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.


HARPER


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 Nick...man, 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?


MISS CHATTER

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...)


NATS ENQUIRER

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...


HARPER

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.


MISS CHATTER

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.


NATS ENQUIRER

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?


MISS CHATTER

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 firemannyacta.com 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?


NATS ENQUIRER

There's no firemannyacta.com 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 godaddy.com)...

....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?


HARPER

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?


MISS CHATTER

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.


HARPER

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.


NATS ENQUIRER

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.


HARPER

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?


NATS ENQUIRER

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.



HARPER


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.)


NATS ENQUIRER

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...


MISS CHATTER

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?


NATS ENQUIRER

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)


MISS CHATTER

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).


HARPER

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.

5 comments:

Willie the Groundskeeper said...

We need to get July 4th baseball back in DC...

http://www.halfstreetblues.com/

Harper said...

I was just thinking that. It should be a given every year. Of course opening up with a Noon game on Monday in Cincinnati should also be a given....

So I guess that means next year the Nationals will be playing in Korea on July 4th.

MissChatter said...

Kasten has mentioned that after this year, the team will be home for every 4th of July from now on - approved by the Commissioner himself. P-Nats are home for the 4th, though!

MissChatter said...

Ok, I'm going back to my first instinct of Too Soon! Those throws from center field are umm... leaving room for improvement.

Harper said...

I give credit to us fans! Power to the people!

(Well really "you fans" and then me, but let's not split hairs)