Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Teh Awesome

I do a lot of complaining here at Distinguished Senators. Management, players, writers, Dayn -- all have felt my mighty whine. But I never act like the job of even the very crappiest baseball player is easy. I don't if it's a matter of familiarity breeding contempt or what, but Thomas Boswell does have that tendency. You may remember his hit piece in the wake of Endy's demotion, in which he acted like it ain't no thing to add 60 points to an on-base percentage. His recent column on Ryan Church, which I'm rather late in getting to, has the same defect.

It starts out well enough: after Terrmel Sledge got hurt, Zach Day's injury was the only thing that stopped Jim Bowden from acquiring Juan Encarnacion, and given Ryan Church's subsequent performance, it's worked out great. All true, though I'd add that if that deal had gone down, Boswell would have been chirping something like, "Bodes is teh awesome!!!!! Jaun Incanracion is a proven pwer hitter!!!1!!! Blah blah blah!" You think I'm joking or exaggerating or just a dick, but Boz thinks Bowden can do no wrong -- he's still defending the Guzman signing -- and his columns totally look like that when they get to the editor.

Anyway, Church is great, and I'm not just saying that because I've been shilling for him since Spring Training. Frank's not letting him hit against lefties, but I don't care as long as Marlon Byrd rather than the remains of Jeffrey Hammonds is his platoon partner. So Boz and I are in agreement, at least until he turns to the injury Soul Patch suffered bouncing off the outfield wall in Pittsburgh.
Right now, besides maintaining his form at the plate, Church has only one thing left to prove. And it's a touchy point, especially for a young player. He has the courage to make a play like the wall bash in Pittsburgh. But yesterday, with his name on the lineup card, he didn't play because his chest was still bruised from the collision. "No chance. I can't lift my arm above my shoulder." ...

On that team full of throwbacks, this smooth rookie with so many tools has a place waiting for him. And not a platoon job, either. But, at times like this, when he's hurting, but not actually hurt, he's probably going to have to say, "I'm in there." That is, if he intends to be a full-fledged member of the lodge.

That's right. Boz thinks Church should be out there in left field whether or not he can lift his arm above his shoulder. Suck it up! Rub some dirt in it! Play through the pain! This Church kid is a nice player, but he needs to be more like Pete Rose or Ty Cobb! GRIT!

Maybe it's just me, but I figure the long-term health of a valuable commodity like Church is more important than getting him to play when physically incapable just to get Brian Schneider to like him. You can't accuse Boswell of hypocrisy, though. He wants Church to play with a shoulder injury; Boswell has shown himself perfectly willing to churn out a column while apparently suffering from a concussion.

Need something to do this summer? Will Carroll's looking for an intern!

We're looking for someone that can handle the technical stuff that we simply can't - links on the sidebar, updating our schedules and media appearances, monitoring news and putting up the occasional posts. Tech ability a must, writing ability a major plus.
Tech stuff, writing -- obviously, they're looking for someone to do what Will can't. Note that "making shit up" and "kissing the ass of the guy who makes shit up" aren't part of the job description.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

That Damn Miller Light Bottle Won Again

My predictions for tonight's game didn't quite come true, but I wasn't all that far off. I thought the Nats wouldn't hit, and they didn't -- only five hits, and one of those only as the result of three Pirates almost bonking their heads together in left. But the Pirates were even worse and screwed up in a completely hilarious manner, turning a completely idiotic Marlon Byrd bunt (thanks, Frank!) into a couple runs. Oh, and Jose Guillen actually did play, though that was balanced out by Ryan Church missing another game, so up yours Tom Boswell and your pathetic Cal-worship. And they didn't play "Sweet Caroline," which would have ruined the evening for me even worse than Chad Cordero blowing a save. But they didn't and he didn't and Lionheart was on AMC when I got home and a good time was had by all.

Rosenthal loves ¡Livan! Go read this and tell me this story wasn't already written by the lethal combination of me (the fanboy ¡Livan!-worship) and Needham, the thinking man's me (the part about how he can throw all those pitches because he's usually half-assing it).

Monday, June 27, 2005

So . . .

I totally forgot to blog! For days! But hey, nobody died or even probably gave a crap, so I hope I can be forgiven my dereliction. Speaking of dereliction, I notice that the first place Washington Nationals failed to draw more than 40,000 fans in any game of the recently concluded weekend series. What the hell's going on? I thought we had all agreed to let ourselves go. I mean, I wasn't there either, but still. I'll be there tomorrow night -- look for the guy with his head buried in his hands while he suffers through at least six three-pitch innings as Josh Fogg has a delightful time with our Nick Johnson-less, Jose Guillen-free lineup. Sweet Caroline!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Nuts Harvested

Back on June 6th, the Nats were about to embark on an important stretch of their season. With a lead in the NL East as thin as Frank's patience, I advised them to harvest their nuts while they took on the soft underbelly of the AL West, our chosen interleague rivals for 2005. They did more than that. They swept Seattle and Oakland and battled to a 3-3 draw against the division's good teams. After the interleague romp, we took two of three from the reasonably tough Pirates, thanks to the righteous fury of an outfielder scorned (more on that later). The division lead is up to three games, but only because the Phillies keep winning. Consider the nuts fully harvested and stuffed in our twitching, furry cheeks.

And now we're on easy street. On their last homestand, the Nats proved themselves nearly unbeateable -- you may remember it. There was a lot "Bang! Zoom!" and Chad Cordero almost-blown saves and many doubles. To me, it's all kind of a blur of knowing we were going to win. It felt good. Based on that, I expect these next six games against the Blue Jays (our traditional AL rivals!) and Pirates to result in about seven wins and another two games tacked on to our lead. I've been trying to tell myself that the Nats are more lucky than good, and I really believe that on a certain level. But on another, less thinking level, it's been a long time since I saw this team lose at RFK, and that has conditioned me in a Pavlovian manner to expect wins. Indeed, to drool for them.

We all know that Jose Guillen is tempermental and mercurial. That's a nice way of saying he'll punch you in the face if you disrespect him, intentionally or otherwise. Some say he's the heart and soul of the team. I like to think that the heart and soul of my favorite team isn't made up of a hypersensitive, walk-deficient prima donna like Guillen, but it's a nebulous enough term that it probably doesn't matter. Anyway, Guillen had a lot to do with our victory in Pittsburgh, and it's probably not coincidence that the Pirates are the very team that drafted him, brought him to the majors too early, and unceremoniously dumped him on the Devil Rays. In fact, Jose has had the opportunity to play for an unusual number of teams: seven, including the Nationals, five of whom we've already played this year. Has it made any difference? You tell me (keeping in mind that my OBP calculations are little off because I couldn't figure out when he hit his sac flies):

Versus Angels, Diamondbacks, Reds, A's, and Pirates:
.329/.380/.671, 4 2B, 7 HR, 12 RBI in 73 AB

Versus Everyone Else:
.293/.341/.372, 9 2B, 8 HR, 29 RBI in 191 AB

Well! Normally, he hits like Paul Lo Duca, but when confronted with a team that has disrespected him, he turns into Miguel Tejada. Except, you know, not as likeable. Tampa Bay should be grateful that it has so many games against those patsies in New York and none against us -- can you imagine what Jose would do to the team that released him? Ask Mike Scioscia, if his therapist will let him talk about it yet. The bad news here is that after the Pirates series next week, we don't see another Guillen-jilting team until the Reds on August 23rd. We can only hope that Vinny's mad at the Braves.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Brendan Hernandez?

Futuristic BlogProps to District of Baseball for pointing us to this interesting column in a Japanese newspaper named after beer. Author Dave Wiggins takes up the case of the Tomo Ohka:
The only way he can get noticed in his home country is when he gets into trouble.

Despite being the most consistent nihonjin hurler in the big leagues over the past four seasons, much of his good work has been overlooked.
"Nihonjin" is how you say "Japanese" when you want everyone to know that you know Japanese. Sugoi! Anyway, it's interesting that Ohka is just as overlooked in Japan as he is here. Go try to find a Nationals shirt with Ohka on the back -- can't be done. There are tons of Armas shirts, though, indicating that the best way to get yourself on some merchandise is to have one decent season in your whole damn life. The really interesting part of the piece is right here:
Robbie's stance on the matter dates back to his rookie managerial season in the late '70s with the Cleveland Indians.

Indians's ace pitcher Gaylord Perry questioned Robinson's managerial abilities and wouldn't fork the horsehide over when he was yanked from a game.

Robbie proceeded to rip the ball out of Perry's hand and went nose-to-nose with him. He would have gone toe-to-toe, too, if Perry hadn't exited with his tail tucked between his legs. It wasn't much longer when Perry was shipped out of Cleveland.

So many cliches spring to mind: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. Frank Robinson hates pitchers.

I did a little digging on the amazing Retrosheet and found three candidates for the game to which Wiggins alludes. The most likely is a June 1 start in Oakland in which Perry gave up 7 hits and 4 earned runs in only 5 innings, leading to a 6-3 win for the A's. He was traded two weeks and two starts later to Texas in exchange for pitchers Jim Bibby, Jackie Brown, and Rick Waits along with 100,000 bucks. At the time of trade, Perry was having a subpar season by his own lofty, spit-soaked standards: 3.55 ERA, 107 ERA+, and 121.7 IP in 15 starts (that's over 8 IP per start, in case you're from the humanities). The rest of the year in Texas: 3.03 ERA, 124 ERA+, 184 IP in 22 games. He went on to win 30 games and pitch 488 innings over the next two years with Texas in the middle of a Hall of Fame career.

It's the Ohka Incident writ large: Frank quarrels with a useful pitcher and exerts his authority by forcing a trade. Bibby and Waits were intermittently useful for Cleveland, and a hundred grand is always helpful, but you'd rather have Gaylord Perry. After all, Perry was like ¡Livan! crossed with Brendan Donnelly: he threw huge numbers of innings and he cheated. Time will tell if the Ohka trade works out as badly for Washington as the Perry trade did for Cleveland, but history shows that trades made under duress aren't often winners.

Speaking of Brendan Donnelly and cheating, a worthy addition to your daily reading is Yard Work, where various baseball personages opine on the events of the day (NB: it's not really them, but if you dig around, you'll find comments from people who totally fell for it). Just today, John Kruk (my favorite YW contributor, along with Rickey) and Steve Phillips sounded off on the Pine Tar Affair. Kruk:

If you listened to some of these purists talk about it, Brendan Donnelly crapped on Cy Young’s grave out there the other night. Bull! The fact is, Donnelly plays about as tough as anybody out there, and the Krukster’s got no love for guys who don’t sack up and game hard. That crybaby Frank Robinson might look at Donnie and see a cheater, but I see a guy who had tooled around the minors and never complained about it for ten years. You ever tried to party in Altoona on a Tuesday night? You’re lucky if you end up with a sixer of Iron City and a shiner the next morning courtesy of a certain swears-she’s-18-year-old somebody’s jealous boyfriend. I swear, the way he reacted you’d think I had my way with his Xbox.
Phillips:
Every time there is a question about baseball players or managers cheating, I get about 15,000 calls for quotes from journalists all over the world. After all, I was the GM of the New York Mets, and we had Bobby Valentine as our manager, and he cheated like a Navy wife. Oh, sure, I know you're all just thinking about the mustache-in-the-dugout thing -- but I'm talking about full-on 100% cheating and deception with the intent to defraud.
Make sure to read the Rickey archives. Rickey got paid!

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Anger Management Redux

That series against the Angels was so much fun, I can't stop talking about it. The suspensions are in from the Pine Tar Incident. The managers got one game each, and Brendan Donnelly got ten. Ten games -- that's quite a few. Maybe putting pine tar on your glove actually is cheating. Somebody better tell Mike Scioscia before he says something stupid again.

Cheap shots aside, it's worth pointing out that the series concluded with a regular ol' baseball game rather than a beanball war, and both managers deserve credit for not giving in to that kind of thing, even if I was just the tiniest bit disappointed. Plus we won, so nah nah.

Unfortunately, our own Jose Guillen couldn't let bygones be bygones. After the last game of the series, he had the following comments:
Scioscia showed no class, no respect. He was talking to me about respect and class. I really don't care about Mike Scioscia. I have no respect for him any more because I'm still hurt about what happened last year. I don't want to make these comments, but Mike Scioscia is a piece of garbage. I don't care if I get in trouble.
Hmm. Well, that's too bad. Back in March, I took issue with the line of propaganda coming from the team and the local media. Jim Bowden and his willing mouthpieces were trying to convince us that Jose Guillen was a changed man who'd willingly taken anger management classes and was completely cured. It was nonsense. He was most likely forced to take the classes, and every word out of the man's mouth indicated that he hadn't learned a thing, as Guillen was insistent that his future good behavior was conditional: as long as he played every day and not "disrespected," everything would be ducky. Not to toot my own horn, but his latest outburst makes me think I was right.

But this isn't about Guillen (Basil has that angle covered). Mostly I feel sorry for the man. He's paranoid, and it can't be fun to go through life like that. His talent has gotten him far, but he doesn't seem very happy. This sequence of events gives us a couple other things to think about. First, is Jose Guillen a good long term investment? Our esteemed general manager thinks so. Guillen came to the Nats under contract for 2005 with a team option to extend it through next year. Instead of waiting to see how the outfielder acquitted himself on and off the field, Jim Bowden yanked the lever (I'm assuming that's how the option was activated) within the first month of the season. Since then, Guillen's OPS has dropped more than 90 points, and he's demontrated the kind of instability that made the Angels so eager to see the back of him. He's under contract with the Nats for another year and half. His relationship with management is great now, but will that last?

The other thing: maintain your skepticism. We were fed a story based on nothing but wishful thinking from Bowden and some things Guillen sort of said. A pliant local sports media was all too willing to accept Bowden's "changed man" fiction without really looking at it, and this in spite of the fact that Guillen couldn't even be bothered to say quite what he was supposed to. Keep that in mind the next time the papers start fawning over Bowden's latest pet project.

When asked in 1972 what he thought was the impact of the French Revolution, Chinese Premier Chou En Lai replied, "It is too soon to tell." That's a good way to look at a lot of things, including the recent Nats/Brewers trade and the accompanying pickup of Ryan Drese. It looked bad for us on Tuesday, as Tomo Ohka threw 9 innings of shutting out at the Devil Rays, whose offense isn't as bad as you probably think. He struck out 6 and walked none and afterwards probably got loaded and sang obscene songs about Frank. We caught up a bit on Thursday as Drese pitched 8 shutout innings in spite of giving up 4 walks against 3 strikeouts. Junior Spivey, meanwhile, isn't hitting: 138/242/276 since joining the Nats. The first batch of results isn't good for Bodes, but remember Chou En Lai: we're talking about a grand total of 11 games among all three players here, so it's much too soon to tell.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Admirable Frankness

¡Livan! may not have avenged us last night, but he didn't need to. Frank Robinson was all over it. When the Nats left town after their wildly successful, 11-win homestand, our manager's reputation was at a low point, at least in my eyes. His inability to get along with Tomo Ohka had forced us into an ill-advised trade and put his worst attributes on display. Now that he's stomping his way through L.A. like some rubber-clad Toei Studio stagehand, though, we get to see the awesome results possible when Frank's crankiness is directed outward.

In case you missed it, here are the particulars: in the 7th with a 3-1 lead, the Angels brought in Brendan Donnelly to pitch. Operating on some extremely clever advance scouting, crime-fighter Frank immediately called for the ump to check Brendan's glove, a check that revealed significant quantities of pine tar. Angels manager Mike Scioscia, no doubt suffering from some severly bunched panties, flipped out and started yelling at Frank, who responded in kind. The benches cleared and no blows were landed, but only because several strong men managed to stop Jose Guillen before he was too far into his HULK SMASH routine. Guillen proceeded to tie it up in the 8th with a two-run homer, the Nats scored three more times, and the Angels were grievously humiliated in front of their monkey-obsessed fans. After the game, Robinson and Scioscia talked trash like a couple of publicity-hungry rappers. Frank: "I lost a lot of respect for Mike tonight -- as a person and as a manager. And there's nothing he can say to me now, nothing. I don't even want him to approach me, I don't even want him to apologize to me. I would not accept it or have anything to do with it." Mike: "I told Frank we were going to undress his pitchers when they were on the mound to see if they had any pine tar in their glove. He obviously wasn't happy. He was screaming. We weren't making a lunch date."

So Frank's doing a great job, and here's how you can tell: look at who's mad at him. A few days ago, it was me and Tomo Ohka. That's bad, because me and Tomo Ohka rule. But now, it's jackass sports writers and the other team. Frank has the Angels and their supporters furious. He's got the generally well-regarded Mike Scioscia freaking out like he's Lou Piniella or something, and Angels fans are so mad they're not even trying to make any sense. Check this out:
Baseball’s former director of discipline was curious about Donnelly’s glove? Great job, Frank. Where were you when all the steroid use was going on when you were supposed to be concerned about matters on the field? On the golf course?
Huh? That makes my puzzler hurt, so I'll let Basil field it. Then there's this address to Frank:
. . . you know your move was a classless, bogus witch hunt, and you need the mantle of respectability in a hurry.
Yeah, it was totally bogus! Mike Scioscia says lots of guys use pine tar on their gloves. No one else seems to have heard of it, but who are we to question him? (To be fair, not all or even most of the Angels bloggers are this silly. This guy makes sense, and so does this other guy too.)

One more aspect to Frank's brilliance: Jose Guillen proved that he would gladly, ferociously murder anyone who slighted his new favorite manager. He's done a complete turn-around: last year, he was trying to kill his boss. This year, he's trying to kill for his boss. Still not an ideal situation, but an improvement. And for Frank, it's a fantastic career move. Do you think anyone's going to want to tell him he's fired and risk the helmet-throwing wrath of Jose? Not without hiring a team of burly, Mossad-trained bodyguards, and those guys aren't cheap.

Frank has established himself as the Dennis Rodman of managers, a guy who gets under the other guy's skin and goads him into doing something stupid. What does that do for us? I'm not willing to attribute last night's comeback to the blowup. That would imply that Jose Guillen can park a slider in the seats only when enraged, and I think more of him as a ballplayer than that. But that doesn't mean the incident didn't have less tangible benefits. I can't say what the feeling in the Nats' clubhouse has been like recently, but you have to figure there was at least a little grumbling. Getting everyone focused on an external enemy, even if it is a team of little consequence to the Nats, is an entirely good thing. And it helps that Frank was completely in the right, which is kind of a new position for him to be in. So keep it up, Frank! Remember that it's the guys in other hats you want mad at you.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

La Venganza

Some odds and ends as we eagerly await the raging vengeance of ¡Livan!.

After my novel-length complaint about Frank Robinson on Sunday, it seems only fair to point out when he does something good. Have a gander at this rather odd L.A. Times column (registration required, so on second don't bother and just read this).
A large group of reporters and TV types arrives with the intent of talking to Guillen on his first return visit to Angel Stadium since being suspended for insubordination, and a team spokesman says Guillen will speak to everyone in the dugout at 4:45.

He's a few minutes late, takes his place before the reporters, but before he can answer the first question, Washington Manager Frank Robinson demands everyone's attention so the team's PR guy can make an announcement.

The PR guy says Guillen will speak until 5, but Robinson interrupts with a stern pronouncement of his own, warning the media it cannot ask Guillen any question having anything to do with last season.
Writer T.J. Simers goes on to get all pissy because Frank is actually enforcing the rule and making sure these hacks can't get Guillen to say something he'll regret. Good. As little regard as he has for certain of his pitchers, Frank realizes that part of his job is to keep his mercurial right fielder happy, and that involves keeping the wannabe Rick Reillys away from him. See the difference? Here he's protecting a player from the press. With Ohka, he was trashing a player to the press.

Bryan Smith at Baseball Analysts has a review of the draft for the NL teams, and here's hit take on the Nats:
One of the most important things for this organization at this time, besides winning, is creating a face for themselves. Washington is such a perfect place for baseball, that I think they are just a superstar away from blending in. While winning will continue to sell itself this year, the club will no doubt find its dry spell at some point. Then what will the marketing department use? Cue Ryan Zimmerman, maybe the surest thing in this draft. Zimmerman, from nearby UVa, has potential that tops out at (ironically enough) Cal Ripken Jr. Great choice there. I also like what Washington did after Zimmerman, though they didn't pick again until the fourth, choosing only players from competitive areas or programs. As Zimmerman goes, so does this draft, but choosing a few well-tested Tar Heels, Terrapins and Dirtbags can't hurt either.
We rank 9th of 16, but I'm sure that has a lot to do with how few picks we had.

Oleanders and Morning Glories just eviscerates Nats GM Jim Bowden and MLB.com's Bill Ladson today for a self serving (on Bodes' part) and embarrassingly gentle (on Ladson's) interview. It's really bad, actually. Among other things, Bowden:
  • Touts the team's "compassion"
  • Justifies Guzman with the old "Twins won the division" routine
  • Claims he knew Church was going to be a star
Harper compares it to Will Carroll's last frenzy of verbal self-manipulation, and that's apt. Bowden has an advantage in that I'm pretty sure that unlike "Mark," Bill Ladson is a real person. Anyway, go read it. It's hilarious.

Our old friends at Baseball Prospectus had a feature column on D.C. baseball today (40 bucks required), and it lived up to the quality we've come to expect from the internet baseball community's savage, Mean Girls-esque tastemakers. Yuda does the evisceration this time. BP's Joe Sheehan is concerned at the attendance. Yuda responds:
Yes, it’s incredibly unimpressive that this team is currently outdrawing Philadelphia, Baltimore, Texas and the Chicago White Sox. Nobody is questioning their ability to sustain a team. On top of that, there’s been practically no marketing. I’ve met people who thought the team didn’t move here after Linda Cropp’s gambit. There’s a lot of people who don’t even know when games are played, and even more who have no idea how cheaply you can get in (outfield seats are $7). This is a market that can sustain baseball, and with competent management under new ownership, I expect it to be in the upper tier of attendance and revenue most seasons.
I think I know how much research Sheehan did for this piece: less than some.

New blog! Nationals Gallery started on Monday and already has about forty posts. Get over there. Now! Pretty soon there'll be so much content you'll need to take a day off.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Wooooo!

The Pixies rocked, and Frank Black continues his lifelong journey to becoming a perfect sphere. I'm too ROCKED to say anything about baseball, but here are a couple of things you ought to read.
  • Oleanders and Morning Glories has a post that I agree with completely. Seriously, I wish I'd written it. If Mr. Naranja continues to write in this vein, I'm going to have to retire, obviated by a more efficient Canadian model.
    "I believe the team is scrappy and does have heart. I believe that 95% of major league teams each season are scrappy and have heart. Very few players can make it to the majors on talent without overcoming some adversity. I believe the Nats win close games not because of guts or gumption, but because of luck. I believe that luck is fleeting and the Nats will be on the wrong side of more 3-2, 5-3 games in the second half. It won’t mean they aren’t trying as hard or have lost their spirit."
    The other 5%? Whoever has Raul Mondesi.
  • Basil at the Inquirer posted a dazzlingly intelligent piece on the "two ways to view a player/manager altercation like Ohka/Robinson." He also wonders how Frank's act will go over once the Nats stop winning every game.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Meanwhile . . .

Now that I've had my excessively lengthy say, what's the word elsewhere?
  • Dan Szymborski of BTF's Transaction Oracle thinks it's a good deal for the Brewers. "For the Brewers, the benefits are obvious. They get to send Obermuller, who would be very fortunate to keep that ERA under 5, to mopup duty and add Ohka to the rotation. They lose Spivey, but they needed to anyway to get Weeks in there. Now, it's only a minor upgrade, but I think Ohka will beat the projection now that he's not actively trying to kill the manager." Also check out the notepad Bodes was scribbling on when he made the deal.
  • The Transaction Guy: "Not a good trade for Washington, but not surprising given Jim Bowden’s track record." And track suit! "Why you gotta play me like that, dog?"
  • Ball Wonk is offically undecided but doesn't sound too happy. "Kyoto's own Tomo Ohka has one bad outing, gets understandably frustrated, lashes out at Frank just a tiny bit, and BAM! He's off the team. Traded to Milwaukee for a mediocre infielder faster than you can say Hauru no ugoku shiro. Welcome to Washington, Ernest Lee Spivey Jr." This reminds me of something I should have mentioned earlier: I like Spivey. I'm rooting for him. I miss Ohka, but I'm blaming Frank and Bodes for that.
  • Capitol Punishment thinks it's decent. "It's an alright trade on straight value. Ohka's had a solid career, but he's on the verge of collapse today. And Spivey is filling a gaping hole in this team. Jamey Carroll is simply not cutting it." And you know it hurts him to say that about Jamey.
  • Nasty Nats is cool with it. "All in all, it's not a roster shakeup that I'm in love with. But it has the possibility of working out very well."
  • Nationals Inquirer digs it, daddy-o. "Bowden reinforced a tremendously weak area, then replaced Ohka with a pitcher---this year's traditional stats notwithstanding---who might not be appreciably worse. At the end of the day, I think the team is stronger, and it certainly is deeper." *snap snap snap*
  • Nationals Review give a quick thumbs-up. "Short-term, this looks like a good deal. But now, our vaunted pitching depth has vanished with Jon Rauch injured, Claudio Vargas released and Tomo Ohka traded." Bold!
  • Nationalz.com is all tormented and conflicted. You know, like the Crow. "Man. I don’t know what I think about this. I’ve shit on Tomo Ohka for a long time, but he has been improving lately. I haven’t shit on Guzman much at all, but we could definitely use some backup at short. I don’t know Spivey, Drese, or Sequea from Adam, but the wisdom of the move will shake out over the next few weeks."
  • Dexys over at the Nats Blog is all about value. "All in all, I am pretty ambivalent about this. Ohka seems a bit too valuable to me to give up for Spivey--I would have much rather traded Armas I think." Me too. I'm sick of that guy. "Potential! #2 starter potential! blah blah!" Whatever. Armas is expected to do it and some point maybe in the near future; Ohka has done it.
  • I wanted to find some reactions from Brewers bloggers, but they seem to a be a lazy bunch of drunks. You know, with the beer and all. I could go for a bratwurst right now, I tell ya.

I Come to Praise Tomo, Not to Bury Him

"The bull . . . flowed together to the ズ to this day." That was the reaction of the inscrutable, poorly-translated Japanese media to the news that Tomo "Landlord" Ohka was dealt to the Brewers in exchange for second baseman Junior Spivey, while the Nats also claimed pitcher Ryan Drese off waivers from Texas. The bull did indeed flow, and author Joseph Santoliquito is right to express doubt as to its end.

The trade is a pain to analyze, since there are all kinds of hypotheticals and differing projections and that kind of nonsense to take into consideration. I like the Endy Chavez/Marlon Byrd trade a lot better: it was obvious from the moment I heard about it that Jim Bowden had just done to the Phillies the equivalent of the thing where you have your friend get on all fours right behind some dude's legs and then push, and I've heard no one but Phillies fans say anything different.

It boils down to this: we gave up a solid starter having a rough year. Milwaukee gave up a second baseman with one really good season under his belt and that's about it. It's more complicated than that, of course. Ohka hasn't been right all year. After walking 1.5 dudes per 9 innings in 2002 and 1.6 and 1.7 the next two years, his BB rate shot up to 4.9 this year. His strikeouts have declined in the same time frame: from 5.1 per 9 in '02 and '03 to 3.6 in 2005 and 2.4 this year. However, he was hurt for most of 2004 after taking a line drive off his forearm. He had a rough start to this season, but seemed to be coming around before his infamous three inning, Frank-baiting turn against the Marlins, and his ERA was the best among a very capable group of Nats starters.

Ohka's been having a rough year, but Junior Spivey's been having a rough career. He didn't make the majors until he was 26, but had a really nifty All Star season in 2002: 865 OPS, 120 OPS+, 34 doubles, 16 homers. Since then, however, anything you say about Spivey can be preceded with the phrase "limited by injuries." Limited by injuries, he's played only 165 games over the last two years. Limited by injuries, his OPS+ was only 88 in 2003. Limited by injuries, he struck out 95 times in 106 games. Limited by injuries, he's stolen only 9 bases in two years. Etc, etc. With Jose Vidro out until the All Star break and no one in the middle infield hitting, we needed a stopgap. We don't need Spivey for long, so maybe the injuries won't matter. He'll certainly be an offensive improvement, doubly so if Guzman gets to catch some pine every now and then in favor of Jamey Carroll.

I don't think we got enough for Ohka. Good starting pitchers are worth more than middling second baseman. The argument in favor of the move is that Ohka is no longer a good starting pitcher. It's possible that his new, problematic strikeout and walk tendencies are permanent, his sub-4 ERA is an illusion, and that he'll turn into 2005-vintage Zach Day in Milwaukee. I doubt it, though. His crappy stats in 2004 came in only 84 innings and were surrounded by injuries. His even crappier 2005 is the product of only 54 innings, and it's also worth pointing out that he's had a solidly above-average ERA both years. It's far more likely that Ohka will regain his 2002-2003 form than that Spivey, who's hitting only 234/316/370 this year, becomes an all star once again. A trade like this would have made a lot more sense when the Nats had starting pitching depth. But Jon Rauch got hurt, Zach Day got everyone mad at him and then got hurt, and Claudio Vargas was so bad they fired him. We're relying on Ryan Drese, a reclamation project with a 5.36 ERA and 200 IP only once. Drese could certainly become a servicable starter. But the idea that he could replace Ohka is at least optimistic.

Mere performance, though, was the not the sole reason for the trade. On June 4 in a start against Florida, Ohka famously "showed up" Frank Robinson. After watching Ohka walk three in three innings and fall behind another hitter, Frank came out of the dugout to get him. Ohka turned his back on the manager, and Frank snatched the ball from his hand as though he were trying to prove to his kung-fu master that he had completed his training. I'm willing to defend Ohka in this incident. Frank yanked Ohka in the middle of an at-bat, something he's fond of doing and something that's unnecessarily humiliating for the pitcher. Yes, Ohka shouldn't have turned his back. But can't he be forgiven a slip-up in such a frustrating situation? I'd rather see a player enraged at his failure than cool with it. Similarly, I understand Frank's burst of anger in yanking the ball away from the pitcher. What I don't understand or condone is Frank's actions afterwards, as he continued to bitch about Ohka to the press.
"When I come to the mound, you're gone," Robinson said. "You're not going to talk me out of it. Give me the ball, leave the mound."

"He has this thing that goes back for years that I don't have confidence in him," Robinson said. "He just thinks I have something against him personally, I guess."

Robinson said he addressed the issue of respecting a manager in Spring Training, and doesn't want an incident to alter relationships with the rest of his players.

"It just sets a bad precedent," Robinson said. "The chemistry should be sky high right now on this ballclub -- and it is. But one person can damage that chemistry to a point where it hurts the team."

I've got no problem with the fine Ohka had to pay, and I know it's important to maintain discipline in the clubhouse. But why get the press involved? Why denigrate one of your own players in public? It's not an isolated incident, either. Frank's been less than reticent when pitchers displease him, and Jim Bowden isn't afraid to take a smirking shot at someone on his way out (On Endy: "When Chavez learned he was being sent down, he told Bowden, 'Trade me.' 'Other clubs view you the same way we do,' Bowden said he told Chavez, meaning he wasn't worth much in a trade." On Ohka: "We certainly don’t want any player who has a problem playing for a first place club. I’m sure he’ll be happy in Milwaukee."). It appears that our team is in the hands of some less than classy people.

And that brings me to my final point (I promise). When Inning-Endy was sent down, I compared to him an assassinated emperor: "now that he's gone, people are lining up to sing the praises of his successor and assure everyone that they always hated that last guy." It's even more pronounced this time. Suddenly everyone hates Tomo: he had what's coming to him, the disrespectful jackass. Ron Darling's performance before Friday's game was shameful. He gleefully recounted the back-turning incident before exclaiming, "You're outta here!" Look, we don't know the whole story, but we can gather from Frank's comments that there's been tension between him and Ohka for some time. Why do we assume that Ohka is the jerk here? Is it because Frank's the manager, as though that makes him infallible? Is it because Ohka's said next to nothing while Frank has mouthed off repeatedly? Is it resentment that Tomo's baneful influence on team chemistry kept us to only eight games over .500? If you're quick to condemn Ohka for not getting along with his manager but ready to absolve Jose Guillen of any act of violence against his, you may want to consider whether your judgments are based on the personalities involved or on the letters on their caps.

Friday, June 10, 2005

A Year of Distinguishmentness

Yes, it was one year ago today that this mess started. I think my favorite post was that one time I made fun of that guy. Ah, memories. Thanks for reading and go Nats!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Dutch!

Before I say anything about our third baseman of the future (boy, I sure hope Bodes can flip Vinny for a durable, reliable starting pitcher!), I just want to say that John Patterson, for all his success so far, seems like the kind of guy who'd get lit up by Koreans. And I have my doubts about Chad Cordero in the department, as well.

The Nationals surprised no one today, drafting UVA third baseman Ryan Zimmerman with the fourth overall pick in the MLB draft, and I say "Huzzah!" I say this both because I'm excited that we have a real, live prospect to follow and because there was a "King of the Hill" about a Renaissance Faire on tonight. Huzzah, good sir, wouldst thou partake of mine blogge?

Zimmerman's on the fast track. He's already signed, which, given that it violates MLB rules to negotiate with undrafted players, is a real testament to Jim Bowden's efficiency -- he made the deal mere minutes after drafting Zimmerman. Ryan will soon join our AA affiliate in Harrisburg. He's got premier defensive skills, a good bat, and solid makeup; he'll probably be fine no matter what anyone else does. But there is one way we can help him out and make ourselves feel like a pack of ravenous buzz machines. Ryan Zimmerman needs a nickname.

Think about it. Where would William "Refrigerator" Perry, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Vlad the Impaler, Oil Can Boyd, and Caligula be without their awesome nicknames? I'll tell you: they would all be cleaning my bathroom right now. Every single one of them. To a man. If we want our new favorite third baseman to ascend to superstardom and stay out of my bathroom, he needs something catchy. Some guys can get by just using their first name as a nickname. Rickey for instance, or ¡Livan!. Well, take it from me that Ryan is not a dynamic, exciting first name, even when you put an upside-down exclamation point in front of it. And we have to be careful that it's not too phony-sounding. Remember when Reebok or whoever tried to get everyone to call Allen Iverson "The Answer"? Not only did it not work, but Iverson wound up getting sued by some dude who claimed he came up with the idea, such as it was.

Back at the end of May, I suggested "Dutch" as Zimmerman's nickname. It takes us back to a more innocent, less sensitive time, when nicknames were based on ethnic background (Irish, Chief, The Big Dago) or physical attribute (Lefty, Dummy). "Dutch" was applied to players of German descent, which I'm assuming Zimmerman is. Besides the throwback aspect, it just sounds pretty cool, if I do say so myself. And I do. Frequently.

So what you can do? Plenty. Flood the message boards, but spell some stuff wrong and use infrequent punctuation so no one gets suspicious. Call Marc Sterne's show on Saturday morning -- he'll talk to you for the whole show if you can convince him that you're the guy he was drunkenly talking baseball with the night before. The Washington Post's website hosts three baseball chats a week, and if you give yourself a wacky location and butter up the writers, they will run your questions. Go with something like, "Truth or Consequences, NM: Hey, Boz. I love your baseball stuff -- you're not afraid to tell a good story no matter what. You know, like if some of it's not true. How long do think Dutch Zimmerman will spend in the minors? He's already better than Castilla, and Brendan Harris has apparently been judged and found wanting." He won't remember who Harris is, but I bet he'll like the nickname. Try it with Svrluga and Sheinin too. Kiss ass, and you get responses. That works here, too.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Harvest Season

Thanks to a well-placed off day, the Nationals are guaranteed to remain in first place at least until tomorrow evening. I'm taking this opportunity to adjust my predictions. Before the season, I would have said that .500 was wishful thinking and the playoffs were delusional. With the Nats five games over even and in first, I'm declaring the playoffs wishful thinking and anything less than .500 disappointing. I reserve the right to adjust further as events warrant.

So how long do we get to enjoy this lofty perch, looking down upon all four of our hated rivals? The prognosis is good, at least for the very near future. As Basil points out at Nationals Inquirer, the Nats have plowed through a very difficult schedule so far, putting us at third in ESPN's RPI ranking. The NL East may not have a great team, but it's also patsy-free -- there aren't any Rockies or Royals or Yankees for everyone to beat up on. Yet the Nats have held their own, with a .500 record against each one of our divisional pals except Atlanta, against whom we're 6-3. And things are about to get easier. The vagaries of interleague play pit the NL East vs. the AL West this year, and we get to start off with the softies: Oakland (23-33) and Seattle (24-31) at home. Meanwhile, the Braves have the first place Angels, and Philadelphia gets the surprisingly tough Rangers. Florida gets first crack at Seattle, but I expect them to stumble around for a while after getting clobbered at RFK. As Eddie Jordan might say, we have to harvest our nuts right now. We need to stuff them into our cheeks and hide them in the tree, staying vigilant for the deadly owl . . . hey, this metaphor is broken -- can I have a new one? The point is that the Nats have a prime opportunity to put some meat on this division lead.

Sometimes I don't get Jim Bowden. Jose Guillen is getting rave reviews for his performance and his attitude. Brad Wilkerson leads the league in doubles. Ryan Church was named Rookie of the Month for May and is making a serious case for Rookie of the Year. Marlon Byrd provides speed, defense, and invaluable umpire intimidation. But Bodes keeps looking for an outfielder. Ken Rosenthal:
Nationals general manager Jim Bowden nearly stole outfielder Juan Encarnacion from the Marlins for righthander Zach Day, but the trade was quashed when an MRI revealed that Day had a hairline fracture of the right wrist. Undaunted, Bowden continues his quest for a righthanded-hitting outfielder, targeting the Rockies' Preston Wilson, the A's Eric Byrnes, the Devil Rays' Aubrey Huff and the Rangers' Kevin Mench, among others. Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi jokes that Bowden calls him once a week about Vernon Wells.
I've voiced my dissatisfaction with Encarnacion and Wilson before. It's unclear that Byrnes, Huff, or Mench would improve matters -- at most, a minor offensive upgrade would be cancelled out by weaker defense and heavier expense. Vernon Wells is great, but it sounds like Ricciardi isn't taking Bowden very seriously. Our current outfield is flexible, cheap, and effective, so what's the problem, Bodes?

Once again I've been remiss. Nationalz.com has been in the blog game since November but somehow escaped my notice until just recently. So go over there and tell 'em Ryan sent you. I want everyone to know what a buzz machine I am.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

First Place

Feels good, doesn't it? I'm going to stop complaining for a day and just savor it. Shhhh . . . I'm enjoying first place.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Good Weird

That was the Nats last night, right? I wasn't watching the wrong game? Here's what I was thinking in the 8th: "Geez, I know they can't hit, but at least they're not usually this sloppy and embarrassing. This is like a bad Orioles game." Our normally reliable defense committed two errors. Gary Majewski, who pitches as solidly as he looks sleazy, got cuffed around, and the Braves had blown it right open. We were done, right? The Nats can't come back from a two run deficit in the ninth. They have a hard time scoring two runs in a series.

I underestimated the complete transformation the team had undergone, though. From a slap-hitting, pitching 'n' defense squad to lumbering, slugging comeback machines. Baerga singled. Vinny doubled. Gary Bennett won the game. What the hell is going on? I'm impressed. I'm happy. But I'm a little unsettled. Imagine Dan Snyder giving roses to orphans or John Thompson knowing what he's talking about. It's not that they're bad things, but they sort of screw with your view of the world. At any rate, this is the Nats' chance to make some real noise. We've got the co-division leaders coming in, and it's within reach -- and even within reason -- for us to come out of the weekend in first place. Weird. But good weird.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

A Valuable Fracture

Brendan Harris is gone, sent back to AAA New Orleans, and I'm not afraid to say I miss him. I don't understand it, either. In his brief stay with the big club, Brendan hit -- .333 batting average with a double, a homer, and 3 RBIs in 9 at-bats. Of course, 9 trips to the plate is a miniscule sample size, but they couldn't have sent him down because he was overmatched. But room had to be made for the returning Wil Cordero and John Patterson. Harris was on the team to fill in at second and third and to pinch hit. That's exactly the same as Carlos Baerga's job description, except that Harris can actually do it. I know, I know -- Baerga brings veteran leadership and knows how to win and takes it one day at a time and he may well be scrappy and gritty, but he's hitting .235 with no power and his gut gets in the way of turning double plays. Even worse, Frank knows this and tries to keep Baerga off the field, which prevents the Nats from sitting or pinch hitting for Cristian Guzman. Our only backup shortstop is the lovable Jamey Carroll, who's playing every day at second with Vidro out. If Harris were around, we could plug Jamey in at short every now and again -- you can't expect Guzman to continue to produce outs at his current rate without some rest. But Harris is enjoying the gumbo, and our options are limited. I don't have a good explanation or pithy quip or anything; I just don't like it.

A broken bone prevented Jim Bowden from doing any further damage. Pitcher Zach Day -- beaten, disgraced, sent to AAA -- was about to be traded until a fracture in his wrist was discovered. And it's a good thing, too: Bodes was about to add either Preston Wilson or Juan Encarnacion, and we don't want either one. I've discussed Wilson before, and here's the short version: he's about to be a free agent, he can't hit outside of Colorado, and he upgrades us not at all.

Then there's Encarnacion. Sometimes I worry because Bowden seems to be almost completely unaware of anyone who didn't play for him at some point. Jose Rijo, Barry Larkin, Jose Guillen, and now Encarnacion. Were the late 90s Reds so great that we want to see them reassembled in Washington? (Correct answer: no) More troubling is the fact that Johnny In-The-Flesh just isn't much of a ballplayer. He's never hit .300, he's never slugged .500, his best OBP in a year was .330 and that was five years ago. Career high in homers? 24 At least he strikes out like a power hitter: at least 86 times a year and 113 twice. He's not completely useless. He hits some doubles and is alleged to be a good outfielder, but we already have outfielders. It's full. We don't need any more. Can Juan outproduce Jose Guillen, Brad Wilkerson, or the Church/Byrd platoon? (Correct answer: no) This team has some needs, and another low OBP outfielder doesn't make the top 50. The real problem is that the biggest hole on the squad is of Bowden's own creation, and he can't fix it without admitting his error. But he feels the need to so something, and this kind of useless flailing is the result.