Nationals Arm Race

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

Ask Boswell 3/23/15 Edition


Scherzer is your 2015 opening day starter.  Photo via Scherzer's twitter account.

Scherzer is your 2015 opening day starter. Photo via Scherzer’s twitter account.

So, I’ve been quiet on the blog front lately.  Not much to write about right now, other than the injury bug that seems to be going around camp.  Max Scherzer named the opening day starter; I guess that’s news for a Monday.

Lets peek at today’s Tom Boswell 3/23/15 chat to see what kind of questions he fielded.  Despite it being post-March Madness, there’s still some baseball talk going on.  As always, I answer here before reading Boswell’s answer and edit questions for clarity.

Q: Say the Nats are under .500 after a couple of weeks. Will a full-scale panic start, or are team and fans’ nerves stronger than that?

A: Maybe the media’s panic will set in, but probably not the fans.  If the team is sub .500 after two months … you’d have to start asking some questions.  Same kind of questions we asked basically all of 2013.  Of course, that being said, the Nats’ early-season calendar isn’t exactly challenging:  10 of their first 11 series of the year are against teams that were sub .500 last year.  Now, we are expecting some of these teams (especially Boston, San Diego, Miami) to be much improved from last year … but the point remains.  The team has no excuse to not come out of the gates firing.  Boswell notes that if all the current injured Nats remain hurt on 4/1 … that fans will expect a long April.  He then goes on a long tangent about how screwed up the Dodgers are right now.

Q: Notwithstanding Taylor’s excellent weekend; I don’t understand why Williams would bat him lead-off (regardless of Taylor’s leadoff “skills”) but wouldn’t bat Harper higher than sixth.  Does Williams have a double standard for prospects not named Harper?

A: A good question.  Certainly some people have questioned Matt Williams‘ ongoing public criticisms of Bryce Harper.  Why call him out, in the media, for his supposed transgression of baiting the runner into trying for second?  Dude; its the 2nd week of March; it isn’t a big deal.  Except by calling him out in public, it *becomes* a big deal since Harper is such a lightening rod in the National media (deserved or not).  My two cents: there’s no lack of evidence coming out of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization over the last few  years about the institutional bull-headedness concerning “the right way to play” and other old-school baseball idioms, and it seems to me that Williams has continued his dogged old-school ways as the on-field leader of the Nats.  Is this a good thing?  Probably not.  Harper is talented enough to back up his actions (see last year’s NLCS when Harper was one of only two Nats hitters to bother making the trip to SF).  But will this conflict become a distraction?  Will it drive Harper from this team eventually?

Sorry for that tangent.  To answer the question at hand; with Denard Span out, *someone* has to bat lead off, and if you’re an “old school” guy who do you pick?  Do you pick the skinny, fast center fielder?  Or do you take a smarter look at your hitter capabilities?  I guess we’ll see.  Boswell says that Taylor batted leadoff in the minors, so he’s ok there.  Uh; the bush leagues playing infront of a few hundred people isn’t quite the majors.  Oh, and Boswell conveniently “explains” why Harper was batting 6th too.  Williams, the old-school manager for the old-school baseball writer Boswell.

Q: Why is Pete Rose back in the news with regard to reinstatement?

A: Because new commissioner Rob Manfred was dumb enough to engage Pete Rose‘s request?   The Dowd report was a pretty galling chronicle of Rose’s activities.  I think Rose appears as a sympathetic figure because of the ardor to which former commissioner Bart Giamatti pursued his penalty.  I too was sympathetic to Rose, feeling like baseball went far out of its way to rid themselves of him at the time.

But, now with time and retrospection, Rose’s sins were pretty bad.

I think the best way for baseball to deal with the likes of Rose, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens and perhaps others will to eventually create a special election with large caveats to their enshrinement.  Yes these players were among the best in the game … but broke cardinal sins against the game.  Imagine a veteran’s committee designed to create a permanent special exhibit in Cooperstown dedicated to great players who have clouds surrounding their names.  I dunno.  The cynical part of me says that the museum based in upstate New York has no incentive to *ever* stop the rhetoric surrounding these guys.  It gets tiresome to argue about the *same things* over and over … but we do it anyway, year after year.

Boswell coincidentally advocates for Rose for the HoF but not an active role in the game. 

Q: With the Nats celebrating ten years in the District, do you have any random memories that stand out since they’ve been in town?

A: I put out a post periodically that talks about “Best games” in Nats history.  This question kind of feels like the games captured in this post and in the comments.   No need to re-answer.

Q: Who deserves the opening day start?

A: You can make a pretty cogent argument for any of the three of Strasburg, Scherzer or Zimmermann.  Strasburg since he’s gotten three straight such starts and normally you don’t replace the home-grown “Ace” of a team.  That’d be my choice and my argument, coincidentally.  Zimmermann b/c of his no-hitter last year and generally accepted stance as the “actual” best hurler on the team.  But its now known that Scherzer is getting the nod (not a real big surprise once you saw how the rotation was laid out starting from early spring).  For me (as noted in the prior thread’s comments), Scherzer is the only guy with a Cy Young to his name, so it isn’t surprising that players’ manager Williams goes with the veteran with the most career accomplishment in that ceremonial spot.  Works for me; we just bought our opening day tickets (we’re in section 131 I think) so I look forward to seeing him pitch.  Boswell says that Strasburg’s sore ankle cost him the spot.  BS. 

Q: With the likelihood of multiple starters starting the season on the DL, how do you see that effecting the bench players on the roster.

A: We’ve talked about this before, but clearly it means that at least one, perhaps two NRIs are getting opening day jobs.  And it means that some options-limited guys are getting shots too.  If Span is out a month, Werth can’t make opening day, if Rendon is down and out, if Escobar can’t get enough reps … that’s a lot of spots to fill.  For me, just guessing, i’d say the team heads north with Tyler Moore, Tony Gwynn Jr, Michael Taylor and maybe Ian Stewart to start the season.  Dan Uggla?  Numbers are good; lots of walks.  But he can’t play 3B (not well, presumably) and its 3B where the team might need some cover.  Boswell is more bullish on Uggla, thinking he’d be a huge steal.  I dunno; can’t play SS, doesn’t bat lefty. 

Q: Are there going to be any longer-term impacts to demoting Tanner Roark to the bullpen?

A: Maybe.  Is it a coincidence that Roark has the worst starter stats of any pitcher this spring?  Probably not; spring training NRIs have a tendency to be uber aggressive, and minor league defenders aren’t always adept at catching the ball when playing out of position.  Maybe not; Roark’s attitude has sounded great, and he’s hopefully being told that he’s first in line and likely will get a big number of starts filling in for the inevitable injuries.  He’ll have his rotation spot back next year for sure.   Boswell doesn’t think so.

Q: If the Nats don’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs this year (assuming they will make it), do you think the fans develop the same anxiety that Caps fans have over the years?

A: Yes.  Two playoff appearances, two “best record in the majors” and two impotent first round exits to wild cards.  If the Nats fail in 2015, then  yeah we may begin to wonder what’s going on.  Boswell points out that the Caps have one of the worst track records in professional sports.

Q: What is your opening day lineup (including who leads off) given the injury spate?

A: If it were me?  If we assume that everyone who is  hurt is *not* making it to opening day, I’ll go with something like this:

Escobar-Desmond-Harper-Zimmerman-Ramos-Moore-Frandsen-Taylor pitcher.  Escobar at 2B, Moore in LF, Frandsen at 3B and Taylor in CF.  Not a great lineup.

A better assumption is that Rendon and Werth will make opening day, which makes the lineup a lot easier.  Escobar-Rendon-Harper-Zimmerman-Werth-Desmond-Ramos-Taylor-pitcher.  When Span returns, put Escobar at #8 and that’s that.

Boswell doesn’t give a leadoff-suggestion, but using induction by reduction, he’s likely pushing for Escobar at lead-off too.

Q: Is it time to cut the cord on Espinosa?

A: Not until you find someone else who can play short stop in a pinch who isn’t already slated to start.  Boswell gives a non-answer too.  I don’t feel bad.


14 Responses to 'Ask Boswell 3/23/15 Edition'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'Ask Boswell 3/23/15 Edition'.

  1. On MW being “old school” in the idiotic way that Kirk Gibson was ‘old school” – I’ve seen very little of that. The Nats certainly do not (much to the chagrin of certain components of the fan base) have an “eye for an eye” philosophy the way Gibson did. I will point out that Rizzo hand selected MW. While Rizzo comes from a scouting background, he is widely regarded by sabermetrics types as being a fellow traveler.

    Dave Cameron, when a commenter expressed surprise that Rizzo cited WAR in an an interview despite Rizzo being “old school:” “He is, but he has smart people working for him, and he’s smart enough to listen to them.”

    Mike Rizzo, on lineup construction and metrics: “We use all sorts of metrics. I’d rather not [go into detail] — we like to keep that information close to us, but suffice to say, we utilize it. We have a staff in the front office that is extremely talented at that. I lean heavily on them in the player-acquisition side, and we use them quite a bit on the construction of the lineup side.”

    And on using data in player development and scouting: “We use it quite a bit. We’ve made up our own metrics for it — we’ve made up our own formulas. There is obviously the league, the park, all sorts of characteristics. We have a very inventive sabermetrics staff, led by our director of baseball operations, Adam Cromie. We feel very comfortable with our information.

    “It extends to [amateur scouting]. We put a weight, if you will, on certain conferences in certain years. We even do it at the high school and junior college levels. We use [predictive stats] at every level. We use sabermetrics quite a bit.”

    John C.

    23 Mar 15 at 9:55 pm

  2. “Certainly some people have questioned Matt Williams‘ ongoing public criticisms of Bryce Harper. Why call him out, in the media, for his supposed transgression of baiting the runner into trying for second? Dude; its the 2nd week of March; it isn’t a big deal.”

    Matt Williams was asked a question about Harper supposedly dekeing a runner and answered it. What I suspect was that MW didn’t believe Harper’s explanation, but for public consumption he chose to take Harper at his word. At any rate, MW didn’t go out of his way to call Harper out, he answered a question. As you say, it’s not a big deal. Except to those who like to imagine a MW/Harper feud in every utterance and action.

    The “feud” between Harper and MW is one of those ongoing memes that just won’t die. Any evidence to the contrary, including their words and actions (hanging out in the offseason, etc) are just dismissed or ignored while every imagined slight is magnified.

    John C.

    23 Mar 15 at 10:03 pm

  3. On the Opening Day Starter: “Boswell says that Strasburg’s sore ankle cost him the spot. BS.”

    That’s … not the way I read Boswell’s response. He did say

    Strasburg has a mildly sprained ankle. So that’s a reasonable cause for him not to start.

    He didn’t say that it cost him a start, he said it was a reasaonable cause for him not to start. When I read that, my impression was that Boswell was saying that it gave the Nationals an excuse to make the change. This dovetails with the next paragraph, where he talks about Jordan Zimmermann not getting the start because the Nats went with “a guy who’ll be in town for the next seven seasons.”

    John C.

    23 Mar 15 at 10:11 pm

  4. It’ll be interesting to see if they send Espinosa down to learn how to hit. He has an option left.
    There’s no room for Mark Belanger types anymore.
    If he was smart and focused, like Tyler Moore, he would have gone down to Winter ball to learn work on his hitting.
    But that might have interupted his social life.

    Mark L

    24 Mar 15 at 9:08 am

  5. John C: you don’t see “old school” in Williams? We talked at length about lineup construction (which I know you believe is useless, but it is highly symbolic to the players) in 2014. The “vets” never strayed from their desired slots while the “kids” (Rendon and Harper) were yanked all over the lineup despite one of them being the best hitter all year. The Nats are one of the lowest users of defensive shifts. Williams’ ridiculous “adherance” to bullpen roles led directly to the NLDS loss.

    Those are pretty galling examples.

    Todd Boss

    24 Mar 15 at 9:30 am

  6. On Williams’ answer. There’s a time and a place. If he “just answered a question” and wasn’t aware of the media fall out, then he’s patently an idiot.

    I don’t believe Williams is an idiot. I think he was sending a message. And that’s just as bad. If he has a message to send, you do it professionally, behind closed doors.

    Remember the David Wright nonsense about the rookie eating lunch at the wrong time earlier this season? He was right … and handled it completely wrong. You don’t say those things in front of the media; the professional, veteran move is to do that in private.

    So why didn’t Williams do the same?

    Todd Boss

    24 Mar 15 at 9:32 am

  7. JohnC; you’re doing quite a fine parsing of my words today. Lets delve into it further. Do you really think that “Strasburg has a mildly sprained ankle. So that’s a reasonable cause for him not to start.” is a real reason? Its March 24th. He sprained his ankle nearly a week ago. The opening day game isn’t for nearly TWO more weeks. If its really “mildly sprained” and he’s still throwing but he just missed a spring training start in mid March … that’s not enough reason.

    No. Lets be honest with our selves. You knew who the opening day starter was slated to be weeks ago when Scherzer got the first spring training start.

    by the way, if we’re really going to “parse” the words, the question was simply “Who deserves the opening day start?” I actually answered the question with some thought. Boswell did not.

    Todd Boss

    24 Mar 15 at 9:36 am

  8. Mark; if Espinosa goes down, who is the backup short stop? The only other guy on the 40-man who can even pretend to play short is Difo, he of zero ABs above low-A.

    Todd Boss

    24 Mar 15 at 9:38 am

  9. I think that there is no doubt that there is something between Harper and Williams, but it doesn’t appear to be a full blown problem. I’d guess that Williams feels it his place to make sure that Harper doesn’t gain a status via his media coverage that his doesn’t ‘warrant’ by his play. ‘Make him pay his dues’ kind of thing, which I generally don’t like. But in Williams defense, Harper would be a difficult guy for anyone to manage. He was the center of a media storm since he was 16, and that kind of young prodigy can develop massive feelings of entitlement. I’d say it is working out fine, so far, which is a credit to both of them. Let’s wait and see how it goes if/when Bryce puts up a truly MVP like season. Plus the two main issues that Williams brought out into the public (and clearly he did that intentionally, whether he was asked a question or not), were obvious examples of poor judgment by Harper, especially this last one. We have no way of knowing whether there were numerous behind the scenes conversations already, and that Williams felt that he needed to make it public.

    I have softened on Williams. I was very down on him during the first half of last year, but saw improvement in his managing decisions during the year, so I chalk it up to his learning curve (and I have to be honest that ‘improvement’ means making the decisions that I think he should). The guy is clearly smart and has the personality/presence to be a modern day manager, and with the possible exception of Harper, the players seem to respond to him. My only real criticism of him now is that he managed the playoffs like it was the regular season, not a short series. If he does that again (assuming that they get in), then I’ll be concerned with him. If he adjusts (and I think he will), then I think he is fine.


    24 Mar 15 at 11:24 am

  10. Todd, it looks like Uggla is going to make the team; so the next question is when will Escobar be ready.

    I smell a trade of some sort coming. It’s tough to score when you have 2 automatic outs in the lineup in the National league.

    The Nats are still thin at middle infield for sure.

    Mark L

    24 Mar 15 at 11:51 am

  11. On the OD starter, you were parsing Boswell, so I just pointed out that I read it differently – it wasn’t that Strasburg’s ankle was WHY Scherzer was the choice, but that it was a convenient excuse.

    MW actually went strong for shifting early last season, and it was not only unpopular with players, it was ineffective. The story going around was that the players asked to shift less & Williams listened.

    I’m not a big MW booster – he wasn’t my first choice – but I’ve never understood the visceral dislike that he generates. If you get past the “Big Marine” nickname, he’s been pretty mild.

    John C.

    24 Mar 15 at 12:05 pm

  12. Is Uggla really that much in the running to stick? Have they had him at 3B or in LF any? All I have seen have been mentions of him at 2B, which is pretty one-dimensional for a utility guy. I did notice that Espinosa has gotten some game experience at 3B, though. Between the 3B need and the solid spring, I’m liking Stewart’s chances. It’s been a long, long time since he was any good in the regular season, though. (On the same score, see also “Gwynn, Tony Jr.”)

    All in all, most of the “bat” guys brought in to compete have been having solid springs, for whatever that’s worth. Carp has disappointed somewhat, though. Frankly, with the injury concerns and timetables, it’s still hard to even guess who’ll get the last couple of bench slots. I’m not incredibly thrilled by the prospects of any of them over a regular season, but that’s another story.

    As for Harper, he and Rendon absolutely drove the bus in October when nearly everyone else curled up into nothingness. Yes, Harper is still very young, and he does need a little redirection every now and then, but it’s basically his team now, like it or not. It’s time to let him drive it.


    24 Mar 15 at 9:19 pm

  13. Escobar is the backup SS. Easy peasy. Let Danny take a month in AAA and see if he can get his RSOD up to speed.

    I am perhaps the biggest MW hater. It’s clear he’s trying to make Harper “pay his dues” and I see nothing about MW to make me believe he is smart. Bullpen management – poor. “Well we’ve been doing it this way all year”?!

    I look at the MW hire the same way as Billy Beane hiring Art Howe and other managers – Mike Rizzo wanted a guy who would command respect of the players, but whom Rizzo can control. I’m a big Rizzo fan, so I have to believe that Rizzo is spending a lot of time coaching MW on how he wants the team managed going forward. If the Nats don’t perform to expectations this year, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if MW is gone. Rizzo is very smart – he knows what he has in MW and I’d bet he has his fingers crossed that MW improves this year.

    By the way, Davey was the perfect manager for Bryce (not necessarily for everyone else). They seemed to be so much on the same wavelength, that perhaps it was a big culture shock for him to get Mr. Old School next.

    Andrew R

    24 Mar 15 at 9:25 pm

  14. Uggla: despite his good spring, I can’t see how he’s an option. He plays one position and one position only (2B) for which this team already has 3-4 guys who can play it (Espinosa, Escobar, Rendon and Frandsen in a pinch). He bats right-handed, which isn’t what the team needs as its last bat. And he’s very much on the wrong side of 30. If you’re trying to decide between Uggla and Moore, you take Moore because of the youth, the positional flexibility, and the potential. A team would take Uggla if they were “trying to catch a Jack on the River” .. if you’re gambling, you do it. The nats aren’t gambling this year; they’re *expecting* to win.

    Todd Boss

    25 Mar 15 at 9:56 am

Leave a Reply