Nationals Arm Race

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

My Answers to Boswell’s chosen chat questions


Tom Boswell from the Washington Post (Photo via

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

4 Responses to 'My Answers to Boswell’s chosen chat questions'

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  1. This was a good entry, and I enjoyed comparing your answers with Boz’s. But in discussing Rizzo, I’m surprised you didn’t mention the best move of his career so far–signing Capps, parlaying him into Ramos, and thus solving the Nats’ catching problems, barring unforeseen circumstances, for at least the next five years or so. (Bad as things have been offensively, can you imagine what they would be with Pudge and Wil Nieves splitting time at catcher…). This is the type of trade that can only be done late in the season when there are contenders who need (or think they need) to fill a hole, so let’s hope there are more such trades to come this year…

    Steven J. Berke

    24 May 11 at 12:57 pm

  2. You’re right! That is probably the best move of his tenure. I think I was just looking at the off-season moves he made instead of considering last season’s in-season moves. (I see a good blog post coming, looking at Rizzo’s signings and trades versus Bowden’s). I’ve got a full list of the Nationals trading partners and moves that I put together when some pundit claimed that certain teams wouldn’t deal with certain GMs, and I wanted to see if there were teams out there that the Nats did more or less business with. Coincidentally, since 2005 we’ve not traded with Houston, St. Louis, Baltimore, Toronto, Cleveland or the Los Angeles Angels. Telling in some ways; I wonder how much we negotiated with St. Louis to possibly keep Broderick in the system.

    Todd Boss

    24 May 11 at 1:05 pm

  3. You’re right! That is probably the best move of his tenure. I think I was just looking at the off-season moves he made instead of considering last season’s in-season moves.

    And right after that move would be the overslot signings of Robbie Ray and AJ Cole. Throw in drafting Kevin Keyes who looks like Harper’s replacement in Hagerstown?

    Its why Boswell referred to Rizzo as a treasured resource or something like that.

    So, far the Rizzo and his talented staff were amazing when it came to completely reversing the terrible state of the farm system, scouting and finding tremendous prospects to put at every single level? Truly incredible as Flanagan and FP SantAngelo observed.

    The problem is the product at the major league level. It may be that Rizzo has the same problem KC’s GM is thought to have. Great with scouting, player development, prospects. Not so good at trades, free agent signings needed to put the major league product together. Only Tampa Bay appears to have a GM and FO who are superlative at both.


    24 May 11 at 1:31 pm

  4. Cole and Ray were absolute draft coups, no doubt. It really takes 4 years to have a farm system start showing its full depth; you have to assume HSers take 4-5 years to come to fruition while a college junior needs 2-3 years. Rizzo has only really been in charge of the draft for 2 years (09 and 10). Its why everything related to Rizzo comes to a head in 2013: the farm system should be fully “his” by then, plus the major league team should be competitive enough to compete. If 2013 is a failure at either level then Rizzo goes.

    I wonder what kind of “budget” Rizzo has to really work with at the MLB level. Because a lot of his moves last off-season really spoke to keeping payroll right in the $60-$65M level (to the point where rival teams are starting to gripe about the fact that Washington, in a very wealthy market, is taking revenue sharing money). If Rizzo really doesn’t plan on competing til 2013, then perhaps he’s put the best product money could buy on the field. Why bother spending $90M if $60M gets you where you plan on being anyway?

    Tampa and Andrew Friedman are amazing … but they also have a fan base that seems patient enough to allow them “off” seasons while they reap the draft picks. If Boston did what Tampa is doing (ie fail to re-stock, allow FAs to go and plan on basically giving up on a season) they’d riot.

    Todd Boss

    24 May 11 at 2:31 pm

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