Say Hello to The Hardball Times

April 30, 2008

Exciting news around here, John Beamer of The Hardball Times interviewed me and used some of the pictures of the stadium that I took in his article. I am excited about the opportunity to work with such a great site. Here is the link to the article:

Say Hello to Nationals Park

For anyone that’s surfed here from that article, here’s a few Nats Review posts to check out.

And be sure to look at the always popular Nats of the 19th century page.


Lannan’s Success

April 28, 2008

John Lannan has been very impressive this season, especially his last two outings. He pitched 7 innings in each game, and despite having a 7/7 K/BB split and giving up 9 hits, he hasn’t allowed an ER. The question, then, is what has caused this to happen? Well first of all, a WHIP of 1.14 over those two games, whole nothing you would expect to lead to shutouts, is still pretty good. Over those 2 games, opponents are batting .180 off of him. So the hits aren’t there, and the walks are ok, too. But there aren’t many strikeouts. A K/9 of 4.50 isn’t exactly anything to write home about, he had better numbers there at the beginning of the season when he was allowing runs.

One of the things that has helped Lannan out has been his propensity to give up ground balls. As anyone who has watched Chien-Ming Wang over the last few seasons will tell you, you don’t need to strike people out as long as you don’t walk them, and you get most of them to pound the ball into the ground. One thing that Lannan has done well all season is induce ground balls. Every website you find has different numbers for this stat, some go by ground outs versus air outs. Others go by ground balls versus fly balls, which isn’t only outs. I’m not really sure of all the differences in how they keep the stats, but I figure there is probably constancy in where people stack up, so I used 3 different ones at once, from espn.com, cbs.sportsline.com, and mlb.com.

I’ve compared Lannan’s ratios to the other starters on the team. Also, for reference, I’ve compared them to two guys playing now, Wang and Webb, who are known as groundball pitchers. For those two, I’ve used their career ratios, just because it gives a better assessment of their true abilities.

And for those of you who prefer to see it graphically

So what does this mean? Well, not too much yet, it’s really early in the season, pitchers only have about 6 starts. But we do see that Lannan is able to compare favorably with the other starters on how easily he has induced ground balls. Those ground balls have a much tougher time leaving the ballpark than those flyballs, so that is good. And with a good infield defense, it is definitely even easier to win when you get opponents to hit grounders. We’ll have to see how he does over a full season, but regardless, he is pitching well now, and this ratio is definitely a part of it.

It’s interesting to see that Odalis Perez is also doing a very good job of keeping the ball on the ground. Looking back at his career numbers, he is usually good at this, but not nearly this good. It also continues to highlight the enigma that is Tim Redding, who is a fly ball pitcher and other than one start, doesn’t strike hitters out. I hope when the ball starts jumping in the hot summer months, he can keep up his great start.

Battery Mate Help

Another interesting thing about Lannan’s last two starts is that Wil Nieves has been his catcher. Athletes in general, and pitchers especially, are a superstitious bunch. Not that I blame them, if I was doing what they did, where a millimeter or a mph can make the difference between a strikeout or a home run, I’d be pretty superstitious, too. If Nieves make Lannan comfortable, so be it, Nieves should catch, right? Well, yes and no. He is 30 and has only been in the majors for a little bit, mostly because he isn’t able to hit major league pitching. He is an incredibly gifted defensive catcher, which is why at his age he’s still getting a shot at the majors. As for hitting, in 166 career ABs, he’s hit .187/.229/.259, and while his minor league numbers are better, his power is almost nonexistent. Fortunately, this season he has hit .348/.423/.478, inexplicable as it may be, its there. Most likely this will go down significantly. Don’t be fooled by the power, he’s had so few PAs (23), it’s all singles and one HR. Even his high OBP is from only 3 walks.

Now over the course of the season, lets say he continues to have some ability to take a walk, put his OBP-AVG at .050 for the season, and his ISO is stays where it is, at .130. As a .300 hitter, he’s quite effective at .300/.350/.430. Drop him down to .275, which is likely high for him, and he’s hitting .275/.325/.405. This is acceptable for someone of his defensive ability, but it too is unrealistic. Over his last few seasons as a minor leaguer, his ISO has been at .100 or below. Drop the average a little bit down, and you looking at something in the order of .265/.315/.390 or whatever it may be… it’s replacement level or worse, nothing you’d want playing every day, or even every 5th day if you can help it.

What’s most important for the Nats in this equation is to have Lannan succeed the way he has over the last few starts. But rather than doing so by having a catcher who can’t hit at all taking up a roster spot, pitching coach Randy St. Claire needs to figure out what it is that makes Lannan so comfortable with Nieves, and try to duplicate that with other pitchers. If every time Nieves catches, Lannan throws a shutout, then he should stay in, but that’d be some sort of record. In the meantime, while Nieves is hitting, it’s fine, let him play. His walk off home run was unexpected but much appreciated on Friday night. It was his first major league homer and great timing at that. But once this hot streak goes away, the best thing for this team is to have Lannan pitching effectively while Nieves isn’t behind the plate.


Observations on my second visit

April 24, 2008

I went to my second game at Nationals Park last night, it was another barn burner. And by that I mean the Nats were in the game for 4 1/2 innings. Actually Redding did alright, and the 3-run 5th that pretty much put the game away was a combination of errors, walks, and dinky little hits that should have never been hits. Then again, depending on Ray King to field grounders is never wise.

  • The crowd was large, and there were a fair number of Mets fans there. Not much more than I expected for a team that plays less than 5 hours away, in a city comprised of transients, to watch a home team that’s been around for less than 4 years. Anyway, the Nats fans were definitely louder, despite plenty of cheering from many many Mets fans. I’d say 75% capacity seemed about right, which isn’t bad at all considering what we’ve seen the first few months.
  • The “O” that is yelled at many area events during the Star Spangled Banner was as inaudible last night as at any local sporting event I’ve been to. Thank god, I find it annoying to mildly offensive to interrupt the singing of the National Anthem, and extremely offensive that it is an Orioles cheer.
  • Nobody sits in them fancy pants seats behind the plate. It’s insane how empty it looks there. The rest of the stadium was actually crowded, but that area was dead. In the 5th inning they should start bringing people from the 400 section down to the premier seats where tickets were never cashed in that day.
  • Sections 237-239, above the home bullpen, were completely empty. There may have literally been 3 or 4 people there, but that’s it. It seems, like much of the stadium, seats that aren’t worth what they’re charging, and people have already figured it out. I’m not gonna get into the prices too much, but they gotta do a better job here.
  • The food lines at the upstairs concourse were incomprehensible. Here is a brief rundown of what I observed when I got close to the place where you order
  1. People behind counter yell “Who’s next?!?!”
  2. Several customers look around not sure if they are next.
  3. Customer who is next actually is on a cell phone discussing with someone that is not present what his order should be, stands in way of everyone else ordering, finally telling them to go around, but still physically standing in the way.
  4. Finally someone orders something.
  5. Person behind counter yells to another employee, who customer has already passed in line, to grab their drink, as customer didn’t realize they were supposed to order the drink there.
  6. Someone else comes up and gets in a verbal altercation with person behind counter about who should be taking orders.
  7. Person behind counter yells to others behind the counter about the impending lack of french fries, others behind the counter respond quickly by staring blankly.
  8. Customer orders food to go with improperly ordered drink.
  9. Customer gets drink and food shuffles 1.5 feet to get on line for cashier #1.
  10. Behind cashier #1, cashier #2 waits with no line, tries in vain to get the attention of customer to come there.
  11. Customer waits until they are next in line for cashier before seeing the open cashier #2.
  12. Author of blog further holds up line by asking everyone to “do it again, so I can write it down this time.”
  • Seriously, they have plenty of people, but some of the food stands aren’t run very well yet.
  • The ramp in the back of the stadium, behind home plate, is a 30 hour ascent to the top level. Take the escalators or the other ramps, I think that one is twice as long.
  • I sat in the 300 level (320 actually) and I think these seats may be one of the better deals in the stadium.
  • I love the scoreboard, and they do lots of great things, but in the 5th inning or so I noticed I couldn’t locate what the batter had done in his earlier ABs that day. I found it a little annoying, as I haven’t kept a scorecard at a baseball game in 15 years.
  • Johan Santana can HIT!
  • It’s hard to win a game where you walk Brian Schneider and then Johan Santana on 9 or 10 pitches.
  • BLastings had plenty hit towards him, and despite some hard hit liners in his vicinity, he seemed to have no problems out there with judging.
  • It took me 50 minutes to get to Bethesda from the Park, which I don’t think is bad at all. Walking up to the metro was scary, it looked like it would take forever. But everything moved relatively quickly and we were outta there way faster than I thought. Really no worse than a commute from 75th and Riverside to 161st and River Ave.
  • Wily Mo hit the ball well, and Guzman continues to make me believe, uh, something.
  • Who was more surprised the Wil Nieves got two hits off of Johan? Me, Johan, or Wil Nieves?
  • I have a serious complaint about the condiment stands. Every time I want onions out of those onion and relish dispensing stations, I have to go to 3 or 4 different stations before I get one that gives me onions. Is the demand for onions so great? Are they rationing onions like rice at Costco? Has my girlfriend somehow called ahead to Nationals Park in order to limit my raw onion intake?
  • Between Tim Redding, Odalis Perez, and John Lannan, this team may have put together the start of an actual rotation. Now if only Shawn Hill could pitch well tonight…

The Hitting is Bad, But Don’t Worry

April 21, 2008

…so is the pitching! Right now the Nationals rank very low in the NL in most important pitching categories:

Runs Allowed per Game – 14th
ERA – 14th
BB/G – 12th
HRs – 15th
Ks -3rd

The only thing they look good in is Ks, but that has alot to do with this weekend, in which Tim Redding and Odalis Perez this weekend combining for 17 strikeouts. Before Friday they only ranked 10th in the league. The poor pitching numbers come along with very good starts from those two, Redding has an ERA of 3.27, and Perez is at 3.38, both better than most people probably expected. It’s the relievers and the other starters that seem to be an issue. As impressive as Redding and Perez have been, I’m not sure they will stay this effective, and I really don’t their their ERAs will get even better. I think with Chico’s propensity for giving up HRs, this may be his streaky self. Lannan has been effective at times, he may be able to pitch well consistently, which would be a boost. The relievers should do better, which would offset any dip from Perez and Redding, but with this group of starters, I think we’re going to be seeing this with them all season. So unless Shawn Hill is going to pitch all year (please pitch all year Shawn Hill), and Lannan can be consistently good, it’s hard to see them improving here.

In terms of the hitting numbers, so far it has been a similar story:

Runs Scored per Game – 14th
HR – 13th
Hits – 16th
BBs – 7th
AVG – 16th
OBP – 14th (tied)
SLG – 15th
OPS+ – 16th (tied)

First of all, Guzman and Johnson are hitting well, and Guzman hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down from last spring. Until he does, let’s assume he isn’t going to. Milledge started out strong but has tapered off a bit, his OBP is still great, but on Saturday his SLG dipped below .400. He is still better than the rest of the offense, where everyone else is playing pretty poorly. But there is some good news here. Belliard is usually the picture of consistency – he’s hit between .272 and .290 each of the last 5 years (of course 6 years ago he hit .211, but let’s not think about that) – so I’d be surprised if he doesn’t get back around .270 before all is said and done. Zimmerman looks completely lost at the plate, he’s swinging at the first pitch every time, and I watch him swing at stuff 3 feet outside a few nights ago. This is actually good news – he’s too good of a hitter for that to be anything permanent. He’s just pressing now and the smart money says he’ll be fine. Kearns should come out of his slump sooner or later as well, but he’s not there yet. Despite hitting 2 HRs in the last week, he still only went 4 for 20 in those games with 1 walk. Wily Mo has really just starting swinging, so he will probably need a few weeks to get on track. So, unlike the pitching, there are reasons to believe these hitting woes are nothing more than a slump.

Finally, let’s not try and panic too much. It’s been a total of 19 games. Sure, you don’t like what you see so far from all but 3 hitters. But Kearns hit a HR yesterday and his SLG jumped 50 points. The sample size is just very small right now. Give them another couple of weeks, I truly believe the hitting will come around to respectability. If it doesn’t, then management should look into making changes with the coaching staff, and the most likely candidate for such a change would be the hitting coach Lenny Harris.


Chad Cordero’s Here to Stay

April 17, 2008

I mentioned last season that the time to deal Cordero would be sooner rather than later. Without going too much into the reasons – the team has other capable closers, good teams are often one solid reliever away from feeling like they can win it all so he has a high trade value, he’s never been the most solid numbers guy (WHIP, K/BB, K/9) but has so many saves that people may ignore that and overpay, and the last thing the Nats need in 2008 to build towards a better future is a solid closer. Even if they didn’t trade him right away, his contracts is over after 2009. If he continues to perform well, he may be overpriced for the team, especially if one of the many young pitchers steps up to fill the role. If he doesn’t, then what’s the point in having him?

Unfortunately, the time to trade him may have just passed. After his shoulder problems, he hasn’t recovered and his velocity is down. I’ve read that his fastball was in the low 80s, I’ve also read that the TV radar gun indicated he never topped 79. He claims it was because he didn’t get enough time to warm up, but the Washington Post says that it was much worse than that:

alarms rang out throughout the organization. Cordero’s warm-up pitches were so shockingly slow that Manager Manny Acta and pitching coach Randy St. Claire visited the mound before he began the inning. His first pitch, a fastball, registered at 76 mph on the scoreboard radar gun. It took him 15 pitches to top 80 mph. He topped out at 82 mph.

If that doesn’t scare you, you are much braver than I am. My point is not that Cordero is finished as a closer. I am not a doctor, and while shoulder problems can be terrible, I know that players sometimes just need time. Whether that means putting him on the DL or getting him more work… I have no idea. Now that he has been hurt this way, his trade value is permanently damaged. Even if he fully recovers, GMs will have this injury in mind if they want to trade for him. I don’t believe that the Nationals front office could have predicted that he would have been hurt like this. But they had an opportunity to get good value for him last season and this past offseason, and didn’t try it.

My point is this: When you are a team that is much more than one or two players away from contending, when you are trying to build an organization with depth and talent, and you have a desirable commodity in a player that you may not even be able to hold onto by the time you can contend, you must trade that player. It is nothing against Cordero, he has been one of my favorite players on the team for a few years. But if he is a very good player who can’t help us win in 2010 himself, he should be dealt for players who can.


Attendence isn’t Surprising, but They Could Do More

April 14, 2008

The Crowd is Thinning Faster than Your Hair

The first game sold out of course, but the second game in the new stadium was not so crowded. There have been people a little worried by this. It’s a new stadium, and in towns like Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Cleveland, the new stadiums (for cellar dwelling teams) all had more fans on day 2 than Washington. In fact, according to Capital Punishment, we set a record for lack of attendance. I am not big on the despair for this problem, for two reasons. First of all, the Reds, Indians, and Pirates have all resided in their respective cities for at least 90 years each. The Nats are working on their 4th. This is a big difference, in that fans are much more interested in seeing the new stadium for a team they have followed for generations than for a new team who also got a new stadium. For alot of fans, the team is the new thing, the stadium is just nice. Another reason I’m not concerned is that cold April weekday games don’t really have a big draw. Games at Yankee Stadium this time of year don’t look too crowded mid-week either (except for this season, when it is the last chance people will have to go to the stadium). Also, playing the Marlins doesn’t help with ticket sales either. People aren’t quite lining up to get a glimpse of Hanley Ramirez. Not yet, at least.

But What Can They Do?

Which brings me to a possible solution for the mid-week doldrums. When I wanted to buy a ticket package for the Nationals this year, I saw the minimum size was 20 games. 20 games! That’s a quarter of the home games. If you wanted Yankees tickets this season, you could have bought 15, 13, 12, 11, and even 8 game packages. The Nats would be smart to do something like this for several reasons. First of all, not many people are going to want to buy a 20 game package to a team that isn’t going to sell out many games this season. So the smaller deals adds incentive to people on the fence to buy games. They think “Oh, I only have to buy 12? Well, if I can’t go to all of them, I only have to try to sell off tickets to 2 games. That shouldn’t be too bad.” I wasn’t about to buy 20 games myself, for fear of my schedule not allowing me to go to more than half. Good luck trying to get my money back by selling the tickets I can’t use for a team that isn’t going to win.

The other nice thing about the small ticket packages is that if more people buy ticket packages, in any size, more people will go to mid-week games. That’s because if someone buys a ticket package, they’re much more likely to go to a mid-week game when a few of those tickets are forced upon them as part of the package. If they are only buying individual tickets, they’ll go when they want, which evidence suggests is the weekend. So with the smaller packages, there would be more people buying the packages, and consequently more people going to mid-week games.

Speaking of Giving Fans Incentive to Attend…

There I was, watching the Royals-Yankees game last week on my beloved MLB Extra Innings package, when I saw a local KC commercial that got me really excited. No, not the one for the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library Museum, North of Route 70. Actually, I’m talking about the commercial for the Royals game on April 12th where they GAVE AWAY JERSEYS to the first 20,000 fans. Look at those suckers!

I’m sure those weren’t the $80 replica jerseys, but still, this is an awesome giveaway. Could you imagine showing up to the stadium and getting a jersey? Well if you lived in Kansas City, it’s a reality. I scoured the Nats promotional giveaway schedule and the closest thing I could find to anything being as cool as a jersey giveaway was… nothing. Bobbleheads are nice, but they aren’t the same at this. T-shirt Tuesdays are too ambiguous for me to know, alhough I am assuming they will be smattered with corporate sponsors on the back. Nothing like a shirt that says EASTERNS MOTORS bigger than ZIMMERMAN. The Nats really don’t have anything that compares to this. Unless they are giving away laser-rocket arms on Roberto Clemente day.


Pictures of Nationals Park

April 10, 2008

Just got back from the Wednesday night 10-4 debacle loss to the Marlins. I don’t have much to say about the game, Bergmann looked strong until I went for food. Then it was 5-1. I took alot of pictures, and I know I’m a little late on the whole “what does the new stadium look like” thing, but, whatever, I thought it would be nice to post them. The stadium is beautiful inside, it’s laid out nice, the views seem great from everywhere, and the weather was great, so other than the Nats sucking, I really enjoyed it! I’m not going to have alot to write about each picture, just a basic caption below for most. Enjoy.

View of the Capitol from just out of the Metro

The Entrance from just out of the Metro

Centerfield gate

View from centerfield right by the entrance

The Pressbox is so high up

Some pretty good food choices, I still have quite a few foods on my list of things to try that I haven’t gotten to yet. Saw some guys munching on wings in the section over that looked real good. Also reports are that the cheesesteak stand makes a decent sammich.

The food at Ben’s was delicious… but you can get Ben’s Hot Dogs or Half Smokes (and Chili) all over the park at most hot dog stands.

Nice view from the LF concourse. Pretty much the entire concourse has great open views of the field, so you never feel like you are away from the game, even when you are getting food.

As you walk around the concourse, there are a couple of posters with the history of the game in DC. I think it could have been bigger, there is lots of room around that section, but its still a nice touch. The two big players at the bottom of the page are Walter Johnson on the left, and Josh Gibson on the middle-right.

View from the RF concourse.

Oh that scoreboard. It’s like my HDTV if Paul Lo Duca hooked it up with steroids.

There’s a section with batting cages and pitching cages. Looked pretty fun, I may have to play next time.

MLB The Show on Playstation 3 if you want to play. Colm loves it.

People rocking out at Guitar Hero III

The view from the Red Porch is nice, too.

The always exciting LF bullpen.

Future star Andrew Miller doing some fielding drills and soft toss in the OF before the game. Behind him stands someone who is clearly not a professional baseball player, or David Wells.

The upper level center field concourse is huge and open air. It’s real nice, and even has a Five Guys (it’s the little red sign just to the left of the big #10 in the background). The only picture I got of it was the very front, an area with another great view called the Barpen.

After a hard day of creating a new country, Jefferson and Washington are off to race their giant heads around a baseball field. It makes perfect sense to me.

And they’re off!

Jefferson wins!

Another great view, they seem to be everywhere.

A little over 23,000 is a decent but not impressive crowd.

Amezaga lines out to end the top of the 9th. Don’t worry Amezaga, everyone had left by then, so nobody saw it.

Aaaand that’s game. Oh well, maybe next time, eh?

On the way out we stopped by the team store. Nice Mt. Rushmore inside.

Hope you enjoyed the pictures of Nationals Park. I had a great time just soaking in the new stadium, and my only other observation is that the crowd was real quiet, even in the first few innings when the Nats were winning a close one. It may take some time, but a little noise from the fans would be cool.


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