Nationals Arm Race

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

Ask Boswell 5/28/13 Edition


Apparently shelving Danny Espinosa will solve all the Nats problems. Photo AP via

Its the end of May, the Nats are still lingering around .500.  Are the natives getting restless in Washington?  Lets check in on Tom Boswell‘s 5/28/13 chat.

Q: Pretend there is some kind of supplemental draft and only 3 players are available – Machado, Harper and Trout. Would you mind channeling your inner Mel Kiper and give us your “big board” and rank these 3 phenoms?

A: I’d likely go Trout, Harper and Machado.   I think Trout slightly beats out Harper right now in terms of overall talent, though its really really close.  I like Trout’s advantage on the basepaths and in the outfield.  Harper’s 80 power is hard to find though.  Meanwhile Machado’s supposed defensive prowness isn’t even being exploited by the O’s, but given that he plays a premium position to either Trout or Harper he may end up being in the mix for #1 overall too.   Boswell puts them in the same order.

Q: Can Ryan Zimmerman play 2B? What about moving him over there and making room for Rendon at third? Ryan played SS in college and in his major league debut, and his quick reflexes seem to give him the range necessary to play the position. And the best part: the throws are a lot shorter from 2B.

A: Michael Morse played shortstop in high school, why wouldn’t we want him to play middle infield now?   (sorry, taking a ridiculous similar stance with a player’s athletic abilities NOW versus when he was 18 or 21).  I perceive Zimmerman to be “quick” but at the same time “slow.”  I don’t think he’s make it as a middle infielder any more.  Boswell says almost the same thing; he’s “quick but not fast.”  Wow, Boswell and I are 2-for-2 like minded so far!

Q: Is Espinosa ever going to find his swing? I know you were tooting his horn a while back, do you still feel the same about him?

A: Danny Espinosa needs to stop hiding significant injuries from his management.  You can’t blame him though; he knows he’s likely out of a job if he sits and someone else succeeds in his place while he heals.  But, this is now two major injures he’s basically hidden and tried to play through.  No judgement can be made about him any more before he gets completely healthy.  I believe the team should D/L him, get both his injuries fixed and re-assess when he’s healthy.  He’s certainly not doing the team any favors by hitting .150 with loose bone fragments in his wrist.  Of course, his current BABIP is .202;  That’s so low as to be amazing, so even with his struggles he should be set to improve.  Wow, Me and Bos are 3-for-3; he talks a bit about Espinosa plus tools, his issues post first 1,000 at-bats, and then mirrors my statement of wanting him shutdown to heal for the rest of 2013.

Q: Shouldn’t Harper just be placed on the DL until he heals up enough that he won’t be missing a few games every week? The way they’re doing it, the team is short a player and a bat for two or three days on a regular basis, or has Harper playing at 70 percent

A: I agree.  Harper‘s splits since running into the wall at the end of April are pretty distinct.  April: 1.150 OPS.  May: .687 OPS.  And that was before Los Angeles.  An now he’s got this knee issue.   I think he needs a D/L trip, rest, sit in the hot tub for two weeks and come back refreshed.  Between him and Espinosa and Detwiler the team has been playing 22 against 25 for days now.  Boswell agrees; he thinks Harper should have been given the 7-day D/L stint when he hit the wall.

Q: Has anyone suggested Espinosa get his vision tested? He has absolutely no pitch recognition, he looks like the world’s [biggest] guess hitter.

A: I don’t think its his vision.  I think he’s just an awful left-handed hitter, and unfortunately he takes most of his switch-hitting swings from the left side.  He’s just lost at the plate.  I went through a game like this once; the umpire’s zone was so unpredictable that I was just up at the plate swinging at whatever came.  It was like BP when you know you’re only getting 10 swings and the pitcher sucks; swing at everything.  Boswell says Espinosa has the worst plate discipline on the team, and talks about how Espinsoa is swinging before the ball even comes to the plate.  Sounds familiar.

Q: With a lack luster offense, poor defense, a bullpen you can’t seem to count on and only two starters pitching well, why do you believe the Nats will turn it around?

A: Because of their upcoming schedule of course!  Here’s my post on the topic on April 24th.  The gist of it is this; by the time May 31st rolls around, the Nats will have played 27 of their 55 games against 2012 playoff contenders.  Look at their season so far; they’ve played the Reds, the Braves, the Cardinals, the Reds again, 4 at Atlanta, the Tigers, at the Giants and now 4 straight against Baltimore.   June and July are significantly easier.  Look at the teams they play for the next 8 weeks; yes Cleveland and Arizona are improved, but a lot of the games on their slate are easy, winnable games.  You can get confident quickly when you have a bunch of winnable games.

To this question specifically, the offense has absolutely been affected by injuries.  People will get healthier.  The Defense was great last year; what changed?  If anything we’ve got a better defensive team now than in 2012 (replaced Morse with Span, replaced Flores with Suzuki).  The bullpen is fixable; Storen has just been unlucky, not bad.  Only 2 starters doing well?  I’d say at least 3 are doing well (Strasburg, Detwiler and of course Zimmermann, one is inconsistent but at the high end when he’s on (Gonzalez) and one has been a pretty severe disappointment in Haren.  My hope is that Haren slowly gets back to a 100 ERA+ level pitcher and then is left off the playoff roster.  Boswell eventually talks about the schedule, but goes off on a huge Pecota Rest-of-Season projection tangent.

Q: Big day (maybe) for the Nationals future if Karns can establish himself as a future 3-4-5 starter. Everything I hear and read about him says he has plus stuff and makeup, and an especially good fastball. What are you looking for tonight vs. the Os and how many starts can we expect Karns to make?

A: I’m looking for Nathan Karns to make it through the lineup tonight against Baltimore giving up just a minimum of damage frankly.  I don’t think Karns has a servicable 3rd pitch, which means he can get by on heat and his great slider for a while … but eventually Baltimore’s hitters are too good to get fooled more than twice.  I’ll be ecstatic with a line like this: 6 ip, 2 runs, 5 hits, 2 walks, 6 k’s.   I think he makes this start and perhaps 1 more before going back down when Detwiler returns.  Boswell didn’t really answer the question.  Editor Update: Karns had flashes of good and bad in last night’s game, going 4 1/3 and giving up 3 runs on 5 hits and two homers.  Didn’t agree with Johnson’s yanking him and taking away his Win though.

Q: Are the Nats and Harper going the way of Shanahan and RGIII with this knee business OR will we see common sense prevail so we can see our best player Harper rest up and make a difference when it really counts? Didn’t Harper come to bat with the score already 5-1 (6-1 ?) , in the bottom 8th when the Nats already had a commanding lead?

A: Hardly the same situation.  A brused knee from a foul ball versus a blown ACL?  Come on.  Must be someone begging the question.  Boswell does have some criticism for the Harper handling considering the kid gloves that Strasburg has been handled with his whole career.

Q: Why are people praising Espinosa for being “tough” and playing through his broken wrist? He was HURTING the team, it’s time to sit down at that point!

A: Because we live in a macho football culture, and playing through pain is a football mentality.  Boswell punts.

Q: The Nationals bats have not lived up to expectations. What move or moves could the Nationals make to get these bats going? Maybe a new hitting coach, an additional hitting coach, minor league players or some through a trade.

A: Why do people think hitting coaches make a difference?  Is Rick Eckstein part of the problem here?

Actually, looking at the Nats starting eight hitters; four of them have OPS+ figures > 100 (meaning they’re better than MLB average).   Suzuki is a bit below but he’s the catcher.  Span has slowly started to be come a liability at the top; he’s only got a .332 OBP with zero power right now.  Espinosa of course is the big black hole.  So while we’re knowingly in a rut offensively … the individual pieces aren’t really that bad.  There’s some bats in the minors but not much.  We really have very little prospect depth that’s tradeable for a bat mid-season.  This is your team ladies and gentlemen; get used to it.  Boswell also says we have to ride it out, but points out that the team hasn’t been healthy and has replaced Morse’s ABs with almost zero production from our bench.

Q: Any early predictions as to who will be managing the Nats next season? Davey’s also dropped a couple of hints that his retirement isn’t entirely his idea. Assuming they don’t win the World Series and he gets to ride off into the sunset, any chance that he comes back next year?

A: I’m continually amazed at the amount of curiosity about the manager.  Maybe Davey Johnson is back, maybe he isn’t.  Maybe the team hires a name guy, maybe they hire from within.  Lets focus on 2013 first.  Boswell mentions Don Mattingly, as we’ve heard in the national media.

4 Responses to 'Ask Boswell 5/28/13 Edition'

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  1. I thought Karns showed an electric arm. A little over amped, maybe, which is understandable. I was surprised at the amount of hard contact both teams made on each starter,candidly. Davis’ homerun was interesting. Karns made him look overmatched on two FBs up in the zone. then he put one low in the zone, and Davis hit a bullet to RF. I still would like to see him up all year, moving to the pen when Det is back.


    29 May 13 at 8:31 am

  2. I dunno what I think about karns from last night. It looked like he threw a “heavy” fastball, evidenced by a number of weak ground balls. But as you said, more than a few very sharply hit balls. I’m writing up a “first Look” post on the same topic so i won’t re-state everything i’m going to post.

    Todd Boss

    29 May 13 at 8:43 am

  3. Karns, to me, looks like a solid #5 starter or an electric bullpen arm. As Todd stated his 3rd pitch is lacking right now. He is kind of like a harder throwing Craig Stammen. The extra velocity is what makes me think he may be able to stay in the rotation but he could definitely be a valuable bullpen arm with his hard sinker and strike out stuff.

    All and all I thought he hung in pretty well against one of the hottest lineups in the league right now. Solo homers don’t beat you and I think that was the biggest part that impressed me. He really buckled down with runners on base. I wouldn’t mind seeing another start where the first start jitters aren’t there and his adrenaline may level off some.


    29 May 13 at 9:12 am

  4. new posting on same topic now.

    Todd Boss

    29 May 13 at 9:30 am

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