Nationals Arm Race

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

My Answers to Boswell’s Chat Questions 7/5/11 edition


Here’s Boswell’s 7/5/11 chat.  As always, I read the question, write my own answer then interpret Boswell’s answer.  All questions are paraphrased from the chatroom for clarity here.

Q: Should the Nats move Espinosa to Short, making room for Rendon?

A: I believe the Nats may eventually consider moving Danny Espinosa to shortstop to make way for either Anthony Rendon but perhaps Steve Lombardozzi in the near future.  For the beginning of 2012 season?  I doubt it.  Yes, Ian Desmond has been hitting ridiculously badly, but he’s a plus defender at Short with an absolute gun of an arm.  He’s cut way down on errors and mental mistakes.  We all believe Espinosa can handle the position (he was a grade-A short stop at Long Beach State), but the right answer may be to give Desmond one more full season before pulling the trigger.  Any move would be done in a spring training presumably.  (Boswell more or less agrees, saying Lombardozzi will be a full time MLBer, Desmond moves too much in the box, and that Espinosa has better hands but not as much range).

Q: Did Harper skip high-A because of Potomac’s field situation?

A: Great question.  Personally I believe Potomac’s field disaster factored into the situation.  Perhaps part protection of Bryce Harper (who was promoted to AA over the weekend and went 2/3 in his AA debut), part penalization of the ownership/management of the  Potomac franchise (which they must believe has botched this badly, to be giving away home dates).  Of course there is the plain fact that Harper, despite his young age, held his own against AA-calibre talent and higher in 2010’s Arizona Fall League and he may just be ready for AA.  (Boswell punts on the question, quoting Rizzo who said “the field is fine, it had nothing to do with it.”  A non-answer.)

Q: What are the chances Michael Morse wins the “last man standing” all-star vote?

A: I’ll say slim, based on who he’s up against (here’s a link to the voting).  Ethier, Helton, Victorino, and Ian Kennedy are the candidates.  I’d guess that either Victorino or Helton wins, though Ethier is a deserving candidate.  Nobody’s heard of Michael Morse unfortunately.  (Boswell thinks Philly fans will vote in Victorino).

Q: Is Ryan Zimmerman’s new throwing motion working?

A: It seems not; if anything its causing even more problems.  Zimmerman used to make most of his errors on relatively routine throws over to first; if he’s making a throw under duress it is usually spot on.  So the new motion is designed to remove the scatter-arm throws.  But now, instead of making a routine throw and it getting into his head, he’s got this new motion into his head.  I can’t see how its an improvement.  For me when playing the answer was always to go to a side arm motion to gain accuracy but I was playing from middle-infield positions that didn’t require long, overhand throws like what the third baseman has to do.  (Boswell thinks it is working and that Zimmerman needs a bit longer to get comfortable with it).

Q: Was it too early, too late or the right time to promote Harper?

A: From a productivity standpoint it was probably too late; he clearly owned how-A pitching after just a few weeks.  But, from a “learning how to be a baseball player” standpoint its just right.  Finish out a half, a playoff-run, get a bunch of road trips in and get used to playing day after day.  Now he can move up and get challenged by better pitching.  Personally I would have put him in high-A for an incremental improvement.  Run him up to AA if he dominated in Potomac, else start him at AA next year with an eye to move him quickly to AAA.  I think there’s value in growing into your role.  (Boswell says it was the right time to promote, but not to which level, and then compares Harper’s minor league splits to A-Rods and Ken Griffey Jr’s).

Q: How much credit should we give Rizzo the GM for 4 specific moves that paid off (Ramos-Capps, Willingham trade, letting Dunn walk and failing to get Greinke)?

A: I give Rizzo some good, some bad for his moves over the past year or so.  The Ramos for Capps trade was spectacular.  The Guzman trade (something for nothing) was quality.  His purchase of Bixler has turned out well.  I think we got fleeced on the Willingham deal frankly and think this team could have used the offense.  Dunn was never going to stay here so I don’t know how much credit you can give Rizzo for purposely picking up the draft picks.  He overpaid badly for Werth (for reasons that have been discussed ad-naseum here and were bigger than just the player).  I liked the acquisition of Gorzelanny for what we gave up.  His two rule5 draft picks were garbage.  Cora and Nix on minor league contracts has turned out great.  He got a decent AA starter for Gonzalez but a middling low-A infielder for Morgan.  He wanted and was going to pay for Greinke, who i think is vastly over-rated, had one good season and is by no means an “ace” in this league.  He’s a solid guy but not a $100m pitcher.  (Boswell points out the Hanrahan-Burnett deal is looking bad for the Nats; I’ll defend the Nats there since Hanrahan was SO bad for us.  Boswell also mentions Aaron Crow for some reason; that non-signing was 110% on Bowden, not Rizzo).

Q: Are Nats buyers or sellers at the trade deadline?

A: This answer will vary day by day between now and 7/31 honestly.  If the Nats go on a 5 game losing streak they’re selling like mad. Right this moment, they’re probably doing nothing, stuck into inactivity by virtue of their .500 record and proximity to the wild card race.  (Boswell agrees, saying the team’s record on July 28th is what matters).

Q: Will the Nats over pay and sign Marquis and Livan for next season?

A: God I hope not.  Marquis should be jettisoned to make way for Strasburg’s return.  Livan is worth 1.5-2m/per, but not much more.  If he demands more cut him loose.  Livan at this point is merely a holding over pitcher until our farm system prospects pan out.  (Boswell seems to think that Detwiler could make an able replacement for Marquis, either this August/September or later on).

Q: Is Werth unable to get around on fastballs?

A: I don’t have enough video evidence to offer an opinion.  Boswell says he’s just trying too hard, his mechanics are out of whack.

Q: Thoughts on the all-star rosters?

A: Havn’t even looked at them.  Looking them up to comment here.  Don’t care really; the all-star rosters will always have too many Red Sox, too many Yankees and too many Asians from ballot-box stuffing.  I can’t stand the “every team must be represented” issue, which dilites the team and gives players cheap all star appearances.  I think the fact that the world series home field advantage depends on this exhibition is beyond ridiculous.  So doing a 2500 word column nit picking the all-star selections is just July column filler for most baseball writers.  For me its like complaining about the BCS: its never going to change.  Let other people bitch about the fact that Derek Jeter has basically been awful this year, not the best.

I will say that the manager’s selecting the pitchers is ridiculous.  Yes Vogelsong has had a great season but he’s not who the fans want to see in the all star game, nor is he one of the best 15 pitchers in the league.  Picking middle relievers?  Ridiculous as well.

(Boswell says he likes the rosters and won’t waste an answer on what could give him an easy column!)

Q: How much money is Pujols’ injury- and poor-performance season costing him?  Would he take a 1-year deal to regain value?
A: Great question.  I think Pujols poor season has already cost him a shot at a 10-yr/$300M contract that many spoke of.  He’s clearly going to lose years and value.  I think he deserves a 7yr deal that pays him more per-annum than A-rod, and it may be what he’s shooting for.  I do not think he’ll take a one-year deal.  Too much can go wrong, too risky.  Even if he doesn’t get the years and money he seeks, you cannot blow the opportunity to guarantee hundreds of millions of dollars.  (Boswell wouldn’t even give him 7 years right now).

Q: Could Lombardozzi come up and force a replacement of Desmond in 2011?

A: No way.  There’s little value in yanking Desmond in mid-august, forcing Espinosa to move to shortstop with no work all year and possibly disrupt a Rookie-of-the-Year season AND do the 40-man move to add Lombardozzi just for a few games in the bigs.   (Boswell answered by defending Desmond, calling him a 10-year career shortstop.  He needs to start hitting though).

Q: Comments on the Soriano “hit” that scored 2 runs?

A: An official scorer just can’t give Bernadina an error on a ball that drops in front of him, despite it clearly being a fielding mistake.  Its one more piece of evidence showing how inaccurate ERAs are for pitchers.  Zimmermann had Soriano popped up and was out of the inning; suddenly he’s given up 2 earned runs that he didn’t deserve.  To me, it looked like Bernadina lost the ball in the over-cast sky.  (Boswell points out that the play perfectly encapsulates why the team doesn’t think Bernadina is the long term answer in center.  Well, duh, I could have told you that was the case long before this play!)

Q: Why aren’t the Nats hitting?/How much accountability does Rick Eckstein have in this situation?

A: Honestly, I’ve never thought that a hitting coach really could impact what a major leaguer could do.  Be it out of respect, or lack thereof.  If everyone thinks Werth’s mechanics are out of whack, why hasn’t he fixed them?  Its an easy video fix right?

Werth is trying too hard.  Espinosa’s babip is awful.  Desmond just isn’t that good.  Morse is good but has holes that pundits/scouts like Keith Law think are going to get exposed.  Zimmerman is just getting back in the saddle.  Willingham and Dunn (despite what they’re doing in 2010) were stable, high OBP forces in this lineup and when they left, there was major disruption.  LaRoche has always been a slow starter, complicated (as we eventually found out) by a bad shoulder injury.  (Boswell ducked the question as I have, but gives some interesting analysis of just how not-so-bad the team really is offensively right now).

Q: Why is Nyjer Morgan suddenly good again?  Same question for Kearns, Felipe Lopez and (possibly) Werth?

A: Morgan needed a change of scenery, and has taken advantage of it.  Same goes for Hanrahan, and in that respect that trade has worked out well for Pittsburgh.  Kearns never wanted to be traded here; he is from Kentucky and liked it in Cincinnati.  Once he got his balloon payment here he never earned the contract.  Lopez is a special case; a good player with an awful attitude, and he’s earned a one-way ticket out of several towns by now.  I wouldn’t put Werth in any of these classes; he’s hard-nosed, plays hard, doesn’t play dirty, doesn’t show-boat, and takes his craft seriously.  (Boswell just says that change of scenery is sometimes good, without throwing (especially) Lopez under the bus).

Q: Why is Sean Burnett still on the roster?

A: True, his 2011 numbers have been pretty bad.  But one really bad game can make 3 weeks worth of good look awful.  Look at his game logs; he’s been pretty good lately except for one or two blow ups.  The team needs a loogy, Burnett actually gives them more than just a one-out guy, and he was pretty good last year.  Way too early to give up on him, to say nothing of the fact that there’s very little in AAA or even AA to replace him.  We’re still trying to replace our actual LOOGY Slaten, signing JC Romero and possibly looking at Severino or even Chico at some point.  (Boswell agrees).

Q: What are we going to do with Rendon?

A: Wait for him to prove he belongs, then find a spot.  He hasn’t signed yet, could get injured again and be a total bust, or he could hit like the 2nd coming of Alex Rodriguez in the minors and shoot up to earn MLB at bats inside a year.  If he forces his way onto the roster then you make room for him.  Install him at 2nd, move Espinosa to short.  Or, put Rendon in left and keep your current MI.  Maybe Zimmerman wants out of town after 2013 and Rendon naturally moves to third.  Maybe the entire team gets hit by a bus and we start over from scratch.  Way too much can happen with minor league prospects to make intelligent predictions til they get to AAA.  (Boswell’s answer rambled on about the state of the team … saying we’re much further along than intimated in the question).

Q: Why are the crowds booing Jayson Werth?

A: Probably because he’s in an extended slump, combined with a massive paycheck that most of us now have been told is vastly over-paying him.  Nobody likes it when an overpaid co-worker struggles with his assignments; it makes you really question why you’re working at that job in the first place.  Trust me, if he starts hitting the boo-ing will stop.   (Boswell kinda understands the crowd’s displeasure with Werth right now).

Q: Is Werth miscast as a team leader?

A: Perhaps.  I think clearly in Philadelphia he was one of many hitting cogs in a powerful lineup and they covered for each other.  Now, he’s much more in focus (especially with LaRoche’s issues and Zimmerman’s absence).  However, does he HAVE to be a leader by virtue of his contract?  No.  Zimmerman is a natural leader, as is Desmond.  We have veteran pitching that can take the media brunt.  But lets be honest; we don’t live in NYC with a 24-hour yankees news cycle.  There’s, what, 5 beat reporters in total for this team (Ladson, Goessling, Kilgore, Zuckerman and Comack), so that’s not a ton of people asking you questions night after night.  (Boswell agrees, Werth doesn’t have good media presence).

Q: Did the Lerner’s err in naming Davey Johnson as the new manager?

A: Can’t say just quite yet.  Johnson was clearly an excellent manager in his time.  Has the game passed him by?  Unlike in professional football, where clearly Joe Gibbs was exposed as being too old and too out of touch with the modern game during his return to the sidelines for the Washington Redskins, Baseball strategy and management moves at a slower pace.  Since Johnson last managed, there are no major changes in the rules of the game or the basic strategy.  If anything, the major change in the game lies in the renewed emphasis on defense and pitching in the steroid-less game.  Statistics and analysis has vastly increased in importance, but Johnson was already ahead of the curve in those departments when he was managing (and he was a Math major to boot, meaning he should not be wary of such heavy numerical analysis in the sport).  That all being said, only time will tell.  What was the team lacking under Riggleman that Johnson can bring to the table?  Perhaps the answer is basic; accomplishment and veteran respect.  (Boswell ridiculed the question and picked at its points, as opposed to talking about what Johnson may bring to the table).

Q: Do the Nationals ushers need to do more to enforce fan etiquette at the stadium?

A: Probably.  The questioner complains about people being allowed to move freely mid-inning.  I don’t notice a ton while I go to games, because our season tickets are relatively close to the field and the movement here and there isn’t too bad to notice.  We did experience a rather concerning issue on 7/4; we apparently had duplicate tickets to others that we found sitting in our seats.  We never really asked to see the tickets in question (not wanting to irk the woman sitting in our seats, who was clearly combative).  But the usher mentioned that the day before he saw no less than FOUR tickets issued for the same seat.  That doesn’t make any sense to me really; the seats are all season ticket-owned seats in the 100 sections.  Something weird is going on.  (Boswell says the questioner makes good sense).

13 Responses to 'My Answers to Boswell’s Chat Questions 7/5/11 edition'

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  1. Did you mean Amanda Comack instead of Hudack?


    7 Jul 11 at 12:58 pm

  2. Yes, sorry. Amanda Comak. missed that on the proof. I’ll fix the post.

    Todd Boss

    7 Jul 11 at 2:01 pm

  3. I have to say that it’s waaay too early to say that Rizzo got “fleeced” in the Willingham trade. The present value of the trade is much closer than I believed it would be a the time – while Corey Brown started lousy and has only recently showed signs of life at AAA, Henry Rodriguez has been very good and could be excellent as he develops. When he’s hitting his spots with his fastball and slider he’s almost literally untouchable. OTOH Hammer had his usual fast start, tailed off and got injured. His 2011 slash is .231/.307/.410, his OPS+ is below league average (97) and he’s hurt. Again. His corner outfield position is being ably held down by Nix, and before that Michael Morse – both of whom have been better offensively than Willingham this year. It’s safe to say that if Willingham had been retained, the Nationals never would have signed Nix. For these reasons there is a pretty compelling argument to be made that the Nationals are better offensively in 2011 without Willingham than they would have been with him – and offense is the only real reason to have the Hammer on your team.

    But that’s mostly irrelevant, because the trade was more for the future than 2011. Willingham is going to be a free agent after this year, isn’t more than a marginal chance for Type B free agency, and had no place on the Nats going forward. While left field is being handled by caretakers, the corner spots are earmarked for Werth and Harper. So if Henry Rodriguez (likely) and/or Corey Brown (less likely) are contributing members of the Nationals after 2011, then the trade is a slam dunk positive. Unless you think that someone else was going to offer substantially more than HRod and Brown for one arbitration season of Willingham, and if you do then I’d like to see what that offer was going to be, then “fleeced” is a tough argument to sustain.

    John C.

    7 Jul 11 at 2:15 pm

  4. Sorry, I disagree. Willingham was traded for 1) a middle reliever with a big arm and nearly a 1/1 k/bb ratio without options and who we had to invent a DL reason to prevent losing him at the beginning of the season and 2) a AAA outfielder who can’t hit his weight at any level above AA. Middle relievers are a dime a dozen; we’ve gone through dozens of them in the last 5 years. Yes Rodriguez throws really hard and periodically he really looks awesome. But there’s far too many crummy outings to balance out the good ones.

    To me, the return is not nearly what was given up. Because that “return” could have been nearly duplicated by two minor league free agents. And you’re not going to tell me that Willingham was barely worth two 4-A players. That’s essentially why I think we “lost” the trade.

    I’m not going to kill Willingham’s production right now; he moved cities, moved 5 hours away from the east coast where he’s from, he plays on a sh*tty franchise and in an even worse stadium. AND he switched leagues. I look at his OPS+ values when he was here. 129 and 127. Morse’s and Nix’s OPS+ values are comparable or higher right now sure (143 and 129 last time i checked) but both guys’ BABIP are in the 350 range (meaning we may expect a correction downards) and Nix is essentially a John Lowenstein-platoon player versus lefties (splits are way skewed).

    You’re wrong about his Free agency status too; up until a couple weeks he was projecting as a type A (per the 7/3/11 rankings he’s now just on the A/B cusp.

    In reality, my guess is that Rizzo already had figured he wasn’t going to offer Wilingham arbitration after 2011, thus negating the free agency compensation in the first place, and just traded him for whatever he could get. He knew he wanted more power arms in the pen and he needed a center fielder, so that’s what he got; 2 replacement-level guys that fit that bill. All that because he was in such a hurry to replace Willingham’s “plodding defense” in left field.

    Rizzo’s been lucky that Nix worked out. He’s even luckier that Morse is defying the luck and the opinion of scouts out there and continuing his hot streak. Because i don’t think either were assured. For me, i’d much rather have just stuck with Willingham out there in a position that you can afford to give up some defense in, for continuity and clubhouse reasons.

    Todd Boss

    7 Jul 11 at 2:34 pm

  5. Now explain where you would play Willingham? Given LaRoche (let’s ignore his injury) AND ALL-STAR candidate Mike Morse? Let’s put Willingham (who again has been injured at least TWICE on the DL twice. Isn’t very mobile and has BAD KNEES?

    Willingham: .237/.307/.718 22 BB 76 K’s. 11 doubles 10 home runs. 257/229 PA/BA
    Morse : .301/.350/.889 14 BB 62K’s, 16 doubles, 15 home runs. 280/256 PA/BA
    Nix : .279/.317/.831 12 BB 59K’s, 11 doubles 12 home runs, 227/208 PA/BA

    And Nix bats left-handed and can play both left field, right field as well as first base. PLUS WAIT FOR IT: THEY’RE BOTH YOUNGER!!!! And NOT as injury prone?
    WAIT! In the AL Willingham can DH, if he can’t play a position in the NL you’re screwed if he can’t move. There’s more: Harper is playing left field in Harrisburg?

    This is when you come across as far less than well informed … either that or you are a die hard Willingham fan.

    That may have been the smartest move that Rizzo made getting rid of Willingham before he completely fell apart. And Rizzo and his new cadre of scouts knew this in advance. Just as they calculated that Dunn, because of his lack of physical conditioning (relatively speaking) was due to slip.

    Stop. You make yourself look very foolish.


    7 Jul 11 at 2:48 pm

  6. Rodriguez is not a AAAA player. He looks like a potential closer in the offing. He along with Storen and Mattheus make up a better back of the bullpen than what we saw last year. Even with Peralta’s good year.

    The jury is still out on Corey Brown. Remember, many said as much as about Willy Mo Pena and what is he doing right now? Let’s let the test of time finish the evaluation. Let’s see if Willingham can survive another season on those knees. Remember, its why he had to give up being a catcher and that is the position he played his entire minor league career.


    7 Jul 11 at 2:51 pm

  7. Rizzo decided not to trade Morse just because he wanted to see what the results of all the work Rick Eckstein put in with him. He said as much Todd. Are you saying you know more than Rizzo and professional scouts? Thought so. They saw a lot more that they aren’t saying in public about both Dunn and Willingham.


    7 Jul 11 at 2:54 pm

  8. The statement that started this was not “how good of a player is Willingham in 2011” or “is Willingham in 2011 better or worse than Morse in 2011?” Because, as is patently obvious, those two answers are easy.

    The statement was (phrased as a question): Did Rizzo get fleeced in the Willingham deal? Straight up, Is Corey Brown (hitting .206 in AAA) and Henry Rodriguez (a middle-reliever who only recently could be “trusted” in close games) worth Josh Willingham? I still say No its not.

    The rest of the points you are making are hindsight is 20-20 kinds of things.

    Personally, I think we should have kept Willingham, put him at first, NOT signed LaRoche and seen what happened in left between Nix and Morse in left. Who is to say Willingham would have been less injury prone by staying at first?

    Todd Boss

    7 Jul 11 at 3:43 pm

  9. Rodriguez’s bb/9 is above 6.0 His whip is a runner and a half an inning. He’s a mediocre middle reliever who happens to have a 100mph arm. He’s Joel Zumaya without the injuries.

    Mattheus has, what, 5 innings of MLB experience? And you’re ready to annoint him the solution to a back-of-the-bullpen issue?

    Corey Brown; yes the jury may still be out but the evidence is damning. He’s repeating AAA and is showing ZERO improvement.

    You’re using Wily Mo Pena (aka, the king of AAA) as proof to show, what? That there’s guys out there who can dominate in the minors and be god-awful in the majors? yeah, I think we knew that already. And Corey Brown is NOT dominating in AAA. not even close. He’s hitting .206. So i’m not sure what your Pena-to-Brown comparison is for?

    Todd Boss

    7 Jul 11 at 3:46 pm

  10. If Eckstein is such a brilliant hitting coach, how come Werth’s mechanics are completely out of whack and he’s hitting 50 points below his career average?

    Both the Dunn and the Willingham deals came down to defense. Neither of them are plus defenders, Rizzo wanted plus defense. I GET THAT. I do. And to a certain extent I agree. However I’ve stated this point over and again in this space; you can hide “bad” defensive players on the field in certain spots and gain an advantage from their bat. First Base, Left field and 3rd to a certain extent. That’s what you do.

    You want to talk about hind sight? How about the money we lit on fire for Adam LaRoche when we could have just put Willing ham there. Does that factor in? The fact that LaRoche gave us .172 batting average over 177 at-bats before calling it a season. How much did that cost this team in terms of lost offense versus what we could have kept in Willingham?

    Todd Boss

    7 Jul 11 at 3:50 pm

  11. The smartest part of the Boswell chat was where he thought Rizzo had to lie about why Harper skipped two levels. He thought there might be legal ramifications to saying Pfitzner is too dangerous for Harper to play on.

    Harper was at Hagerstown way too long; in addition to the field, the clubhouse is a disgrace and I’m sure there’s a lot of (justifiable) bitching about the conditions amongst the players.

    Mark L

    7 Jul 11 at 5:40 pm

  12. Todd, I get your points, we’ll just have to agree to disagree. I don’t see HRod as a AAAA player, he’s better than that IMHO. I don’t see Brown as an AAAA player, either – right now he’s barely an AAA player. Brown has a little time to improve, at least until he gets crowded out by someone else. I’m not even arguing that Rizzo “won” the Willingham trade, although I do like it for all the reasons I gave earlier. My objection was to you using the term “fleeced.” And my points about the trade being more about 2012 and beyond than about 2011 stand.

    John C.

    7 Jul 11 at 6:17 pm

  13. A healthy Josh Willlingham is better than Henry Rodriguez and Corey Brown, but that’s the problem: He can’t stay healthy. Rizzo knew this, and I think the other GMs in the league knew it as well. The fact he was able to get anything out of it means I consider it a worthwhile trade.


    8 Jul 11 at 1:44 am

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