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 9/6/11 edition


(This is a week old … i had it queued up but forgot to post it.  I’m assuming that he will talk mostly football in today’s chat but i’ll write up a response for later this week…)

I didn’t think Boswell would do a chat, given that his normal day (Monday) was a holiday this week.  How overjoyed was I to see that he did one Tuesday morning 9/6.   As always, “questions” are edited for clarity and space, I ignore anything not Nats/Baseball related and I write my response before reading his.

Q: What was the rationale behind having Strasburg’s first MLB pitch count limit be LOWER than his last rehab starts?

A: Simple; MLB hitters are a heck of a lot tougher to get out, so more effort per-pitch is required.  Boswell just says they’re being ultra-conservative.

Q: Does Davey Johnson get a mulligan for his W/L record?

A: Not in this opinion.  I think the team should have some concerns over how a .500 team has slumped so badly since Riggleman left town.  I don’t think the game has passed him by, ala Joe Gibbs with the Redskins, but a 12 year gap between managing jobs may have left its toll.  Boswell, predictably, intones his whole “Johnson is the best manager in the last 50 years” response.  Yeah, but his team is significantly worse than with his predecessor and he’s making pretty questionable moves on the field.

Q: Is Mike Rizzo already considering the Nats a feather in his GM cap (by virtue of being considered for the Cubs GM job)?

A: Yes, and it should be.  Its hard to understate just how badly constructed the final Bowden version of this team was, especially considering the bullpen.   Here was your pitching corps for opening day 2009:

  • Starters : Lannan (L), Olsen (L), Cabrera, Martis
  • Middle relief: Beimel, Hinckley (loogy), Ledezma, Shell, Tavarez
  • Setup/Closer : Rivera, Hanrahan

Of this group: Ledezma and Shell were DFA’d within 3 weeks of opening day, Hinckley was cut a month after that.  Olsen got hurt, Cabrera was cut after 7 weeks, Tavarez was released in July after being awful for about a month straight, and Hanrahan sported a 6+ era in the closer role before being traded.  Now THAT is a debacle of a pitching staff.

Rizzo has remade the entire 40-man roster, quickly.  He has drafted well and has our farm system from being considered one of the worst to quickly being considered among the best.  And he’s done all of this while improving the team and keeping payroll relatively constant.  I think he’s been mostly a success since being named (Werth signing and Willingham trades excepted).

Boswell says overall he’s doing a good job.

Q: Phillies or the field in October?

A: Given the coin-flip nature of playoff series, I’ll take the field.  I still think the Phillies are good enough to win and *should* make the WS (along with Boston).  But you just don’t know what can happen once the playoff series start.  Boswell takes the field, barely.

Q: Do the Nats need to look elsewhere for a hitting coach?

A: I just have a hard time believing that any hitting coach can really make that much of a difference.  Boswell notes that the entire lineup strikes out with incredibly high rates, and how can that possibly be the hitting coach’s fault?

Q: Is there too much hype surrounding Strasburg, as compared to the other key players on this team?

A: Yeah, but what can you do?  Strasburg attracts national media attention because he’s, well, potentially the best pitching prospect ever.  When he struck out 14 guys in his MLB debut it set the tone for his starts being must-watch.  I think its great, because the better the team does the more the rest of the players will get noticed and get their due (especially Zimmerman vis-a-vis MVP voting).  Boswell says Zimmerman needs and deserves more attention, then throws a nugget about Morse ducking the press after his big 2-homer day.

Q: What are your expectations for Strasburg’s first start?

A: (answering this AFTER the start): I expected  him to get hit frankly.  I thought he’d go 5 innings and give up a couple runs, a few hits.  I didn’t expect a near no-hitter through 5.  Boswell predicted 4ip, 3 hits, 1 run, 1 walk and 5 k’s.  pretty close!

Q: Thoughts on the Moneyball concept, now that its been around for 10 years?

A: I think the primary concept; focusing on statistical analysis of players, ignoring conventional scouting cliches, looking at OBP to find hidden gems and building winning clubs on a budget via player development, prospect acquisition and drafting has become the standard and not the exception across baseball.  In fact, Beane is now clearly behind the curve when you compare what GMs like Andrew Friedman and Theo Epstein are pulling off on a regular basis.  I will also say that while Beane’s approach was novel, the book failed to really give credit where credit was due; the 2000-2 A’s were that good because they had 4 a-one starters.  Boswell mostly agrees.

Q: Does Werth strike out too much?

A: Yeah, he does.  He takes a lot of pitches and takes a lot of called third strikes.  Boswell defends him.

Q: What is Morse’s contract status?  When will the team “unload him?”

A: Per Cot’s, amazingly we have him for 2 more years under arbitration control.  His arb hearing this coming off season should be interesting; he should go from $1.05M to probably $4-5M.  I hope the team just buys out his years and keeps him around for 2014 as well, so that the whole nucleus of hitters is guaranteed to be together for a while.

The pre-arbitration or even arbitration-controlled player is the best value in baseball.  Morse isn’t going anywhere, unless its in his walk year and the team is struggling and he features as a type-A FA.  Boswell says Morse isn’t going anywhere.

Q: Why did Adam Dunn fall off a cliff?

A: To me, a combination of factors.  New town, big contract and big expectations, and a new league all contribute.  But I think the whole DH concept has made it difficult for Dunn to focus and stay concentrated on the game.  Boswell says all of the above and maybe more.

Q: Will Livan pass Rizzo another “salary note” and will Rizzo accept?

A: Probably.  Hopefully Livan will price himself a bit higher than this year.  And even if Livan accepts the long-man role at (say) $1.5M a year, that’s a steal.  And I hope Rizzo takes it.  Boswell didn’t really answer this part of the question til later, then says that a $1M insurance policy for your starting rotation is the best deal in baseball.  He just hopes the Florida Marlins don’t come in and swipe him with a better offer.

Q: Is Tyler Clippard ok?

A: He definitely seems to be struggling lately.  His game-logs show the upwards progression of his ERA from 1.58 on 8/1 to the 2.04 it sits at today.  He could just be wearing down after so many  high-leverage innings.  Boswell says he talked w/ Clippard, who spotted a mechanical problem (he was flying open) and fixed it.

4 Responses to 'My Answers to Boswell’s Chat questions 9/6/11 edition'

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  1. RE: Q1 – if I recall correctly from Znn’s rehab, the nats have players work up to a pitch count at each successive level as they progress. I think that what Strasburg even did during his rise. So Ulithi would only make sense for his pitch count to have been lowered. Your answer is one of the reasons behind the rise/falle method.


    12 Sep 11 at 4:01 pm

  2. Ulithi? rise/falle method? I’m not sure I follow.

    If it were me controlling his rehab … i’m not sure he’d even be in the majors right now frankly. Zimmermann was eased back for sure … but look at his game log from 2010 . His first start back he went 70 pitches but got hammered and got the hook. 2nd start back he went 86, and then was between 76 and 83 the rest of the way. Strasburg isn’t up to that level yet, and its troubling. To me he should be working back to 90-100 pitches in the minors, not at the majors. Bad timing yes with the minor league systems ending, probably why he’s doing what he’s doing.

    Todd Boss

    12 Sep 11 at 4:09 pm

  3. One clarifying point on the ‘Moneyball’ question: Beane and company were seeking to take advantage of the market inefficiencies that existed at the time. As you note, those included under-valuing OBP, over-valuing some of the traditional scouting cliches, etc. As you point out, many of those inefficiencies have now been corrected. But the lesson to take away today — for the Nats or anyone else — is to get ahead of curve and try to identify any new inefficiencies that may have developed.

    Eugene in Oregon

    13 Sep 11 at 7:17 pm

  4. Definitely agree. Also continue think that the book grossly overstated what Beane was doing, while giving nearly no credence to the primary reason that the A’s were so good (a pitching staff that Beane mostly inherited that was one of the best trio of young arms in the last 30 years). Buzz Bissinger sums it up nicely here;

    I laugh now when people still think Billy Beane is the best GM in the business. He may have held that title during his hey-day when he was squeezing blood out of the A’s payroll stone, but no longer. Theres at least 10 GMs out there who are clearly better at balancing wins, player development and payroll than Beane has been lately.

    In reality, even stat-heavy analysts would (begrudingly) agree that sabremetrics and traditional scouting should go hand in hand. You can’t just evaluate a player by looking at his OBP, and you shouldn’t just see one or two HS games in April and decide you’ve found the next Josh Hamilton.

    Todd Boss

    13 Sep 11 at 11:07 pm

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