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.