Tuesday, June 29, 2010

They are who we thought they were

Nationals Journal - Believe it or not, Stephen Strasburg didn't have his best

They were never playoff contenders. OK.

Never. Get over that nonsense now.

They out performed their fundamental state for two months. Teams do that some times. Some keep it up for six months, some do it for a weekend (that's you Baltimore)

But most of the time, teams find their true level. And this one has. It always was and still is a .425 team. 68-70 wins roughly. That's better than '08 and '09.

It's not time to panic, it's not time to say "what went wrong?" Or make foolish and rash short-term decisions based on a fluky couple of months.

The 2010 season was never about the 2010 season. All the at-bats, all the innings pitched, all the fielding chances needed to be used as much as possible as training tools for future performances. Young players getting reps and getting comfortable as major leaguers. Older players creating trade value. And whatever the hell Willy Tavares was doing.

Now that the bubble has burst, let's get back to this model. As such, please keep Desmond here and in the starting lineup. I know, 19 errors. Many of the gut busting type like last night. Keep in mind two things. First, his range and arm make up for these brain fart errors. Second, it's a lot easier to get rid of mental errors than develop physical tools.

July 2nd is fast approaching. How many international players are the Nats going to sign? Any of note? Going to get any of the top draft picks signed anytime soon? If not, why not? Why are you burning a year of development time? How much will you save a couple of hundred thousand maybe. I don't think the Lerner's will miss it.

Finally, be creative. Ted Leonsis hasn't been running the Wiz for more than a couple of weeks and he's already figured out how to leverage his below cap payroll to get future assets. You can do the same. What would the Cubs do to get rid of Carlos Zambrano and his albatross of a contract? What would they throw in just to be rid of that commitment? The Bulls gave up a first round draft pick to be rid of Kirk Heinrich and his onerous contract. Z's deal is far worse. I know there is no cap in baseball but $20m is still $20m. The Cubs would have to listen if you offered to take on Zambrano and most of his financial liability ifthe Cubs gave you say Josh Vitters?

Some other things: the All Star game is an exhibition. It's theater. What the public wants to see are the best players or more properly, the most popular players. Think a inning of Stras against the AL all stars wouldn't generate interest? Damn straight it would. Does he deserve a spot? Of course not. It won't happen either mostly because we consider an all star game invite on the short list of player accomplishments (Former AL All-star Robert Fick for example)

Trading Dunn -- I hate to say it but if you can you must. There are a couple of differences between the last time Dunn got traded and this one. The first is: the Nats WOULD offer arbitration and hence get the draft picks. No doubt about that. Second, Dunn has proven he COULD play the field in a way so as to not destroy the massive value of his bat. Not that an AL team would need that but it's nice to have. I wouldn't trade him just to trade him however. Dunn would change the dynamics of the AL race tremendously. He'd be worth 2-3 wins all by himself for the rest of the season. Maybe more if he replaces some really bad DH combos. Think the Sox or the Yankees want to face Dunn in the post season or Andruw Jones? I think I know the answer to that one.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Capitol Punishment: Tough Guy Rizzo--A Washington Nationals Blog

Capitol Punishment: Tough Guy Rizzo--A Washington Nationals Blog

As with most things sports (and life in general), there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes.

I'm sure there is more going on here too. Just like you can't convince me Elijah Dukes did something to warrant his expulsion (and subsequent blacklisting).

I'm of the opinion Lannan's hurt. Now, he's always lived on a knife's edge, he's survived with low K rates and low BABIPs for a couple of years. The worm may have just turned and he's really no different than Matt Chico.

But with the track record of this organization (and I know it started with the late, unlamented previous regime) they have continually been late to the party with pitching injuries.

Pitchers get hurt. It's a violently unnatural act. Some people are born able to do it without incident but most aren't. It seems to me the operative assumption of any baseball team should be: we need to CLOSELY monitor all our pitchers and pounce on any sign of diminished performance as an injury flag.

With pitch f/x data, this shouldn't be too hard. You can track velocity and break over time now. What was it like last year? What's it like now? Does it change during an outing?

I know all about small sample size. Maybe a guy just doesn't have it that day. Fine. But I doubt it would take a mad statistical genius to notice disturbing trends. Trends that may elude even the practiced eyes of baseball lifers at full speed.

As a lifeline of hope, check out what Ricky Nolasco did after his temporary demotion last year. Pathetic to start, demoted, came back and was a top 10 pitcher the rest of the way. (Don't look at 2010 as he's back to suck mode.)

Not saying Lannan will turn it around like that. But if he's not hurt, maybe there is something to the psychological approach.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A.J. Cole, HS Pitcher - Video | MLB.com: Multimedia

2010 Draft Scouting Reports | Draft Report: A.J. Cole, HS Pitcher - Video | MLB.com: Multimedia

I absolve you Riz for any and all past sins IF you can get this guy signed.

I can't freaking believe they took a tough sign in the 4th round. I'm speechless.

I just don't want this to be a Dodgers situation where they drafted a guy in the first round who they KNOW they aren't going to sign so they at least get the pick next year. Although if I were Frank McCort, why wouldn't I want to give away as much of the marital assets as I could before the big split?

Harper will be what Harper will be. All-star, HOFer or mammoth bust. There really was no skill, no gamble with him. They didn't have a choice and have to pony up to sign him.

But this pick is Far more important from my point of view.

This pick says finally we're acting like the big revenue team we are. We can take tough signs later in the draft and get them into our system. Not only can we (which they've been able to do but haven't) but they actually WILL.

I would have rather seen Workman instead of Solis and Paxton rather than the SS from Rice but I won't quibble unless Cole is matriculating this fall rather than pitching.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Mayor of Natstown

Here he is. Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez

For about half an hour before Saturday's game, Pudge was positioned just to my left of the cages and held court. Nats coming out of the cage would chat, the circle surrounding him rarely was empty.

Notably, one Red after another came up to Pudge, words were exchanged, smiles all around and then athe common bro shake/hug. It didn't seem to matter if it was coaches, veterans or rookies they all seemed to want to pay their respects.

I'm not sure if this is what they mean by veteran presence but it sure seemed like it.

One other note. If you ever find yourself on the field before batting practice and you want player autographs do to things.

1) Be a kid. Kids getr all the attention.

2) Have the kid wear a visiting team jersey.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Saturday Night Stan

It only took the opening statement.

"Welcome to the PNC Diamond Club. Isn't it great! We've just upgraded it and we're going to be doing more"

It wasn't the content. It was the delivery.

This was a man who could sell ice to eskimos.

I was in the presence of a master salesman. And I don't mean that in a derogatory way. It was clear from the first sentence, this was a man who had mastered the art of persuasion. The art of filling the prospect with confidence, with a sense of excitement, with a urge coming from deep within that not to buy would be the biggest mistake that could ever be made.

And he made it look so easy. That was perhaps the most impressive part. He wasn't even turning it on full blast. He didn't need to. But I could sense another gear he could kick on at a moments notice and that would have that monorail built or leave you with twenty bottles of Dr. Quackenbush's Medicinal Tonic.

I can't say if Stan will make the right decision all the time. But I am supremely confident the Nats will never be out negotiated. Not going to happen. Do your best Scott Boras, you are against a master.

He took questions. I should say I attended Blogger Day on Saturday June 5th and one stop on our tour was the PNC Diamond Club to see Stan Kasten do an Q & A with the high roller ticket holders.

A kid gets the microphone and asks him if he could have his autograph.

"That's the cheapest thing you'll find at Nats Park!"

Do you think Strasburg will make the Nats the premier team in town?

"We sell more tickets than any other sports team in Washington!"

Are you happy to see two draft picks from 2009 in the majors already?

"I'm just offering some advice. Signing quickly can get you to the big leagues fast!"

The Phillies are coming back to town in July. What will you do about the problems we had on Opening Day?

"None of us was happy about Opening Day." Message: I care "We didn't do anything special on Opening Day. We've taken steps to change but we can't tell you what they are." Believe me, if you heard it, you would absolutely believe changes will be made and the will work!

A young kid asked Did you have to fight to get Strasburg on the Nationals?

Fight? Oh you mean sign. Ha ha ha. Good question. There was an "energetic" back and forth all summer. Many excited conversations. I wasn't in on any of them, it was all Rizzo. In retrospect, I suspect Steven told his agent he was ready to plan and to get a contract he could sign.

Why is Strasmas June 8th?

Totally driven by baseball operations. Totally. Just followed the plan and fortunately the plan has unfolded like we hoped.

Thanks folks. Have a great time and I'll be circulating now.

And just like that, he was off the stage and ready to work the room.

Bravo, master. Bravo!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Ray Knight

I know we Keyboard Kommandos love nothing more than ragging on people with real jobs and real accomplishments.

So, I'll just say this: I like Ray Knight in the booth.

The last two nights he's had no problem criticizing the Nationals, players and manager when they do something that deserves it. And he does it in a direct manner leaving no doubt about where he stands and why.

He's told me things I didn't know about the game rather than the recitation of what I've just seen with my own damn eyes. Yes, I saw he swung and missed at a curveball thank you Captain Obvious.

But just a minute ago, Knight quickly and concisely told me WHY Desmond just booted a ground ball he should have had. Big league hitters are so strong they put so much topspin on the balls they hit shortstops HAVE to charge and catch the ball on the short hop.

Or just the inning before, explaining what Pedro Feliz did wrong on the safety squeeze and what he should have done.

I'm sure most people went Huh? Why the F do I care about what foot Feliz should have stopped on but I find it fascinating. A little nugget of hard won baseball knowledge passed on to us the unwashed masses.

Quick comment on the Oswalt situation.

The problem with Oswalt is: he's too good. He may not be entirely worth his contract but he's real close. That means the Astros can ask for and will get very good prospects back for him. I'm not sure the Nats are in a position to make that trade. I'm sure they aren't a real contender (and they are proving it here in Houston right now). Oswalt is a guy who could tip a pennant race and for that matter a whole postseason. Some real contender will get that and make a Godfather offer.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Joe Posnanski � Blog Archive � Bryce is Right?

Joe Posnanski � Blog Archive � Bryce is Right?

If Pos had gotten his first job in South Florida, would he have be in on the ground floor of Alex Rodriguez? Or maybe Cincinnati when Junior came out.

Maybe he goes to the Minneapolis paper in the early 90s and sees high school uber athlete Joe Mauer. Mauer, also a hometown boy just like Gordon, was drafted BEFORE his generation's Strasburg Mark Prior.

The point being yes not every hyped high school baseball player pans out. But Earl Cunningham is no more or less significant than Joe Mauer. It's a crap shoot and the odds are against you in the draft. Any draft. Even football where they have football factories cranking out professional football players aged to perfection and coached up.

If you had to bet your mortgage, you'd have to bet Harper will not be a multiple time All Star caliber player. That's the most likely result. But the Nats have to put their chips in and harper gives them the best chance of cashing in.

Was that so hard?

And so it was written: Strasburg to make Nats' debut on June 8 - Big League Stew - MLB� - Yahoo! Sports

Seriously? Was it. That's all we wanted, a firm date. And look, its a sellout! An extra 20,000 fans at $50 average means he'll earn back 1/15th of his initial contract! That's effective ROI

I'm still suffering from battered fan syndrome. I don't want to believe but I can't muster much of an argument.

They're running pretty close to their pythag record now. It's 52 games and they are still a .500 team. And it's not like they've feasted on weak sisters either.

I suppose I could cite Livan!'s remarkable run, Pudge's fountain of youth and Atliano's 5 wins and say these are flukes likely to regress to the mean.

But how bad has Nyjer Morgan been? And the back end of the rotation has been consistently mediocre at best. Not a lot of help from the pen other than Clippard and Capps. Won't even discuss right field.

Maybe all you need to compete in the National League is three great hitters in the middle of your lineup and enough pitching and defense to keep games close.

You have to just wonder: this 2010 Nats team is making statistical oddities like Livan! Lannan and Atliano look much better than they should. What could they do behind a true top shelf pitcher? Or will they actually do worse?

I suppose the best thing to do would be to carefully study all the other teams in the National League. I see the Nats flaws sharply, they stand out while the successes kind of fade out of mind. I mean is the Mets situation appreciably better or worse than the Nats at this very second? Starting the year I'd have said the Mets are better but looking at it today I'm not sure at all.

Was there a hitter for the Astros yesterday you had any fear of? Lee and Berkman should be those guys but they didn't seem so yesterday. Michael Bourn was their only spark and slap hitting speedsters do not a high scoring offense make.

So that's two teams I wouldn't trade lineups with. I'd trade pitching staffs with the Pads in a heartbeat. Those guys are good and young. Jed Hoyer's built quite the pen but they only have one hitter who you don't want to face (Adrian Gonzalez).

Being by nature a pessimist, I'll hold to my belief that this team is still on the underside of the success cycle. That means even if you have to sacrifice the .500 team you have right now, moves should be made looking to the future rather than August and September.

Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see meaningful baseball in DC in the fall. I'd just rather the team make smart decisions in the long term interest of building a World Series contender year in and year out over one fleeting post season hope. I'm sure the lure will be tempting with all the positive publicity they're getting with Strasburg and the #1 pick and a team that isn't historically bad. Get a Roy Oswalt and try to capture the DC market.

Winning over time will capture the DC market. Keep that in mind.