Nationals Arm Race

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

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Nationals Arm Race Best Stories for 2013; Happy New Year!

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On the last day of 2013, I thought I’d take a quick peek back at the posts and discussion that shaped the blog this year.  Here’s a highlight reel by month of the most read and commented-upon posts in this space, as well as recaps of major events and personal favorite entries.

January 2013:

February 2013:

March 2013:

April 2013:

May 2013:

June 2013

July 2013

August 2013

September 2013

October 2013

November 2013

December 2013

Happy New Year!  Its been fun.

 

Nats 2013 Arbitration cases; Non-tender candidates and salary analysis

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Ohlendorf's old-school/new-look windup has resurrected his MLB career.  Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Ohlendorf’s old-school/new-look windup has resurrected his MLB career. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

In 2012, the Nats had no less than 10 arbitration candidates once the dust settled on the Super-2 cutoff.  The team cut ties with three of the players (Jesus Flores, Tom Gorzelanny and John Lannan) and then subsequently struggled in areas where Gorzelanny (left handed matchups) and Lannan (5th starter) may very well have helped during hte 2013 season.  We predicted these three non-tenders and mostly agreed with the thought process behind each decision at the time.  This is a complete “hindsight is 20-20″ analysis, but it does go to show that perhaps instead of dumping $11M/year onto a mediocre closer they could have fortified their ranks and kept all three players (who together wouldn’t have totaled the $11M Rafael Soriano got) and perhaps wouldn’t have struggled in these areas for so long.  Or perhaps not.  I digress.

For 2013, the Nats have 8 Arbitration-eligible players.   They had a few other candidates before some demotions (Danny Espinosa, Ryan Perry) and releases (Roger Bernadina and Henry Rodriguez) cleared out potential non-tender/additional arbitration candidates early.  Unlike last year there’s really not much argument about nearly any of our arbitration-eligible players (even mlbtraderumors does not list any Nats in its non-tender candidate list).  Lets take a look at the 8 guys, their 2013 salaries, their 2014 estimates, and discuss.  The salary projections are from Matt Swartz‘s mlbtraderumors model, and I’ll discuss if I think they’re slightly over- or under-representative.  As with all salary discussions, all information comes from Baseball Prospectus’ Cots page.

Player Arb Status 2013 Salary 2014 Swartz Estimate
Jordan Zimmermann Arb 3 $5.3M $10.5M
Tyler Clippard Arb 3 $4.0M $6.2M
Stephen Strasburg Arb 1 $3.9M $3.9M
Ian Desmond Arb 2 $3.8M $6.9M
Drew Storen Arb 2 $2.5M $3.6M
Ross Detwiler Arb 2 $2.3M $2.8M
Wilson Ramos Arb 1 $501k $2.1M
Ross Ohlendorf Arb 2 ? $1.3M

Frankly, the only possible non-tender candidate I see here is Ross Ohlendorf.  He signed a minor league free agency deal with Washington whose terms were never released, so one can only assume it was for the major league minimum or near it.   He went through arbitration once already, earning more than $2M/year from Pittsburgh in 2011 before bottoming out as a starter.  He’s reinvented himself this year though and merits a tender.  Paying anything less than $2M/year for what we got from Ohlendorf would be a bargain.  If the Nats got him for Swartz’s estimate of $1.3M that’d be fantastic.

Speaking of Swartz’s estimates, lets take a look at his 10 predictions from last year versus what transpired:

Swartz’s arb salary model for our 2012 candidates
Player Swartz Estimate Actual Salary
John Lannan $5.0M NT $2.5M
Jordan Zimmermann $4.9M $5.3M
Tyler Clippard $4.6M $4.0M
Ian Desmond $3.2M $3.8M
Tom Gorzelanny $2.8M NT $2.6M
Ross Detwiler $2.2M $2.3M
Drew Storen $1.7M $2.5M
Jesus Flores $1.2M NT ML
Roger Bernadina $1.1M $1.2M
Craig Stammen $900k $875k*

(* Stammen signed a 2 yr/2.25M deal paying him 875k and $1.375M his first two arb years.  After non tenders Lannan signed a 1yr/$2.5M deal with Philadelphia, Gorzelanny signed a 2yr/$5.7M deal that pays him $2.6M and $2.8M and which gave him a $300k signing bonus.  Flores signed a minor league deal).

I’m not sure I’d call Swartz’s model the self-titled “very accurate” based on these numbers.  He was significantly wrong on the three biggest cases the Nats faced last year but proved be much more accurate on the lesser players.   It sounds to me like his system does a great job of predicting arbitration figures for bit players but struggles with significant players.  I also get the feeling that the Nationals are less willing to argue with their players than other teams, after a series of brusing and self-defeating fights over a few hundred thousand dollars under the previous regime (relative pennies, all things considered).

With that in mind, lets do a little arbitration salary analysis for our 8 guys.   The general rule of thumb with arbitration salaries is that they are intended to ramp up the full FA value of the player over the three arbitration periods.   So in the first arbitration year, the salary should be roughtly 40% of the full FA value.  60% in the second year and 80% in the third year.  Players with a fourth year are tricky; generally i’ve just assumed that by the 4th year you’re paying them nearly full FA value (we don’t have any 4th year arbitration cases this year, so we don’t have to guess).  The table below contains the Swartz estimates, then has calculations of the player’s full FA value based on the Swartz estimate, then my own personal estimate of each player’s full FA value, and a working-backwards arbitration salary guess for each guy:

Player Arb Status 2013 Salary 2014 Swartz Estimate Full FA Value based on Swartz Estimate My Est of full FA value Arb estimate based on my full FA value
Jordan Zimmermann Arb 3 $5.3M $10.5M $13.125M $15M $12M
Tyler Clippard Arb 3 $4.0M $6.2M $7.75M $8m $6.4M
Stephen Strasburg Arb 1 $3.9M $3.9M $9.75M $15M at least $6M
Ian Desmond Arb 2 $3.8M $6.9M $11.5M $15M $9M
Drew Storen Arb 2 $2.5M $3.6M $6M $6M $3.6M
Ross Detwiler Arb 2 $2.3M $2.8M $4.66M $5M at best $3M
Wilson Ramos Arb 1 $501k $2.1M $5.25M $8M if healthy $3.2M
Ross Ohlendorf Arb 2 ? $1.3M $2.16M $2.5M at best $1.5M

Lets go player by player:

  • Jordan Zimmermann: 2013 Salary was $5.3M.  Swartz guesses he’ll get $10.5M while I think he’ll get more.  If Zimmermann hit the open market right now you have to think he’s at least a $15M/year guy, and I think the team will have to pay him as such after his 2013 season.   The Nats face an interesting decision with Zimmermann; they clearly waited one season too long to lock him down and he now may cost double what it cost the team to secure Gio Gonzalez‘s services.
  • Tyler Clippard: 2013 salary $4.0M.  Swartz guesses he’ll get $6.2M.  Clippard represents a different arbitration case; by virtue of the fact that Clippard went from being the 2012 closer to being the 2013 setup guy, he’ll have a harder time arguing for additional money despite his excellent season.  Why?  Because arbitration is driven by the same old-school stats (Wins, Saves, ERA, RBI) that drive sabrematricians crazy, and unfortunately Clippard didn’t get them in 2013.  So even though I think he’s a $8M/year closer for a team that gives him that opportunity, he won’t get that value in arbitration.  I’ll be surprised if he gets near to Swartz’s estimate of $6.2M.  Honestly the team should look to buy him out of his last two arbitration seasons and look to move him to a team in need of a closer.
  • Stephen Strasburg; 2013 Salary $3.9M.  Swartz guesses he’ll get $3.9M again?  Clearly something is wrong with his system.  No matter what you think about Strasburg’s 2013 season … by nearly any measure available he’s one of the 10 best pitchers in the game.   If he hit the open market right now I’d guess he’d command at least $20m/year, but for simplicity’s sake I’m putting his FA value at a conservative $15M, which would equate with a $6M valuation for his first arbitration season.   Do the Nats just buy him out of his arbitration figures, much as the Giants did with Tim Lincecum?
  • Ian Desmond: 2013 salary $3.8M.  Swartz guess: $6.9M.  Again, I feel like Swartz is undervaluing a significant player here.  Desmond has now established himself as one of the best shortstops in the game.  If you want a comp, look no further than Elvis Andrus‘s $15M/year contract.  I think Desmond is absolutely worth a 6/$90M deal or higher right now, and I think we’ll see it in his arbitration case.
  • Drew Storen: 2013 salary $2.5M.  Swartz estimate: $3.6M.  Here I think Swartz is right on; because Storen’s not getting saves right now, and because of his crummy 2013, I’ve got his FA value pegged at a mid-range closer cost of $6M/year.  Which puts him right in line for a $3.6M payday in his second arbitration year.  As with Clippard, I think Storen’s value is limited as long as he doesn’t get saves, and the team should look to move him before he gets too expensive.
  • Ross Detwiler: 2013 salary $2.3M.  Swartz Estimate $2.8M.  Frankly Swartz may be over-estimating on Detwiler, based on his 2013 season.  At this point in Detwiler’s career its hard to say he’s any more valuable on the FA market than John Lannan was last year (getting a 1yr $2.5M deal).  Which means that any arbitration award above $2.5M may mean Detwiler enters non-tender territory if he struggles in 2014.  Nonetheless, I think he’ll end up getting just a modest raise and an organizational ultimatum for 2014.
  • Wilson Ramos: 2013 salary $501k.  Swartz Estimate: $2.1M.   Here, despite my thinking that Ramos is eventually going to be more valuable than Swartz’s estimate indicat es, I believe that his number will be about right.  Ramos needs to stay on the field consistently to realize his full FA value, and right now that just hasn’t happened.
  • Ross Ohlendorf: 2013 salary unknown.  Swartz Estimate: $1.3M.  This guess is as good as any; at best Ohlendorf is a $2.5M player on the FA market and even that might be a stretch.  A right-handed long-relief guy isn’t going to command a ton of money.

Total payroll hit: $37.3M if all of Swartz’s estimates come true exactly.  $44.7M if all of my estimates above come true.  Honestly I think my calculated estimates are slightly high in a couple of cases, so I think the arbitration bill will come in at around $42.5M.  Which, by the way, would put 2014′s payroll at around $122M before signing a single free agent.  So think about that and think about what the Nats “real” payroll budget is before thinking that they’ve got some significant signing in their back pocket.

Nationals 2013 post-mortem

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This may be the last time i use Haren's picture in a Nats uniform on this blog.  Photo via Zimbio.com

This may be the last time I use Haren’s picture in a Nats uniform on this blog. Photo via Zimbio.com

They say success has many fathers but failure is an orphan.  Well, here’s a whole slew of orphan-causing problems that befell this team this year.  I started this post months ago, when the team sputtered in July and suddenly sat at 54-60.  None of these bullet points are surprises.  Maybe I forgot some key points; feel free to tack ‘em on.   This is a cathartic, washing my hands of the 2013 season, where so many things conspired to go wrongly.

  1. Davey Johnson, for continued pitching/bullpen mismanagement episode after episode, for seemingly losing the clubhouse (see below), for sticking with severely under-performing players (Espinosa, Haren especially) far, far too long, for failing to react to repeated beanings of his best player, and for generally looking old, tired and out-matched this year at press conference after press conference.  This team needs a new voice, a disciplinarian who will command more respect than what Johnson was commanding from this team.  My vote is for Matt Williams.
  2. Injuries.  Every team has injuries; I’m not going to write some simplistic statement that says “well if we had So-and-So healthy all year we’d have won the division.”   Look at St. Louis: they’re missing Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia basically all year and still won the best division in the game.  I think the issue most people will have with the Nats is the way their players’ injuries were handled.  Bryce Harper missed the whole month of June after several wall collisions finally caught up to him and he was clearly in pain the rest of the season.  Did the team not allow him to get healthy at the end of April?  Meanwhile you have to take serious issue with either the team, Danny Espinosa or both over the handling of his injuries.  What good did it do anyone to allow Espinosa to try to play through the significant shoulder injury he apparently has?  Why has he STILL not had the surgery done to fix it?  It sounds to me like there’s some serious stubbornness on both sides of this fence.  Ross Detwiler looked to be on the verge of a breakout season in 2012 … and now he’s back to being the broken down starter he’s mostly been during his time here.  In his 6 pro seasons he’s not pitched full seasons in 3 of them.   This isn’t necessarily on the team .. but I will ask this: at what point do you go into a season counting on Detwiler to break down instead of the reverse?  It goes to proper roster planning (also mentioned later on).
  3. Bench production, for regressing so far past the mean from last year’s over production.  Did you know that Steve Lombardozzi got more than 300 plate appearances this year with this slash line: .255/.276/.337?  I know you need backup utility infielders, but man, that’s a huge 68 OPS+ hole getting a ton of ABs.  Our opening-day bench of Lombardozzi/Moore/Bernadina/Tracy posted these OPS+ figures in 2012: 82/123/111/111.  In 2013?  69/66/43/55.  Wow.  That’s just a startling drop-off in production.  To add insult to injury Kurt Suzuki‘s OPS+ went from a respectable 95 last year to 64 this year.  Basically every pinch hitting spot or guy off the bench covering for a starter turned into an 0-4 outing.  We know that at least 3 of these 5 bench guys are gone; who will replace them?
  4. Dan Haren.  $13M for one of the worst starters in the game, even given his little August rebound.  The team finished 4 games out of the wild card, 10 games back of Atlanta.   In Dan Haren’s 30 starts, the Nats went 11-19.  In every other pitcher’s starts, the team went 75-57.   That’s a .568 winning percentage, which equates to 92 wins.  Even a #5 starter who gave the team a 50/50 chance of winning on any given sunday would have basically put the team into the WC game.  Haren was just a really really poor FA acquisition who contributed a huge part to the downfall of the team.  I wonder at this point if the Nats didn’t fail to do the proper medical due diligence on Haren; there was a reason the proposed trade to the Cubs fell through and there was a reason the Angels did not give him a qualifying offer.  I fully admit: I was completely on board with the signing, thinking we were getting the pre 2012 Haren.  Wrong; something clearly changed for him after the 2011 season and I wonder how much longer he can stay in the league after his last two seasons.  I’m sure he’ll get another one-year deal for 2014 based on his stronger finish, but another 5+ ERA season may finish him.
  5. Offense in general: The team scored 656 runs on the year.  That’s down fully 75 runs from last year, when they were 10th in the league in scoring.  Had they produced like they did last year in 2013 (about 10th in the league in runs scored and other key indicators),  they’d have scored around 700 runs, probably good for at least 10 more wins (under the rough estimate that it takes about 4 “extra” runs per win).  With 10 more wins … they’re winning the division again (since some of those added wins come at the hands of Atlanta).
  6. Hitting in the Clutch: Ask any sabre-nerd and they’ll tell you that “clutch” doesn’t exist and that all aspects of batting (good or bad) with RISP is merely coincidence (this came up again recently with David Ortiz’ game-changing NLCS homer).  I don’t entirely buy it. I think hitting with runners on base is a skill that can be practiced and honed.  I think there’s importance to driving runners in when you have the opportunity.  I think a batter with a runner on third and less than one out can absolutely look for a ball that he can hit into the air, thus driving in the run.  Anyway: let’s look at how well the Nats offense hit in the clutch this season (see this team-stats split link at tFangraphs).  The Nats team batting average with runners on base is ranked 19th in the league; its wRC+ as a team 17th.  However, change “runners on base” to “high leverage” in the Fangraphs split and you get this: Nats were 29th in high leverage batting average, 28th in wRC+. That’s right: almost dead last in the league in high-leverage hitting for the year.  When they came to bat in situations that mattered, they were one of the worst teams in the league.  Any way you slice it … that’s not “clutch.”
  7. Clubhouse Issues: I know that many readers here get irritated with presumptions of “chemistry” issues, writing comments about how we have no idea what really goes on in the clubhouse.  Fair enough; we don’t need to rehash the argument.  Absent any proof, I believe something might have been amiss.  Reporters have noted the losses of free-spirit Morse and the level headed DeRosa.  The Soriano acquisition brought a known surly loner with behavior problems into a tight knit bullpen and resulted in the chain reaction demotion of two guys (Storen and Clippard) who didn’t necessarily deserve to be demoted.  I believe Harper was fed up with Johnson’s message and was caught on camera more than once clearly ignoring or showing disdain to something he was being told.  To say nothing of the ridiculousness of Harper getting hit over and over without any of his teammates getting his back.   Can a new manager fix this?  Probably.  Can a leadership void fix this?  Definitely.  Perhaps with Jayson Werth‘s great season he can step up in the clubhouse and be the voice of reason moreso than it seems he has been before (either because he was struggling on the field or collapsing under the weight of his contract).
  8. Rizzo’s mis-management of the 2013 roster: Rizzo just had to have his speedy leadoff/centerfielder, and Span underperformed when it counted (I’m on record stating over and over that the team is wasting Harper’s defensive capabilities in left and blocking a power-hitter acquisition by sticking with Span in center.  But what’s done is done).  The opening day roster had no left handed specialists, a move that I quasi-defended at the time but which turned out to be disastrous.  We relied on a MLFA (and frankly, we over-relied an incredibly short sample size) for the long man (Duke) and he failed. We had absolutely no starting pitching depth in the high Minors and got rather lucky that Taylor Jordan materialized out of the thin air of high-A and Tanner Roark suddenly added 5 mph to his fastball and turned into an effective MLB hurler.  We had a $120M payroll but were depending on bargain basement acquisitions in key roles.  That just has to change for 2014.  Don’t go looking to save pennies on the proverbial dollar by non-tendering useful guys (as they did with Tom Gorzelanny last year); do the right thing and lock these guys up.  You had enough to waste $30M on Soriano but couldn’t find the scratch to keep around half of 2012′s bullpen?
  9. Pressure. this team had no pressure last year, and all of the pressure this year.  Nearly every baseball pundit with a blog, microphone or column picked them to win the division (me included), and lots picked them to win 100+ games (me included).  Look at how awfully they fared this year against the NL playoff bound teams:
  • Stl: 0-6, scoring just 8 runs in 6 games.
  • LA Dodgers: 1-5
  • Atlanta: 6-13.  Outscored 73-49
  • Pittsburgh: 3-4
  • Cincinnati: 4-3 but outscored 36-27 thanks to a 15-0 spanking the 2nd week of the season.

When the chips were down, they folded.  Especially against Atlanta, who pushed the team around, continually threw at us, and we had no reaction (that is until Strasburg suddenly had a fit of wildness which some will argue was less about standing up for his players and more about being off that day).   I lay this at the manager’s feet again.  Atlanta has proved time and again (and again) that they’re capable of acting like bullies when it comes to “unwritten rules” of the game, and Johnson let this go unchecked far too long.  A new manager with some balls will put an end to this nonesense, fast.  Sorry to sound crude, but it is what it is.  Johnson had no balls and made his entire team look weak in the face of the Braves.

Yes its great the team had a run in August and September.  What does it really mean?  Their schedule was cake in August and then filled with teams with AAA callups in September.  Who is the real Denard Span?  The guy who hit .235 in the middle of the summer or the guy who hit .303 in September?  Can Werth keep this kind of production up in the face of father time in 2014?  Can LaRoche return his OPS to something better than what a middling 2nd baseman can produce?  Can Harper stop running into walls and stay on the field?

I think the scarier part for Nats fans is the fact that this team is basically going to be the exact same team next year. Nearly every position player, likely the entire rotation (simply replace Haren with a healthy Detwiler), most all of the bullpen. There’s not a lot of holes here, not a lot of wiggle room.   Unless there’s a major trade on the horizon that drastically reshapes the roster, this is your team in 2014.  Can they turn it around and make up the 14 games they declined in the win column?

In summary; which of the above points IS the real issue behind 2013′s disaster?  And how do you fix it?  Because if you don’t address it, then 2014 is going to be the same story.

 

What will Shark fans do now?

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Bernadina's Aug2012 catch in Houston remains a franchise highlight.  Photo zimbio.com

Bernadina’s Aug2012 catch in Houston remains a franchise highlight. Photo zimbio.com

I guess that’s the biggest question mark in the wake of yesterday’s deal, where the Nats released the longest serving member of their franchise Roger Bernadina and traded for a decent bench player in David DeJesus and at least $2.5M worth of contract obligations for  PTBNL.

Update: Ken Rosenthal is speculating that the Nats brass may have made this trade because of a “waiver wire mistake.”  DeJesus is apparently already back out on waivers again.  If this is the case … then I’ll really criticize Mike Rizzo here.  If you put in a claim on a Chicago Cubs guy, a team CLEARLY shedding any and all payroll, you have to think they were going to accept the claim.  There seems to be more to this story that seems to cast the Nats front office in a questionable light.

For me, Bernadina was a case study in a guy who was just slightly below a good MLB hitter.  He wasn’t a 4-A guy; he showed that in spurts he could hit in the majors.  But when given full time opportunities in 2010 and 2011 he just couldn’t get it done.

An, in yet another comment that seems to indicate how out of touch Davey Johnson is this season, he was quoted by Amanda Comak as saying that Bernadina is “still kind of a young player“ as part of his explanation for why he just couldn’t get it going this season.  Really?  Kind of a  young player?  Aged 29.  Played in the majors parts of 6 seasons, has more than 1300 major league plate appearances to go with another 3300 plate appearances in the minors, and playing professionally in our system for a decade.   Sorry Davey, he’s not a young player anymore.  He is what he is; a streaky hitter who was probably lucky last year and unlucky this year, who had his shots to be the full time CF here and just couldn’t hit enough to stick.  Great fielder, by all accounts a great guy.

Why release him instead of DFA him?  Probably a classy move by the Nats here; by outright releasing him there’s no waiver process, no shenanigans that have been going on related to teams trying to rig the waiver/DFA process.  Bernadina was almost guaranteed to be non-tendered this coming off-season anyway, so why not make him a FA now and give him a shot to catch right back on with a team right away?

ps: useless programming note: this is the 600th post at NationalsArmRace!  Too bad its on such a down note.

Update: 2 days after his release, Bernadina has signed with Philadelphia after receiving calls from “10 teams.”  Good for him; he should get playing time in Philly and maybe he can parlay that into another MLB gig elsewhere.

Written by Todd Boss

August 20th, 2013 at 9:35 am

Ladson Inbox 8/12/13

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The drumbeat to move Zimmerman to first continues.  Photo AP via tbd.com

The drumbeat to move Zimmerman to first continues. Photo AP via tbd.com

Hey, its been a while since MLB Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson did an inbox.  With the Nats season now relegated to “playing for pride,” I’m guessing this inbox is going to be chock full of questions about the future.  Lets dive in.

As always, I write my response to each question before reading his, and edit questions for clarity/conciseness.  All stats mentioned are as of 8/13/13.

Q: Do you think the Nationals could trade Adam LaRoche, move Ryan Zimmerman to first base, Anthony Rendon to third base and sign a free-agent second baseman like Robinson Cano?

A: Wow, that’s a lot of moving parts.  Lets take this wish list of proposed personnel moves one by one:

  • Trade Adam LaRoche: we’d likely not get a whole heck of a lot for a 33 turning 34 year old first baseman who clearly took a step back in 2013.  LaRoche currently ranks 22nd among league-wide first basemen in wRC+, barely above the league average.  By way of comparison, Mark Reynolds is ranked 25th and was just flat-out released after passing through waivers.  So, no I don’t think there are a lot of teams out there willing to pony up the $14M he’s owed next year ($12M in salary, $2m of a buyout of his 2015 option).   This signing has really set the team back offensively.  Though to be fair, Michael Morse (who would have slotted in at 1B had the team not been able to re-sign LaRoche) is also posting about the same wRC+ numbers and has missed half the season with yet another injury.
  • Move Ryan Zimmerman to first base: yes I think this is going to happen eventually, but not this off-season.  I think you handle the transition of a gold-glove winning player off his chosen position carefully and with consideration to the clubhouse ramifications.  I don’t think it played well in Texas’ clubhouse when a former gold-glove winning shortstop Michael Young was moved to third against his wishes, and he made way for a superb defender in Elvis Andrus.  Zimmerman would be making way for a relative unknown (though presumed gifted) defensive replacement.  I think the Nats brass is chalking up 2013′s subpar defensive season to Zimmerman’s lingering shoulder issue, which has exacerbated his already problematic throwing motion and associated mental issues.  I see Zimmerman giving it a fresh start in 2014, and if it becomes clear it isn’t working out we look at spring training 2015 as a position transfer.
  • Move Anthony Rendon to third: it likely happens eventually.  But him moving to third has to wait for the first two bullet points to happen, so again I’m predicting perhaps 2015.  I think more time at 2B will give him more confidence and his errors will subside.  So far his range at 2B is passable (UZR/150 of 0.5 in 448 innings), but that’s a far cry from what Danny Espinosa was offering there (UZR/150 of 12.0 this year, which would have been good for 2nd in the league.  He posted a 9.9 in a full-season last year).  But, by the time Rendon is set to move to 3rd he may very well just stay at 2nd.  He seems like he’s the right size and shape to play 2nd.
  • Sign Robinson Cano.  There’s no question Cano will be the marquee FA this coming off-season, but I don’t think he signs with Washington for two main reasons.  First, the Yankees just cannot let the one remaining good offensive player they have leave, and I believe they’ll over-pay him to stay.  Secondly, whoever signs Cano is making a potentially classic free agency mistake; overpaying a guy in his down years.  Look at the 9 figure deals signed lately for position players, and look at how many of them are almost immediately regrettable.  Albert PujolsRyan HowardJosh HamiltonCarl Crawford and our own Jayson Werth.  All of those deals routinely listed as the worst contracts in the game.  I believe Mike Rizzo is smart enough and forward thinking enough not to hamstring the team with another contract.

So, my answer to this scenario is “not going to happen.”  Ladson says “call me in the off-season.”

Q: How do you defend your previous support of Danny Espinosa?

A: Um, you can’t. Espinosa has now had nearly 1600 major league plate appearances and has a career slash line of .230/.303/.396.  He just cannot hit batting left handed (career splits: he’s 40 batting points and 75 slugging points lower batting left-handed).  He’s hitting .219 in AAA since being demoted.  He faces serious concerns about where his career is going right now.  Yes he’s a great defensive player, but that only gets you halfway to a MLB job these days. Ladson says Espinosa has been hurt this whole time and when he’s healthy he’s good.  But he also admits that Espinosa’s time playing full-time for the Nats is probably at an end.

Q: Is Denard Span a bust?  He has a low on-base percentage and he hasn’t been stealing many bases.

A: Yes, I think its safe to say that Denard Span has been a bust.   He never really stole that many bases (17 last year, career high of 26), but certainly he has posted much better OBP numbers (.342 last year, .350 career).  What has happened to him in 2013?  Who knows.  He has stated that he likens this year to his rookie year, having to learn a whole new league of pitchers.  That could be fair; and could lead to a rebound in 2014.   I do know this; .313 OBP from the lead-off spot just doesn’t cut it.  To make matters worse, his defensive stats have dropped off too; his UZR is down, his DRS is down.  That’s really not a good sign; you can put up with a #8 hitter batting .260 with no power if he provides great value in the field.  If not, then you’re better off bringing up a minor leaguer to see what he can do.  This is another concern for Rizzo heading into the off-season; is this a one-off, an adjustment season for Span, or is this the start of his decline phase?   Ladson extolls Span’s defense, admits he’s not getting on base and postulates the Nats could go after Shin-Soo Choo in the off-season to replace him.  I think Ladson needs to look at the defensive numbers on Choo before advocating that; he’s dead last in UZR/150 for center-fielders right now, by a significant margin.  Now, if you got Choo and moved Bryce Harper back to center?  I’d be for that 100%.  Make Span your 4th OF, wave good-bye to Roger Bernadina and move on.  

Q: Do you think Drew Storen will be traded? His relationship with the Nationals doesn’t seem the same since he blew the save last year against the Cardinals during the National League Division Series.

A: Traded?  No.  Re-called and put into a lesser bullpen role?  Absolutely.  I think once Drew Storen fixes whatever mechanics issue that has been plaguing him, he comes right back to a Ryan Mattheus type role in the pen.  Storen’s ERA in Syracuse is unsightly so far (unlucky small sample size; he’s given up 4 runs on just 7 hits), but he’s got 11 k’s to 0 walks in 6 innings.   AAA hitters aren’t exactly challenging him, if he’s struck out half the guys he’s faced.  If the team was considering him in trade … you’d have to think they would want to get him back up to the majors to regain value anyway.  Ladson thinks he can regain value and can be a MLB closer again.

Q: Will the Nationals consider going after Michael Morse when he becomes a free agent at the end of the year? He would have helped the Nats’ offense this year, splitting time between the outfield and first base. What do you think?

A: As much as I like Morse and have complained about losing him … you have to realize who he is.  He’s an oft-injured slugger who has no position on an NL team.  If we signed Morse, where exactly does he play?  I guess you could platoon him with LaRoche at first or with Span in the outfield … but as a righty he’d play bat twice a week.   I think Morse signs on as a DH with an AL team for surprisingly low money.  If Seattle offers him a Q.O. I’d be shocked.   Ladson doesn’t think he would have helped the team, nor does he see any way he gets signed.

 

Ask Boswell 7/22/13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Can we get rid of Span?

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

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

Boswell says that Bernadina isn’t the answer.

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

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

Q: Should we start platooning Span with Hairston?

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Should Krol start working later in games?

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Should we keep Soriano in the closer role?

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

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

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

 

Two months in; Stuck in Neutral

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So my dad calls me the other day and immediately exclaims, “What’s wrong with this team?!?

Today, the season is 57 games old.  Two months old.  Almost exactly 1/3 old.  And the Nationals, the supposed power houses, next-coming-of the 1927 Yankees, the possible 110 win Nationals, are a .500 team.  Actually, a game under .500 with the weekend series loss to Atlanta.

We’ve talked about the Nats early schedule (as has Tom Boswell recently), chock full of 2012 playoff contenders.   But 2013 is a new season and in reality the Nats as of two months in have played the 14th ranked schedule of 30 teams (3 days ago it was 19th ranked … so these rankings move fast).   We’ve talked about the injuries, the offense in general, defense, the bench, Drew StorenDanny Espinosa, and Dan Haren all as contributing factors. A couple of prominent national baseball writers pipped in on 5/31/13 on this topic: Jay Jaffe on si.com and then Rob Neyer on BaseballNation.com, offering some suggestions, possible trades (Ian Kinsler?) and possible call-ups (the obvious Anthony Rendon).

But here’s my scary thought, as proposed to my dad.  What if .500 is exactly what this team is?

The 2011 Nationals finished .500.  The 2012 Nationals surprised us all and won 98 games.  Now the team is back to its 2011 levels.  Is it possible that this was always a .500 team for whom everything went perfectly right in 2012?  All the stars were in alignment in 2012 in terms of hitting, bench play and coming out parties for guys like Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper and Gio Gonzalez.   Now in 2013 are we just seeing all these guys revert to their normal production levels?

Were we just spoiled by the amazing bench production we got last year?  Here’s a quick table (stats as of 5/31/13):

player 2012 OPS+ 2013 OPS+ Career OPS+
Bernadina 113 34 85
Moore 125 27 90
Lombardozzi 83 55 74
Tracy 112 19 97

In other words, all four primary bench guys outperformed their career OPS+ values (mostly by a 25-30% factor) in 2012, and now all four guys are hitting so far below replacement level as to be drastically hurting the club.

I think the answer to the above questions goes along the following, topic by topic:

  • No, this is better than a .500 team.  The 2013 team is absolutely better than the 2011 team that rallied in September to finish 80-81.  The rotation now is leaps and bounds better than the 2011 rotation.  The offense (on potential anyway) is better.
  • This team is by-and-large the exact same team as the 2012 98 win team.  You can quibble about the loss of Michael Morse‘s charisma and power versus the fire-starting abilities of Denard Span at the top of the order, but then you also have to acknowledge the runs-saved so far this season by having an additional plus-plus defender in the outfield.  Haren versus Edwin Jackson?  At least a wash.  Bullpen additions and subtractions?  Perhaps replacing Burnett, Gorzelanny and Gonzalez with just Zach Duke and Rafael Soriano has weakened the bullpen.  Perhaps not, considering Soriano’s pedigree as a closer and its cascading effect on the rest of the bullpen.
  • The bench over produced in 2012 and is underproducing thus far in 2013, per career averages.  A bit of expected regression to the mean should indicate rising bench offensive production from here on out.  It almost has to; there’s just no way that these four guys are going to hit THIS badly the rest of the season.

But, the early season damage as been done.  At this point, just for the team to match its 2012 win total they’d have to finish the season 70-35.  That’s a .667 winning percentage.  That’s a 110-win pace for a season.  The NL Central right now has three teams with better records than either Atlanta or Washington, the two pre-season NL favorites, meaning there may not even be a NL Wild-Card to fall back on.  This team needs to focus on winning the division or there may not be an October.

This sounds like something Yogi Berra would say, but here goes: you have to score to win.  For me, if they start scoring runs and out-hitting teams, the issues we have with defense, the bullpen and injured starters will become secondary concerns.  As we speak, these Nationals are hitting .229 AS A TEAM.  That’s unbelievable.   Almost amazingly bad.  They’re 28th in batting average.  They’re dead last in team OBP (on a pace for a modern seasonal low OBP in fact), 27th in team slugging, 29th in wOBA and 28th in wRC+.

They need Werth back in the middle of the order.  They need a healthy Harper, who hasn’t been the same since the LA wall crash but really hasn’t been the same since hitting the wall in Atlanta in late April (from a tweet by Mark Zuckerman: Bryce Harper’s stats before April 29 collision in ATL: .356/.437/.744. His stats since: .183/.315/.350).  They’re finally getting LaRoche back on track, and Zimmerman is hitting well.  They need to stop giving at bats to Espinosa, and they need Ramos back to help spell Suzuki (he’s catching nearly every game and his offense has bottomed out in the last month).

I’m going under the assumption, by the way, that Strasburg misses at most one start and that Detwiler returns straight away.  I don’t think Nathan Karns is ready for the big time and the team needs to find another spot starter in the short term (Stammen?).

June is here; a weak schedule and an opportunity to get some wins.  If we’re still .500 on July 1st, then we’ll probably have run out of excuses and decided that we are who we are.

Nats Blog & RSS Feed Overview

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I read all my sports news via RSS Feeds, which I’ve read into Google Reader for years.  If you’re like me, you were probably highly irritated when finding out that Google is summarily ending the Reader service.   I’ve done a bit of research on where to transfer my RSS feeds and “Feedly” seems to be the way to go.  (Tangent: if you’re a big RSS reader, where are you moving your RSS feeds to, or what do you use as an alternative to Google Reader?  I’m leading towards Feedly)

Anyway, while thinking about my Google RSS feed future, I happened to take a look at the two categories of Nationals RSS feeds that I have listed and was astonished to see the number of Nationals links I now have.  I count at least Eighty (80) Nationals related blogs and another Thirty (30) Nationals “Official” feed links (official meaning Team sites, beat reporters, or Masn feeds).

Can you believe there are (or were) eighty blogs out there about the Washington Nationals??  And in reality that number may be a bit low, because I’m always finding out about new Nationals blogs that pop up.  A great number of these blogs are now dormant (read onwards), but there’s still quite a few near daily blogs pumping out nearly as much content as the paid Beat Reporters.

Anyway; I thought it would be of great service to list all these various Blog links for the general Nats readership.  And of course if you see a blog out there that I don’t have, I’d love to grab it.  I also took this opportunity to clean up my own links section along the right-hand side to prune away obsoleted blogs and add in the currently active blogs.   Lastly: if your site doesn’t have an Nats-specific RSS feed, then I don’t have it here.

I’ll divide these blogs into various categories.  The links for each Blog are the RSS feeds, not the actual blog site.  But if you want to go to the blog site it is usually straight forward enough to figure out from the URL or from a bit of google work.

Highly Active Nats Blogs (Daily posts or close)

Less Active but not Dormant Nats Blogs (sporadic posts)

  • 2011 Nationals Draft Info: Sean Hogan‘s 2011 Draft blog; listed here since its part of a series (see next).
  • 2012 Nationals Draft Info: Sean Hogan’s 2012 Draft blog
  • Bang! Zoom!: last post 2/11/2013. before that Nov 2012.  Not sure what’s happened to Kirk Raymond but I hope he returns.
  • Center Field Gate: last post 1/20/13: was highly active in-season so we’ll hope for a return.
  • DC is for Baseball: last post 1/31/13: Sean Hogan‘s main site; his interest lays more in prospects and the draft, so he gets busier around the Rule 4 draft and has the per-year detailed Draft blogs (see below).
  • First Ladies of Baseball: last post Oct 11, 2012, may not actually be dormant; we’ll see if the authors Ashley Warlick and Maggie Keller pop back up when the 2013 starts.
  • For Love of the Nationals: Last post Jan 2013: despite posting recently, Dave Lint only has posted a handful of times in the last 3 years, so we’re calling this site dormant for now.
  • Internet Baseball Writers Association: Washington, D.C. Chapter;  home site for Dave Nichols-led DC-IBWA where Nats bloggers emulate the BBWAA and vote on things.  Coincidentally the membership rolls of DC-IBWA mirror this blog posting in terms of listing Nats bloggers.
  • Nats Noodles; last post 1/15/13: author “Nat Anacostia” has been sporadic this off-season.
  • Nats Triple Play: last post 1/29/13: only a handful of posts in the last year; may be dormant.
  • Natsfangirl; last post 10/4/12: author Jenn Jenson posts beautiful photography on this blog, which seems to have taken the off-season off.  I hope she’s back for opening day 2013.
  • Natstradamus last post 3/7/13: periodic intelligent pieces with heavy Sabre-lants from author Luigi De Guzman (aka ”Ouij”).
  • Dick Heller: last post 2/21/13 by namesake author Dick Heller.
  • Win for Teddy: last post Sept 2012: very active last season, hope to see them come back.

Dormant, Obsolete or Abandoned Nats Blogs

  • Ball-Wonk: last post Dec 2010
  • Capitol Baseball: last post July 2012: not sure what happened here; the author was posting nearly daily in-season 2012.
  • Capitol Punishment: Last post Sept 2012.  Chris Needham‘s infamous Nats blog, one of the first and one of the most vociferious about the state of the early Nats, which he “quit” a couple years ago but to which he continues to post sporadically.
  • DC Double Play: last post Jan 2012.
  • DC Sports Plus: last post Nov 2012.  Sean Hogan’s previous blog, essentially ended May 2011.
  • De civitate sabermetricarum: last post 5/29/12: was doing near daily posts and then suddenly stopped.
  • Distinguished Senators: Last post May 2011.
  • FJB: last post Apr 2012: like Needham, Steven Biel sometimes pops back up on this blog and posts about the team, despite the title of the blog (Fire Jim Bowden) long since being obsoleted.
  • F*ck Yeah Stephen Strasburg: last post Jan 2012: yes indeed there’s a site with this title.
  • Half Street Blues; last post May 2010
  • I Miss RFK; last post July 2009.
  • Just A Nats Fan; last post July 2011.
  • Life is Better With Baseball; signed off Aug 2011.
  • National Record; last post Feb 2012.
  • Nationals 360: last real post Jan 2011, now taken over by an Electronic Cigarette company?
  • Nationals Daily News: last post Dec 2011, this was Mark Hornbaker’s former site before starting the DC Baseball History site above.
  • Nationals Fangirls moved to just Nationals FanGirl (singular), but www.nationalsfangirl.com currently says that its “Account is Suspended.”  Oh well.
  • Nationals Farm Authority: Brian Oliver‘s fantastic farm system tracking site, who signed off Sept 1 2010 to start a new career.  NationalsProspects.com has picked up where Oliver left off.
  • NATIONALS NEWS NETWORK: Dave Nichols closed this to join it with the larger District Sports Page, which reports on all Washington Sports in one location.  Unfortunately he has no Nats-specific RSS feed, so I don’t regular read the site (I don’t really care about random Redskins, Wizards or Capitals stories).
  • NATIONALS NEWS NETWORK: Off The Field; last post Sept 2011.  Cheryl Nichols also moved to the District Sports page.
  • Nationals Review; last post May 2012.
  • NationalsDailyNews.com Teamwire: last post July 2010
  • NationalsFanboyLooser: last post June 2011.  Former blog by Mike Harris, who then took over as Sports Editor of The Washington Times after they re-introduced Sports to the paper after a 2 year hiatus.
  • NationalsPride.com: last post: April 2010.  Authors Bergin and Henderson suddenly stopped writing.
  • Nats Doggerel last post Mar 2010: short lived blog that posted quick poems about the Nats.  I’m not kidding.
  • Nats320 — A Washington Nationals Blog: Jeff Saffelle‘s photography-heavy blog which suddenly went off the air in July 2011.  There’s a story there but last time I saw Jeff we didn’t get into it.  I think the loss of this blog, one of the absolute first Nats blogs, is a real shame.  Jeff took a lot of heat on the blogosphere/twitter for being “too friendly” to the Nats cause; to that I say “this is a free country; you’re free not to read what you don’t like.”  Too many haters in this world.
  • NatsStats: last post Aug 2010.
  • Nats of the Round Table: last post Oct 2008, may have morphed into Nationals Baseball above.
  • NBTN: last post July 2009, now the page renders in Japanese.  Weird.
  • Passing Time Between Wil Nieves’ Bombs… last post March 2012.
  • Past a Diving Vidro: last post May 2011.
  • Planetary Nats Blog: last post Dec 2010
  • Pulp Nationals: last post Mar 2010.
  • Senators Fans Unite: Will Bentzel signed off Jan 1 2010.
  • StephenJWalker.com: last post Oct 2011.
  • Swatting Nats; last post Oct 2010.
  • The Half Street Highrise: last post Apr 2010, author Banneker moved to The Nats Blog.
  • The Nats Report: last post Nov 2010.
  • Washington Nationals; last post Nov 2010, domain now gone.
  • We’ve Got Heart; last post Apr 2010.
  • YOU DEAD DAWG: last post Nov 2011.

Not entirely about the Nats but of Interest to Nats Fans

Nats Beat Reporters

  • All Nats All the Time: official blog feed of MLB.com Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson.
  • Byron Kerr: MASN Nats beat reporter Byron Kerr‘s official blog feed.
  • Latest entries for Nationals Watch: from Washington Times beat reporter Amanda Comak.
  • MASNsports.com‘s Nats Beat Reporter Pete Kerzel‘s blog feed.
  • Nationals Journal; Washington Post Nats Beat reporters Adam Kilgore and James Wagner‘s official blog.  The NatsJournal is one of the longest running blogs out there and is very widely read.
  • NATS INSIDER; Comcast Sports Net’s Mark Zuckerman‘s blog, probably which has the widest readership of any link on this page.

Other links for Members of the Press

  • Bob Carpenter: MASN TV broadcaster Bob Carpenter‘s official blog feed.
  • Examiner Beanballs RSS: Washington Examiner Beanballs feed, Nats specific but very sporadic.
  • Examiner MLB RSSWashington Examiner MLB feed, but seems Nats specific.  Sometimes picks up Tom Loverro‘s stuff.
  • Washington Nationals News: official MLB feed for the team, mostly written by Ladson as well.
  • Thomas Boswell (washingtonpost.com): Washington Post National writer Tom Boswell‘s rss feed.  He doesn’t write exclusively on the Nats, but there’s plenty of baseball content.

Nats “Official” Blogs; these are from the team, from players, etc.

Obsolete “Official” Nats blogs and links

Known Nats News items on the Net not listed above

  • Mr Irrelevant: Jamie & Chris Mottram has a DC-sports heavy blog, but not Nats specific.
  • I’m not entirely sure i’m getting all the content The Washington Examiner offers via the above links (which is a shame if true, because I like the writing of Thom Loverro)
  • District Sports Page, what grew out of Nationals News Network and Dave Nichols, doesn’t have a Nats-specific feed, just an all-Washington sports feed, and (frankly) I can’t stand the overexposure the Washington Redskins get in this town.
  • DC Sports Bog features the always-entertaining writing of Dan Steinberg but isn’t entirely Nats focused.
  • William World News from William Yurasko is in the same boat; some Nats posts, not entirely Nats related.  Lots of DC-area items of interest though.
  • We Love DC; as with others in this section, lots about DC, some about the Nats.  Editor: Tom Bridge with Nats specialist Rachel Levitin.
  • DC Pro Sports Report: like with District Sports Page; all DC sports, no Nats-specific feed that I can find.  Update: Nichols provided this link: districtsportspage.com/category/nationalsmlb
  • Baseball News Hound: authored by Ryan Kelley, who also contributes to Bleacher Report.  Lots of Nats stuff but not exclusively so.
  • Seamheads.com: more of a generic baseball blog but does have some DC-centric guys like Ted Leavengood who guest-blogs for MASN.

If you have updates, corrections or additions to anything above, please comment and let me know.  I know I may have some of the names for these blogs wrong, or am missing major contributors to sites whose author rolls change quickly.  I apologize in advance for any errors or mistakes.

Ladson’s inbox 3/22/13

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Micah Owings has had an impressive spring, putting himself in line for a 2013 callup. Photo Jonathan Newton/TWP

We’re getting closer to Opening Day!  Bill Ladson publishes what may be his last spring training mailbag late friday 3/22/13.

As always, I sometimes edit questions for clarity and answer here before reading Ladson’s response.

Q: Micah Owings is showing pretty impressive numbers in Spring Training. What are his chances of making the Opening Day roster, considering Roger Bernadina and Tyler Moore are also backup outfielders?

A: Zero, barring an injury this week.  The Nats outfield has been set since mid last year.  Micah Owings knows this but took the offer with the Nats presumably for two reasons: the team is expected to be good (and what veteran player doesn’t want to catch on with a first place team?) and the team is a bit thin on corner outfielder OF prospects in the higher minors.  Looking at the current state of the minor league depth chart, it isn’t hard to see how a solid start in AAA would catapult Owings above Corey Brown into the #1 OF reserve spot (of course, Brown can play center, so it would likely depend on which OF was injured, but still).  I like reclamation projects, and I like what we’ve seen out of Owings so far this spring.  I’d like to see him make it back to the majors as a big bopper.  Ladson agrees, though he says the team may promote him in May or June??  Who exactly is he to replace?

Q: Most of the Nationals’ starters are not showing good numbers in Spring Training. Should we be worried?

A: Nope.  Rule number one with Spring Training; pay zero attention to the stats of any established Major Leaguer.  They’re not pitching these games to try to get a win; they’re pitching to get ready for the season, to work on specific pitches, to work on location, etc.  I once heard a story about Tom Glavine giving up something ridiculous like 8 runs in his final spring training outing and the press corps going nuts; turns out he was working on locating his change-up, and ONLY working on locating his change-up, so once the opposing team figured out what he was doing they started sitting on an outside change-up and tattooed him.  This is exactly why you can’t trust stats from Florida.  Ladson agrees.

Q: Do you think the bars that Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg have set for themselves this year will be too much for them to handle?

A: I’m not really aware of any “bars” either player has set; the only things I can think of are Strasburg saying he wants to be a “workhorse” and perhaps Harper saying he wants to hit 30 homers?  It isn’t like they’ve thrown down the gauntlet and said they want to win MVPs, Cy Youngs, etc.  Now the Press on the other hand; yes they’ve probably set the bar too high.  But (especially with Harper) it isn’t hard to see this scenario; usually MVPs are the best players from the best teams.  If the Nats end up being a playoff team, and Harper is our best player …. he’s going to be a leading MVP candidate.  This doesn’t imply Harper is the best player in the league (that’s NOT the definition of the MVP and not how its generally voted), but it does mean he may be in the running.  Ladson dismissed the question as well.

Q: What do you feel are the plans with Eury Perez this season and beyond?

A: First off, I’d say that Eury Perez really cost himself development time this year as a side-effect of playing for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic.  The Nats demoted him while he was sitting on the bench for the D.R., and mentioned publically they were worried about his lack of work.  I’d say that Perez needs another season proving himself at AAA before he really starts putting himself in the mix for a full time MLB spot.  He put up great numbers last year; .314/.344/.361 between AA and AAA with 51 steals in 127 games.  That’s classic leadoff/centerfielder stuff, or exactly what the team acquired in the off-season in Denard Span.  In games so far this spring, Perez has just glided to 2nd base on steal attempts; he’s faster than nearly any player I can remember in a Nats uniform.

But the question is this; how does Perez fit in given that the Nats are committed to Span for at least 2013 and 2014 (it seems more and more likely we’ll be declining his 2015 option based on this paragraph), and considering that the team has rising stud Brian Goodwin who seems to be a similar player in a similar position (albeit with slightly less speed but significantly more power)?  I’m beginning to think that the log-jam in the Nats outfield is going to eventually mean that Perez ends up being traded for an opportunity elsewhere.  Ladson agrees with all of these points, also mentioning prospect Michael Taylor, who I always forget about.

Wow; short mailbag, only 4 questions.


Ladson’s Inbox 3/14/13

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Mar 12, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; United States pitcher Gio Gonzalez (47) delivers a pitch against Puerto Rico at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a while since Bill Ladson did an inbox; strange because you’d think with Spring Training in full swing he’d be getting a ton of emails.  Here’s his 3/14/13 edition.  Lets see if he takes a question on who will be the 2014 manager for the 5th consecutive time.

As always, I write my own answers before reading his, and edit questions for clarity as needed.

Q: Should the Nats be worried about sending their pitchers to the World Baseball Classic? Will there be pressure on them to pitch too many innings too soon?

A: Yes, this organization may be worried, as discussed in depth in Feburary in this space.  We’ve never had a pitcher throw in the WBC who hasn’t come back either injured or less effective, and league-wide studies show the same trend.  However I will say this: all 5 pitchers we’ve sent in years past were relievers.  This year we sent two starters in Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler.  So maybe things will be different.  Yes the concern basically is that these guys are more interested in getting outs than getting ready for the regular season, causing them to overthrow, to not prepare as they normally would in the spring, to not focus on specific things that they would normally do in spring training games.  It is less about innings or pitch counts (which are strictly monitored).   Ladson says the team isn’t worried about their arms, but is worried about the lack of playing time Eury Perez is getting.  And they have a great point; Perez is sitting on the DR bench instead of getting ABs in spring training games.  His chances of making the team dropped to zilch and he’s already been re-assigned to AAA.

Q: Who are going to be the lefties for the Nationals by Opening Day?

A: I’m assuming he means the “Lefty relievers.”  At this point its looking like we’re going to break camp with just one lefty reliever in Zach Duke. Bill Bray needs more minor league time, Bobby Bramhall and Sean West are in minor league camp slated for AAA jobs, Brandon Mann got one inning and was awful, Pat McCoy got some innings but isn’t ready.  Only Fernando Abad has stuck with the big-league team and looks good.  But, if Henry Rodriguez is ready to go there’s no room for Abad.  I’m guessing Abad goes to AAA and bides his time.  Ladson agrees, and points out that our righties can get lefties out.

Q: With Tyler Moore on the big league roster, what do you think will happen to Chris Marrero?

A: I’m going to answer this my way, then i’ll predict what Ladson says.  Chris Marrero goes back to AAA, burns his last option in the process, and bides his time waiting for injuries to take out the likes of Adam LaRoche and/or Tyler Moore. That seems to be the only way he gets opportunities this year.  The team will hope for a strong AAA season to build up trade value and then will move him if they can.  Otherwise he’s looking at a waiver wire trip this coming off-season.  Now, before I read Ladson’s answer i’m going to guess that he says something along the lines of “The Nats will look to trade him for valuable assets” but he’ll neglect to mention that Marrero has zero trade value right now, having missed all of last year.  Lets see if i’m right: I stand corrected; Ladson has finally come around on his stance on Marrero and says he’ll be in AAA all year.

Q: Would the Nats ever consider adding Kyle Lohse to the roster?

A: Consider?  Perhaps.  Actually do it?  I don’t see it.   Kyle Lohse is becoming the poster child for the problem with the Qualifying Offer in the new CBA.  He foolishly declined it (on the advice of Scott Boras, who probably told him he could get 3-4 years guaranteed on the open market), and now sits unsigned 3 weeks from opening day.  Its amazing; this guy was 16-3 last year!  Lohse is seen as a product of his environment, a great coaching staff in St. Louis who do wonders with mediocre pitchers.  And make no mistake; 2012 aside Lohse is a career 97 ERA+ pitcher with a .500 record and a 4.45 ERA.  He doesn’t fit into the mold of what Mike Rizzo generally wants in a starter; power arm, high K/9 capabilities.  Now, if the team bus crashed and we lost our starting rotation to injury tomorrow … yeah i’m guessing we’d give him a call.  But there’s no way the Nats (or likely any other team) is going to give 3 guaranteed years to a 34-year old soft-tossing guy.  Boras really, really miscalculated here and it looks like its going to cost his client millions.  Ladson agrees.

Q: Please find out where Cole Kimball is in his rehab. I would like to know if he’s anywhere close to pre-surgery velocity.

A: I only saw Cole Kimball in one game, but his velocity was down.  Perhaps its ramped back up later into spring training.  In either case he’s bound for AAA to burn his last Option and await bullpen issues for his shot.  Ladson says he’s “close to throwing 95-mph.”  I wish more of these games were televised.

Q: Having heard earlier in the offseason that general manager Mike Rizzo feels Steve Lombardozzi and Danny Espinosa are both starters and not bench players, do you feel one of them will be traded prior to Opening Day? Lombardozzi was an extremely clutch pinch-hitter last year in my opinion.

A: Traded prior to Opening Day?  Almost impossible; nobody makes trades at this point in the season.  You make trades prior to spring training and then after a couple months are past in the season to address off-season or intra-season needs.  We’ll save the Espinosa vs Lombardozzi vs Rendon discussion; we all know it by heart by now.   Ladson says a trade is not coming.

Q: Considering he had a very good year with Triple-A Syracuse in 2012, what are the chances of outfielder Corey Brown making the team?

A: Zilch.  He may have hit in AAA, but he didn’t hit squat with Washington last September.  He’s at least 6th on the Washington OF depth chart (Werth, Harper, Span, Moore, Bernadina and then Eury Perez.  Perhaps even lower; I think the team would give Carlos Rivero and Erik Komatsu chances before Brown at this point.  And its just a matter of time before uber-prospect Brian Goodwin passes him by as well.  Brown’s looking at another year of AAA time, burning his last option, and then getting the MLFA treatment.  Ladson says no chance.

Hey!  No question on the 2014 Nats manager this time! I stand corrected.