12 have been mediocre to poor. Conveniently, those 12 bad outings bookend those 12 good ones. He didn't have it, he found it, then he lost it again.

    Chico started the year very poorly. Through his first six starts he had a ghastly 6.59 ERA, making it out of the fifth inning just twice. Opposing batters clubbed him around like he was Dmitri's mistress, hitting .322/ .417/ .530. It was an ugly formula. He got behind everyone, leading to either a walk or an extra-base hit when he finally threw his get-me-over fastball. With the way he was throwing, there was no way he was going to be able to stick. He was killing the bullpen and burying the Nats early.

    Then something clicked.

    Those next 12 starts were terrific. Be it mechanical or mental, he started throwing strikes, getting in control of the count, and good things happened. He put up a 3.52 ERA and saw this mythical thing called the seventh inning four times. In only two of those starts did he allow more than three runs. He wasn't perfect, but he was solid, a dependable 3/4 starter.

    Then something unclicked.

    The old Chico came back. Ball 1, Ball 2, swung on and belted! Last 6 starts, 6.59 ERA. Here comes the chart.
               IP/G  BB/9  K/9  Strk% 

    Beginning 5.2 5.9 6.3 .607
    Middle 5.8 2.5 4.5 .645
    End 4.6 6.6 5.6 .555

    Opponents slugged .407 off him in the middle period, .555 in the end.

    As he's thrown more balls, he's given up more hits, walked more batters and, what's worst for the team, been unable to get them very far into games. He buries them early, leaving plenty of mopup duty for Chris Schroeder or whoever the hell it is we've got at the back of our pen now.

    So why the struggles? What is he not doing now that he was doing 6 starts ago? Was it a mechanical fix, or is this something that's in his head?

    Could it be fatigue? 128 innings isn't a lot, even for a kid. He's thrown 150 or so in the minors in each of the last two years, but the California League ain't the NL. I'm not worried about injury with him, just that the potential for fatigue -- he's been the lone starter to talk the ball every five days -- could be affecting the consistency of his delivery.

    Or it could be that those 12 middle starts were a fluke. I remind you of the strange case of Ramon Ortiz. (I know, I know... you had worked hard to repress that memory).

    Ortiz, you'll recall, was absolutely terrible. But hidden in a bookend of crappy starts was a quiet period where he was an effective major-league starter. He had a stretch of 15 starts in the middle of the season with a sub-4 ERA. So even bad starters can do good work from time to time.

    So the question is, what is Matt Chico? Fatigued kid? Overmatched kid? Crappy starter?

    If I had to bet, I'd say A, but who knows.

    One distressing aspect of it is that the team is starting to slap him around a bit in the press. says that the organization is "stunned" by his lack of command. WaPo says that he's in a "precarious position." The latter's clearly a valid assessment given his performance, but the use of the word "stunned", well, stuns me.

    This year is about building for the future and sifting through the bargain bin to find any hidden masterpieces. Chico might be closer to a velvet Elvis than a Renoir, but if that's all you can afford, you might as well put it up on the walls of your trailer.

    Ripping the poor brushwork of the design does no good after you've hung it. You knew what you were getting into when you bought it. I suppose you could hide it in a different room, or sell it to some other poor sap in Columbus. But for now it's your painting. Although that velvet John Lennon/Yoko Ono is starting to look pretty sharp... hmmm...

    A Tom Boswell Sighting!!!

    He's alive!

    [reads column]

    WTF?!? He's writing about a Redskin's pre-season game!?

    He hasn't written about the Nats in a month, and he's writing a Redskins pre-season column???

    Now I know how a Caps fan must feel! (Especially with all the losing)

    Friday, August 10, 2007

    Today's Shocking Development

    The team's financial commitment doesn't match their words!
    The Washington Nationals have contributed less than $8 million toward the construction of their new ballpark in the District, though club officials publicly said the team would spend as much as $50 million on stadium improvements...

    The team's contributions include between $2.5 million and $3 million for an expansion of the ballpark's center-field restaurant, about $2 million to improve the stadium suites and about $3 million to upgrade the scoreboard and video display....

    The Nationals still could provide funds for improvements made at a later date. However, D.C. officials said they were not aware of any such plans, and the amount of money spent or committed by the club thus far appears in conflict with statements made by team officials earlier this year that indicated a substantial infusion of cash from the Nationals was on the way.

    "The design that we were given was so far along that we couldn't make major changes, but we did feel it needed a lot more pizzazz and a lot more in the way of entertainment elements," Nationals President Stan Kasten said in an interview in March. "That requires an expenditure of a lot of cash by these owners, and they've stepped up — tens of millions of dollars — because we know we only have one chance to get it right, and so it's really important to not cut corners."

    Here's the original story from last December detailing the improvements they wanted to make.
    The owners of the Washington Nationals plan to spend at least $30 million to improve the city-financed ballpark under construction on the Southeast waterfront, according to Mark Lerner, son of principal owner Theodore N. Lerner....

    The D.C. Sports Commission is aware of $10 million in Lerner-financed stadium improvements, including the restaurant expansion that will cost $2.5 million and the club-level suite changes that will cost $2.4 million, according to commission spokesman Tony Robinson. Lerner said that, as additional projects arise, the family might pay more than $35 million in adjustments. A D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission source, who asked not be identified because of the sensitive nature of the stadium issue, said a $30 million estimate for all of the improvements Lerner has mentioned is "not unrealistic." The upgrade to the main scoreboard could cost as much as $7 million alone

    If you wonder why I'm a cynic, that's why.

    If you recall, that article and their sudden announcement about how charitable they are came right after Soriano had signed elsewhere and the first indications arose that they were going to drop payroll by $20+ million for the good of "The PLAN!" The improvements to the stadium were an easy thing to point to and say "Hey, this is about tomorrow; these improvements will help us long into the future."

    Yet they're not done, and instead, the Lerners are taking the city to arbitration for a few million dollars of equipment.

    Yes, as the article admits, there's still time. But this is a persistent pattern -- most of them small things like ticket delivery, concessions contracts, etc -- that show a fundamental mismatch between what the team is saying and what the team's doing.

    And that's not even mentioning McGeary or Smoker. Tick tock. Tick tock.

  • Oh, and while you won't see me bitching about the Post covering the O's, why does the Times repeatedly kick the Post's ass on these things? Every now and then Thomas Heath graces us with a pseudo-Marxist rant about how the stadium is harming the District's women and children, but they never report on these important types of things. They really need a full time sports business reporter. Of course having a columnist who actually writes about baseball would be a good thing, too. It's only been a month.

  • To be fair, the Post does have weekly stadium updates, which are very informative.