Monday, February 28, 2005

The Benefit

First off, I don't want to get into it, but the Post article from yesterday didn't please everyone. That's fine, and the criticisms I saw were hardly serious enough to warrant the term, but it was deeply heartening that people came to my defense. Thank you.

There was an intriguing exchange today at Batter's Box. Batter's Box is a very impressive site that I'd read every day if I cared even slightly about the Blue Jays. Jays G.M. J.P. Ricciardi is annoyed at some of criticisms leveled against him on the site, and lets them know about it. Ricciardi is in an interesting position. When hired, he was considered a disciple of Billy Beane, a Moneyball guy. But lately he's fallen out of favor with the stat-dork crowd, and this is reflected in the issues of contention. Rather than talk about the interview itself, I'm going to quote Basil of Nationals Inquirer, who goes even above his usual style, wit, and insight in discussing it, and go from there. Basil (long quotation, but read the whole thing):
The point Ricciardi's little dust-up with Batter's Box demonstrates, if I may be so bold as to attempt to glean one, is one that statheads themselves have acknowledged many times over the past decade at least but that still bears repeating: we (stat-oriented fans; internet forum posters; bloggers), by nature, operate in a world of "theory" (for lack of a better world). . . But when it comes down to brass tacks, we are not the ones making the decisions. What if Ricciardi really is, as he claims, "four steps ahead" of a mere internet blogger? What if the factors he cites really are inhibiting him from getting the guys he targets? (And what if his "stathead worldview" is more moderate than the Batter's Box guys, as it apparently is?) What does he do? He does what he can, and he pleases who he needs to please. . . .

This is obvious, I suppose, but I want to be sure that I do not miss the practical application: My observation is that statheads/bloggers/what-have-you sometimes demonstrate a bit of a haughty perspective, as if we know better. I am sure I am guilty of this. That's bad. . . .


So, I propose this idea, just for myself perhaps:
There exists a presumption that a general manager---such as, say, Jim Bowden---knows what he's doing, within the context of the factors in which he operates. Now, this doesn't mean that:


1) I, for instance, cannot disagree with certain moves; or
2) other bloggers, for example, cannot call certain rationalizations as bull-flop; or,
3) the presumption cannot plainly be removed (see, e.g., Cam Bonifay).

But I think this may assist in defining, for myself at least, exactly the scope of that which I criticize on occasion here.
This is something I've thought about for some time, but Basil put it better than I could have. I'm not going to wade through the archives to make sure of this, but I've never said that I could do a better job than Jim Bowden. An actual, real-life general manager deals with things I couldn't imagine, and if Bowden and I switched jobs tomorrow, two companies would find themselves much worse off.

I have, to a certain extent, learned my lesson about second-guessing G.M.s. Walt Jocketty runs the Cardinals, and he likes to make trades. I spent some years bitching about every trade he made. Fernando Tatis was my favorite player, and I was outraged when Jocketty shipped him. Well, since 2001, Tatis has totaled 208 games and 19 homers and hasn't hit for the league average even once. He got released by the Devil Rays. In return, Walt picked up Steve Kline, who not only provided provided effective relief for four years, but also struck out Darth Vader when it mattered. After that, the Jim Edmonds trade, the Woody Williams trade, the Scott Rolen trade, and the Larry Walker trade, I'd learned my lesson. Walt Jocketty may not be a Moneyball G.M., but he knows what he's doing and he's smarter than I am, so he gets the benefit of the doubt.

Jim Bowden has earned no such privelege. His resume may be a mystery to Thomas Boswell, but I know how Google and Baseball Reference work, so I'm acquainted with Bowden's futility. Jim Bowden is, by any reasonable measure, a failed G.M. In 10+ years, the Reds made the playoffs one-and-a-half times. I'm being generous here: Cincinnati took the division in 1995 with 85 wins, beat L.A. in the first round, and was swept by Atlanta in the LCS. In 1999, the Reds won 96 games, as you may have heard Bodes mention once or twice, but lost a one-game playoff with the Mets. So: ten years, one division title, one sort-of sub-wilcard almost-playoff thing, no pennants, no titles. The fact that Bowden is a failed general manager doesn't mean he's a bad general manager, but it does mean that he doesn't get the benefit of the doubt and does get second-guessed.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Menudo

From Ken Rosenthal, the sane man's Peter Gammons:
Former Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker could become a leading candidate for the Nationals' G.M. position once MLB sells the team. Hunsicker, according to an industry source, would be of "high interest" to former Braves executive Stan Kasten, a longtime insider who many expect will be part of the eventual ownership group. Hunsicker also is well-known to another prospective owner, [Loudoun Cabal leader and pathetic loser] William Collins, who tried to purchase the Astros in 1996 and relocate them to northern Virginia [and failed miserably]. Pat Gillick, former G.M. of the Blue Jays, Orioles and Mariners, is another potential candidate familiar to Kasten. The Nationals' current G.M., Jim Bowden, also figures to remain in the mix.
I briefly talked about Hunsicker's credentials back in November when he resigned from the Astros. Let's get in the Way-Back Machine and check it out:
Hunsicker would be okay with me. His record is mixed (leaving Bobby Abreu unprotected in the expansion draft is a doozy), but he seems to have drafted well (Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, Wade Miller). The Astros made the playoffs five times over his nine years of his tenure, and you can't argue with that.
I'll stand by that. The Astros haven't won a Series or even a pennant, but they've been a regular playoff contender for years now, and they've done it largely with homegrown players. I'd rather have Hunsicker in charge than Gillick, and you know how I feel about Bowden.

Remember my rant about projection systems and their abuse? There's further discussion along those lines at the Fourth Outfielder Baseball Blog and an accompanying BTF thread. Bascially, Tom Meagher points out that when Baseball Prospectus projects performance, they're trying to measure both talent and usage (playing time, position), which is flat-out impossible. This does not stop BP from basing months of columns around their worthless projections, which is one of the reasons I decided to let my subscription lapse. So now neither Dayn Perry nor Will Carroll is getting any of my money.

Nationals Pastime is moving! Come March 15, John will be joining the wacky cast of characters at All-Baseball, which is replenishing itself after Mariner Musings, Rich's Beat, and Next Year took off. It's a nice neighborhood, except for that weird guy down the street with all the cats.

Speaking of John's weird neighbor, a hat-tip to the slayer of Bulgars for pointing me to this. The great thing about Will Carroll is that in the three or four hours it takes him to muddle his way far enough through the labyrinth of the English language that he can post a few paragraphs worth of run-on sentences, he can make me laugh harder than Gallagher or Rob Schneider can in entire careers of flailing and smashing. Particularly delicious are his Statements on Blogging and his Exhortations to Improvement. I can't be bothered to find the one where Carroll, a student of the Gammons school of murky prose, told us to stop blogging and start writing, but this might be even better:
Why can’t someone do some actual reporting or at least fact-checking?
That's right, Will "DC's Bid is Dead" Carroll is telling us to fact-check. Will "It's the Grays" Carroll wants us to insure accuracy.
Why can’t someone do some actual reporting or at least fact-checking?
I hope you like seeing that, because I'm thinking about posting it every day just to make sure the statement's audacity is not forgotten.
Why can’t someone do some actual reporting or at least fact-checking?
Pete Rose!

Finally, I was in the Post! It was a good piece, but I'd like to qualify a couple things:
  • I love the homers. Seriously. We disagree about a wide range of things, but we're all on the same side here. I hope I didn't come off as too much of jackass in that article, and I want to assure you that as skeptical I am of the Nats' chances, I'm firmly in the"If they're in last place, who cares?" camp.
  • "Inning-Endy" was coined by Chris at Capitol Punishment. It's brilliant so I stole it, but he came up with it.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

I Repeat Myself When Under Stress

Just so you know: there's little more irritating than blogger navel-gazing, but this next paragraph is exactly that.

As a very wise, very wizened man once said, I'm living like a dog and I'm bored (link warning: Iggy Pop is gross). I've been doing this since June, and everything I can bitch about I already have. How many times have I complained about Endy Chavez? According to my genius calculations, many, and the only new twist is that I stole "Inning-Endy" from Chris. How many more times can I say that Bowden sucks, LIVAN! rules, and Nick Johnson is a husky mystery? I no longer feel the need to give my opinion on things on which I have no opinion. Back when this was the only Nats (or pre-Nats, actually) blog, I pored over everything I could find and commented on most of it. But really, the only things I'm interested in are personnel and the occasional vendetta against some dude who doesn't know I exist. I'm just not all that fascinated by radio and TV deals, announcers, stadium issues, steroids, etc. Now that there's a legion of bloggers, I can rest assured that these issues will be covered thoroughly, thoughtfully, and entertainingly (that a word?). That's why my content's been so thin lately, and I don't know that it'll improve for a while. But for old time's sake, here's some Bowden.

MLB.com's Bill Ladson interviewed interim GM Jim Bowden, who has as little to say at this point as I do. Most of it is reasonable, and I suppose I shouldn't nitpick, but I didn't make the Distinguished Senators the #1 Washington Nationals Blog Named After a Team from 30 Years Ago by not nitpicking.
MLB.com: How does this team look to you on paper?

Jim Bowden: I've never been able to judge a team on paper, because it's about human beings on the field. I have to see them play a number of games before I really give a proper assessment. On paper, I've had teams that people didn't think was going to win. In 1999, for example, the Reds won 96 games because the young players came together.

Yeah, just keep hanging your hat on '99, Jim. When Bowden was hired, defenders pointed to his long experience with a low to middle-budget team, the Reds. The Nats are currently a low-budget team, so that makes sense, right? You want a guy who has proven that he can't win with a low-budget team to run your low-budget team. Oh, but he won the coveted Executive of the Year in 1999. Years from now, Cincinnatians will gather around bowls of chili to reminisce about the good old days, when Pokey Reese was the franchise and Bowden was the year's very best executive.

MLB.com: You have made a lot of transactions since you have been with the Nationals. What is your biggest accomplishment thus far?

Bowden: I think the most important thing is, I didn't want to affect the corps of this team.
That's a hell of a typo. I guess I can't blame Bowden for it, though. Damn you, Angelos!
That's why the Wilkersons, Jose Vidros, Brian Schneiders, Tony Armases, Livan Hernandezes are still here.
It's a pet peeve of mine when people use the plural of guys' names, and it's always in a list like this. "Livan Hernandezes" my ass. There's exactly one LIVAN!, and there will never be another. But seriously, how many Wilkersons are there? You pretty much named the entire "corps" of the team, so what's with the plural? I hate that like how I hate when people say "literally" and mean the exact opposite.
But for the long term for this franchise, I think we added two pieces to this young organization that will be helpful this year and in the future: Right fielder Jose Guillen, who gives the team an immediate RBI hitter.
A "young organization" doesn't have all its top propects in their mid-20s. And there's no such thing as an "RBI hitter." RBIs are a product of skill and chance. A good hitter will drive in RBI when he has men on base. A bad hitter might if he's lucky. It's not a skill, like getting on base or crane style.
We have a shortstop who is 26 years old, has won three divisional title with the Twins, who can catch the ball on either side, has speed and a great makeup. That's Cristian Guzman.
I love the way Bodes keeps us in suspense until the very end. I really thought he was talking about George Arias, then I was all like "Cristian Guzman! I don't believe it!" and my jaw literally hit the floor. Anyway, the fact that Cristian Guzman was on a team that won three division titles has nothing do with nothing, and I think it would be very difficult for anyone who believes that that was a factor in signing him to defend Bowden. Speed? Dude had four triples and ten stolen bases last year. Great makeup? The closer you get to Guzman, the more people you find who think he's lazy. So I pretty much have to call bullshit on all of this except the part about how he's 26.
What we are really excited about is building this franchise from the bottom up through developing and scouting. The most important move that we make is going to occur in this year's First-Year Player Draft. We have the fourth pick in the draft. I've never had the luxury of having the fourth pick in the draft in my life.
I wonder if he's trying to fool us into thinking that he ever won anything with that last comment - the Yankees never had the fourth pick either! I also wonder how giving up two draft picks to sign Guzman and Vinny Castilla figures into building this franchise from the bottom up.
How did Oakland win as a small market team recently? It's simple. Mark Mulder, Barry Zito and Tim Hudson. This year, without Mulder and Hudson, Oakland will not contend in the West for the first time in years.
Well, that's not all the A's did. There was also the focus on market inefficiencies, the unorthodox . . . ah, screw it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Howard Jones Day

I'm mostly taking the day off in honor of Howard Jones, who didn't sing "She Blinded Me With Science." That was Thomas Dolby. A few tidbits:
  • Barry Svrluga penned the best piece the Post has had on the Nationals for at least as long as I've been paying attention. It's an actually in-depth analysis of what we can expect from Vinny Castilla. Mainly: leadership! I'd rather have a guy who can hit, but I'm not in charge. Anyway, nice work, Barry. Keep it up - please.
  • Chris at Capitol Punishment lays down the law on some Associated Press hack. You know that whole Terrmel Sledge getting busted for steroids thing? Well, it was Andro, which violated neither the law nor MLB rules. Think the AP will apologize? Me neither.
  • Baseball Analysts is a new site that debuted by asking various baseball writer-types who their favorite player was back in the day. I was a Cards fan, and Ozzie Smith was my man. But I'm regretting it now:
    Dayn Perry, FOXSports.com: "Ozzie Smith."
  • Anybody got MVP Baseball 2005 yet? I'm interested to see how badly they underrate LIVAN!

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

I Have Always Depended on the Kindness of Bloggers

I got nothing today, so I'll let others do the heavy lifting.
  • Nationals Inquirer has another go-round with the Nationals Mailbag feature on the official site. There's some silly crap on there again. Let's remember that MLB.com's Bill Ladson picks these questions. So yeah, there are some halfwits writing in with idiotic questions, but Ladson is choosing to answer them instead of making sure these people get the help they need, so it's not like he's blameless either.
  • Capitol Punishment brings the empathy in discussing Jose Guillen. I still miss Juan Rivera, who would take a walk and didn't struggle with the rage that burned within him.
  • A-Dub talks about the roids. I've watched wrestling for years, so the Steiner juice doesn't faze me none, as long as we don't care if these guys start dropping dead in their 50s.
  • I've been remiss in not mentioning the thorough work Nationals MLB News is doing. Having completed a three-part series on our top 15 pitching prospects, they commence a corresponding look at the position players. N-MLB-N looks like the place to go for minor league stuff.
A tip of the Walgreens cap to District of Baseball, which mentions a story from the Toronto Globe and Mail containing this delightful tidbit:
. . . there is speculation the team will be renamed the Senators once it's sold. Club sources acknowledge that the logo was designed to be deliberately generic and, therefore, disposable.
Rad if true. That's some time in the future, but I'm sick of my blog name making me look like Will Carroll.

Presented Without Comment:

Ben, St. Louis Feb. 14, 2005 01:03 PM Subj: Pretend girlfriend
Dayn, what happened to the pretend girlfriend of the week?

Ben-

She dumped me.

— Dayn

Monday, February 21, 2005

Passenger 5.70

I've mentioned once or twice that the Expos didn't hit last year and the Nationals won't hit this year. The Post agrees with me.
They couldn't get on base regularly. Too often, they stranded the runners that did reach. They ranked among the three worst teams in the National League in nearly every major offensive category, from batting average to slugging percentage to on-base percentage to runs batted in. Last season, when they played as the Montreal Expos, the Washington Nationals simply couldn't score.
LIVAN! should have won 40 or so games. The rest of these jockjaws didn't pull their weight.
When spring training games begin March 2, Robinson will have a few more options with the lineup than he did in 2004. The Nationals signed third baseman Vinny Castilla and traded for right fielder Jose Guillen, who combined to drive in 235 runs last season.
You can't see me right now, but my eyes are rolling out of control. Yeah, Vinny led the NL in RBIs. He was playing in Colorado and on the same team as Todd Helton. I don't think that's a coincidence. Hey, Tony Batista had 110 last year - I guess he's worth every bit of the $15 million the Fukuoka Hawks are paying him.
[Inning-Endy] Chavez, 27, was the Expos' regular center fielder for much of the 2004 season, and Robinson and others badly want him to develop into the leadoff hitter. But he won't earn that job unless he can improve his woeful on-base percentage, which was .318 last year, including an abysmal .291 from the top spot. In 533 plate appearances, he walked just 30 times.
I like the OBP talk. Almost makes up for the RBI crap. We've heard management say things like this for a while now, but they always say things like, "Inning-Endy needs to get on base more or bunt or steal more." It's a good sign that this article has OBP and ignores the other stuff. But does that come from Frank or Post beat reporter Barry Svrluga?
"He has to enjoy creating havoc," hitting coach Tom McCraw said. "You got to keep that third baseman on his toes and nervous and keep the [opposing] manager nervous. When the pitcher starts hollering at you and calling you names, then you're doing a hell of a job. But you have to enjoy that. He hasn't gotten there yet."
Never mind. That sounds like bunting and stealing to me. Endy's a decent base stealer (or at least he was last year), but larceny is the gravy on the (disgusting) getting-on-base cake.
When McCraw looks down the roster, he said he would accept "normal, 8-10 percent improvement" from most of the members. [Nick] Johnson is different.
That's entirely reasonable. There seems to be an idea that the Nats are a young team, but this isn't really so. Just looking at our potential starters, Castilla, Vidro, and Guillen are probably past their primes. Wilkerson, Sledge, Schneider, and Chavez are right there, and Guzman and Johnson still have time to develop. That 8-10 percent improvement is something that happens to players under 30, and we have a number of guys who could do it. Johnson is the only guy in the lineup, though, from whom we can reasonably expect a major jump, and the only guy likely to post a .400 OBP. Combine that with the fact that we'll be lucky to have two guys with a .500 slugging percentage and that we're carrying at least two near-worthless hitters in the lineup, and it's not a stretch to see the Nats 16th out of 16 in scoring.

Nationals Inquirer has an exhaustive look at Esteban Loaiza and his comparables. Maybe I'm imagining this, but every time you read about Esteban (Spanish for "Esteven") in the papers, the question is "will he be rad 2003 Esteven or lousy 2004 Esteven?" I think the rest of his career should factor in to this, so I present a study of Loaiza's career for the layman:
1995: Crap
1996: Crap
1997: Eh
1998: Crap
1999: Eh
2000: Not bad
2001: Eh
2002: Crap
2003: WOW!
2004: Crap

I'm not a fortune teller or a brilliant prognosticator, but I wouldn't lay any money on WOW!. It's like Wesley Snipes almost said in Die Hard on an Airplane with a Black Guy: Always bet on crap.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

LIVAN!

New Blog! I'll let DCNatsFans describe itself: "DCNatsFans is an aggregator of editorial content, stats and chatter regarding the Washington Nats and also is intended as a group blog." Cool idea. Go sign up.

I don't have much to say, and you're not going to read it anyway, as I'm sure most of you lucky bastards have Presidents Day off. Well, Ryan doesn't, and he's bitter. I would like to announce, though, that my position on Livan Hernandez has changed from that of fanatical advocate to full-on hero worshipper. Livan, or as I'm going to render it, LIVAN!, has moved into the Pantheon with Jack Evans and the guy who invented the Puppy Bowl. What prompted this was an interview at CapitolDugout.com with former Expos radio guy Elliot Price, who may be joining us for the Nats' first season.
Price thinks that the Nationals have the one of the best under publicized players in the game as their opening day pitcher. “Hernandez won the Silver Slugger and he should have won the Gold Glove. Maddux can’t make the plays that Livan makes, nobody can.”
Especially the play where he stole my heart.
Defensively, he compared LIVAN!'s movements to a Wayne Gretzky pass.
Serious ethnological question: can Canadians ever not talk about hockey?
“You know where he doesn’t look, he just gets the puck there? It’s like the game is moving at a different speed for him. It’s the same with Hernandez,” Price said. “Livan [sic] has the ability to make that decision (where the ball should go) in a fraction of an instant, much faster than anyone else out there. Say, a bunt play and there’s the guy going into second. ‘Do I have time?’ He almost makes the throw before the ball gets into his glove; he makes the decision that fast. He never rushes and he always makes the right play. Not always the safe play, but the right one.”
Remember at the end of the Matrix when Ted Logan figures everything out and sees the bad guys as a series of ones and zeroes? Everything looks like that to LIVAN!.
Is he the best overall player on the team? “When they first made the trade I was talking with the Giants guys and they said ‘He’s our best player’ He should be the same on the Nats—“The guys that can hit like him and field like him can’t pitch like him.”
With all due respect, those Giants guys were full of shit (if I'm reading that sentence right - did the Giants guys mean the Expos when the said "our" or the Giants?). LIVAN!'s an unbeatable superhero, but the Giants have a swollen-headed god on their team. But yeah, he's totally the best player on this crappy team.
There is also a reason to get to the ballpark early, Price said. “Something that fans might want to go out and see before the game. Livan will take balls at shortstop during warm-ups.”
Awesome! I say we play LIVAN! at short every time he's not pitching, but he should be pitching every other game.

In other news, it sounds like Frank is trying to scare Inning-Endy Chavez (tm Capitol Punishment) into not sucking so bad.
Well, manager Frank Robinson isn't so sure about center field.
"That's the one job I'm really kind of open-minded about," Robinson said yesterday.
Which means Endy Chavez, who started 122 games there last year, will have to earn the job this spring.
Good. Here's the problem, though: are they going to evaluate whether Endy's improved based on a bunch of meaningless exhibition games? Or are they going to wait until kills a bunch of rallies in the contests that matter? We're screwed either way. Free Ryan Church!

Thursday, February 17, 2005

All Kings is Mostly A Commodius Vicus of Recirculation

New Blog! National Cheese started this month and has already piled up an impressive amount of content. Hie thee thither! And now, on to our regularly-scheduled Spring Training whine.

I can't take much more this. "Vidro Says He's Healthy." "Robinson Says He's Awake." "Guillen Say He Won't Kill Anybody Unless They're Asking for It." Not since my experimental mash-up novel Huckleberry Finnegans Wake have so many words been spilled with so little meaning. Ooh, but here's something intriguing: I wonder who's going to be our Opening Day starter?
Washington Nationals Manager Frank Robinson said Wednesday that, barring an injury, right-hander Livan Hernandez would almost certainly be his starter on Opening Day, April 4 in Philadelphia.
Never mind. I almost wish Frank had said something like "We're going with Loaiza. He's a 20 game winner and a two-time All-Star. He's a proven 100 RBI-guy." At least then I could have saddled up my high horse and resumed pontificating about how under-appreciated my man Livan is.

I fixed Dayn Perry, but it may have come at a high cost to me, Ryan. It's been a month since Dayn "Up Yours, DC" Perry made our skins crawl with one of his creepy "Imaginary Girlfriend of the Week" features. I figure my regimen of ridicule and moral superiority put a stop to it, and you're welcome. The problem, though, is that I set the bar too high in my Dayn-mocking. Those imaginary girlfriend things were bizarre, horrifying, and (I hope) unique. Perry's still a jackass and still strives desperately for a sort of Maxim-reading, Best Damn Sports Show-watching edginess. Hockey players are advised to "Enjoy the extra time available to further enjoy the challenge of picking up dive-bar sluts while toothless," for instance. Oh Dayn, you so crazy! Don't go there! And twins! But as irritating as he still is, how can the dive-bar sluts compare with "Our fling is torrid, mythic and worthy of verse. We don't talk about who gave whom the clap"? So as long as Dayn keeps it toned down, I'm deprived of one of my favorite gimmicks and space-fillers. One day my sacrifices will be appreciated.

Speaking of media guys I don't like, I was home all day yesterday and had the opportunity to listen to some talk radio. First I heard Nats blogger favorite Tony Kornheiser hail Bobby McFerrin as a genius because he could imitate the sounds of musical instruments. Also on Kornheiser's exclusive genius list: Police Academy's Michael Winslow and this dude I went to college with who made R2-D2 noises all the time. Then I heard smug Kent Brockman caricature Dan Patrick get in an argument with alleged Canadian Bret Hull about the demise of the NHL. Patrick seemed to think a salary cap would have fixed everything, to which Hull quite reasonably responded by asking if ESPN had a salary cap. Patrick valiantly changed the subject and then waited until Hull had left before winning the argument: since ESPN won't pay anyone an unlimited amount of money, they do have a salary cap. Checkmate, hoser.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Bah, Humbug

Spring Training Frenzy continues despite my crankiest efforts to put a damper on it. Here's a little something that doesn't make any sense:
The Nationals manager has the highest of expectations for his ballclub, higher than he did his first two seasons in Montreal when the Expos surprised everyone by going 83-79 both years.
"I expect this team to play better baseball than 83 wins," Robinson said yesterday on the day pitchers and catchers reported for spring training.
I know Frank slept through last year, but didn't he notice that Vladimir Guerrero wasn't there anymore?

The Washington Post started its Spring Training blog today. Not much of interest thus far, but we'll see. Well, there was this:
I have arrived this morning, as I will every morning, from Chez Post, where my roommate, Tom Boswell, burst through the door upon his arrival from Washington, chattering about the Nationals’ prospects and lineups like an 8-year-old kid.
"Dude! Juan Rivera and Tony Batista are gonna hit 50 homers this year! I think Bart Colon could win 20! With Andre Dawson in center, anything's possible!"

Nate Silver, the creator of PECOTA, one of my more recent betes noir, chatted with the public yesterday.
Anthony (Long Island): Last year Nick Johnson had a monstrous PECOTA profile...he seemed to have a legit shot to be the next Todd Helton. So where is he now?

Nate Silver: I think even Nick Johnson's fans have to concede now that injury problems are going to be the major theme of his career. I can't think of a guy who got hurt as often as Johnson has and went on to become an All-Star type talent -- Zydrunas Ilgauskas, I guess, if you want to go to basketball.

Bummer.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

No More Cowbell, Please

It's Spring Training Fever! I explained yesterday why I'm immune to this particular affliction, but the local sports media have it bad. So if you haven't been paying attention, today's your day to catch up. But if you're reading this, it means you probably have been paying attention. But you might to check it all out anyway. Go to William World News, which you should have already done this morning and every morning, for a round-up.

Nationals Inquirer takes a look at the latest mailbag column at Nationals.com. Basil slays it like it's a Bulgar (not really; he's actually quite complimentary), and I'll restrict myself to this bit:

The Nationals appear to be a much-improved team on paper. What do you think? -- Taft W., Bedford, Ohio

Offensively, I think the Nationals are much improved with the acquisitions of outfielder Jose Guillen and shortstop Cristian Guzman. I also think the relief pitching will be much better if they keep Patterson and Rauch in the bullpen.

The key to success, however, is the starting pitching. Outside of Livan Hernandez, no other starter pitched more than 116 2/3 innings last season. It caused the relievers to be overworked.

Nice pseudonym, "Taft W." Anyway, are we much improved? The bullpen should be a little better, and the starting rotation will be much better with a little luck in the health department. What about the offense? I'm going to ignore the bench for the most part, since we still don't know who'll be riding it.

  • Catcher: Brian Schneider isn't a good hitter, but he's a good enough hitter for a catcher. He's 27, so last year's 257/325/399 line is right around as good as he's likely to get.
  • First base: I'm pretty sure Nick Johnson is better than his 2004 would indicate. I and many others have talked a lot about Johnson over the last few months; he's just an intriguing player. He could be the best hitter on the team, or he could be a waste of space. We should get improvement at this position.
  • Second base: Jose Vidro played only played 110 games last year. Is his knee better? I certainly don't know. I'm guessing we'll get more games and a similar level of production. Improvement.
  • Shortstop: The issue is not whether Cristian Guzman is a better player than Orlando Cabrera (or even if he's a good player); he'll almost certainly be better than Cabrera was last year, when he posted a negative VORP for Montreal. Better, but not good.
  • Third base: I've compared Vinny Castilla and Tony Batista before, and they're very similar players if you ignore Vinny's output in Colorado. Vinny's older and not far removed from a Lovecraftian 232/268/348 line in 2002. I call it a wash.
  • Left field: Brad Wilkerson and Terrmel Sledge are right at their peaks, and both had their best seasons last year. I don't think we can predict a big jump or decline from either one.
  • Center field: Chris today talks a bit about the Endy problem. There's a lot of talk about trying to teach him to be a better lead-off hitter, but "1,100 major league and 2,100 minor league at-bats give us a pretty solid track record to go on. It’s safe to say the kind of player he is: a slap-hitting, non-patient enigma." Dude's about to be 27, and I'd say he's a little more likely to get better than to get worse. Slight improvement at best.
  • Right field: Once again, it doesn't matter if Juan Rivera is better this year than Jose Guillen. Jose Guillen will be better than Rivera, Carl Everett, et al. were last year.
Yeah, the offense is better than it was last year. Much better? I say no. If everything goes right, we get a small improvement in a lot of places. Everything won't go right, though, because this is real life, and there's a long way for this team to go before it's actually good at scoring runs. The Expos were second to last in runs scored in 2004. They were ahead of Arizona, and the D-Backs have gotten more better than we have. No move Bowden has made compares to replacing Scott Spiezio with Adrian Beltre or Hee Seop Choi and Jeff Conine with Carlos Delgado.

DCist talks about the Clark Griffith memorial at RFK. Griffith is a fascinating guy. He went from player to manager to owner/institution, from hardscrabble outsider to the embodiment of the establishment. You know, the kind of guy who'd hire the Three Stooges to fix his plumbing and whose monocle would pop out when hijinks ensued. Unfortunately, if he's mentioned at all these days it's as the guy who kept black players off his team. Griffith features prominently in Beyond the Shadow of the Senators (which you need to read), constantly rationalizing his and others' racism. Anyway, the piece is worth checking out, and an understanding of Griffith and his era is necessary for an understanding of DC baseball. The Senators were one of the last teams to be run in the old style: one owner whose only business was baseball and who did everything himself. Had DC found itself a Branch Rickey, we might not have lost those 34 years.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Every Post Begins with Kay

I'm taking the day off. I've got chocolates to eat and whatnot. 17 hours until pitchers and catchers report, but that doesn't make me all that happy. It's good in that it means the start of the season is that much closer, but I hate Spring Training. It's torture, and not the good kind you pay for. It's like decaf coffee or the last season of NewsRadio or watching a baseball game that doesn't count and the last six innings are played by dudes you're never going to hear of again. It's just like that last one, in fact.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Just a Bit Outside

Remember back in October when 2004 Nostradumbass Award Winner Will Carroll said that the Expos were about to be renamed the Grays? Here's what I said at the time:
As soon as I read that, I called Vegas and put everything I own on "not Grays."
I wasn't kidding, and my winnings arrived last week. It wasn't all that much. I don't own a whole lot, and Vegas isn't particularly interested in Japanese wrestling videos. And of course the odds weren't very good - Vegas knows just as well as we do that Carroll's always wrong, and they have a profit motive to be right about things. You've seen Casino, and you know what happens when the money stops coming in. That's right: baseball bat to the head. The only thing that happens to Carroll when he's wrong is that it gets more people talking about him. You can't lose credibility when you don't have any to begin with.

Anyway, the point of this story is that I had 400 bucks to burn. I almost went with a lifelike Nats jersey simulation tatoo - "Hernandez 61" right across my back - but the guy who was going to do it caught a parole violation, so I decided to buy some 20-games tickets instead. They're up in the nosebleeds (or, as I prefer to call them, "the Uecker seats"), and I'm going to miss a couple of games on account of the sacrament of Marriage and its related sacraments, Honeymoon and Rehearsal Dinner, but I'll see you there, fans!

If you're in the market for a round-up of Nats-related news from the weekend, I direct you to Capitol Punishment. Also see Nationals Pastime for analysis of the acquisition of our47th outfielder, Alex Escobar. Chris at CP also provides a recap of a chat with the Washington Post's Barry Svrluga. The most interesting bit is that on Wednesday Barry will be starting an official Post Nats blog. Should we be nice in the hopes of making friends, influencing people, and getting some sweet Post traffic? Or should we do the typical internet thing and flame the hell out of him just to make ourselves feel good? He did answer Chris' question, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt for now.

Jim Bowden was on the Nats radio show with Marc Sterne this morning (10 am Saturdays on 980 AM). It was the same stuff we always hear from him, but there was one interesting bit. Asked how good the team would be, Bodes replied that if everything went well, we'd be a .500 team. Bowden and I agree on something, at least.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

The Distinguished Senators Glossary

What follows is a basic, semi-literate summary of some of the more advanced stats I refer to. I'm assuming a knowledge of batting average, earned run average, and all the other default stats. Enjoy.

On-Base Percentage
: Quite simply, how often a player gets on base; hits, walks, and hit-by-pitches. OBP vs. batting average is the most basic front on the fight between stat dorks and traditional fans. OBP's importance is almost a philosophical issue: a baseball game is not limited by time or points. It's limited by outs. The longer you can go without making outs, the more runs you have the opportunity to score, and OBP measures how often a player makes outs. No, a walk is not as good as a hit, but a bunt single isn't as good as a triple, and batting average makes no distinction there. .400 is an excellent OBP, and the career leader is Ted Williams at .482.

Slugging Percentage: Total Bases divided by At-Bats. SLG gives you an idea of a player's power. If you hit a homer every time up, your SLG is 4.000. .500 is the gold standard, and Babe Ruth's career .690 is the best ever. Typically I'll express a players batting line in batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage format; Brad Wilkerson was at 255/374/498 last year.

OPS is On-base Plus Slugging. It's a handy, quick-and-dirty summation of a player's offense. Helpfully, it sort of works like a grade: 900 is an A, 800 is a B, and so on. The problem with OPS is that a point of OBP is actually more valuable than a point of SLG. In other words, if you have two players both with an 800 OPS, the guy with an OBP/SLG of 400/400 is more valuable than the one with 350/450. Ruth is the career leader at 1164.

OPS+ improves on OPS, the other problem of which is that it treats all OBPs and SLGs the same regardless of when or where they occur. An 800 OPS is more impressive in 1968 than in 1998, and better in Dodger Stadium than in Coors Field. OPS+ compares a player's OPS to the league and rates it with 100 being average. Ruth's career 207 leads the pack, and Wilkerson put up a 128 in 2004.

VORP: Value Over Replacement Player is a Baseball Prospectus concoction that measures how many more runs a player produces than a hypothetical "replacement player," let's call him "Dayn." Dayn really sucks, and it's tough for a guy who gets any kind of playing time not to outproduce him. VORP is adjusted for park, league, and position (.350 OPB gets a shortstop more VORP than a first baseman). The really good thing about VORP is that it's a counting stat that's not bullcrap. Batting average, OBP, SLG, and OPS are rate stats - they don't take playing time into consideration. Hits, runs, RBI, et al are counting stats and are very dependent on playing time. None of that latter group, however, tells you much about an individual player's contribution, and VORP does. Barry Bonds led baseball with 142 VORP last year, and Wilkerson chimed in with 48.2.

Win Shares is something I don't use much because I don't trust it - people much brainier than I have detected problems in the methodology, particularly in the defensive aspect. Bill James came up with an all-encompassing stat that boils down a player's contribution at the plate, in the field, and on the mound into one handy number, one-third of a win. Here's a fun site with hella sortable Win Shares. Barry Bonds was first last year with 53, and Wilkerson chipped in with 22, tied with Curt Schilling and Jim Thome, among others.

Now, on to pitching.
ERA+ does to ERA what OPS+ does to OPS. ERA is affected by ballpark and various other factors. ERA+ adjusts for these and, like OPS+, 100 is average. Pedro Martinez is the all-time leader at 167. Lefty Grove leads inactive players 148, with our own Walter Johnson right behind with 146.

VORP works for pitchers too. It measures the runs a pitcher saves over a replacement pitcher, let's call him "Will." Will is a very bad pitcher; Jose Contreras was at Will-level last year with his 5.50 ERA. Here's why VORP is important: in 2004, Jake Peavy of San Diego had a good year. 2.27 ERA, 166.3 IP. That's certainly better than Livan Hernandez' 3.60 ERA, right? Wrong, sucker! Livan's 255 IP put him over the top, as he out-VORPed Peavy 58.3 to 57.5. So, yes, I like VORP because it makes Livan look good, like vertical stripes.

Win Shares also crosses over, but I don't like them for pitchers either. Johan Santana led all pitchers with 27, and Livan had 19.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Fanfare for the Husky Man

Yuda points out a fitting postscript to my unhinged bitch session about Baseball Prospectus' use of PECOTA, its infallible player projection system. BP today discusses Roger Clemens - it's free, so non-suckers can read it, too. To quote Yuda, "They spend most of the Astros section explaining how and why PECOTA blew its projection for Clemens last year, and then uses this year's projection to explain why the Astros overpaid for him." I can't believe I'm paying for this crap!

Kornheiser didn't make himself any friends today. He's suitably kornholed by several bloggers. Observe:
  • Ball Wonk:Tony Kornheiser graces the Nationals with his valuable attention in today's Post column. In it, he invents a whole new level of condescension previously unknown to science. Call it "hubriscension."
  • Capitol Punishment: He's mailed in in. The hardest-working lazy sports columnist in DC has written a relatively-benign, but still annoying column about the Nats. It's definitely his grumpy old man side coming out.
  • Nationals Inquirer: Before I get to the substance (a bit of a paradoxical concept, considering this post concerns a Kornheiser column) . . .
  • William World News: Sometimes, I wonder why he even writes a column anymore.
That about sums it up. I've always loated Kornheiser's schtick. I can't count the number of times I've heard him say something like, "Who knows what the infield fly rule is, anyway?" then act like something's wrong with you when you actually do know. I can't fathom why, but reasonable people think he's hilarious. I've never gotten it, and I consider his rise to national prominence a further sympton of the near-total uselessness of the mainstream sports media.

I won an award! Chris from Capitol Punishment presented me with the Eric Gregg Award because I heart Livan so damn much (here's some backstory). That got me to thinking about Livan, which is pretty much all I do from when I wake up in the morning to when I put on my futuristic blogging jumpsuit and get to work here. Now, umpire Eric Gregg is a great big fat guy, and Livan is a pretty fat guy (with a disconcertingly non-fat guy head), which I think is an advantage. Think about it: fat guys never actually win, but they always almost win. Whether it's Kingpin or John "Earthquake" Tenta or Aulus Vitellius, who managed several months as emperor before they killed him, the fat guy loses in the end, but generally manages to kick a lot of ass before he goes down. Sure, Hulk Hogan eventually defeated Tenta, but not before the Hulkster had his ribs broken by the massive force of an Earthquake, brother. So if that means our own big fat guy comes in second in Cy Young voting to, say, dreamy Mark Prior, that's good enough for me. The fat guy may not win, but he's not the Big Boss Man either.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

An Unexpected Screed and A Lengthy Redundancy

Chris at Capitol Punishment points us to an interesting exercise at the Replacement Level Yankees Weblog, where a fellow called SG (a Stargate fan, no doubt) simulated 100 seasons based on ZIPS, one of many competing player projection systems. Good news! We average out to 81-81, indicating that Phil Wood is the greatest genius who ever lived, the Miss Cleo of baseball, the Bizarro Will Carroll.

But don't get too carried away, or you'll wind up as blinkered and lazy as a Baseball Prospectus columnist after the PECOTA projections come out. Here's the thing about all these methods of predicting what a player's going to do: they're all almost always wrong. Somebody whose name I don't remember in an article I can't find pointed out that you can't project with any more than 70% accuracy (UPDATE: It was Ron Shandler - big ups to Basil the Inquirer). So it's fine to use these things to while away the long weeks until the season starts, but it's quite another thing to produce column after column filled with criticisms of GMs who make moves that your projection system says aren't going to work out.

Take, for example, this Baseball Prospectus filler, which takes issue with a prediction that Oakland is going to finish last in the AL West. I find that conclusion less than plausible myself, unless MLB switched out the Rangers for the Red Sox without my hearing about it, but author James Click (presumably of African bushman descent, given his ononmatopoeic name) rests his argument largely on some shit one of his coworkers made up. PECOTA says the A's rotation is going to be just fine and even presumes to tell us how many innings each pitcher will provide. Skeptical? Well, buckle up - Click provides a helpful link to a Baseball Prospectus article proving conclusively that Baseball Prospectus is the smartest. I haven't been so thoroughly convinced since Philip Morris told me that cigarettes cure gout. Anyway, it's all bullshit - that impossible-to-predict 30% can mean a hell of a lot, and it's unfortunate that BP expects us to pay for its rainy-day musings and what-ifs.

This wound up being much more of a screed than I intended it to be, but if you're going to go, you may as well go all the way: All player projection systems are sons of whores and can jump up my ass.

While BP gets itself through to April by pretending that Nate Silver can predict the future, I kill time by whining endlessly about how no one appreciates Livan Hernandez, official pitcher of Distinguished Senators (and congrats to to Washington Nationals MLB News, BTW, for snagging Jose Guillen. Jose Vidro can be yours for fifteen bucks). So here's my latest superfluous exercise: it's generally assumed that Bluegrass Brad Wilkerson is our best player. I maintain that B-Wilk is a sweet player and good guy, and I'm beyond thrilled to have him on my home team, but that he does not rank among the elite players in the game, while Livan does. Let's look at it this way: would Wilkerson be the best hitter on a playoff-caliber team, and would Hernandez be the best pitcher on such a club?

Eight teams made the playoffs last year, as has been customary since 1995: the Braves, Cardinals, Astros, and Dodgers in the NL; and the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, and Twins in the AL. I'll be using VORP for this endeavor (glossary coming very soon - maybe tonight, but probably not), since that is the only way to capture the swankness of Livan. B-Rad Wilkerson put up a very impressive 48.2 VORP in 2004, putting him in the company of Sean Casey, Travis Hafner, and Ichiro. St. Louis, which won the more games than any other NL team, had three position players with superior VORPs (Pujols, 103; Edmonds, 88.9; Rolen, 73.7). Actually, those are much superior VORPs - the Cards frigging ruled. The Astros had three (sort of), as Lance Berkman checked in 83.7, Jeff Kent at 55.2, and Carlos Beltran provided 43.8 with Houston and an additional 30.7 in KC. The Braves and Dodgers had one guy each better than B-Wilk: J.D. Drew in Atlanta (78.7) and Adrian Beltre in LA (87.1).

Over in the American League, the Yanks sported a whopping five players with VORPs over 48.2: Sheffield (63.4), Rodriguez (62.3), Jeter (59.7), Matsui (57.5), and Posada (48.9). Boston had three: Ortiz (71.3), Ramirez (68.6), Damon (51). Vlad Guerrero (88.5) was Anaheim's only contribution. The highest-VORP position player on the Twins was Lew "Lou" Ford (44). Therefore, only one of the eight playoff teams didn't have a hitter superior to Brad Wilkerson.

Livan VORPed it up at 58.3 last year. No one on the Cards was close (Chris Carpenter was best at 41.6). Roger Clemens was slightly better for Houston (61.3). Atlanta and LA couldn't hang with Orlando's Rubenesque half-brother (40.3 and 49.7 were good enough to lead those teams, respectively). Things were a little better in the AL. The Yankees (Gordon, 39.8) and Angels (Escobar, 53.2) didn't have anyone better than Livan. Minnesota, however, had two: Johan Santana led everybody with 88.8, and Brad "Rad" Radke posted a 60.1. Curt Schilling of the Sox also exceeded Livan with 72.9. Livan Hernandez was a better pitcher than anyone on five of the eight playoff teams.

Here's what I'm getting at: Brad Wilkerson is not a legit #1 position player on a good team. This isn't to take anything away from the guy; he's very good and worthy of our respect. Livan, however, is absolutely good enough to be the ace of a great team. For some reason, this fact is lost on just about everybody.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Nothing About Hal Bodley

John from Nationals Pastime pulled an interview with Paul White of USA Today, and it's good stuff. Big ups to John both for the quality of the content and for giving me something to blog about. Without this, it would have been another Puppy Bowl-intensive day here at Distinguished Senators. I'm going to pick and choose here, so make sure you go and read the whole thing.
I don't know what the stats say about [Guzman] but, as much as like numbers for assessing offensive and pitching ability, I still maintain any number that claims to measure defense remains a case of someone trying to justify their own attempt to measure something that drives us nuts because of it's resistance to measurement.
Well said, Paul White of USA Today. Was that supposed to say "as much as I like numbers"?
I'm sitting here looking at another team's (very sabermetrically oriented) analysis of every lineup in the majors and they rate Castilla the second-best hitter on the team after Wilkerson.
Either that team is full of it or we're in big trouble. Both, most likely. Barring disaster, I don't see how Jose Guillen or Jose Vidro are worse hitters than Castilla. This is a guy who's highest non-Colorado OBP is .310, a guy who slugged a pathetic .348 in 2002. He's going to be 37 this year, and it's very difficult to get better at that age without anabolic assistance.
One thing this team has missed the past couple of seasons is some quality veterans - I mean quality people - because the core of the team is relatively young and it has been difficult to attract any veterans other than castoffs and the disgruntled. So, Castilla is a big step and makes sense as a guy who can bridge a gap.
I'm not such a hardcore SABR guy that I dismiss things like this out of hand. Character counts in any workplace, and a major league dugout is no different. However, performance counts, too. I loved the idea of bringing Barry Larkin in to play occasionally and set a good example. I don't like the idea of giving Vinny $6+ million to play every day for two years and get on base less than 30% of the time.
[On Nick Johnson] Second choice would be for him to look good enough - at the plate and healthwise - that he's tradable. He has some value now but the smart move would seem to be to gamble that he can increase his value.
Exactly! Don't trade Johnson now, after an injury-plagued and all-around crappy season. Wait until he gets through 140 games, then trade him.
NP: Jose Guillen and Juan Rivera had very similar years last year, with Guillen hitting for more power, but Rivera was better at getting on base. Considering the salary differential and the fact that Guillen is soon a free agent, was this a good trade?
PW: It's a gamble for sure. Guillen says he would like to stay and there have been some discussions about a new contract.
*shudder* I hate that trade. Just hate it. Juan Rivera is ready to surprise any team that lets him play. Jose Guillen is ready to fall of a cliff. Jose was a very bad baseball player for six years until he miraculously broke out in 2003. It's been all downhill from there. He declined during the '03 season and, while above average in 2004, he wore down and struggled with injuries and his temper as the year progressed. Even at his best, he's never figured out how to draw a walk (career best: 37). He may well be just fine this year, but I wouldn't bet on him to remain effective much past 30. The guy has the self-control of a puppy, at the plate and elsewhere.
The key for me in that deal was Maicer Izturis. It won't be long before they wish they had him in the middle infield.
I haven't heard that often. I'd rather have Rivera and Izturis than Guillen, but it wasn't Maicer I was pissed about losing.
I'm not sure who you're referring to - statheads or press - but I know what the stat analysts for several teams think and here's sort of a consensus of their views: Only Guzman and Schneider are below-average offensive players among the starters and there is some disagreement about where Chavez fits.
I don't what numbers or projections the analysts are using here, but Schneider was almost exactly average last year (257/325/395 vs. an NL average for catchers of 258/321/392). Castilla's road numbers were slightly below average.
As for pitching, they perceive Hernandez, Day and Ohka as solid and Rauch as a sleeper.
Is Livan Hernandez going to have to pull Peter Gammons from a burning building before he gets some respect? Solid - phooey. Ohka is solid. Hernandez a towering wall of flabby granite. White likes Jon Rauch, and so do I.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Ooh, Fluffy

Basil from the Inquirer thinks I'm being too cavalier about the Sosa trade that didn't happen. He's probably right, but let me clarify a bit. Sledge/Harris/minor leaguer in exchange for Sammy Sosa is a bad trade not because of whom we'd give up but because of whom we'd get. I'd happily trade that package to fill a real need. I'd give those guys up for Mike Cameron or Carlos Guillen or someone else who fills an actual hole on this team. Sosa for Hairston and various flotsam and jetsam was a good trade for the O's because they need a corner outfielder. We don't, and as I've mentioned before, all Sosa would do is push Nick Johnson into bench-sitting purgatory.

Nationals.com favored us with a whole pillow factory of fluff today. Bulgaroktonos has already weighed in, and the Filibuster used the stuff to put up about twenty posts today without resorting to any mention of the Puppy Bowl. I don't know why I put up those links, because they said first what I'm going to say, but what the hell. I'm going to ignore the Spring Training quick hits and focus on the other story which is pretty much the same thing. I feel for you, MLB.com's Bill Ladson. There's nothing going on and you've got content to provide. Don't overlook the Puppy Bowl for filler material.
Last season, Castilla and Guillen each drove in 100 runs, while Guzman hit a respectable .274.
Did Tom Boswell ghostwrite this? Way to cherry-pick meaningless stats.
All three, however, have question marks going into 2005. Castilla, for starters, has a reputation of not hitting well outside of Coors Field. Though he did slug 21 home runs and drive in 51 runs on the road last season, it came along with a .218 batting average.
Those 21 homers are the only thing separating the road version of Vinny from Tony Batista. If you double all of Castilla's road stats, Batista has more hits, doubles, and RBI, and the same number of triples and runs. Castilla had a flukey HR total last year, and he won't come anywhere close to doing that again. I'm pretty confident in predicting that he'll actually be an offensive downgrade from Batista last year.
"Jose Guillen comes with extra baggage off the field," the scout said. "If he decides that he's going to play a full year, Guillen is going to hit 35 to 40 home runs and he's going to drive in a bunch of runs.
Here's a complete list of every season in which Guillen has hit at least 35 homers: .
Vidro missed the last several weeks of the season after undergoing knee surgery. He said a few weeks ago that the knee is 75 percent healthy and he plans to rehab even further during Spring Training. A revamped Vidro could deliver 20 home runs and close to 100 RBIs.
Vidro isn't going to play 150 games in 2005. I can feel it in my bones. He's going to watch a lot of singles skid past him, as well. That said, he's a rad hitter for a middle infielder. I'd be listening to trade offers if I were the Nats.
Robinson has already called Sledge a complete player. In 2003, Sledge showed for the first time that he could hit for power and drive in runs in the minor leagues. It carried over to the Major League level in 2004, as Sledge finished third on the team with 62 RBIs, including 24 in his last 22 games. His 15 home runs tied for second among National League rookies.
Sledge was a 27-year-old rookie with a .336 OBP. You'd be pleased with that from a shortstop, but Sledge is a corner outfielder, and it's not like he makes up for it with prodigious power. Sledge can be a useful player if used correctly, but he'll never be a starter on a good team.

To sum up: the Nationals are carrying three offensive black holes in the lineup. We don't have a great hitter to make up for it, either. Before you jump all over me for slighting Brad Wilkerson, consider that if B-Wilk had played on the Cardinals last year and put up the same line he did with the 'Spos, he would have been the fifth-best hitter on the team, and that's without adjusting for position. Not one of the 2005 Nats slugged .500 last year except Castilla, and he doesn't count (.493 on the road). If our bench is good, it's only because Frank's not starting the right guys. MLB.com's Bill Ladson seems to think the pitching is the problem ("The Nationals can hit all they want, but they will finish near the bottom of the National League East if they don't get quality starting pitching"), so I'm sure he'll be surprised when we score fewer runs than Pittsburgh.

Can Anybody Read Korean?

It's nice to know that Choi Hoon agrees with me on who was the best Expo last year. I won't try to explain what's going on with Tony Batistia. Here's the index for these works of genius.

Non-Puppy Bowl News

From Ken Rosenthal:
The Nationals were willing to part with former Cubs IF Brendan Harris, a player such as OF Terrmel Sledge and possibly a minor leaguer in a trade for Sosa but balked at giving up premium young talent. The Cubs probably would have agreed to pay nearly all of the $25 million remaining on Sosa's contract if the proposal had included OF Brad Wilkerson or a comparable player. The Cubs contributed $16.15 million in their trade with the Orioles. . . .

The Nationals are toying with moving RHP Zach Day to the bullpen. Day's power sinker could further enhance a group that already includes RHPs Luis Ayala, Chad Cordero and Antonio Osuna. Shifting Day would be possible if RHP John Patterson or RHP Jon Rauch emerged as a capable fifth starter.
What do you think? I'll have further commentary tonight, but my quick take is that Bowden's offer was not unreasonable. I don't think much of Sledge, they're not going to use Harris, and the Nats don't really have any minor leaguers worth protecting. I don't know much about Zach Day, but it makes sense to convert a starter given the glut of them on the roster.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Puppy Bowl Sunday

New Blog! The Filibuster started on the first of the month and promises stats, sarcasm, and procrastination. Welcome aboard, Jon, and may your promise of postless months turn out to have been overstated.

Other than that, I got nothing. Nothing's happening, and Tom Boswell hasn't said anything dumb. IGN has a video and several screenshots from EA MVP Baseball, all featuring the Nationals. I know it's silly, but that video gets me all hyped up. March 2005 is going to be the longest month of my life.

It's off topic, but I'd like to take a moment to salute as a genius whoever came up with the Puppy Bowl. In case you missed it, let me explain: there's a large box made up to look like a football field, with fake stands and yard lines and everything. A whole mess o' puppies is unleashed in this thing, and they run around and fight over the water bowl and chew toys and sniff one another's butts for three hours, and then they show it again. That's all it is. And it's great. It's a hell of a lot more entertaining than any shocking celebrity cameo in a Doritos commercial or whatever, and it couldn't have cost anything to make. Maybe a hundred bucks for puppy rental. The DVD is only ten bucks, in case you need a gift for the person who has everything. The little white Jack Russel is my favorite.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

The Bulgar-Slayer

First, blog stuff:

  • Nationals MLB News is a new addition and comes to us all the way from Ontario. Today Marc has a run-down of the competitors for the fifth spot in the starting rotation. I'd like to see Jon Rauch get a chance, but the acquisition of Esteban Loaiza makes that unlikely, at least at the start of the season.
  • I'm a little late in linking to District of Baseball, where Jeff comments on the news, casts a critical eye at the Examiner, and keeps track of the recent postings on several blogs.
  • Congrats to the Nat Fanatics, Ross and Lew, who were quoted in this MLB.com story about the ESPN Zone event yesterday.
  • The Nationals Inquirer has revealed his name and even provides a helpful pronunciation guide. With a name like Basil Tsimpris, he sounds more suited for a career as a Byzantine emperor than a baseball blogger, but jobs like that are hard to come by these days.

Check out this Nationals depth chart from MLB.com. You see what I see? That's right, they have Nick Johnson at #2 for first base, with Terrmel Sledge in left and Brad Wilkerson at first. On the other hand, Jim Bowden was quoted yesterday as saying that Johnson (along with Wilkerson and Brian Schneider) is part of "our core, the guys we want to build around." On the other other hand, Bodes was also quoted as saying "We don't want to spend money on a stop-gap solution. That doesn't make sense. We're better off giving the ball to Mike Hinckley or John Patterson or Jon Rauch and continuing to develop our young pitchers within. Our dollars are better spent on player development and scouting and building the ballclub the right way" right before he signed Loaiza.

John at Nationals Pastime has a sort of lukewarm defense of Jim Bowden today, which is a nice jumping-off point for my last (I hope) discussion of the Sosa mess.

I think pursuing a deal for Sosa along the lines of what the Orioles gave up was worthwhile. I also think it's commendable and quite probably the right decision not to mortgage our future by shipping off one of the two people on that short list.

It's tough to comment on whatever proposed trades there were, because what was seriously offered has not been made public. The Post tells us that the Cubs "asked for Nationals outfielders Brad Wilkerson and/or Terrmel Sledge." That's three different deals; two of them are awful, and one is merely not good. I don't think as much of Sledge as others seem to, and I wouldn't lose any sleep over his loss. However, a Sledge for Sosa trade would have virtually guaranteed the benching or trading of Nick Johnson - you're certainly not going to bench Wilkerson (for performance reasons) or Jose Guillen (for personal safety reasons), and Wilkerson seems more likely to play first than center. I also refuse to give Bowden credit for not trading Brad Wilkerson. Of course you don't trade Brad Wilkerson. That's like giving Dayn Perry an attaboy for every starlet he doesn't tell us he's masturbating to.

I'm afraid that my relentless complaining about Bowden might lead one to believe that I come to my conclusions out of malice or grumpiness. That's not the case. Bodes has spent $13 million or so on new players. Is this team $13 million better than it was last year, or just $13 million more expensive? At every turn, Bowden has ignored cheaper, younger, and possibly better solutions (Rivera, Harris, Church). He has shown himself to be excessively enamored of "100 RBI Guys" and ignorant as to what this team's actual needs are. Our three weakest positions are centerfield, shortstop, and third base. Bowden created two of these problems and hasn't fixed the other. It's nothing personal, it's not a vendetta, but Jim Bowden's not doing his job.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Talleyrand Day

I feel like I've already established that Jim Bowden is a bad general manager, and if you're not convinced by now you won't be, but here's another log for the fire of my righteous indignation. Murray Chass of the New York Times wrote a piece (also run in the Examiner) suggesting an MLB conspiracy that denied Sammy Sosa to the Nationals and funneled him to the Orioles as a very special way of saying "I'm sorry" to Peter Angelos.
The Cubs, disenchanted with Sosa, will pay $12 million of the 2005 salary and the $3.5 million severance payment. When they were talking with the Nationals last week, they were prepared to pay even more of the total.
This busts a hole in my theory that all this Sosa chatter was just another way for Trader Jim to see his name in newsprint. I didn't think the Cubs would give Sammy up for as little as they did. But think about what this tells us about Bowden. He was actually about to give up somebody - maybe even Brad Wilkerson - for Sammy Sosa. The sooner we get some real owners in here the better.

Speaking of owners, local deity Cal Ripken is apparently angling for some kind of involvement with whatever lucky bastards buy the Nationals. I've weighed in on this before (I don't feel like digging through the archives, but trust me), and I remain steadfast that Ripken should not be entrusted with any kind of real authority without working his way up to it. I know Baltimoreans think he's the best ballplayer that ever lived and that his creepy ice-blue eyes can pierce one's very being, but he's still just an ex-player with a ghost-written book and couple minor league teams. More interesting was this bit:
Oakland GM Billy Beane, also a former player, also has interest in being a part of an ownership group.
I'm not one of those guys who has the special edition of Moneyball with all of Billy Beane's words printed in red, but I'd much rather have him in charge than Ripken. Imagine what you'd get with Beane in charge and a serious payroll. Or if you can't imagine it, ask a Red Sox fan.

Former Loudoun Cabal ringleader and perennial wannabe Bill Collins has entered a bid on the Nats, and Eric at Off Wing Opinion high-handedly instructs us to be nice to him.

I can't help but notice that a lot of Nats bloggers have grown fond of using the term (first coined by Ryan at Distinguished Senators), "Loudoun Cabal" to refer to Collins and his fellow investors.
Here's something I think you guys should remember -- long before there was any formal announcement that baseball was coming back to this area, the one name who has been connected to the effort since the late 1980s was Bill Collins.
Say what you will about the merits of the plan for a Loudoun ballpark (I thought it was a disaster too), or whether or not Collins would be the best owner for the team now (I think he's a longshot), but the fact of the matter remains that for many years he was the one public figure who kept working to keep the idea alive that baseball belonged back in Washington.
He deserves better.

While not getting a baseball team for 15 years is quite an accomplishment, Collins doesn't deserve anything from us. Here's something else you guys should remember:

"We've always looked south and west of the [Potomac]," Collins said. "Nothing has really changed there. In this area, you do not want to cross any bridges."

Collins was the guy who wanted to call the team the Virginia Grays. His strategy depended on selling out every baseball fan in Maryland and D.C. to Peter Angelos. Eric seems impressed that Collins almost managed to hijack the Astros in the mid-90s. I'm not, and all Collins "deserves" is to fail in this as he has in every other baseball endeavor.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The Examiner Examined

Sometimes it's nice to be a Metro rider. There was the seeing-eye dog who was smarter and more courteous than any human commuter I've ever met, for example. Lately, a trip on the Metro has involved being bombarded with free newspapers, which is okay with me. You've got the Washington Post Express, which seems to be a vehicle for the silly-ass hipsters in charge of the Sunday Source to take a crack at real, grown-up news. You've got the City Paper, which is like a real newspaper but with swears. And now there's The Examiner, which immediately got on my good side by splashing Nationals stuff all over its inaugural front page. Things start off with a bang as Phil Wood, who's evidently a local sports guy of some note, pens a column on the Nats' likely performance. Since there's nothing going on right now, let's parse it closely.
How good will the inaugural Washington Nationals' roster turn out to be? Well, everyone else in the National League East made off-season improvements, too, but with spring training just a couple of weeks away, I think it's safe to say this club is not likely to lose 90-plus games like last year's Montreal Expos.
Fair enough, though I don't know that everyone else in the division has improved. The Mets and Marlins certainly have. I think the Nats are better than the '04 Expos. Not drastically better, but better.
They may still finish last in what is clearly baseball's toughest division, but they'll make it exciting.
He's already making more sense than Thomas Boswell.
On opening day last year, this club's starting lineup featured Carl Everett and Peter Bergeron in the outfield, and Orlando Cabrera and Tony Batista on the left side of the infield. Those guys are gone, and their replacements are generally upgrades.
I don't like Cabrera, but there's no way Cristian Guzman's an upgrade.
Free agent outfielder Jose Guillen was signed to play right field. Whatever happened with the Angels last year, Guillen's track record with Nationals Interim General Manager Jim Bowden is solid, and if Bowden says he'd trust Guillen with his kids, that's good enough for me.
FACTUAL ERROR! It's a minor one, but what is it about that Angels trade that makes everyone forget it? I didn't dream it, did I?
Reigning National League RBI king Vinny Castilla takes over at third base. Castilla is a good defensive player whose reputation as a Coors Field hitter may be somewhat overstated. He's got legitimate 25-30 home run power, and aside from a disastrous term with Tampa Bay, has been productive with the bat everywhere he's been.
Depends on how you define "productive," I guess. Yeah, he hits some homers, and Castilla defenders are quick to point out that he had more on the road than at Coors last year. However, like Tony Batista, Castilla does nothing but hit home runs. No speed, no patience, no nothing. He should be fine defensively. I wonder, by the way, if he's kicking himself for signing so early after Batista got $15 million in Japan.
Cristian Guzman is the new shortstop, and while his on-base percentage could be better - a lot better - he's respected defensively and can run a little bit.
Wood 2, Boswell 0.
The Nats' best player - at least based upon his '04 season in Montreal - is likely Brad Wilkerson. Wilkerson was the everyday first baseman last year, but with the return of a healthy Nick Johnson, I expect to see Wilkerson in the outfield for Washington. Again, Wilkerson should hit plus-or-minus 30 home runs for the Nats, and hit somewhere in the middle of Frank Robinson's lineup.
You're preaching to the choir there, Phil. Everyone loves B-Wilk. (Except that Livan was the best player on the 'Spos last year.)
Add the new guys to the returning everyday players - All-Star Jose Vidro at second, catcher Brian Schneider and outfielder Terrmel Sledge (this guy's begging to be called either "Hammer" or "Percy" in tribute to the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer) - and it's clear this club will score some runs.
That's technically true, I guess. They'll score more than one, and that's "some." They won't score many, though. The Expos finished second to last in the NL in runs last year, and it would be positively Boswellian to argue that the Nats' additions will pull them up even into the middle of the pack.
Pitching is another story.
As Chris at Capitol Punishment points out, Wood has it all bass-ackwards here. The pitching is the strength, the offense is the weakness.
The top of the all-righty rotation should be Livan Hernandez and Esteban Loaiza, both former All-Stars. Hernandez has pitched more than his share of big games during a career that includes a World Series ring with Florida, and won't turn 30 until Feb. 20. Loaiza won 21 games with the White Sox two years ago, but slumped to nine wins and a high ERA last year between the White Sox and Yankees.
Don't lump those two together, Phil. They're like night and day. Yankees and Devil Rays. Roger Angell and Dayn Perry. It would also be nice of Wood to mention a) Livan has a hell of a lot more on his resume than "his share of big games" and 2) what did Loaiza do three years ago? Four? His whole damn career except for one year?
One of his former pitching coaches told me that Loaiza's problem has frequently been leaving his best stuff in the bullpen before the game. Apparently, it's that all-important walk to the mound that's been his downfall.
I like the sarcasm. Seriously.
The rest of the rotation will likely include three from the quartet of Tony Armas, Zach Day, Tomo Ohka and Jon Rauch, with Day likely to emerge as number three, or number two should Loaiza falter. Chad Cordero is a competent closer in a bullpen that includes T.J. Tucker, John Patterson, Luis Ayala and lefty Joey Eischen.
This is what I mean when I say Ohka is criminally underrated. It's pretty close to impossible to argue non-delusionally that Ohka isn't the second-best starter on this team, but he gets thrown in the afterthought bin with the kids. And now the big finish:
I feel pretty confident in predicting a .500 finish for the '05 Nationals. No matter the record, this club is the best this town has seen in decades.
I obviously don't agree with Wood's methodology, but his conclusion is acceptable. I think .500 is at the high end of what the Nats are capable of this year, but quite possible. This column is probably the best mainstream media analysis of the Nats I've seen. Does that say more about the piece's quality or about the high standards of Nats bloggers compared to the papers? Use the links to your right and compare.