Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Archive for May, 2011

Nats Rotation Cycle #11: good/bad/soso

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Welcome Back Maya; will your 2nd stint be better than your 1st? Photo: via thenatsblog.com

We enter the 11th “cycle” of the rotation.  Through the first 10 times through the rotation, only Livan and Lannan have made all their starts.  Gorzelanny (as the 5th starter) missed the first rotation, Marquis missed a game in the 4th cycle because of the proliferation of DHs and rainouts, and Zimmermann missed the 5/17 phantom rain-out.

Big news this cycle: Tom Gorzelanny is going on the DL after his last start with “elbow inflammation.”  He was erratic in his last start, but this comes with no warning of any previous elbow issues.  Sunday will require someone to come up from AAA.  My guess is Maya (confirmed with his call up and 5/29 start), based partly on performance and partly because Meyers (the most deserving AAA starter) probably needs a bit more seasoning and isn’t on the 40-man.  I’m sure the team would like to keep him off the roster as long as possible at this point.  Maya last pitched on Monday, which would give him 5 days rest.  Detwiler would be going on regular rest but has not been pitching well at all.

Good

  • John Lannan had nothing to show for easily his best performance on the year 5/27 (box/gamer), with Drew Storen getting both the blown save and the win when Michael Morse hit a walkoff homer.  Lannan’s line: 7 2/3, 2 hits, 0 runs, 2 walks and 5 Ks.  The performance couldn’t have come at a better time for Lannan,
  • Jordan Zimmermann put in another quality start on 5/28 (box/gamer), and once again failed to get any run support.  Line: 6ip 5h 2run 1bb 4ks.

Bad

  • Yunesky Maya didn’t capitalize on his 2nd shot at the major league rotation on 5/29 (box/gamer), struggling and tiring (?) in the 5th inning before getting removed.  Final line: 4 2/3, 6 hits, 4 runs, 2 walks 3 Ks.  Maya was at 90 pitches when he got the hook.  He’ll have at least one more start before Gorzelanny comes off the DL; unless he pitches 6 shutout innings or something close to it, he’s heading back.  There’s no one else (even Lannan) who is in danger of losing their spot right now.

Mediocre/Inconclusive

  • Livan Hernandez had the quality start on 5/24 (box/gamer) (the first time in a while he’s gotten any sort of run support), but his bullpen conspired against him and the Nats took the loss.
  • Jason Marquis leaked hits and walks all day, and gave up a homer to his counterpart Zack Greinke, en route to  his 2nd loss on the season on 5/25 (box/gamer).

Starter Trends

MLB Trends (through maya 5/29)
Lhernandez    good,bad,good,good,bad,good,soso,bad,good,good,soso
Marquis    good,good,good,soso,great,bad,good,soso,bad,soso
Lannan    good,soso,soso,bad,soso,good,really bad,good,soso,bad,bad,great
Zimmermann     good,good,good,bad,bad,good,good,great,good,good
Maya        bad
(Gorzelanny    soso,good,soso,good,great,good,bad,soso,bad->dl)

Written by Todd Boss

May 30th, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Minor League Rotations Cycle #9: good/bad/inconclusive

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Brad Peacock continues to pitch like the best 41st round draft pick ever taken. Photo: uncredited via bleacherreport.com

Here are the daily links from NationalsProspects, for reference below:

Good

  • Tanner Roark got back in the good column on 5/22, going for 6IP 3H 1R 1ER 1BB 4K.  This is more like the guy we saw last year, and I hope we see more of this going forward.
  • Denny Rosenbaum had a good 5/24 start: 6⅔ IP 6H 4R 1ER 2BB 3K.   He was undone by his defense in the 7th, having only given up one run (unearned) in the first 6 innings.  In fact, reading the game log its hard to figure why any of his runs were earned, with two errors in the 7th turning a couple of routine plays into run-scoring opportunities.
  • Brad Meyers had a nice little outing on 5/26: 6IP 7H 1R 1ER 0BB 3K.  He’s definitely holding his own in AAA thus far.
  • Another start, another win for Brad Peacock on 5/26; 6⅔ IP 3H 2R 2ER 1BB 9K.  I’m really not sure what he has left to prove in AA.  In 55 innings thus far he’s got 75 Ks against 34 hits.  He lands on Baseball America’s hot sheet a second time.
  • Harrisburg’s two spot starters/long men Ryan Tatusko and Jimmy Barthmaier both pitched the 2nd half of 5/26′s double header effectively, with Barthmaier getting the win.  I’d like to see Tatusko get his mojo back after such a great 2010 (see reliever notes below).

Bad

  • Paul Demny continued his downward slide with a pretty bad 5/22 performance in Potomac; 2⅔ 7H 6R 5ER 2BB 1K.
  • Shairon Martis was well into a beat down on 5/23 when a rain delay ended his night mercifully.  Line: 3IP 4H 5R 5ER 3BB 1K 1HR.
  • I’m officially of the belief that Ross Detwiler is hurt.  On 5/24 he got lit up again: 3⅔ IP 10H 8R 6ER 1BB 1K.   This is the fifth straight outing he’s given up 4 runs or more, and the 2nd outing this month where he’s flat out been awful.  Ironically, his two big blowups were both against Rochester.  Maybe they just have his number or hit lefties well.
  • Mitchell Clegg got hammered in Potomac on 5/25.  1⅔ IP 5H 8R 5ER 3BB 1K 1HR.  Throw in a hit-batsman as well.
  • AJ Cole continues to match up poorly to his 2010 draftee counter part Robbie Ray in Hagerstown, getting hit on 5/25 to the tune of 4⅔ 7H 4R 2ER 1BB 5K 1HR.  I have to keep reminding myself, “he’s only 19.  He’s only 19.”

Mediocre/Inconclusive/Incomplete

  • Craig Stammen was uncharacteristically wild on 5/22 for Syracuse but held on for the victory as his team bashed its way to its seventh straight victory.  Line: 5IP 7H 3R 3ER 4BB 2K.
  • Taylor Jordan wasn’t awful on 5/22, but he wasn’t great either: 5IP 4H 4R 3ER 3BB 3K.  He’s yet to really have the dominant outings that he started the season with since coming off the DL, though this loss was just his first of the year.
  • Yunesky Maya pitched into the 8th inning, giving up 4 earned runs and taking the loss for Syracuse on 5/23.  Line: 7⅔ IP 6H 4R 4ER 2BB 7K.  It didn’t really matter how good Maya did; Syracuse got shut down by 2009 first rounder Kyle Gibson.
  • Cameron Selik‘s line and game result on 5/23 betrays how he pitched overall: 5IP 3H 3R 3ER 2BB 6K 1HR.  He started the game BB,BB,K and then 3-run homer to account for all 3 of his runs on the night.  The rest of the way: 4 1/3, 2H, 0R, 0BB, 5K.  But all 5 innings counted, and Selik took the loss.  Per Sue Dinem’s recap, he was hitting 92 with good speed separation between his fastball and curve.
  • Matt Grace went enough for the victory on 5/23 while his team battered yet another low-A starter.  Line: 5IP 7H 1R 1ER 2BB 3K while his teammates scored 10 on the night.  Only one run but an awful lot of base-runners through 5 innings.
  • Erik Davis nearly went 5 innings on 5/24, settling for 4 2/3: 4⅔ 3H 3R 2ER 4BB 4K.  He was rather wild, but its his first start in a while, so we’ll see how he goes from here.
  • Josh Smoker was sitting 94, touching 96 on 5/24 per Sue Dinem in the comments of his post-game analysis.
  • Oliver Perez‘s 2nd start in AA was suspended on 5/26; he only pitched one official inning, giving up a solo homer.
  • As with Perez, Robbie Ray‘s night got cut short on 5/26 when thunderstorms caused delays.  Abbreviated line: 2IP 0H 0R 1BB 1K

Relievers of Note and other Thoughts

  • Collin Balester‘s nice 3-inning stint on 5/22 helped his season numbers look a bit better, and may put him back in line to get some MLB work if the need arises.
  • There’s some good and bad news in the Josh Smoker to the bullpen experiment.  He’d not giving up many runs (only 2 earned runs in 16 innings for a 1.08 era as of 5/22) but he’s walking WAY too many guys (11 walks in 16 innings).  He has a 1.26 whip for the season, which isn’t that bad, but the walks need to get cut down for him to be trusted in later-innings situations.
  • With two more Ks in a scoreless 8th on Sunday, Christopher Manno still has not allowed an earned run through 19+ innings on the season.  Through 5/22′s games he has 29ks to 4BBs in those 19+ innings, fantastic k/9 and k/bb ratios.  It is time for him to be promoted.
  • Ryan Tatusko‘s transition to the bullpen has not been smooth; he got hammered on 5/23, giving up 3 runs on 4 hits in 1 2/3s innings.  He had such good 2010 numbers; what is happening with him?  He had 5/26′s nice spot start; lets hope this gets him back on track.
  • Not pitching related, but here’s Rick Ankiel‘s batting line in his 5/23 rehab start for AA: 4Abs, 4Ks.  That’s a bit embarrassing.
  • Matt Chico‘s career seems to be hanging on by a thread: here’s his 5/24 line: 1 1/3ip, 3 hits, 3 runs 2 walks.  He’s got a 9+ era and a 2.28 whip after being demoted to AA.
  • Erik Arneson doesn’t seem to be on the radar for regaining his rotation spot, but 3 inning scoreless stints like he had on 5/24 have given him a pretty decent line on the season.  As of 5/25, he’s got a 0.93 whip and an ERA near 2.00.
  • What’s happened to Dean Weaver?  He was a relatively high draft pick (7th round of 2009) and closed for Hagerstown in 2010; but suddenly in a non-closer role in 2011 he’s struggling badly.  He’s getting lit up, sports a 9.00 era and has 3 strikeouts in 9 innings.  Was this another overdraft/mistake?  He was a U-Georgia teammate of Holder, whose drafting was widely panned at the time.  Maybe our Georgia-area cross-checker isnt’ the player evaluator we need.
  • Despite still showing on Potomac’s roster as of 5/27, Masn’s Byron Kerr is reporting that Sammy Solis has reported to Hagerstown and will debut on Monday 5/30.  I’m surprised by both the timing and the level; Monday’s start would bump AJ Cole off normal rest, and I think Solis should be at Potomac, especially after pitching so well in the Arizona Fall League (a league dominated by high-A and AA players).  Hagerstown should not be a challenge for a polished, high draft pick college pitcher.
  • Ryan Mattheus is continuing his success in AAA after moving up from AA.  Could he be be a mlb bullpen candidate, as he shows he’s completely back from surgery?

Trends

Top 3 pitchers deserving promotion: Manno, Peacock, Milone
Top 3 pitchers whose jobs are in jeopardy: Chico, Olbrychowski, Grace

Written by Todd Boss

May 27th, 2011 at 3:22 pm

My answers to Ladson’s inbox questions: 5/26/11 edition.

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Do you really think Albert Pujols will leave St. Louis? Photo unknown source via fantasyknuckleheads.com

Here’s the latest in a recurring theme.  Bill Ladson posted his own answers to the following reader questions.

Q: What’s the long-term plan for the leadoff spot?
A: I think the team had hoped that Corey Brown (obtained in the Josh Willingham deal) would be further along in his AAA development than he has shown thus far.  As of today he’s hitting .202/.322/.323 and only has two stolen bases on the season.  That’s really not going to cut it.

I thought center field/lead-off hitter was a major area of concern going into the off-season, and thought (rightly) that Nyger Morgan‘s tenure was close to being done with the team after his erratic behavior and precipitous offensive decline last season.  But, center field is a really tough position to find and fill (see this older post that looked at the makeup of each of the 30 CF starters at the time … there’s not a ton of major names on that list), and the team entered spring training with Morgan penciled in as the starter.

Short Term (as in the next two years): I think we’ll continue to use Roger Bernadina in the role, unless Brown somehow remember how to hit.  2012 we’ll see more of the same.  Unless we can work a trade for someone that makes sense (see the BJ Upton question below).

Long Term (2013 and beyond): we’ll hope that one of our middle infield hitters owns the role.  I’d love to see Danny Espinosa or Ian Desmond blossom in that spot, but they both are struggling this year and both strike out, a lot.

(Ladson honestly didn’t have an answer … citing the lack of anyone in the minors to provide help.  Yeah, that’s true too).

Q: (paraphrased) Is the team going to trade Pudge Rodriguez?

A: I don’t believe they will.  I think its bad to assume that you can just magically trade a veteran.  Remember, Pudge is hitting .202 on the season right now with very little pop.  He looks every one of his 39 years.  Yes he’s still a great defensive catcher and he still has a great arm, but who would want him?  We keep hearing rumors (Boston, now San Francisco with Buster Posey‘s injury), but I think any trade we’d make would have to include nearly all his remaining salary, and we’d be looking at a low-level prospect in return.  For that kind of payment, why not just keep him through the rest of his contract so that Flores can stay in AAA and play every day.  (Ladson thinks that Pudge will be dealt, but he thinks the team is trading most every veteran no matter how poorly they’re hitting).

Q: (paraphrased) Is Wilson Ramos the everyday catcher?

A: Not yet, but he should be.  So far this year he’s gotten 127 plate appearances to Pudge’s 79, giving him about 60% of the at bats.  In a normal catcher platoon you’d have the backup going once-a-week or so (by way of comparison, Atlanta’s Brian McCann has 82% of his team’s catcher at-bats right now, and Matt Weiters has about 77%).  Part of that is out of respect to Pudge as the future hall of famer, and part of that is natural breaking in of a rookie.  But on a team that didn’t have Pudge as the backup, Ramos would be in the 80% range of playing for sure.  (Ladson says he’ll be the full time catcher in the 2nd half for sure).
Q: (paraphrased) Is the team really interested in BJ Upton?

A: I would be, if I was Rizzo.  He’s the exact prototypical leadoff/center fielder that this team desperately needs right now.  He’s not the best hitter (career 103 ops+) but he gets on base a lot (.345 career obp) and steals a ton of bases and has a career 4.9 uzr/150 in center field.  He’ll be a FA after next season, so odds are the Rays aren’t going to trade him unless they get good prospects in return.  Perhaps we look at him as a FA signing for the 2013 season, with the idea of putting Harper in Left field.  (Ladson says we did scout him earlier, but it was just normal scouting.  He doesn’t think Upton is any better than what we currently have offensively, which I rather disagree with).

Q: How is Chien-Ming Wang’s rehab going? Can we expect him in the Majors soon?

A: Short answer: poorly and never.  We have heard very little about Wang other than reports at the end of spring training that he was still months away from pitching.  Personally, I took that as a very bad omen.  It seems to be the same place he was in at this time last year.  He’s made no rehabilitation progress in nearly two years despite several million dollars of salary expended.  Not only do I not think he’s going to be in the majors soon, I’ll be shocked if he even goes out on a rehab assignment.  Reason?  Rehab assignments have time limits, Wang has no options remaining, meaning he’d have to be cut loose if he wasn’t ready to join the majors.  Frankly, I think he’s done.  (Ladson states the obvious; Wang will not pitch in a major or minor league game in the first half of the season).

Q: Have you heard any updates as to whether first baseman Chris Marrero’s defense is improving?

A: Marrero has definitely cut down on his errors in AAA, and is hitting decently enough.  I was of the opinion that he should have been called up to replace LaRoche on the MLB roster, but the timing worked out to re-call Rick Ankiel from his rehab assignment (where he was busy striking out repeatedly in AA-games).  The team line was that Marrero needs to play a whole season in AAA for some reason.  I say, with LaRoche’s injury and Zimmerman’s extended absense, this season is nearly lost already and to give the kid some playing time.  (Ladson says his defense is vastly improved).

Q: Who do the Nats envision playing first base in the future — Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, some lesser free agent, Marrero, a future draftee? What’s the long-term strategy there?

A: Pujols will never leave St. Louis.  Fielder probably signs with the Chicago Cubs, one of the only major-payroll teams that don’t have a first baseman locked up for $100M long term (Yankees = Teixeira, Red Sox = Gonzalez, Phillies = Howard, and the Mets & Dodgers are not going to be buying anyone until ownership situations are resolved).  Fielder to the Cubs makes perfect sense and they’ll pay him enough to make it worth his while.  Rizzo would never buy Fielder.  He’s not “defensive minded” and doesn’t fit the mold of what Rizzo wants to put on the field.  LaRoche was exactly what he wanted (well, except for the shredded shoulder that is).

Long Term strategy: i’ll bet they continue to sign one or two year contracts with decent hitters who happen to be good fielders (LaRoche, Derrick Lee, even Carlos Pena to a certain extent) until the team produces someone that fits the bill.

(Ladson thinks the team will trade for a 1B or sign another FA in the off season.  I seriously doubt that.  LaRoche is signed through 2012 and will be back.  It isn’t a career ending injury, just season-ending.  He’ll play in 2012).

Written by Todd Boss

May 27th, 2011 at 12:38 am

Nats Rotation Cycle #10: good/bad/soso

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Zimmermann keeps looking better and better post TJ surgery. Photo Manuel Balce-Ceneta/AP

The Nats are in the midst of quite a struggle right now, both offensively and defensively.   3 really “bad” pitching performances to go with two good ones (both of which ended in losses).

Good

  • Livan Hernandez became the latest pitcher to suffer through the Nats offensive woes, giving up just 1 run in 7 innings but taking the 1-0 loss during 5/19′s day game (gamer/box).  His team was completely shut down by the Mets backup #5 pitcher, who had a no-hitter through 5.
  • Jordan Zimmerman pitched well enough to win on 5/22 (box/gamer), going through the first 6 innings scoreless and relatively unscathed, but made a mistake to Vladimir Guerrero in the 7th that ended up in the seats and gave his offensively challenged team another loss.

Bad

  • Jason Marquis struggled badly, and was hurt by a Bernadina dropped flyball that was scored as a double, and was lifted after 4 in Baltimore on friday 5/20 (box/gamer).  Luckily the Nationals did a week’s worth of scoring and got the win.  His line: 4ip, 8hits, 5 runs (all earned with the badly scored Bernadina play), 3 walks and 2ks.  Upon learning that he was getting the hook prior to qualifying for the win, Marquis was highly upset.  My take?  You cannot give up 5 runs in 4 innings and expect to continue in a game.  I’m sorry; if you wanted to get that win, you needed to pitch better.
  • John Lannan had a game of ups and downs on 5/21 (box/gamer); he had several clean innings, but also had a couple of bad innings.  He gave up 4 straight hits in an inning in which he’d already given up a 2-run homer to give Baltimore all they’d need to take the game.  The “meltdown” start pushes Lannan’s ERA over 5.00 and will increase calls for his demotion/replacement.
  • Tom Gorzelanny got hit hard, often and deep in the 5/23 Milwaukee game (box/gamer).   5ip, 8 hits (3 of which were homers), good for 6 earned runs and the loss.  His 6ks were incidental and the damage was done early.

Starter Trends (last 5 starts only)

Lhernandez    good,soso,bad,good,good
Marquis    great,bad,good,soso,bad
Lannan    really bad,good,soso,bad,bad
Zimmermann     bad,good,good,great,good
Gorzelanny    great,good,bad,soso,bad

Relievers of Note

  • Riggleman took advantage of the ridiculous 17-5 Baltimore win to get “Mr Low Leverage Reliever” Henry Rodriguez some work.  He went three innings (three!), gave up a couple of hits but had 3Ks and zero walks, a very good sign.
  • Cole Kimball had his first mediocre outing on 5/21, allowing both his inherited runners to score and giving up 4 straight hits to the heart of Baltimore’s order.
  • Brian Broderick‘s DFA was dated 5/14, and teams have 10 days to finalize that assignment.  We’ve heard no word on possible negotiations with St. Louis to keep Broderick up to this point, and odds are that no other team would claim him at this point (any claim would mean the claiming team would ALSO have to keep the Rule5 draftee on their active roster for the duration of the season).  I wonder if he’s about to be returned outright to St. Louis.  Update: Broderick was re-claimed by St. Louis on 5/24, ending the rule5 draftee’s Washington experiment.

Thoughts on the offense

I’m not sure what the answer is (since there’s basically nothing at AAA or AA that we could call up to augment the offense), but the downturn of the offense is getting to be ridiculous.  There’s a guy in my fantasy baseball league whose strategy is to just pick up whatever pitcher is going against the Nats, because he knows he’ll get a great outing.  Sure enough, Dillon Gee, who is probably owned in 0% of fantasy leagues, threw up this line on 5/19: 7 2/3s innings, 3 hits, 2 bbs, 3 Ks and zero runs.  Those are the kind of lines that win fantasy championships.

Written by Todd Boss

May 25th, 2011 at 9:35 am

My Answers to Boswell’s chosen chat questions

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Tom Boswell from the Washington Post (Photo via pbs.org)

I like Tom Boswell‘s WP chats.  They’re usually scheduled 11am mondays (they used to be on Wednesdays) and unlike many Washington area sportswriters takes a large amount of baseball related questions.  He usually writes long-winded interesting responses that usually include nuggets of information that you’ve never really heard elsewhere.  His latest chat featured a ton of interesting questions that I thought I’d take a stab at (my answers first, then an interpretation of Boswell’s.  In most cases i’ve paraphrased the question for levity).

Q: Is Riggleman’s job in danger?

A: In danger??  If anything, Riggleman should be asking for a pay raise.  His best player has played in 7 games, his two major FA acquisitions are hitting .172 and .247, and his GM handed him a bullpen that was 3/7ths unusable.  Yet the team is hovering around .500 and is a mediocre offense away from having a winning record. (Boswell Agrees).

Q: (paraphrased) Should the Nats keep Matt Stairs?

A: My answer is pretty clear: No, we should DFA him right now and bring up either Marrero or Aubrey from AAA to give the team a fighting chance at some more offense off the bench.   (Boswell thinks Stairs is sticking around because the AAA alternatives are mediocre and because Stairs is as good a defensive firstbase-man as Morse or Marrero.  I’m sorry, but I have a real hard time believing that.  Morse is a converted short-stop!  And Marrero is actually playing every day, as opposed to what Stairs has been doing for the past 3 years of his career (namely, sitting on his ass for 8 innings and then swinging out of it in the 9th a few times a week).

Q: (paraphrased): How much blame does Rizzo’s roster creation deserve for our last place team?

A: A fair question; one can certainly nit-pick the Willingham trade (as I have done in this space), complain about the bullpen construction (as I have also done in this space) and question the $126M Jayson Werth signing (along with every other MLB pundit on the internet).  But, you have to also acknowledge his moves that have paid off (Nix, Coffey, and Hairston signings, Gorzelanny trade in particular).  For me, I still think we sacrificed Willingham and his offense at the alter of increased defensive prowness in left field (where we now have the defensively challenged Nix patrolling) and we’re seeing it in the lineup.  You don’t just replace #5 hitters who consistently put up 130 OPS+ numbers.  (Boswell posted some unnerving slash lines for the road outputs of both Willingham and Werth that show they’re essentially equal hitters.  Great).

Q: (paraphrased) Did the Nationals play scheduling games with the quick-draw 5/17 phantom rainout?

A: Yes, they did.  Instead of barely getting above gate for a Tuesday afternoon game while the kids are in school, the team cancelled the game early and (most likely) schedules it as a day/night doubleheader on the first Saturday in July when the Pirates come back to town.  In addition, they got to skip a turn for Jordan Zimmermann, guaranteeing one more start later in the year.   Its too bad, since we were planning on attending, but a 1pm game on Saturday in July will be fun too.  (Boswell more or less agreed, also noting that our bullpen was fried and could use a day off).

Q: (paraphrased) Is MLB actively trying to weed out PED users?

A: No, nor can or will they ever.  Those older vets who were around during the Steroid hey-dey are for the most part nearing retirement or already admitted users … but there’s no retroactive penalties for someone like Alex Rodriguez.  All he has to look forward to is a series of $30M checks, increasing irrelevance as his skills erode, eventual daily front-page ostracism from the NY papers as he nears the end of his ridiculous contract, and then a 5-year debate over how many votes he’ll eventually get (but not be elected) in his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility.  (Boswell more or less agrees).

Now, do I believe that baseball has rid itself of PEDs now?  More or less I say yes.  Anyone caught now is simply labeled a moron, and the players now see the stigma attached to their accomplishments if they get caught.  I think this is directly related to the rather steep decline we’ve seen in offense over the past few seasons and marks a dawn of a new, interesting age in the game.

Q: Are there more injuries now than before in Baseball?

A: I don’t get a sense that more injuries are occurring this year versus years past.  The Nats havn’t lost a single start to injury (a vast change from 2010).   Of course, I have no research to back it up.  There’s a great injury database online that is worth investigating if you are so inclined.  (Boswell more or less agrees).

Q: (paraphrased) Is Adam LaRoche’s lack of production really because of his shoulder injury?

A: Yeah, I think it is.  A slight shoulder injury for a first-baseman isn’t too difficult to get around; its not like you’re making a dozen high-leverage throws across the diamond per week.  But a really bad shoulder injury will affect your swing.  I’m predicting a DL stint for LaRoche ((Update: sure enough he went on the DL 5/24) and just hoping that he doesn’t elect/be forced into Labrum surgery (which would blow the season for him and be a pretty significant blow to any chance this team had of realistically improving their record this year).  (Boswell thinks he’s going to “rest” for a bit and compares LaRoche to Jason Marquis last year).

Q: Were the Umpires “sending a message” with the odd Bernadina call on sunday?

A: I don’t think so.  But man the Nats have been on the receiving end of a lot of really bad calls lately.  Rizzo certainly let it be known that he thinks that’s the case.  Coincidentally, one of the major reasons pitchers need to be 100% stoic on the mound is near immediate and continual umpire retribution.  I watched Yunesky Maya openly gripe about ball/strike calls in a game last september and within a few pitches was called for a balk.  At the very least the umpire will eliminate the outside corners, which greatly reduces a pitcher’s effectiveness.  (Boswell thinks there may be some conspiracy theory involved).

Q: How long will it take the team to fill the gaping holes it has in its lineup?

A: Perhaps a couple years, and a lot of money.  Unlike pitching, teams can acquire hitting in free agency relatively quickly.  Thinking of where we need to be in 2013; we’re set on RF, CF (Harper), 3B, 2B and C.  We may need to look for help in LF, SS, and 1B.  Ironically, two of those positions are the two spots you can hide sluggers.  We may just live with Desmond hitting .220 at shortstop.  But there’s lots of slugger options that can fill those two spots.   A quick peek at the pre-2013 FA list shows some guys we could target.  How about BJ Upton or Curtis Granderson?  (Boswell thinks all 8 healthy starters this year are as good as last year’s team.  I disagree.  A ton of pop and power left in Dunn and Willingham).  I don’t think spending the farm on Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder is the answer either.

Q: Did Wilson Ramos make the wrong call on the 0-2 curve that cost the Nationals yesterday’s game?

A: Can’t say an 0-2 curve is the worst call out there.  Usually with free swingers on 0-2 you go with either a rising fastball at their eyes or a curve that starts over the plate and ends up so far outside they can’t hit it with a broom.  Zimmermann flat out missed with his curve; he said he was “trying to bounce it” and instead left it over the plate for a gopher ball.  Every pitcher makes mistakes; great hitters turn those mistakes into homers.  (Boswell agrees)

This was fun; i’m going to do this again next week!

Written by Todd Boss

May 24th, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Minor League Rotations Cycle #8: good/bad/inconclusive

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Tom Milone keeps putting up sterling numbers in AAA. Photo: Tom Priddy/Four Seam images via milb.com

Here are the daily links from NationalsProspects, for reference below:

Good

  • As much as I thought the Nats should have parted ways with Shairon Martis, you have to give him props for his 5/17 outing: 7IP 3H 0R 1BB 5K.
  • Paul Applebee got the “suspended start” on 5/18, actually finishing the game that Grace really started the day before, and went 4⅓ 6H 1R 1ER 0BB 1K for the victory.  He scattered 6 hits effectively enough to get his 4th victory on the season.
  • Oliver Perez dominated in his first Harrisburg start on 5/19: 5+ IP 1H 1R 0ER 2BB 3K.  As one would expect for a former 15-game MLB winner.
  • Mitchell Clegg put in his second good outing in a row for Potomac on 5/20, putting in 7 effective innings for the win.  Line: 7IP 4H 1R 1ER 2BB 2K.
  • The Robbie Ray show continues in Hagerstown, as he finally gave up a run but still threw 6 great innings on 5/20.  Line: 6IP 7H 2R 1ER 0BB 4K.  Selik got promoted after 5 great starts in a row; is it possible that the same could happen with Ray?
  • Another fantastic outing for Tom Milone for Syracuse on 5/21: 7IP 3H 0R 0BB 9K.   This walk-less outing now gives Milone 44 Ks and THREE walks in 43 1/3 innings on the year.  In fact, if his one blow-up start was removed from his stats, he’d have a 2.26 ERA and a 0.85 whip.
  • The Brad Peacock show continued in Harrisburg on 5/21: 6IP 1H 1R 1ER 2BB 10K 1HR.  One hit through six complete to go with 10ks.   Milb.com is now making Peacock’s starts required attendance, with this story showing up yesterday.  Peacock’s ridiculous numbers on the season?   66ks and 9 walks in 48 1/3 innings, a 0.83 whip and a 2.05 era.  These numbers dwarf what Meyers had before he earned his promotion.
  • Bobby Hansen gave Hagerstown another quality start on 5/21, but his bullpen conspired to cost him a victory.  Line: 6IP 5H 2R 2ER 2BB 6K.

Bad

  • Ross Detwiler was lit up in the first and left in for 5 yet was rewarded with a “win” for his work on 5/19.  Line: 5IP 5H 4R 4ER 4BB 3K.  What is going on with Detwiler?  He now has an ERA above 5.00 and a WHIP in the 1.66 range on the season and has more or less gotten hammered in 3 of his last 4 starts.  Is he hurt?
  • In another example of why W/L records are meaningless as indicators of a pitcher’s value, Denny Rosenbaum got lit up in his 5/19 start: 5⅔ IP 7H 6R 6ER 4BB 4K.  Yet, because his team hit SIX homers on the day, he got a victory as Potomac out-slugged Frederick 14-6.
  • See my last point: Trevor Holder had a meltdown start but still got the victory in Potomac on 5/21: 5⅓ IP 7H 5R 5ER 0BB 6K.

Mediocre/Inconclusive

  • Craig Stammen had a ho-hum quality start on 5/17: 6IP 9H 3R 3ER 0BB 7K.  I guess i’m just expecting more out of a guy with 38 major league starts.
  • Paul Demny had enough walks and baserunners to turn his quality start into a relatively mediocre outing for me.  Perhaps i’m a harsh judge.  Final line on 5/17: 6IP 5H 2R 2ER 3BB 4K.
  • Matt Grace was struggling on 5/17 before his start got called after 3 innings.  His abbreviated line: 3IP 5H 2R 2ER 1BB 3K.
  • Yunesky Maya was plagued by the “one big inning” syndrome that plagued him in September of last year, giving up 3 runs in the first and then shutting down Norfolk on 5/18.  Line: 6⅓ IP 4H 3R 3ER 1BB 2K 1HR.    After the first inning, Maya didn’t give up another hit, retired 13 straight, then got inexplicably yanked after giving up a one-out single in the 7th when he was sitting on just 71 pitches.  How do you judge such an outing?  5 no-hit and nearly perfect innings, and one inning with 4 hits and a 2-run homer.  Its officially “inconclusive.”
  • Spot Starter Evan Bronson had a mediocre-teetering-on-bad outing on 5/18 in Potomac: 3⅔ IP 5H 2R 2ER 3BB 1K 1HR.  That’s 8 baserunners in less than 4 innings.  Amazingly he only gave up 2 runs despite all these baserunners.
  • AJ Cole got touched up for 5 runs in 4 innings on 5/19, but showed flashes of dominance with 5Ks.  Final line: 4IP 6H 5R 2ER 0BB 5K.  He gave up 4 of the 5 runs in a messy 2nd inning where he threw a wild 3rd-strike pitch to allow on a punch-out victim, then gave up a 2-run double one play after an inning-ending error by his shortstop let in another run.   He did get a 1-2-3 4th inning, for what that’s worth.
  • Brad Meyers didn’t have the worst possible outing on 5/20, but getting touched up for two homers is never a good thing.  Line: 5⅓ IP 7H 3R 3ER 0BB 3K 2HR.  The two homers were enough to give him a ND on the night.

Relievers of Note and other Thoughts

  • A few pitcher moves were announced at the beginning of this cycle: Ryan Tatusko returned to Harrisburg, Ryan Mattheus rightfully earning a promotion from AA->AAA, and the enigmatic Oliver Perez reporting for duty in Harrisburg.  Tatusko clearly didn’t merit the promotion and seemed destined to return; most are calling the transaction a “paper promotion” to allow Harrisburg to do some roster maintenance w/o having to DL someone.  Meanwhile, Perez will slot right into the open rotation spot in AA and at age 30 will be nearly the oldest pitcher in the league.
  • Who is making way in the Harrisburg rotation?  I thought Perez would be taking Roark‘s place but apparently not.  Tatusko’s spot was skipped but we havn’t seen him out of the bullpen yet …
  • New Harrisburg closer Pat McCoy has had a string of sub-par outings lately, including a 4-run implosion to blow a game in which Martis had pitched pretty well.  This was apparently enough to put McCoy onto the DL.  Are we close to seeing Potomac’s Patrick Lehman moved up?  Perhaps not for a bit because….
  • Potomac made a bunch more moves on 5/17-5/18, putting Cameron Selik and Lehman on the 7-day DL.  Replacing them was Rafael Martin and Hector Nelo.  Martin’s assignment is a bit curious; he was after all a AA all star in 2010 for Harrisburg and pitched pretty well there.  He’s 27 and is way too old for high-A ball; my guess is that he’s promoted up to replace McCoy as Harrisburg’s closer.  Nelo got dumped by Texas in April and we picked him up; he’s been stuck in A-ball within the Texas organization for 3 years.  He’s got good k/9 numbers but pretty bad ERAs over the past two seasons.  Lets see what he can do.  Meanwhile there’s no word on what Selik’s injury is; he’s had two sub-par outings thus far in high-A and the team needs a rotation spot (in theory) for Sammy Solis, so perhaps this is just administrative use of the DL for the next week or so.
  • (copied this point from my MLB rotation review pending post): Brian Broderick‘s DFA was dated 5/14, and teams have 10 days to finalize that assignment.  We’ve heard no word on possible negotiations with St. Louis to keep Broderick up to this point, and odds are that no other team would claim him at this point (any claim would mean the claiming team would ALSO have to keep the Rule5 draftee on their active roster for the duration of the season).  I wonder if he’s about to be returned outright to St. Louis.
  • Lastly, on 5/21 Christopher McKenzie and Chad Jenkins were “demoted” from Hagerstown to extended spring.  McKenzie struggled badly (though his final outing was good) in 6 starts, posting more walks than strikeouts.  Jenkins was similarly wild out of the pen.  I’m guessing both guys catch on with the Short-A squad for another shot at career redemption.  Both guys were middle round draft picks out of JuCo and earned some bonus money, but seemingly would be expendable if outperformed by the next draft class.

Trends

I have only included the starter trends for those that are actually in the rotations right now.  I honestly don’t know who the 5th starter is in Potomac right now; I’ve been assuming Solis will be activated from the DL to take the spot.  Perhaps it will be Bronson or Frias.  We’ll see; i think the spot comes up in two games.

AAA trends (in rotation order)
Maya        bad,soso,soso,good,great,good,soso,soso
Detwiler    good,good,soso,soso,bad,soso,bad,bad
Meyers    soso,good,soso
Milone    good,soso,soso,bad,great,good,great
Stammen    good,soso,great,bad,soso,good,soso

AA Trends:
Martis     bad,bad,soso,soso,good
OPerez    great
Peacock    soso,good,great,good,very good,bad,great,great
Roark        bad
Arneson    soso

High-A Trends:
Rosenbaum    soso,good,good,soso,good,good,soso,bad
Clegg        soso,soso,soso,unbelievably bad,soso,good,good
Holder    soso,bad,bad,soso,soso,soso,good,bad
Demny        good,bad,good,good,soso,soso

Low-A Trends:
Jordan    good,soso,good,good->dl,soso,soso
Grace        good,bad,bad,bad,good,soso,soso,soso
Cole        soso,soso
Ray        great,great,good
Hansen    soso,good,very bad,very good,soso,soso,good,good

Top 3 starters deserving promotion: Peacock, Milone, Ray
Top 3 starters whose jobs are in jeopardy: Detwiler, Holder, Grace.

Written by Todd Boss

May 23rd, 2011 at 11:26 am

Is the Matt Stairs experiment over?

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Matt Stairs swings and misses at another fastball. Photo: Getty Images via zimbio.com

Lost in the shuffle of Friday’s offensive explosion in Baltimore was this line: Matt Stairs: 0-4, 2 strikeouts and 5 runners left on base hitting in the #5 hole.  The coup-de-grace for me was the inexplicable bases-loaded strikeout he had in the 4th, letting a perfect down-the-middle fastball pass right by him to end the inning.

That at-bat disgusted me.  It isn’t the first time we’ve seen Stairs let a pitch go by that he clearly was guessing otherwise on, and in the end of course the at bat didn’t matter, but its indicative of where he is now as a hitter.  On fastball counts, he’s guessing otherwise and letting pitches go by without even an offering in high-leverage situations.  But for me, if you have 2 strikes you’re not trying to hit home runs; you’re trying to put the ball in play.  It seems to me that his skills as a hitter have declined to the point where he’s depending more on guess work than his former hitting prowness to succeed at the plate.

Meanwhile, every other player in the lineup was mashing Baltimore pitching last night (well, except for Adam LaRoche, but that’s a different contract, a different defensive player, and a different story).  Our 7-8-9 hitters were 8-13 (eight hits out of the bottom three!).

I think its time to end the experiment.  For the season (as of 5/20) Stairs is 2 for 26 with no extra base hits.  He has a NEGATIVE OPS+, meaning that he’s hitting roughly 100% worse than an average major league player.  He has no defensive value and can’t pinch run when needed.  I think we need to bring up someone else from AAA.

Michael Aubrey didn’t have the worst numbers the last time he played in the majors (Baltimore in 2009), is also a lefty, can play first base if needed and (if you believe his profile’d height/weight of 6’0″ 190lbs) should be able to run the bases if needed.  We have a 40-man spot open with the DFA of Broderick and we could make this move immediately as a like-for-like replacement for Stairs.  If you didn’t want to add a guy to the roster, you could also just call up Chris Marrero, who doesn’t quite have Aubrey’s power but is hitting consistently in AAA and had 18 homers in AA last year.  Marrero could be a righty bat off the bench coupled with Ankiel’s lefty bat as a 4th outfielder/bat off the bench as well.

Either way, I think its time to make a change.

Written by Todd Boss

May 21st, 2011 at 10:59 am

Posted in Nats in General

What to do when Ankiel comes back from the DL?

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Bernadina's 5/13/11 catch has to be one of the plays of the season. Photo: Masn TV Screen shot via dc.sbnation.com

(I swear I had this post written over the weekend; i’m not copying my fellow bloggers’ ideas :-)

The Nats have an OF problem coming.  Rick Ankiel (season slash line: .221/.302/.288 mostly out of the #2 hole) has been ably replaced in the lineup and in center field by Roger Bernadina, who is now trying to live up to the billing that the team had hoped for him all off-season (when most pundits and bloggers had annointed him the starting left fielder despite a relatively mediocre 2010 slash line of .246/.307/.384.  In his first 10 games and 38 at bats he had a .344/.447/.406 slash line hitting leadoff, to go with 4 SBs without being caught.  And he’s clearly playing lights out defense in center, with some highlight reel catches and adequate enough defense from an UZR/150 perspective.

Is Bernadina’s performance sustainable?  Probably not; his BABIP was an unnaturally high .407 (though frequent bunters will have an maintain higher BABIPs than the MLB average in the .290-.300 range).  An OBP of .450 was also not sustainable.  Sure enough, as of 5/19′s game he’s returned to a more typical .273/.360/.318 line (though I like the .360 obp from the leadoff spot).

So, if Bernadina is staying up and continuing to play, who makes way on the 25-man?  Ankiel’s return would give the team 5 outfielders on a team that can only really carry 4. Here’s some relevant contract and options details of our 5 OFers:

  • Jayson Werth: Clearly he’s not going anywhere.
  • Laynce Nix: He’s got 5 years of service time and would refuse an assignment to AAA, not to mention being exposed to waivers when we did so.  He’s our current clean up hitter and has wrested the starting job away from Morse.
  • Michael Morse: No options left; if we ask him to go to Syracuse he has to clear waivers, and there’s teams out there sniffing around for right handed OF help (ahem, Philadelphia).
  • Rick Ankiel: 5 years of service time, so he can refuse an assignment.  Plus we’re not paying him $1.5M to just let him go.
  • Roger Bernadina: currently burning his 3rd and last option, but performing decently from the top of the order.

In other words, the only guy who we CAN option to the minors is Bernadina.  But can the team purposely send down a guy who has been giving them their best leadoff production all season?  I don’t think they can.

How about the rest of the bench right now?  Assuming for the time being that Hairston is the starting 3rd baseman and Ramos is the starting catcher, here’s our current bench:

  • Ivan Rodriguez: Plenty of service time, plus on a $2M contract, plus he’s the backup catcher.  He’s staying (unless the Red Sox panic and trade something for him).
  • Matt Stairs: Tons of service time; would refuse any outright to AAA and look for another PH job.
  • Alex Cora: 11+ years of service time so could refuse outrighting.
  • Brian Bixler: Very little service time, was on a minor league contract to begin with, and has options (2011 would be his 3rd option, though he’s been outrighted in the past).

I’ll editorialize about the 25-man spot that Stairs currently occupies for a moment; he is 2 for 21 on the season right now, cannot play the field, and effectively shortens the bench by one player.  If you want his veteran presence around, then DFA him and hire him as a bench coach!

Now, that being said for reasons inexplicable Stairs probably stays on the roster.  So, when Ankiel is ready to come back I’m going to guess that the team options Bixler, keeps 5 outfielders, Ankiel serves as a 4th outfielder, and Morse participates in some sort of lefty-righty platoon with Nix.

We’ll revisit this entire situation once Ryan Zimmerman is ready to play, because that’s when something has to give.

Written by Todd Boss

May 20th, 2011 at 10:40 am

Posted in Nats in General

Nats Rotation Cycle #9: good/bad/soso

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This is what the Park could have looked like during 5/17's "rainout." Ridiculous. Photo: AndrewClem.com

Note: Tuesday’s “rainout” of the Nats-Pirates game allowed the team to just skip Jordan Zimmermann’s start, so we’ve only got four outings in this period’s “starter cycle.”

Good

  • Livan Hernandez was out-dueled for the 2nd time in a week by Anibal Sanchez on 5/14 (box/gamer), and took a loss in a game that he pitched pretty well.  line: 7ip, 6hits, 1 run.  He follows up a bad performance with a good one, as is his custom.

Bad

Mediocre/Inconclusive

  • Jason Marquis may officially have a quality start in the books for his 5/15 victory over the Marlins (box/gamer) but at least one of the two earned runs he gave up in in the top of the 2nd was really “earned” and not a result of the throwing error that put Sanchez on base.  Its one of the many reasons that ERA is misleading in many cases.  That being said: he went 6 2/3, runs (2 earned), 6 hits and a walk and 2ks.  The victory makes him 5-1 on the season and should do nothing to stem the trade rumors that are sure to start dogging him now that the season is a quarter finished.
  • John Lannan didn’t figure into the decision on 5/16, but he pitched decently enough (box/gamer).  Line: 6 1/3 ip, 7 hits and 4 bbs, 2 runs and 4ks.  It counts as a “good” quality start but he was putting guys on all day.  101 pitches but only 54 for strikes, indicated by the 4 walks.  He’s got a 1.6 whip on the season right now and one has to wonder if a hot starter in AAA would jeopardize his rotation spot at some point in the future.
  • Tom Gorzelanny‘s 5/18 outing was hard to judge, given the weather conditions (box/gamer).  He got knocked out of the game in the 6th, having given up 8 hits and 5 walks (2 of which were intentional, but still.  One of the IBBs was done because Gorzelanny threw away a pickoff attempt, the other because he gave up a leadoff single that was stranded at 2nd).  Nearly a 2.00 whip on the day.   But it was pouring rain most of the night and both pitchers must have been struggling with their grips and control.

Starter Trends

Lhernandez    good,bad,good,good,bad,good,soso,bad,good
Marquis    good,good,good,soso,great,bad,good,soso
Lannan    good,soso,soso,bad,soso,good,really bad,good,soso
Zimmermann     good,good,good,bad,bad,good,good,great
Gorzelanny    soso,good,soso,good,great,good,bad,soso

Relievers of Note

  • Cole Kimball‘s first two appearances ended with identical lines: 1ip, 1bb, 1k, nothing else.  His first appearance was in a one-run game, his second in a 4-run outing so as to save Storen’s arm.  Per pitch f/x, Kimball was throwing 93, maxing at 94.9 and throwing mostly fastballs.  There’s a massive delta between his fastball and his curve speed.  He has 4 pitches (being a former starter) but we are only really seeing 2 of them right now.  The fact that Riggleman immediately put Kimball into a one-run game within 12 hours of his call-up is as clear an indictment of Henry Rodriguez‘s continued place in the bullpen as can be said.

Thoughts on the offense

  • Ankiel‘s injury may prove to be somewhat of a Wally Pipp injury, if Roger Bernadina continues to perform has he has been.   His slash line as of 5/15 is .321/.424/.393 and we’re seeing zero drop-off with his defense, high lighted by this amazing catch on 5/13 (a catch that I couldn’t believe he made either).  Its nice to see both Bernadina and Laynce Nix making statements and taking control of positions that they both “lost” in spring training.

Written by Todd Boss

May 19th, 2011 at 10:27 am

Is John Lannan slowly endangering his rotation spot?

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Maybe its the 2011 haircut that is the source of Lannan’s mediocre start. Photo: Luis M. Alvarez/AP via www.timesunion.com

In his latest outing (5/16 against the Pirates), John Lannan worked around 11 base-runners in 6 and a third innings and only gave up 2 runs (one being inherited and allowed to score by Cole Kimball).  Four walks conspired to cause Lannan grief all afternoon, as well as only throwing 54 of 101 pitches for strikes.  However in the end, it was a quality start and kept the team in the game.

But are we seeing a gradual breakdown in Lannan overall?  After getting sent down in 2010, he had masterful numbers upon his return (6-3 record with a 3.42 era and 1.24 whip in his last 10 starts in 2010).  But he has not been able to carry these numbers into 2011.  Right now, his season long 2011 numbers are WORSE than his combined stats from last year, and despite only really having one egregiously bad outing (2ip, 6runs) his supporting stats are getting to be really concerning.  Here’s what concerns me specifically:

  • 1.615 whip.  That’s just way too many base-runners.
  • 26ks and 22bbs in 47 IP.

Perhaps I’m being nit-picky; his ERA (4.53) is almost exactly in line with his FIP and xFIP (4.50 and 4.56 respectively) meaning he’s pitching exactly as expected.  His BABIP is .323, meaning he’s been unlucky and is due for a regression of seeing-eye singles costing him hits and base-runners.  His game scores throughout the season have been relatively consistent (mostly 40s and 50s; his high on the season has been 54 and his 5/16 game was a 51).

But, more importantly, even if Lannan is the first in line to be replaced out of our current rotation, we don’t really have anyone in AAA quite yet deserving of the promotion.

The incumbent seemed to be Ross Detwiler, but he’s really struggling so far this year in AAA.  $8M man Yunesky Maya started slow and is coming around, but I want to see more Ks out of him.  Tom Milone‘s k/bb ratio is fantastic but he’s not on the 40-man (though we seem to have an empty spot right now, so perhaps that’s a non-issue).  Newly promoted Brad Meyers needs a few more AAA starts for seasoning but the evidence is there (especially after he dominated AA early in the season); his problem is lack of 40-man status as well.  Lastly Craig Stammen believe it or not may have the best case of them all; best whip, decent numbers, and outside of one bad start has been solid, but he seems to have the least “investment” of any of the starters in Syracuse and seems more likely destined for the bullpen than the MLB rotation.

Interesting decisions lay ahead, especially if Lannan has a couple bad outings in a row.  Remember; Lannan has minor league options (two of them if I read his transactions correctly).  It isn’t really a good statement to option a former opening day starter, but the team has to do what is best.

Written by Todd Boss

May 17th, 2011 at 7:34 pm