Only 3 days left!

July 28, 2008

No firesale here. In fact, the Nats seem content if people don’t even come in the store, it seems. There is not that much on the roster to trade at this point, I admit. There are guys like Kearns, who may be near the bottom of his value, and he’s still pretty young, so they figure he’s either a piece of the future, or part of a bigger trade. Guzman just got re-upped, at a deal, so signing him right now may be problematic. The relief core had a tough beginning to the season, but they’re not this bad, so maybe it’s not time to dump them. But there are guys that can go. People who read this regularly know I had a great deal of respect for the opinion of ESPN’s Keith Law. I don’t always agree with him, but I like to hear what he has to say. On the Bonifacio for Rauch deal, he said (link is for ESPN Insiders only):

For Washington, getting just Emilio Bonifacio for Rauch has to be seen as a letdown, although it’s better than their trade-deadline results from 2007…Flipping Rauch for Bonifacio, even if the return seems disappointing, is absolutely better than committing to Rauch for another two years, especially given his health history and the unpredictable year-to-year performance of relievers.

Yes yes and yes on that. There really is no need to hold on to guys who aren’t part of the solution. Fill up the minor league roster. Law also criticizes re-signing Guzman. While I don’t hate the deal, I really think they could have shopped him around to a contendor for something else. Now, I am not hating Guzman playing SS for this team right now, and he isn’t as terrible as he was early in the contract. So trading him for little… maybe that isn’t worth it, but again, they need to ask themselves if Guzman is going to eventually be part of a playoff run. I suspect not. As Law again says wisely “Bad teams should not be locking up their mediocrities to long-term deals, but rather should be looking to convert them all into any kind of young players.” THAT, I couldn’t have put more perfectly.

So ask yourself “Do you want more trades like Bonifacio for Rauch?” If you mean young prospects that may not turn out to be stars, but are likely future major leaguers in exchange for someone who likely will never be part of a contending Nationals team, the answer should be obvious.

Meanwhile

The Nationals keep losing. I mostly blame it on being outscored. It seems they give up more runs than they score. That just gives them fits when it comes to tallying wins. Go figure. As they say, runs scored and runs allowed are a better predictor of wins and losses in the future than actual wins and losses are. If this confuses you…

…there is a book called Bridging the Statistical Gap out there that a fellow blogger Eric J. Seidman has written that goes over this, and other, baseball stats. Here’s what he says about it:

it is designed to be a sabermetrics 101 type of book for more casual fans intimidated by statistical analysis but still looking to get their feet wet. Nobody reading will be overwhelmed but will walk away with a greater understand of not only numbers in general, but also the history of certain stats, what they do and do not tell us, and which stats/metrics DO tell us what we seek. Oh, and the foreword was written by Jayson Stark, so it’s a legit book.

Plus, the book’s cover looks pretty cool.


The Trade Deadline Approaches…

July 24, 2008

and all the Nats have dealt has been a player that can be very useful for 2 more seasons. Not that I totally mind the deal, but I’d like to see more to aid in the rebuilding. Here are some other guys that could be moved:

1 Paul Lo Duca – The guy wants to catch, would be happy to leave to a contender, his cell phone is TOAST, and he can still hit a little bit. With Posada unable to sit behind the dish until at least 2009, the Yankees are desperate for a catcher, and Lo Duca can provide more offense than Jose Molina. Plus, if they believe in that leadership sort of thing, maybe they want this guy to help inspire them to the playoffs. Although that’s stepping on the captain’s territory, it may not go over so well. Gary Sheffield and David Wells aside, the team tends to believe in being very boring when talking to the media, saving tirades and inspirational talks and all that stuff for closed door, inside the clubhouse sort of thing. Regardless, Lo Duca is one of the few available catchers that can actually start without being a total drag on the offense. My bet is that this is who the Yankees end up getting to fill in for Posada.

2, 2a Tim Redding and Odalis Perez – Tim’s pitched more than 6 innings exactly 3 times this season, his ERA isn’t great, and his ratios aren’t the prettiest things. But he also has pitched well enough to keep the Nats in games for most of his starts, and the team is 15-6 in games that he starts. If not for the putrid offense, would probably be at least 10-4 instead of 7-4. He has some value on the market, and is one of the two starting pitchers that would make sense in a trade. Odalis is the other one, and, despite his 3-7 record, he has a better ERA than Redding. At 3.99, that first number may entice some GMs. His freedom at the end of this season hurts his trade value as much as Redding’s, but he has shown more consistency than Tim this season. The chances of moving either these guys is probably under 50-50, but since they are gone at the end of the year anyway, really any fair deal may be worth it.

3 Ronnie Belliard – Ronnie is 33, he signed through next season at just under $2M, so despite the uproar about the wisdom of signing him “long term”, it’s really not much at all. Since he’s come back from injury on June 10th, he is hitting .252/.352/.514 with 7 HRs in 128 PAs. His bat still works, and there are definitely some teams out there that could use him. A team with money who don’t have someone that can both hit and play second base could really use a guy like Belliard. Playoff contenders that fit this description include the Dodgers, the Mets, and a team Belliard won the WS with, the Cardinals.

4 Willie Harris – While the MASN crew may think this is blasphemy, Harris may be of use to some teams. I don’t know that there is much to get in return for him, but his value is probably at an all time high right now. Personally, I think he’s the kind of guy that can really help a team, including the Nats, so I have no problem keeping him. But he is 30, and if someone will give you an actual prospect for him, take it. I don’t expect a trade to get done here, and I’m ok with that.

5 Felipe Lopez – Oh, if only…


Rauch Out, Bonifacio In

July 23, 2008

If anyone hadn’t heard, the Nats finally pulled a trade. It wasn’t Belliard, or Lo Duca, or even Guzman (who they actually extended 2 more years). It was Jon Rauch, one of their most effective players this year, who happens to be locked down until the end of 2010. It wasn’t the ideal person to deal, but at the same time, I really believe that a closer is one of the final pieces a team needs when trying to get good.

The trade was Rauch for a young second baseman in the Diamondback organization, Emilio Bonifacio. Bonifacio will at the very least be fun to watch. He will be the fastest guy on this team if he makes it up any time soon. He is speedy.

Whenever we look at prospects, since I don’t have any scouts phone number’s on speed dial, Baseball America is the place to be. So, first of all, he was ranked the #6 prospect in the Arizona farm system. His biggest strength is his speed, he can really fly, he was the fastest player in the system. Additionally, he is a very good fielder at second base, named as their best defensive infielder. He has good hands and a very good arm. Their biggest knock on him are two things we hate to hear: lack of pitch selection and lack of power. His ability to walk has improved, and it will need to continue to improve if he is to be a good hitter.

My take on him is that he can potentially really help this team. This year, he is hitting .302/.348/.387 in AAA. If that power develops at all, and his eye continues to improve, I’d be happy to take a .300/.360/.400 player who can steal 50 bases and play stellar middle infield. He is the prototypical leadoff hitter if he can get that OBP up enough, and power would be a little less important for him. He has drawn comparisons to Luis Castillo, although he doesn’t walk as much. I’ve seen Orlando Hudson comparisons, but he doesn’t have that kind of power (that may be more fielding-related). More likely, if it works out, he is what Felipe Lopez should have been when he came over, but also with a glove.

In terms of the trade itself, I am really surprised the Nats didn’t get more. This isn’t exactly a haul for an effective closer, locked up til the end of 2010 for $5 million. It’s cheap for a closer, and maybe they should have held out for a bit, or maybe even waited til the offseason. This is not be a terrible trade, but I think we got the short end of it. At the same time, Bonifacio is more than just a middling prospect. And they really need some position player prospects. Additionally, neither Belliard or Lopez are a long term solution there, at least this guy has a chance to be one. I was just thinking Bonifacio and 1 or 2 other guys may have been possible.

What would be really exciting, the way this could work out best, is if Bonifacio gets on base enough to be an effective leadoff hitter and is another cornerstone to what would become, with him and Zimmerman, a very good defensive infield.

Now if someone would just give up a good  young SS prospect for Chad Cordero


Zimmerman, Kearns 2 Years Ago, Return

July 21, 2008

More good news on the hitting front. The Nats just scored again, they are now leading the Braves 37-6! In all honesty, this has been an incredible weekend for the Nats struggling offense, something to give them a little confidence and show that they aren’t a complete joke. Willie Harris has been playing lights out – if he wasn’t a 30 year old journeyman, I’d even say “maybe they’ve found their leadoff hitter” but I’m not going to say something like that. Guzman and Flores continue to impress, while this weekend other players decided to actually get on base as well. But the really good news…

Ryan Zimmerman is set to rejoin the team today. Despite a ridiculous weekend in which they scored 6, 8 and then 15 runs, this team still needs as much help as it can get on the offensive side. Don’t believe me? Reference the first 95 games of the season. Zimmerman, in a few rehab games in the minors, seems to have hit fine. He went 7 for 25, 3 of those hits were for extra bases, and he also actually had 2 walks. Now he still may be a bad swing and a miss away from being hurt again, I really don’t know. But if he is healthy, they can play him up in the majors or they can play him in the minors, so they might as well play him with the big league club. My only fear is that he is going to hurt himself again, or play hurt and do some more damage.

Meanwhile, Austin Kearns seems to have found something since his return off the DL. I don’t know what it is, perhaps some sort of magical talisman, but whatever it is, he is hitting again. Now, let’s not get too excited, he has, after all, been back for exactly 13 games so far. But in those 13 games, he’s reached base safely in 11 of them, has 4 doubles and 2 HRs, and is hitting .327/.414/.531. Again, in just over 50 PAs, this isn’t alot to judge him on. However, it does show that the talent is still there, and maybe it indicates that his elbow was bothering him all year, rather than just before he was put on the DL. Who knows, in 2 weeks he has brought his OPS up .090, and while I don’t expect these numbers to stick, perhaps we’ll get something closer to his last 2 weeks that his first 2 months for the rest of the year? The trade deadline is probably too soon (July 31) to think about dealing him considering how he started the year, but if he hits well for the remainder of the year, there will be teams interested.


All Star Game Notes

July 16, 2008

Just a few observations from the All Star festivities

  • Starting about 8:45 EST is completely unnecessary. It was a fast moving game until the late innings, and it still wasn’t going to end until close to midnight, even without the extra innings.
  • Guzman made a few really nice plays. Joe Morgan actually echoed my thought by saying “Cristian Guzman made a few plays with two outs and the winning run at third, and they were not easy plays.” Sooo, does anyone want to trade for him? I like the guy, but he could help out a team, and I feel like he’s played well enough over the last few years that the Nats could get something in return. Either way, he should be the national spokesman for laser eye surgery.
  • There were a few noticeable missed calls – Tejada didn’t tag Kinsler on the stolen base to name one. If the throw beat you last night, you were out, no matter what.
  • You gotta read the article about Ichiro’s pre-game speech.
  • Whatever Papelbon said was completely overblown by the media. Then again, so is his performance this year. He has, at best, the 4th best numbers for a closer in the AL right now behind Mariano, Soria, and Nathan. Also he has 4 blown saves. Yet everyone thinks he’s unhittable. Not that he’s bad, either.
  • Yankees fans should boo every Red Sox player, but the threats to Papelbon’s wife are unacceptable. HOWEVA, if anyone thinks the same exact thing wouldn’t happen the same way in Boston to a Yankee player, they are kidding themselves.
  • Josh Hamilton is probably going to get more votes for MVP than he deserves. He is great, and a super story. But he’s hitting .310/.367/.552 with 21 HRs and 7 SBs right now (no complaints there).
  • The interesting thing about being a Yankees for, or a Red Sox fan, for that matter, is when they see someone like Josh Hamilton, they can say “how can we get THAT guy?” For Nats fans, and most other teams, it’s more like “I wish we had someone similar to that guy.”
  • Comparatively, his teammate Milton Bradley is hitting .316/.440/.610 with 19 HRs and 4 SBs. And how about Ian Kinsler – .337/.397/.548 with 14 HRs and 23 SBs. Of all of them, I’d vote for Kinsler. Most people still underestimate the value of a quality middle infielder who hits like a very good outfielder.
  • Will the three errors and the terrible plate performance allow the Nats trade for Dan Uggla? He would immediately become the best healthy player on the team, and with Zimmerman healthy, he’s probably second best player on the roster (although I really that Dukes will eventually hit better than both of them).
  • Speaking of trades, the Nats have about a dozen pitching prospects and their hitting prospects consist of Chris Marrero, Michael Burgess, and Justin Maxwell. Maxwell is a Mike Cameron type, but he is a longshot for real success in the majors. Marrero and Burgess are showing potential. Maybe trading a pitching prospect or two for a hitting prospect or two is a good idea.
  • Back to the All Star weekend – will anyone remember that whats his name won the HR derby?
  • I am done with the derby needing to be All Stars or defending champions, the league just needs to pick people. Besides what Rick Reilly pointed out – that every participant was white, there were some glaring omissions. Forget about ARod, how about Giambi (who has 19 HRs so far this year) in Yankee Stadium with the short porch? If I could have picked the group, off the top of my head, I would have liked to see Giambi, Adam Dunn, Grady Sizemore, Jermaine Dye, Ryan Howard, Josh Hamilton, Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Braun, and Adrian Gonzalez. I reserve the right to modify that, I probably should have included Justin Morneau in that list…
  • If you want to see a real life demonstration of “regressing to the mean” watch Dioner Navarro for the rest of the year.
  • Michael Young should get a lifetime invitation to the All Star game, because he loves hitting the game winning RBI.
  • George Sherrill has a legitimate claim to an MVP of the game vote. Maybe he wasn’t the most valuable player in the game, but he was probably top 5. Who would have guessed that?
  • Lidge warmed up, according to Jayson Stark, SIX times over the course of two hours. No wonder he didn’t look sharp. At least he didn’t have to face Pujols.
  • I would have loved to see a position player have to come in and pitch. I’m not sure that would have made the game higher quality , but it would have made it more of a spectacle.
  • Everyone knows the least deserving All Star was Veritek, a total reputation pick. But how about Fukudome? Since hitting .348/.443/.500 as of May 3rd, he’s hit .243/.352/.360 over the last 61 games. Also Joe Crede, hitting .248/.322/.433 since April 29. Fukudome was voted in, but did Crede need to be there over Miguel Cabrera, Mike Lowell, Jason Giambi, or Jermaine Dye? (Answer: No)
  • I’m usually pretty good at making mid-game calls (Home Run, right now!) but my definitive “there is NO WAY the AL wins after loading the bases with no outs in the 10th, then getting 2 on with 1 out in the 11th and not scoring” was apparently, off the mark.
  • One more thing – as someone who lived in New York for a period of time – Bobby Murcer will be greatly missed. Great commentator, by all accounts a great guy, and a great player. He was the one player between the early 60s and late 70s that was actually really good for the Yankees. His numbers may not be very impressive, but I’ve heard interviews with Bill James saying his numbers are much better than they look in context thanks to the era, the stadium and the league. James also said that in 1971 Murcer was, in his opinion, the best player in the game. As bad as his splits look, his career OPS+ of 124 should tell you how he performed.

WARP Speed

July 14, 2008

I was out of the country last week, which is why there was no post, and now it’s the All Star break. Rather than discussing the Nats, which could be very depressing, I’m going to go for a different topic. I mean, talking about the team, am I going to discuss how much they suck, how there are maybe 3 position players on the non-DL part of the roster that are part of the future, or how nobody knows because nobody’s watching? No thanks. So, for the 100th post of this blog first let me say thank you to everyone who reads this. I appreciate it, truly, as I would no longer be writing if people weren’t interested. Anyway, instead of the usual, someone put a comment on the Stats page asking me to explain what WARP and WARP-3 are, and I thought this might be a good diversion for Nats fans…

Who is this guy?

WARP stands for Wins Above Replacement Player, and like the stat VORP, compares a player to the imaginary “replacement-level” player. What is replacement level? Well, there is the long answer and the short answer. Here is the long answer, along with a definition of VORP. I prefer the short answer – he’s an average fielder, and as a hitter, he’s has the level of production a team would expect if they called up a minor leaguer. This is an important distinction. A replacement level player is not an average hitter, he is worse. If a team was full of average hitters, they would be a pretty good team, especially if they could pitch. If they were filled with replacement level players, they would stink. We’re not talking 60 wins here, we’re talking 30 or 40.

So, on to WARP

WARP, again, stands for Wins Above Replacement Level. It is complicated to calculate, I’ve never done it, and despite taking lots of math and stats classes in my life, I have no desire to. For those of you who are curious, it is based upon batted, fielding and pitching runs above the replacement level, as well as the number of runs needed for a win. I am content with knowing it is calculated, and in the answer lies the key. It is more useful in casual baseball conversation than VORP because it gets to the heart of how a player helps. If a player has a WARP of 5, he will provide your team, over the course of the season, with 5 more wins than a replacement level player. Despite the difficulty in calculating or defining it, this concept is beautiful in its simplicity.

Let’s look at an example: According to Baseball Prospectus, in 2007, Ryan Zimmerman had a WARP of 8.0, while the Orioles’ Melvin Mora had a WARP of 3.3. This means that the Nationals had about 4.7 more wins thanks to Zimmerman playing third over Mora. Meanwhile, Chipper Jones had a WARP of 8.5 and AL MVP third baseman Alex Rodriguez had a WARP of 10.7.

That’s confusing enough, can we stop there?

NO! There is also something called WARP-2 and WARP-3. None of these have anything to do with faster-than-light propulsion, which is, from what I understand, extremely more complicated than studying baseball (but not as hard as actually hitting a major league pitch). Baseball Prospectus uses WARP-1 to be the stat that we’ve already discussed, what we called WARP.

WARP-2 is like WARP-1, but the difficulty of the league is factored in as well.

WARP-3 factors in season length as well. This is useful not so much for someone like Ruth (who had 154 game seasons instead of 162) where there is little difference between what the total WARP would be for someone in Ruth’s time and now. It is great, though, for looking at someone like Moises Alou of the Expos in the strike shorted 1994 season, who had a WARP-1 of 6.2 but a WARP-3 of 7.9.

What’s good?

As you may have figured out, since 0 is replacement level, and ARod had a 10.7 last year, WARP numbers are in a concentrated spectrum. Usually the 3-5 range is what an average player would have, while the 7 or 7.5-10 range are All Star caliber players. Above 10 is pretty much the top few players in the league, and if you get above 12 or 13, it would be a pretty historically unreal season. And remember that the rest of the league factors into these numbers. In 1926, Babe Ruth hit .372/.516/.737, very similar to 2003 when Bonds hit .341/.529/.749. But while Ruth’s WARP that year was 15.3, Bonds’ in his season was only 12.7. That is because in 2003 the average player hit much better than than in 1926, causing the difference in this player-average based number


First to the Party

July 1, 2008

Tonight, for the first time in his career, Colin Balester will start for the Nationals. Fans should be excited about this, he is the first real prospect to be called up from the system, for anything other than honorary end-of-the-year playing time (like Maxwell and Detwiler had last season). Of course, I’m not counting Flores, Milledge or Dukes, I’m talking about someone here who has grown up in this organization and has worked his way up.

Balester, 22 years old, has pitched well this season in AAA. His ERA is 4.00, nothing special, but he is 9-3. His K/BB ratio is good, about 2.8/1, and a K/9 over 7. Even nicer, over the last month, he’s 4-0 and he has an ERA under 3.00. Baseball America considers him the teams’ #3 prospect, and likes his fastball (topping out at 94 mph) as well as his curveball.

The most exciting part about this to me is that Balester is the first of this wave of pitching prospects to show up, allegedly for full time duty, to the big league club. His success would help usher in the this class of young pitchers that include Detwiler, Jake McGeary, Josh Smoker, Josh Zimmerman, and Colton Willems. For once, I think Jim Bowden puts it best, “We have no high expectations for the first month. But, we do have expectations that he’s going to develop and hopefully, by the end of the year, be a solid pitcher for us to go into 2009.”

Roger Bernadina

Or, Rogearvin, as his name is listed on the old birth certificate, has also made it up to the majors. He’s here to give Milledge a much needed break, er, DL stint, and will be playing CF quite a bit. So what to expect from him? Well, he is considered the best OF defender in the Nats’ farm system by Baseball America, and he can fly. He had 40 SBs in AA last year, and has 26 in AAA so far this season. What probably warranted his callup more than anything else this year was his bat. For the last 5 seasons in the minors he’s hit .270 or lower, usually lower, and while he can draw a walk, his SLG was a putrid .369 in 4 minor league assignments in his career. While it is a strange coincidence, it is also sad that this was the highest he ever slugged. Until this season. He is hitting .323/.393/.474 this year, which is bascially a different player than the guy who averaged .258/.344/.374 in his career. What jumps out to me is how high that batting average is – .323 is probably not sustainable. His ISO of .151 is respectable, so that even if he drops down to a .260 hitter, he’ll still slug over .400. I’m excited to see if any of these numbers translate to the majors, but if not, at least he’s fast and he can defend. You know, exactly like Willie Harris.

What ever happened to…

Wily Mo? Wasn’t this gonna be his breakthrough season? After his arrival last year, he killed the ball, he was unstoppable, he was a monster. This season, he was hurt, and now it just hurts to watch him hit. .211 is bad enough, but if he can’t hit with power, he’s worthless. All of his power came from HRs last year, he barely had any other extra base hits. And he’s not hitting any, so it aint pretty.

On Chief’s Departure

Cordero is out for the season, he’s not coming back for 12-18 months, and it just hits home what I said before. The time to trade him has passed. Now what will invariably end up happening is he will get healthy just in time to walk away, and the Nationals will get little value for him. There is nothing wrong with holding on to players that you think will make the team better, but closers are more common than people think, and someone like Cordero, who had some shakiness to many of his outings, has their biggest trade value not in velocity or strikeouts but saves. GMs still get fooled into thinking the save is more than it really is, and when someone gets as many as Coredero had, they can usually be turned around for valuable young players. Oh well.


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