Wednesday, October 15, 2008

2008 Season Over Roundtable


When looking back at a season one must take into account a myraid of.... ah screw it.

Nats suck. Go!


That's about all there is to say, isn't it: they sucked (bad) this year, go Nats (put this year in the rear-view mirror).

I think it can be argued that the team made some strides this year, tentative as they may be. Milledge is a talented player, although his apparent corner OF defensive skills might not match up to his bat in the long-run. Dukes is a supremely talented player, although he's obviously got potential for other things to derail him. (Lock the doors, Fire Jimbo, Elijah's coming!!!111!!!) Lannan looks like a reliable starter, though maybe we got the best he can do in a nothing season. And so forth.

All's not completely lost this season. That's about the best we can say, but it's something at least.


"All's not completely lost." I can't wait for the radio spots.

The Nats are getting better but they are ambling, meandering toward their goal. I want some urgency with this team. The squad is slightly better off today then it was one year ago. Great. I'm pretty sure we'll be able to say the same next year. Maybe by 2011 they can hit .500! I want to see something from the team that says - THIS is when we expect to be better - and moves focused on that. No more "We're rebuilding the minors and we'll be better...someday" or "When we do get better we'll show you we are committed by doing...something"

Of course at least with the plan they are moving in the right direction, however slowly. My bigger issue is how bad the team was this season. I know having a goal of building a perennial title contender takes time, but why does that mean that the intermediate years have to be filled with this crap like this year?


Well, I look at it this way. Every March, the fanboy in us makes a list of "What Ifs", the 15-25, maybe 30 things that, if they go right, means your team is playing meaningful baseball in September. Look at the Rays. They needed their defense to come together. They needed Dan Wheeler and Troy Percival to rebound. They needed the Yankees young starting pitchers to scuffle, etc.

Now look at the list for the Nats. Think about the things we thought they'd have to do for our wildest dreams to happen. How many of 'em happened? Guzman kept up his pace. And... ummm... well... Dukes didn't kill anyone (save it, Biel). That's it. That's the list. Every other stinking thing went wrong.

Now Bodes is going to chalk it up to injury. But were it not for injury, we'd still have Johnny Estrada blocking Jesus Flores, and we'd have had more starts by Aaron Boone. Woo.

But NOTHING went right, and hardly anyone lived up to even their modest expectations. It's a complete flameout by anyone and everyone affiliated with the team from ol' man Teddy all the way down to the giant foam Teddy.


I wouldn't go that far. Plenty of other things went right. Lannan pitched well.


Rauch too (when he was here), umm....

Ok you pretty much got it all.

So everything went wrong, but what was the worst mistake this season? In my opinion, it has to be the LoDuca signing. Spending that much money hoping that a 36 yr old catcher with steroid clouds hanging over him (and don't think they had no idea - these guys aren't idiots) and a history of questionable behavior, including hostile behavior toward one of their key young players acquired, rebounds to have what? An empty .280 season at the plate with no defense? All while blocking the catcher of the future?

Jesus, I'm talking myself into firing Bowden aren't I? Is there anything worse than this because I don't see it.


Well, take a step back though. At the time they made the decision, sending JeFlo to the minors was a reasonable decision. The team had questions about his defense, and nobody really knew what kind of offense they'd get from him. Had they sent him down, they'd have controlled him for another year later down the road when he was fully developed. And, in some sense, no matter how good he was this year, it was for what? Wouldn't it have been better to have a year of him in 2013 than one in 2008?

So, with that, isn't (and I can't believe I'm about to type these words...) the LoDuca signing somewhat defensible?

Man, I feel dirty.

It didn't work out. And, yeah, the guy had a few warning flags around him. But at the end of the day, it's a small amount of money on a one-year deal. He sucked; they cut bait. No harm to anyone.

Now the biggest mistake this year? The continued employment of Mr. Lenny Harris?


So it's agree: It was a horrendous year! Maybe I should temper my obvious excitement above?

At some point, though, you've got to kick the can down the road. Now, as Harper says, we can't have too many of these "Eh, we'll put off progress for another year." Next year is always a year away, or however the saying goes.

But I suppose what I was trying to look at in my first response was what positive signs we could look to, a year or two or ten down the road, that occurred in 2008. The most obvious to me is Elijah Dukes. He's the first player acquired by the Nationals under the banner of "The Plan" who has actual and realistic breakthrough ability. Granted, what he did was only in essentially a half-season, but on the other hand he didn't have just one good month. It was more like three. He has vast ability.

I know when you're so down on your luck, you can't simply point to one positive sign. But Dukes is at least one very positive sign -- provided, of course, that he keeps his head straight and his text messages non-imaginative.

As for the season's worst mistake, I don't know if it was Lo Duca. It might've been extending Guzman. Not that it was a bad decisional, value-wise. But I just think that if you're trying to shepherd in a young pitching staff (Balester, Lannan, ... uh), you want the best defenders possible out there in the middle infield most of the time. I don't know if he'll hit, but Gonzalez strikes me as the better defender, and he's a club-controlled, low-cost guy.

Or maybe it was drafting and/or failing to sign Crow ...


Well, rather than debate the he said/she said on Crow, what was most worrisome to me was the quotes that came out after that - that had they signed Crow at his point, they wouldn't have had the money to sign some of their other picks -- especially the ones they got done at the last minute.

But we're being positive here? Hey, we weren't historically bad! And the stadium was on budget and on time... wait... Teddy's lawyers tell me to scratch that last one.


We don't have to be positive, Chris. Austin Kearns screwed like ten thousand pooches this year.

And if you want historically bad, I submit to you one William Morris Pena.


That's not fair. Wily Mo's 34 OPS+ is only the second worst of all time for any left fielder with 200+ Plate Appearances.

Second worst != historically bad!


And the nats only had the third worst record in franchise history. If you ignore the "history" part it obvious its not historically bad!

Positivity is how fans survive season to season. I for one don't want to be blamed for the mass depression that would happen if we just came out and said "hey this team may never have enough young players get good enough to be more than a fluke playoff threat, and even if they defied the odds and all those youngsters became good to great, the chances the Lerner's are going to put those exrtra millions into the team to increase the chances of making the playoffs and to keep the team good for years on end are roughly equal to the chances Teddy is going to win the president's race."

What kind of jerk would do that?

Of course I also think they should fire everyone but Acta and Harris. Let me go to their website and see if I can file a complaint....

(Ed note -- here was the Great Purge. Harris et al getting fired)

No more half-cuts, no more pings, no more Harris, weak-ass swings!


Greatest day in the short history of the Nats?

We get Strasburg! Harris goes down! Lerners exposed as cheap frauds in the paper!

Hey, when you can't win, you've gotta take your victories somewhere!


Well, you got your wish -- almost. Bowden remains, but they got to the root of the organization's problems by firing the videography coach.

I do wonder what this offseason will bring. On the one hand, you've got all these reports that there's a bizarre love quadrilateral of sorts where the Lerners and Bowden love each other and Kasten hates them both and Acta just sort of sits idly by making the remains. On the other hand, those reports are mainly unattributed and unsubstantiated thus far, and the parties claim no one's going anywhere -- except for the Lerners, who won't talk, unless it's Ted Lerner saying everyone is telling him he's doing a bang-up job. On the third hand, there's certainly enough tacit acknowledgements by most of these parties (especially viz. Kasten --> Bowden and Manny --> Bowden) that there does seem to be some indication of a situation less than the best and confirmation that Bowden is a jerk. On the fourth hand, now Kasten is rumored to want in on the Cubs bid -- except, on the fifth hand, he emphatically denies that. And there would be a sixth hand if Antonio Alfonseca were writing this.

I don't know what any of this means, but stay the course!


Anyone else have this feeling in the back of their head that these firings were to save money? That Harris will be replaced by a tee and a pitching machine? The videographer was deemed unnecessary now that all the players can get MASN and can tape the games themselves?

Is it bad that I think that? Is it bad I think the Lerner's might charge me for thinking it's bad that I think that?


Come on! That's way too cynical of you. I'm sure it wasn't over pay. Maybe they tried to unionize?

So what about Lenny? Does he deserve any credit for the turnaround the Nats had in the second half offensively?

::looks at stats:: Hey, whadya know? In the second half we were still fifth worst in runs scored and one Willie Harris grand slam away from being third worst. FIRE LENNY! It really is amazing how MANY players didn't live up to their expectations. Any player can have a bad year with the bat. An entire team, though? When Ronnie Belliard is your third best hitter, you know you're in trouble!

(And along that lines... anyone else notice how poor Jesus Flores' numbers ended up? For all the talk about him, you'd think he was Soto-lite. Instead, we got more of a Ron Karkovice season -- just without the Cy Young award.)


I feel like Harris had to be let go considering how much worse Zimmerman has looked under him and Zimmermann is a cornerstone. Everybody else though he didn't have much to work with.

Flores' numbers always surprise me. Last year & This year his OPS+s were 78 and 82 respectively. Schneider's? 77 and 89. Not that I'd rather have Brian, at worst Jesus can serve as filler while the Nats solve easier problems. It does highlight that you can't be sure he's the answer yet, though. Which is how I feel about pretty much every youngster that the Nats and fans are counting to come in and be good in the next 2-3 years.

Other things that always surprise me; Milledge's age, Guzman's very average OPS (I feel like Rowdy Roddy in They Live over here), and how about the fact that Redding wasn't very good at all? Just collapsed down the stretch - sort of did the same last year. I guess we keep him though - he eats innings and if you are going to try 3-4 youngsters you need someone who can go 5...

Here's a related question for you - Does St. Clare get a free ride? Or is it the fact that he can only do so much with so little? Or more likely, the fact that there hasn't been a "Zimmerman" of his own to make a judgement on?


Maybe the Lerners decided to non-tender Lenny rather than offer him the 20% max cut? I guess he didn't have enough batting coach service time, though.


Flores is an interesting topic. Lots of Nats fans* crow** about how his acquisition makes Omar Minaya looks terrible, which is always fun.*** And yet Flores has had OPS+ totals of 78 and now 82 in two years with the Nats. The question arises whether there's anything to brag about here. And I would say that it's simply too early to begin to dwell on the question. He's a 23 year-old who spent his age-21 season in the Florida State League, his age-22 season in a forced apprenticeship situation, and his age-23 season in accelerated full-time play. I simply don't think he's had time to mature as a hitting prospect yet. And even so, what he did this year wasn't terrible. I don't have 2008 batting order/positional splits, but in 2007 the average NL catcher hit .257/.318/.394. I'd guess that figured went down ever so slightly this season, given larger offensive trends (although the downturn in offense was slower in the NL than the AL). As it is, Flores hit .256/.296/.402. Maybe a shade or two below average positionally isn't too bad given the factors above, so we'll set it pretty far down the Lenny Harris indictment . . . err, criminal judgment. It's like a misdemeanor conviction lost in a sea of mandatory-minimum felonies!

And teh Kark is a cheap shot! Take a look at that 1987 season. Oh, the humanity!

*Assuming there are lots of them.
**Probably a bad choice of words!
***Isn't it funny how there's a segment of Nats fans who disclaim any interest in the Expos' history . . . except the history of squandered Expos' prospects?


That's a good question on St. Claire. The pride of Fort Ann (Go Cardinals!) gets a lot of love, but at what point should we start asking to see results?

I guess that's a bit unfair. Lannan has developed. Rauch blossomed. And he did turn Hector Carrasco into Stephen Englund.


St. Claire seems very good at what he does, as far as that goes. It's not like he's that Andrews guy who was recently fired by the Buccos. St. Claire strikes me as a very competent pitching coach. But a pitching coach can't turn nothing much into something great. There used to be this perception that Jimbo could acquire some piece of crap, and all they needed to do was give it over to The Saint. Thankfully, that perception has subsided, or maybe it's just that I don't read the message boards or blogs much anymore. (Except for OMG!)

St. Claire looks good to me, but he's not a qualified miracle worker.


I think that's true of most major league coaches. Most of the guys are lumped in the middle, basically about average. You've got a few (maybe 3-5) on one side who really elevate their players... and a few on the other end (LENNY!) who screw their guys.

I imagine if you asked most non-terrible teams to rate their pitching coaches, it'd be just like Lake Wobegon 2.0: WE'RE TEH BESTEST11!!!


I recall in the late 90s or so the Braves went through a steady progression of hitting coaches. I guess it was Merv Rettenmund followed by Don Baylor followed by Terry Pendleton. Or something. Braves were still on TBS a good bit back then. The announcers, every year, would praise the new guy as a great addition to the coaching staff, doing great work, great new approach, just great. And they couldn't dog the previous guy, because of course they said at the time that the previous guy was great too. Great, great, great.

It really does seem like we've been cursed with some bad hitting coaches, though. Lenny was bad beyond words, but how can we forget the Tom McCraw days? Remember when management went completely over his head and brought in Larkin to work with Guzman as his own special project? Good times. Well, that didn't work either. Mitchell Page seemed capable enough, but let's not go there.

This repeated turnover in all areas of the coaching staff EXCEPT pitching coach does seem to beg a question: Why are they so insistent on keeping St. Claire around? Are they incredibly comfortable with him in the capacity of pitching coach, or is he sort of tacitly viewed as managerial material should Manny, you know, slip on a banana peel?


There's probably a special services clause in his contract that NONE of us want to see.

Hey, who can forget Bob Natal?

I find it kind of fascinating that we dumped Davey Lopes on his butt after one year when he was (and still is) regarded as one of the best first base coaches around. So what do they look at when they're evaluating these guys? Did Lopes not kiss enough ass?

As far as St. Claire for manager? Hmmm.... This time last year, I'd have said that Bud Black could prove the pitching coaches make lousy managers argument go away, but then.... Maybe we could coax Ray Miller out of retirement?


Bob who?

I think we're safe on the manager front. If they like St. Clare as a friend they are giving Manny Acta their letterman jacket to wear on the way up to Inspiration Point. It's been two years of unremittingly bad baseball and this guy gets off without a scratch. Normally that would be insane but I can't bring myself to come up with any reason to stoke the coals under Manny either. He's calm, optimistic, generally doesn't make any glaring errors in lineup construction or bullpen use, doesn't blindly follow convention. Man, he deserve a better team then this, doesn't he?


He does... but there are signs that he's... ummm... a bit rough.

I hated the way Frank managed things, but sometimes, bunting is OK! And sometimes stealing a base is ok, too! Then, what was it with his love of intentionally walking the bases loaded early in the year? Did that ever work? And how many times did he bring in a LOOGY in a non-LOOGY situation -- especially to face a switchy? (should I keep going?)


No he's not perfect. But if I want someone to manage a team, I'd rather have someone who leans a bit away from the free-wheeling ways then the opposite. Although Larry Bowa is free. He'd mesh well with Dukes I bet.

I've expressed my thoughts that the whole LOOGY in a non-LOOGY situation was a canny protest on how his pitching staff was built. The Nats didn't have the luxury of carrying a LOOGY, not with those starters, so Manny was just going to act like their wasn't one. Cost him a game or two - but we don't see any LOOGY anymore do we?

(There's a tiny chance I may be giving the guy too much credit here.)


Well, half the season was protest then. Have we forgotten LoDuca in LF? Lopez? LoDuca at 1B? LoDuca at C? LoDuca, period?


Ah that was the old trade bait strategy. Show other teams how useful a player can be and they'll pick him right up. Of course it helps if your trying to peddle something other than a hack-tastic, steroid using, gambling addicted, College Girls Gone Wild star, (these may not all be true - I do believe I saw him take a walk once) on the downside of his career. And it's not like LoDuca was blocking anyone at those positions at the time, unless you are a Kory Casto fan. Since your last name isn't Casto, and this isn't 2006, I'm going to guess that's not the case.

Can you really blame Manny for that without looking at the Wizard behind the curtain? "Come now, Dawg. Hop on my segway and we'll be back to Kansas in no time. Hey, are those shoes 'Red'? Can I trade you for 'em?"


So, if I'm hearing you right, you're suggesting that we should hold the General Manager accountable?



No of course not. Everyone knows the old saying: "The buck stops over there, with the team videographer"


And the other old saying, "Mr. Lerner, in all my years in professional baseball, I have never seen an owner as wise nor as compassionate as you. Your excellency, you doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus. No cream, right?"


Well, his last name was Yost.

(Ed Note - at the time Ned Yost's firing from the Brewers was topical. Blame my slow posting not Basil)


I've heard of teams accidentally drafting the wrong player, but I've never heard of a team accidentally firing the wrong person on whole 'nother team. Of course this is the Nationals. There's a good chance the Lerner's outsourced firings to another team to save costs.

So Jimbo... it's time isn't it? One sided arguments aside, he's done an acceptable job the past two years, but I feel the team dynamic is changing in a way that I don't want this guy here. Trader Jim is fine when you've got a team full of nobodies and a minor league out of a bad Major League sequel, but now that the minors are starting to produce the rare fruit and there are some decent youngsters around, I'd rather have someone else be in charge of who stays and goes. Yeah, Bowden's been fine with Lerner over his shoulder and could very well still be, but I'm ready for a GM that I feel can go about segwaying on his own two feet


It's time.

He's made some solid moves over the last few years, it's the horsecrap that surrounds him -- it's always a circus -- that means he's gotta go. Too many of his moves are akin to someone making preseason predictions. You can crow (there's that word again!) all you want about the ones you got right, and the louder you do that, the less people notice all the ones you screwed up.


I regard Bodes as sort of our version of Milton from Office Space. His effect on the organization is in some ways neutered, as on the one hand he's boxed in by the scouting/development duo of Rizzo and Brown and on the other hand he's precluded from making truly big splashes by an inability to spend. So he's kind of just there -- essentially irrelevant and no doubt truly annoying -- largely because no one cares enough to tell him he shouldn't come back for work tomorrow. So he checks into work, day after day, doing nothing much in particular, but if you give him enough space he could just burn the whole building to the ground.

Maybe that's grossly over-generalized, but you know that Bodes too likes watching squirrels have sex.


Does that mean the Lerner's have an excuse to "fix the glitch in payroll" because you gotta know they are dying to.

Ok Basil - but do you think he should go, or are you waiting for the inferno?


Oh, can his sorry butt. Fire Jimbo!

I think he's outlived his usefulness. He's found a few bargains, missed on a few others, and grabbed some young talent in a couple of high-risk, high-reward type acquisitions. That's nice. But while writers like Chico and Ladson consistently note that they'd be interested in what Bodes can do with a large payroll, the prospect of that actually scares me. It's time to put a grown-up in the GM's chair.


So we're all in agreement and I don't think I know of a Nats fan that would complain about the move. Not everyone would be filled with joyous rapture at Jiimbo's departure from DC but when the best defense out there regarding Bowden is "Firing him really isn't necessary" , I think the fanbase will survive.

Of course when Bowden goes (and let's face it - it's probably not this offseason) the question becomes can a GM truly succeed with this franchise? Are the Lerner's know what I'm going to say... CHEEEEEEEEEP to build this team into a perennial winner? (note - please send your responses through email. Nats Roundtable will NOT accept any charges if you choose to Fed Ex your responses. I will also charge you 2 billable hours in regards to dealing with the matter)


We'll see. The jury's still out on that when, but when they left the courtroom, they were glaring at the defendant making throat-slitting motions.

The single most distressing story all year (besides the rent; besides one of the cheap bastards complaining that Johan Santana was a waste of money; besides them raising the price of the chili nachos midseason!!!!) was probably the draft day where they signed a few of those guys last minute only because they 'saved' money by not signing Crow. Combine that with them not making any meaningful inroads into the International market, and you have to wonder what "The PLAN!" really is?

Sure, it's fine if people want to believe that they're saving money on the major league roster to spend in the minors. But when they're not spending in the minors either, then what?


Then it's all going must be going to the stadium. That giant rotating baseball in the outfield isn't free you know. The extensive views of the river and the Capitol, the real limestone facing, the abundant free parking in the nearby lots the Lerner's own; all this is for you the fan. Seriously, Lerner has put in almost 30 million dollars of his own money. That's almost 5% of the total cost of the stadium. Five percent!

What gets me is even if they were fully committed to making the stadium awesome it would still be money they would be getting back. The stadium is an investment for them. And even if they were fully committed to rebuilding in the minors - that's baseball chump change. Under 9 million last year, about 5 this year, that won't even get you Jeff Suppan! They haven't put REAL money into this team yet. Money that's primary purpose is to put a winner on the field. Eventually you have to do that to create a consistent winner, right?

Thanks a metric ton to Chris and Basil for participating. There will be another roundtable up... someday

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Roundtable #6 - We're back from the dead, the Nats...not so much

ROUNDATABLE! It's back and potentially better than ever. That's really a judgement for you to make. Starring Miss Chatter from Just a Nats Fan and Chris (not Needham) from Nationals Enquirer.


When we last left the Nats two months ago they were winning less than 40% of their games, 2 out of 3 outfielders and LoDuca were dragging down the offense, Boone was subbing in for, thank god that's over!

This team is horrible and on pace to lose 100 games, when in April there were off-handed hopes for a run at .500. (but not by me, I had them at 73 wins, thank you very much) The question - What went wrong? The better question - DID anything go wrong or is this the inevitable bad team + bad luck = bad season equation the Nats had gotten lucky enough to avoid the past 3 years?


My boss and I took over/unders on .500 just before the season began. He confidently took the over while I took the under since the roster looked much the same as last year's. I'm the winner! Although that's a bet I'd rather lose. I did not expect them to be *this* bad. What went wrong? If anyone knew the answer, then surely there'd be a solution. I think some bad luck has to get thrown in there. Who knew we'd lose so many starting players to injuries? Many players are underperforming. At this point, we're starting half the bench in games.

Who knows how the rest of the season will play out, though. Harper, your 73 wins could still be feasible. The W-L record isn't really far off from what it was last year (or the year before). If they win tonight, they've only lost one more game than at the midway point last season.

(Now I'm waiting to see if Nationals Enquirer gives funny one-liners for roundtable responses...)


Offense: Offensive! Bullpen: Bullsh*t! Injuries: overblown!

Ok, let's see if I can see form a complete sentence or two...

Starting with the topic of preseason predictions, before ducking the real question: I took a look back at the preseason predictions post I put up on the Sunday morning of Opening Night, and it went something like this "....our gut tells us that in the end, the 2008 Nationals will end up looking strikingly similar to the 2007 model: not a historically bad team, just a hard working, but somewhat forgettable sub-.500 one. As a fan, I ask for one thing: just play hard." I went on to say they'd go 76-86 (4th place, NL East). That might end up being a dumber prediction then when I predicted Jerome Williams would lead the team in starts in 2007.

Little did I know that the 2008 model would look nothing like the 2007 model at the season's halfway point. Sure, as you said [Cathy], the record is essentially the same as last year: but from where I'm sitting these guys don't appear to be a hard working or forgettable sub-.500 team, like I thought they'd be. No, it looks more like a lazy, limping, disinterested, young (lowercase, not uppercase as in Dmitri), potentially-memorable-for-being-so-bad-at-times team. They basically need to play .500 ball the rest of the way in order to match last year's win total. It's not happening.

So what's going wrong? I'll oversimplify it: Starting pitching has been mostly good, offense has been totally bad, bullpen has been horrendous (especially in the last couple of weeks), but I think placing blame on injuries is overblown -- Zimmerman and Kearns (especially Kearns) were both struggling before they went down. It's been more about players simply not performing...


Hey I had Jerome leading the team in
wins so I'm clearly the dumbest one here.

That being out there, I will say that the injury to Zimmerman does matter. Sure he was underperforming, but it was just a typical slow start for Ryan. From April to May he went from .233 / .270 / .362 to .289 /.319 / .511. Cherry picking the best stats from the rest of the guys who played third we get .217 / .357 / .357. Bleh. Zimmerman would be hitting circles around that. I would say the injury to Cordero also matters, but that's not a freak injury. Constant heavy bullpen use is going to break young arms.

For everyone else though, these players not "not performing", as much as they are "not good". Most players are hitting numbers around their career marks, or expected based on last-years performance. And for those few that could be doing better, say Milledge and Kearns, the Nats have guys like Flores and Guzman overperforming. Bullpen arms are bullpen arms. Very variable. You are going to have bad years if you rely on only young guys.

However, I think we were thrown off not because we were wrong about the talent level of this squad, which is a bit better than last year, or because they are super-lazy this year, but because the past teams fooled us. They always won a couple games more than they should. A couple games over .500 in 1-run games, a couple games over what you'd expect from their runs scored / runs allowed. I think I've said this before: "The 2008 team could lose more games than the 2007 squad even though they are probably a better team" We're seeing nothing but minor variation in luck but when that means 72 wins versus 65 wins, it seems so big.


I just returned from the Baseball 101 Clinic for women, where the coaches were surprisingly honest and didn't make excuses for the players' performance this season. I learned the secret to their laziness and distractions this season - the new stadium! It's like a grand hotel and they've become posh and pampered, soaking up all the amenities that they've lost focus on the game! They played hard and hustled at RFK because they couldn't wait to get the heck out of there. Some are so wowed by the giant HD scoreboard, that they turn around to admire its clarity and definition on replays (checking out their smooth -- or not -- moves), then miss signs on positioning for the next batter... Ok, that probably isn't really it, but just a theory to throw out there.


Harper, on the injury question, no doubt, having Zimmerman, Nick Johnson, Cordero, out matters. But my biggest complaint around the issue has been the consistent refrain from the Nationals: trying to convince everyone that that's the primary reason for the team's poor performance That's how they've been spinning it, and I refuse to buy it. Yes, injuries matter, but that's just part of the story...part of it has to be, like you suggested, misjudgments in talent level...

Do I really think this team is lazy and disinterested? Maybe lackadaisical is more appropriate, instead of lazy. Disinterested? Sometimes. It's been amazing to watch the way an inning just suddenly blows up because of, at least from where I'm sitting on my couch, what appears to be a lack of fundamentals, lack of hustle…seems to be a recurring theme every few games…you'll get a 5 minute stretch where things just devolve, Bad News Bears style.

MissChatter: I hadn't thought about the new stadium effect on these guys as a reason for some of the above…but it's been on the road, too! Hey, here's a question for you: was Tim Tolman at the Baseball 101 Clinic? Did he get several women thrown out at the plate?


Yes, Tim Tolman was at the clinic manning the base-running drills! Since it was 101, we didn't get to the point of practicing running home! I really wanted to try out my Nick Johnson-style slide too.

Good point on the road losses. Home record is 17-25 and road is 15-24. There goes that theory!

Not everyone is blaming injuries. Manny Acta has been saying he will not use injuries as an excuse, but that the loss of players is an opportunity for the younger guys. What they do with that opportunity is up to them. Play hard or buh-bye. Next in line! Do you think that's what we're seeing?

I've been a little horrified to begin reading fans start clamoring for Manny's head over the last week. I don't think there's a website yet (checking... whew, nope!), but it seems very premature to begin blaming him (although I do wish he'd let the starting pitchers go deeper into the game when they're in a good groove). Do we need to place blame at this point regarding the product on the field? Or should we all swallow our displeasure and wait for the younger guys to develop and arrive up here (and constantly remind ourselves that is coming someday in the future)? Although, the mental and physical mistakes are hard to swallow. If you were the manager or the general manager, what would you do to improve the team right now?


There's no yet, but give it another week; certainly, some enterprising blogger will go out and register the domain name...won't be long now (hold on a minute, while I proceed to checkout on

....Done! Sure, maybe Manny is saying he won't use injuries as an excuse, but my impression from reading comments from Bowden and Kasten is that they're perfectly willing to do so...just talking about what I've read in the papers, and on Nationals dot com, etc. My impression is that this is the party line.But to answer the question of if we need to place blame regarding the product on the field? To correct what I said previously: Harper DIDN'T suggest misjudgments in talent level are part of the equation...but, I WOULD suggest that...I guess I'm not convinced this year's model is more talented than last year's. But I am convinced they aren't as lucky.

You ask an interesting question, though, MissChatter: If I were the manager or the general manager, what would I do to improve the team right now? I'm not sure there's much they can do. 2008 is probably more of an open audition the rest of the way. What do you guys think? And looking past this year: do you think they'll deviate from The Plan in the offseason?


I've heard the injury line too (and it's only going to get louder if Milledge is out a while). The thing is injuries happen. This isn't "Fick Everlasting", you aren't going to go through a season without them, you just hope it takes out the Ryan Langerhanseses of the world and not the Ryan Zimmermans. Some years your team is going to get unlucky but it should be built in a way to avoid total collapse in that situation. The Nats however aren't built that way - they are built to skate by as cheaply as possible. This year - the first year they have been unlucky the whole thing is unraveling. Welcome to the no room for error zone of cheap ownership.

I don't know if there is a way to improve the team for the rest 2008. They built this concrete airplane and there's no flying it now. We might see some improvement by moving up a young guy or two for a cup of coffee but then again there isn't anyone dying to be moved up. No we're stuck with the rosters as is. If Zimmerman doesn't come back on fire, or if Dukes can't start putting these good games together more frequently, or if Guzman slows down (did I say if? I mean when, when Guzman slows down) things could get real ugly.

As for the offseason, the whole Guzman deal not only tells me they aren't going to deviate from the plan but it shows me exactly what the Plan is. There is some youth on the field now, and in the minors now, if things work out better than expected the Nats could have 5-6 good young players on the field in say...2010/2011. So you could take a gamble and sign someone decent through those years to be there when the team grows up into a contender. In the meantime the fans would have something to cheer. Sure it would mean a few more million into the team, assuming you maintain the minors and draft signings as is, but I think something like that is worthwhile. The front office doesn't see it this way though. The Plan is about the future but not about prognostication. They will put money into this team only when they are sure they got those 5-6 young players, not when they think they have it.

This could be a big problem because even if you draft smart, and trade well there are still no guarantees of building D-backs / Marlins type squads. It could take years for them to be sure they could have a competitive team with one or two big free agent signings. Can the fans stand 5 more years of this?


By not being built to avoid collapse when injuries happen, does it seem the plan may be rushed before it's ripe? Roger Bernadina was called up from AA to replace Milledge and will start in the leadoff spot today. Too soon? (Definitely will be interesting to watch, though!)

It's funny - when Jim Bowden did a live online chat last week, I submitted a question asking about the future of the middle infield and what his vision is for next season and beyond (this was before the news broke that they were trying to negotiate a deal with Guzman). Smiley Gonzalez is still far too many years in the future to slot in any time soon. I pointed out that there weren't any immediate prospects waiting in the wings at SS or 2B and wondered what he planned on doing since I assumed he was not going to resign Lopez and Guzman will be a free agent. The question was skipped over in favor of a bunch of questions by the same person. Interesting that now news is coming out about the negotiations and possible trade with the Orioles for Lopez (of course, that trade won't solve it either). It still isn't a complete solution and provides no glimpses into what we can expect a few years down the road.

And with the collapse, who can we really trade? We need every body we have out there still able to pitch, hit, run, and throw.


I think their plan for the future. Is (1) draft + (2) sign & trade mediocre vets for mediocre prospects + (3) time = Awesome Nats! What is he going to say about the MI? That the Nats are going to wait until Smiley or Stephen King or someone else because good and until then enjoy your replacement level vets? They don't want to say that.

The Nats may in fact rush a player or two (it rushed it for Flores to the Nats benefit, but for batters I think it doesn' t really matter. If you can hit major league pitching you'll catch up to it eventually. As long as it doesn't touch the pitchers, which it really hasn't yet, I'm ok with bringing up whatever youngsters they have.

Right now Guzman is the only tradeable quantity (you just can't trade Rauch given the bullpen problems), maybe Belliard or Young if they keep hitting. But just like we thought they'd deal Young and they locked him up, looks like they are going to lock up Guzman now. So maybe for get about the (2) part of the equation above.


Yeah, Harper, that's the Plan in a nutshell equation. But it'll be interesting to see if they go out and try to sign up one big 'name' in the off-season, though: If in the face of the likely PR nightmare after a ~100 loss season, they go out and try to break Ted Lerner's piggy bank to sign one big name. Goes against everything the organization has said to date -- and Kasten has made it clear time and time again in the papers that he hates signing FAs. But you have to wonder if they'll cave in to pressure and deviate a little bit; partially in an attempt to sell some of those gold-plated seats behind home plate no one's buying.

And on the subject of tradable commodities: you really think it's only Guzman, Belliard, and Young? I'm convinced they'll be shopping Rauch heavily – in spite of all the problems with the bullpen, and especially if Chief pitches ok for a few weeks in July after he comes back. And you have to include Tim Redding on the list, don't you?

Agreed, MissChatter: the online chat with Bowden last week was all fluff, a complete waste of time for everyone -- and I include Jimbo in 'everyone'. I'm sure you're not the only one who had good questions skipped over in favor of softballs. Would've loved to hear Jimbo's answer to your question He ignored mine, too: I'm sure the poor guy was getting peppered with insults and questions about his Segway.


I can't see them doing it, primarily because there isn't anyone worth going crazy over in the free agent market, (ok, ok primarily because they are cheap, secondarily because there isn't anyone worth it). And while I would have liked to see them go strong after one of the MIs, I still felt that they should be smart about it and that would mean they'd likely be outbid. So not getting a big FA name doesn't bother me, but the spin will.

Ugh - this is awful, the whole "we can't spend on the majors because we're focused on the minors". The idea that there is only $X in the bucket and once it's spent it's gone. The $X is a number set by the Lerner's if they wanted to they could put in 10, 20, 30 million more. Improvement in the minors does not have to be mutually exclusive with improvement in the majors. But they act like it is and enough people buy it up that they can get away with it.

As for deals - they could trade Rauch, Redding but both are cheap, decent, and young. The asking price is going to be super high. Who's going to deal the Nats a young pitching prospect maybe a year away for one of these guys?


Not getting a big name FA doesn't bother me either...but I still wouldn't rule it out (even with the cited cheapness and the lack of value out there)...Plus, Brian Cashman will want to put his stamp on the club right away when he takes over in November by signing up someone like Mark Teixeira. (*ducking as Haper and MissChatter begin throwing things at me*). I'm kidding! I'm kidding!

About dealing: if this really is all about 2010 and beyond (is it too soon to declare 2009 a lost cause? Ha!), then I think the Nats need to be willing to listen to offers for just about anyone on the roster as the trade deadline approaches; that's all I'm saying. There aren't too many names on the major league roster that are untouchable. And that includes cheap, decent, and relatively young guys like Rauch & Redding.


You can listen to everything, but trading Rauch, Redding, Cordero, isn't just giving up on 2009, it's raising the white flag for 2010 as well. (which might be realistic but dammit if I'm going to watch that.)


Damn. Cross out what I said a little while back about "if Cordero pitches well when he comes back in July" or whatever. Torn labrum. Poor guy. Anyway, took a quick look at the 40-man roster, and see maybe six untouchables. Wouldn't lose sleep over the others...


Oh man, another season-ending (potentially) diagnosis.

Scratch what I said about 'too soon' for Bernadina! Apparently he's major league ready despite coming straight from AA. So sue me, I'm not Brian at NFA!

So what six untouchables?


Don't feel bad, we all reserve the right to be wrong sometimes (check about 90% of everything I've said previously...). I don't know, I'm not convinced about Rogearvin...

So, the only way I list my six untouchables from the 40-man is if you both agree to list yours, too, agreed? Ok? Good. Here it goes (*ducking*):

Flores. Lannan. Detwiler. Balester. Mock. Zimmerman.

(***note that as I write this, Balester isn't officially on the 40-man, but given that he's pitching tomorrow night, I'm including him there)


But I do have to say (to throw a little positivity into this conversation)... given all the negatives about this season, you have to admit that games like yesterday when the team wins on a walk-off home run in the bottom of an extra-inning game is all the sweeter. Not only for the fans, but obviously for the team. Did you see the joy and excitement on all their faces as they swarmed Belliard at home plate? If they were accustomed to winning, I doubt the celebration would have been so exuberant for all. But when you really don't expect to win.... the little victories like that are grand.

Putting my "I'm Jim Bowden" hat on here - I agree with your list and I would potentially add Lastings Milledge and Jason Bergmann. I'd likely hang on to Rauch too unless the offer was too good to pass up.

[Ed note - Rauch proceeds to blow Monday's game]

Ermm... can I take that back? (Nah, I won't base that on one single game).


A nice little come from ahead loss to wrap up the roundtable. Looks like everyone wants Guzman in the All-Star game including Rauch...

Untouchables? Certainly not Rogervin. (stick with you're first instincts Miss Chatter). I'd replace Mock (likely not to stick around this year which makes him in essence a 26 yr old rookie next year) with Milledge, but these are really only 2008 to 2009 untouchables. Who knows what the next year will bring (well other than another 90+ losses)

Miss Chatter - games like that can be sweeter, (For example I still remember a crappy NY Giants football team beating an undefeated Broncos team a few years back) but I think most Nats fans would trade a little sweetness for bitterness if it meant a 90 win season and a playoff birth. You know, save it for dessert.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Roundtable #6: Two weeks for Three wins for Four...


The year started so perfectly, didn't it? Zimmerman's HR winning that first game in Nationals Park to a sold out crowd. The Nats in Philly winning a slugfest showing off the new offense and then a pitchers duel. Man, forget .500! Start printing those playoff tickets!

Now the Nats are 3-7, which if they were a hockey team would still probably give them an inside track for a playoff spot, but as a baseball team is a bad start and only one game better than last years debacle that was April.

Since you are two of the most omniscient guys out there...what happened? Reality setting in? Nats getting unlucky? Just normal baseball streakiness? Global Warming? Someone broke the Seventh Seal? What?


I think some of it is bad luck and some of it is pitching (those overlap, I know). As far as bad luck goes, the Nats have been losing close games for the most part. After ten games they have a RS/RA differential of 9 (44 runs scored, 53 runs allowed). Last Wednesday's 10-4 loss to Florida was the only blowout loss they've had; all others came by three runs or less. Of course, a loss is a loss, and seven straight is enough to sap the will of just about anyone, but it's at least encouraging to see that they are not getting totally outclassed. I've seen lots of deep fly balls stop just short of home runs in the cold April air, particularly off Zimmerman's bat. If those balls carry a few more feet the Nats are 5-5 or better.

As far as pitching goes, I remain frustrated that Odalis Perez was the team's only new starting pitching pickup in the offseason. The staff that got torn asunder last year is all back for another year, and while the improved offense figures to score more runs, you can't win if the other team is scoring more. What's telling about the pitching staff is the details of their outings. We've seen a few games now where the starter will take a scoreless or one-run game into the 5th or 6th only to get annihilated by the opposing team. Bergmann's Wednesday night performance comes to mind, as does Perez's performance on Thursday. You can only do the come-from-behind thing so many times. This team is simply not going to be very good until some of the young arms in the minors are ready or until the team invests in some better starting pitching. Both of those seem two years off at best.


I could spend three paragraphs discussing the way a "streak" is perceived as opposed to gradually poor play, but whatever. We're all here to talk about the Seventh Seal, anyway.
The (current) seven-game losing streak makes it appear that all has gone to pot, but generally speaking, if you improve the luck by 10% and tweak the team's quality/crispness of play by another 10%, then you have some different results. As Brandon points out, the Nats have played a number of close games, up and down, topsy-turvy type affairs. This is a bit different than the absymal start to last season, when it took ten games to stake a single in-game lead (as opposed to that walkoff in game three). At any rate, the luck will even out, at least somewhat, over the course of the season.

But there are certainly some ugly aspects. Several of the hitters appear to have little idea of an effective approach at the plate so far. Although there have been a few solid performances (and one sterling one by Tim Redding), the starters don't inspire much confidence. The bullpen has a few reliable members but doesn't seem completely in sync yet. The defensive and fundamental aspects have had their poor moments. Wait and see; this is a bad stretch, but I don't think this is going to be a really bad team.


So basically the Nats are just ugly at the plate, on the mound, in relief, and occasionally in the field? Thank god, I thought this was serious...

I think you captured the feeling, Basil. To me, it's almost like even though you know the Nats shouldn't be 3-7, it feels like they deserve to be. You hoped the hitting would be good. It isn't, it's average. You hoped the pitching would be average. It isn't, it's bad. They might be playing ok overall, but they are still disappointing what were probably slightly lofty expectations. Expectations that were only bouyed by HOW they got the 3 wins. Opening Night was an emotional roller coaster, followed by a blowout, then an pitching duel. The Nats seemed able to win any type of game. You looked toward a sweep in Philly and 6 games against winnable teams with an eye toward 8-2.

Then they go and lose 7 straight.

Despite the plate approach issues with some of the Nats (Guzman, Milledge, Zimmerman), I think the offense is in just a minor slump. I checked the team BABIP and it stands at .259. That's .025 or .03 lower than expected. That should improve, and with it the offense will score more runs. Not too many more (the Nats had a couple of error-helped games in there) but more. Zimmerman especially has a BABIP of .184! He's ready for a hot streak. (unless of course he just has a knack for putting the ball weakly into play). On the flip-side, no one is getting lucky like Zimm is getting unlucky. Nick and Milledge may go down in average but probably not that much, and Nick can hurt you in 4 different ways. (Balls #1-#4). No, I like the offense to shake things up as expected.

Now can that overcome the pitching?


What scares me is this: the pitching is probably, as we speak, the best it's going to be all season. Guys are relatively fresh and injury free (save Shawn Hill and Chad Cordero) and no one is to the point yet where we could be concerned about being overworked. The starters are keeping the pressure off the bullpen by lasting into the 5th or 6th inning, even as they are coughing up runs a few at a time.

So what is going to happen down the stretch when the inevitable injuries strike? It's only going to get worse. I don't think Shawn Hill's return helps the team much (he seems to me to be headed out of baseball on the John Patterson Injury Express) and Cordero was anything but lights out last year.

Add the less-cavernous dimensions of Nats park (as compared with RFK) and it could get pretty grim. I just don't see the offense compensating for this. The team still lacks a true power hitter and isn't much of a stolen base threat, so the runs are going to come in dribs and drabs.

This still feels a lot like last year's team to me.


I think with a team like the Nats, we treat the pitching depth like waves. (I forget if Needham copied the metaphor from me, or I from him, or Harper from either of us, or if we all got confused and Stan Kasten stuck the waves in the brisket.)

Anyway, we have some crappy vets, some unestablished guys, some injury risks . . . we'll have 60-80-100% turnover in the rotation at some point. The "exciting" part is that our next wave will not consist of the Simontacchis or Bowies or Bacsiks of the world. Okay, clear out a lesser light like O'Connor, who admittedly isn't really a prospect, and we've got Ballester, Clippard, Mock -- guys who are actually somewhat interesting, one or two of whom conceivably could contribute down the road. That does constitute improvement. Maybe not immediate improvement, but it is a better position to be in.

The next step is to build an actual damn rotation!

As for the offensive points: Zimmerman seems a slow starter. He was slow in April '06 (despite a good number of RBI), he was slow in April '07, and he's been a slow starter this April (despite a couple of well-timed homers!). I think Kearns will hit; he's no star, but he'll be solid over the course of the season. I'm not a big Wily Mo fan, but things will change to some degree when he returns. I don't buy the "run per game better" line about his presence any more than I bought the "Nook saved a run per game" (or whatever it was) line about Nookster's defense at the end of '06, but the Pena's presence in the lineup is a bit more formidable than Felipe's in left field. (Which is a whole 'nother topic!)


You're both right! The pitching is the best it's going to be this year AND it's only going to get more interesting, (and I believe you got his chocolate in your peanut but...nah, it'll never work).

The first interesting thing is only days away as Hill is coming back and Chico is going down in his...uh oh Chico just pitched a gem. (Update: Nats lose! Nats lose! 3-0. May they never face Tim Hudson again) Here's a question for you. Who goes down? It can't be Chico now can it? It's got to be Bergmann right? Or better yet can they move him to the pen and DL Rauch?


Yes, Chico pitched very well last night, and Hudson pitched even better. Kind of goes back to what I was saying about bad luck...on most nights a pitcher going 8 innings and only giving up one run is good enough to get you the win...except when your offense only has three hits.

If I'm Manny Acta I send down Jesus Flores. Johnny Estrada is back from the DL and there is no good reason to have three catchers on the active roster except for pinch-hitting purposes. Flores looked absolutely horrible at the plate yesterday, swinging at everything. Zimmerman was taking some terrible hacks, and now he's 0 for his last 16 or so, ending the game flailing away on a pitch low and outside. Hudson is good, but the Nats seemed generally reluctant to swing the bat confidently at the 60+ strikes he threw over the course of 90+ pitches.



Along those lines, Don Sutton said something last night during the brief window I was actually watching: It's not that the Nats have the "wrong guys," it's that they've had an unlucky run of guys coming up for "wrong at-bats." Part of that seems to me to be a B.S. dump; he's sort of soft-pedaling that there some guys really scuffling so far. But part of it seems to ring true, at least anecdotally. They need a fly ball, and they have a guy up with groundball tendencies. They need contact, and they have a free swinger. They need extra-base power, and they have a slap-hitter. I think there is something to the impression that luck is conspiring to ensure a hitter in a big moment is ill-suited to the specific situation. Or at least it seems that way.

But yeah . . . against Hudson. He'll eat 'em up, drink their milkshake, and all that.


As I sit here watching Gavin Floyd go for a no-hitter (point!) ...

Flores is the obvious choice, and I understand why it has to be done contractually, but I can't be behind that. Paul LoDuca brings nothing to the team and should be the one that's gone. I'll stand by this comment all year. The fact that Flores looked awful against Tim Hudson, well why was he playing against Tim Hudson anyway? Start the rookie right-handed catcher vs one of the best righties in the league? This season should have been Flores facing all lefties and the occasional righty, and Estrada up against the tough righties, for example Tim Hudson. This kind of felt like a set-up.

Man, Lannan can't pitch in the rain can he...Smoltz is pitching...can they come back?

Answer to my own question... no they can't.

The hammer has begun to come down. Wily Mo is back, as is Cordero, while Bergmann and Flores get the boot. Of course I'm unhappy with the Flores move, but whatever. We knew that was coming. Bergmann's too soon. I don't see the point of cutting a starter when bringing back a reliever. If Hill were on his way back then sure, but for Cordero? Of course that is the Nats' way; cut early, move fast, find the hot hand. Works well when dealing with late 20-year old / early 30-year old guys that are what they are, but they can't keep this philosophy going for developing pitchers.


I wonder about the organization's support of Bergmann or its view of him as a developing pitcher. Bowden was again critical of Bergmann during the radio pregame, saying he fell apart completely against Florida and then pitched like crap in a no-pressure situation against the Braves. Bergmann has sort of a reputation as a thoughtful guy, but I wonder if the front office views him differently.

As for the Wily Mo thing, I don't want to overstate this, but his return makes the team whole --- or at least a little more whole than it was with FLop/Harris in left.


I don't like this organizations treatment of players, although really it might just be Jimbo's treatment of players. It seems so amateur for the GM (who, by they way, shouldn't be speaking out in the papers anyway) talking bad about the players that HE put on this team. But he's done this before and I'm sure he'll do it again. Don't you sometimes wonder what a Katsen + Non-egomaniacal GM could do with the Nats? God, I hate that self-serving attention whore.

It's nice to have Wily Mo back because the Nats lost their LF AND their back-up to the LF (Dukes), both players coming into the year fans were excited to see. Willie Harris? Even Mama Harris wasn't getting up for that. "Come see Milledge, Dukes, & Pena!" became "Come see Milledge...and pay no attention to those other two guys that are sometimes out there in left!". Having Harris, who probably would have under a dozen starts in the OF given perfect circumstances, and Lopez, who would have zero, out there, it was like the Nats had Bizarro LF.

Speaking of overstating things... let's get to the last big story of the opening weeks, the attendance. This weekend the numbers were respectable I guess. 28,051, 32,532, 29,151. Just under a 30K average. The weather wasn't great but that still seems low for the first weekend series in the new park versus a division rival of some import (re: not Florida). Is this a real problem or are we making too much of this, the worst problem to every hit a major league team in the long history of organized baseball?


I'm glad we're getting around to the attendance thing; it's something I've been thinking about a lot over the past week. It sort of makes me nervous. Seems like I've heard tales of other new ballparks selling out pretty consistently right after their openers. Camden Yards, of course, was sold out for ages after it first opened. However, here are my thoughts as to why attendance at Nats park is still less:

1. The team is still catching up from having virtually no marketing or TV coverage until the 2007 season, and then sort of bad marketing thereafter. Remember all the ads last year that essentially said: "this team is going to suck, but hey! new park next year!" My impression is that people in the greater DC area are still getting warmed up to the team. Exurbanites are probably spooked by all the press about the lack of parking and even closer-in people are unfamiliar with the neighborhood that the stadium is in.

2. Competing sports events. I got on the Metro to go to yesterday's game and the train was about 50-50 packed with Caps and Nats fans. There is a non-trivial sum of people who would rather go see a playoff team (Caps) than a team that started the season 4-8 (Nats). Once the Caps' season ends, a portion of those people will head to Nats games.

3. School is still in session. That virtually eliminates the attendance of families at weeknight games.

4. The weather has been up and down. Most of the games at Nats park have been downright freezing. Warmer weather will put people in the mood for baseball.

5. Last, but not least- new-stadium saturation. Nats park is one of the last of this current generation of "new" ballparks that more or less began with Camden Yards in the early '90s. Camden was groundbreaking at the time, completely shattering the mold of the astroturf concrete bowl that was so prevalent at the time. New ballparks have opened virtually every year since to the point where all the gee-whiz, cool amenities at Nats park are the norm, and fans expect them. Washington fans have been attending sporting events at new parks for the past 10 years at FedEx and Verizon Center and Camden...Nats park brings the baseball experience up to par with that of the other sports in town, but it's not completely earth-shattering.

Still, one huge difference that I've noticed right away is the greatly diminished presence and influence of out-of-town fans. When the Braves came to RFK you could easily see and hear large contingents of Braves fans cheering like mad. At Nats park the crowd is overwhelmingly made up of spirited Nats fans, and the Braves fans are sort of sprinkled here and there. We'll see if this continues to be the case when the Phillies, Mets and Cubs come to town (or the Red Sox in 2009) but for now it's nice that the place truly feels like a home park.


All are good points but only a couple matter in trying to reason why DC is different. . Numbers 3 and 4 are something that all new parks (save the July-opening Safeco) have to face. Number 2 is also going to have an effect on some of the new parks... Detroit, Dallas, anywhere with a decent hockey or basketball team. So it comes down to points #1 and #5.

Number 5 is an interesting case. I can see the reasoning behind it - while the park is an event for baseball fans in the district, for casual fans it's no longer a must-see draw. They've been to Camden and Citizens Bank and maybe one or two others. The newest IMAX theatre is still just another IMAX theatre, even if it's closer to your house. However...and this is the kicker for me. I hadn't heard this phrase used en masse until this year. That to me doesn't scream "reasoning" it's screams "excuse". Camden was over 15 years ago. There were about a dozen new parks up by 2002. If Phillies fans and Padres fans and Cards fans weren't tired of new parks, why are Nats fans?

So for me it comes down a lot to #1. The Nats shot themselves in the foot by not marketing the team well last year. They wanted to hide a crappy team from public embarrasment and instead hid what amounted to a minor feel good story, losing some good will and putting the Nats at a point of fan interest well below where a team in it's 4th year in town should be.

But in reality it's everything. Crappy team and slow to come around fanbase are number 1 and number 2 on the list, but everything else you mention Brandon matters. This is the perfect storm of fan attendance problems, if you assume that people actually do care (unlike in Miami or TB)


It's a good list that Brandon's put together. I can see how the Caps' run is a matter of some inconvenient timing for the Nats. And I agree that, among the factors on the list, the first and the last are the biggest.

Ultimately, though, the majority of it comes down to winning. It's what both drives and rebuts these factors. If you win, then fans will come. This isn't a winning team or even one that has built up an expectation of being one (see #1), and this isn't 1992, when an amazing new ballpark was a wondrous thing (see #5). Furthermore -- and I think this is important -- by being without a ballclub of its own for more than three decades, the ability to set up the old ballpark/"field of dreams" dichotomy was never there. You can't say there was an "historic final season at RFK," and you can't really say (outside of the diehards) that the opening of Nationals Park was a community-wide eagerly awaited event. The way I see it is that it was the product of a business deal, and not much more.

With all that in mind, is attendance really that horrible? It may be poor so far, but in any event, as Kasten said, they'll get the attendance they deserve.


All good points and I just thought of one more: the area around the ballpark is currently devoid of all other attractions. As it stands right now, the stadium is the only draw to the area- the rest of the surrounding parcels are all under construction, meaning there is no reason for casual people to want to spend time in the area other than to hit the baseball game- which is great if you like baseball, but there is no Verizon Center-esque area to really draw people down there. Of course, that will change in a few years' time, maybe even by next's important to keep in mind that the whole Nats park experience, as we'll come to know it 10 years from now, is still somewhat incomplete.


Absolutely. That shouldn't go unnoted. It was very important for all involved to get the ballpark open to start this season, but the effect is that the Nats sort of beat (almost) everyone else there. Gotta live with that, for as long as it's a factor.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Roundtable #5 - The Season Begins


Forget what the calendar tells you - Spring is over! The Nats are heading home, first to open the stadium with an exhibition match against the O's, then to open the "North American" season with the real thing against the Braves. (Ed-NOTE: The conversations took place from Friday to Sunday. As you know the Nats took both these games) It's an exciting time for the Nats and they really need to be putting their best foot forward.

Joining me in discussing the Nats this week are two-thirds of the girls from We've Got Heart. Kristen and Stephanie.

The general consensus is that this, or something close, will be the opening day lineup :

C. Guzman SS
Milledge CF
Zimmerman 3B
Johnson 1B
Kearns RF
Dukes LF
Belliard 2B
Lo Duca C
Perez P

With the exception of Wily Mo's injury time, any problems with that? Without delving into personal biases (yet), I only have one issue and that's with the guy on the mound. The Nats are re-introducing themselves to DC and America with Odalis Perez? He doesn't represent the Nats' future or the Nats' past, and he probably isn't even the team's best pitcher. It's "veteran respect" gone a bit too far.


I am pretty excited to see what the 2008 lineup can produce. I think we are entering the season with a lot of potential. Just think about it, last year at this time the Nats were expected to lose 100 games. Now with the lineup, the bench, and the solid bullpen this season, the Nats aren't a team to brush aside anymore.

I was pretty disappointed to hear about Wily Mo and his time-table for recovery. We saw him hit some monster blasts during Spring Training, and he looked poised to have a great season start. I am excited to see him back and playing everyday. With that said, I think we have a solid back up with Elijah Dukes, at least player wise. He will hopefully provide more offense than say Langerhans, so I don't think all is lost in left field.

I tend to agree on Perez pitching for the opener. For a team that makes such a huge deal about "the plan", Odalis just doesn't fit. I think the Nationals would make a much bigger statement by giving one of the young guys like Bergmann or Chico, heck even Redding after the season he had last year, the start. On this team full of young talent Perez does seem like the odd man out. I'm still not sold on the need for a veteran on the rotation. After John Lannan's Spring, it would have been nice to see him in DC on opening day.


You have to be excited about what Milledge and Dukes add to the lineup. I'd say Lo Duca is an offensive improvement over Schneider, but I'm not thrilled about him being part of our organization. Feels like we're all just holding our breath waiting for Flores. It certainly seems like we are heading in the right direction though. No more watching Fick and Langerhans pinch strike-out.

I guess I do see the value in having a veteran pitcher around -- but we've got some veteran guys in the bullpen that will continue to help shape pitchers and Randy St. Claire's influence can't be understated. I'm not sure I saw enough of Perez in spring training to make any predictions, but I'm certainly not convinced he's deserving of this big opening night start. I think as a simple match-up, it would have been nice to see Bergmann get the start -- with the way he handles the Braves' lineup. I'm expecting a good solid year from Redding and while I like Chico and hope for the best, I think Lannan really did deserve that spot.


Dukes can't be worse than Langerhans. I refuse to believe something like that is possible. LoDuca isn't great, but he isn't worse than Schneider at the plate. Anyone would be better than Logan, let alone a true prospect like Milledge. Fick is gone. Bacsik isn't wasting throws anymore. There is no place I can see a decline in talent. That's why the same the back of the head thoughts have gone from "Hope the Nats aren't historically bad." to "Hope the Nats get close to .500!" The Nats at the major league level didn't change as much as people may think but they never stepped back. Now that says something about where they started from but I think we all agree they should be better.

As far as Odalis is concerned I like having him in the rotation - the Nats have abused their bullpen the past 2 years. 2nd in the majors in IP last year, 3rd the year before, they need someone to eat innings or we're going to see a mass of arm injuries. While you can't expect Odalis to do it well, you can expect him to do it. But that's my complaint - he's an innings eater - not an Opening Day starter, even for a team like the Nats. He represents nothing more than bottom of the barrel filler. (That may in fact still be in line with the Nats current philosophy but they don't have to shout about it). Chico would have been nice, but I'm a Chico fan. But you know who also would have been nice? Shawn Hill or John Patterson.


It would definitely be nice to give the bullpen a breather this year -- especially because they aren't pitching at RFK anymore, which creates an added challenge. It's nice to know that they've all returned healthy. You can rest assured knowing you know what you're going to get out of them.

For Opening Night, Shawn Hill would have been the ideal. It's hard to watch him struggle with overcoming the injuries. I still have a lot of faith that he'll be able to put in lots of work this year. Unlike -- John Patterson. I realize it was a controversial decision, but I wasn't bent out of shape with his exit, just surprised. I have compassion for "my stuff just isn't back yet. I'm getting there." Instead, we walked into spring hearing about this excited, re-energized Patterson that was ready to go. Same as last spring. And then there was the flu debacle with the O's. There's been a lot of excuses with Patterson. I must confess, I missed his phenomenal 2005 season (cause I didn't live here yet). I do respect what he has done in the past and what he is capable of doing in the future.

Do you think if he remained on the roster right now, we'd really see him pitching throughout the season?


I am almost going to miss watching Fick swing away in those key moments. Langerhans not so much. I'm not a fan of Lo Duca, his abilities or his attitude. I'm not sure he understands that he's a place holder until Flores is ready - which in my opinion is sooner rather than later. I guess Lo Duca's bat has been better than Schneider's in the past, but with him coming off an injury, I'm really not expecting much. I am really excited to see Milledge in center field. I think we will see some magical stuff from him this year. I really like his enthusiasm. So I'm thinking we'll see nothing but improvements offensive wise this season.

Having Hill on the mound for opening day would have been a great way to kick of '08, his situation is unfortunate. When it comes to Hill, I feel like it's a roller coaster. When he's healthy he's the ace we need, but is he ever going to be able to pitch without pain? I'm hoping so. I'd love for Shawn to come back healthy and lead the rotation with wins.

I agree with Kristen, I'm happy to see Patterson go. I think the difference between Patterson and Hill is the response each give about their injuries. When Patterson was injured, or he pitched poorly, he was first to blame something else. There was the time he was sick, the time he got hit in the face with the ball, the time he didn't have enough time to rest, and so on. With Hill we get up front honest answers about his injuries and performances. I don't think Patterson would have made it a full season without a DL stint. I'm still hopeful that Hill will come back strong and have a great season.


Oh come on...Hill was more honest? Please. Patterson is a disappointment to a lot of Nats fans - they saw 2005, expected a stud pitcher and got an injured pitcher that actually projected other excuses when pitching through pain because he can't admit when he's not ready to go. Hill never got a chance to disappoint because fans never expected anything from him. While it may not accurately describe how you guys feel I'll stick to my guns and say that's where the majority of JP hate comes from.

Do I think he would have been pitching this year? Yes - but not effectively for the first month or two. John on the mound for Opening Day would have said something. It would have said "Here's someone that has been through the whole thing - from Montreal to DC, from RFK to the new park..." It would have been a nice moment. Whatever. Sometimes it's better for everyone involved if things move on.

I would have loved to see Hill on the mound opening day, also because what that would say. "Here's someone that's going to be the ace for the next few years" Instead he's injured again. Do you realize that Hill hasn't broken 100 IP since 2003? I just can't be optimistic about someone with that type of history.

We all seem to have the same tepid-at-best feelings about LoDuca, positive vibes from Milledge, what do you think about the way the MI ended up? Looks like Lopez is the loser here.


Fair enough. I know my absence in 2005 definitely colors my perspective on Patterson. I'm hopeful with Hill because I just really want to see what he's capable of - but your points are well-taken.

I look at Felipe and I see a former All-Star and I just can't figure it out. We've heard about the vague off-the-field problems and we've heard about his tough childhood, so you can see how the game is especially mental for him. You just want to see him snap out of it. Tremendous talent and potential, but these issues cloud his focus. I think he will turn it around. I just don't know when. He really needed to put up stronger numbers this spring.

With that said, I think the criticism is fair but way overblown. I want the two best guys to start at their spots -- and that would be Belliard and Guzman at this time. I just want Lopez to prove to his critics that his issues were personal, and not a question of attitude. Why would we want him to be satisfied and comfortable on the bench? He should want to fight for that position. I think media, bloggers and fans read too much into those comments.


Granted I also missed Patterson's 2005 season, but to my knowledge he had issues staying healthy before he came to DC. I guess I just got tired of hearing excuses and not seeing results. Ok maybe Hill isn't more honest, but isn't there just something about his sinker ball that makes you pull for the guy?

I'm with Kristen on the Lopez issue. I just can't understand how a slump can last so long. It's clear Felipe wants to play and I really think he has what it takes. I think the game means a lot to Felipe. His lack of performance is often criticized as laziness, and I'm not sure thats the case. I hope he gets the chance to turn things around.

I really liked how Guzman and Lopez worked last year, there were times they seemed seamless. It worked. I was impressed by Guzman's beginning last season, and if he had stayed healthy he would have had a great year. That's just the thing though, I'm wondering if he will stay injury free this season. He had an impressive Spring and it would be nice to see Bowden's investment pay off.

With Belliard, there is no denying he's a great player, but I think he's a bit like Odalis Perez in that he just doesn't fit with the plan. I do enjoy watching him play, and the flexibility he shows in his position is great. However for some reason, he is one player on the team that I'm indifferent towards. Its more personality wise, like attitude or something.


Belliard doesn't fit with the plan, but it's hard for me to see how Guzman does either. Guzman is 30 with only a quarter-season of decent baseball in like 8 years in his favor. Most of those offensive seasons were REALLY bad and that's not looking at 2005 (which I'll admit was an aberration). Of course he had that good quarter year last year, which makes it tougher to dismiss, but I think we'll see another middling season for him then out the door.

Felipe at least has a chance to be part of the future - but it's dwindling everyday. Since the other guys are really just stop gaps, why not let him play? Especially if confidence is an issue. I'd sit Guzman, but Belliard would be fine too. I'm not sure I get why in this instance the Nats are playing to win for now.


Have to say- I'm responding from Section 226! (ED Note : Kristen was replying from the Nats Orioles game)

I really have mixed feelings about Guzman given his history here. But his performance last season and this spring would merit another chance to see what we can get out of him.

Wouldn't it be nice to have a Reyes or a Hanley Ramirez? A young lead-off guy that can fly around the bases and put up great numbers? On that note, do we know the status of Esmailyn Gonzalez.? I don't know too much about him, but isn't that the kind of player they hope he becomes?

For now, I just hope All Star Felipe shows up in a week or two.


I think everyone does. Here's the issue: the Nats don't have a Reyes or Ramirez in the minors or even a Marco Scutaro or John McDonald. Unless something changes soon they are going to need to think hard about who's going to man 2nd and SS in 2009 and 2010. It would be great if that person was Felipe and that can't be decided with him on the bench.

Section 226? That's slightly closer than North Carolina right?

Ok so the new park is open and early word is it's great. Here's a question - will that matter? Does the new ballpark have a chance to reinvigorate baseball interest in DC? I hate to be fatalistic (ok
that's I lie, I like to be fatalistic) but let's face it. Interest the past 2 years was lagging behind where the team would like it to be. Is this combination of new park and legit young talent going to draw those 30K crowds, or does the team have to win?

(This is an honest question from someone not in or from DC)


The new park is really fantastic. We were in it for the first time yesterday, and everything was magical. I definitely think the new park will help reinvigorate baseball in DC. A lot of fans dealt with the...old charm, shall we say, of RFK and stuck with the team during those early months last season when the team struggled to reach 10 wins. The new park is as much a reward for the players as it is for the fans. Winning would be nice. The new park will hopefully not only draw more fans, but it will also give the guys some more incentive to win. I think the excitement of the new park will give them some more pep. Yesterday it was pretty obvious they all had an extra spring in their step. So I do think the wins will come this season, but I think the park will be a big draw for the team regardless of the win/loss record. DC is building something great, and its a pretty cool time to be a Nats fan. Kinda cheesy I know, but it really is exciting here.


There is no question that the park is beautiful and I think regardless of wins the honeymoon will last at least through mid-summer. Eventually, the stadium won't be enough. I hope though fans see that we are going in the right direction. You go to amazing parks like PNC Park and Camden Yards and it's sad. But with those teams, I think it's not just the win loss record. It's total lack of faith in the direction the team is heading, or maybe the desire to head in any direction rather than just getting by each year.

Everyone jokes about the plan - partly cause it asks a lot of fans. But at least there is a direction and not band aid solutions. We are in the process of building a good organization. Come watch it in progress. Don't expect to take the NL East this season.


So not World Series? I'll have to cancel my late October hotel reservations, then...

If not a 120 win season, what do you guys think is in store for the Nats in 2008? I've said my piece on my blog. 73-89. Same record as last year. I think this years team is slightly more talented than last years, like 5 games or so. (and ever moving in the right direction) That being said, last year the Nats got a little lucky. In response, I guessed they'd be a little unlucky this year, hence the same record.

Either of you on the .500 bandwagon?


I think this team is definitely more talented than last year, but it's always a tough division. The Mets, the Phillies and the Braves are all strong teams. I'd give the Nats a few more games than last year. I don't know if it was luck or Manny, but it was a pleasant surprise. I think, as Zimmerman said last night (ED - after the Opening Night win), they are sick of losing. They are going to do everything they can to get off to a good start. It was impossible to recover from last year's 9-25 deficit. I think with the new park, playing .500 ball is possible. So much depends on injuries. My prediction would be slightly less than .500 - something like 77 or 78 wins.


I'll jump on the .500 bandwagon. When we talked to some of the guys during spring training, their expectations were high for this season. I think the momentum of the new park can carry them pretty far. I was impressed with the line up last night, I hope the offense continues. Zimmerman's performance last night I think made it clear, don't count the Nats out just yet. I'm hopeful that the team won't be hit hard with bad luck and continue to play well from the start.

Thanks to Kristen and Stephanie for doing this!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Rountdable #4 - Part 3 : Everything Else


Trying to keep the segues moving (not to be confused with trying to keep the segways moving, which is apparently Jimbo's job) I think you put as much thought into Old Dirty Perez as you needed to Basil. He might fill in the back of the rotation, but more likely he's Simontacchi-esque insurance. Patterson, Hill, Chico should be #1-#3 (I'm still with you Johnny!) but who gets the last two slots? Personally I like Redding's at #4, and Lannan in the 5 hole. Redding has been an effective major leaguer when healthy and Lannan is only 23, not like the ancient 27 yr old Jay Bergmann.


I don't think you can really look at a starting rotation like that. As we've seen each of the last few years, what you start out with is never what you end with. All those guys you mention are going to get time this year. It's just a matter of when.

Because of that, some of the players like Lannan are going to have a tough time. Redding's contract means he's a virtual lock to start with the team. Perez' probably has a release trigger if he doesn't make the club (like Colome's did last season), so if he doesn't fall on his face, he's got an inside edge. You start penciling those names in, and there's not nearly as much room for Lannan and Chico and Bergmann. The first two have options. (does Bergmann?) They can be sent to the minors and replenish the team later once Hill and Patterson break.


Lannan, Cy Young winner. Chico, Hall of Famer. Mock, greatest pitcher of all time. Detwiler, most excellent sentient in the universe.

Sorry, I was just reading Pravda . . .

Anyway, both of you make good points. Perez isn't really worth much of a mention, and the rotation depth (such as it is) needs to be managed in an orderly and effective manner. At the least, our veteran flotsam is a little better this year, and, unlike last year with the Hanrahans of the world, this year's presumed white knights come from our own organization more or less.


Overall, the pitching staff has a decent chance to be better than last year. Not a lot better. But a bit better. If they manage to allow the same number of runs as last year, that's an improvement. We had 45 starts from pitchers with ERAs over 6. 21 were from stiffs with ERAs over 7.

By 'upgrading' to merely bad, they can knock a few runs of their total.


It's odd. When I think of last season I think the Nats got pretty lucky; Hill really pitching very well, Redding coming back into form, Bergmann's first half success, that Levale vs Santana game. But looking back for every success there was a complete failure, Simontacchi, SouthEast Jerome, all those other Levale games. With a few very minor breaks they will have a better rotation - but as you say it may not show with the move to the smaller park.

What concerns me is not who's going to bounce around the back of the rotation (at least until end of the season call-ups) but what happens if the relief breaks down. Look at the team's relief ERAs over the past 5 years: 4.40, 4.00, 3.55, 4.49, 3.81. I bring this up not to show a cyclical pattern to the ERAs but to show there is a big element of randomness here and last year the Nats got nice and lucky. Are the Nats going to have 6 different relievers have ERAs under 4.00 and pitch 40+ innings in 2008? Is Jon Rauch going to get through the season without his arm falling off? I'm sure they'll find some decent pitchers here - they seemed to excel at that - but I think it's going to be a bit rougher this year.

Of course I'd trade a slight increase in starter quality for a slight drop in reliever quality anyday...


I'd agree with that. The sheer workload of the relievers last year is something to be concerned about going forward, but... They're also relatively deep there. They've got too many acceptable arms battling for spots as it is. Someone like Schroder -- who could be a pretty good setup guy for half the teams in the league -- has to get lucky to make the roster out of spring.


Trade Rauch!

Just kidding. Well, maybe.

One thing I think the fanbase might be missing is that reliever performance tends to be pretty volatile; we're not talking about really big samples, and the ones who are worked particularly hard often become injury risks. So I think there's this expectation that Rauch, for instance (and in particular), will be a major player on the first big-time Nats contender, whenever that is. Maybe he will be, but I'd say the odds are more likely he won't.

Which isn't to say the Nats won't have good relief pitching by then. They probably will. Many of the good relievers will just come by surprise when we get to that point. As, come to think of it, Rauch and Saul Rivera and Hector Carrasco and Gary Majewski and others were.


I think this gets back to a point I've been trying to make in the offseason. The franchise is really moving in the right direction. Compared to this time last year, the minors are obviously better, the hitting is likely to be better, the pitching has a chance to be better, and the team...well it might win fewer games. The improvement is probably going to be minimal in 2008 and a few bad breaks and the Nats could be a 70 win team. I hope the support doesn't suffer if this happens.


Oh, there's definitely reason for optimism. They ARE on the right track, even if I haven't agreed with every intermediary step -- and even if Ted Lerner's accountants did.

But for support to suffer, doesn't there have to be much support in the first place? We've got the diehards, of course. But schmucks like us don't carry a franchise. I'd go into a rant about the Post here, but I'll save that for another time!


Support is just a euphamism for attendance, which, no there isn't much in the first place. It's going to go up, sure, but suffering can still happen. You and I (and some others, I hope) think the team is a bit too...uh...frugal now. Imagine how it'll be if they go into a new stadium and don't get the bump they want? A good season + new stadium would help the team not see that, but like I said I'm not enthused about this season having more wins. More interest, more hope? Definitely. But not more wins and I think wins -> casual fan interest -> increase attendance -> $$ -> ??? -> Playoffs.

I'd hate to see the improvement momentum squashed just because the Nats don't catch a few breaks in '08 (and yes, I realize this is a total pessimist argument)


Oh, you're just a couple of Plan-Pissers!

Chris has put pen to paper on the runs scored vs. runs allowed thing so much that South America is bereft of trees and the White Bros. are swimming in Olympic-sized swimming pools filled with Texas tea sweetener. And this team checks out pretty decently. A modest improvement over last year, with a fine shot at break-even or so for the home slate, and maybe some progressive improvement as the season wears on. It's not sexy, but it's got teeth.


"It's not sexy, but it's got teeth" makes a good slogan for the Nats 2008 season, don't it? (or a low-rent online dating service)

Any thoughts on Nick and Dmitri?


My thoughts on Nick and Dmitri are pretty simple:

(1) If Nick's healthy, he's the starter; better defense, OBP and all that stuff.

(2) If Dmitri is such a great team player -- which, by the way, is what he's held up as -- then he accepts a role player assignment, with full knowledge that the organization fished him out of the reject pile and then increased his bank account by $10M in gratitude for his services.

(3) The stuff about clearing a path for Marrero is all speculative until Marrero emerges from the high minors as a stud hitting prospect, which we all hope he will be.


What he said.

I really don't understand the drumbeat to trade either of them.

It's not like that $5 million on the bench would go somewhere else other than Uncle Teddy's pocket. And it's not like the Lerner children are going to be eating watered-down gruel while Dmitri dines on an 8-pound steak.

There's playing time for both. There's money for both. I don't see where the problem is.


Football mentality. Quarterback controversy, you can't lose your job due to injury, etc.

Manny's a smart guy. He can make it work. And it can work if the players agree to make it work.


Nature abhors a vacuum, and people in sports abhor a platoon. Players feel it dulls them down, fans immediately jump the minute one has a slump or a streak calling for an end to it. It's like no one wants managers to manage.

Yeah, Nick should start. It's a no-brainer from all directions but one, who the fans love more, and that shouldn't be how the team makes decisions anyway.

So after all this the sentiment I'm feeling is whatever we get on Opening Day really doesn't matter, at least this year. There isn't anyone with the potential of being "robbed" of a spot nor anyone unfairly kept in their role by veteran momentum. It's not like starting Guzman is holding down Milledge or anything. With the team in transition, good players will find playing time and bad ones will be shuttled off. And if that doesn't happen we'll complain about it mdiseason.

All true, but it hardly as fun as making Spring and the Opening Day roster overly important.


So you're suggesting that Nihilism is the best approach to being a Nats fan?

Works for me!