Only a Month to Go

August 26, 2008

Don’t worry, it’s almost over. The Nats are obviously a team that needs improvement, the time to start forgetting about this season probably started the second week in April. But what specifically needs improvement? Well, pretty much everything. But some spots more than others. Let’s look at where they rank in different categories and see how they stack up with the rest of the NL, starting with pitching:

Runs Allowed:13th
ERA: 13th
BB/G:13th
HRs:13th
Ks: 11th

Read the rest of this entry »


Where are the Nats Going?

August 20, 2008

When I wrote about the team not signing Aaron Crow earlier this week, I really thought it was hard to get really upset. I mean, he didn’t want to sign, right? And they get a compensatory pick, right? So what’s the big deal. Well, since then, guys who do actual investigative reporting (my investigations consist of clicking places) and speaking with real live people have a few things to say. Here are a few snippets: Read the rest of this entry »


No Crow, Ayala Out

August 18, 2008

In the end, the Nats couldn’t sign this year’s first round pick, Aaron Crow. It is interesting because if you had told me this a month ago, I would have been incensed. And I’m sure there are lots of Nats fans who are very upset by this. After all, they are supposed to be using their money as a big market team to create the best farm system ever. But I am not completely angered by this. While I like Crow, I also think that this year’s draft was not the strongest one ever, so perhaps Crow would have gone a little lower in later years.

The numbers are different depending on who you ask, but the Nats offered him at least $3.3 million, and he was asking for at least $4 million. To put it in perspective, Crow was the #9 pick, and the only picks who got more than $3.5 million were numbers 1, 2, 3, and 5. It was also over a million over slot value, so perhaps they thought the Nats were so desparate that they would pay anything. And hey, maybe the Nats should have, but it’s too late now.

The Nats get 2 top picks next year, wherever their regular first round pick is, plus a #9 pick for having Crow. At the very least, that will make next season’s draft much more exciting for us Nats fans. So the big question for me is: Next season, when the Nats have the #1 or #2 pick, what’s going to happen? After all, it appears that the top 4 players in the draft (at this point, it all can change) are Scott Boras clients. He’s not known for being particularly receptive to lower signing bonuses. And if this year was an indication, it’s gonna cost over $6 million for the #1 or #2 pick. On the other hand, if someone like David Price comes along (if you don’t know him yet, you will) as the Nats pick, they may be willing to sign him for whatever it takes, and they should. I just hope money doesn’t scare them away from picking the best player in the draft.

An Actual Trade

This weekend, the Nats traded bullpen mainstay Luis Ayala to the Mets, for a player to be named later. Rumor has it that it may be Anderson Hernandez. This is just the kind of moves this team should be making – trading a 30 year old guy for a young(ish) player. Hernandez has a great glove, is a middle infielder, and helps bolster the team in a position it’s lacking. He has had a terrible season hitting in AAA, with splits of .203/.262/.307 this year. But last year he hit .301/.339/.397, and while that’s not great either, it’s not horrible. Baseball America has ranked him as the best middle infielder in the Mets system and the best infield arm for several seasons in a row. So if the hitting isn’t there, the defense definitely is.

Either way, it seems like a worthwhile trade even if they just get some depth in the position here, Ayala has been awful this season and he’s not part of the future. Psychologically, it’s another Expos player gone, leaving only Nick Johnson, Shawn Hill, and Chad Cordero. The Chief may be gone after this season, Johnson will likely be gone after the next.


Numbers are a Funny Thing

August 12, 2008

Numbers can tell you quite a bit. Around here, I rely heavily on numbers. When someone is a minor league pitcher, I look at their K/BB ratio to use as a guide in assessing their abilities. Why? Well for a number of reasons, but mostly because they are independent of the defense, and translate well to what their abilities in the major leagues will be. But sometimes, there are numbers that can mislead, or give us false impressions of talent, or lack thereof. Here are a few numbers, who they are associated with, and what they tell us.

0

The first number, zero, is one of the most interesting numbers there is. Its got quite a history, the zero. The ancient Mayan used it as a placeholder, the ancient Greeks argued whether it existed, and the Indians were the ones who started using it mathematically less than 1500 years ago. I’m pretty sure medieval Christians associated the 0 with the devil, because they associated everything with the devil. Today, people can comprehend the zero just by looking at Emilio Bonifacio, who has exactly zero walks in 47 ABs. None. Nil. Null. Naught. The plumage don’t enter into it. It’s stone dead.

What does this mean for Emilio? Well it means his lack of plate discipline is not just a rumor. Also, it means that in order to be an effective leadoff man, he’s going to have to hit something like .340. Not impossible, but as I’ve mentioned before, Robinson Cano can hit .340 one year and still go 3 months hitting about .200 the next. As we’re talking about math, here’s a theorem for you: IF YOU DON’T WALK AND DON’T HIT WITH POWER THEN YOU ARE USELESS WHEN SLUMPING. Here’s a corollary to that theorem: BASESTEALERS CAN’T STEAL WHEN THEY DON’T GET ON BASE. I think Bonifacio still has a chance of being a very good player, and his defense is superb. But if he isn’t going to walk, he probably shouldn’t be the leadoff hitter. Manny Acta is a very smart manager, and I know he won’t keep Bonifacio in leadoff forever if he can’t get on base. I’m sure Manny understands what the number zero represents, and if Bonifacio doesn’t learn it, he’ll eventually get to know the number 8, as in his spot in the lineup, soon enough.

9

Number 9. Number 9. Number 9. I actually think that song is really annoying. Too avant garde for me, 40 years later. Anyway, nine is the number of strikeouts Garret Mock had on Monday afternoon. Promising number, but this is one of those that may be a bit more misleading. The key word in that sentence wasn’t “strikeouts” or “nine,” it was “afternoon.” The sun was bright and the ball was moving in and out of shadows when pitched, making it very hard for the batters to hit. Mock still was impressive in his number of strikeouts, there is nothing bad about striking out 9. But the reason he allowed 4 ER in less than 5 innings while striking out so many was that his stuff wasn’t THAT great. His counterpart, Dave Bush, struck out 6 in 6 1/3 IP, not only his 3rd highest K total of the season, but the most in any outing less than 7 IP. Mock can strike people out, and the 9 is something to take with him, but it wasn’t a sign of a domination. He’s got to put it together where he can strike out 9, last more than 5 innings, and not give up 4 ERs. Meanwhile, his 3 BBs in that short of an outing was also a sign that he wasn’t exactly stellar, and contributed to his early exit.

$1,376,000

One Meeeellion Dollars, and then some. That is the total amount of signing bonuses the Nationals gave to their third, fourth and fifth round draft picks this season, in deals finalized over the last few days. Why is this number important? Well, despite saying they probably wouldn’t go above slot, they paid more than the “suggested bonus” for all 3 guys. They signed SS Daniel Espinso, LHP Graham Hicks, and Catcher Adrian Neito, whose last name I will pronounce “Neat-O”. This makes me very happy, as I was really worried that the team wasn’t going to pay for these guys. They had suggested they might not pay, and since they have voiced over and over that they don’t want to pay for free agents and want to build from within, this is where their money HAS to go. The draft. That’s it, there’s really nowhere else for the money to go. Except signing their Evan Longoria’s and Ryan Braun’s to long term deals (Zimmerman). All they have left to sign is Aaron Crow, their first round pick. They would like to give him something like the $2.15 million they gave to Detwiler last year, he apparently wants more. I will say what I said before about their spending, but it would be repetitive. If they don’t sign him, they do get a compensatory pick next draft. But the only reason I would think that not spending an extra million here is worth it is if they are having second thoughts about the guy’s ability. We’ll see what happens, deadline to sign is Friday.

5

I was thinking of having the number be .313/.361/.567, but that’s really more than one number. Anyway, 5 is number of Home Runs Blastings Milledge has hit since coming off the DL 17 games ago. The splits are his since then, and while those numbers aren’t entirely sustainable, they show us a few things. First that number 5 indicates that Milledge does indeed have power potential, and is probably able to hit 20-25 HRs in a full season. It also shows that he is hot right now, and reminds us of another number – 23, which is his age. He is still young, and he may yet turn out to be that great hitter that people thought he could be just a year ago. I’m not one to give up on young guys so easily. If people once thought they could be the best player in the organization, and they don’t show it on the major league level until they’re 24 or 25, it shouldn’t be that surprising. Let’s just hope the 5 Home Runs in about 3 weeks is a preview of whats to come.


You Can Vote for the Presidents

August 5, 2008

At least that’s how it has worked for the vast majority of American history right? Anyway, Nats basher Homerderby (who was right, but maybe the historically injury-plagued season contributed to the teams level of suckiness?) is having a contest on who has the best mascot in baseball. The Nats matchup is with the Padres Swinging Friar. Frankly, at first I wasn’t even sure I wanted to vote for the Presidents over the Padre. Then I remembered I wasn’t a commie-nazi, and it was my right and my duty to vote for the President(s). Also, he’s not wearing pants, which is always inappropriate even in cartoons. So faster than Emilio Bonifacio, I clicked and voted for The Racing Presidents (Washington Nationals).

http://homerderby.com/archives/2310

Go ahead and vote, the deadline is August 8th. Maybe the Nats could end up winning SOMETHING this season.


So Far So Good with the Attorney General and the Good Omen

August 5, 2008

Last week, I suggested that Emilio Bonifacio and Alberto Gonzalez, playing together, would make for a solid defensive infield that would help the team in many ways. So far, after 4 games, it has, but that constitutes about 2.5% of a season, so I don’t want to get carried away. Keeping in mind that with Harris playing third instead of Zimmerman, the defense isn’t as good as it could be, and the offense probably isn’t either, they have performed great. Anyway, finding a place for Harris in this lineup is crucial with the way he’s playing. While he could never field as well, Willie is hitting better than you’d expect Ryan to hit over the last 2 months (.297/.380/.507 since June 8).

Regardless, the team is playing with a new energy since the moves have been made. Defensively, the team has seemed to improve. Other than Saturday, they have really held opponents from scoring, and they play a game that just looks better out there. Sometimes your eyes can deceive you, so who knows how much they are actually contributing defensively, but observation tells me they’re doing something.

What has surprised me has been the duo’s offensive contributions. They are both hitting over .400, which is obviously completely unsustainable. And Bonifacio hasn’t walked, which makes you grit your teeth a little since there was talk that he doesn’t have a good handle on the strike zone. Despite that, they are getting hits at the major league level, and they are both hitting with some amount of power – 6 of their 14 hits are for extra bases. And the speedy Bonifacio already has 2 triples.

This will go away, these guys aren’t .450/.500/.700 hitters. Nobody is except company softball players. Eventually, if Bonifacio doesn’t walk, pitchers will get to him and he won’t be able to hit for a month or two at a time (see Robinson Cano). But for now, they are showing that they both can compete at this level. As I suggested before, neither of them needs to be great in order to help this team. But if Bonifacio can get on base enough to start at second, that would be huge for this team. Gonzalez has shown he is a valuable utility player at the very least, and hopefully he will bring even more.


Nats Drop Excess Baggage

August 1, 2008

Maybe I’m not in tune with the management, but I am shocked at this latest development. Yesterday, the Nationals gave unconditional releases to Paul Lo Duca, Johnny Estrada, and Felipe Lopez. Let it be known that “The Nationals tried their best to trade Lopez, Lo Duca and Estrada before Thursday’s 4 p.m. ET Trade Deadline, but there weren’t any takers because they were having subpar seasons.” I criticized them for not making trades, was hoping that anything at all would come the Nats way for them, but if there was no interest, there was no interest. I’ll take the organization at its word on that.

On to the players. Lo Duca and Estrada surprised me less. They were considered stopgaps for Jesus Flores until he was ready to play in ’09. Instead, they weren’t healthy, and he’s played the majority of the games at catcher and is hitting a VERY impressive .282/.330/.455. An OPS+ of 105 puts him as the 9th best catcher in MLB with at least 225 PAs. And while there are some young guys ahead of him like Soto (25) and Martin (25), Flores (23) is the youngest on the list. Meanwhile, Lo Duca has been, for most of his career, a relatively empty .280 hitter. He gets some bonus points for putting the ball in play and not striking out much, but in general he never was that great. This year he has been awful, and there was no reason to play him over Flores. Additionally, on several occasions I mistook Estrada for Dmitri Young, he’s so out of shape. And I wish I was joking there, but really, he’s huge. I am not surprised they released either of these guys, but both of them, at the same time? I have no problems with this move at all, just wasn’t expecting it.

Felipe Lopez (derisively nicknamed FLop by many) on the other hand, really shocked me. I know most of us had given up on him, and with the trade for Bonifacio it was clear that the organization was done with him as well. But unconditional release? Really, I thought they’d let him play out the season. I have no problem moving on, I’d like to see the entire team under 30 at this point, just to continue moving towards the future.

I am assuming that none of the 3 released players would qualify as a type A or type B free agent. That would mean they are considered, over the last 2 seasons, top 40% of players at their position. If they did, then the Nats would get compensatory draft picks if they kept them until the end of the season. But looking at their numbers, I think they don’t qualify.

A Different Direction?

One thing that has occurred to me, after reading about 900 different takes on Bonifacio, is that he is a very good fielder. People doubt his ability to hit, but his fielding is considered excellent. Meanwhile, teams like the A’s and Angels have put together some quality teams without much hitting. Instead, they rely on pitching and DEFENSE. I have heard from many people that just as OBP was an undervalued statistic 10 years ago and Billy Beane (A’s GM) took advantage, the same can be said for Defense now. That is to say, the A’s are valuing and understanding an individual player’s D more than other teams, and are taking advantage. They have the lowest number of runs allowed in the AL despite having a relatively no-name pitching staff (the ballpark helps too). Meanwhile, everyone knows that the Angels are the best team in the league, not thanks to power bats, but pitching and defense.

You probably know where I’m going with this. Why not go all the way with defense? The majority of their young prospects, coming up to bring the franchise out of the cellar, are pitchers. 7 of their top 10, according to Baseball America, are pitchers. You have Balester, Jordan Zimmermann, Detwiler, McGeary, and Smoker. The pitching is the future! With a stellar young 2B coming up, and a 3B that has been called a “once in a generation” fielder in Zimmerman, why not go all out for a stellar fielding SS? A real glove man, whoever that may be, would make this the one of the best infields in the majors (assuming that Bonifacio is great). You’d be amazed how much better pitchers perform in front of a D like that. Not only do they get more outs on balls hit into play, it allows them to try to be less “fine” and just go out and pitch. Meanwhile, the Nats can still get offense from the OF, and if Kearns can hit, he is a great defender, too. And it’s not like you’re losing offense from your stellar fielding third baseman, who hit 24 HRs at the age of 22 last season. A great defensive infield would at least give fans SOMETHING to be proud of.

With all the roster moves, the Nats traded for young shortstop slash attorney general prospect Alberto Gonzalez. Gonzalez played for the Yankees early this year, wasn’t exactly hitting impressively in AAA, and is similar to Bonifacio in many ways, without the blazing speed. His bat is probably just not really starting caliber. But he is a GREAT fielder and on the few days that Bonifacio and Gonzalez are playing together (I’m assuming Guzman is going to continue to start most games), the pitchers may be very very happy. I don’t think they have the outfield and first base bats just yet to support a defense only combo at middle infield, but it could be a direction for them to head.

If the Nats are building a team based on pitching and defense, I believe they are closer to success now that they might be otherwise. Bonifacio may be far away from being a major league level hitter, and he may never truly get there, but as a defender, he should be ready to play right away. We’ll see this week, as they recalled Bonifacio, and took Dukes off the DL. Dukes is a key part to this as well, if they go the defensive infield route, someone in that outfield has to hit and hit well, he may be the guy who’s shoulders that responsibility falls upon.


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