Nationals Arm Race

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

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Ladson’s Inbox 4/8/13

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Ramos has started hot; how long will he platoon w/ Suzuki? Photo Al Bello/Getty Images via federalbaseball.com

One week down, one serious over-reaction to a series loss against  Cincinnati, and we have our next installment of Bill Ladson‘s inbox, dated 4/8/13.  Lets see what Nats fans have on their mind this early in the season.  Hopefully it isn’t “they sky is falling” because we lost 2 of 3 to a very good Cincinnati team.

As always, I answer here before reading his response and sometimes edit “questions” for clarity/levity.

Q: Even though catchers Wilson Ramos and Kurt Suzuki are in the lineup every other day, it seems to me like Gio Gonzalez’s personal catcher is Suzuki. Does that play into Johnson’s decision making?

A: Is Kurt Suzuki Gio Gonzalez‘s personal catcher?  I never noted that.  Gonzalez was caught by every catcher on the roster last year but had Suzuki 10 times.  Based on when Suzuki came over, that seems an awful lot.  But last night 4/9/13 Gonzalez was caught by Ramos.  So who knows.  If Gonzalez has asked for Suzuki to be his catcher, then yes absolutely this factors into lineup decisions.  Luckily both Suzuki and Wilson Ramos are right handers, so there’s no matchup considerations right now.

Coincidentally, I was really surprised to see Ramos sit the day after he hit two bombs over the weekend.  I know Suzuki is the vet, Ramos is theoretically on the mend and they’ve said they’re splitting time … but I want my hot bats in the lineup, not sitting on the bench because of some even-odd playing time split that’s been promised.

Ladson doesn’t think there’s a personal catcher situation going on.

Q: Is Johnson letting Harper’s throwing mistakes slide?

A: I doubt it.  But i’m glad its being handled in private and not in the press.  Ironically the Sports Junkies asked Johnson about this very topic this morning 4/10/13 and Johnson definitely seemed to indicate that he believes Harper is just over-excited, needs to keep his game emotions in control, and that the coaching staff is constantly talking to him to fix mental errors like these.   Ladson doesn’t think Johnson is letting it slide either but says we’ll have to see “how it goes.”

Q: If one of the current five starters goes down with an injury, who will get the callup to start for the Nationals?

A: A week ago I would have said Zach Duke, but he looked pretty awful in his one appearance so far.  I would bet that if someone went down tomorrow the team would call up Ross Ohlendorf.  But in a couple of weeks time the #1 replacement would have to be Chris Young.   Ladson says Young.

Q: Do you see the Nats releasing reliever Henry Rodriguez if he is ineffective after a month or so?

A: I don’t think they’ll release him; i’m sure they’d try to DFA him and sneak him through waivers to AAA so they could keep him.  Mike Rizzo loves his arm.  But he’s been short on results and long on frustration for a lot of his tenure here.  Every once in a while you see players who the manager/GM just won’t give up on despite results (Austin Kearns and Manny Acta/Jim Bowden being one good example); I wonder if we’re getting to that point with H-Rod.   Ladson says no way.

Q: After 2013, would general manager Mike Rizzo consider Jayson Werth as a player-manager?

A: No way.  Werth needs to focus on hitting and not being a player manager.   The team will get a professional manager to guide the team going forward.  Ladsons says Werth may be a Team Captain but never the manager.  He also names Joe Girardi as his guess for the next manager.  Interesting.

Q: What plans do the Nats have when it comes to incorporating the designated hitter into their roster this season? Would they consider having Anthony Rendon added to the roster and DHing Ryan Zimmerman?

A: Interesting question.  I’d guess that initially they’d go with a platoon DH split of Tyler Moore and Chad Tracy for any interleague games in the AL park.  Rendon is staying in the minors until needed to keep his service time down.  Ladson writes almost exactly what I wrote.

Nats Franchise FA history; biggest, best, worst deals

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Jayson Werth is certainly our most expensive FA, by a considerable sum. Photo Mitchell Layton/Getty Images NA

The second in a series: The first looked at the Biggest/Best/Worst Trades of the Washington Nationals era and was posted in late March.  Yes, it took me 8 months to return to this series, despite writing most of this post in July.  Here in Part 2, we’ll look at the biggest, best and worst Free Agent signings in the tenures of both Jim Bowden and Mike Rizzo. In the last section we’ll look at Draft picks.

Ground rules for this article:

1. When considering a Free Agent we’ll only consider the FIRST signing in this list.  So, for guys who have signed multiple one-year free agent contracts in a row (guys like Rick Ankiel and Chien-Ming Wang), we’ll only consider them as a single signing.  For others who signed here and then left, only to come back (example: Livan Hernandez) we’ll consider them as separate signings.

2. We are considering extensions given to existing players (since they don’t fit elsewhere).  You can consider an extension just a pre-emptive free agent contract.

3. We’re mostly focusing here on Major League free agents; each year we sign many minor league FAs ahead of camp.  If a Minor League FA signing ends up having a decent impact on the major league team, we’ll note him (good recent example being Laynce Nix).

Just for review, here’s the tenure period of both GMs:

  • Nov 2004 – Mar 2009: Jim Bowden
  • Mar 2009 – present: Mike Rizzo

The team has made dozens and dozens of signings: I won’t try to go through them all here.  For those interested, here’s my List of Free Agents from over the years (also available on the links section to the right of this blog).  I put up a similar notes file (List of Trades and Trading Partners) from the first post of this series, also available in the list of resources on the right-hand side of the blog.

Jim Bowden Tenure: Nov 2004 – Mar 2009

Bowden’s Biggest Free Agent Signings

  • 2006: Nick Johnson 3yr $16.5M
  • 2007: Austin Kearns 3yr $16.5M
  • 2008: Cristian Guzman 2yr $16M
  • 2009: Adam Dunn 2yr $20M

I wonder sometimes if Bowden doesn’t sit in his ESPN office as he writes his blogs and ask himself what he could have done here had he had more money to spend.  Look at this list; Bowden’s biggest deal in 5 off-seasons was a 2yr/$20M contract for a slugger who really had nowhere else to go that off-season.  Jayson Werth will make more than that annually starting in 2014.

Bowden’s Best Free Agent Signings

  • 2006: Brian Schneider 4yr extension, $2.9M
  • 2007: Ronnie Belliard 1yr ML deal
  • 2007: Dmitri Young 1yr ML deal
  • 2008: Willie Harris 1yr $800K
  • 2009: Adam Dunn 2yr $20M

Bowden’s 2007 off-season was pretty amazing, looking back.  He assembled a team on the backs of Minor League Free Agents galore, one of which (Dmitri Young) ended up being our lone All-Star.  The team went 73-89 and gave 145 of its 162 starts to guys who aren’t even in the league any more (exceptions: Joel Hanrahan‘s 11 starts with 6.00 ERA and late-season call up John Lannan‘s 6 starts as a 22-yr old).  He was the master of the scrap heap and spun a team that should have lost 100 games into a respectable 73 win team.  Too bad that luck ran out in 2008 as the team bottomed out.  But you have to hand it to Bowden for these three 2007 signings; Hanrahan didn’t really pay off for the Nationals, ever, but did enable us to eventually get Sean Burnett, a valuable member of the team’s bullpen these last few years.

All things considered, I’d have to say that Adam Dunn may have been his best FA signing.  Dunn’s bat was mostly wasted during his two years here, considering the unbelievably bad pitching staffs that Bowden assembled.  But the combination of Zimmerman-Dunn-Willingham was a pretty fearsome 3-4-5.  Ironically, NOT re-signing Dunn may also have been one of Rizzo’s best non-moves, considering Dunn’s amazing 2011 collapse and the subsequent rise of Michael Morse (who would have continued to be a bit player if the Nats still had Dunn in LF).

Bowden’s Worst Free Agent Signings

  • 2007: Austin Kearns 3yr $16.5M
  • 2008: Paul Lo Duca 1yr $5M
  • 2008: Rob Mackowiak 1yr $1.5M
  • 2008: Johnny Estrada 1yr $1.25M
  • 2008: Cristian Guzman 2yr extension $16M
  • 2009: Daniel Cabrera 1yr $2.6M

2008 was as bad as 2007 was good for Bowden.  Nearly every move he made back-fired, some spectacularly.  Paul Lo Duca hadn’t been signed for a week when his name showed up prominently in the Mitchell Report; he was released before July.  Rob Mackowiak and Johnny Estrada were just stealing money; its still not clear what Bowden saw in these guys.  I hated the Kearns deal, never understood what Bowden saw in the guy.  Daniel Cabrera was so bad for us it was almost comical, and it was a relief when we DFA’d him after 8 starts.

But the worst FA signing has to the Guzman extension.  He seemed decent enough after coming back from an injury that cost him all of 2005 and most of 2006, but Bowden inexplicably extended him for 2 years for the same amount of money that he had earned the previous four … and almost immediately his production tailed off.   Its not that Guzman was that BAD in 2009 and 2010, its just that he was so vastly overpaid for what he gave the team.  We flipped him for two minor league pitchers, he promptly hit .152 in 15 games for Texas and he was out of the league.

Mike Rizzo Tenure: Mar 2009 – present

Rizzo’s Biggest Free Agent Signings

  • 2010: Ryan Zimmerman 5yr $45M
  • 2011: Jayson Werth 7yr $126M
  • 2012: Ryan Zimmermann 8yrs $100M
  • 2012: Gio Gonzalez 5yr $42M

Its ironic that I had to remove three deals from this list (LaRoche, Jackson, Marquis) that would have qualified for Bowden’s “biggest deal” list.  That’s because the size of these deals are just dwarfing what the team was willing to do under Bowden.  Lots of pundits have (and continue to) criticized the Jayson Werth deal, and it routinely appears on anyone’s list of “Worst Baseball Contracts.”  And his 2011 season confirmed just how bad this may have turned out for Washington.  But a bounceback 2012, which featured Werth putting up a 125 OPS+ despite missing a ton of time with a broken wrist, showing the flexibility of batting lead-off when the team needed him, plus providing the veteran leadership and professionalism that this young team needs certainly would earn back some of that contract value.  In hindsight, I think the team made this deal as a strawman, to send a message to the rest of the league that we were NOT a low-budget, poorly run team, and to pave the path back to respectability in the minds of other professionals out there that Washington can be a destination franchise.

Rizzo’s Best Free Agent Signings

  • 2009: Julian Tavarez 1yr ML
  • 2009: Joe Beimel 1yr $2M
  • 2010: Livan Hernandez 1yr ML 900k
  • 2011: Jerry Hairston 1yr $2M
  • 2010: Matt Capps 1yr $3.5M
  • 2010: Joel Peralta 1yr ML
  • 2011: Todd Coffey 1yr $1.35M
  • 2011: Laynce Nix 1yr ML

In terms of impact-per-dollar, I think the first Livan Hernandez year of his return was probably the best FA signing that Rizzo has done.  Hernandez went 10-12 with a 3.66 ERA and a 110 ERA+ for less than a million dollars on the FA market.  That’s roughly $90k a Win, when most teams are paying more than $1M/win for free agent starting pitching.   However clearly Rizzo’s most shrewd FA deal was the Matt Capps signing.  He took Capps off the scrap heap; he was released by Pittsburgh after a horrid 2009, and his half season of excellent relief for us turned into Wilson Ramos and a minor leaguer (Joe Testa), returned in trade from Minnesota.  I will also mention that the value that minor league signings Julian Tavarez, Joel Peralta, and Laynce Nix gave the team was also fantastic, considering where these players were in their careers prior to joining us.

Rizzo’s Worst Free Agent Signings

  • 2010: Yunesky Maya 4yr $8M
  • 2010: Ivan Rodriguez 2yr $6M
  • 2010: Jason Marquis 2yr $15M
  • 2011: Matt Stairs 1yr ML
  • 2012: Brad Lidge 1yr $1M
  • Chein Ming Wang: all of them.

2010, Rizzo’s first FA class, didn’t turn out very well did it? Yunesky Maya has been a pretty big disappointment, giving the team just one MLB win for an $8M investment.  Ivan Rodriguez just proved to be slightly too old to be worth the starter money he was paid; you could argue that the leadership he provided was worth the money.   And Jason Marquis, bought as a stop-gap for a failed farm system, was god-awful in 2010.  I won’t completely kill Rizzo for the Brad Lidge experiment; it was worth a $1M flier to see if he had anything left in the tank.  Matt Stairs would have been another fine, low-cost experiment except for the fact that the team kept giving him at-bats for weeks/months after it was clear he was washed up.

For me the worst FA signing was related to the money poured down the Chien-Ming Wang rathole for three years running.  The Nats ended up investing $8M total over three years to get 16 starts, 6 wins and a 4.94 ERA.

Rizzo’s Too Early to Tell Free Agent Signings

  • 2011: Jayson Werth 7yr $126M
  • 2012: Ryan Zimmermann 8yrs $100M
  • 2012: Gio Gonzalez 5yr $42M

So far, Werth’s contract is trending as an over-pay, Zimmerman’s as an injury concern, and Gonzalez trending as a complete steal (21 wins for $8.4M AAV in 2012?  That’s a fantastic return for the money).  Pundits have stated that the Nats have “two 9-figure contracts but zero 9-figure players” (I read it at the time of the Zimmerman signing but cannot find the link).  I think that’s slightly unfair to these players, but until Zimmerman can stay healthy enough to produce at his 2009 level, you have to admit that he may be overpaid as well.  Perhaps Zimmerman’s brittle health issues can be alleviated if he makes the move to 1B, where he can continue to play gold glove calibre defense but have less of a tax on his body.  This analysis obviously does not take Zimmerman’s “value” to the franchise into account, which may be unfair when considering this contract (nobody really said Derek Jeter‘s latest contract was a massive overpay considering his service to the Yankees,  his “stature” as the captain and his eventual Hall of Fame induction; for the Yankees to cut him loose would have been a massive public relations gaffe).

Coincidentally, I didn’t view the contracts of guys like LaRoche, Jackson, or Morse as being specifically “good” or “bad.”   I think LaRoche’s one bad/one good season plus Jackson’s MLB average season was just about on-par with expectations for their contracts.  Morse’s 2011 production was pre-contract, so we’ll see how his 2013 goes.

Thoughts?  Any FA signings or extensions out there that stick in your minds that you thought should be mentioned?

Nats Franchise Trade history; biggest, best, worst

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Was getting Gonzalez the "biggest" trade the franchise has ever made? Photo Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images via nydailynews.com

In response to a topic that came up in the comments section, I’ll do a 3-part series reviewing the biggest/best/worst moves by the franchise since arriving here in Washington.  We’ll differentiate between Jim Bowden and Mike Rizzo moves as we go through.  We’ll talk about trades, then draft picks, then FA signings.

First up: Trades.

The Nats have made dozens of trades since 2005, and by my records have traded with every team in the league save for three: Baltimore, Cleveland and the Los Angeles Angels.  In fact, the franchise has not done business with Baltimore in any capacity since the year 2000, a testament perhaps to the difficulties of dealing with Peter Angelos even before the team moved to Washington.  Now post-relocation, the conventional wisdom is that the two teams would never do business on the off-chance that one team ended up “winning” a trade with the other.

I’ll divide this post into into 3 sections: the “biggest” deal (not the most players, but the biggest impact/most news worthy), the “best” deal(s) and the “worst” deals.  For Rizzo, we’ll add a 4th category for “Too Early to Tell,” since the big off-season trade of last season probably won’t shake it self out for a few more years.

Jim Bowden Tenure: Nov 2004 – Mar 2009

Biggest Trades

  • 2005: Soriano deal
  • 2006: Kearns/Lopez deal
  • 2007: Milledge deal
  • 2008: Willingham/Olsen deal

The Alfonso Soriano move made all sorts of news; he wouldn’t move to LF, threatened not to play at all, then ended up putting in a 40/40 season in a pitcher’s ballpark and then resulted a host of national news as the team debated whether to trade him, re-sign him or let him go.  Bowden held firm on his demands in the trade market, never traded him and landed two compensatory draft picks (which the Nats turned into Jordan Zimmermann and Josh Smoker).

The Kearns/Lopez deal, in the end, was more about moving deck chairs than making progress for either team.  Bowden was obsessed with players that he knew from his Cincinnati days, and showed a proclivity to trade for or acquire them throughout his tenure here, and this deal was just the biggest example.  The only player in the deal who still remains with his original team is Bill Bray, and most of the players in the deal have become large disappointments for their careers or are out of baseball.  The Reds accused Bowden publically of selling them damaged goods (Gary Majewski got injured about 5 minutes after the trade was completed) and Kearns/Lopez never really lived up to anything close to their potential.

We’ll talk about the other two deals below.

Best Trades

  • 2007: Getting Tyler Clippard
  • 2009: Getting Michael Morse
  • 2008: Getting Willingham/Olsen

Bowden gets major credit for obtaining two core members of the current Nationals squad for almost nothing.  He obtained Tyler Clippard from the Yankees for Jonathan Albaladejo in a like-for-like trade of under-performing minor league relievers.  Of course we all know what’s happeend since; Clippard has become a super-star setup man, the 2011 league leader in holds.   Getting Michael Morse in return for sending the feeble Ryan Langerhans to Seattle in what most thought was a mercy trade at the time (i.e., trying to send good-guy Langerhans to a team that would actually play him) seems like one of the steals of the decade.  Nobody thought Morse had a fraction of the potential he’s now shown to have.

I include getting Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen as a win based on who we gave up: PJ Dean, Emilio Bonifacio and Jake Smolinski.  I’ve always had a soft spot for Willingham and thought his offense potential was the key to this deal; we got two major leaguers for two dead-end minor leaguers plus a backup infielder.  Luckily for the Nats, Florida was always ready to give up arbitration candidates to save a buck.

Worst Trades

  • 2007: Milledge deal

Honestly, I had a hard time really saying that I thought one of Bowden’s trades was egregiously bad.  Most of his deals (outside the deals mentioned above as biggest or best) were minor leaguer swaps or dumping veterans at the trade deadline.  Even the acquisition of Elijah Dukes wasn’t really that “bad” based on who we gave up (Glenn Gibson, who was released a couple years later by Tampa Bay and ended up back with us anyway).

However, the acquisition of Lastings Milledge for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider might be the one trade that I’d most quibble with.  Bowden showed his obsession with “toolsy” and “potential” players in this deal, acquiring the malcontent Milledge and giving the Mets two immediate starters.  At the time I certainly defended the deal; neither Church or Schneider were slated to be starters for the 2008 Nats so you could argue that we got a plus prospect for two backups.  I know I certainly argued that point.  Church seemed to be a brooding platoon outfielder who wouldn’t be happy unless he was starting and Schneider had lost his starting spot to Jesus Flores and was a relatively weak hitter.

As it has worked out Church was a very productive player for New York, Flores got hurt and left the team in a very serious catcher-dearth position, and Milledge turned out to be not nearly the talent that we thought we were getting.  By the time we flipped him to Pittsburgh in 2009 he was barely hitting his weight in AAA and was completely out of the picture for this team.

Mike Rizzo Tenure: Mar 2009 – present

Biggest Trades

  • 2011: Gio Gonzalez deal

  • 2009: Morgan/Burnett deal

  • 2010: Ramos for Capps deal

  • 2011: Henry Rodriguez/Willingham deal

  • 2011: Gorzelanny deal

You have to hand it to Mike Rizzo; he’s not been afraid to make deals.  In his 3 year tenure he’s made 5 significant deals that have vastly changed the way this team is constructed.  Two of those deals (Morgan/Burnett and the Willingham deals) were mostly about cleaning up the roster to get it more in his image of pro-clubhouse guys and pro-defense.  Trading away Milledge and Willingham succeeded in moving the team towards these goals.  The Gorzelanny and Gonzalez trades were about acquiring power arms to shore up the rotation, another tenant of Rizzo-constructed teams.

Best Trades

  • 2010: getting Wilson Ramos

Clearly Rizzo’s best move was stealing Wilson Ramos for a closer (Matt Capps) that we had ample candidates for internally.  The Twins panicked post-Joe Nathan injury and overloaded their bullpen with closer candidates.  Meanwhile Rizzo turned an astute FA signing (a minor league signing that turned into an All Star) into an even more astute trade by getting a nearly MLB-ready catcher in return for a guy who the team wouldn’t be re-signing anyway.  Great move.

Worst Trades

  • 2011: Gomes for Rhinehart/Manno
  • 2009: Bruney for ptbnl (eventually rule5 top pick Jamie Hoffman)

Most readers here loved Christopher Manno and the promise he was showing in A-ball.  Most were also aghast to see Manno go the other way to Cincinnati for a 4th outfielder Jonny Gomes.  At the time, the argument was that Davey Johnson wanted a bat off the bench and that the team needed some OF depth.  What really happened was that Gomes hit his way out of his type-B arbitration status and played so poorly the 2nd half of 2011 that the team couldn’t dare offer him arbitration to get a compensatory draft pick.  So we traded two decent prospects for a half season of awful production.  Not a good move.

Even worse, trading anything to acquire Brian Bruney.  The team acquired Bruney, promptly argued against him and beat him in arbitration, and then (unsurprisingly) Bruney vastly underperformed until being flat out released a few months into the 2010 season.  For me this is a lesson in what not to do with your arbitration eligible players.  It wasn’t so much what we gave up (the first pick in the rule-5 draft *could* have been used to acquire someone of value), it was what we got in return.

Too Early to Tell Trades

  • 2011: Gio Gonzalez deal

Pro-prospect pundits (anyone at Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law, etc) will already tell you that the Nats vastly overpaid for Gio Gonzalez.  That’s because they value the potential of prospects more than the proven commodity of the major league player.  But the fact is this; you KNOW what you’re getting in Gonzalez but you have no idea how a low-A prospect will play out.  The Nats rolled the dice that AJ Cole isn’t going to turn into the next incarnation of Justin Verlander and that Brad Peacock‘s promise will peak as a middle reliever.  The only way to tell how this trade turns out is to track the progress of those players we gave up versus what Gonzalez does for this team over the next 3-4 years.

Thoughts?  Any trades out there that stick in your minds that you thought should be mentioned?

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

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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).

Does lineup protection exist?

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I was reading Zuckerman’s blog posting today and the subject of “batter protection” came up in the comments.  Specifically, a reader rather forcefully said that “lineup protection is a proven myth.”  I know there are some reports out there (Bill James) that claim it is a myth (here’s a link to an article with 3 myth-proving reports).  But I counter instead that “baseball protection is so difficult to really measure that hard core statisticians end up discounting it.”  Here’s a “protection exists” link for comparison purposes.

My thoughts are these: You can’t just look at pure baseball outcomes, compare them to the quality of the following hitter, and make a blanket judgement like this.  You can’t measure a pitcher being “careful” and you can’t measure a hitter purposely trying to make something happen knowing that he’s being pitched around.  Will Carroll at BP did a study of Matt Kemp‘s at bats before /after Manny Rodriguez providing protection and found that the number of fastballs and strike zone pitches were the same … but then concluded somehow that the significant change in the number of curveballs faced was somehow NOT a result of the hitter but instead was just the vagarities of the pitchers being faced.  Really?  You don’t think somehow that the same hitter suddenly getting a ton more curveballs (which are more difficult to adjust to and drive for most hitters) is meaningful?

You also can’t tell me, as baseball fans, that a #8 hitter hitting with two outs and with the pitcher to follow is going to get ANYTHING decent to hit.  The opposing pitcher is always going to be willing to pitch carefully to the batter, force the batter to hit the pitcher’s pitch, expand his own strike zone knowing that you have a 50% chance of a punchout (and usually about an 85-90% chance of an easy out in general) sitting in the ondeck circle.

I have two supporting pieces of evidence right here on the nats.

1. Ryan Zimmerman hit for an OPS+ of 107 and 102 the two years prior to Adam Dunn‘s arrival.  Once Dunn is hitting in the 4 spot, Zimmerman’s last two year’s OPS+ are 133 and 150.  In 2008 Zimmerman’s cleanup hitter/protection was usually Austin Kearns or Lastings Milledge, not the 40-homer hitting Dunn.

2. Look at Ian Desmond‘s splits hitting in the #2 hole versus #8.  .Hitting #2 he’s *significantly* better than hitting #8.  Why?  You think maybe its because he’s got boppers behind him at #2 but a pitcher or a cold pinch hitter behind him at #8?