Nationals Arm Race

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

Ask Boswell 7/22/13


Denard Span is catching a lot of criticism right now.  Photo: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Denard Span is catching a lot of criticism right now. Photo: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Well, Phil Mickelson came out of nowhere to take the British Open over the weekend, NFL training camps are coming up soon and the Nats just got swept anemically at home.  I wonder how many baseball questions there are in this week’s ask Tom Boswell chat?  Lets find out.

As always, I answer here before reading Boswell’s response, only take his baseball/Nats questions and edit those questions for clarity.

Q: Is one of the reasons for the Nats malaise because they know Johnson is a short timer?

A: The implication of the question is this: if Davey Johnson suggests a change, the player says, “Eh, you’re gone by the end of the season, why should I listen to you?”  I have a hard time believing this for two reasons:

1. I’m not convinced there’s that much “coaching” going on in the majors.  Especially for veterans.  These guys are professionals, they’ve been playing professional baseball for years.  If you don’t know how to bunt, or how to field by the time you’ve made the majors then I don’t think you’re ever going to get it.  Maybe I’m wrong.

2. I’m also not convinced that managers really have that much to do with a game’s being won or lost.  Yes, disastrous bullpen decisions can back fire.  But its still on the hitters to hit, the starters to pitch, the fielders to make plays.

Related to #2; word came out today that the Nats have fired hitting coach Rick Eckstein.  Is this sort of like firing the secretary when the entire office puts out bad work?  Johnson was really upset by it and said so in the media … and I don’t have any doubt that this is a reactionary move to the poor offensive numbers.  But ask yourself; what is a new hitting coach going to do to turn this team of hitters around between now and September 30th?

Boswell gives Johnson lots of credit in 2012 for instilling confidence in the youngsters and garnering more respect out of the veterans (in comparison to Jim Riggleman). 

Q: Suzuki, Soriano, LaRoche. Any reason the Nats shouldn’t be sellers this year?

A: The Nats will not sell.  Because that would be Mike Rizzo admitting that all his moves last off-season were wrong.  And he’s not going to admit that.

Lets play the what-if game though; what if the Nats were to become sellers.  First guys on the block are FAs in their last (or only) year.  We only have a couple of those guys: Kurt SuzukiDan Haren and Chad Tracy.  Look at that list and ask yourself who would want these guys and what they’d be willing to give up?  Even newly acquired Scott Hairston is signed through 2014.  But then again, teams are smarter and generally won’t give up good prospects anymore for rentals.

One last point: the Red Sox blew a 9 game lead in September two years ago.  The Nats are only 7 out of the division lead, even playing as poorly as they have.  It’s still just mid July.

Boswell says wait until July 31st.  And interestingly he criticizes the Denard Span acquisition. 

Q: Can we get rid of Span?

A: Ironic that Boswell took this question right after killing him.  I have always thought that the Span acquisition was Rizzo being too clever, too focused on defense.  And so far it looks like the critics were right.  Span is posting an 86 OPS+ right now.  His OBP is about the same as the guy we had to jettison to make room for him (Michael Morse).   Except Morse at any moment can hit the ball 430 feet; it’d take Span 3 swings to get it that far.  To say nothing of driving out a fan favorite/good clubhouse guy.

Can we get rid of him?  Nope.  Stuck with him and most of this team through next season.  But, at that point he seems tailor made to flip to bring up someone like Brian Goodwin.

Boswell says that Bernadina isn’t the answer.

Q: Isn’t it galling to the team that Rafael Soriano acts differently on the mound — e.g., windup vs. stretch — depending on whether or not it is a save situation?

A: The word on Rafael Soriano wasn’t positive before he got here, and the whole “shirt untuck” seems to smack of showing people up.  And it’s clear to me that he’s a “Save snob;” look no further than his numbers in 2010, 2011 and 2012.  In2010 as a closer in Tampa?  226 ERA+.  The next year as a setup guy in New York?  4.12 era.  Then when Mariano Rivera goes down and he gets the closer job in 2012?  Back to being excellent.  If he purposely pitches differently in save vs non-save situations?  I’d be really, really pissed as a player.  But luckily the stats don’t support it; his ERA in non-save situations is better than in save situations, by a lot.  Boswell says that Soriano’s behavior is being noticed.  great.

Q: Should we start platooning Span with Hairston?

A: Is this what it’s come to with Span?  That we’re talking about platooning him with a guy hitting .170?  Yes Hairston’s lefty splits are good … but come on.  It isn’t like he’s an all-star slugger.  At least span brings plus-plus defense to center.  Bat him 8th, where his damage is limited.  Boswell says Yes its time to platoon.

Q: Everybody says Nats Park can’t get an All-Star Game because the surrounding area isn’t developed enough. But how does that explain sites like Busch Stadium (their development plan is further behind than ours), Angel Stadium (surrounded by parking lots and freeways), or Citi Field (surrounded by parking lots, a subway line, and a junkyard)?

A: Great question.  Maybe Bud Selig hasn’t seen all the development going on.  Or maybe Ted Lerner just don’t want to get on his knees and beg for it before the omnipowerful commissioner.  I do think its kind of ridiculous that baseball has chosen to return to parks that have previously hosted before giving a game to every new park.    Boswell doesn’t really answer.

Q: How good has Gio been over the past two months?

A: Before his 6 shutout/11k outing last weekend Gio Gonzalez had won 4 straight starts.  The worst of them was a 6 2/3 3 run performance that the team won easily anyway.  Maybe he’s pitching to score (ooh, don’t say that too loudly, the sabre nerds get all pissed).  Yeah he’s pitching great.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Should Krol start working later in games?

A: I’m still not entirely convinced Ian Krol can be more than a loogy.  Every time i’ve seen him, he’s been a one-pitch/one-trick guy.  I’ve literally never seen him throw his off-speed stuff for strikes.  Luckily the deception and velocity on his fastball are good enough to let him ride to a very good season statistically so far.  I’d stick with what we’re doing now; using him and Fernando Abad as situational relievers and leaving the hard work for Clippard and Soriano.  Drew Storen?  Now that’s another story.  Boswell says give him more work.

Q: I’ve seen a recent increase in the criticism of Davey Johnson’s managerial decisions. I can’t believe fans are blaming him for where the Nats currently stand. I put the blame on the players. It’s execution that’s at fault. Right? What else could/should Davey do that he hasn’t already tried?

A: Stop using poor relievers.  Stop pulling effective starters after 90 pitches.  Stop batting Span 1st and drop him to 8th where he belongs.  That’s what I’d do.  Boswell shared some ancedotes.

Q: I was so in favor of the Span acquisition, now it just looks horrible. Do you think he can get back to the .392 On Base Percentage he has in 2009 or is he really a .317 OBP guy? Will this team ever solve CF and lead off?

A: Just had this discussion with someone over email.  He does look horrible at the plate.  But he plays a great center field!  Rizzo just had to have his center fielder; well now you have him, and the guy he displaced (Mores) has about the same OBP this year as Span.  To go along with 200 points of slugging.  So there’s that.  You say “well Morse has been injured?”  I say sure … he got injured in Seattle.  No reason to assume the same thing would have happened here.  We gave up Morse’s power in the middle of the order and moved a perfectly capable defender (Harper) off center to acquire Span and have him drag down the top of the order.  Can’t do anything about it now (or until 2015 frankly): I say bat him 8th until he proves he deserves to return to the top.   Boswell points out that Span’s OBP is only 1% better than league average.

Q: Should we keep Soriano in the closer role?

A: Pretty much; $11M a year and he’ll be a sullen clubhouse cancer if he’s not closing.   He’s being paid way too much money to flip, even to teams that covet closers.  Well, maybe we can talk to Boston; they seem to be idiots when it comes to paying for closers (as noted in this space).   Boswell also mentions Boston but points out how battle-tested Soriano is, implying he has value.  I’m clearly on the record in my opinion about closers and paying big money for them, disagreed with the acquisition and disagree with Boswell here; if we could trade him, you do it.

Q: Is Jayson Werth immature and/or a hypocrite?

A: You’d have to read the whole question (which clearly implies the opinion of the asker), but there’s some vitriol in there.  I can’t think of any incidents that make me ever put Jayson Werth in the same maturity category as Nyjer Morgan.  I think the questioner is off-base here.  Boswell predictably defends Werth.  I will say this: go look at Werth’s hitting stats this year; he’s been very, very good.


10 Responses to 'Ask Boswell 7/22/13'

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  1. While I agree with you about Rizzo’s big ego being a factor in the Nats not being sellers, if they are double-digits behind in the division and WC races by 7/31, they really ought to be. LaRoche, Soriano and Suzuki are candidates, but I think the top guy they should be looking to move is Clippard. His trade value will never be higher and having hit his arbitration years his salary will continue to escalate. If Rizzo could snare Ramos for the likes of Matt Capps, I would think the return for Clippard should be even higher. This organization desperately needs depth going forward and Clippard is their best trade chip that they could part with who would replaceable next season and beyond.


    23 Jul 13 at 1:28 pm

  2. If the Nats sell, and it may make sense if they can improve the team for 2014 (which is where I think the focus should be), don’t count out the bullpen as valuable pieces. Soriano, Clippard and even Storen would have value, and the trade deadline is when those kinds of guys have the most value. I’d trade any of them for the right return.

    And while the Span trade certainly isn’t working out offensively, on balance looking at all the parts involved, it was a good move for the organization to get Span, Cole, Krol and the other guy for Morse and Meyers. As bad as we feel about his offense, Span has been there for every game and has produced 1.2 WAR. Morse has missed over 40% of the games this year, and produced -.2 WAR during that time (or as my old business school professor would say ‘we have negative margin but we’ll make it up in volume’). So even if I don’t think it is fair to just say ‘he wouldn’t have gotten hurt here’, the truth is that he didn’t play very well while he was healthy, either. His HR rate was pretty good, but that is about it.

    So Span has outplayed Morse, and the prospects are either a wash, or we probably win that trade. My two cents, anyway.


    23 Jul 13 at 1:44 pm

  3. There’s absolutely a difference between “the Nats should sell” and “The Nats will sell.” I don’t think anything is going to prevent them from barging full steam ahead and trying to make the playoffs this year.

    Its too bad that Storen is struggling: he’d make a good trade piece too. Agree on Clippard.

    Todd Boss

    23 Jul 13 at 2:49 pm

  4. You and bdrube are on the same page; trade the relievers!

    I really liked Morse, so I think i’m just inclined to look at the negatives with the whole Span/Morse deal. Hey, at least I admit it 🙂

    Todd Boss

    23 Jul 13 at 2:50 pm

  5. Todd, I, too, am a huge Morse fan, but Rizzo got a ton for him.
    Unlike trading a possible # 1 pitcher for a guy who’s career OBP is .005 above league average.

    Mark L

    23 Jul 13 at 8:25 pm

  6. Fair enough on the Morse deal. I think my feeling about the trade goes something like this: last year’s team had a very “magical” feel to it, and I think the moving of Morse upset that chemistry. I feel Morse was a good clubhouse guy, fan favorite, and his removal affected the team. I know lots of people think that winning creates chemistry, and that’s definitely true, but I also feel the reverse holds.

    Todd Boss

    23 Jul 13 at 9:18 pm

  7. Correlation does not equal causation. Morse leaves -> Nats struggle does not mean Morse leaving caused the Nats to struggle.

    The truth is likely much, much more complicated than that.

    John C.

    23 Jul 13 at 11:39 pm

  8. One thing that always amazes me about the Morseasaurs (and I say this as a man who was for having Morse at 1st and letting LaRoche go) is that most consistently assume that if Morse had stayed, he’d have both stayed healthy and hit like it was 2011. Possible, of course, But it’s also possible that he would have been hurt all year and/or played worse than he has for the past two months for Seattle.

    John C.

    23 Jul 13 at 11:43 pm

  9. “Correlation does not equal causation, in all cases. But it *could* mean it in this case. You’re right; its complicated. But just because you can’t prove it is

    Lets put it in a different sense. Lets say at your job you have a core working team of 8 people. You meet every day, you work in close proximity to each other, you all have to be pulling the same way in order to succeed. Would you rather have
    a) A great teammate, a guy who everyone likes but who isn’t quite as talented as he could be, or
    b) A bad teammmate who is talented but is also surly, hard to get along with, and causes friction on the team.

    Todd Boss

    24 Jul 13 at 7:01 am

  10. I think we have a tendency to read into events what we want to. For example: I didn’t like the Willingham trade. I thought we were dumping a plus hitter for questionable return. So I took every subsequent event that happened to continue to make my argument. But on the flip side, I didn’t like the Morse trade either (at least for the big league club … yes the return of Treinen/Cole/Krol is looking more and more fantastic), so I’ll continue to argue using data that supports my case.

    You’re right; we have no idea if Morse in Washington would have torn an ACL on opening day or would be leading the league in homers having played every inning. Most likely given his long injury history it’d be somewhere between 100-140 games. Ironically, about the same that Willingham generally gave us. Maybe this gives us an additional facet of Rizzo’s team construction theory; work hard to get rid of injury plagued players. If this was true though, i’m surprised he hasn’t tried to trade Zimmerman by now…

    As a Morseasaur, I think I was realistic about what to expect from Morse. But the desire to keep Morse wasn’t just about him; it was about not really agreeing with the whole slew of transactions that resulted in his leaving. It was about wasting defensive talents of Harper in left field. It was about an obsession Rizzo has with a fleet-of-foot centerfielder, which cost the organization its most promising starter candidate. It was and continues to be disagreement about how much defense you “need” in your left fielder and first baseman.

    Todd Boss

    24 Jul 13 at 7:16 am

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