Nationals Arm Race

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

Boswell’s 5/31/11 Chat: my answers to his questions

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Stairs' performance lately led to Boswell answering the same question about him, twice. Photo: Carlson/AP via

Boswell’s 5/31 chat; my answers to his questions.  I skipped the non-Nats questions, figuring that anyone could argue about Pujols, the Mets and what not.  I’ve paraphrased/shortened most of the rambling “questions” into single sentences, and have split “questions” that asked for multiple answers.

Q: (paraphrased): Should the Nats Release Stairs?  (This question was asked twice, at the beginning and later on).
A: Yes, they really should.  I continue to fail to see the utility of having Matt Stairs around.  I’ve talked at length about this point at various times in the past on this blog.  (Boswell agrees … says that he “looks awful,” but later on asks why we’re fixated on Stairs and that there’s bigger problems.  True, but right now i’d rather see Marrero batting .100 instead of Stairs.).

Q:(paraphrased): Should the Nats send Desmond to AAA to work on his hitting?
A: No, if only because there’s not really anyone decent to replace him.  What is the value of sitting or demoting Ian Desmond so that we can give a ton of at bats to Alex Cora or Brian Bixler?  Zero.  Unless we had a promising SS prospect in the minors worth seeing, there’d be no reason to sit Desmond right now.  (Boswell agrees, saying that Desmond has had “a million bush league at-bats”).

The only possible scenario that may eventually make sense; move Espinosa to short, demote/sit Desmond and bring up someone like Lombardozzi, Kobernus or Hague to play 2nd.  Except, Lombardozzi is not nearly ready for this move and isn’t on the 40-man, Kobernus is really struggling and looks like a draft bust, and Hague is halfway into his first pro season.  To say nothing of the fact that any move to bring Espinosa to a new position would be done in the spring, not in June.  (Ironically, Boswell mentioned this scenario .. but in his answer to the NEXT question).

Q: (paraphrased): Should Rizzo focus on hitting in the 2011 draft?
A: Yes … but the major league draft is always about getting the “best player available.”  Unlike a sport like basketball (where the existence of a small forward on a roster prevents a team like Portland from drafting Michael Jordan since you draft for need in the NBA), you cannot project what can happen to a major league roster over the course of the 4-5 years it takes to develop players.  Just because we have Ryan Zimmerman now, does not mean we should ignore drafting and developing 3rd basemen for the next 5 years.  If for no other reason than a good defensive 3rd baseman easily makes a switch to another position (2nd or 1st or even left field) if his bat turns out to be too valuable to keep out of the majors.

Now, that being said, the 2011 draft is college pitcher heavy.  So the first pick is almost guaranteed to be a college arm.  You take what comes to you, in many ways.  At #23, if a great college arm has dropped, you take him there as well.  (Future blog note; stay tuned for a review of the Nats choices and likely picks at #6).

Personally, I think the modern baseball team construction is about developing pitching first, and then buying hitting on the open market if you need to.  So, even given that we’re relatively thin on hitters at the lower levels, I don’t have a problem getting more and better arms if that’s what pops up on the radar.

(Boswell agrees, says, “go pitching,” noting that the Nats limiting factor is developing 1-2-3 starters).

Q: (paraphrased): What value does BABIP give?
A: For context, Boswell’s latest column was about Espinosa and the fact that he has a ridiculously low BABIP right now.

As Boswell notes, BABIP gives a context of just how lucky or unlucky a hitter (or pitcher for that matter) has been.  A pitcher with a low BABIP (like Tom Gorzelanny for us right now at .239) is eventually going to return to the mean.  A pitcher with a high BABIP is most likely unlucky and probably will experience a natural lowering of his ERA over time.

One factor to remember; a high-bunter will maintain an above average BABIP (like our favorite ex-leadoff hitter Nyger Morgan).  And, a skilled directional hitter (such as Rod Carew as mentioned by Boswell, but also someone like Wade Boggs) can maintain a higher-than league average BABIP just based on skill.  Ty Cobb, generally considered one of the best bunters of all time in addition to being one of the most prolific and skill ful hitters, maintained a .378 career BABIP.  That’s pretty amazing.

(Boswell more or less agreed with what I wrote).

Q: (paraphrased) Do we think that Riggleman’s style of managing has cost the team lately?
A: The team is awful in one-run games right now, and Boswell included a slight “dig” at Riggleman, quoting Earl Weaver‘s “play for one run early, lose by one run late” idiom and calling Riggleman a “small ball” manager.  Coincidentally, this column rankled Riggleman, who responded the next day with a blunt rebuttal.

To a certain degree I agree with the anti-small ball, anti-giving up outs sentiment; i’m not sure I like bunting guys over in the first or 2nd innings, assuming you’re not going to get to a starter.  Look at the 5/31 game; the Nats and their 2nd worst offense in the league hit THREE homers off of Halladay.  Who would have thought that?

That being said, I find it really tough to blame Riggleman for this team’s performance, at all.  Zimmerman out, LaRoche batting .187, Ankiel not much better.  These were the guts of this team’s proposed lineup and they’ve been missing or horrible all season.  The pitching staff management has been good for the most part.  We’re 2 games below our pythagorean W/L record but that’s probably mostly due to the outlier 17-5 game in Baltimore.

Riggleman isn’t the reason this team is 22-31; injuries are.  Blame the injuries, not the manager.  Well, injuries and an artificially low payroll for this market (but that’s another topic).

(Boswell doesn’t like Riggleman’s small-ball mentality and thinks he overmanages, as far as I can tell).

Q: Based on Zimmerman’s injury and LaRoche’s lack of productivity, does this team still have a shot to reach 75 wins?
A: They’re 22-31 now, on pace for 67 wins and a worse record than last year.  To finish with 75 wins they have to go 53-56 the rest of the way out.

Sorry, they’re not going to be a .500 team from here on out.  The bullpen is showing signs of wear, the starters are slowly declining to the point where all 5 are below a 100 era+, and there’s really nobody to bring up from AAA to stem the flow (as we saw on sunday with Maya’s mauling).

Getting back to last year’s 69 wins is a new team goal, frankly.

(Boswell somehow thinks the team still has a shot to reach 75 wins …. ).

Q: (paraphased) Are the Nats losing due to lack of talent, lack of fundamentals, or lack of accountability?
A: I’d say its lack of offensive talent.  Fundamentally you do see things here or there (bad decisions by fielders or baserunning errors) but the errors are way down lately.  Accountability?  Yes there was the Werth blowup recently, and perhaps he was pissed at some rookie behaviors.  We’ll never know; he clammed up and stopped talking to the press about it.

(Boswell lays the blame on Rizzo, interestingly.  Not sure I agree; how is a lack of production on the field the fault of Kasten’s departure from the club?  I do agree with Boswell in saying that this non-story will pass once the team has a winning streak).

Q: (paraphrased) Do the owners care that Nats-Phillies games in Washington become essentially Philly home games?
A: Personally, I don’t think the Lerners care.  They see a big gate, lots of revenue, lots of beers sold and lots of hot dogs consumed.  If they could schedule 81 home games against the phillies and make an extra $50M in gate, they’d be completely happy.

And that is kinda sad.  Its clear they’re running the franchise as a business and have profit targets in mind.  That sucks for fans b/c it means we’ll never really get a free-spending, open the checkbooks and go for it kind of owner.  Personally I hope some sort of payroll modifications are put into the next CBA, if only to prevent potential abuses of revenue sharing from profit-minded owners (see Lerner, Jeffrey or Nutting, Robert).

(Boswell didn’t directly address any opinion of the Lerners … just alluded to how he thinks he was a bad ass when he was in his teens).

Q: (paraphrased): How does the Nats farm system rank right now for positional players?
A: Most pundits don’t rank positional versus pitchers when looking at farm systems, but generally speaking the major analysts have the Nats farm system in the middle of the pack (12th-13th) right now.  It is slightly top heavy b/c of Harper.

A quick look at the system seems to show some good starters (Cole, Ray, Solis) and good hitters (Kelso, Harper) in low-A, scattered bright spots in high-A (Hague, Hood), a couple of bright spots in AA (Peacock, Lombardozzi, Norris) and a couple of very interesting arms in AAA (Meyer, Milone).  But that’s not enough depth, at all.

(Boswell thinks the system is weak).

Q: What is the future plans of these players: Moore, Norris, Lombardozzi, Detwiler and Balester?
A: Moore was old for Potomac last year but is doing well enough in AA.  Even if he doesn’t hit 30 homers he’s still an interesting prospect for now.  Norris is absolutely a future MLB catcher; he’s struggled post wrist surgery.  Lombardozzi could be at the least a good MLB utility infielder and i’m hoping he moves up and replaces the likes of Cora/Bixler/Hairston on the mlb roster.  Detwiler i’m concerned about; he’s not pitching well at all right now in AAA and I think he’s hurt.  Balester did well in a relief mode late last season and should be on the MLB roster if not for option statuses of several guys in that pen.  Longer term he has a live arm and should stick as a righty option for the extended future.

(Boswell doesn’t think as much of Balester as I do, but likes Norris and Lombardozzi).

Q: Are the veterans jumping ship on Riggleman (based on Werth comments and Marquis blow-up)?
A: I don’t think so … its way too early.  Its 50 games into a 7 year career for Werth.  He’s competitive, serious  and doesn’t like to lose.  The team has lost a bunch of games lately.  I think that’s all the Werth comments were about.

Marquis’ irritation in having an easy win taken away from him was understandable; he’s in a contract year, he’s taken plenty of losses in games where he’s pitched well enough to earn the win, and he felt like he should have been given that “free” win as a result.  I would have been pissed as well.

This whole team is veterans who should know their roles.  Cora, Hairston, Ankiel, Nix … every acquisition in the offseason was a vet.

(Boswell inexplicably reminds us that Riggleman and Boras are best buddies … in the context of what?  Because Werth is represented by Boras, somehow Werth will cut Riggleman a break?)

Q; (paraphrased) Was Alex Cora’s base-running really a gaffe?
A: Yes, absolutely.  He said he was running on contact, which is a mistake.  He HAS to make sure that ball clears the pitcher and watch the pitcher begin to make a 1-6-3 double play attempt.  (Boswell thinks Cora was right, which I disagree with, but also says it was a bad break, which is true).

Q: Is the Nats record in one-run games all Riggleman’s fault?
A: I’m sure he has something to do with it, but i don’t think you can put it all at his feet.  Boswell points out that Riggleman’s record versus the pythagorean is a massive outlier in comparison to top managers in the game  historically, and lists his “sentimental” managing as a result.  Hard to argue against that.  But its also much harder to win one-run games when you have an offense that barely scores 3.5 runs a game while your pitching staff usually gives up 4.

Q: (paraphrased): Is Davey Johnson waiting in the wings for Riggleman’s job?
A: Maybe.  who knows.  Put a better product on the field before killing the manager.  (Boswell says the team needs to spend more money in its manager budget).

That was fun!  He took a gazillion questions.

Written by Todd Boss

June 2nd, 2011 at 9:52 am

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