Nationals Arm Race

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

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2014 Rotation Rankings 1-30

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The ace on the best rotation in the game.  Photo: talksportsphilly.com

The ace on the best rotation in the game. Photo: talksportsphilly.com

Last year, with my excitement over Washington’s Dan Haren signing and my supposition that Washington had the best rotation in the game, I ranked all 30 team’s rotations ahead of the 2013 season.  Then, after the season was done, I revisited these pre-season rankings with a post-mortem to see how close (or, more appropriately, how far off) my rankings turned out to be.

Here’s the 2014 version of this same post: Pre-season rankings of the MLB’s rotations; 1 through 30.  Warning; this is another huge post.  I guess I’m just verbose.  At this point midway through Spring Training there’s just a couple of possible FAs left that could have altered these rankings (Ervin Santana being the important name unsigned right now), so I thought it was time to publish.

The top teams are easy to guess; once you get into the 20s, it becomes pretty difficult to distinguish between these teams.  Nonetheless, here we go (I heavily depended on baseball-reference.com and mlbdepthcharts.com for this post, along with ESPN’s transaction list per team and Baseball Prospectus’ injury reports for individual players).

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Written by Todd Boss

March 10th, 2014 at 9:50 am

Posted in Majors Pitching

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2013 Pre-season Rotation Rankings revisited

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Scherzer's dominant Cy Young season brings the Tigers to the top.  Photo AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Scherzer’s dominant Cy Young season brings the Tigers to the top. Photo AP Photo/Paul Sancya

In January, after most of marquee FA signings had shaken out, I ranked the 2013 rotations of teams 1-30.  I was excited about the Nats rotation, speculated more than once that we had the best rotation in the league, and wanted to make a case for it by stacking up the teams 1-30.

I thought it’d be an interesting exercise to revisit my rankings now that the season is over with a hindsight view, doing some post-mortem analysis and tacking on some advanced metrics to try to quantify who really performed the best this season.  For advanced metrics I’m leaning heavily on Fangraphs team starter stats page, whose Dashboard view quickly gives the team ERA, FIP, xFIP, WAR, SIERA, K/9 and other key stats that I’ll use in this posting.

  1. (#2 pre-season) DetroitVerlander, Fister, Sanchez, Scherzer, Porcello (with Alvarez providing some cover).  Scherzer likely wins the Cy Young.  Three guys with 200+ strikeouts.  The league leader in ERA.  And we havn’t even mentioned Justin Verlander yet.  A team starting pitching fWAR of 25.3, which dwarfed the next closest competitor.  There’s no question; we knew Detroit’s rotation was going to be good, but not this good.  Here’s a scary fact; their rotation BABIP was .307, so in reality this group should have done even better than they actually did.  Detroit’s rotation was *easily* the best rotation in the league and all 6 of these guys return for 2014.
  2. (#3 Preseason): Los Angeles DodgersKershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Nolasco, and Capuano (with Fife, BeckettLilly, Billingsley and a few others helping out); The 1-2 punch of Kershaw (the NL’s clear Cy Young favorite) and Greinke (who quietly went 15-4) was augmented by the stand-out rookie performance of Ryu, the surprisingly good half-season worth of starts from Nolasco, and then the all-hands-on deck approach for the rest of the starts.  This team used 11 different starters on the year thanks to injury and ineffectiveness, but still posted the 2nd best team FIP and 5th best fWAR in the league.
  3. (#8 pre-season): St. LouisWainwright, Lynn, Miller, Wacha and Kelly (with Garcia, Westbrook, and a few others pitching in).  Team leader Chris Carpenter missed the whole season and this team still was one of the best rotations in the league.  Westbrook missed time, Garcia only gave them 9 starts.  That’s the team’s planned #1, #3 and #4 starters.  What happened?  They call up Miller and he’s fantastic.  They call up Wacha and he nearly pitches back to back no-hitters at the end of the season.  They give Kelly a starting nod out of the bullpen and he delivers with a better ERA+ than any of them from the #5 spot.  St. Louis remains the bearer-standard of pitching development (along with Tampa and Oakland to an extent) in the game.
  4. (#22 pre-season): Pittsburgh:  Liriano, Burnett, Locke, Cole, Morton (with Rodriguez and a slew of call-ups helping out).  How did this team, which I thought was so low pre-season, turn out to have the 4th best starter FIP in the game?  Francisco Liriano had a renessaince season, Burnett continued to make Yankees fans shake their heads, and their top 6 starters (by number of starts) all maintained sub 4.00 ERAs.  Gerrit Cole has turned out to be the real deal and will be a force in this league.
  5. (#1 pre-season) WashingtonStrasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Haren, Detwiler with Jordan, Roark and other starts thrown to Karns and Ohlendorf).   Despite Haren’s continued attempts to sabotage this rotation’s mojo, they still finished 3rd in xFIP and 5th in FIP.  Haren’s 11-19 team record and substandard ERA/FIP values drug this group down, but there wasn’t much further up they could have gone on this list.   If  you had replaced Haren with a full season of Jordan’s production, maybe this team jumps up a little bit, but the teams above them are tough to beat.
  6. (#11 pre-season) Atlanta: Hudson, Medlen, Minor, Teheran and Maholm, (with rookie Alex Wood contributing towards the end of the season).  Brandon Beachy only gave them 5 starts; had he replaced Maholm this rotation could have done better.  Hudson went down with an awful looking injury but was ably covered for by Wood.  They head into 2014 with a relatively formidable  and cheap potential rotation of  Medlen, Minor, Teheran, Beachy and Wood, assuming they don’t resign Hudson.  How did they over-perform?  Teheran finally figured it out, Maholm was more than servicable the first couple months, Wood was great and came out of nowhere.
  7. (#26 pre-season) ClevelandJimenez, Masterson, McAllister, Kluber, Kazmir.  Too high for this group?  7th in rotation fWAR, 8th in FIP, and 6th in xFIP.  This group, which I thought was going to be among the worst in the league, turned out to be one of the best.  Jimenez and Masterson both had rebound years with a ton of Ks, and the rest of this crew pitches well enough to remain around league average.  They were 2nd best in the league in K/9.  You can make the argument that they benefitted from the weakened AL Central, but they still made the playoffs with a relative rag-tag bunch.
  8. (#9 pre-season) CincinnatiCueto, Latos, Bailey, Arroyo, Leake (with Tony Cingrani).  Cueto was good … but he was never healthy, hitting the D/L three separate times.  Luckily Cingrani came up from setting strikeout records in AAA and kept mowing them down in the majors.  Latos was dominant,  Leake took a step forward, and Bailey/Arroyo gave what they normally do.  If anything you would have thought this group would have been better.  6th in Wins, 7th in xFIP, 9th in FIP.  Next year Arroyo leaves, Cingrani gets 32 starts, Cueto stays healthy (cross your fingers, cross your fingers, cross your fingers) and this team is dominant again despite their FA hitting losses.
  9. (#25 pre-season) New York MetsHarvey, WheelerNiese, Gee, Hefner and a bunch of effective call-ups turned the Mets into a halfway-decent rotation all in all.  7th in xFIP, 11th in FIP.  Most of this is on the backs of Matt Harvey, who pitched like the second coming of Walter Johnson for most of the season.  Wheeler was more than effective, and rotation workhorses Niese and Gee may not be sexy names, but they were hovering right around the 100 ERA+ mark all year.  One superstar plus 4 league average guys was good enough for the 9th best rotation.
  10. (#12 pre-season) TexasDarvish, Holland, Ogando, Perez, Garza at the end.  Texas’ fWAR was the 2nd best in the league … but their accompanying stats drag them down this far.  Despite having four starters with ERA+s ranging from 114 to Darvish’ 145, the 34 starts given to Tepesch and Grimm drag this rotation down.  Ogando couldn’t stay healthy and Perez only gave them 20 starts.  Garza was mostly a bust.  And presumed #2 starter Matt Harrison gave them just 2 starts.  But look out for this group in 2014; Darvish, a healthy Harrison, and Holland all locked up long term, Ogando in his first arbitration year, and Perez is just 22.  That’s a formidable group if they can stay on the field together.
  11. (pre-season #6) Tampa BayPrice, Moore, Hellickson, Cobb, Archer and Roberto Hernandez.   Jeff Niemann didn’t give them a 2013 start, but no matter, the Tampa Bay gravy train of power pitchers kept on producing.  Cobb was unhittable, Archer was effective and Moore regained his 2011 playoff mojo to finish 17-4 on the year.  An odd regression from Price, which was fixed by a quick D/L trip, and a complete collapse of Hellickson drug down this rotation from where it should have been.  They still finished 12th in FIP and xFIP for the year.
  12. (pre-season #21) SeattleHernandez, Iwakuma, Saunders, Harang, Maurer, and Ramirez.  Seattle featured two excellent, ace-leve performers and a bunch of guys who pitched worse than Dan Haren all year.  But combined together and you have about the 12th best rotation, believe it or not.
  13. (pre-season #7) PhiladelphiaHalladay, Hamels, Lee, Kendrick, Lannan (with Cloyd and Pettibone as backups).  The phillies were 13th in xFIP, 10th in FIP on the year and regressed slightly thanks to the significant demise to their #1 guy Halladay.  Lee pitched like his typical Ace but Hamels self-destructed as well.  The strength of one excellent starter makes this a mid-ranked rotation.  Had Halladay and Hamels pitched like expected, they’d have finished closer to my pre-season ranking.
  14. (pre-season #17) BostonLester, Buchholz, Dempster, Lackey, Doubront, and Peavy: Boston got a surprise bounce back season out of Lackey, a fantastic if oft-injured performance from Buchholz, a mid-season trade for the effective Peavy.  Why aren’t they higher?  Because their home stadium contributes to their high ERAs in general.  Despite being 3rd in rotation fWAR and 4th in wins, this group was 17th in FIP and 18th in xFIP.  Perhaps you could argue they belong a couple places higher, but everyone knows its Boston’s offense that is driving their success this year.
  15. (pre-season #16) New York YankeesSabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Nova, Hughes/Phelps Hughes and Phelps pitched as predictably bad as you would have expected … but Sabathia’s downturn was unexpected.  Are  his years of being a workhorse catching up to him?  The rotation was buoyed by unexpectedly good seasons from Nova and Kuroda.  Pettitte’s swang song was pretty great, considering his age.  Enough for them to slightly beat expectations, but the signs of trouble are here for this rotation in the future.   Pettitee retired, Kuroda a FA, Hughes a FA, a lost season for prospect Michael Pineda and other Yankees prospects stalled.  Are we in for a dark period in the Bronx?
  16. (pre-season #29) Miami: FernandezNolasco, Eovaldi, Turner, Alvarez, Koehler and a few other starts given to either re-treads or MLFAs.  For Miami’s rotation of kids to rise this far up is amazing; looking at their stellar stats you would think they should have been higher ranked still.  Fernandez’s amazing 176 ERA+ should win him the Rookie of the Year.  Eovaldi improved, rookie Turner pitched pretty well for a 22 year old.  The team dumped its opening day starter Nolasco and kept on … losing frankly, because the offense was so durn bad.  Begrudgingly it looks like Jeffry Loria has found himself another slew of great arms to build on.
  17. (pre-season #5) San FranciscoCain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Vogelsong, Zito, Gaudin.  What the heck happened here?  Cain went from an Ace to pitching like a 5th starter, Lincecum continued to completely forget what it was like to pitch like a Cy Young winner, Vogelsong completely fell off his fairy-tale cliff, and Zito completed his $126M journey in typical 5+ ERA fashion.  I’m surprised these guys are ranked this high (14th in FIP, 16th in xFIP but just 27th in fWAR thanks to just horrible performances all year).  What the heck are they going to do in 2014?
  18. (pre-season #10) Arizona: CorbinKennedy, McCarthy, Cahill, Miley and Delgado.  Corbin was 2013′s version of Miley; a rookie that came out of nowhere to lead the staff.  Miley struggled at times but righted the ship and pitched decently enough.  The rest of the staff really struggled.  I thought this was a solid bunch but they ended up ranked 23rd in FIP and 14th in xFIP, indicating that they were a bit unlucky as a group.
  19. (pre-season #15) Chicago White SoxSale, Peavy, Danks, QuintanaSantiago and Axelrod.  Floyd went down early, Peavy was traded.  Sale pitched well but had a losing record.  The team looked good on paper (16th in ERA) but were 26th in FIP and 17th in xFIP.
  20. (pre-season #14) Oakland: ColonAnderson, Griffen, Parker, Straily, Milone, with Sonny Gray giving 10 good starts down the stretch.  This rotation is the story of one amazing 40-yr old and a bunch of kids who I thought were going to be better.   Oakland is bashing their way to success this season and this group has been just good enough to keep them going.  I thought the likes of Griffen and Parker would have been better this  year, hence their falling from #14 to #19.
  21. (pre-season #19) Chicago CubsGarza, Samardzija, JacksonWood, and FeldmanFeldman and Garza were flipped once they showed they could be good this year.  Samardzija took an uncharacteristic step backwards.  Jackson was awful.  The Cubs ended up right about where we thought they’d be.  However in 2014 they look to be much lower unless some big-armed prospects make the team.
  22. (pre-season #20) Kansas CityShields, Guthrie, Santana, Davis, Chen, Mendoza: despite trading the best prospect in the game to acquire Shields and Davis, the Royals a) did not make the playoffs and b) really didn’t have that impressive a rotation.  12th in team ERA but 20th in FIP and 25th in xFIP.   Compare that to their rankings of 25th in FIP and 26th in xFIP in 2012.   But the results on the field are inarguable; the team improved 14 games in the Win column and should be a good bet to make the playoffs next year if they can replace the possibly-departing Santana and the ineffective Davis.
  23. (pre-season #23) Milwaukee: LohseGallardo, Estrada, Peralta, and dozens of starts given to long-men and call-ups.  I ranked this squad #23 pre-season before they acquired Lohse; in reality despite his pay and the lost draft pick, Lohse’s addition ended up … having almost no impact on this team in 2013.  They finished ranked 23rd on my list, and the team was 74-88.
  24. (pre-season #13): Los Angeles AngelsWeaver, Wilson, Vargas, Hanson, Blanton, Williams: The Angels are in a predicament; their two “aces” Weaver and Wilson both pitched well enough.  But nobody in baseball was really that surprised by the god-awful performances from Hanson or Blanton (2-14, 6.04 ERA … and the Angels gave him a two year deal!).  So in some ways the team brought this on themselves.  You spend half a billion dollars on aging offensive FAs, have the best player in the game languishing in left field because your manager stubbornly thinks that someone else is better in center than one of the best defenders in the game … not fun times in Anaheim.  To make matters worse, your bigtime Ace Weaver missed a bunch of starts, looked mortal, and lost velocity.
  25. (#28 pre-season) San DiegoVolquez, Richards, Marquis, Stults, Ross, Cashner: have you ever seen an opening day starter post a 6+ ERA in a cave of a field and get relased before the season was over?  That happened to SAn Diego this year.  Another case where ERA+ values are deceiving; Stults posted a sub 4.00 ERA but his ERA+ was just 87, thanks to his home ballpark.  In fact its almost impossible to tell just how good or bad San Diego pitchers are.   I could be talked in to putting them this high or all the way down to about #28 in the rankings.
  26. (pre-season #27) Colorado: ChatwoodDe La Rosa, Chacin, Nicaso, Francis and a few starts for Garland and Oswalt for good measure.  Another staff who shows how deceptive the ERA+ value can be.  Their top guys posted 125 ERA+ figures but as a whole their staff performed badly.  26th in ERA, 19th in FIP, 26th in xFIP.  Colorado is like Minnesota; they just don’t have guys who can throw it by you (29th in K/9 just ahead of the Twins), and in their ridiculous hitter’s park, that spells trouble.
  27. (pre-season #4) TorontoDickeyMorrowJohnson, Buehrle, Happ, Rogers, and a line of other guys.  What happened here?  This was supposed to be one of the best rotations in the majors.  Instead they fell on their face, suffered a ton of injuries (only Dickey and Buehrle pitched full seasons: RomeroDrabeck were hurt.  Johnson, Happ, Redmond only 14-16 starts each.  This team even gave starts to Chien-Ming Wang and Ramon Ortiz.  Why not call up Fernando Valenzuela out of retirement?  It just goes to show; the best teams on paper sometimes don’t come together.  The Nats disappointed in 2013, but probably not as much as the Blue Jays.
  28. (pre-season #18) BaltimoreHammel, Chen, Tillman, Gonzalez, FeldmanGarcia with a few starts given to Gausman and Britton.  I’m not sure why I thought this group would be better than this; they were in the bottom four of the league in ERA, FIP, xFIP and SIERA.  It just goes to show how the ERA+ value can be misleading.  In their defense, they do pitch in a hitter’s park.  Tillman wasn’t bad, Chen took a step back.  The big concern here is the health of Dylan Bundy, who I thought could have pitched in the majors starting in June.
  29. (pre-season #30) Houston: BedardNorris, Humber, Peacock, Harrell to start, then a parade of youngsters from there.  We knew Houston was going to be bad.  But amazingly their rotation wasn’t the worst in the league, thanks to Jarred Cosart and Brett Olberholtzer coming up and pitching lights-out for 10 starts a piece later in the year.  There’s some potential talent here.
  30. (pre-season #24) MinnesotaDiamond, Pelfrey, Correia, Denudo, Worley and a whole slew of guys who were equally as bad.  Minnesota had the worst rotation in the league, and it wasn’t close.  They were dead last in rotational ERA, FIP, and xFIP, and it wasn’t close.  They were last in K/9 … by more than a strikeout per game.  They got a total fWAR of 4.6 from every pitcher who started a game for them this year.  Matt Harvey had a 6.1 fWAR in just 26 starts before he got hurt.  Someone needs to call the Twins GM and tell him that its not the year 1920, that power-pitching is the wave of the future, that you need swing-and-miss guys to win games in this league.

Biggest Surprises: Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Miami and New York Mets to a certain extent.

Biggest Disappointments: Toronto, the Angels, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Baltimore to some extent.

Disagree with these rankings?  Feel free to pipe up.  I’ll use this ranking list as the spring board post-FA market for 2014′s pre-season rankings.

Written by Todd Boss

October 10th, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Posted in Majors Pitching

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Golfing with Tyler Clippard

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Tyler Clippard and yours truly waiting to tee off on the back nine on September 17th, 2012. Photo; Gary Boss

My Dad and I play in the Diamond Dream Foundation charity golf tournament every year (held this year on Monday September 17th) and this year we had the fortune of being paired up with none other than Nationals closer Tyler Clippard.

Clippard is a pretty darn good golfer.  As we found out, he’s been playing since age 9 and lettered in both golf and baseball in high school (in Florida, golf is a fall sport while baseball is a spring sport, unlike here, so he was able to pursue both sports all the way through high school).  He routinely bombed his drives 310 or so, utilizing a nice draw most of the time.  He could shape his shots on the course nicely (hitting mostly draws but employing a couple of fade shots as needed) and could control the trajectory of his drives based on the wind.  I’d guess he’s somewhere around a 4-5 handicap right now (its really hard to get a read on his mid-iron and short game when you’re chipping off of mud all day).  For what it was worth, he said his older brother was a far better golfer than he, so the golfing bug runs in the family.

We asked Clippard all sorts of questions over the course of the day (it was a slow round so we were on the course nearly 6 hours).  Here’s some highlights:

- We expressed some surprise that he showed up at all; apparently the Nats plane didn’t get back from Atlanta til 2am and he didn’t get to sleep til 4am after the Sunday Braves-Nationals game was moved to be the National 8pm game.  Clippard said that he plays golf on all his off-days, so he was going to show up no matter what.

- He says the team isn’t worried about who they may play in the playoffs at all.  They are confident in their abilities and know they can hang with any team that they may face.

- He gave us his pro history, talking about the various stops he had in the Yankees organization prior to getting traded here.  He saw the entire Yankees system, from rookie all the way to AAA ball, with stops in Charleston, SC, Trenton and then Scranton for AAA.  He said that Battle Creek, Michigan (his Short-A stop) was an “interesting” place to play, to say the least.  I didn’t realize this, but he really rose quickly through the minors, debuting as a starter for the Yankees at age 22.

- He talked about the trade to the Nats; basically he was very grateful for the trade because he was “falling behind” some of the more well-known names in the Yankees organization (Ian Kennedy, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlin and the like) and he knew he’d be getting a better shot in Washington.   It was almost immediately after he arrived in DC that he got converted to a reliever (we didn’t talk about the conversion really, he just said something that I’ve always said; “All relievers are failed starters.”).

- He told us why he signed out of high school despite being just a 9th round pick; He grew up in Tampa (I forgot to ask him if he knew some of the guys that come out of the famous Tampa HS Hillsborough) and had committed to USF, which is in Tampa, and the  Yankees rookie league team is based in Tampa, so he’d have been playing baseball in Tampa whether he went to college or played pro, so he decided to play Pro.   By total luck of the draw, his rookie league, his spring trainings and his high-A teams were all based in his hometown, meaning he could live at home to play pro ball.

- He spoke very highly about new Nats reliever Christian Garcia, having played with him in the Yankees organization.  After two Tommy John surgeries and a knee surgery, Clippard says its fantastic to see Garcia getting a shot at the majors.  He has “electric” stuff, always has, but has never been healthy consistently enough to get his shot.

- I asked him about reliever usage vis-a-vis highest leverage situations versus being the closer, and which he preferred.  Unequivocally he said he’d rather be the closer.  Simply put, baseball teams value the closer and the “Save” over the 8th-inning guy and the “Hold,” and he’s at a critical position in his career earnings-wise (he’s entering his 2nd Arbitration year) for him to be having such a fantastic statistical year.   We didn’t talk money, but per Cot’s he’s at 1.65M this year and you’d have to think he’s getting a significant raise this coming off-season.  Some back-of-the-envelope comparables; Chad Cordero earned $4.1M and $6.2M his first two arbitration seasons, putting his FA market value somewhere right around $10M a year.  Clippard’s stats aren’t as good as last year’s, when he was historically tough, but he’s still comparable to the likes of Jonathan Papelbon, who’s earning $13M a year.   I’d guess Clippard could jump up to the $4M/year range easily in arbitration this coming off-season, assuming his agents put his valuation somewhere between $10M and the $13M that Papelbon got.

- The funniest thing we learned; Clippard lives in Capitol Hill (kind of in the “hood” he joked) and that most of the time he BIKES to the stadium.  Along DC streets.  Which implies that he’s biking home after the games, sometimes at midnight.  He laughed about it, saying that nobody knows who he is and he’s just some random dude biking around the city late at night.

Our golfing team, on the strength of Clippard’s length and some great short-game contributions from the whole group, powered its way through the Army-Navy course to a team -16, good for a tie for 3rd on the day.  Our downfall was parring two par-5s; on both occasions both of our big hitters missed the fairway with drives and had to rely on metal wood second shots from much further back.  The course was not in the best of shape, so any chip around the green was basically off of mud, and everyone struggled to put up-and-down chances close to the hole.  We putted fantastically on the day though, draining several very long birdie puts and even getting a chip-in for eagle from my dad.

All, in all, a great day of golf, and a great time hanging with Clippard.  He’s a great guy and I couldn’t say enough nice things about the guy.

ps: I hate approaching ballplayers to sign stuff, but I had to get Clippard to sign something fun after playing with him all day.  We’re expecting a son in mid-to-late October, so here’s a shot of Clippard’s signature to my yet-to-be-born kid.  :-)

The inscription, in case you can’t read it, is addressed to my son and reads “I hope to pitch against you one day!  Tyler Clippard.”  Awesome.  That’ll sit in my kid’s nursery for a while.

Written by Todd Boss

September 20th, 2012 at 10:02 am

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 12/13/11 edition

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Fare the well Mr Balester; we'll miss your moustache's twitter account. Photo Nats official Al Bello/Getty Images North America via zimbio.com

I have a new rule: when this post hits 1500 words, I’ll publish it no matter what the date.

Nationals In General

  • Re-signing Ryan Zimmerman thoughts, since it keeps coming up thanks to the Pujols signing, Jim Bowden comments and Natmosphere bloggers bringing it up.  After an injury-plagued year (and really, the 3rd such injury-marred year he’s had out of 6 full pro seasons, including 2 surgeries and one torn labrum he just rehabbed but which cost him 1/3 of a season), the team rightfully should be concerned about giving him a Troy Tulowitzki like deal, guaranteeing money for 10 years.  But on the flip side, ironically after such an injury year his value is down and the team probably can save some money by signing him longer term.  The new CBA takes away a lot of the draft pick compensation we would expect by letting him go to Free Agency, and trading him in the middle of 2013, while we’re probably in the middle of a pennant race, would be a non-starter.
  • Speaking of Zimmerman, everyone’s favorite ex-Nats GM Jim Bowden posts some potential Hanley Ramirez trade ideas, you know, since he’s a petulant superstar already prone to being a clubhouse cancer and now in the position of having to move to 3B, probably without being told ahead of time that the team was nearing a deal with Jose Reyes.  His #1 option: Ramirez for Zimmerman straight up.  Bowden is convinced the Nats, by virtue of not having addressed Zimmerman’s contract status, are going to let him walk at the end of 2013.  Its not the first time he’s brought it up.  Hey Jim; stop trying to MAKE the news and just report on it.
  • Some cool blog posts from Nats minor leaguer Ryan Tatusko, on the differences between learning in Pro ball versus College, and another posting just before it on the “art of throwing a ball.”
  • Trade announced Friday 12/9/11: Collin Balester to the Tigers for rhp Ryan Perry.  A good move for both sides: the Nats were likely to have to waive Balester at the end of spring training by virtue of his lack of options, so we get something for nothing.  Perry has an option left and, while his 2011 numbers were pretty bad, he does have one more  option remaining so the team can use spring training as a tryout of sorts.  Perry could be a natural replacement for Todd Coffey, and is a good move since clearly Balester’s value to the team has ceased and we still need a couple of bullpen arms.  Great analysis of the trade here from Masn’s new beat reporter Pete Kerzel.  Great human-interest angle here from Amanda Comak: Balester’s wife is from Detroit so the family is ecstatic that he’s playing so close now.
  • Byron Kerr, whose writing I normally like, wrote a laughably pro-team article about some of our marginal relievers.  The quotes about Doug Slaten are especially ridiculous, quoting our new bench coach Randy Knorr as saying that Slaten is “one of the three best left-handed relievers in the National League.”   That is so ridiculous that I had to comment on the article and call Kerr’s reporting into question.
  • Henry Rodriguez‘s change-up was listed among the “more interesting” pitches to talk about in baseball by Sam Miller from Baseball Prospectus.  Also thrown in there is Roy Halladay‘s cutter, Mariano Rivera‘s cutter, Javier Lopez‘s drop-down side-arm fastball and Brad Lidge‘s slider.  All of these pitches are analyzed in various statistical measures.
  • The Non-tender deadline came and went, and the team acted as I predicted here.  They protected all their arbitration-eligible guys outside of Doug Slaten.  Here’s a link to MLBtraderumors non-tender tracker for all 30 teams, and there are definitely some interesting names out there now for the Nats, who definitely have some FA needs.  Peter Moylan, Ryan Theriot, Joe Saunders, Andy Sonnanstine and a few others.  BJ Upton was tendered, meaning we’re going to have to give up some prospects to get him.  Mind you, some of these non-tenders are part of pre-arranged deals to come back to the club, but some are definitely the team cutting ties.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • Let the bidding begin!  Yu Darvish officially posts, and as a side-effect makes his soon-to-be-ex-wife a multi-millionare.  Good for him (and her).  Mike Rizzo and the Nationals have definitely scouted the guy and are interested; how high will be willing to go on the posting fee to “win” the negotiations?  Another thought: why wouldn’t we just blow out the posting fee, guarantee the win, then play uber-hardball with Darvish on a contract to make the entire package reasonable?  If we can’t agree on terms, he goes back to Japan (where he clearly has nothing left to prove) but nobody else gets him?  Sounds a little disingenuous but its a strategy.  In any case, we’ll know the posting winner by Wednesday.
  • How do the Tampa Bay Rays keep doing this?  Phenom pitcher Matt Moore signed a 5yr/$14M contract that has club options that could max it out at 8yrs/$40M and buys out the first two free agency years.  I wonder if, 4 years from now, we’ll be looking at this contract and absolutely shaking our heads in disbelief at how underpaid he is.  Kinda like how we look at Evan Longoria‘s contract and say the same thing.
  • A good point about the Angels’ Pujols signing: they now have way too many guys who play first base and outfield.  Morales, Trumbo, and Abreu seem to be first basemen only, and they still have the outfield quartet of Wells, Hunter, Bourjos and uber prospect Mike Trout.   They fixed some catcher depth issues, they don’t need starting pitching.  I wonder what the Nats could do to take some of these hitters off their hands?
  • Arizona lands one of the Oakland starters Trevor Cahill in trade.  Arizona bolsters their division-winning rotation, now looking at Kennedy, Hudson, Cahill, Saunders and Collmenter.  Not bad.  Most pundits are calling the trade a steal for Arizona, who gave up a 1st rounder but only two other mediocre prospects.
  • Turns out the Nats were off by a significant amount on Mark Buehrle.  We offered 3yrs/$39M versus the 4yrs/$58M he got from Miami.  No wonder he took their deal.  Too bad; he would have been a good addition.  Not the addition I would have gone after, but still a solid #3 starter for the next few years.
  • All those people who write “Pujols should have stayed”  or “Pujols has tarnished his legacy” articles should probably zip it.  As is depicted here, the Angels clearly showed they wanted Albert for the long term, including the personal services contract.  Not to mention their offer beat St. Louis’ by $40M.   You just cannot leave $40M on the table.  A few million over a number of years, sure.  $40M?  No way.  Oh, and for everyone who says “well, Stan Musial stayed with St. Louis his whole career,” I will counter with this: “Musial had a reserve clause, Pujols does not.  If icons from the pre 1970s had free agency as an option to earn more money and move to better situations, you’d be a fool to think that they wouldn’t have used that system.”
  • Would you take a flier on AJ Burnett?  The Yankees apparently are willing to eat $8M of the $33M owed to him over the next two years.  If he moved from the AL East to the NL East, he’d probably see a full point reduction in his ERA.  But a quick look at his career stats lends me to believe that he’s barely above mediocre but paid like a super-star.  Burnett’s career ERA+ is now 105.  Our own John Lannan‘s?  103.

General Baseball News

  • Since I’m a bay-area native, I’m always interested in reading news blips about San Francisco and Oakland teams.  Here’s Andrew Clem with a quick blog post with some interesting links to potential new stadium sites and designs.  The big sticking point, obviously, is that the Giants claim San Jose as their territory.  And its hard to argue with them; clearly the “bay area” of San Francisco is exactly the suburbs of San Francisco.  Even though its roughly the same geographical distance from DC to Baltimore as it is from San Francisco to San Jose, there are three major highways to ease the traffic flow (as opposed to one between the two east coast cities) and people routinely make their way up and down the peninsula to commute.  Thus, its going to be a very difficult sell for Oakland to move south, even if they stay across the bay in the Fremont area.  I don’t know the solution; just that the A’s now reside in the same division as the 2-time defending AL champs AND the Angels with their newly minted $170M payroll.  Ouch.
  • Unbelievable: the reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun reportedly has tested positive for a synthetic testosterone and faces a 50-game ban.  What an unexpected piece of news; one of the “new generation” of sluggers who wasn’t tainted at all by the shenanigans of the last 90s now has thrown us back into the same PED conversation we’ve been having for years.  That being said, there is some hope in reading the linked article.  Apparently he asked for a second test, and he was clean in the second test.  There are “false positive” tests all the time.  The case is under appeal but has leaked out (unfortunately for the slugger, who now faces the stigma of the positive test even if its a false positive).
  • Boston announces that Daniel Bard will be moved to the starting rotation in 2012.  Excellent move by Boston; if Bard is just a decent starter, he’s still far more valuable than as a reliever.  Of course, this more or less guts the back end of their bullpen, so look for Boston to sign some of the reliever/closer talent still available on the FA market.

General News; other

  • Not that you may care about the BCS and college football, but here’s a fantastic analysis of the BCS formulas and the flaws contained within them.  It isn’t a bombshell article, but does show some troubling facts about a system that has built in flaws, with coaches voting on items that have a direct effect on their own teams’ successes.


Ask Boswell 11/21/11 edition

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If you had to pick one player to start a team with ... you can't do much better than Tulowitzki. Photo unknown via facebook page.

With the Redskins losing games faster than the GOP loses presidential candidates, Tom Boswell did his weekly Monday chat on 11/21/11.  He did take a ton of baseball questions; here’s how I’d have answered them.

As always, questions are edited for clarity and I answer here prior to reading his.

Q: Boz, If you pick any current baseball player (assuming current ages) to start a team with who would it be?

A: Great question.  I’d probably go with a position player over a pitcher, just for risk’s sake.  Has to be a young, already productive player.  I’d focus on a marquee position that generally is difficult to fill.  I’d probably go with Troy Tulowitzki.  Also in the mix would be Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, Jacoby Ellsbury, Evan Longoria, Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw.  These are all guys who are in their mid-20s and who have already proven they are accomplished, MVP/Cy Young calibre players.  Boswell never answered.

Q: How is MLB going to come up with the 2013 schedule, with 15/15 team-league splits, constant interleague play and balanced opponents?

A: Who possibly knows.  I just did some quick calculations and there’s not really an easy answer coming:  Assuming a (more) balanced schedule:

  • 6 home/6 away against 4 divisional rivals = 48 games.
  • 3 home/3 away against 10 other league rivals = 60 games
  • 3 home/3 away versus your “Natural Rival” = 6 games

That leaves 48 games to play. 48 games is 16 3-game series.  That doesn’t really work out too well for 15-team leagues.  Do you play every AL team once and double up somewhere?  Do you focus on playing a home/away series with each of a 5-team AL division on a rotating basis?  That would take away 10 of the 16 series but you still have 18 games to figure out.  And, what happens when your rotating division ends up being the same as your Natural rival?  Then you either play them as many times as you play your divisional rivals or you double up elsewhere.

Frankly, I think the unbalanced schedule needs to stay, if only to emphasize divisional rivalries.  If you increase divisional games to 9 home/9 away then you have 72 games accounted for intra-division.   Take away 60 regular season games intra-league and your 6-game set versus your “natural opponent” you’re left with exactly 24 games.  That’s 8 three-game series, which still isn’t an even number but could be handled with a team playing an entire AL division (splitting home and away) and parts of another.  I don’t know; there’s no real clean solution that makes itself evident.

Boswell also says he has no idea how the schedule will work.

Q: Better Pitcher for the Nats – Oswalt or Buerhle?

A: I’d rather have Oswalt frankly.  Buehrle may be an innings eater but Oswalt is a better pitcher, an “Ace” without question just within the last couple of seasons.  I don’t want a #3 starter; I want a guy to join my two best arms and give me something approaching a playoff rotation.  Caveat; I have to be sure Oswalt is healthy.  Does he have too many innings on that arm?  Is he recovered from his back injury?  The Nats are clearly favoring Buehrle right now, an indication that either they don’t trust Oswalt’s injury or they perceive that Oswalt wants to return to Texas.  Boswell doesn’t really answer, just noting that Buehrle throws about as hard as Milone.

Q: So who do you think we have in CF starting next year?

A: Someone that we either sign or acquire from outside the organization.  The easy guess would be BJ Upton, but a couple things have to happen before that happens.  There’s a few other interesting options that could serve as another 1 year hold-over til we figure things out.  I don’t see the team depending on Werth in center full time.  Ankiel was excellent defensively but was awful at the plate and the team should go in a different direction.  Boswell goes with Upton, after a non-tender.

Q: Boz – Rizzo makes numerous references to the Nats being open to trades. The team is in the unique position of having a surplus of young talent. Who do you think are the untouchables and who are the prospects that we may never see play in a Nats uniform because they were traded away?

A: Untouchables: Harper, Strasburg, Espinosa, Zimmerman, Rendon, Purke, Cole, Goodwin, Meyer, Norris, Peacock. Potentially in play for trades: Storen, Clippard, Solis, Ray, Desmond, Hood, Marrero, Detwiler, Lannan and pretty much anyone else.  Prospects we may never see in a Nats uniform?  That’s a harder question to guess on.  There’s certainly guys who seem blocked in a certain extent, but I’m guessing we trade MLB talent to unblock them before we trade them as prospects.  The team has come too far with its farm system to just throw away the fruits of it.  Boswell agrees mostly; he’s too busy using these questions as a forum to trash the Redskins.

Q: So do you think there is a chance that they sign Zim to a long term contract now or are we in danger of him going to free agency? I don’t want to see him in a Yankees/Phillies uniform.

A: This is a better question for NEXT off-season.  However if I’m Rizzo, and Zimmerman spends another couple months on the DL this season with some random injury, I’m really, really hesitant to give him a Troy Tulowitzki/Ryan Braun type of extension.  I may just allow him to leave or trade him mid 2013 (assuming the team isn’t in 1st place at the time).  By the way, he’ll never play for the Yankees; they have roughly $170M locked up in Alex Rodriguez‘s aging bat for the next decade.  Phillies?  I don’t think they have much in the way of payroll flexibility in the 2013 timeframe.  A real possibility is Boston; i have a future blog post detailing the scenario they could find themselves in sooner than later.  Boswell says they can, and should do the deal, despite the risks b/c he may be a lot more expensive next off-season.

Q: If you were starting an MLB team today, who would you want as your ace? Clayton Kershaw or Stephen Strasburg? Kershaw already has a Cy Young yet is only four months older than Strasburg.

A: I call this the Jason Amos question, my LA Dodger following friend who posed this same question to us earlier this season.  Right now, if I had to choose between the two I’d have to go KershawStrasburg could be a question mark for years to come.  If Strasburg thorugh finishes a couple of healthy seasons I may change my mind.  Strasburg has such a higher level of dominance capability that you’d have to choose that for the longer term, if you were convinced of his health.

A follow up question though; are either Kershaw or Strasburg the best young pitcher in baseball?  I say maybe not: Felix Hernandez and Clay Buchholz have both put up pretty good seasons in their pre-arbitration years.  Guys like Ian Kennedy, Michael Pineda, David Price also put their names in the mix.

Boswell says Kershaw, saying he’s “done it.”  Fair enough.

Q: After Harper’s Arizona Fall League performance, is there any chance he makes the opening day squad if he is the best candidate coming out of spring training?

A: There is a chance, if only because Davey Johnson has made a habit of selecting precocious and talented players and sticking with them.  Guys like Doc Gooden and Daryl Strawberry.  However, the arithmetic penalty for getting Harper into super-2 status by accident is pretty clear; it could cost the team north of $15M.  So, my gut says Harper will be left in Harrisburg to tear up AA for a few weeks, move up to Syracuse and join the team in mid June.  If he earns it, of course.  Boswell agrees with this assessment, then gives up a nugget; apparently Johnson “called up” most of the 9/1 call ups without really conferring with Rizzo, meaning they had to scramble to do the 40-man moves to make it happen.

Q: I noticed that the Nats added catcher Jhonatan Solano to their 40-man roster. This seems to indicate that they will trade one of their catchers (most likely Derek Norris) in exchange for a centerfielder. My best guess is Norris, LaRoche (assuming the Nats eat most of his contract), and Marrero to the Rays for Upton. What do you think?

A: The Nats added Solano for spare-part cover, nothing more.  It indicates nothing about a potential trade, only that they didn’t have another MLB-ready catcher on the 40-man in case Ramos or Flores gets hurt straight away.  Norris isn’t ready yet, but is a better prospect than Flores (and possibly than Ramos).  I think the trade bait is really Flores.

By the way, that trade offer for Upton is awful.  The Rays are most likely non-tendering the guy; why would we give up such a haul for him?  GMs know the Rays are hamstrung and will wait them out.  Just as the Twins should never have traded Ramos, the Nats will be hard pressed to give up Norris.

Q: Considering the abysmal state of sports in DC (including, right now, the Caps) is it the time for the Nats to take advantage and go big now? Rizzo’s MO is to fly under the radar on free agency and trades so there’s little that’s going to come from the Nats by way of info. Do you think they might be considering going after some of the big names, such as Pujols or Fielder (and trading LaRoche)?

A: Why deviate from the plan now?  This team is getting setup for the very long term, generating a ton of rising talent, cost contained, while augmenting where needed with key free agents.  LaRoche has zero trade value, so unless you want to waste 1/8th of your payroll you have to use him.  I think blowing $200M on either Pujols or Fielder would be shortsighted and would unnecessarily hamstring this franchise going forward.  Boswell thinks its a good idea.

End of Season Award Review

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Here’s a wrap up of the end of season awards.  I posted my predictions here (albeit without MLB comeback player of the year predictions, since those came out very early in the off-season).

Final results: For the 2nd year running, I went 8-for-8 in predicting the BBWAA awards.   But I will say this; predicting these awards going forward will be more difficult, as more modern baseball writers will depend more and more on advanced stats to decided these awards.  Meanwhile, I was only 1-for-4 in predicting the Sporting News “unofficial” award add-ons for GM and Comeback player (and I pretty much disagree with all I was wrong about :-) .

  • AL MVP:  Prediction: Justin Verlander.  Winner: Verlander.  Ellsbury 2nd, Bautista 3rd.
  • AL Cy Young: Prediction: Justin Verlander. Winner: Verlander, unanimously.  Weaver 2nd, Shields 3rd.
  • AL Rookie of the Year: Prediction: Jeremy Hellickson. Winner: Hellickson rather easily.  Trumbo 2nd, Hosmer 3rd.
  • AL Mgr: Prediction: Joe MaddonWinner: Maddon.  Leyland 2nd, Washington 3rd.
  • Sporting News AL GM: Prediction: Andrew FriedmanWinner: Dave Dombrowski.
  • Sporting News AL Comeback player of the Year.  Prediction: Bartolo Colon.  Winner: Jacoby Ellsbury.
  • NL MVP: Prediction: Ryan Braun. Winner: Braun.  Kemp 2nd, Fielder 3rd.
  • NL Cy Young: Prediction: Clayton Kershaw.  Winner: Kershaw handily.  Halladay 2nd, Lee 3rd.
  • NL Rookie: Prediction: Craig Kimbrel.  Winner: Kimbrel unanimously.  Freeman 2nd, Worley 3rd.
  • NL Mgr: Prediction: Kirk GibsonWinner: Gibson. Roenicke 2nd, LaRussa 3rd.
  • Sporting News NL GM:Prediction: Doug MelvinWinner: Melvin.
  • Sporting News NL Comeback player of the year.  Prediction: Ryan Vogelsong.  Winner: Lance Berkman

Discussion (here’s a link to all the 2011 post-season voting with totals from Baseball-Reference.com).

  • AL MVP: Verlander as predicted.  Not because I think he’s the MVP (see my rant about Pitchers winning the MVP here), but because he won the voting.  I think this kind of winner will gradually fade as more modern, stats-aware voters pour into the BBWAA and start “improving” the vote.  The same goes for Cy Youngs as well; see commentary for the NL Cy Young award.  That being said, this voter’s explanation perfectly sums up what I would have guessed would have happened.  And this guy, who voted Michael Young first, Verlander 2nd, Ellsbury 5th and Bautista 7th should really have his voting credentials questioned.
  • AL Cy Young: no surprise on the winner, or 2nd or 3rd place really.  I was surprised that Josh Beckett didn’t fare better.  Perhaps it was because of his injury later in the season.  His WAR should have put him in the top 5.
  • AL Rookie: Again, no surprise winner here.  Hellickson proved his value with a sparkling 2010 late season call-up, just as Matt Moore did this year for Tampa.  This award looked to be Michael Pineda‘s at the all-star break.  He finishes 5th.
  • AL Manager: Maddon won pretty handily; no surprise here.
  • AL Comeback Player of the Year: when you put Ellsbury’s season into context, he certainly out-performed any reasonable expectation of his abilities.  He wasn’t exactly a slouch in 2009, but he certainly wasn’t a 30-home run talent either.  I guessed Colon just based on the fact that he was basically out of baseball before the Yankees signed him.
  • AL Executive: Perhaps the voters have tired of the tight-rope act going on in Tampa.  Dombrowski’s FA signings were sublime, but his mid-season trade for Doug Fister probably won over the voters, who watched the Tigers improve 14 games and win the AL Central.  I question the award though; Detroit already had a massive payroll and established players in most positions.  Tampa made the playoffs in a year they slashed payroll by 40% in the AL east.
  • NL MVP: another award that will be roundly criticized by Sabre-nerds, since Kemp had a slightly better statistical season.  However I agree 100% with Mark Zuckerman‘s reasoning.  The MVP is the best player on a playoff team, unless a player on a non-playoff team has an other-worldly season.
  • NL Cy Young: Even I was surprised at the overwhelming win; 27 of 32 first place votes.  Halladay the easy 2nd place winner, though we’re bound to hear stat-heads whining that Halladay had the more impactful season.  Interesting that Ian Kennedy garnered one first place vote; thankfully it didn’t factor into any of the eventual results, because anyone who thought Kennedy’s season was better than the first three pitchers was crazy.  I think the Kershaw vote was predictable if only because Halladay already has a Cy Young to his credit, and voters wanted to give the award to someone new.  Predictably, Keith Law voted against the majority in a major award category, as he’s done the past few years.  I say predictably because Law represents the stat-heavy minded voter that, while probably correct in their voting way, does not represent the majority of current voters and thus made the predictability of this award relatively straight forward.  Here’s Amanda Comak‘s vote and explanation.
  • NL Rookie: Again, no surprise that Kimbrel won unanimously, as most older voters notoriously over-rate closers.  But there wasn’t a better choice than Kimbrel after his dominant season.  Atlanta shows how good a franchise they have been in developing talent lately with 1st and 2nd place in this competition, to go with the excellent Brandon Beachy.  Watch out next year for Julio Teheran and Arodys Vizcaino to be early ROY candidates.
  • NL Comeback Player:  No offense to Berkman’s incredible offensive season, but its not as if he was exactly chopped liver prior to 2011. Vogelsong hadn’t appeared in the majors since 2006!  Vogelsong was one of this year’s great feel-good stories, stuck in the minors for years and then putting up a fantastic season covering for the injured Barry Zito at the age of 33.  The players showed why they can’t be trusted to vote properly; Vogelsong is the definition of a comeback player.
  • NL Executive: Melvin’s all-in approach for 2011 worked, and he was rewarded for it.
http://www.freep.com/article/20111116/SPORTS02/111116004/Dave-Dombrowski-co-winner-Sporting-News-Executive-Year-award?odyssey=mod%7Cnewswell%7Ctext%7CSports%7Cs:

My End-of-Season award Predictions

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Justin Verlander's season is one for the ages. Will it net him both a Cy Young and an MVP? Photo unknown origin via rumorsandrants.com

Last year (not to pat myself on the back or anything) but I went 8 for 8 in predicting the end-of-season awards for MLB.  In 2010 though, most of the major awards were relatively straightforward, even the Managers of the year being pretty obvious, so perhaps it wasn’t that great of a feat.

Here’s my predictions for 2011.  There’s been enough discussion about these awards in the media, with enough differing opinions, that its going to be interesting to see how this plays out.  This time through, there’s enough controversy about who really “deserves” the two MVP awards that I’ll be offering up some distinctions between who I think will win and who really should win.  I wonder if sometime soon we won’t have to make that distinction.

  • AL MVP:  Who I think will win: Justin Verlander.   In a year where none of the four playoff contending teams really had a break-out candidate, I think the voters will give it to a pitcher for the first time in 25 years.  I don’t agree with it: I don’t think pitchers should be eligible for MVPs (a topic for a future blog-post), but Verlander’s season was clearly a step ahead of the normal pitcher’s season.  As for Jacoby Ellsbury, his 30/30 season and his single-handed effort to drag his team into the post season almost earned him the nod, but when Boston missed the playoffs I’m guessing Ellsbury’s candidacy took a nose dive as well.  Curtis Granderson‘s fade in the 2nd half after a blistering first half costs him, despite a fantastic season overall. Adrian Gonzalez also started out w/ a monster first half, but faded down the stretch.  Jose Bautista would get more consideration if he was playing for a better team.  Miguel Cabrera quietly had a fantastic season but he’s completely overshadowed on his own team by Verlander’s great season.  Who really should win? Batista if his team was relevant at all.  He was clearly the best AL offensive player this year and put up historic stats.  But, the modern MVP isn’t about guys who toil in the 2nd division.  If they wanted to give the equivalent of a “Cy Young” to the “best hitter” in the league, Batista would be the winner hands down.  The definition of the MVP comes into consideration yet again.  Who probably would have won if his team didn’t collapse and miss the playoffs? Ellsbury.
  • AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander, with a no-hitter and dominance day-in and day-out, first to 20 wins and the pitching triple crown.  Jered Weaver, Josh Beckett get some 2nd place consideration (despite Beckett’s late season injury and subsequent beer and chicken distractions).   James Shields became a new pitcher in 2011 and could get some top 5 votes. CC Sabathia will get votes since wins play so heavily.  Felix Hernandez won’t get the votes he got last year.  CJ Wilson had a great season leading Texas to back-to-back titles; thankfully for him the voting for this award came in prior to his post-season meltdowns.
  • AL Rookie of the Year:  Jeremy Hellickson had wins and a great ERA and should be the pick.   Michael Pineda looked like a lock until fading in the 2nd half, but Hellickson’s toiling on the East Coast (media bias) and in the AL East (legitimately more difficult than the teams Pineda normally faced) gives him the nod.  Mark Trumbo put up some comparisons to Wally Pipp for Los Angeles and gives the Angels another big bat going into 2012.  Jordan Walden (closer for the Angels) had a fine season.  Ivan Nova quietly put his name into the mix with a 16-win season.  Justin Smoak, perhaps Dustin Ackley, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Aaron Crow could get mentions.  Zack Britton started strong but disappeared in the 2nd half.   There’s so many good candidates this year, the voting may be pretty close, and any of the above names could get some top-5 votes.  But Hellickson should be the winner.
  • AL Mgr:  Joe Maddon‘s magic show of a managing job, with a completely new bullpen, huge loss of talent and nearly halving of his team’s payroll from the 2010 version of the Rays yet still sneaking into the playoffs should be your winner.  Manny Acta, who had the Indians in playoff position for a bit after last year’s 93-loss season in the first half, gets some consideration.  You could mention the job Ron Washington did to get his team back to the WS despite losing his ace pitcher.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL GM: This award begins and ends with Andrew Friedman, who had the Rays in the playoffs with a payroll 1/5th of his competition.  It just doesn’t get any better than that.  Dombrowski in Detroit gets some credit for trades that paid off well, and Daniels in Texas gets some longer term credit for continuing to build a good young team.
  • NL MVP: Who I think will win: Ryan Braun led his team to the playoffs and overshadowed his cleanup hitter down the stretch.   Matt Kemp hit the cover off the ball all season but his team went nowhere during the season of the McCourts, and there’s little precedent for players from the 2nd division winning the MVP unless they have an outer-world season.  Jose Reyes had a great (contract) year, but his team is faltering and he was hurt by injuries.  And, his little ploy to guarantee the batting title on the season’s final day certainly turned off some BBWAA members.  Andrew McCutchen had a breakout season but the Pirates swoon will cost him.  Lance Berkman will get some consideration but will be difficult to select since he’s (arguably) the 3rd best player on his own team.   Prince Fielder also had a monster year and could take votes away from Braun, but without a clear candidate in the competition I’m guessing Fielder comes in 3rd.  Justin Upton came out of nowhere (as did his team) to put his name in the discusion and likely is a top-5 finisher.  Who really should win? Kemp clearly, but for the same reasons Batista won’t win, neither will Kemp.
  • NL Cy Young:  Clayton Kershaw won the NL pitching “triple crown” (Technically, he tied for the league-lead in wins with 21) for a team with a losing record on the year.  That’s tough to do.  Roy Halladay, having his typical dominant year with 6 CGs at the break, certainly deserves the award but i’m guessing voters want to reward someone new.  Cliff Lee isn’t having a half-bad season either.  Cole Hamels and Jair Jurrjens should be in this conversation but tailed off in the latter part of the season.  Ian Kennedy should get some 4th and 5th place votes for his fantastic season, finishing 21-4 for the surprising NL West winning Diamondbacks.
  • NL Rookie: Craig Kimbrel, who broke the rookie-save record before the all star break and is one of the top closers in the game right now will win despite what people may think about saves and reliever value.  Freddie Freeman is in the conversation.  Phillies starter Vance Worley has come out of nowhere to go 9-1 to start the 2nd half.   The Atlanta rookies (including Brandon Beachy) could go 1-2-3.  Hometown candidates Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos certainly deserves some notice and may get a few 5th place votes here and there, but you can’t hit .230 and expect to win the ROY award.
  • NL Mgr: Kirk Gibson in Arizona for a worst-to-first turn around.  Clint Hurdle of Pittsburgh, with his 2010-worst team over .500 at the all star break is 2nd.
  • (unofficial award) NL GM: Milwaukee’s Doug Melvin wheeled and dealt his prospects into two front-line starters and a first place team out of last year’s 77-win team.  You can also give some credit to Towers in Arizona (though a lot of the work there was due to his predecessor).

Thoughts?  There’s plenty of opinion pieces out there with these predictions, though most were published at the end of the season.  Get ready for two weeks of award over-analysis as these awards are given out by the BBWAA starting November 14th.

MLB Divisional Series Predictions

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After a pretty unbelievable 6 minutes last night, where the Red Sox snatched defeat from the hands of victory and then the Rays had a walk-off win to an amazing comeback (not to mention the Braves losing a heart-breaker to finish off their own September collapse earlier in the nigth), we have a completely different playoff picture than most people predicted just last week.  Lets take a look and put up some predictions.

First off, 3/8ths of these teams were in such scramble mode just to make the playoffs, they havn’t really even declared probable pitchers yet.  But i’ll put in some guesses.

GM# Home-Visitor Visiting Starter Home Starter Advantage
1 Det-NYY Verlander Sabathia Det
2 Det-NYY Fister Nova NYY?
3 NYY-Det Garcia Scherzer Det?
4 *NYY-Det Sabathia Porcello NYY
5 *Det-NYY Verlander ? Det
1 TBR-Tex Neimann Wilson Tex
2 TBR-Tex Shields Holland TB?
3 Tex-TBR Lewis? Price? TB
4 *Tex-TBR Harrison Hellickson? TB?
5 *TBR-Tex Neimann? Wilson Tex
1 Ari-Mil Kennedy Gallardo Ari?
2 Ari-Mil Hudson Marcum Mil
3 Mil-Ari Greinke Saunders Mil
4 *Mil-Ari Wolf Collmeter Ari?
5 *Ari-Mil Kennedy Gallardo Mil?
1 Stl-Phi Lohse Halladay Phi
2 Stl-Phi Garcia Lee Phi
3 Phi-Stl Hamels Jackson? Phi
4 *Phi-Stl Oswalt Carpenter Stl
5 *Stl-Phi Lohse Halladay Phi

By Series Thoughts:

  • Detroit-New York: Detroit took the Season series 4-3 and is on a roll.  New York basically has no idea who is going to pitch the 3rd game (Garcia?  Colon?  Burnett?) or the 5th game, and the 4th game would be Sabathia on 3 days rest.  Detroit is essentially a 1 1/2 pitcher rotation right now, with Verlander unbeatable and Fister just as good.  Game 3 is the toss-up; which 4+ ERA starter will cave first?  Prediction: Detroit in 5.  Supplemental prediction: New York over-reacts and gives CJ Wilson $180M in the off season after having zero pitchers left in game 3.
  • Tampa Bay-Texas: Texas took the season series 5-4, but Tampa is obviously hot entering the post-season.  Tampa’s pitching staff was shredded just to get into the playoffs, leaving them at a disadvantage.  They burned their ace Price last night (and he got hammered), meaning they likely can’t use him til game 3.  Meanwhile, arguably their 5th best starter (Neimann) looks likely to get two starts because of the scheduling.   Unless the team puts uber-prospect Matt Moore on the roster and puts him into the rotation.  Despite all that, the Rangers themselves have a conundrum in that the matchups don’t really favor them, at all.   I don’t think the Rangers can beat Shields in game2, and may struggle to beat Price with their #5 starter Colby Lewis going in game 3.  The pivotal game is game 2: can Texas hold serve at home?  Prediction: Tampa in 4.
  • Arizona-Milwaukee: Arizona took the season series 4-3.  This is a strange series; if Arizona’s pitching is for real, this could be a great series.  If not?  It could be a quick sweep for Milwaukee.  Arizona needs to win both of their Ace Ian Kennedy’s starts to have any shot, but both will be on the road.  The pivotal game could be game 4, with the veteran Randy Wolf going against the surprising elder rookie Josh Collmeter.  Prediction: Milwaukee in 5.
  • St. Louis-Philadelphia: the one team Philly didn’t want to see in the post-season; St. Louis took the season series 6-3.  However, Chris Carpenter was burned just to get into the post season, meaning they likely won’t see him until game 4.  By which point Philly may very well have swept this series.  St. Louis’ pitching isn’t that great this year, with all their starters posting good ERAs but not really dominant lines.  Philadelphia really struggled down the stretch; we’ll find out soon enough if its because they were tired or just complacent by having locked up the #1 seed so early.  I’m guessing their 4-game winning streak to end the season (including the dagger-like 3-game set in Atlanta to cost them the WC) means they’re geared up.  Prediction: Philadelphia in 3

If this plays out, we’re looking at Milwaukee-Philadelphia and Tampa-Detroit for ALCS.  Not as compelling as MLB wants, but some good story lines none the less.  Could be a Philly-Tampa 2008 rematch world series.  We’ll revisit predictions after the divisional rounds are complete.

Nats Rotation Cycle #26: good/bad/soso

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(apologies; i’m a week behind on posting this)

Cycle #26 starts with a 3-game set at home to Philadelphia, one that set attendance records for the Nats Stadium.

Good

  • Ross Detwiler put in perhaps his best appearance of the season in the opener against Arizona on 8/22 (box/gamer).  He gave up just one run on 6 hits and 3 walks through 6+ innings and beat Arizona’s nominal “Ace” and northern virginia native Joe Saunders.  My opinion on Detwiler’s future use continues to waver; clearly he’s above Gorzelanny in the pecking order but I continue to doubt his ability to stick in the starting rotation.  A few more quality starts should start to change my opinion.
  • Jordan Zimmermann‘s 2nd to last start on 8/23 (box/gamer) was a tale of two pitches.  He pitched 6 shutout innings, allowing just 3 hits and one walk.  Four batters into the 7th; a ground out, a walk, a homer and a double erased his clean outing and tagged him with a loss.  His horrible run support continues; his offense was completely shut down by Arizona’s ace Ian Kennedy.

Bad

  • Its hard to really knock Livan Hernandez for what he did on Friday 8/19 (box/gamer).  After throwing just a handful of pitches before enduring a 2 hour rain delay, he dutifully came back out on the mound instead of burning a spot-starter for his team.  Unfortunately the Phillies were ready for him; 4 runs on 7 hits in 4 ip.  Luckily for all involved, Gorzelanny came out and pitched 3 innings of shutout ball before the team scored SIX runs in the bottom of the 9th to get the unlikely win.  Unfortunately for Hernandez, its just one more piece of evidence that his days with this club are numbered.
  • John Lannan got bounced around by a feisty Phillies team on 8/20 (box/gamer) and took a loss in a game that nobody on the staff could have won.  Counterpart Roy Oswalt pitched 8 shutout innings after getting an extra night’s rest and the team’s offense went to sleep.  He gave up 5 runs (3 earned) on 7 hits and four walks in just 5 innings.  The massive influx of Philadelphia fans set a new stadium attendance record, besting the previous record by nearly 3,000 fans.

Mediocre/Inconclusive

  • Chien-Ming Wang drew the Phillies ace Roy Halladay in the 8/21 series finale (box/gamer) and pitched toe to toe with him before a rain delay knocked both starters out.  Wang gave up 3 runs on 5 hits, including two shocking home runs that seemed out of character for his pitching style.  Keeping the Phillies hitters to 3 runs over 5+ innings may seem herioc but I’ll just give him a mediocre outing on the day.

Relievers of Note and other News

  • Stephen Strasburg‘s 4th rehab outing is scheduled for Monday 8/22 in Hagerstown.  Results?  Better than the last time.  3 innings, 2 runs on 2 hits and 6 K’s while working mostly on off-speed pitches.  The opposing team stole four bases, an indication to me that they knew Strasburg wasn’t really holding them on that well.  60 pitches 40 of which were for strikes.  Zuckerman seemed to think it was a successful outing.

Thoughts on the offense

  • Mr Walkoff Homer Ryan Zimmerman got his 8th career walkoff with a memorable grand slam on friday 8/19.  According to rather dubious google research, the career leaders in baseball history are a slew of hall of fame sluggers with 12 each.  Ryan is 26 and in his 7th pro season and is nearly in the conversation of having the most of these for his career.

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).