Tuesday, December 29, 2009

One Step Forward, One Step Back

Josh Whitesell has proven he can abuse the Pacific Coast League, and the Nats are giving him a chance to audition as Adam Dunn's understudy. Dunn isn't going to be a National forever. He is worth 10-15 M to an AL team, and that type of investment for the Nats is foolish given his defensive liabilities. Bringing Nick Johnson back this season would also have been foolish, given that his value has peaked and his presence would require reshuffling the defense.

It isn't fair to judge Whitesell on his 115 ML at bats; that wouldn't even qualify for the rookie status (though his 45 games may... I forget). Plus, with the number of extra moves needed to work in pinch hitters for pitchers, it helps to have a first baseman who doesn't have to be lifted late in games. He should get a fair shake at the job should Adam Dunn choose to seek greener pastures next year. Obviously, the organization thought highly enough of his skill set to bring him back after Jim Bowden left him for dead on waivers.

Eric Bruntlett, on the other hand, doesn't really provide much to the organization other that utility value. He's an average fielder and a very weak hitter. It is difficult to argue he can improve a single position at Syracuse, let alone on the ML roster. Fortunately, minor league deals, unless they have a clause built into them like Mike MacDougal's, are a win-win for the player and the team.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Guardado to a Minor League Deal

If there is one thing Eddie isn't, it's everyday. Most 39 year old "athletes" with his body type are long done with professional sports, though there are exceptions (David Wells). He gave the 2-seamer/cutter a shot last year to extend his career and scrapped it mid-season. His velocity is way down across the board, especially on his slider, and his release point is all over the place.

I see him being a valuable set-up man under two conditions. First, if he figures out that 2-seamer/cutter; he needs to be able to occasionally get out right-handed hitters. And second, if he can share a little of his baseball IQ and experience with the band of young misfits running around Nats Park. Most likely, he gets a shot or two early, struggles with command and velocity, and sees much the same results as Ron Villone.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Matt Capps- 3.5 million

This isn't an unreasonable deal if he in fact is the closer. However, there is an equally reasonable chance that he isn't even the best ex-Pirate reliever to come to town. One year gives the Nats a low risk option to evaluate all their closer options, which should include everybody floating around. I really feel that Clippard and Storen are the two best options, followed by Capps and MacDougal.

To be fair, Capps was ridiculously unlucky (.370 BABIP) on an offensively challenged team, following two seasons of fortune (.272 BABIP). He's a standard fastball/slider closer, and his velocities have remained solid for three seasons. It's unlikely he will be as bad as his 2009 numbers would indicate, but I'm not sold loading up on former Pirates.

Jason Marquis Now? The Pros and Cons

Upon seeing the Nats bring in Jason Marquis, I wondered if the team was suffering an identity crisis. Sure, Marquis is Rizzo's wet dream starter. He keeps the ball low and in the park, works efficiently, and by all accounts is a team first guy. The numbers and timing leave much to be desired, though. Here is a simple run down of the deal.

Con: Marquis is coming off a career year during which he was selected to the NL All-Star team. His candidacy, while solid, were clearly boosted by an inflated win total. This bargaining chip gave his team a leg up in any negotiations. The Nats, being really bad, did not need any further handicaps.

Pro: He can work deep into games, taking the burden off John Lannan to play stopper every five days.

Con: He posted career highs in innings pitched and batters faced, all the while tailing off dramatically in September.

Pro: The last three years, he survived hitters' paradises Wrigley Field and Coors Field, posting an ERA+ of 100 or better. He approaches the game consistently and has adjusted to his environment.

Con: His FIP in 2009 was three-quarters of a run better than his career average. Trends are nice to see; spike raise question marks. He is likely to regress closer to his career numbers.

Pro: He has pitched for a playoff team every year in his career.

Con: He is not a strikeout pitcher, now pitching for a team that desperately needs one.

Pro: An understated talent of his, Jason Marquis is not useless with a bat in his hand. He isn't a power hitter, nor can he take a walk, but his aggressive approach puts pressure on the other pitcher and can move runners from first to third and second to home on occasion. The Nats had 39 successful sacrifices in 2009; Marquis has 32... in his career (with 9 last year).

Con: Last time he pitched as many innings in a season, he stunk the following year.

Pro: He is 6 days older than me... age is not a factor.

Con: His groundball success in Denver was greatly assisted by having Troy Tulowitzki and Clint Barmes swallowing everything behind him. There are currently no such luxuries on the Nats roster.

Pro: He throws his sinking fastball early and often, staying ahead of hitters.

Con: Two-seamers tear the hell out of fingers and forearms. He may not be injury-prone, but these register a cumulative toll.

In all, it is easy to slam the deal because the Nats were forced to overpay to acquire the services of a league average pitcher. However, league average is a lofty goal for the Nats, so this could be a savvy move buy a few wins to show improvement going forward. B- for not getting him last season.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Do the Nationals Think They Can Win in 2010?

After foregoing the Rule 5 Draft by dealing their top pick to the Yankees for Brian Bruney, a mediocre pitcher who will make Joel Hanrahan look reliable, a wondered about the realistic short term goals of the Washington Nationals. Everybody wants to win, and winning sooner is always better than winning later, but teams who try to cut corners sacrifice much more further down the road (see: Redskins, Washington).

The draft picks surrendered to acquire this batch of free agents may not amount to a bag of rosin at the major league level; that is the rub with the amateur draft. There are very few "sure things" and even the best picks take three to five years to contribute. However, the conventional way to improve the organizational talent is to draft and acquire other organizations' proven prospects via trade. This doesn't have to be "Moneyball."

Honestly, I expected the Nats to be somewhat dormant in the free agent market, maybe trading for a couple of early arbitration players to get a couple of roster spots filled cheaply. Most of the rest of the work would be done to bring in as many options as possible to grow the talent at Harrisburg and Syracuse to compete in 2011 and 2012. The existing talent on the roster is good for about a ten win improvement in 2010, then as the pitching staff shakes out, modifications through free agency could be made to boost wins in subsequent years. Rizzo, on the other hand, dumped several draft picks in favor of known major league quantities.

Doug Slaten: known quantity, familiar with front office players

Brian Bruney: known quantity with limited major league upside, but should put up better numbers than Hanrahan or MacDougal

Jerry Owens: Nyjer Morgan insurance... somebody to play quality defensive CF in AAA

Ryan Speier: Local kid whose numbers should be league average

Ivan Rodriguez: Offensive production will be easy to project (no a good omen, in this case), clearly a signal that they are worried about Flores

Scott Olsen: Very low-risk, possibly high reward deal... the outlier

Jason Marquis: A good fit if the Nats improve their middle infield defense... though this deal looks like one a team who thinks it is in contention makes to add depth (Jeff Suppan to the Brewers, Carl Pavano to the Indians, etc)... a deal with little reward other than he has more experience than all those AAAA guys

Jamie Burke: Crash Davis?

Joel Peralta: Definition of AAAA

Logan Kensing: Somebody put on their Bad Idea Jeans and handed out a contract.

The Nationals are clearly trying avoid 100 losses in 2010. They may even avoid 90 with these options. However, most of these guys have had a shot and proved that they couldn't contribute much to a contender, aside from Marquis. When the Nats are expected to make another step forward in 2011, they will still have a glut of guys who are past their prime and won't be expected to improve.

The Rays needed four solid years to develop their slew of top picks, and never quit acquiring young prospects. It took an astute GM to sort through the mess and jettison the ones not expected to fulfill their promise (Delmon Young). Mike Rizzo is putting too much faith in the level of talent in the low minors right now, and for the Nats to continue to improve, their cannot be a dud amongst them. If there are, which there always are, they will be playing the free agent scramble every December to piece together a 75-win team from the leavings.

Mike Rizzo looks to be doubling-down on the Nyjer Morgan move and gambling for similar results. The Nats do have more financial resources than many teams, and may feel that the next two years are critical for establishing a paying crowd and television audience; that cannot be done with a AAA roster. In the end, the tactics cannot be condemned, though it should be mentioned that few franchises have successfully rebuilt this way.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Beast Awakens...

Blogspot has apparently been blocked by my place of work, making it more difficult to post timely responses.

Gotta love the Winter Meetings

The Nationals filled one of the openings on their roster at catcher by replacing Josh Bard with Ivan Rodriguez, and opened another by trading for Brian Bruney.

Let's start with Pudge. The value for the deal is fine, but the truth of the matter is that he isn't here to push Wil out; he is in as insurance for Jesus Flores. If Flores can't make it back for the start of the season, a viable (although below average) 1-2 punch behind the plate exists. Nieves could probably move on, but is still a good clubhouse presence and the team. Rodriguez does not offer much of an offensive upgrade over Nieves (and I could easily extrapolate that he will be worse), but the biggest weakness the Nats had behind the plate in 2009 was experience. The pitchers were not well managed, baserunners were able to run at will, and there was no major league credibility off of which to build confidence.

The pressure is going to still be on Flores to match his hot 2008 start, and Rodriguez represents a mentor, not competition. The Nats probably could have driven a harder bargain, but losing out on Pudge and bringing in a younger backup represents pressure.

The Bruney trade will be covered later, as it reveals more about the philosophy of the front office moving forward.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Sum of All Fears

You can imagine my heart sinking when I found this turd in my inbox.

Once again, my point is this: how does this improve the on-field management situation from the previous three (or five) seasons? It doesn't. Riggleman has a history of taking contenders and riding them into the ground. His managing highlight is winning a tie-breaker to sneak into the playoffs, only to be swept within a few hours. I curse the Atlanta Braves for rolling over the last week of this season. A four win downswing and instead of courting the cute, spry junior who would probably be smokin' hot without the glasses for the prom, the Nats going after Riggleman would be settling for the knocked up skanky senior that that gave her last three boyfriends crabs. Hey guys, the crabs are still there!!

My guess is that this decision came down to money. The Nats knew they could get away saving a million dollars by staying within the organization. It is damn near impossible to put a worse product on the field (though Riggleman will dare to prove me wrong), and the Nats obviously see this next two-year period as a bridge to respectability, allowing their draft bounty to mature. The Nats will not compete under Riggleman, and after 2011 they will go after a baseball mind to push them up in the standings. There is no reason to bring in a big name or a young visionary when the goal is ninety losses. So what is they make it to eighty-seven? Is it worth an extra two million dollar commitment? Of course not.

Happy 57th birthday Jim... you got the job. The bar is set low, so please do not trip over it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ryan Zimmerman Wins the Gold Glove


As Nationals observers, we have witnessed Ryan filling the highlight reel for some time. It is about time the rest of the league noticed. Gold Gloves are a reputation award, as most writers and fans, as well as some baseball managers, don't believe there are methods of measuring defense. Well, Zimmerman finally bridged the gap this year and found his way to the top of the heap, most likely for the first of many.

I hope to be back up and writing more now that the post-season is over. There is nothing more irritating than watching the baseball playoffs without a team to root for... the only thing that kept me mildly interested was the chance Cliff Lee would throw a perfect game in there. Now that it is all done, hopefully the rebuilding process can continue. The payroll is starting to shape up and Rizzo should have the authority to bring in a player or two.

The next four weeks should be exciting as the Nats acquisition strategy unfolds heading into the winter meetings...


It has been reported that there are just two finalists for the Nationals managerial opening: Jim Riggleman and Bobby Valentine. Now I know that this has been one of the thinnest free agent markets for managers for as long as I remember. That was proven when two teams went toe-to-toe to outbid each other for the services of the tenth-worst manager in the history of Major League Baseball.


The Nationals winning percentage increased from .299 to .440 under Riggleman (I won't give a nickname to a person I don't believe should be attached to the organization for long). A feather in the cap? Not so fast. The team spent the first half of the season toiling with no starting pitchers, save a couple good starts from John Lannan, no relief pitchers, and a historically bad defense. Those were immediately addressed by the front office, and in the second half of the season, Riggleman was the beneficiary. Had the Nats not pulled off a seven game winning streak to close the season, this discussion does not take place. The point to remember is that the Nationals won more games because they had better players, and utilized them to mask their weaknesses (ie moving Dunn to 1B). Honestly, the .299 number should be more attributed to Jim Bowden, and the .440 to Mike Rizzo.

The easiest, most telling question Mike Rizzo should ask himself when he is alone in the office is this: Is Jim Riggleman even as good as the guy I just fired?

I don't know, man. The guy you just fired just got caught in a bidding war for his services. Nobody is bidding for Jim Riggleman.

Rizzo has gone outside the organization to get guys before, so this isn't major change in philosophy... and yes, Bobby Valentine is a better manager than Manny Acta.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Roy Clark- 20+ years experience with the Braves organization

Johnny DiPuglia- 10+ years experience with the Red Sox organization

Doug Harris- 12 years with the Rangers prior to spending 2008 with Cleveland

Kris Kline- 7 years with the D'Backs, last 3 with the Nats

What it looks like the front office has done is brought in several career baseball guys with a track record of stability. These guys, if treated well by the organization, will not be out papering the league every off-season in search of a new opportunity. That's not to say these guys don't have goals; it's to say that their goals are better suited to the overall health of the Washington Nationals as a whole. This is completely unlike a Jim Bowden, or several other big names floating around out there. Sure, JP Riccardi is available and has a good eye for numbers, but even if he was more talented/better hire than Clark, how long is content for? 2 years? If that? And who's to say ego would not be a factor?

The Nats picked up four guys and moved them into more prominent roles. Clark and DiPuglia were important figures for successful organizations, while Harris and Kline have worked withing fruitful farm systems that traded away much of their better talent. Obviously, the Nats hope that these hires, like Rizzo, are able to stay and see the work through.

In contrast, go to a random NFL team and pick out their offensive coordinator (bonus points if you find Dan Henning) and check out how well traveled some are. While front office positions are not quite as fluid, the organization can never gain stability without some leadership at the front, and nobody is going to buy into a plan that has a different spokesperson every year... doesn't make it sound like a very good plan.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

One can dream, right

Tim Hudson is opting out of the final year of his contract with Atlanta. HOLY CRAP!! Granted, he is more likely to sign with the Rockford Peaches over the Nats, and in the end, I really doubt he is leaving Atlanta, but I would own season tickets if Huddy was on board, and maybe finally some Nats apparel.

Come on, checkbook...

On a side note, Tim Hudson is exactly the kind of player on which the Nats could get a bargain. A 34 year-old pitcher opts out 12 million for only one reason: so he isn't a 35 year-old free agent the following winter. Most players are not looking for the big dollars as much as they are the extra 2-3 years. Most teams prefer a one-and-done investment, and the Braves clearly prefer Hudson at 1/12M over 4/$$M (likely 40), especially contenders*, who will want a clean balance sheet to reload the following year. The Nats are not looking to contend until 2011, so they can be more strategic and commit to having players under contract and in place then.

* Obviously, the New York and Boston teams can be more flexible.

While neither of these scenarios is particularly feasible, which makes more sense? 4/36M for Hudson or 4/48M for Rich Harden? Or Brad Penny? Odds are, both guys sign with 2010 contenders. The key is to correctly evaluate other teams' commodities and be prepared to pick these players up when they are non-tendered/waived/released, etc. THIS DOES NOT MEAN TRADING FOR INJURED SCOTT OLSEN.

Rizzo does his homework, but he has much ground to make up to put even a .450-caliber ball club on the field.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Seven-Game Flurry

For a moment in September, it looked like the Nats may put together a run and move out of the basement. A few things stepped in their way, such as inexperience, a whiny shortstop, a stretched bullpen, Jim Riggleman. The team quickly surged past 100 losses and claimed the #1 draft pick with 7 games to spare. Then, with nothing left to play for, the Nationals played some of their best baseball of the season.

Odds are that the winning streak is not a sign of great things for next year, but further proof that a team put together as poorly as the Nats are will be about as inconsistent as imaginable. With the Mets and Braves likely to be better next season, it will be difficult for the Nats to dramatically improve their record.

A full season recap will be written this week.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Justin Maxwell

Seriously, I'd have pegged him the LEAST likely player to pull that off, let alone off k-Rod (formerly K-Rod, back when he still had unhittable stuff. Not sure how the organization should interpret these results, but his body of work has been pretty underwhelming aside from defense.

Anyway, if the Nats take 2 of 4 from Atlanta, it will be a positive note to finish a dreadful season. Hey, at least they aren't in the midst of another 2nd half implosion like the Orioles.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Congratulations Ross Detwiler

Nobody likes to finish the season with an 0-fer. And it is particularly no fair to pitcher inserted way over his head and expected to win games. During a particularly rough holiday weekend game against my fiance assessed Detwiler's abilities as, "This guy stinks. Why don't they bring in a reliever?", "Nobody is going to swing at that crap.", and "Hey, that guy hits and runs pretty well... maybe he should play in the field..." Yeah, not exactly glowing praise for the 23 year-old. Fortunately, Ross got a chance to go back to Syracuse and fine tune some pitches.

While the data from Monday's game were not pretty, he is turning in better results. Since coming back up, his WPA has been in the ballpark of 0.00 or better in each of his four appearances. His pitches still tend to be inconsistent, and he doesn't get nearly enough first pitch strikes, but here are a few reasons to be excited.

* Stellar, consistent numbers reflected in AA, AAA, then September numbers. The best way to interpret his first stint is to believe that he was overthrowing to beat major league hitters.

* Stronger 4-seam fastball velocity. He has been holding low 90's this month (after a decent innings load), touching 93/94. Earlier, he was mostly right around 90.

* Three and a half distinct pitches. His curveball, while mostly out of the zone, is much sharper, and his release point when throwing it is now almost spot on. I'm not sure what the hell this crap is, but it seems to diminish it's consistency.

* His line drive percentage is right at 25%, well above the league average. As a decent ground ball and strike out pitcher, he will likely see this number regress toward the league average, resulting in fewer hits.

* He's still just 24 on Opening Day.

* He is healthy and ends the season on a positive note.

Detwiler will likely be given a fair shot to win one of the rotation spots vacated by the likes of Olsen, Zimmermann, and hopefully Livan Hernandez, and odds are that unless he stinks up the spring training facility, he will win one of them. Maybe he will progress similar to Mark Mulder, forced into the rotation a year early, but benefited from the beatings.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Nationals Baseball

Where nobody has paid any attention to this 2-10 skid, as the Redskins have been incomprehensibly worse.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Rizzo Chatting Today

I have a bachelor party to attend (yes, it starts in the morning... we here at The Bombs know how to put on a show) so I cannot hang around to post any questions. If I had the chance, here are a few (I chose not to name names):

* What changes do you feel are necessary to improve the Nationals defense at second base?

* The farm system "rescued" a poorly designed pitching staff this season. Going forward, how do you restock the AA and AAA rosters with potential major league talent?

* How do you address the rash of injuries, several preventable, that have plagued the club this season?

* Boxers or briefs?

* What will be your involvement in the managerial search?

* Will the possibility of drafting another Scott Boras client and potential "bonus-buster" affect the Nationals during free agency this year?

* Is center field solved for 2010?

* The Nationals rank dead last in strikeouts. While boring and fascist, they remain an effective method of retiring batters. How do the Nationals improve a dreadful K:BB ratio?

* Is Dr. Andrews on payroll now, or does he still just bill the club?

I tried to stay away from singling out individual players that the club may want to move, though that is the more exciting information for which to probe. Ask your questions today!

Nationals Baseball

Where staving off a 100th loss is cause for celebration. Come on Dunn, let's get to 40!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Riggleman Reads The Bombs!

Josh Willingham gets the day off.

Josh Willingham Regressing to the Mean

He still packs some pop, but since mid-August, he has been pretty brutal. Despite the fact that he has posted an OPS .603 in September, with countless resources abound to fill the gap in left for a day, the Hammer has had just two off days, both day games, both on the road.

I know when Riggleman fills out the lineup card, he sees the guy who has five multi-homer games this season. It isn't like the Nats have a shot of avoiding DFL or even 100 losses.

Give the man a night off.

Monday, September 21, 2009

An Error in Philosophy...

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Well, it looks like the Nationals have cornered the market on "Turd-Ade". I make this statement only because of the continued issues the Nationals seem to have filling out a lineup card. The latest gaffe involved seeing 23, now 24, year-old shortstop Ian Desmond lined up in right field. Players play out of position all of the time, and the most typical reason is for injuries. The Nats, however, like to play people out of position for reasons that will substantially reduce the team's expected chance of winning, or for reasons unknown. This season, the Nats have played Anderson Hernandez, Mike Morse, and now Ian Desmond at a corner outfield spot. This is the one position that most of the season had a surplus of young players. The Nats feel that it is best create a position player rather than to find a position player. Hopefully this is still some residual fallout from the Bowden Era.

As seen before, the Nationals tried to make center fielders out of non center fielders, with Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes, and Willie Harris all showing some potential, but ultimately proving what the scouts already knew: they were not center fielders. Only Willie Harris is adequate. The Nats are trying to make a first baseman out of Adam Dunn; less of a stretch, but still comical at times. Garrett Mock was a disaster in long relief before rejuvenating his season as a starter. Alberto Gonzalez has bounced around as well. Now the team wants to take a middle infielder, under team control until it moves to Portland (just kidding, I think), and stick him into the outfield mess?

Ian Desmond, even if he is only as good as Guzman both in the field and at the plate, represents a huge upgrade at the position based on age and cost. In right field, he has little value other than being further from arbitration than Dukes and the Hammer. If the Nats don't like those options, and do not like their organization retreads (who can blame them), corner outfielders grow on trees compared to other positions. Seriously, go get Matt Holliday.

The good teams always seem to have the right player for a position. Their general managers draft players who can play a position at the major league level. The ones who cannot better be named Manny Ramirez. The bad teams continue to cut square pieces to cram into round holes. Being a GM in the AL is hard because the Yankees and Red Sox set the bar high. Being a GM in the NL is more difficult, though, as there is less room for scout error without the DH. Mike Rizzo makes me think that the Nats are steering the ship with a purpose now, but when Desmond trots out to the outfield, it makes me wonder.

Friday, September 18, 2009

New Layout...

We were talking about the Patriots throwback (awesome) uniforms in the office today. I mentioned that most fans were not a big fan of the new uniforms (there was a couple different permutations between Pat Patriot and their dynasty digs), but they were also fed up enough with losing that anything was worth a shot. And for the most part, it worked. The Patriots have had just one losing season since 1993.

Therefore, fed up with losing, I have recommended a change. Only I don't have control over the uniforms... just this blog.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Finding Hidden Value- the Cutter

The key to Rizzo's philosophy with pitching has been to keep the ball in the park. He has done this by bringing in ground ball pitchers and finding guys who can pick up the thing behind them and chuck it around to record some outs. This has worked for several clubs, so Rizzo has tried to get a leg up on the competition with his own model.

The problem with sinker ball pitchers is that they do not generate many strikeouts, as noted that they are dead last. (Pittsburgh, the second worst team in the NL, has 11 more than the Nats) The theory is simple: a swinging strike rarely generates a base runner, let alone a run. The Nats had Stephen Strasburg fall into their laps, and he is likely to generate a few of his own. But what about the rest of these guys? How can the Nats maximize the effectiveness of their staff, both current and future players?

Sky Kalkman provides some interesting data on the cut fastball.
While the data he provides has many shortcomings, it illustrates several things. First, given the infrequency in which batters see the cutter, it immediately becomes a weapon, almost as much so as the knuckleball. Second, while the hitting numbers for the cutter appear weaker in an 0-2 count, where a pitcher would be using it strike a batter out, the numbers it produces in a 2-0 count are staggering. 2-0 cutters are thrown in the zone 66% of the time, swung at and missed 15%, and generate a BABIP of .273.

2-0 Counts % Zone Swing Whiff BABIP HR CON
Curveball 2% 57% 19% 35% .217 4.0%
Cutter 3% 66% 44% 15% .273 1.8%
Fastball 76% 62% 40% 12% .333 3.4%
Off-speed 10% 56% 39% 28% .248 4.9%
Slider 9% 61% 36% 29% .343 2.4%

The cutter, especially in hitters' counts, does exactly what Rizzo is aiming for: keeping the ball in the park. Overall, the cutter trails only the curveball in home run rate. The biggest advantage is that the cutter can be used inside the strike zone much more effectively. The result is fewer hitters' counts, and an available "out pitch" in a hitters' count.

All Counts % Zone Swing Whiff BABIP HR CON
Curveball 9% 46% 39% 28% .296 1.6%
Cutter 3% 56% 49% 18% .289 1.7%
Fastball 59% 55% 44% 14% .308 2.1%
Off-speed 12% 47% 48% 27% .288 2.2%
Slider 17% 50% 47% 29% .285 2.0%

Obviously Steve McCatty just can't have ALL the guys pick up the cutter, but when looking at some pitchers with great location (Craig Stammen) that just don't have enough in their arsenal to be anything more than a number 5 guy, why not give it a shot.

Sky mentions numerous success stories, but he omits what I find to be the most interesting case. Mark DiFelice of the Brewers has owned righties, absolutely owned them. In 51 innings, he has walked 15 and struck out 48, throwing his blazing 83 mph cutter exclusively. There are theories as to why his cutter works, but the applications should be the same. Work in the zone early, then expand the zone to get outs. Too many pitchers on the Nats do not throw first pitch strikes for fear of giving up too many hard-hit balls.

The cutter may be a fad, it may be too difficult for most pitchers to master, but the slider and the splitter both changed the game. For a team looking to make up some ground in the standings, the Nats need all the help they can get. Rizzo believes sabermetrics is easy... yes, reading numbers off a sheet and choosing the best ones is easy. But will he be the one to go off on his own and try something new, generate his own model for success?

** I will work out the chart formatting soon... stupid blogger formatting.

Riggleman Makes Another Boner

The seventh inning got out of hand in a hurry. It started off nicely, with Clippard getting two quick ground out, then plunking Chase Utley. These things happen. However, after just 7 pitches, Riggleman lifted Clippard for Burnett. If this was going to be an option, why not bring in Burnett to face Utley as well? The logistics of making the move at THAT point escape me a little. Burnett battled, but eventually walked both to load the bases. Not great, but considering neither produced a run, not a loss... yet.

Now it is decision time. Bases loaded, two out, two righties left in the bullpen (because lefties are not an option against Jayson Werth): Jason Bergmann and Mike MacDougal. Maybe three if you want to roll out Saul Rivera. We will ignore some of the dead AA weight in the pen, like Zegovia, Kensing, etc. One of these pitchers is an accomplished fly ball pitcher with a history of gopherballs. The other is a sound ground ball pitcher with a reputation of walking too many hitters. The fact is that this season, Bergamnn has struggled with his control and has a similar BB/9 ratio to MacDougal. Unless you are going to test the moxie of one of the rookies, the smart money is on the guy who can keep the ball in the park. Riggleman chose wrong.

The argument that maybe he was saving him for the ninth holds no water, as the Nats were losing by a run. The only way to make the ninth relevant was to not give up four runs on one swing of the bat.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

For Good Measure...

Nationals Baseball: Making Livan Hernandez look good by comparison.

Great job getting someone in who can eat the innings, rest the bullpen, and hell, even put the team in position to win. Just don't expect him to anchor the rotation next year.

Nationals Baseball

Victim of the Little League "double steal".

The Mole

Right now, the person on the Hot Seat more that anyone, including Jim Riggleman, has to be Head Trainer Lee Kuntz. All other retained personnel have shown improvement as the season has progressed. Steve McCatty has exceeded every expectation with a AAA rotation plus Lannan. Randy Knorr has patched and righted a brutal bullpen situation. Rick Eckstein has had hits at every position except right field. Even Riggleman has shown the Nats can be motivated to win a few games here and there.

However, the misdiagnosed injuries are piling up faster than the National Debt. First off, everybody who watched a baseball game and picked up a sports section knew Scott Olsen was hurting. The trade is obviously not Lee Kuntz's fault. Allowing Olsen to struggle on the mound for almost two months was. Olsen looked rejuvenated coming off the DL, but was quickly back on with a career threatening torn labrum. A disastrous revelation, to say the least... though the question should be posed: was the labrum already torn, or was it caused by Olsen compensating for another injury? Either way, he should NOT have been allowed to pitch at the end of June.

Next we have the tragic case of Jordan Zimmermann. Zimmermann jumped into the rotation in the middle of April and never looked back, burning down batters with a nasty 95 mph fastball and displaying remarkable control for a rookie. He missed a start in early June with general elbow soreness, and the blogging world was afire. All reports from the Nats was that it was nothing but precautionary measures. Flash went back out and made several more starts, including jumping spots over the All-Star break, before being skipped at the end of July for more elbow soreness. Then he was placed on the DL. Then he made a minor league start. Only then, after persistent elbow soreness for over two months, was an MRI ordered. A second and THIRD opinion concluded that Jordan needed Tommy John Surgery. How this escaped the Head Trainer for two months is a question only he can answer. Another horrible setback for a young player.

Let's change gears for a moment and consider the case of Austin Kearns. First, Kearns has not been hitting since 2007. Many explanations have been submitted, and Austin pops in with a couple nice at bats once a month. However, his production at the plate has NEVER demanded that he be in the lineup every day, even when healthy. Rather than sitting him down and working out what could be causing a two-year disaster, he kept trotting out there four or five times a week, cringing in the batter's box like a troublesome child awaiting his spanking. Of course it was revealed in AUGUST, of 2009, that he had been dealing complications from thumb surgery in 2004. In Kuntz's defense, Kearns is a bit of a lunkhead, and probably thought he was playing through just another bruise to avoid the "injury-prone" label reserved for Nick Johnson. However, this is exactly why Kuntz is retained by the Nationals, to review a player's medical history, diagnose injuries, and properly rehab them to avoid future injuries. So now Kearns will likely never play another game for the Nats again, and will struggle to get back into the league once his thumb is repaired. At least he'll get his buyout.

I noted Craig Stammen's issues beginning in late July in a blog post a couple weeks ago. They noted the mechanical differences in Stammen's delivery from early in the year and during the period in which he struggled. The post foolishly focused on the effects of the change, decreased control and more fly balls, instead of the cause. When a pitcher makes an unexpected mechanical change the cause, of course, is always pain. In this case, it was pain in the freakin' elbow, which should always trigger an alarm. The cause of the pain, revealed about six weeks after he began experiencing it, was bone spurs. It is foolhardy to believe the Head Trainer can prevent bone spurs, but he needs to be in better tune with the players and coaches who are experiencing the pain and mechanical difficulties.

Now of course the reason for this post is the news that Jesus Flores, relegated to the DL since May, has now been diagnosed with a torn labrum and will be out six months following surgery. Flores was knocked on the shoulder in the beginning of May, after which he was day-to-day with discomfort. The pain was attributed to a contusion suffered from the foul tip. No problem, that is why the Nats carry Wil. After hitting the DL with no improvement, Dr. James Andrews (whose name may as well be The Plague) was called in to diagnose where others had failed. The revised diagnosis was a stress fracture of the shoulder, a serious upgrade in severity. The timetable for recovery was set at three months, which would have put Flores set to be activated in early to mid-September, depending upon his rehab assignments. The smart money would have been to shut a young player down for the year during a lost season, allowing him extra time to rehab and report to fall ball. The Nats instead pushed ahead with a more aggressive approach, and Flores was in the lineup in September. He was then diagnosed with a torn labrum shortly after returning. The tear wasn't there in August, clearly Flores did the damage when returning to baseball activities. It is almost impossible to conclude that one injury is not related to the previous, considering they are in the exact same area. Now a simple foul ball will have kept Flores out at least eleven months. Holy crap.

This is not a witch hunt to indict Lee Kuntz in for everything from JFK to 9/11. This is strictly an assessment on the progress of five players under the age of 30 and how they are coping with injuries. Right now, the the training staff has done a poor job with these five players. I am not a doctor like Rany, so I am not pointing the finger or recommending anybody's dismissal. The team cannot keep selling this as "bad luck" though. That shit only sells so long before it begins to stink. The front office has done everything to coddle and slowly bring along these young starters with strict inning and pitch counts, and the injuries still mount. Mike Rizzo needs to come forth and conduct a thorough audit of the past two seasons (remember what Nick Johnson and Ryan Zimmerman endured last year) and see how this rash stacks up with other teams. He has proven himself savvy in identifying talent and value on the field, and had no issue firing Bobby Williams. It is up to him to identify value and talent by keeping players off the DL as well, at that starts on the training table in DC.

Making the Nats competitive for 2010 and beyond is much more than adding a LOOGY with good ground ball numbers. Agents will not recommend their clients sign with an organization that has a history of mysterious horrible injuries. Agents make a lot of money to do what is best for their clients. It is tough to believe, but in the end, Scott Boras got his players signed. And if Strasburg promptly shreds his elbow, you can guarantee the next one will not unless it is for the moon and a time machine. The bottom line is that the credibility of the organization is at stake when it does not believe it is hiring and retaining the best personnel in the industry. Yes, it is near impossible to compete with the industry giants due to financial constraints, but teams like the Marlins and Twins prove that it can be done. The Nats cannot allow themselves to become the Clippers or Bengals of the MLB... or worse, the Royals.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Free Agency: Can Washington Compete

Now that the games are more or less extended "Fall Training", management should be focusing not on wins and losses at all, but how these pieces will come together for next season. Funny, Riggleman was preaching this back in July, but once the team submarined his chances at the full-time gig (which were slim at best), he defended his stance on keeping the kids on the bench.

The Nats' farm system is pretty thin, and much of it has had at least a cameo with the big club. There are holes everywhere that will have to be addressed via trade or free agency. The club landed Adam Dunn last off season for a reasonable contract, but which upper echelon free agents are going to settle on Washington? Having the number one pick in the draft consecutive years is not a resume bullet-point.

The Nats need to study and settle on three things: which type of free agent they want to pursue, how they plan to market their club to these players for 2010 and beyond, and what incentives they can offer to get these players to sign. You would think every team has a plan like this, but looking at the rosters of some of these teams, it is clear some (Jim Bowden) approach the profession with darts and rhetoric, not statistics and analysis.

Every year, teams are lauded for getting a good deal on a good free agent only to have a player who is a poor fit for the team and environment, and eventually ends up sulking the whole season (think Orlando Cabrera and Milton Bradley). Adam Dunn could have fit this profile (defensive shortcomings) had he not been a big hit with the fans. This struggle is often lost when the baseball minds do not agree with the people trying to fill the seats, and a name is signed instead of a player.

Billy Beane constructed his profile almost ten years ago, and many teams have begun to mimic his methods. The baseball landscape in 2009 is much different than in 2001. Veterans are aging in a more traditional method, players' stats bell curve more as opposed to spiking. Mike Rizzo has to identify what type of player will best fit with the team's 2010 roster and expectations. Chasing Mark Texieria, while great for appearances, would have been a disaster in both the short and long run. The Nationals would have been best committing the money to several useful players. Instead, they missed the boat on most of the good free agents.

Even once players are identified as being a good fit for the organization, whether determined by skill set, age, value, they still have to realize that the Nationals are an organization building a winning roster, and that they are not just looking for a one-year stop-gap. While those who follow the team may understand how Rizzo has changed the philosophy here in DC, the media still portrays the Nats as a bunch of wandering buffoons more adept to being on the wrong end of historic milestones. Developing a rapport with agents, who can work some magic, will be key.

Some players will not want to risk playing for a potential dud like the Nats. There are plenty of players who will consider it, but what are the incentives? The Nats will have to bargain competitively to bring in talent. Whether it is to invest an extra year into a contract, throw in a creative signing bonus or performance clause, or target higher risk guys that may not be getting a fair shot (guys coming off injuries, stuck on the bench, etc), that player needs to want to choose the Nats over 29 other teams. You don't want Julian Tavarez back.

All that stated, what are the Nats off season needs? Position by position, here we go:
1B- Adam Dunn: an attractive trading chip, but if he wasn't allowed to be moved in July, doubtful he goes anywhere by next July
2B- Cristian Guzman?*: Yeah, speculation is that he could be a candidate to shift over. Orr isn't a long-term solution, and Desmond at shortstop make the defense immensely better. Guzman moves to his right fine, and has the arm to fire from deep in the hole. It should be a sweet deal for both sides, but ego have a tendency to blow up logical situations
SS- Ian Desmond or Cristian Guzman: Orr is proving he can be a decent backup, but is probably not going to take a spot from Gonzalez. There is a need in the middle infield.
3B- Locked up till 2013
C- Jesus Flores: Hopefully 100% next season
LF- A tricky one. The Hammer will probably cost close to 6 million at arbitration. He is 30 and probably having a career year, minus the misfortunes. It will be hard to get good value for him long term, so he is likely the best trade-bait the Nats possess. I like Willingham and am glad the Nats buried Kearns to give him a real shot, but the moons really are not going to line up for him on the Nats. Possibly in the market for a corner outfielder.
CF- Nyjer Morgan: Second easiest call on the board. Just don't Juan Pierre this one.
RF- Elijah Dukes: No trade market for him, he's cheap, and he may be ready to break out after a disjointed season.
PH- Mike Morse: Can eat up a few of the spots in the field when necessary, but Rizzo traded to get his bat. Probably will never be an All-Star, but could be next year's version of Josh Willingham, sans home runs.
Bench: Wil Nieves, Alberto Gonzalez, Willie Harris, ?, ?: With Norris waiting in the wings, Bard likely becomes a solid back-up for a contender. I don't envision Maxwell making it, a much of the rest of the AAA cupboard is barren. This where the "Moneyball" teams butter their bread, finding valuable contributors and staying away from Anderson Hernandez.

There, quick and dirty, that is what the Nats should be looking for come off season: a starting caliber middle infielder, a starting left fielder, and two valuable contributors off the bench, hopefully good enough to push for playing time. The pitching staff is a quagmire for another time. Nationals Inquisition probably hits it on the head, though. In any event, enjoy the rest of the show and root for the Nats to JUST edge out the Pirates and Royals for the #1 pick.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Josh Willingham Will Go Yard Tonight

The song playing on the Sirius when I got in the car: Even Flow.

Friday, September 11, 2009

How 'bout That! A Win...

But at what cost?

Being up 8-2 at the start of the 9th, maybe most of the players were already in the clubhouse. In the blink of an eye, 63 year-old Canuck Matt Stairs belted the 259th homerun of his long, somewhat unillustrious career (might I add, as an A's fan, Matt Stairs always had one of the prettiest swings in baseball... quick and compact, then extending and exploding through the zone).

And at 8-6, it suddenly became a save opportunity, only Mike MacDougal appeared a little tight and immediately began feeding the beast. With a mess of lefties coming up, Riggleman turned to the shaky arm of Ron Villone, who, as we discussed last week, has lost the ability to get lefty hitters out. After Utley reached, the Nats got their Christmas miracle, with Ryan Howard pounding a ball to second, unable to beat the relay by the shortstop that would have scored the tying run.

Ian Desmond paid immediate dividends, and aside from a shaky 9th, looks prepared to handle shortstop duties for the rest of the month. I'm not sure how they will handle Guzman's frail ego, but somebody will have to take their reps at second base. Some scoring after Desmond's bomb would have been nice... the Nats have proven time and time again that no lead is safe.

The disappointing aspect is that the Nats keep digging into the cupboard, but nothing is for as to what that hand might find. Tonight, Desmond was gold and Segovia was a fresh pile of mastodon dung. Jorge Sosa gave a few good innings before his started suicide bombing games. And we all know about the ticking time bomb that spells his name Livan Hernandez.

Hey, a win is a win... let's not give the Royals Bryce Harper just yet.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What Could Really Ruin This Season

Is if Adam Dunn doesn't hit 40 on the nose again... he has zero bombs thus far in September and is stuck on 35. I'm a big fan of symmetry and Glass Tiger's "Don't Forget Me When I'm Gone" and only one of these can happen this year.

Get er Dunn, damnit.

How Does Lannan's Game Rate

On one hand, he threw just 92 pitches to dig out 6.2 innings of six-hit ball. The only problem is that four of those six hits landed over the fence. Ibanez hit two and Werth hit one, so it isn't like scrubs were teeing off on his stuff, though the Ruiz bomb leaves much to be desired. Sometimes a pitcher can get away with a couple fly balls. Luck was clearly not on Lannan's side last night.

Only Ibanez's fifth inning shot was a no-doubter, and Lannan still recorded 14 of his outs via the ground ball. Clearly, John Lannan was in control until the seventh inning, where despite a low pitch count, things got a little sideways. The homeruns aside, walking Pedro Martinez is inexcusable at any level, which probably meant the gopher balls finally got to him. All in all, this was his best game the past month.

It is disappointing to see Lannan's record where it is. He has pitched much better than this, and it isn't his fault the offense and defense perform with the consistency of a Havana Omelette. But with so many ugly things (Nationals Baseball) to dwell on in a lost season, Lannan gets written in a success story.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Nats Surge in Harper Sweepstakes

The Royals looked ready to go into September in the driver's seat, but one ill-fated slide later and the Nats' offense is drowning in its own waste. Barring another late season hot streak, the first pick in the 2010 draft is Washington's to lose.

When looking at a player who seems to have freakish talents, one always has to wonder, "Is this too good to be true." The legend of Bryce Harper allows us to know what would happen if LeBron James and Sidd Finch ever crossed DNA. He's A-Rod without the steroids.

Though, given that Strasburg came with a 15 M price tag, what will an everyday catcher with revolutionary hitting skills field? Scott Boras had to get Strasburg signed, for his value clearly peaked this year with the Aztecs. Harper, on the other hand, will continue to grow and amaze. I cannot imagine them settling for less than 30 M. Can the Nats deal into this window? Will Selig even allow the Nats to hand over the keys to the money bin?

Keith Law puts a realistic ceiling on Harper at Joe Mauer. Being that he is playing in Minneapolis in a weak division, you may not be all that familiar with Mauer's exploits this year. Well... Mauer's OPS+ is 180... followed by Youkilis in the AL at 148. He is putting up Pujols numbers from the catcher's position in the AL. He has clearly been the most valuable player in baseball even though he debuted May 1.

Mauer is going to be free agent eligible soon and will likely command 20-30 Million per year. He is likely peaking, as few catchers without b-acne improve after the age of 30, and there is no way the Twins can fit his price tag onto the balance sheet. So the question the Nats need to pose going into this offseason? Is Joe Mauer, at 8 years 200 million, a better value than Bryce Harper at 5 years 40 million?

We know the draft is broken and Scott Boras is still out to make a point. Is Harper worth caving the system? It depends on how much hype you can buy...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Petco Park...

Where offense goes to die. I won't blame the offensive swoon entirely on the Padres home tomb, but as a pull-hitting fly-ball team, the Nationals are likely to struggle here. The Cardinals pitching staff is nothing to sneeze at either.

Pitching, of course, has been terrific during the losing streak. I think that is what bugs me most about the Nationals. Other than sucking, they have really lacked an identity. They do not suck consistently either. Some weeks, they knock the cover off the ball and pound opponents into scoring 8 runs to win. Other weeks, the offense hibernates while guys like Martin, Mock, and Livan Hernandez pitch like All-Stars.

Clearly, the Nyjer Morgan injury is killing the offense, where leadoff hitters are posting a .105/.227/.227 over the last five games. Willie Harris is out of sync, and Justin Maxwell should be hitting 9th, not 1st.

And for the record, Elijah Dukes stolen base success is currently at 16%. Next worst in baseball, minimum 10 attempts, is KC's David DeJesus at 36%. There is a reason these teams are vying for the #1 pick again: inability to recognize shortcomings. Seriously, stop giving Dukes the green light. He is terrible at stealing bases. For comparison, he has been caught as many times as Michael Bourn... only Bourn has stolen 47 more bases!

But hey, at least the Nats snapped that skid for 1-game losing streaks in Chicago.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Which of these three pitches did Albert Pujols hit halfway to Illinois?

I don't mind that Bergmann went after Pujols... the Dodgers tried to pitch around him last week, and that resulted in a stolen base, advancing to 3rd on an errant throw, and then scoring on a sac fly to end the game. Bergmann tried to beat Pujols with his best pitch, and he knows that ball has to be located a foot in ANY other direction. Good decision, terrible execution.

One could argue that Bergmann, a fly ball pitcher, was a bad decision against Pujols, Holliday, and Ludwick. That is where the discussion of this game should end.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Nyjer Down

It is very difficult to quantify how Nyjer Morgan changed the Washington Nationals this season. OBP and UZR only prove that he has been better than the guys butchering those jobs before. His hustle and leadership has helped the younger guys, as well as taking the burden off Zimmerman and Dunn, who are not as vocal. Pitchers slept better each night, as rocket shots to the gap disappeared into his glove. While Albert Pujols may roll to the MVP, Nyjer Morgan is proof that it take 25 players to win.

Let's hope he heals in time for hockey season.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ron Villone, Lefty Specialist?

Nats fans were treated to an extra special bullpen implosion last night, featuring a cameo from Nati-pos legend Livan Hernandez. Personally, I like the move for the remainder of the season. Livan is clearly a hittable, AAAA caliber pitcher at this point of his career, but he has destroyed the Nats this season. He has the unique ability to weather a shelling when his pitches aren't doing what they are supposed to and stay in a game 6+ innings. This move should save the kids' (Lannan, Stammen, Balester, Mock, and Martin) down the stretch. Plus, I have so many good fat jokes that have gone waste without Dmitri Young to kick around... Ronnie Belly-ard should not have to feel the wrath every day.

The bullpen, on the other hand... yikes. OK, they were not spotted a lead. Jay Bergmann came in and did his job, allowing 2 H, 1 R, against the Cubs top of the order. Though had he not put Koyie Hill on base, he may have been able to avoid the 3-4 guys.

To start the the next inning, Riggleman made the classic mistake of "playing to their weakness" instead of "playing to his strength." Fukudome does not hit lefty pitching AT ALL. Villone, however, cannot retire lefty hitting AT ALL. Riggleman chose his weakness and was granted with a rally starting single.

There is no use piling on Jorge Sosa. This is the type of pitcher he is, a tweener who never developed the repertoire to become a starter, but lacks the consistency to be trusted in relief. And honestly, he has been fine when entrusted with a lead, but he has really struggled in non-save/hold situations. It is little early to kick him to the curb; he is 100x better than Logan Kensing. Get him a lead and see if he gets his head in the game.

The most frustrating part of the whole ordeal is Riggleman pulling Bergmann after he had slammed the door on Lee and Ramirez the inning before. The strength in that matchup would have been to challenge Fukudome with the better pitcher, rather than making an unnecessary personnel move to attempt to play to the opponents weakness. Instead, Villone lumbers out of the pen and six runs later the lead is insurmountable.

Villone, with his inability to get lefties out is like a man without a trade. The Nats keep setting him up for failure by sending him into get nickle-and-dimed to death. Bring him into a longer relief role, and he'll eventually get pounded by righties, too. There is no easy solution, and it isn't like he is serving up bombs. Two baserunners per inning is unacceptable at any level, and while it may not be showing up in his own stats, he is putting more pressure on the rest of the bullpen. Much like Livan Hernandez, he is probably best suited to eat low leverage innings and leave the LOOGY work to Sean Burnett.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Nationals Baseball

Please stop with the suicide part of the squeeze play and swing away.


Jim Riggleman is not a bad person. Maybe he isn't a bad manager either. He may manage his families finances with the finesse of Ozzie Smith, but when it come to baseball, he has generally been a poor manager.

Then the last month happened. One of my biggest fears was that Acta would be fired and then the team would show enough life to get him strong consideration for the long term position.

On October 1, there will be many strong candidate who will be interested in this position, and Riggleman should not be at the front of the line, based on his previous track record as manager. Given the team recent success working in-house, he may be granted this advantage.

Honestly, he has exceeded the expectations I had for him, but the Nats had set the bar brutally low. Rizzo has made it easy for him, improving the defense and taking may of the tough pitching decisions off the table. The Nationals front office has to look long and hard and determine whether or not Jim Riggleman can really "manage" a contender.

Craig Stammen... Is He Part of the Future

Wow... took a week to get this posted. Work has been getting in the way of all this blogging and crap.

Craig Stammen finally got back on track last week against Atlanta. He only went 6 innings, but didn't get knocked around like he had in his previous starts. Some may think that he has regained the form he showed in his early July hot spell. However, start in Atlanta was marred with inconsistent location, and the Rockies game exhibited a steady decline in velocity from pitch 1 to 81. It should also be noted the consistency of the strike zone last night... in a season of lousy calls, the His last two starts, he has avoided the fly ball. Basically, Stammen doesn't have the velocity to beat anyone above the belt. However, if he continues to throw nothing but fastballs low and away, teams will adjust and hit the ball the other way. At some point, he needs that fourth pitch to keep hitters off balance the third time through the lineup.

In any event, with his innings getting up there and the bullpen relatively fresh, do not expect another performance as to what he showed in July.

His last good start in July shows the ball staying down and away with a consistent release point. In the Atlanta game, he appears to have gotten away with a few pitches up in the zone that had been spanked recently. The thing that bugged me most about Stammen's recent slump though was this:

I'm not exactly sure what shape that is, but clearly the flattening of his release point had a huge negative impact on his ability to keep the ball down in the zone. It continued from the first Milwaukee game into the Pittsburgh game... honestly, the Florida game was too short to get a good feel, but it looked like his release was significantly more erratic.

The conclusion is that Craig Stammen and Coach McCatty need to fine tune his mechanics so that he doesn't have that "inverted T" on his release chart. This reflects the fact that he locates his pitches better with a more "over the top" delivery. In the offseason, he will have a chance to polish his 2-seam fastball to make it more of a weapon driving the ball down in the zone.

Update: The second Milwaukee game yields better results with a tighter release point. Clearly the further he strays side-to-side, the more danger he finds.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Another False Lead...

Fortunately, the bullpen was not involved.

As you all have seen, Yahoo Sports ran with inside sources that the Nationals were to name Jerry Dipoto General Manager. I'm not linking the story for obvious reasons. This must be the same source that leaked the Acta story. Maybe Gordon Eads was fed the story had Strasburg not been signed and ran it anyway.

It's like Strasburg walked into the room, Jimmy Chitwood-style, and announced, "It's about time I started to play ball." Then he added, "If I play, GM stays. He goes, I go."

Rizzo Stays.

Oklahoma is OK!

You're on a long, cross-country drive with the kids. Boredom and fatigue are setting in, and the Kenny Rogers box set you purchased for the trip has already worn thin. Have no fear:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Not Really News, but Stephen Strasburg Has Signed

The staff here at The Bombs will never promise to break news, as bedtime often comes before even Nats Xtra ends, let alone deadlines for signing picks and firing managers.

In any event, Boras got his record-breaking deal, Strasburg gets to play baseball, the Nats front office receives a gold star from their peers for working out a deal, and The Bombs would have won on The Price is Right with their estimation of the final contract value.

I'm not sure this makes the next Blogger Day less or more intriguing.

Now you know the Nats are hoping to climb out of the cellar to avoid the Bryce Harper fiasco next year... who smells 20+?

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Hot and cold.

Those are the words to describe these Nationals. When the team left Atlanta, the eight game winning streak was a distant memory. The offense had hit the wall, the bullpen was showing some flaws... then the rookie starters, Mock and Martin, whose bargain basement expectations leave the fans and the bettors to their own devices, step up with 12 IP, 0 ER, and two big wins. The only blip on the radar has been the profoundly diabolical pitching of Logan Kensing, whose future with the team should be summed up by Jerry Hathaway: "You are no longer of any use to me!" Seriously, that Nats need him right now like a fish needs a bicycle. And they continue to do this with fairly average catching, too much Ronnie Belliard, and no starters with more than 2 years of experience.

With the Strasburg negotiations likely to come up Osaka, the winning baseball is a welcome distraction. I think the Nationals will put forth one last push tomorrow, but if this is the difference between 15 and 30 million, nobody is confident in a deal getting done. If Strasburg were smart, he only needs to look as far as the disaster Aaron Crow has created for himself. Strasburg will be lucky to be offered half of what the Nats are offering him coming of the his college performance and number one pick status. The number five pick coming out of an Indy League cannot command record money.

Hot and cold.

Great story getting Drew Storen all the way to AA before the signing deadline, but not every story can have a happy ending.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Going, Going... GONE!!!

And the citizens rejoiced, alcohol was consumed in vast quantities.

Jest, we know, Garrett Mock pitched OK, but Wil hit a bomb!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Nationals Baseball

Where Bronson Arroyo and Jonny Gomes can turn into the Cy Young and Babe Ruth of our generation.

On a side note, I tried to take the metro home from DC tonight, Orange Line: GWU to Dunn Loring. I cught a metro immediately... luck must be on my side, right?

Halfway between East and West Falls Church, the train starts having "technical issues". This sucks, because I really have to pee. Anyways, a Metro buss picks us up on Idylwood and starts to drive us ahead, only, I swear to God, the bus breaks down, too. There are about ten of us, steaming, waiting... only when the bus picks us up, instead of taking us to Dunn Loring, he takes us back to East Falls Church. Then we have to switch busses AGAIN, then get driven the rest of the way home.

I get dropped off at my car after midnight. As I attempt to drive home, I realize that the ramp to my house is blocked and I am diverted onto the beltway south... for another 8 miles to turn around and take back roads home.

I left DC shortly after 10:30 and got home at 12:25, an 8.5 journey taking nearly 2 hours...

One time I had to walk home from Rosslyn to West Springfield and it took just under 3 hours to do the 13 miles... piss drunk. I'd like a refund Metro...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Still Have Yet to Suffer the One-Game Losing Streak

A total anomaly. But at least the bullpen appears to be back in form.

I'll try to break down Craig Stammen later today, but no guarantees.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Lannan Struggles

It wasn't just one bad outing, but John Lannan has really struggled in his last three starts. Everyone has to remember that despite being labeled "Ace", Lannan is only 24 and is not immune to slumps, dead arm, and mental fatigue. Last season, he averaged 5.87 innings per start. This season, he is up to 6.48. While his overall pitch count per start is only up 2 from 94.7 to 96.6, that still makes a difference when combining it with being on pace for 34 starts and pitching on four days rest for 55% of his starts, as opposed to just 43% last season. These little things do add up, and having been labeled the "Ace", with the added pressure to go deep into games, John Lannan probably just needs a vacation. Throwing the ball all over the place helps nobody.

Right now, he should be scheduled to pitch Sunday afternoon in Cincinnati. That probably will not help with any fatigue issues.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tommy John's Legacy

Here are a couple links to familiarize yourself with the road Jordan Zimmermann will now face.


The Good Point

One of my favorite pitchers, Tim Hudson, underwent TJ last August. He began his minor league rehab assignment in July and has been deemed ready to go (though with Tommy Hanson dominating, there isn't an opening in the rotation), so it is not out of the question to see Flash next year. A successful operation will have him at 100% for 2011, though.

Every Player is His Own Entitiy

I hate how people say that Jordan Zimmermann's tragic MRI diagnosis is going to give Scott Boras additional leverage going into the final week of negotiations. Stephen Strasburg's desire to play major league baseball in 2010 has nothing to with the amount of damage to Flash's ulnar collateral ligament. Jordan Zimmermann is not a party to these negotiations, nor is Dr. James Andrews.

The only parties that really have any bearing in these talks are Strasburg, Boras, Kasten, and Lerner, Inc. And you have to give Kasten credit for keeping it that way, leaving the media and the blogosphere in the dark.

What may impact the Strasburg signing is Washington's decision to waive and keep Cristian Guzman's 2010 salary. Cristian Guzman and his limited defense are not impacting these negotiations, just the money committed to him.

Remember, Stephen Strasburg had a year of college eligibility left. He chose to leave to cash in on his maximum value. He does himself no good turning down the Nationals to play Independent ball. I think Scott Boras may be selling his prowess of moving Luke Hochevar up from the #40 pick with the Dodgers to KC taking him #1 the following year (a comically stupid move by KC, but hey, I guess they got their guy). While Hochevar has not been a bust yet, he is still barely league average, and by losing a year of his career to stay out of ML ball, he upped his offer from 3 to 5 million. The only way this amount of money makes any impact to the lifetime earnings of a major league pitcher is if he never makes it to arbitration. A league average pitcher, like Scott Olsen, will make close to 3 million at arbitration. By not holding out, he reaches this threshold sooner, reaches free agency sooner, and extends his career one extra season. If Adam Eaton can cash out a 3 year 24 million dollar contract, any league average free agent can grab 5 million here and there, and last I checked, 5 million is greater than 2 million.

If Strasburg signs, barring injury, he will have his free agent clock ticking on May 1st. The Nats have no reason to keep him off the roster as he will sell tickets. If he lands somewhere else, that remains up in the air. The big bonus is great, but holding out for a bigger one only pays off if the pitcher doesn't make the bigs.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Steady Improvement (Strasburg Impact)

The Nationals are quickly climbing in the win column, and with their run differential already better than Kansas City and San Diego, they are hovering in the same ballpark as Cincinnati and Baltimore. It was impossible for the Nationals to go 2-5 every week, losing games 8-6 and winning 7-2. As expected, they are beginning to regress to the mean. What was not expected was that Rizzo would pull a couple of good moves to make the team more balanced. They have the ability to score in bunches, and unlike in May, this team is confident it can hold a lead.

This improvement likely means that the Nationals will be hard pressed to finish with the league's worst record. That burden will fall to the Royals, who probably couldn't win a series against most AAA teams. The AAA Pirates are also in free-fall and Sean Burnett may get the last laugh on comments he said about the Pirates last week.

The question now is how is this impacting the Strasburg negotiations? My gut feeling three weeks ago, prior to the trade deadline, was that if Washington did not provide them with an offer they could not refuse, they would walk. San Diego was in a position to draft #3 (the Nats would be 1 & 2) and he would likely prefer to play for his home team for a "discount".

Now, with KC, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Baltimore all tanking like this is the NBA lottery, the chances of Strasburg falling to San Diego with any leverage is nil. Prior to the draft, I felt Washington held the better hand in the negotiations, and now with several teams struggling and the Nats winning, they may be deluding themselves that they can compete (let's be honest, Stan Kasten isn't in it to win) without the 50 million dollar man.

I cannot imagine Strasburg risking the same fate as Luke Hochevar, landing in baseball purgatory for five years for a couple extra dollars. The deal probably will wind down until the final hours, but at this point, the Nationals are as appealing as any of the other likely top 5 destinations.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Guzman Claimed Off Waivers!?!

It doesn't mean anything yet, but it shows that maybe there was a trade market for the shortstop all along. The Red Sox are a team who have had SS issues all season, and a three game sweep at the Yankees may have been just what the Nats needed to get a panic move.

I have no problems with Guzman as a baseball player. He is streaky as a pair of drawers after the Chili Cookoff, but as long as he is hitting over .300, he is an effective major league hitter. I just don't think he has the range to his left to play short any more and is more of a 2B-3B guy defensively.

The Nats should get value for Guzman while they can. They waited too long with Nick Johnson and got little. The savings will help going into the off season, and even if the only get a long shot in return, it is one more step to reloading the farm system, which is probably more important than the half win Guzman will provide these last two months. More than likely, he will slump and lower any potential trade value he may have left.

Make the move... unlike the Johnson and Beimel trades, the other party is the desperate one.


I'm sure I will post a picture of the Big Donkey at some point, but here are the highlights of Saturday's American baseball contest at Nationals Park on the Anacostia.

* Nyjer Morgan made several routine outs in center field. These are only routine for Nyjer Morgan, as most other Nats outfielders would need a rocket up their ass just t get to the ball, only to have it glance off the end of their glove for a triple.

* Willie Harris' triple. The triple is almost always the most exciting play in baseball. Even if there is no play at third, there is always the anticipation there could be.

* Alberto Gonzalez making to great defensive plays to keep the Backs off the board in the 5th. Either those get in for would result in a run and up comes Reynolds for a chance to break the game open. Ryan Zimmerman played typically stellar D as well.

* The eighth inning starting at 8:50... wow!

* Each time Chris Young stepped into the batter's box, I called for the strikeout. I was one game ending pitch from being 4 for 4. The Golden Sombrero was lurking for Young, easily the most overmatched hitter getting regular plate appearances now.

* Josh Willingham not being close on any of the first four pitches Haren offered him, prompting me to note that maybe it wouldn't be his night... CRACK!!

* Hit a 380 foot fly ball to center, prompting me to note that it was about as far as he is going to hit the ball. He responded later with a 400 foot home run to right-center. Well played, Mr. Bard. Foiled again.

* Garrett Mock was about 4 feet from six shutout innings of four hit ball. The defense helped, and the Backs, outside of Drew, Reynolds, and Montero, are a AAA lineup, but Mock needed a boost like this. It was like the International League for him!

* It is strange watching them battle back in games and hold on with stellar defense. It is amazing how one or two personnel moves can improve attitude and morale this much. The problem with their spring roster was that there wasn't a "leader" on the team. No vocal presence. If there is nobody to point a finger when something goes wrong, or something has to get accomplished, everybody is going to sit back and watch the ship sink. The team brings in Nyjer Morgan, who never stops talking, things start to get done. The team lets Manny Acta and his stoic in-game expression go, and guys start getting to balls they weren't.

For the record, it is Goddamn near impossible to generate a winning streak of any kind sending out four rookie pitchers. A seven game streak reflects upon 25 guys doing their best to beat the other 25 guys night in and out. That and Josh Willingham is the second best hitter in the NL right now... well, maybe third.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Can the Nats Beat Dan Haren?

While much of the attention this season has been directed at Grienke, Lincecum, and the AL East, Dan Haren has produced insane numbers down in a hitter's paradise in Phoenix. His 0.877 WHIP is lowest in the NL since Greg Maddux ran amok in 1995, and he is also leading the NL in K/BB, astat Curt Schilling proved is absolutely vital in a hitter's ballpark. However, because the D-Backs have regularly run guys like Chris Young, Conor Jackson, Eric Byrnes, and Chad Tracy, it is like they choose to regularly bat Austin Kearns 15 times per game. Hence, instead of 14-3, Haren is a solid, but unspectacular 11-6. He likely will finish runner up in the Cy Young voting to Lincecum or Santana, despite having unheard of numbers this side of the steroid explosion.

So can the Nats beat Dan Haren? Sure, but only if Garrett Mock pretends this is an International League game.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Craig Stammen + August = Trouble

Craig Stammen's two August starts have been awful. No way to sugar coat it, either. As July wore on, the magic faded and the hits started dropping. Any pitcher can have rough patch, but if he continues to leave the ball up in the zone, major league hitter will spray it around. Fatigue would explain his current inability to keep the ball down.

Stammen's yearly innings indicate that may be hitting the wall a little bit.
2006: 138
2007: 128
2008: 151
2009: 123

If he remains in the rotation and finishes the season at his current pace of 6 IP per start over 12 more starts, it will put him right at 200 IP on the season. This is probably a little steep for a rookie adjusting to superior competition. If he continues to struggle, he may be best off finishing the season as the long reliever. An extra few days rest or a DL stint may also freshen his arm and keep at a slightly more sustainable 170 IP (130 ML) for 2009.

Bryce Harper Sweepstakes

Careful guys. KC is making a serious run.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Knowing Your Role

Winning teams are not necessarily full of superstar free agents and five-tool freaks. In fact, some of the best teams, the ones that stick together for several years, thrive because there are players on their roster, spots number twenty-four and twenty-five, who know that they are not there for the limelight. They are there to do one or two things and to do them well.

Take the Yankees eight year run from 1996 to 2003. They won three World Series and lost two more. They built their dynasty from the inside, hitting on a few potential Hall of Famers in Posada, Jeter, Williams, Pettitte, and Rivera. They acquired through free agency several quality players, but nobody who would be considered a superstar outside of Clemens: Martinez, Brosius, O'Neill, Knoblauch, Wells, Cone. Later, they began to stockpile every top free agent, starting with Mussina, Giambi, Brown, etc. However, that lineup can only get a team to the playoffs. Once there, executing flawlessly and eliminating mistakes for five or seven game series wins the title. Specialized role players, like Ramiro Mendoza, Mike Stanton, Luis Sojo, Shane Spencer, Chad Curtis, Joe Girardi, these are the guys that make a difference winning a championship because they know what role they serve on the team.

The one thing that Riggleman has been able to do is establish his player's roles. Many fans feel bad that Willie Harris' is losing playing time since Morgan's acquisition. Willie has always been a team player and has adjusted well to his new role of defensive stopper. Just as a basketball needs a versatile sixth man to provide a spark off the bench, baseball teams need a versatile glove to one or two extra balls a week to take the pressure off the pitchers. Riggleman has even carved out adequate roles for AAAA guys like Anderson Hernandez, Austin Kearns, and Ronnie Belliard. While Dunn and Zimmerman get most of the headlines, most of them warranted, the difference between these 5-4 wins after the All-Star break and those ugly 8-5 losses back in May are the ability of pitchers out of the bullpen to get outs and players fielding their positions.

Guys like Willie Harris can still contribute greatly to winning baseball, even on a team as lost as the Nats. Truth be told, judging by his career numbers, if Willie Harris is a team's everyday outfielder, that team probably isn't playoff caliber. But if he can come in and run down a ball in foul territory to which Willingham may not have reached, or get from first to third on a little slap single, those little things will make the difference a couple days a week. Some players, Lastings Milledge, for example, either couldn't or wouldn't execute these.

The Nats have found a few good building blocks in Lannan, Z1 and Z2, and while they are still a few years away from contending, can make strides in 2010 if they are not greedy and bring in the right players this offseason. It is difficult to entice players to come to a franchise as maligned as Washington's, so the front office really needs to shore up their loose ends (manager, GM, etc) by October.

What We Have Here is Called a "Winning Streak"

Perfect timing too, as the Strasburg contract drive should be wrapping up soon, yet no word is coming from either side. People would be getting a little anxious if they hadn't been distracted by all that success on the field.

So how have the Nats been able to pull of this run? Their bats have been quite lively, but they were still getting shelled while scoring six runs per game back in May. The key has been timing. The Clippard bases loaded Houdini act is a great example, but check out a couple of examples from last night.

Third inning, bases loaded, two out, and Cody Ross rips a hot shot at 3rd base. Lannan had made great pitch, so Ros hit the ball with some interesting topspin, and the ball comes up on Zimmerman and gets away. Unless the ball is fielded cleanly, this is probably a run against any other corner infielder in the league. Zimmerman recovers, bare hands the ball off the infield grass and flicks it upside down to Dunn to beat Ross by a half step at first. Insane play that saved one run for sure, but the way the Nats have played this year, those always compounded into big innings for the opponent.

Fifth inning, runners on the corners, nobody out, second best hitter in the National League up. This also has the makings of a big inning. Lannan does what he does best, throwing a tempting, well-located first pitch that Ramirez rolls into a 6-4-3, scoring the run, but clearing the bases.

Sixth inning, runners on the corners, one out. Emilio Bonafacio is very difficult to double up, and is clearly looking to slap the ball the other way. One run is imminent, except Lannan decides that it is time to roll out two of his six strikeouts to terminate the rally.

This doesn't include the sterling defense turned in night after night by Nyjer Morgan in center, nor does it include MacDougal getting three full count out to collect the save. The have not improved much; they are just doing a better job of playing to their Pythagorean run differential, which is not worst in the league.

The Marlins had owned the Nats for two seasons, right up until the 8th inning Tuesday. I have a hard time believing everything has suddenly changed, but as long as the players do, run with it.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Startling Comeback

You just never can tell with these Nationals. Just when they are pegged as being a poor clutch team, especially in the later innings, they explode for a six run comeback against a Cy Young candidate.

Go figure. I have to say, this is the streakiest team I have EVER seen.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Nationals Baseball

Where .212 career SLG hitters go yard.

Great Relievers

* Converted to reliever

* Deceptive delivery

* Devastating changeup

* Closer mentality

Who am I talking about? Trevor Hoffman or Tyler Clippard? See, you didn't know right away. Clippard was swapped from the Yankees last season, and the organization immediately began transitioning him to a reliever. After dominating AAA competition, he has stepped into broken bullpen and taken the ball in almost every type of situation. The results have been nearly 3 K/BB and a sub 1.00 WHIP. To say he has been the Nats best reliever is like saying Teddy is the worst racing president. A decision going forward will have to be made as to who is going to close games next season. While I would prefer such a valuable commodity not get pigeonholed into a role that may not see many opportunities, away from other high leverage situations, Clippard belongs in the closer's role.

Hell, Hoffman was even drafted as a SS, suffered a couple serious arm injuries, and has continued to own the 9th. MacDougal is a great comeback story, but going forward, Clippard should own the 9th when possible.

Monday, August 3, 2009


Alan Wiggins, who stole 66 bases in 1983, is rolling over in his grave.

Fact: Other than Nyjer Morgan (who was traded to the Nats a month ago), the Washington Nationals have only ONE player with over 5 stolen bases. In fact, there are a handful of individual players who have roughly the same amount of steals as the Nats' entire ballclub (Ellsbury, Crawford, Bourn, Upton, etc.)

Who's basecoaching this timid team, Jay Hilgenberg?! It's not like making the 3rd out while attempting to steal second base is going to result in lost momentum during a crucial point in the wild-card hunt.
Nats, your fans desperately want to see you begin playing like you've got nothing left to lose! Because.......well.......you don't!!! And if you don't do it for the single-digit thousands that still show up to Granite City along the Anacostia, do it for Alan. C'mon, look at that smile.

"It knew it was going to be bad when I was nominated. I did not know it would be this bad."

That quote from Gutter's Senate hearings in PCU more or less sums up today's findings.

Dave from NNN alerted me to the Nats struggles with runners on last week, but today Chico laid it all out.

The Nats flat out do not hit with runners on. Some of it is bad luck, hitting line drives at people, but every team has a little of that. The Nats struggle the most in the following three areas:

* picked off/caught stealing

* Ground into double plays

* Called third strikes

First, it should be noted that these are execution issues. Nobody needs to have the God given physical tools of... (searching for a player who used his God given tools without chemically enhancing them)... Tony Gwynn to avoid those three bullet points above.

The Nats get picked off way more often than they should, and this is particularly disconcerting considering they just started giving base runners the green light upon the arrival of Nyjer Morgan. Before you say that this doesn't affect their poor hitting in the clutch, getting picked off first does change the dynamics of the at bat if there is less than two outs, and if there is two outs, well, phooey. The Nats have stolen 46 bases and been caught 26 times, a sterling 63.8% success rate. The NL average is 71.4% on 17% more attempt. As you have witnessed, the Nats have been killing many rallies before the hitter has a chance to do anything about it.

The Nats ground into 16% more double plays than the league average. Right now, that is playing to about one per week. It may not seem like much, but when Zimm and Kearns reach for those fastballs low and away, they kill any chance for a big inning. One more big inning per week probably adds 6-10 wins to the season total. Both Zimm and Kearns started the season driving the ball into the air, but each hit mid-season (or in Kearns case, mid-career) slumps. Zimm has been hitting better of late, but once again has aspirations of leading the league. Simple situational hitting teaches batters how to avoid these by laying off and going the other way. Wil Nieves doesn't hit the ball more than 200 feet, but rarely puts himself into a 6-4-3 because he will hit opposite field on balls pitched to the outer half.

The Nats are fourth in the NL with 795 strikeouts. They parlay this by drawing the second most walks in the NL. They are a patient team, which gets a lot of runners on first base, and is reflected in their team OBP. However, the Nats take take 30% of their overall strikeouts looking, which of course leads the league. Adam Dunn is one of the main culprits, as he lays back and waits for a mistake to crush. But this doesn't excuse the number of other hitters for not playing more aggressively with two strikes. The Nats have worked the pitch count well this season (2nd in pitches per PA in the NL) but this is not helping them with runners in scoring position and the pitcher attacking the zone to prevent walking in the run.

Points two and three may contradict slightly, as being passive may lead to more strikeouts looking, while a more aggressive approach may lead to more double plays. Other successful teams find a balance, or lean to one extreme or the other. The Nats somehow play both extremes, which is a recipe for losing baseball.