Blognostication, what a word

March 29, 2007

One of our brethren sites, Ballwonk, has issued The 2007 Nationals Progdown Blognostication Credibility Challenge.
Blognostication
All Nationals bloggers brave enough to put their credibility on the line post in their own blogs, before the first pitch at RFK Monday, answers to the following blognostication categories:

1. Nationals season record.
2. Nationals NL East division place and games back (if any).
3. Date on which Nick Johnson first appears in a Nationals game.
4. Date on which Nick Johnson suffers season-ending injury.
5. Nationals team leader in pitching starts, with number of starts.
6. Total number of starting pitchers used.
7. Number of ejections for Manny Acta.
8. Guzman’s batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging average.
9. Nationals home runs at RFK.
10. Paid attendance for the July 21 game against Colorado at RFK (our only Fox national broadcast of 2007).

There’s nothing we like here at the Nationals Review more than a good challenge, except for crazy long nonsensical titles and referring to ourselves in the kingly we. So here goes, with no explanation necessary (and no spreadsheets used for this one… ok just one quick one to figure out #2).

1. 73-89
2. Last, 22 GB
3. May 29
4. 7/27/09, in a skateboarding incident at home
5. Patterson, 27
6. 11
7. Zero
8. .249/.284/.362
9. 67
10. 22,019

p.s. – A fun fact about Christian Guzman. The Washington Post said this week that Guzman’s .524 OPS in2005 was the second lowest for a starter since 1992, the year before the league expanded to include Flordia and Colorado. Now that the season will be up and running, expect more Christian Guzman fun facts as often as possible!


Nationals Fantasy Time

March 26, 2007

One of the reasons people are paying more attention to stats these days in baseball is fantasy. After several requests, we created a fantasy primer for the Nats. If it seems lacking in quality players, blame Jim Bowdon, not us. Assume when talking about where to draft a guy that the league in question has 10 teams, so each round has 10 picks. (Stats for hitters will be listed as AVG-R-HR-RBI)

Ryan Zimmerman

When mentioning the Nats, Zimm’s name always seems to come up first, perhaps because it’s nice to hear some good news. As a fantasy player, he is one of the better, towards the top of the second tier for 3B. After ARod, Cabrera, Wright and Aramis Ramirez it’s probably a free-for-all. Some put Garret Atkins up in that top group, but if Zimm can hit .300 they are much closer than people think. He probably can be grabbed as early as the 6th or 7th round in a draft without being too early. BP has him hitting .305-84-23-90, which may be a little low on HRs considering what he was able to do in his first season, and a little high on RBIs considering how few opportunities he may have to drive in runs. Also, he’s only going to get better over the next few years, so he is a legitimate keeper.

Felipe Lopez

Lopez most likely qualifies as SS in your league, and may qualify as 2B if Guzman plays (hopefully not), which is some nice flexibility to have. His power may be a bit overestimated but he can steal bases and hit for a decent average. He is Jimmy Rollins light, which isn’t bad for fantasy, with a few more steals and a few less dingers. Leading off will help his ability to score runs, as well. BP project him to hit .276-90-14-61, which seems accurate. They only give him 25 steals, though, and 40 is much more likely. Consider him a top 10 2B/SS for sure, and a bargain if you can get him after the 8th round.

Chad Cordero

The last player that qualifies as a top candidate in his position for the Nats is Lopez. Cordero is another “second tier” guy according to ESPN’s projections. He will lose some save opportunities as the Nats are predicted to have historically few wins. But 30+ is not a stretch, and he will have a low ERA and low WHIP, although he won’t have a whole lot of Ks. The big wild card with Chad is whether he gets traded away, and if he does, whether he is used as a closer. Teams have shown interest but Bowdon has asked for multiple top prospects in exchange, so it can be assumed if a team later wants him, the costs will be prohibitive unless they desperately need a closer (hence his fantasy value wouldn’t suffer). Without naming a round (because after 2 people start grabbing closers, they all seem to go) once the 6 or 7 superstar closers are gone, feel free to pick up Cordero.

Austin Kearns

Kearns is the best OF the Nats have, in terms of overall production and fantasy points. He is developing into a moderate power hitter, but his best asset – OBP, usually doesn’t count for fantasy ball. He’s still likely to hit well enough, and at least he’ll be batting behind Zimmerman, so he should have someone to drive in once in a while. BP has him going .272-22-78, but that power could still be developing. If your league has 4 OFs, he’s a definite pickup, ESPN ranks him at #52 in the position… but is he really going to be outperformed by Willy Mo Pena or Chris Monroe? Take the over on him and draft him in the neighborhood of the 17th round.

John Patterson

Patterson may be a bit of a fantasy sleeper this season. Although he is on the radar for most projections, ESPN has him ranked in the low 50s for pitchers. He will be better than that if he can pitch all season. He’s got the abilities as an Ace, he could have 175 Ks and post a sub-4.00 ERA. But it’s that health that’s the issue. Assuming he’s feeling good (and he is right now) he’s worth grabbing a little earlier than projected, something like round 18 or 19.

Possible Nationals Fantasy Sleepers?

The OF

Look at Church, Snelling and Logan in a month and see if they have anything to contribute. Despite our reluctance to praise Logan, if he plays all the time he could conceivably steal 30 bases… if you’re desperate for SBs, look and see if he’s playing well enough to swipe a few. Snelling and Church could both be developing into decent hitting OF, with some power potential. There’s never anything wrong with pulling a .260/25 HR guy off of the waiver wire (unless your league is small). And finally there is Kory Casto. With Logan’s injury (probably minor) it appears the Casto will be the starting LF for game 1. Casto is too young and power-deficient to be much help in fantasy at this point.

Nick Johnson

Poor Nick. Whenever he seems to be on a roll, he gets hurt. He had a great season last year, and he should probably be considered a top 15-20 guy in this hitter heavy position, barring the injury. The thing about him is, with the injury, nobody is going to pick him early. If they do, they’re not reading the news. And if they don’t, and you have room in your lineup, or a DL slot, stash him. If he comes back before the All-Star break he could still hit 20 HRs and will bat close to .300.

Pitching

There’s just not much here. The pitching staff seems to be more set than before, but even If Shawn Hill starts the whole season, it’s hard to see him with more than 10 wins and an ERA below the middle 4.00s. He is worth keeping an eye on, as is Simontacchi, Ayala, and Chico, just don’t waste any draft picks on them.

One final note

On Kory Casto. Since he looks like the big surprise starter for this team, he deserves a mention. He is promising, with excellent plate discipline, and while he will strike out a bit, he works counts and walks quite a bit, too. He has decent, although not too impressive power. As Casto is a rookie, let’s not get too excited. Last year’s incredible rookie class was most likely an anomaly rather than a future trend. If he can hit .270 with 15 HRs, that would be a pretty remarkable rookie season by most measures. It seems possible for Kasto, if allowed to play, that he can approach these numbers. Beyond this season, 20 HRs are not a stretch for him, 30 probably is. .300 may be possible as well. Is he the future of LF for the Nats? Possibly. Is he going to be a good quality player to have? It’s likely. Is he going to be an All Star? Probably not.


Lay of the Land

March 20, 2007

One of the unfortunate circumstances for this Nationals team is they are forced to play in the NL East in 2007. Even the Nationals could surprise people (by finishing second-to-last) if the were allowed to play in the Central or the West. Alas, this is not the case, as divisions are cordoned off by geography and not by talent. A preview of what to expect from these teams:

NY Mets

The Mets can hit. Man can they hit, like an AL team even! With Wright and Reyes, they have a great, young, extremely talented left side of the infield. Throw in Delgado and Beltran, plus the acquisition of Alou, they have 4 legitimate power hitter and the bestWright and Reyes basestealer in the league. Also, Reyes hit 19 HRs last year, and Valentin hit 18. Lasting Milledge may not be ready for prime time yet, but the offense really doesn’t need him. While many predict them to win the division, they are clearly not the same team as last year. How their rotation will produce is unclear. Pedro is out until August, Glavine is now 41 (but could have his 300th win shortly after the All Star break), El Duque is a mystery who may be 41 or 51. John Maine was excellent last season, and will be good, but a repeat of his 3.60 ERA is a stretch. They may also be expecting a lot of Mike Pelfrey if they think he’s going to come in and be great, but he certainly has potential to be a very good starter. This team is not as good as it was last year, and will face some serious competition for first place. And if they stink up the joint, every New Yorker will certainly find a name for the stadium besides its new one, Citifield (although it will probably sound quite similar)

Philadelphia Phillies

The Fightin’ Phils led the NL in runs scored last season, and they will most likely continue to have a great offense in 2007. It helps that they play in the bandbox that is Citizen’s Bank Park. What the hell is a bandbox? According to dictionary.com, “a light cylindrical box for holding light articles of attire (especially hats)”. Well not only can Citizen’s Bank Park hold hats with the best of them, it also happens to be very small and conducive to giving up more than its fair share of HRs. And the Phillies have some guys who can hitUtley and Howard them. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley vs. Reyes and Wright is a great “which young infield would you rather have?” question (the correct answer is Wright and Reyes), but there’s no doubt which combo has more power (the correct answer to that is Utley and Howard). Besides those 2 mashers who also hit over .300, they still have Jimmy Rollins, the collision-prone Aaron Rowand, a great fielder and a great hitter for his position, and Pat Burrell. Shane Victorino is a very good hitter and could steal 40 bases, and Wes Helms and Barajas will make their lineup even more formidable. Their much improved lineup will complement their improved pitching staff. They picked up Freddy Garcia, who will be very good, but his numbers will probably suffer for pitching in Philly. He gives up too many HRs as it is, this place won’t help him, but he’ll still be above average. Brett Myers is only 26, he’s held his ERA below 4.00 the last 2 seasons, and was top 5 in Ks the last 2 years. They also have veterans Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton, and Jon Lieber who all make nice pieces to fill out the rotation. Cole Hamels could be the real star of the group, a true potential ace. The bullpen is less of a sure thing. Can Tom Gordon close effectively for another year? If not, Antonio Alfonseca best be ready. Brett Myers has volunteered to close if needed, but they’d have to be crazy to move a guy who can do what he’s done over the season away from the starting rotation.

Atlanta Braves

The Braves are in an interesting place right now. After finally not winning the division, they have managed to improve the team and as always with Atlanta, a lot of this has to do with time passing. Brian McCann may be the most underrated player in baseball – if he wasn’t injured last season we could very well have seen the first time ever a catcher won the batting title in BOTH leagues. As it is, he can hit for average and power with the best of them. Kelly Johnson, a converted OF (but former SS), will lead off if he can figure out how to play 2B, and could be one of the better hitters at that position. If not, the much less promising Martin Prado will play 2B, but he has no power or speed. Ryan Langerhans will have his shot in the LF, while Scott Thorman brings some power to first. Matt Diaz is also a young OF that should see significant time. The Jones brothers, Andruw and Chipper are still near the top in the league for their positions, the question going into every season as to whether Chipper can stay healthy remains. The rotation will consist of Smoltz, Hudson, and Hampton (who will miss the first month of the season) which isn’t young and isn’t always healthy, but could be very effective. Chuck James was very good last season, and if Kyle Davies can be as good as Atlanta thinks he can be, their have an impressive rotation. Finally, unlike last year, they seem to be in good shape in the bullpen area. With the acquisitions of Mike Gonzalez, Rafael Soriano as well as enough meatballs subs to keep Bob Wickman full, they have 3 legitimate closers.

Florida Marlins

The Marlins were a pleasant surprise last year, most people expected them to be horrendous, and instead they were contenders for a large part of the season. Their lineup is young but surprisingly good. Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla, Josh Willingham, Mike Jacobs, and Jeremy Hermida are all very good hitters and this could be a truly great lineup in a year or two. This year it won’t be amazing, but it is on the rise and should be decent. Miguel Cabrera’s still at third base, and if they played in a real baseball town he could be one of the biggest name in the major leagues. He’s only 24 and he hit a measly .339/.430/.568 last season, and was 5th in the majors in VORP. Their rotation still has Dontrelle Willis, unfortunately rising star Josh Johnson (last year, as a rookie, he went 12-7 with a 3.10 ERA) will miss the first two months of the season. But Anibel Sanchez (of no-hitter fame), Scott Olsen and Ricky Nolasco round out a very talented staff of youngsters, with Sergio Mitre at the back end until Johnson comes back. There will be ups and downs with this group, but it is certainly a solid group that could very well be shutting teams down by the end of the season. Of course, with pitchers of this age and experience level, they could be shut down themselves by August. They have no experience in their bullpen, and Tankersly is the closer for now, but other will probably have a chance. If Washington’s pitching wasn’t in shambles with questions everywhere, this is a team they COULD beat. By the time Washington gets its act together, this team could have the best pitching staff in the NL East.

Where do they finish? Well the Phillies and the Mets seem to be the class of the division, but since the Mets may have regressed a bit and the Phillies seem to have improved, we’re going with this finish:

  1. Phillies
  2. Mets
  3. Braves
  4. Marlins
  5. Nationals

If Pedro makes a miraculous comeback as is up to full effectiveness by the All Star break, this perspective could change.

Until next week.


Lineup Shuffle

March 12, 2007

With all the stats talked about in this blog, there is nothing more important than Runs. Well, ok – wins and losses. But runs scored vs runs allowed by a team determines whether they win a game. And they can be analyzed to determine how many games the team should win and lose, over the course of the season. Obviously, the more runs a team scores and the less runs it allows, the more wins it will have. So the question for the Nationals is, how can they make a lineup that will score the most runs? This can be predicted using a statistic called Runs Created (RC). RC is a way to measure how much of the team’s total runs are contributed by an individual. That is to say, it measures how well a player does what he gets paid to do – produce runs.

The most basic version of RC that involves stolen bases (to give Nook Logan a little bit of a break) is still a simple formula:

RunsCreated Formula

For the sake of discussion, let’s use 2006 numbers. If the player doesn’t have 500 ABs, we’ll multiply out their numbers to see what they would have if they did. If the player is hitting leadoff or #2, we’ll make sure the numbers total 550 ABs. This is admittedly a crude way to show it, but it is an attempt to show the fact that those spots will always get more ABs over the course of the season. Additionally, we’ll use the Bill James Handbook projections and the Baseball Prospectus projections for 2007, again increasing everything proportionally to ensure everyone has 500/550 ABs. A few more notes:

  1. Schneider had around 400 ABs in 06 and his projection for 07 will be set around there as well. As a catcher, this is realistic for a full season.
  2. As Guzman and Dmitri Young spent most of all 2006 playing hurt or on the DL, let’s use their 2005 numbers.

Here is the likely possible starting lineup, assuming a hurt Nick Johnson and the kind of wisdom from management that would have let play Guzman and Logan. This is the starting lineup, or close to one, they have used over the last few games in spring training:

Nationals Current Lineup

Here is another possible starting lineup, before the return of Johnson.

Lineup 1a

Several things come to light from this comparison.

  1. Even in the best case scenario for the “real” lineup, they score over 50 runs less than the Nationals Review lineup.
  2. Usually teams have their best players in the 3-4-5 spots, the next best players at the top, and save the worst offensive players for 6-7-8. The Nats are clearly not interested in this theory when they bat Guzman second and Schneider 5th.
  3. The players at the beginning of the lineup get the most ABs, so putting Guzman or Logan up there would just expose players that don’t create as many runs as some of the other guys on the team.
  4. Without trying to, just attempting to make what would seem like a “natural” lineup (power guys in the middle, weaker but good hitter up top, and then decend down from there), this lineup actually works out well for RC. That is, the best players are at 3&4, then at 1&2, then 5 on down to 8. It is almost perfect how it worked, with some confusing around 5,6 and 7. Either way it shows how these statistics often back up, rather than refute, what seems natural to baseball fans.

Now don’t go crying about how Snelling wouldn’t get 500 ABs because he’d probably platoon, how Lee and Broadway would probably split time (and Johnson will be back eventually anyway), how a 4th OF will probably get a decent amount of playing time, regardless of platoons… all of that is irrelevant. And yes, the Nats will score more than 650 runs next season – there are other players on the team who will contribute. The important thing is that if the Nats put out the lineup that they seem to want to use, they won’t be putting their best possible lineup out there.

Finally a look at the Nats ideal lineup, where the Lee/Broadway/Meat Hook argument is moot at Nick Johnson is playing first:

Lineup with Nick

Nick Johnson, get well soon.

Ok that was some serious math (alright not really, but it was more than usual) so next week look for a relatively arithmetic-free NL East preview.


…ending with the outfield

March 5, 2007

Rounding out our analysis of individual players this week, let’s take a look at the players expected to roam the mighty plains of RFK’s outfield this season…

Austin Kearns

As the definite lock to start, he is an above average hitter, he hits with power and although his batting average isn’t pretty, he gets on base. Starting with power, looks may be deceiving. Last season, the former future superstar (7th overall pick in 1998) hit only 24 HRs (not GREAT for a corner outfielder) despite playing in Cincinnati, a hitters park, for much of the year. But his slugging put him 9th in the league for RF with 250 or more PAs. This is pretty impressive for a 26 year old in a power position, especially considering Kearns tanked for the Nats. After moving to Washington, Kearns did not play well, but as the Washington Post pointed out on Monday, he was blindsided by the trade, had to move away from Cincinnati (not far from his parents home in KY) with a pregnant wife without so much as a word of warning. So giving him a break on that, his prospects are impressive. He is a .265 lifetime hitter but has been hurt for much of his career. His OBP is high and his ability to draw walks has improved over time. Bill James Handbook predicts him at .267/.366/.482 next season, which would put him soundly as one of the top hitters on the team and as an above average RF, and he is still only turning 27 this season. Additionally, in terms of fielding, Kearns is better than average, which is something the Nationals could definitely use more of. With his combination of patience and power, Kearns is the most likely player in the Nats OF to have something of a break out season this year.

Nook Logan

The definition of light-hitting, Logan is pencilled-in as the starting CF for the Nats. How long this lasts depends a lot on how he matures as a hitter. While he is fast and will steal some bases, he has never been much of a hitter. Even in the low minors, he never really approached a .300 average in any extended stay. His best hitting came last season, with the Nats, when he hit .300 over the course of 27 games. This is nice but too small of a sample to be really encouraging. It was the only time he had a positive VORP in his major league career. Logan doesn’t walk, which is a detriment because he can’t steal if he doesn’t get on base. And he needs to steal and be a distraction on the bases because he has NO power. He doesn’t even hit many doubles. He’s a slap hitter and it would be more than wishful thinking to believe he will develop more power. Bill James predicts him to struggle a bit .250/.312/.319, numbers that are horrendous for a starting SS, let alone a CF. So with Logan, you’re stuck with a light hitting outfielder that doesn’t get on base much unless he learns to walk more. If Logan can somehow hit .300, he’ll look like a bit like Juan Pierre. That’s not necessarily the best thing for the Nats chances to win games, but somebody signed Pierre for a 5 year/ $45 million deal, so at least Logan could get paid in the future. Just hope the Nats aren’t the ones to cut the check. What Logan does have going for him is speed, which is important to cover the vast expanses of RFK. Not to take anything away, he IS a good fielder. But putting a fast fielder who can’t hit in CF is not as constructive as putting an average speed guy who can, which leads right into…

Ryan Church

Apparently the Nationals are not a fan of him, and he has been a part of trade rumors since July that continue to today. Despite being only an average fielder, he can hit, but he is behind Logan in the starting CF depth chart. If he sticks around he could end up playing in LF, and the Nats would be smart to play him. Last season he hit .276/.366/.526 in just under half a year. He walks and hits for some power. Over the last 2 seasons, he has had 464 ABs and has 19 HRs, which isn’t bad. A full season with 19 HRs would have put him in a tie for 10th place among all MLB CFs in 2006. His power puts Logan to shame, and while he’s not a great defensive CF, he will make up for it with much better hitting. His 2006 VORP of 18.5 placed him at #15 overall for CF, and this is with playing half a season. In a full season it could be expected to see him easily among the top 10 in the position, and ranked 3-5 in the NL behind Beltran, Jones, and possibly Cameron and Edmonds. Regardless of where he plays, Washington should have him in the lineup. If the Nats are so intent on trading him they should let him show his hitting ability for a few months, so they could at least get some value for him.

Wonder Twins

Alex Escobar and Chris Snelling are listed together because they may spend lots of time together with the team doctors, both players have spent more time hurt than healthy. They are both getting a little old to be potential guys (although Snelling is a few years younger) which is what they used to be considered. A healthy Snelling would be a valuable addition to the team. He hit over .300 in the minors every season (except last year), and has some power. His power isn’t special but it exists in some form, and could hit 15-20 HRs if he stays healthy. His big issue is hitting lefties. So far in the majors he has Escobar slidingbeen less appealing than Nook Logan on crutches against southpaws, and must improve that if he’s going to be more than a platoon player. Escobar could be the other half of a platoon, although his splits show that if he is hitting well, might as well give him the chance to bat against everyone. He hit well in just over 30 games with Washington last season, and he does have a little pop, albeit less than Snelling. He is very appealing as a 4th option in the OF, and with Kearns the only one guaranteed to play, could see some significant time. Both Snelling and Escobar could surprise a few people if they manage to stay healthy and play out a full season.

And what remains in the vastness of the RFK grass…

A slew of options are there in the OF, but nothing to get too worked up about. Kory Casto is the most likely guy to be seen next, as a 3B he has looked to good to give up on, so he is moving to the OF. He has raked the ball in the minors – in AA last season he hit .272/.379/.468 with 20 HRs. He probably needs a little more seasoning in AAA before being called up, but he could be the future of LF for this team, and may be up sooner if the other options don’t pan out. Frank Diaz is another prospect who hit very well in A ball in 05 but wasn’t impressive in AA last year. He’s only 23 so he has some time to pick up his game, but he probably won’t be in the majors for a little bit unless he does something remarkable this spring. One more name you may hear alot of is Chris Marrero. He is the #2 prospect in the organization according to Baseball America, and he is supposed to hit. But he’s only 18 so he’s not going to be around for a few more years. He also was drafted as a 3B, and the Nats played him in the OF last season but he did not impress, so the Nats moved him to the place a fielder can do the least damage, 1B (take note, fans of Travis Lee). It’s assumed he can hit anywhere, they just need to find a spot in the field where he’s comfortable.

So there you have it, players preview in 3 weeks, with 4 posts. The visibility of what these players have done will hopefully shed some light for readers on what is really expected of them. Not to pick on Logan, but since he’s fast people may expect him to bat leadoff. But he has shown he doesn’t get on base nearly enough to do that, and unless he proves otherwise someone else needs to take that role. Kearns is another example – hitting 16 of his 24 HRs last season with Cinci, many may think he doesn’t have power and just took advantage of a hitter’s park. But his overall numbers show otherwise. Thanks for reading, until next week…


A visit to the mound

March 1, 2007

The Nationals Review is overwhelmed by the response from being posted as a link in the DC Sports Bog in the Washington Post. Thanks to Dan for linking us there, and thanks everyone for checking us out. Rather than waiting an entire week for the next post, I decided to put up a second one this week, mostly to take advantage of Dan’s link. And for everyone who has been asking “what do these stats really mean?”, there is a definition page coming soon. Or it’s already here, depending on when you are reading this.

Now, continuing with the Nationals 2007 season player preview, on to the sad business of looking at the Nationals pitchers. Manager Manny Acta recently has said he doesn’t know his rotation, although Patterson appears to be lined up for game 1. In the meantime, let’s look at the definites for the staff.

John Patterson

There is little question, he’s a good pitcher. He’s considered the Ace of the staff, and while on most teams he might be considered a #2 or a #3, here he is definitely the #1. His stats are John Pattersonlimited, he’s had one full season, and he was great that year. Unfortunately, even in that “full” season, he was on the 15-day DL. Patts just can’t stay healthy. The last time he was really healthy, he was very good, had close to 200 strikeouts, even pitched a shutout. But 2006 he got hurt again, so what’s to be expected? If he’s healthy, expect a very good pitcher, a potential Ace because he may yet breakout (his age and experience level make the timing perfect). He’s got a very good fastball with some movement, and a nasty curve. Nothing like watching a baseball break a perceptible several feet on television. His ability to pitch well is not questioned, it’s his ability to pitch at all that leaves everyone worried.

Chad Cordero

Cordero has been a terrific closer over the last couple of seasons. There is no doubt he can keep up being great. The only question is whether he will keep this up on the Nats. A top of the line closer is hard to find, and that means Washington should keep him. Or it means they should trade him when a big team with a big farm system (Boston? Atlanta? LAD?) is desperate. If the Nationals were a year away from greatness, they should keep him. If they are several years away, they should dangle him. But they should remember, he is a very good closer, that’s hard to find, so they need to make sure they get something good for him.

Lightning Round

Well, that’s it. Everything else is a question mark. But there are some other guys that are sure to pitch this season. A couple of potential starters include Shawn Hill and Mike O’Connor. This duo has some striking similarities, at least in elbow strength. Hill started out dominant last year, ended terribly, and hurt his elbow knocking himself out for the season – and that was all before July. He’s got great movement in his pitches, and he has been very good everywhere he’s stopped in the minors. And he throws into more ground balls than flys, which is good. He’s an “upside” guy, that the Nats are hoping will break out. After Tommy John surgery, 2006 was good, he made some great starts, and pitched well against the Yankees, LA, and Philly. His Ks/BBs ratio, which is something that statheads love to look at to project pitchers ability in the majors (say what you will about Billy Beane and the A’s, he sure can pick young pitchers), was quite good in the minors. 4/1 is considered very good, he was closer to 3/1, but still not bad. He is not a real strikeout guy, but he has very good control, and doesn’t walk many. O’Connor was even more exciting last season, as he didn’t allow more than 3 ERs in his first 9 starts, but his K/BB of 1.45 in that time is not so impressive. Then he got rocked when pitching with a sore elbow (sound familiar?), pitched well again at the end of the season, then had surgery. He gave up quite a few HRs in his short time pitching and gives up many more fly balls than grounders (RFK may have helped his numbers as fly balls tend to die there) and his control isn’t perfect. He may not have the upside of Hill, but he’s shown he can pitch in the majors and pitch well. He’s going to open the season on the DL, so when he’s back he’ll probably come out of the pen for a while, but as this rotation will be in flux, he should get his chance. These two pitchers have shown flashes of being special but each has yet to put it together for a full season. If Washington hires an assistant coach in charge of elbows, they could have 2 decent starters on their hands for several years.

The rest of the potential staff is a mix of the not-so-new guys, the potential guys, the mysterious “I’ve think I’ve heard of that guy” guys and others. Tim Redding has had one good major league season so he’s penciled in to start, but he puts too many people on base to be great. Once a promising young pitcher with the Cards, Jason Simontacchi is still trying to make a major league comeback after shoulder surgery in 2004. Jerome Williams was once touted as Maddox-style control pitcher… he has consistently thrown too many walks in the majors to succeed like that. Billy Traber is yet another Nats pitcher that is older than most people think (28), and he’s also had Tommy John surgery. He gets hit a lot, but doesn’t walk many people, and he can strike people out. With some good fielders behind him, he may be decent.

The relievers are also a mystery, and there will be a good amount of movement between the pen and the rotation. Luis AyalaLuis Ayala was great and then had elbow surgery, so nobody knows what he’ll be. But if he’s as good as he used to be, expect an ERA under 3, very few walks, and a very good feeling if Washington’s winning to start the 8th inning. Acta has stated he doesn’t want to overwork Ayala, which is good news for someone who should have a bright future. Ryan Wagner came over with Lopez and Kearns and was once supposed to be a top notch closer. Not likely, but he does give up a lot of grounders (good) and pitched ok last season and at 24, he’s still young enough to mature. Micah Bowie is 32 years old has never showed much promise, floated around the majors… and then pitched very well in AAA and the majors last year. He’s gotta prove that his good numbers weren’t a result of a small sample size, because eventually if you’re mediocre, the breaks catch up with you (Aaron Small). Matt Chico could be good, he’s still young as well, but he gives up a lot of fly balls. He has a nasty habit of falling behind in the count and throwing it right down the middle to try to throw a strike. Maybe in RFK those will end up as long flyouts. Brett Campbell pitched his way up from single-A to the Nats last year and over the course of that season had 16 saves and an ERA under 3.50 in the minors.

There are more pitchers that will be seen, this is just a taste. But rather than examine the few hundred potentials, it may be better to wait until Acta sets his roster, and comment from there. Next week let’s examine the outfield, see where they are strong, and where they are making mistakes…


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