Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Winning April

It is official. Matt Capps slammed the door on the Cubs again to seal a better than .500 record in April. I'll admit that I did not believe this team was ready to win more than 8 games this month before struggling to 72-74 wins. That may still be where they are headed, but at least they will be competitive still when the young blood is transfused into the rotation and bullpen next month.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

RIP: Philadelphia Phillies 2001-2011

Normally, I would spend today catching up on the recent winning homestand, lambasting Brian Bruney, and pointing out the similarities and slim differences between Tim Hudson and Craig Stammen. Hell, if the Nats could regularly win 60% of their home games, I'd probably be out of a blog. The Bombs got on the Nats wagon at Rock Bottom (the existential pinnacle of failure, not the brewery) and are prepared to drive it as far as the Elvis quaff will allow.

Instead, we will look ahead, as that is what the Phillies apparently believe they are doing by investing 125 million more dollars into the limited skill set that is Ryan Howard. I understand the Phillies trying to keep their nucleus intact to make runs at another title, but after drawing the line at Cliff Lee, they dive into the abyss for fewer wins at first base?

The Phillies have had a great run, especially since 2007. The smart play going forward would have been to keep Lee, get maximum return for Jayson Werth or Raul Ibanez at the deadline, and drive the harder bargain with Howard, regardless of where Pujols sets the bar. However, they are still very capable of being one of the three best teams in the NL, and the fans would burn the city if they rebuilt for 2011 and 2012 while 2010 was well within grasp.

Instead, they look to be keeping their aging core onward past their 35th birthdays, hoping their jacks hold up against the monster hand the AL East is holding. They can't budget with the Yankees and Sox, so they have to build in cycles, and this generation has come to pass, one title one runner-up. Committing to Howard through 2017 is crazier than blocking him with an aging Jim Thome.

I mention this because the Nationals will be dealing with a VERY similar situation negotiating with Adam Dunn. The hard bargain will be to keep him down to two to three years, with nothing escalating much past 12 million per season. Dunn has never won anything in his major league career, but is a good clubhouse guy and took a career-altering position change in stride. The Nats do not want to Zito their budget with an aging slugger with no position.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Offense Can't Plate the Runs Again

Scoring runs is a talent and the Nationals as whole are not good at it.

On the bright side, they won their ninth game on April 23rd. In 2009, it took until May 7th to get that ninth win.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Everybody Looks Better When They Aren't Facing the Phillies

Except Jason Marquis, who hasn't quite identified the difference between the strike zone and the end zone.

More on Craig Stammen's recovery tomorrow.

Friday, April 16, 2010

"Did Somebody Call for Me?"

And most skeptics thought we should be trading this guy.

What happens if I need to hang something?

I'll Take AAA Lineups for 500, Alex... Looks Like a Daily Double!

The Nats top 4 much of the night looked like this:
Nyjer Morgan
Willie Harris
Cristian Guzman
Alberto Gonzalez

Yet 9 innings later, the Nationals walk away with a 5-3 victory. The game ball tonight goes to our boy Wil, despite his inability to catch any of the Brewers' base stealers tonight. Slappy got it started with a slap to the gap and scoring later, then tacked on the insurance run with a poke to left. Everything you could want from the backup backstop. Adam Kennedy did spark the comeback, and Josh Willingham continues to do his best Ted Williams, but John Lannan finally got comfortable and pounded the bottom of the strike zone, recording 16 ground balls to just 3 balls, mixing in 5 strike outs just to keep the fielders fresh.

A good way to start the home stand.

Phillies Baseball

It's a wonder the Nats can win any games up there, what with all the vomiting going on.

Improvement in the Win Column, Though Not Much Else

The Nats embarrassed everybody last season by starting 0-7, and then staggering to 4-15 before winning the last game against Philly (a rare gem tossed by Olsen). Given that ALL of these games were against rivals from the NL East, it was immediately clear who the worst team in the division would be. Going into their July 4th games against the Braves, their record against divisional opponents stood at 6-31.

6 and 31!!!!

The Nats also closed out a less-than-stellar 2008 campaign by 11 of their final 14 to the NL East.

So what does starting 4-5 mean? It means that the baseball gods really are not punishing the Nats anymore. Their Pythagorean numbers suggest they are still playing sub-.400 baseball, but it is way early. Last year, they blew all the close games... this season they pretend they are before making an Indiana Jones escape with the win. And Ryan Zimmerman had been in hiding for a couple games until blasting out of the dugout last night. At 4-5 it isn't as clear who the worst team in the division is... though if I were betting with Phil Mickelson's money, I'd say the Nats.

A ten game homestand against non-NL East teams will be a welcome change, even if it is against playoff caliber teams. It will give the Nats a chance to better figure out who they are, and more importantly, who the hell their pitchers are.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bergmann Fired

Rather than watching him struggle through another inning full of gopher balls and near gopher balls, the Nats designated Jason Bergmann for assignment and brought back Scott Olsen today. Bergmann never really stood a chance, as his flyball tendencies never played well at Nats Park. It is shocking that of the Nats 12 opening day pitchers, two are already gone (though they look to be playing the DL hokey-pokie on Mock). This doesn't say much about the front office's ability to assess the talent and results of spring training, as the same disaster occurred last season.

At some point, the Nats have to realize that a play is out of options for a reason: he isn't good enough to stay on the roster! Even though the organization depth resembles a kiddie pool, they are going to have to let some of these guys hit the waiver wire, and if they get claimed, well that's just the price they'll have to pay for the Bowden era. Bergmann, though prone to the long ball, probably should have been worked back into a starter to up his value, but the last season it became clear that he was always going to be an odd man out, though just good enough to not get canned like Colome, or shipped off like Hanrahan.

Olsen and Justin Maxwell come back in time to enjoy a winnable homestand against Milwaukee, Colorado, and LA. You hope that Maxwell sticks somewhere, because he is in a make-or-break season. Olsen will likely reenter the rotation and provides another left arm to weak staff. Marquis, Lannan, and Livan are all fine #3 or 4 starters, but somebody has to have the mentality to be the #1 guy. Olsen probably isn't that guy, even when healthy, but the Nats probably ought to get his stock up. They are going to need to make some trades to get some fresh arms and bats.

Yikes!! Again!!!

I don't think much can be learned from these Phillies games other than that team is REALLY in their heads. They have proven they can put up runs, even with Zim out of the lineup (that and Kyle Kendrick sucks). The Nats have to get out of Philly and let their pitching settle down, because right now everyone is missing spots, trying too hard to make a pitch.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Jermaine Dye-ed Last Season

But was it his fault?

For those of you engrossed with split stats, you may have notice that Jermaine Dye was replaced by a hitting mannequin on August 1st. My fantasy team sure did, plummeting from second to 5th and getting blasted in the playoffs.

Dye had enjoyed a career renaissance arriving in Chicago, despite having suffered one of the more gruesome baseball injuries ever. He teamed with Jim Thome and Paul Konerko to for one of the most 3-5 punches in baseball. However, the White Sox felt obliged to move on with Thome closing in on 40, so they moved him to L.A. for little in return. Usually a "surrender" trade will mentally affect veterans, but the lack of protection and runners on base ahead of Dye looks to have had an effect as well.

While Dye is an ideal offensive fit for the Nationals, adding additional protection to Dunn and Zimmerman, the defensive ramifications would be disastrous. Dunn and Dye would likely never be able to play simultaneous, and Willingham and Dye together would be putting to much pressure on Morgan in center. So while Dye may still be able to contribute to a team, it will likely have to be in the American League.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Was Marquis Being Squeezed?

Probably not. He cruised the first three innings, as Phils adjusted to the ball being up and out... when he did try to drive the ball down in the zone, the Phils wisely took the pitches that really were not borderline. A sinkerballer's "out" pitch is somewhat unique, but not all that different from the cutter. While pitchers who rely on their fastball to set up their pitches out of the zone (slider, curveball, splitter, changeup, or a plus fastball) to record outs, preferably of the swing and miss variety, the sinker and cutter rely on working withing the zone and playing away from the sweet spot of the bat. Right now, the Phillies know Marquis was erratic in camp, and are guessing that he will not locate multiple sinkers in a row. They are waiting for the pitch out and up.

I would expect him to pitch better at home this weekend against Milwaukee. The Brew is middle of the pack in most offensive categories, and trot out 39 year-old Greg Zaun to handle the catching duties, yet to get a hit this season.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Eephus Hernandez

There is something quite elegant about a noodle 12-6 curveball that registers 63 on the radar gun and sorrow in the score book for all those foolish enough to swing at it. The modern day Eddie Harris, Livan Hernandez left in all on the field, including his fastball. After leading the NL in innings and batters faced three straight seasons, the Nats set him free to pursue a playoff birth (the trade netted Garrett Mock and Matt Chico). Livan then became more of a punchline that a pitcher, culminating in 2008 by getting hit more than those topless Miley Cyrus pictures. Of course, Rizzo went and rescued him from the Mets after he shut the Nats down twice.

How he does it?

It is really hard to say.

Unlike most pitchers, the key probably lies within his ability to get four hittable pitches to work at such vastly different speeds. It takes a patient hitter to lay off a 64 mph strike. He also waits to add that fourth pitch in the second and third time through the lineup, giving the hitter one more thing to think about.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Now Hold It... Right There.

Johan was watching too many MASN commercials and was lulled by the Hammer's husky southern drawl. Willingham has the talent to go scorching hot for a few weeks, and he is going to need to if Riggleman continues to roll the dice with this abomination:
Morgan: .081
Taveras: .045
Guzman: .105
Yes, those are the 2009 ISO numbers for the top 3 hitters the Nats lineup. ISO is a good barometer of the hitter's ability to hit for extra bases (SLG-AVG)... and anything under .100 is bad. Anything over .200 is pretty good. Anything under .060 is a pitcher. There is NO POINT to batting Taveras any higher than 8th. Morgan is a good leadoff hitter, and Guzman is a swinger that is better suited for a lower lineup spot. Some timely hitting from the Hammer probably saved this from being a 2-1 loss.

Back to the axiom, better lucky than good. And we shall save Livan for later.

Better Lucky than Good

Right now, the National are not clearly the worst team in baseball. Oh yeah, we could all rattle our SABR and prove how bad the Nats have actually played the first five games. But the difference this season is that with slightly better defense and baserunning, the Nats have been able to make few timely plays to win games.

Matt Capps is a ticking timebomb... I'm pretty sure he just walked me to load the bases. While the options are not at all appealing, now we know why Mike MacDougal was exhumed.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Man, What a Beatdown

There have been a few positives that have come out of the first games. They do not even come close to outweighing some of the negatives, but there is reason to believe that the Nats have improved in a couple areas.

Left-handed relief: A few days ago, I realized that Joe Beimel was still unsigned (the Rockies since signed him to a crappy minor league deal) and was pissed the Nats did nothing to bring him back. Well, it is difficult to argue with their decision, as Burnett has produced consistent numbers with sustained "success" for two years now. The key is keeping him from having to appear in eighty games. Jesse English should be able to handle the lower leverage situations without during 5-2 deficits into 8-2 deficits, and occasionally stepping in to get a key 7th inning out.

There are many more reasons to worry. The bomb aside, Ian Desmond looked horribly overmatched with a runner on second and 2 out, hacking furiously at balls out of the zone. He should have that arrogance about him, knowing crappy relief pitchers will waste pitches to him because balls in the zone are problematic. That, and he may be after a couple dubious records in the field. The growing pains will make fans long for Guzman.

Jason Marquis looked shaky, almost Daniel Cabrera at time, but the 87 mph meatball deposited by Ryan Howard off the Acela sign was inexcusable. If anything, miss to Howard and pitch to Werth... don't let Howard mash a freebie. Just bad decision making and execution.

Right field is still struggling, and Cristian Guzman's cameo almost turned hilarious. Both Harris and Morse deserve about a month before searching for alternatives.

The Phillies are good, but those optimistic 78 win predictions are flying out the window quickly.

Monday, April 5, 2010

9 Walks, 4 Strikeouts


Counter that with a wonderful 3 walks and 11 strikeout out of the other dugout and what you just saw was a AAAA team get massacred by a Major League team.

Other notes:

The Nats made the game's only error.
The Phillies hit two home runs; the Nats hit into two double plays.
Roy Halladay doubled hit career RBI total with his third career hit.
Pudge smacked three hits, including two doubles, and was never involved in any scoring.
53, 62, 49, 60, 56, 52: These are the strike percentages of the Nats pitchers.
The 62 and 60 belonged to Jesse English and Jason Bergmann, who combined for only 18 pitches.
One of Jason Bergmann's 3 strikes was crushed by Polanco for a two out grand slam.

And THAT is how to drop the opener 11-1.

Distraction from the Disaster

Nationals baseball: I think they should have brought Obama out to start the sixth... couldn't have been worse than Batista. Yeah, that started to look like the opening escape scene in The Fugitive.

Anyways, feel free to tune into the Texas-Toronto game, where Shaun Marcum has a no-hitter through six, on just 69 pitches.

Opening Day

Congrats baseball fans... buckle up, because it will probably only take 7 innings before the Nats Express runs headlong into the reigning NL buzzsaw.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Not Buying the Offense

The Nats loaded their bench with some bats that wouldn't make some AAA rosters, let alone a major league one... let's look at the suspects.

C Wil Nieves: No surprise here. He slaps the ball the other way enough to distinguish himself from the pitchers, but isn't a threat to post a wOBA over .300. If he handles the pitchers well, he is not a liability... last season, it didn't seem to matter who caught, pitchers were lit up like the Griswold house. At age 33, if Flores gets healthy, or Coste hits anything, he could see his name in the transactions column, DFA... that would be horrible, as Wil is like the white guy at the end of every NBA bench. Nobody can quantify his value, but character and chemistry translate to a better work environment.

2B/SS Alberto Gonzanlez: With all the moves the Nats made, prepping Desmond, signing Bruntlett and Kennedy, Gonzalez looked to be the odd man out. Even Mike Morse can play most of the infield spots in a pinch. Especially given Kennedy's superior bat and utility presence, the Nats appeared to be heading in a different direction. Gonzalez is still young, but the book on him is pretty straight forward: AAA bat with little patience, lacking the speed to be a threat on the base paths or defense to contribute regularly at shortstop. The Opening Day roster means little for the balance of the season, but at 26, Gonzalez has to hit or field early to stick for more than the first 60 days.

SS/2B Cristian Guzman: It is luxury to have a player of Guzman's skill and experience on the bench. It is penance to sign his paychecks and watch him sulk. He is a better hitter than Gonzalez, and a known commodity to pencil into the lineup. If Desmond struggles, Guzman is likely the difference between 95 and 100 losses. Guzman will likely get regular at bats. It a perfect world, it would be to keep his trade value high. More than likely, it is just a justification for the paycheck... hey look, he's leading the team with a .305 batting average!!... and posting a .304 on base percen... what?

OF Willy Taveras: The ONLY excuse for carrying Taveras is that the management feels the need... The Need for Speed!! While contenders are filling their 25th man spots with the likes of Eric Hinske and Brendan Harris, or highly touted prospect, the Nats are going to kick the tires on twice failed Taveras. In 2005 and 2006, Taveras looked to have some upside, as he was getting on base often enough to utilize his speed. However, Taveras career appears to have been a three year mirage, aided by some ridiculous BABiP numbers (.345, .330, .370). When that number declined in Cincinnati's bandbox, he was a useless as a used tampon in the locker room, despite his defense and speed. Given a fair assessment of hits falling going forward, it is still unlikely he can get on base 30% of the time, making him a useless major league batter.

UTIL Mike Morse: Rizzo's keen eye snatched him from a Mariners' organization rebuilding based on superior defense. The result is a capable bat that can play multiple positions satisfactorily. Basically, most teams would like to have Mike Morse as a 25th man if he has the options to move between levels. Morse should be the platoon answer for Willie Harris in right field. The improvement in plate presence far outweighs any additional value Taveras can provide in right field.

Now what does all this mean? The consensus last season was that the Nats lost 103 games despite a good offense. Truth is, the Nats offense was barely middle of the pack. Every game will feature at least four at bats from Pudge or Wil. Sure, they are the catcher, but aside from Flores little run last April, Nats' catchers have never hit a lick. This will not change this season. Desmond is a mystery at short and SHOULD be better than Guzman, but rookies can turn ugly. Dunn and Willingham are steady sluggers, but are also on the wrong side of thirty and are not going to drastically improve their rate numbers. If anything, they should expect a slight decline. Nyjer Morgan has consistently hit those high BABiP figures, but those could turn into a pumpkin at anytime, just like they did for Willy Taveras. Willie Harris has never been a more than an average major league player with good utility value. Adam Kennedy had a career year in Oakland at age 33; he could have easily been OOB with a sub-replacement level year. The only player in the lineup expected to produce at or above last season's level is Ryan Zimmerman.

That is bleak. The culture change, paying attention to defense, pitching, and character has been refreshing. However, going into the season, one would have hoped that the Nats could have cobbled together more than one replacement level offensive player in case of an injury.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Guzman in Right Field

April Fools!

Creative, but no.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Nationals Baseball

Where the worst hitter in the ENTIRE LEAGUE can win a share of the starting right field job.

You want to know who Willy Taveras batting comp is? Craig Stammen. Yes, the pitcher, not Craig Stammen the astronaut. Now it was figured that either Eric Bruntlett or Taveras would make the team as the 25th player because they can run a little and play defense. However, neither should have been expected to make more than 50 plate appearances. Now, heading into a showdown with the reigning NL champs, the Nats will roll out THREE below replacement caliber hitters. The pitcher is excusable, and the Rodriguez/Nieves tandem hurts but doesn't kill. But looking forward, each of the 7, 8, 9, 1, and 2 batting slots cannot get the ball out of the infield regularly. This is a TERRIBLE IDEA! Mike Morse would have been a tough, but acceptable solution for platoon purposes. Even Justin Maxwell has been coat hanger abortion bad, but at least he has an "upside".

Fangraphs estimates that Willy Taveras was worth negative 1.3 million dollars to the Reds last season. In other words, the Reds should have taken three minor league replacement players, shot two in the face, and let the third bat 8th and play center field. The Nats just picked one of the corpses...