Nationals Arm Race

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

Ask Boswell 2/25/13 Edition


When is Anthony Rendon going to be ready for the Majors? Photo Nats Official via

With the first couple of Spring Training games in the books, its fitting that Tom Boswell did a Monday morning chat on 2/25/13.

Here’s how I’d have responded to the Baseball-specific questions he took.  As always, questions are edited for clarity and I write here before reading his response so as not to “color” my answer.

Q: Given that the Nats know almost every player making the roster out of Spring Training, do the players/coaches approach the 6 weeks differently?

A: Good question; I was taking with someone about this exact topic this weekend.  The 25-man roster is essentially already solidifed; perhaps the only question remaining is whether or not Henry Rodriguez makes it onto the team or does the team carry a second lefty reliever (Bill Bray?).  So I think the answer has to do with looking more at the AAA talent, looking at minor league FA signings like Micah Owings and Chris Snyder to see if they’re going to be better options than the guys we already had slated at AAA.  And the coaching staff gets to look at up-and-coming guys like Anthony Rendon, Zach Walters, and the like.  Boswell reiterates what I said here, naming other ML signings of interest like Chris Young, but also says that this ST has a lot of “wasted time.”

Q: I’ve spent the offseason reading Ball Four to help get my baseball fix. Do you have a sense about how different things are now?

A: It has been a while since I read Jim Bouton‘s seminal baseball book Ball Four.   But the season he chronicles (1969) happened before a number of rather important moments in Baseball history.  Expansion, divisional play, the Designated Hitter, the aftermath of the Curtis Flood and Andy Messersmith decisions (aka, Free Agency) and of course the massive increase of money in the game (both from a revenue stand point and from a player salary stand point).  One thing that seems certain to have changed; players can now earn enough in a season to be set financially for life.  And, the players union’s power is now such that players have the upper hand in a lot of negotiations with the league and the owners when it comes to labor unions.  Boswell notes that managers, coaches and GMs are far “smarter” now than they were in the Bouton era.

Q: How the Nats will do at the gate this year?

A: The season ticket base is back to where it was in 2005 apparently, broaching 20,000 season tickets.  The team averaged 29,269 fans last year.  Clearly the attendance seems set to rise significantly.   I think they’ll average 35,000 a night if they continue to be a first-place club.  Boswell agrees, noting that the team also has a couple of very marketable stars to help with attendance.

Q: Other than obvious injuries, are there any things that can happen in the first quarter of the year that you would find to be troubling?

A: I’d be troubled if Danny Espinosa started off slow.  I’d also be concerned if we saw significant regression out of our WBC participants Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler, confirming my fears.  But the most important factor may be the performance of Dan Haren: is he the 2012 Haren or the 2009 Haren?  If he approaches 2009 version, this team may be set for the season.  Boswell notes they have a tough early schedule, that winning 98 games is tough, and that we should be patient.

Q: Gio Gonzalez; did he or didn’t he?

A: I think the prevailing opinion in the sport now seems to be that he did NOT take or receive PEDs from the Miami clinic, and that he was an unfortunate bystander.  His passing a surprise PED test given two days after the scandal seems to have also bolstered his case.   Boswell agrees.

Q: Are the Nats a 98 win team again, or was last year a fluke?

A: Barring a significant injury in the rotation, I think the Nats are easily a 98-win team and perhaps better in 2013.  Statistical WAR “proof” offered in this space back in January, and that was before the LaRoche re-signing and the Soriano pickup, both of which marginally should improve the team a few wins.  Most national pundits that I’ve read think the same thing, that this team could win 103 games.  The various estimator stats out there (Zips, Pecota, etc)  the team much closer to 90 wins, but those predictors are by and large incredibly conservative.  Boswell also says it comes down to health of the rotation.

Q: How would you rate the Nats starting rotation, spot by spot, compared to the rest of the Major Leagues?

A: Spot by Spot, its hard not to think that each of our guys are each at least in the top 5 by position in the league.  Drawing from my Rotational Rankings post from January 7th, 2013, I’d say that:

  • Strasburg is clearly among the best arms in the game (in the discussion along with Verlander, Kershaw, and Hernandez).  He’s not as accomplished as this group of course, but his talent is unquestionable.
  • Gonzalez matches up as a top 5 number two starter (other candidates: Greinke, Hamels, Lincecum or Cain, depending on who you think SF’s “ace” is).
  • Zimmermann is traditionally underrated but is at least a top 5 number three starter (along with Scherzer, Johnson/Morrow, Bumgarner, Lee and Moore).
  • Haren on potential could be the best number four starter in the game, though Buehrle, Miley, and Lynn could also fit in here.
  • Detwiler is often mentioned as being the best number five starter out there, and its hard to find competitors (best options: Zito, Romero, Garcia, and whoever Oakland and St. Louis settle upon for their #5 starters).

Boswell seems worried that these five guys can handle the workload all year, only really trusting Gonzalez in terms of repeatability.

Q: What future do you see for Anthony Rendon, and when will he debut in the majors?

A: I have been of the belief that Zimmerman should move to 1B for Rendon at some point.  But with LaRoche signed for two years, that won’t happen for a while (2 years, perhaps 3 if we pick up his 2015 option).  So now i’m starting to come around to the the possibility of Rendon pushing someone else off their position.  The most likely candidate seems to be Espinosa at 2B.  Despite having Lombardozzi on the 25-man, Rendon is a higher-potential player.  If Espinosa starts slow, and Rendon starts fast, I could see Rendon getting called up in June and starting to get reps at 2nd while Espinosa goes on the DL for his shoulder.  Otherwise, a Sept 1 call-up seems in order.  Boswell predicts a post-all star game call-up.

Q: Is there any way the Nats can stop Detwiler and Gio from pitching in that baseball ‘classic’? I see a disaster waiting to happen. Luis Ayala was never the same after getting hurt pitching in that thing.

A: There’s no way legally the team can prevent either guy from pitching, since neither suffered any injuries in 2012.  And yes I agree (as discussed in this space on 2/11/13) this is bad news for the Nats.  Washington has never had a pitcher play in the WBC who didn’t regress badly, and the stats seem to show that most every pitcher who does participate in the WBC pitches poorly the next two seasons (links in my post).   Boswell says cross your fingers.

Q: Do you think Bryce has it in him to be National League mvp?

A: Yes I do.  MVP voting generally starts with the “Best Player” on the “Best Teams” and creates a short list from there.  It is why it is relatively easy to predict the MVPs.  If Washington is the best team in the league and makes the playoffs again, and Bryce Harper has a break out season, it won’t be hard to see him getting serious MVP consideration.  Now, let me also say that a “Harper for MVP” prediction is NOT the same as predicting that Harper is set to become the best player in the game.  That’s not what the MVP measures.  If the question was, “Is Harper set to become the best player in the National League” i’d then say, “No, he’s a few years away from that distinction.”  Boswell thinks it may be a bit early.

Q: How many wins per year would you estimate a a stellar defense adds to a teams win total over the course of a season?

A: I’m sure there’s a good statistical answer for this, based on the percentage of WAR added by defense.  But it seems like a very difficult answer to come by.  Boswell says “a few.”

Q: Any reason to think he’s NOT going to be the GM for a long time?  Because I can’t think of many others who have done as good a job in all of baseball.

A: I can see no reason for Rizzo not to be the GM for at least the next 4 years.  His next big challenge will be dealing with the inevitable payroll demands of Harper and Strasburg (both of whom project to be $25M players) while also keeping a competitive team on the field.   2017 could be an interesting year for this team; Strasburg projects to hit Free Agency that year, and Harper should be in his 4th arbitration year.  They already have Zimmerman and Werth at $14M and $21M respectively in the 2017 year, with possibly another $40-$45M out the door to keep Harper and Strasburg.  They better start working on the farm system again.  Boswell didn’t really answer the question, just mentioned how Rizzo’s options have yet to be picked up.

Q: How is Ramos looking thus far? 100%? Suzuki is a professional and seems to be a good guy, do you get a feel for how well he and Ramos interact? How great would it be to generate some power/runs from the catcher spot this year.

A: I’ve been assuming that the catcher job is Suzuki‘s to lose for now; its still early but no word has come out negatively on Ramos‘ recovery.  Either way, yes it would be nice to get some production out of the #8 hole.  Suzuki was pretty good after he came over here, but Ramos healthy was a middle-of-the-order bat.  Boswell suggests that Ramos stop blocking the plate.

Q: If Rendon tears it up after September call-up, what does the Nats 2014 infield look like?

A: Wow; hard not to say Rendon replaces Espinosa like-for-like right now.  But, just as Desmond broke out in his 3rd full time season, so could Espinosa.  It could make for a log jam.  Lets hope for the best, hope for a rebound Espinosa season and a good-problem-to-have situation of having to trade a strength to make way for another strength.  Boswell has no idea where Rendon will play if he merits a call-up.

Q: I think the Nats, and Danny Espinosa are whistling past the graveyard if they think a completely torn left rotator cuff will not seriously affect Danny’s play. Your take?

A: A fair assessment.  I too believe a torn rotator cuff absolutely has to be affecting his swing, especially from the right side.  I think Espinosa should have gotten the thing surgically repaired in the off-season.  I wonder how much the team knew of the injury, because when it was reported in the off-season it sure seemed like a surprise.  Boswell says its a concern and that Espinosa should take more days off.

Q: Is McCatty working with Strasburg on correcting his inverted W delivery? Strasburg also has footstrike issues, as he tends to plant his foot and then whip his arm, which puts a ton of strain on his shoulder. I’m concerned if he doesn’t correct this, his shoulder will give out this season or next. Are the Nats worried about this? Are they working on cleaning up his delivery at all?

A: I’m beginning to think that this whole “Inverted W” thing is a bunch of BS.  Keith Law stated as much when prompted in a chat recently; he says that the problem with the Inverted W theory is that its difficult to “state” with authority that certain pitchers do or don’t have the phenomena.  And its true; if you see some shots of Strasburg he has it, in others his arms are more bent behind his back.  Its the same with Gio Gonzalez (I can show you stills of him landing with his arms clearly in an “inverted W” position and you don’t hear anyone talking about Gonzalez’s mechanics.   The leading inverted-W site on the internet (Chris O’Leary‘s page linked here) uses an opportunisitic example set of pitchers with that motion, but I can find plenty of examples of guys who have similar mechanics but zero soft-tissue injury history (on the Nats two quick examples are Drew Storen and Craig Stammen).  Meanwhile one of his examples was John Smoltz … who only threw 3400 MLB innings in his career and basically didn’t miss a start until he was 32.  Not the best example of proof that his mechanics were somehow “awful.”  I think the entire phenomenon is an observation of coincidence, that pitchers get injuries all the time no matter what their mechanics, and that we need to move onwards.  Wow; Boswell thinks exactly what i think; these proofs are nonesense.

8 Responses to 'Ask Boswell 2/25/13 Edition'

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  1. Hey Todd

    The last few days are the first time that I have really had a chance to see Rendon in action, and now I get the hype around him. I know it is ST and all, and the results are meaningless, but he really does look like a big leaguer, doesn’t he? His hit to right yesterday really impressed me. Got deep in the count, still put a good swing on the ball against some velocity. The ‘Rendon replacing Espy’ move gets a lot of play, and there does seem to be a log jam. But this is a season away, I think, and Rendon has to stay on the field first. But even then, ESPY is actually a pretty good player right now, despite public perception (I think that we talked about this a while ago). Injuries could take care of things, even an OF injury and Rendon slides to LF. It also could be that Desi goes (one less year of control than Espy), and Espy slides to SS down the road. 2014 is the earliest that I see this becoming an issue (barring injury), and even then, Rendon can get 400 ABs in a utility role for his rookie year.

    I have no idea either how much a good defense will add, but I agree with Boz and the questioner that this Nats team has the makings of an exceptional defensive team, and I am really looking forward to seeing it.

    Also have to say that I was taken aback to read that the Nats hadn’t picked up Rizzo’s options yet. Last thing that they should want to do is make it get emotional for Rizzo. Boz says that he isn’t like that, but what reason is there to wait?


    26 Feb 13 at 1:11 pm

  2. Yeah, i have a quickie post about observations from the two ST games on TV … but I didn’t get to finish last night’s game yet and wanted to see Karns with my own eyes before posting. But yes agree on Rendon; you can see why he was under consideration for going 1-1 in the draft before getting hurt, and you can see why scouts continue to rank him highly (he’s in the upper half of every top-100 list i’ve seen despite his injury issues last year). Smooth swing, quick bat, strong wrists. You don’t get opposite field power without them. But as you say, the OF is pretty crowded right now. You could make the argument that perhaps the team shouldn’t have bought Span and kept LF somewhat “open” for this move … but everything the team did last off-season was a “win-now” move.

    Another interesting potential future position issue could be in CF; Span under contract for 2 more years, but Eury Perez seems like he could at least be a 4th OF within a year’s time, and we’ve got this wunder-kid Goodwin rising up who could be ready to play by the time the team needs to make a decision on Span’s 2015 option.

    Rizzo’s contract; i say “eh.” Perhaps this is the Lerners just defaulting to their typical business operations mindset and treating Rizzo’s contract like a building lease. You don’t extend your lease 3 years ahead of time right? I agree that Rizzo has done an excellent job (Executive of the year in 2012 of course), and in the landscape of baseball its hard not to consider him among the best right now based on what he’s accomplished. Do you have to extend him 2 years ahead of time to keep him happy?

    Todd Boss

    26 Feb 13 at 2:05 pm

  3. I don’t like Perez that much. Maybe he takes Bernie’s place in a year or two? I like Bernie better, though. Seems like an ideal 4th OF.

    Not to prejudice you, but Karns FB looked good to me, his breaking stuff not so good but its early and I didn’t draw any conclusions from that. I was more intrigued than wowed (but still positive).

    But here is the thing that has jumped out at me from just watching a few games: these young kids look better than I expected. Rendon, Karns, Skole, Rivero, even Perez and Brown (not impressed with Walters, though): they all seem like guys that will spend a few years on somebody’s 25 man roster, with some becoming regulars. I can’t remember so many before that I’d say that about. There was always a Harper or Stras, and then guys that didn’t really make themselves known. I am encouraged, especially because we don’t need to rush them up.


    26 Feb 13 at 2:33 pm

  4. Btw, on your OF point, I am coming around to the view that the most likely case is that Werth becomes the albatross. I think that this is a pretty critical year for him: if he bounces back to the 20-25 HR guy with 3-4 WAR, that is a good player, but if not, there may be some guys that are obviously better than him.

    Even right now, going back to Rendon, is replacing Espy with Rendon so clearly better than replacing Werth, sliding Harper to RF and putting Rendon in LF? what if Werth hits .260/.335/.425 with subpar D in RF?

    I know that the contract changes everything, but I am not suggesting what they will do, but what they should do. I think Werth needs to step up his power to maintain a spot.


    26 Feb 13 at 2:43 pm

  5. Don’t mean to hijack the thread, but there were several things I saw today that were just too humorous not to pass on.

    Manny Ramirez To Sign With Taiwanese Team – MLBTR. Just seems fitting, right? What is the over/under that Manny has a post-playing career similar to Jose Canseco? It isn’t zero, I’ll tell you that. I’d like to hear his views on ancient gravity.

    The Braves currently are going with a battery of Schlosser and Schlehuber. Been that kind of day.. Zuckerman, from today’s 8-3 Braves game. Snarky, but I liked it.

    I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe what I think.. Jeffrey Loria, in round two of his public reclamation campaign. This is funny just by its own words, but what is even better, is that Loria seems genuinely upset by the criticism he has gotten. Usually, I think of these kinds of d-bags like Dick Dastardly, snickering at all of us while they pocket the dough. What kind of reality does this guy live in where he does such self serving crap and yet expect to be liked and respected? Makes you shake your head and laugh.

    Anyway, I’ll stop now but those things were funny. Hope you don’t mind that I shared them.


    26 Feb 13 at 4:59 pm

  6. Just new-posted on this same topic. Can’t disagree about Karn’s fastball but where’s the secondary pitches? Struggled with his slider, no 3rd or 4th pitch. Now, yes its waaaay early in ST, and perhaps with his injury history he’s warming up slow. But how is he going to be an effective starter without a 4-pitch repetoire?

    Todd Boss

    27 Feb 13 at 10:05 am

  7. Before Werth got hurt he was having a pretty good season. Not 5-win like he did in philly … but very good. And when he came back he altered his approach and was incredibly effective as a lead-off guy. That says something to the manager/GM and the rest of the team; instead of Werth demanding to return to his customary #5 spot … he offered to change his approach and fill in a need (leadoff). There’s just no way he gets removed from the lineup when he does that kind of stuff.

    Johnson/Rizzo havn’t been afraid to make the shock move (Detwiler over Lannan last spring), ignoring monetary considerations. But Werth’s money is different than Lannan’s money. I have a feeling he’s going nowhere for a long time. Maybe he moves to LF (which honestly he probably already should be doing and let Harper’s gun reside in RF), maybe he moves to 1B eventually (he’s 6’5″ … a great size for a 1st baseman).

    Todd Boss

    27 Feb 13 at 10:08 am

  8. Loria’s “letter” in the paper read like a defensive blogger posting online. Filled with typos and colloquialisms (using contractions and what not) and reading like a hometown fan-boy defense of the indefensible moves of his favorite team. Good for him. He won’t get a marquee free agent to EVER sign there again after what he pulled with respected veterans like Buehrle and Reyes, and unless the Marlins farm system does a 180 about face they’re not going to be developing any WS-winning rosters any time soon. Such a mess.

    Todd Boss

    27 Feb 13 at 10:10 am

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