Friday, July 31, 2009

Lastings Gets the Last Laugh

Not really, but an interesting reversal of fortune, with Nyjer Morgan stranding the go ahead run in an 0-4 effort, getting picked off first, meanwhile Lastings Milledge produced two RBI singles. One game against the Pirates in a lost year for each.

* Man, Guzman REALLY cannot move to his left.

* Lannan is the ace and the horse, but Riggleman should have noticed he looked a little flat tonight an grabbed him after 90 pitches or so... he is still a kid.

* The Nats take too many pitches with two strikes... they need to work on keeping at bats alive even though they aren't getting hittable pitches. Pitchers, especially relievers, make mistakes.

* The Nats have played four months and still have not avoided the losing streak. Amazing!

Beimel Dealt, Could Have Done Worse

Honestly, the fact that any of the Nats deplorable bullpen attracted interest is comforting. Joe Beimel is a useful left arm, but his type are available every year at the winter meetings, and can usually be found during free agency. The pull for Beimel are a couple long shots right now, but the depth gained is reassuring. Rizzo may be putting all of his eggs in the pitching basket right now, but he is implementing a plan. That is more than can be said for his predecessor.

Johnson Dealt, but the Nats Could Have Done Better

The next entry will cover the differing philosophies dooming the Nats right now.

Nick Johnson was traded straight-up for Marlins AA pitching extra Aaron Thompson today, right at the deadline. The Nats needed to get younger. Check. They needed to upgrade their AAA pitching depth now that most have been promoted to stop the bleeding at the major league level. OK. The Nats also needed to continue to improve their defense and save as much money as possible going into the August Strasburg bidding, preferably shedding some of their less productive contracts (Guzman, Kearns, Young, Belliard). Neither of these were accomplished. Considering the bounty the Mariners landed for Yuniesky Betancourt, there are suckers out there. Guzman could have been moved while he was hot for prospects, but it the trigger was never pulled.

Back in May, when Big Papi was suffering from Vitamin B withdrawl or Derrick Lee was banged up, Nick Johnson could have been moved for a major league ready prospect. The Red Sox just traded two pitching prospects and a proven major league commodity in Justin Masterson to grab Victor Martinez. Martinez is a better player and more versatile, but had the Nats made the move, they could have gotten a good major league player in return. Instead, they waited and made a riskier move that saved them less money.

There are underlying reasons, those differing philosophies, that reduced Nick Johnson's value.

Now that Nick Johnson has been moved expect to see the following three things:

1. Adam Dunn will see much more time at first base.

2. Austin Kearns, who couldn't be baited into a deal, will be bought out and released.

3. Elijah Dukes and Justin Maxwell will be called up to fill out the roster.

The Nats did very well making smaller moves to improve the team this season. However, these small moves haven't built a fertile farm system similar to the Marlins or Rays. The Pirates unloaded their major league roster for more than twenty prospects this month. It will be very interesting to see how these strategies play out.

Back From a Week's Vacation...

Amazingly, nothing has changed.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

2 Grand Slams, 8 RBI!

Congratulations to Josh Willingham for providing the Nationals all-time most productive offensive evening by crushing 2 grand slams against the Brew Crew last night (7/27/09). Hardcore.

ps - any takers? Texas Rangers?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Colin Balester: 3 Things to Expect

I have to say, I am not nearly as excited for the season debut of Colin Balester as I have been the other you starters. Maybe it is because he has been up here before and we know what he can and can't do, while the other guys were mysteries without ceilings. Maybe it is because his AAA stats and performance this year didn't reflect a player with half a year of big league seasoning.

Deep down, though, I think it is because I don't want to be disappointed. Mock and Martin got knocked around a little bit; Balester has proven that could be the same based upon his previous track record.

Here is what to look for with Balester on the hill tonight.

1. One bad pitch per inning. Even in his better starts last season, Balester was all over the place, which can be fine. The problems start when he starts getting too much of the plate. Don't be surprised if he gets taken deep a couple times.

2. Good use of velocity. Balester throws three distinct pitches: a 92 mph fastball, a 84 mph change, and a bowel-moving 75 mph curve. The only problem is that his change stays very flat. Unlike Tyler Clippard, who hides his very well and has the bottom fall out at 54 feet, Balester stays open. He throws it infrequently enough that it doesn't get killed, but the second and third time through, batters can more readily identify the fastball.

3. A fair pitch shake. JD Martin got an irresponsible after 4 as he was beginning to hit his stride. Unless Balester gets ripped for a big inning and can't find his way out, expect him to get 95-105 pitches. He's been here and done this before, and while the bullpen is "rested", it shouldn't be trusted.

Guzman Needs to Bat 7th... or 8th

Besides another team? Alas, that is a discussion for another time. Still, cannot believe the Nats were not able to parlay his hot start to a team in need of a SS (and there are several).

Since the acquisition of Nyjer Morgan, the Nats have filled the role of "prototypical lead-off hitter". Morgan takes pitches, bunts, gets on base 35% of the time or better, and can steal bases. So now that Guzman is out of the lead-off spot, where should Riggleman, or which ever lucky 5th grader he selects to pick his lineup, bat Guzman and his .300 average and .301 OBP?

The #2 spot is where he was the other night, and it was a disaster. He chases bad pitches, and while he isn't as prone to the GIDP as Zimmerman, he isn't moving the runner up. Besides, Nick Johnson really understands his role in that position, sacrificing power for control. And obviously the 3 and 4 spots are off limits, even if they are incorrectly administered. That's right, I'll get to that later.

Guzman batted fifth in the first game of this series, proving that Riggleman knows nothing about baseball strategy. Dunn was ahead of him in the lineup, and if Dunn is on first, which happens often with his walk rate, Guzman is NEVER scoring him from first base. Flat out foolish decision. And because Guzman is allergic to the #6 spot in the lineup, that leaves just three spots. OK, the pitcher will stay #9.

So #7 and #8 are open, and are usually reserved for the catcher and a spot starter. Guzman has been hitting the ball this season, but his ISO is still below .100. More often then not he is on first base. Same with Josh Bard. The difference is that Bard, even when healthy, is treacherously slow on the bases. Therefore, it probably best to bat Guzman ahead of him. Bard can paint the lines with double, and Guzman is quick enough to score from first. When Slappy gets the start, he isn't bringing power to the plate, but knows how to get to first and is quick for a catcher. Guzman should bat behind Nieves in the event he starts.

So what does that leave us with?

1. Morgan
2. Johnson
3. Willingham
4. Dunn
5. Zimmerman
6. Second Base (Gonzalez)
7. Guzman/Nieves
8. Bard/Guzman

Batting 8th does not mean that you are a poor hitter; just see what Joe Torre has been doing in LA. However, management seems to believe that Guzman has to bat high to protect his ego. This is pure BS. The objective is still to win games, and give his salary, he should be willing to bat near the bottom if it help produce runs.

The Nats run differential does not support a record as bad as what the Nats have posted. Yes, some of it can be attributed to the leaky bullpen, more to the defense. But those fundamentals do not support the fact that the Nationals hit the ball well, but often fail to score. Zimmerman is too much of a double play machine to bat third. His ground ball ratio also does not help Morgan score from third with less than two outs. Willingham is a good flyball hitter who can get on base. Zimmerman's propensity for ground balls up the middle should be moved down behind Dunn, where one of the following things are more likely:

a) the bases are empty because he is leading off an inning,
b) the bases are empty because Dunn just cleared them,
c) there are two outs so the infield is not at double play depth
d) if Dunn is on first and there are less than two outs, the Nats may have already scored (doesn't diminish the fact that a GIDP sucks, but hey, runs are runs)

Batting third does not allow for a-c, increasing the likelihood that the opponent will play for the double play against Zimmerman. This has probably cost the Nats a half dozen run alone this year. In any event, I will be stashing a printout of this blog in the home dugout every time I hit Nats Park this year.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hooked Just Foul

Wil got ahead of an Ollie Perez fastball and JUST missed a bomb to left. He has mastered the blistering slap to right, though. Is it about time he inherited the nickname "Slappy"?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Congratulations to John Lannan, who tonight embarassed the Binghamton Mets, pitching his first complete game shutout. In all, Lannan faced just 32 batters, recording just one strikeout and throwing 80 of 106 pitches (holy crap!) for strikes. The only batter who looked even remotely capable of hitting Lannan tonight was Jeff Francouer.

Lannan has become one of the better "stoppers" in baseball, and stands in the class of Zach Greinke and Dan Haren in that his team gives him plenty of opportunities to end losing streaks. Greinke and Haren do it by baffling hitters with electric stuff, denying baserunners, and resembling Hall of Famers. Lannan, on the other hand, does it with... good God. He locates well and gets ground balls. The question is: can any pitcher who refuses to strike out batters succeed long-term? Is there an example?

Sure, a few (21 active players) have been able to keep their spot in the rotation while posting less than 4 SO/9, but to be compared to Carlos Silva or Brian Meadows isn't going to be taken as a compliment. Most other pitchers on the list are either extreme groundball pitchers (Aaron Cook), or Tom Glavine at ages 22 and 41. Strikeouts are important in the homerun era, when Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham patrol almost 50% of the outfield (Nyjer Morgan covers the other 55%). I expect that Lannan's long run without K's is a fluke and he will push his numbers back up around 5 SO/9 next year.

Edit: Actually, John Lannan matches up pretty well with Nick Blackburn, who also continues to succeed in an unconventional manner. Blackburn is a righty, so it can't all be attributed to funky lefty junk.

This is Not a Plan


The Royals stuck with their original plan and will have right-hander Sidney Ponson, Monday's scheduled starter, pitch the first game, with left-hander Bruce Chen getting the nightcap.

Once again, kudos to Rizzo to see whether or not these AAA guys can get it done. Nobody is showing up to see Bruce Chen get lit up.

The Long & Winding Road

Shaky defense. A complete lack of timely hitting (what else is new?). A gutsy pitching effort spoiled by an offensive goose egg. Questionable decision-making by the coaching staff. Just another summer evening in front of 19,169 (mainly Mets) fans along the Acacostia, my friends.

On the bright side, last night was easily Tyler Clippard's best relief outing of the year. He was lights out, displaying a nice array of breaking balls and up-and-in heat (I'm guessing 90-92 mph); however, Riggleman decided to pinch hit for him with one out and nobody on base in the 7th, with 0-3 for Nyjer in the on-deck circle. This was a questionable move in my opinion, as Riggleman is struggling to gain the trust of his players. Sticking with Clippard, although probably conceding defeat, would've been a non-move that showed Riggleman's confidence in his 'pen and, more importantly, rewarding an outstanding effort that's been seen so few and far between this year.

Earlier, with runners on 2nd and 3rd and two outs in the bottom of the 2nd inning, with the Nats already down 5-0 and Martin squandering near the 50-pitch mark, Riggleman decided to leave Martin in the game to bat. Not surprisingly, Martin weakly grounded out to the pitcher, boosting Livan's confidence and squashing one of the few offensive threats the Nats showed all night.

As a fan of National League baseball and a proponent of lengthy starting pitching outings, I was torn by this decision. On the one hand, I wanted to see Riggleman maintain confidence in his debuting pitcher. The guy has struggled for many years, and through a host of injuries, to finally pitch in the big leagues; therefore, I didn't want to see him pulled after 2 innings simply because of the 'opportunistic situation'. Besides, there were two outs. On the other hand, Washington's offense has chilled significantly as of late (post mid-May) and an early, ballsy pinch-hitting call by Riggleman, if effective, would've awakened the crowd and put hope back into the ballclub.

Highlights: BardDogg's bat (2 doubles), Clippard's placement (5K's in 3 innings), the stadium's organ player (Iron Butterfly's 'In A Gada Davida' tease, among other hidden gems.....I swear he was high.)

To Put the Nats Struggles in Perspective

Gio Gonzalez of the Oakland A's gave up 11 runs (11!!!) in less than 3 innings... and did not get the loss (the A's rallied to win 14-13)

When the Nats fell behind 5-0, did anybody really think they could string together 5 runs to get JD Martin off the hook?

Yeah, me either.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Urinal #3, Men's Room, Behind Section 108

Blessed readers,

As Deacon Drake suggested, I will be attending tonight's contest. Those of you who know me know I love a major league pitching debut over almost any leisure activity, including a rock-solid critique of the latest fresh fruit offerings from 'Barely Legal 97', which is due out next week (DVD & Blu-Ray).

In memory of Jimmy 'The Greek' Snyder, my prognostication of tonight's barnburner:

New York 3
Washington 4 (10)

JD Martin pitches effectively in his debut, while both teams struggle offensively in the humid conditions. Late scoring from both teams ultimately nets a Nats' 10th inning win; however, neither starting pitcher factors in the decision.

Washington Post, Be Warned...

I'm not a big fan of ESPN any more. Their reporters think of themselves more as celebrities and try to be part of the news instead of just reporting it. Their coverage of the Open this past weekend was mute-worthy. Whatever, maybe Tirico sucks at golf.

They have a vested interest in staging the BCS (until they pull their sponsorship of the coaches poll, which is the biggest conflict of interest in sports), which is a farce as a championship and purely a ratings grab.

There are hundreds of reasons to hate ESPN, and still hundreds to love it. However, I think this is going to tip the going to tip the scales in the direction of hate. ESPN already carries themselves as front runners, hyping the larger market teams, while reducing coverage elsewhere.

Honestly, do you want The Mouse as the voice of your hometown sports?

Mets Series Preview

Monday: Livan Hernandez at JD Martin

Tuesday: Oliver Perez at John Lannan

Wednesday: Mike Pelfrey at Craig Stammen

I don’t hang around the Mets message boards, nor do I follow Mets blogs. However, the Mets, like the Nationals, have suffered a similar degree of epic fail this season. Injuries have crippled their rotation and their lineup. The eight players stepping on the field these days far from represent a contender; yet the Mets scrap, day in and out, to remain on the fringe of contention. Maybe they get their host of all-stars back and make a run.

I mention this because the Nats are not fielding a worse team than the Mets right now. In fact, given some of the decaying bodies they are sending out there (Livan, Sheff, Tatis, Cora, Dessens, Berroa), the Nats are probably fielding a more talented team. The Mets are staggering in at 15-27 since June 1st, which is sadly much better than the 12-29 posted by the Nats over the same stretch.

However, with each series comes new hope, or at least one would hope. AAA phenom JD Martin will get the ball tonight, and if he is any bit the revelation Craig Stammen has been, there will be more good than bad. For more on JD Martin, FBJ has an excellent analysis. John Lannan has been one of the better stoppers in the league. Stammen has been rolling along like Greg Maddux circa 1990s his last three starts. The three starting pitchers the Nats will face in this series represent three of the worst starters in the NL. Livan Hernandez becomes Daniel Cabrera if you pull out his two starts against the Nats. Pelfrey has 2 quality starts and 2 starts in which he gave up 9 runs since June 1st. And Oliver Perez is literally Daniel Cabrera, except 33 million dollars (plus or minus some change) more expensive.

The Nats are playing themselves out of games with defensive miscues, base running blunders, and general malaise. There is no fire when guys come up in need of a clutch hit late in the game, no sense of urgency. I won’t run out there and pluck quotes out of a vacuum like other columnists and bloggers, but next time somebody comes up runners on late in a close, take a close look at their eyes… nobody up there is striking fear in the pitcher. Even Adam Dunn still gets pitched to regularly, despite the fact that Willingham has been his only real protection the past month.

The Mets are so bad that it is hard to imagine the Nats not taking a game here, but who knows. The lay down job against the Cubs has really enraged some of the remaining diehards here.

“The Bombs” will be sending F. Leesburgh Pike to the game this evening. Autographs will be available in the men’s room behind section 108 during the Presidents’ Race.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Murder Death Kill

Well, it is safe to say that the Nats are not going to make a second half run under Jim Riggleman. As noted before, Riggleman inherited talented teams in San Diego and Chicago and produced mediocre results. He inherited a mediocre Mariners team last year and failed to improve. And actually, judging by their 2007 record followed by their record this season, the Mariners may actually be a decent team that made all the wrong moves in 2008.

Judging by the listless play the first four games of this homestand, the Nats are not going to change their ways. Six errors, four caught stealing, 34 left on base, 19 in scoring position... there has been absolutely no change. Now with Scott Olsen heading back to the disabled list, the Rizzo has decided to kick the tires on JD Martin, Garrett Mock, and Logan Kensing. Mock looked rattled with runners on base, and the defense really seemed to be going out of their way to make things as difficult as possible.

The troubling thing with this series is that the bar is set very low, and the Nats continue to limbo against flawed teams. They turned Rich Harden and Carlos Zambrano back into their former Cy Young candidate selves, then let two very green and very average rookies shut their "vaunted" offense down. It is time to dispel the myth that the Nats are an offensive juggernaut, as they are not. They are average, some days above average. Offense is about more than batting average and OPS; it is about situational play, especially in the NL. The Nats do not bunt well, do not run the bases well, do not hit well with runners on base. They are actually surviving off a fairly high BABiP (.315), so their offense is likely to further slump.

It is hard to say how much worse they can play at this point. With the potential for a trade or two in the near future, expect a strong run at 115 losses.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Cubs Series Pre-Preview

The Cubs are in town, so expect the crowds to be heavily... heavy. I have been to three Nats/Cubs games (two at RFK) and each time, the crowd was close to 50/50. Not that will help Rich Harden find the strike zone.

Harden @ Lannan

Harden looks as if his workload last season may have been too much. He was flat out filthy, and probably would have won an overall ML Cy Young. As much as he has struggled this year, he may need to consider a switch to closer. The more games he sees, the better. 16 starts for 100 innings, or 60 appearances for 65 innings... a general manager must make that cost-benefit decision.

The Nats need to refrain from chasing pitches out of the zone tonight. They should have no problem getting baserunners via walk. If Harden is "on", even the most disciplined hitters can look bad.

Riggleman will likely pick a lineup and run with it for a while, so don't be surprised to see the same faces start most of these games, unlike with Manny, who had lineup ADD (I'll admit, with the defense, sometimes he was just trying square pegs for round holes). The Cubs outfield is a similar mess, with Piniella often sacrificing defense by keeping Reed Johnson on the bench in favor of Soriano, Bradley, and Fukodome in the outfield.

I think the Nats get off to a good start and win this one 6-4.

Pitching With Pace (Part 1 of ?)

After watching Jordan Zimmermann come uncorked Sunday after six solid innings, I began to wonder whether or not the pace of the game takes more of an effect on the pitcher than managers realize. Pitch counts are treated as the “end-all be-all” and enthusiasts will harp over year-by-year inning escalations burdened upon young pitchers. Both these quantitative statistics have their time and place, but even pitchers who hit these guidelines develop control problems, dead arms, and eventually injuries. Scott Olsen is likely a prime example.

On Sunday, Jordan Zimmermann was on fire through five innings, eliminating the Astros like they were a AAA lineup. In the top of the sixth, he sat on the bench for several minutes while the Nats hitters loaded the bases and failed to score. He cruised through the meat of the Astros order in the sixth. In the seventh, he bunted his turn at the plate, then watched while the Nats hitters loaded the bases and failed to score*. When he returned in the seventh, the bottom fell out. Hit by pitch, single, strikeout (though the way Pudge was swinging the bat, Daniel Cabrera may have gotten him chasing a pitch into the dugout), the Matsui homerun, and finally walking the pitcher on four pitches.

* I added the phrase "while the Nats hitters loaded the bases and failed to score." as a shortcut... let's hope that it is wasted.

Most people would immediately jump on the pitch count and inning. Zimmermann was pulled at 102 pitches into the seventh inning. Not a bad start overall, if you glance at the box score, but having seen the first six innings of dominance, the line doesn’t make sense. The innings and pitch count were not the factor that killed his stuff. He started the inning with a pitch count in the low 80s, and has regularly thrown over 100 pitches with no ill effects. The fatigue that caught up to him was not in his arm. The first five innings were played in just over an hour and fifteen minutes. The final three and a half innings took and hour forty five.

Trek back to Zimmermann’s start against Boston. The Nats bombed the Sox 9-3, a game that featured some runs, but few long innings after the first. Zimmermann was out of the game for a pinch hitter in two hours, have torn off seven innings with five singles and a walk. He threw 109 pitches and his stuff was not waning. The key was that the pace of the game did not allow him to get mentally fatigued waiting out a 3+ hour game. The variable the Nationals players and coaches control is the time between pitches, which if accelerated to a point where the pitcher remains comfortable, can shorten the game. And while there is a good solution to the dilemma of a hot pitcher sitting on the bench while his team bats around the order, it is up to the manager be able to assess the situation before batters start getting hit and the ball winds up in the stands.

The question now is how much of a correlation can be found within this data? Craig Stammen has had more success going deeper into games recently. Is he pitching with more pace between pitches? A quick glance at game logs may not be able to prove anything, so we may have to go to the video… Where’s George Michael’s Sports Machine when you need it?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Perception of the Nats

Ken Rosenthal sounds like he has some sour grapes over his premature exclamation in the Acta firing. That is fine, but he doesn't need to come out and rub it in everyone's face. Somewhat unprofessional. Truth be told, the Nats may have made the decision then, but maybe Rizzo or somebody stepped in and played an ultimatum that Acta should be given a month to work with a semi-functional bullpen and some young arms. He failed, and the powers that be got their wish.

Rosenthal really lays into the Nats, and whether in is brought on by his personal feelings, he makes several good points.

- The manager isn't going to look good if the players around him suck
- The front office has too many Chiefs, not enough Indians
- The lack of organizational integrity creates a void of trust

The first point is being worked upon, but the Nationals need to commit to their General Manager. The "interim" tag may be just for titling to MLB, but within the organization, they must allot Rizzo the comfort and stability of his peers. So far, Rizzo hasn't made a severe misstep, and most of his moves have been smart, well thought out, and represented immediate improvement. He should know that he is going to see this through. On the flip side, now Riggleman is "interim" status, and nobody in their right mind would commit to him without first testing the waters.

Next, given the way the Acta firing was handled, their were at least two strong opinions in the front office, maybe more, as to how and when it should be carried out. Contrary to what Rosenthal says, the firing was warranted at that time as much as any other time, and was handled as well as could have been. But given these differing opinions, apparently someone's toes got stepped on and embarrassingly a story gets leaked. The sort of crap probably happens around your office everyday. But in a field that is scrutinized by the media, blogged about by nerds such as myself, a higher level of professionalism is required. Somebody needs to swallow their pride and stop meddling in others' affairs.

The final point will be the hardest to sell. The Nats, since moving to DC, have shown little commitment to improving, winning more ballgames. Some of this can be heaped onto the deposed JB, but much of the responsibility now resides in the front office getting the players to "buy-in" and trust the scheme. However, when three weeks ago the team president is committing to a manager, then firing him, both the players and fans feel betrayed. Now each player know that the club's commitment may just be rhetoric to get a few weeks of inspired baseball before shipping them out for prospects.

For all the additional drama that surrounds the larger market teams, most of it stems from failure to meet expectations. Well, the Nats suck and the expectations are bedrock. It's time for the folks running the Nats to grow up a little and build a team. Be deliberate. If that requires trading Adam Dunn, do not tell the fans he is off the market only to have your hand forced at the deadline.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Athletes Doing Stupid Things

Hopefully not one of the Nats.

And the problem is that none of us should really care what the players are doing off the field, but screwing around on the road usually means that a player isn't exactly focused on baseball, either.

Maybe it all played out like this... road trips are tough.

RIP Manny

It was a fair juncture at which to fire him. He was on break for a couple days... now it's just longer. The team had continued to improve, the results were not. Here are the Nats month-by-month:

Not only did the Nats never even play .500 ball for a brief stretch, when they did take a sniff at it, it was more luck than anything. It wasn't Acta's fault he was dealt an awful roster and little flexibility to fix it. But never once did he come across the recipe for lemonade with the lemons he was given. And this season, as much of the dead weight was trimmed, the team continued to flop. They had lost much of the fan base, and then the announcers turned on them last week.

The decision to let Manny go at the break may have been made a while back, but if it hadn't, the stumble on the road trip was a pleasant reminder that he is still the 10th worst manager of all-time.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Nationals Baseball... again

Last season, the Dodgers staggered to a 13 hit, 3 walk donut against the Phillies. The 13 hits is the most in any shutout, matched twelve other times, since 1954. Today, the final game before the All-Star Break, the Nats figured they'd make a run at history.

They came close, managing 11 hits and 3 walks while getting blanked by future Hall of Famer* Brian Moehler. Wil Nieves accounted for four of those hits. All in all, this accomplishment has only been matched or bested 22 times in the past 55 seasons.

Another creative way to lose.

* UNC Greensboro HOF, not Cooperstown, fool.

Nationals Baseball

Home of the Intentional Balk

It Could Be Worse, Nats Fans...

You could be rooting for the Royals or Pirates.

At least with the Nats, the club seems to be scuffling around bedrock with a great deal of hope coming in the form of Strasburg. The Royals just traded prospects for one of the worst players in baseball, and the Pirates are acquiring the players not good enough to make the Nats.

The Nats got a complete game out of a rookie, and all of their starters are 25 or younger. The Royals dragged a 32 year-old pitcher who had not been major league effective since 2005 to start games this month.

The Royals really make the Nats look like the second coming of the 2003 Marlins. At least it looks like the Nats have a plan. The Royals are throwing darts, and the Pirates appear ready to blow it up and start over.

Update: Wow, Royals fans really feel it rectally.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

No, Not the Bullpen Camera

Here's one way to generate interest.

25-60 is no way to fill seats, so the Nats may be seeking other means.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Epic Losing

Rob Dibble laid the verbal smackdown last night and it was warranted. His claims all tie back into the lack of accountability in the clubhouse.

Here is another astounding statistic that backs up what he claims. This is so bizarre I almost couldn't believe it. The Nationals have had 12 streaks of at least 3 losses this season, including a couple seven gamers. It's true, but also expected. The Nats are not very good. However, guess how many times the Nats have followed up a single loss with a win?



One, and that one only occurred because they won the suspended game.

That is right, the Nats have not once this season bounced right back off the matt to win the next game. If there is evidence that the clubhouse has accepted these losing ways, it is staring back in black and white.

Accountability, Accountability, Accountability... maybe saying it three times will make it happen, like Beetlejuice.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Resumed Against the Astros

I have no idea how this is handled in major league baseball. The most fortuitous thing going for the Nats as a whole is that the fan who caught Adam Dunn's 300th doesn't have to worry about Dunn bumping that to 301 with a bomb retroactive to May.

The unfortunate thing is that Elijah Dukes is on first base... he is no longer with the team. Joel Hanrahan is the pitcher of record. He is no longer with the club entirely. All told, the Nats have already used 19 players in this game. The 20th will occur when the game resumes and someone pinch runs for Dukes, unless MLB allows playground rules and ghost runners. The 21st player will enter the game if Willingham cannot end it, as Hanrahan is due up next.

The Nats have only used six pitchers (four of which aren't on the friggin roster), which means the Nats are likely out of position players. Also, if the game goes to a 12th, replacing the pitcher is easy, but who replaces Jesus Flores? Wil is already out of the game... Do the Nats use a 6th position player to get Bard into the game?

Seriously, I cannot wait for the mayhem to unfold.

Nationals Baseball

Where a suspended game resumes and seven of the players in the game are no longer on the 25 man roster.

Lowered Expectations... Not That It Is Possible

A tidbit from Marc Hulet at FanGraphs:

The only players that have made it to the Majors who were taken between the second and fifth round of the 2007 draft are Rzepczynski, Jordan Zimmermann (2nd round, Washington), Jess Todd (2nd round, St. Louis) and Brad Mills (4th round, Toronto).

The big problem I had with J-Zimm early on is that he seemed to start slow, getting knocked around in the first inning. Aside from this last start in Colorado, he seems to have picked up some consistency, as seen in the five starts prior to Coors. A quick summary: 29.2 IP (an out under 6 IP per start), 2.12 ERA (no unearned runs, either), 28 K, 7 BB, 1 HR allowed.

The Nats are extracting first round talent from him, but have to remember that he probably should have been working out the kinks in AAA this year. Same with Detwiler, he struggled in A-ball last year, but suddenly is expected to be anchoring the big club in hostile environments. Seeing Manny Acta bitch about his inability to throw his breaking pitches makes wonder whether or not he understands the psyche of these young guys. He should be working on this stuff against AA slugs and AAA retreads. J-Zimm too.

Lay off the negativity and accept the fact that these guys should win one out of three. And truth be told, the Nats out played the Rocks for the first 16 innings of that series and came away with zero wins... that isn't a reflection on those two pitchers.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Management is Biting Their Tongue on It...

But they need to confess to the crime on playing Adam Dunn at first base. He is a bad left fielder, we all know, and his lead feet have my fiance wondering if she could beat him in a race. But in comparison, he is an awful first baseman. First base takes some skill, reflexes, instincts. He lacks those vital attributes, and playing him there without practice or spring training is going to destroy both his confidence at the plate and diminish his potential value to another club if they KNOW he is atrocious at first.

Let the man play left... if Johnson needs a day off, give Willingham a shot... or move Zimm over and play Harris at third.

Instant Trade Gratification

11.57, 3.00

Those are Joel Hanrahan's ERA and WHIP since joining the Pirates.

Chronicling Defeat

I went back and made a common tag for all "Nationals Baseball" references. Most of these point out the tragic, mystifying ways the Nats have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. To quote Martin Blank, "It reads like a demon's resume". Seriously, how many times have the Nats been picked off this year? 30? Sure seems that way...

There are some other bizarre things that have happened this season that I probably have forgotten.

Nationals Baseball

Where the opposing pitcher can pick up a win without throwing a pitch.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Craig Stammen: Sometimes Lucky is Better Than Good

For the first time in his 9 game career, Craig Stammen survived the 7th inning. He was the tough luck loser in a 1-0 game, putting just seven runners on base in seven innings (5 hits, 1 walk, 1 error), doubling three of them up.

The causal observer would believe Stammen pitched his best game. Someone who watched the game would argue that Stammen finally escaped a couple jams with two line-out double plays, plus prevented the big inning in the first by pitching around masher Brad Hawpe and getting the ground ball out of Tulowitski.

Who's correct? That is why pitch f/x is around. First, Craig Stammen has marginal major league stuff. His fastball struggles to find 90, and his breaking pitches are not unhittable. Stammen can survive as a decent back-end pitcher by working the outer quarter of the plate, getting one or two favorable calls per game, and learning to keep the ball down. Greg Maddux made a career of this crap, and a few other righties have followed suit, but with less success. Below are a couple of example of Stammen working batters away this season:

Almost all of his starts, he has shown similar location, regardless of how the other team hit him. In Colorado last night, however...


He was all over the place. The Rockies were not patient enough to wait for a mistake, especially when Stammen becomes more vulnerable the third time through the lineup.

Now for what I like to call "The Coors Effect", and no, that doesn't involve anybody shotgunning "A Taste of the Rockies". Even as far back as his first start against Pittsburgh, Stammen featured three distinct pitches:

Last night however, the thin air had a noticeable effect on the movement of all three of his pitches. His curveball and changeup were reduced to the same pitch and the movement on his fastballs were drastically reduced. Combine that with the struggling location, and you'd think that we are looking at Daniel Cabrera.

The Rockies failed to execute with the bat when Stammen made a mistake. It is that simple. While I hope Stammen rebounds and drops another 7 inning, 1 run performance on the Astros, I am not holding my breath. Expect continued struggles later in the game, once batters get a read on his fastball and his location starts to fail.


If I had listed all the possible combinations and permutations of baseball scores, the only that would have been picked less frequently than Rockies 1 Nats 0 at Coors Field would have been Nats 1 Rockies 0. I think a 33-18 may pop up before another 1-0. 28 of the 51 outs in this game were recorded via ground ball, as well as two line-out double plays. Craig Stammen did exactly what he needed to do to win the game. It is just too bad Jason Marquis continued his "dominance".

It is disheartening to see Alberto Gonzalez wasting away on the bench this week, having started just once this month. The Nats need a spark in the lineup with Nick Johnson slumping, Josh Bard crippled, and Ryan Zimmerman hitting with a little less authority.

It should also be noted that after four games, Nyjer Morgan is third on the team in stolen bases... huge advantage for the Nats making that deal, adding a dimension they weren't willing to explore before.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Rockies Series Preview

Myth 1: Coors Field is a pitcher's nightmare. What is this, 1995? While the altitude and dry air in Denver will never allow visiting pitchers to feel comfortable with their breaking pitches, there is one force that is constant everywhere: gravity. Check out the Rockies top 3 starters and note that all three have a fastball value over 5. While Ubaldo Jimenez has the velocity to over-power hitters, both Jason Marquis and Aaron Cook pound the bottom half of the strike zone with average fastballs. The key isn't to strike batters out, but to get batters out. Aaorn Cook, for instance, sports fairly similar K/9 ratios home and away. Even a Hall of Famer like Greg Maddux struggled to find consistency at Coors, posting drastically lower K rates there as opposed to elsewhere. Pitchers can succeed at Coors with the sinker. Combine that with an optimistic offense and lowered expectations and many pitchers can thrive. Rookies Zimmermann, Stammen, and Detwiler don't fit the profile at this team and may get hammered.

Myth 2: The Nationals are the only team with an over-crowded outfield. The Nats have solved some of their issues via trade and demotion, but the Rockies have yet to find a home for all their hitters. Brad Hawpe is anchored in right and has earned it. Trading Matt Holliday opened left field for a fresh young bat, but the Rockies continue to go another direction. The second best hitter on the club, Seth Smith, has been relegated to pinch hitting duties while Ryan Spilborghs gets half the at bats. The Rockies do commit to defense to protect their ridiculous outfield acreage, but Smith has proven to be more than adequate in left. This isn't exactly Nyjer Morgan over Josh Willingham here. The Nats can only hope for more Spilborghs (and Dexter Fowler) to help get their young pitchers through the lineup three times.

Myth 3: Garrett Atkins sucks. Atkins had a Kearnsian May, but started swinging the bat well again in June. His season line is still weak, but still needs to be pitched to with respect.

Myth 4: Home runs are key at Coors. Flat out not true. It is true that if you give up four bombs, it is difficult to win, but it is equally difficult if the other team is dropping base hits all over and batting .400... outfield defense in Coors always takes a back seat the offensive numbers. Coors is an enormous park and watching Nyjer Morgan and Willie Harris run down balls that would be certain doubles and triples should tip Manny off as to how he should approach this series. Willingham and Dunn will see some innings off, especially given the taxing conditions of playing at altitude.

Tough draw for the Nats here. Detwiler and Stammen are still AAAA level starters, while Zimmermann is strike out guy who leaves the occasional ball out over the plate. Could be a long three days in Denver. And let's not get started on the bullpen...

Scott Olsen 2.0

Scott Olsen has been discussed before, but to revisit the theme discussed, is Scott Olsen to crazy competitive to be a starter long-term?

Take Sunday, for instance. He rocked and rolled through the first eight innings on the mound, refused to give up, feeling he was the best pitcher to get the final four outs. Even after McLouth homered, the game was still well in hand, with only one out need to secure the win. Olsen, though, acted as if he had just blown the game.

Before he can become a consistent pitcher, Olsen needs to learn that the game will almost never be won strictly on his terms, regardless of how intimidating or dominating he is on the mound or even with the bat.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

It is Official

The Nats can no longer trade Adam Dunn. Doing so would be franchise suicide. It doesn't matter how bad his defense is*, people get excited whenever "In the Air Tonight" and "Turn the Page" pierce the speakers. Despite his reputation for not playing with passion, he has connected with the media and fans as much as any Nat, is frustrated by losing, and has assumed a leadership role in the clubhouse. He is never going to be the vocal "rah-rah" type, nor is he going to be obsessive worker type. He is the Big Donkey, a family man and best hitter on the team. He takes the pressure off Ryan Zimmerman to be the star every night.

The best advantages the Nats will have keeping him is that he is only tradable to the American League at this point. Most clubs see him only as a DH. His personality doesn't fit into the celebrity/playboy scene the Yankees and Red Sox cultivate, and those are the teams most likely to overpay for his bat. Therefore, it would take a confluence of events and "Godfather" deal for Rizzo to pull the plug on Dunn.

* Dunn has made 8 errors this season, though 5 of them have come in the 39% of the innings he has played out of position in right field or at first base. He continues to post the same numbers he always has in left field, which he covers effectively with his bat.

Rizzo doesn't need to make a move to improve the team... he needs to make the right move. Adam Dunn will be able to perform with his bat for years to come, but which players may be seeing diminishing returns on their skill set?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Nationals Baseball

Where the bullpen can lose six straight games to a team.

Dukes to AAA

Mildly surprising, but all the pieces were there. Dukes had been slumping since coming off the DL with the hamstring. Willingham has been straight thumping the ball, and the defensive options of Morgan and Harris leave fewer at bats for Dukes to straighten himself out.

The more disconcerting issue with Dukes' slump is his inability to take pitches. He is seeing fewer fastballs and swinging at more pitches out of the zone. His walk rates are basically cut in half. He may be trying too hard to make something happen with the bat.

The question to management is how do they perceive Dukes? Kearns can't be demoted, so maybe they are hoping somebody takes him off there hands to make room for Dukes next month. Or are they hoping to protect Dukes reputation to use him as trade bait? Either way, the lower pressure of AAA should help his bat out, and getting out of CF should help out his head.

In any event, not a favorable development for a guy who seemed untouchable in May.