Nick’s Still Hurt, So Are Other Guys

June 24, 2008

The news today is that Nick Johnson is getting surgery on his wrist and may be out for the rest of the season, it may bring the end of yet another disappointing season for him. His numbers weren’t spectacular this year, his batting average looked bad at .220. But he was slugging .431 which is just barely ok, (but not for a 1B) and his on base percentage was a remarkable .415. This has been the team’s best by .044 at the moment, a significant amount. It’s clear that part of the reason the Nats are so abysmal at scoring runs is his injury. Dmitri is good but hasn’t put up the kind of numbers Nick was putting up, despite the lack of a batting average.

So what’s next for Nick? Well, thus far in his career he’s had 3 healthy seasons since he started as a full time-type player in 2002. That’s 3 out of 7. Including his complete missing of 2007, and assuming he’s done for 2008, he’s averaged 88 games per year and only 352 PAs, just over a half of a season. He is probably the single most injury prone position player I can think of – only Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, and Rich Harden come to mind as more (or the same level) of an injury risk, and they are all pitchers. What’s sad is that while some of it is wear and tear on a fragile body, some of it has just been freaky stuff – like that collision with Kearns.

The Nationals have one more year of him in terms of a contract, at an easy to deal with $5.5 million. Despite his abilities, and they are very good, I doubt he’ll be resigned, and I don’t blame them for not doing it. His power numbers are good but not great, and he’ll be 31 when he needs to be signed again. So those numbers probably aren’t able to go up anymore. They can’t even count on him for next season, who knows how long it will be before he breaks down again. The best they can hope is that he starts out strong in 2009 and looks healthy enough to get some value in the trade market. It is disappointing for me to see this because of how good of a player he could be, and disappointing for the Nats because if he was healthy this whole time, he’d have been a real bargain at his price. I hope he gets healthy soon, puts all of these injuries behind him, and plays some full, healthy seasons, wherever they may be.

Other missing pieces

The offense has struggled mightily, and the numbers look as bad as last year. Considering the change of ballparks, they may even be worse. Besides missing Nick, Zimmerman and Kearns have been gone a long time now, and even when they were around, they weren’t doing great. Zimmerman’s .257 AVG and 8 HRs hides some poor numbers. His OBP of .291 isn’t replacement level, and his SLG of .427 is just ok despite all those HRs. His shoulder is still a problem, and could mean another few weeks – or the rest of the season. But without the ability to take a walk, he needs to hit over .300 to be a really valuable hitter (he’s always valuable on the field). AVG comes and goes depending on luck and some other factors, but he has shown an ability to draw walks in the past. Maybe his injury made him press, who knows.

Kearns, on the other hand, is alot closer to returning. He might be back by the All Star break, or right after it. The question I have with him, is what is he going to bring to the plate? At this point, Dukes is a much better hitter than him, and Austin hasn’t really hit since last year (his September was quite good, despite low season numbers). I’m not even gonna get into just how bad .197/.295/.267 is from anyone, let alone your RFer, which is where Kearns is at right now. Meanwhile, Dukes started out 1 for 26, and got his second hit of the season in his 12th game. From that game, he’s hitting .308/.409/.449, basically as a full time player. The missing Kearns’ bat is part of the reason this team has hit so poorly, but with Dukes playing as well as he is, Acta needs to keep him out there. Meanwhile, the return of Kearns does not necessarily equate to the return of Kearns’ bat.

What’s interesting is how this team would have fared if they were healthy all year. Guzman, Dukes, a healthy Zimmerman, Johnson and a decent Kearns may not have been #1 in runs scored, but they probably would be #30 either.


No Shirt Giveaway on Sunday

June 19, 2008

The Washington Post’s Nationals Journal confirmed what I mentioned earlier in the week. There will no longer be a t-shirt giveaway for the kiddies this coming Sunday. At least they have made up for it in some way. Those kids, instead of getting a shirt, will get 2 tickets to a future game. Also, they finally posted something up on the website about it.

While it’s annoying that they did this, and I wonder if it was done because people complained, and blogs made people’s dissatisfaction more public, at least they addressed the issue. I’m sure there won’t be too many angry fans if they get free tickets in exchange. And it’s not like there aren’t plenty to giveaway. Maybe they should give the kids the Presidents Seats for a few games.

Nats Fire Mariners GM

June 17, 2008

When the Nationals go in and sweep a team for the first time since September, the victimized team has to take a real look around and assess what’s going on. Unable to cope with the embarrassment of losing an entire series to the team with the 4th-worst record in baseball (the worst is owned by the team who was just swept, tied for 2nd worst were the NL Champs last year and the always-present-on-this-list Royals). Seattle fired Bavasi, who has made a number of terrible moves over his tenure. Besides trading for Jose Vidro to DH, and signing Brad Wilkerson, he gave big deals to Beltre and Sexson, and probably overpaid for Ichiro. Altogether, the team has as much ability to score runs as the Nationals, only without the hope that some day the players would grow a little and get better. All they had to look forward to was decay.

This offseason, they made a big splash trading for Erik Bedard, and everyone though that was the key to their winning. King Felix and Bedard, and they’d make the playoffs. The Nats could have both of those players, they still wouldn’t be a playoff team, yet that is what everyone seemed to think could happen with the Mariners. Of course, I said I didn’t think they had enough, but I also thought the Mets would cruise to an NL East championship, so what do I know.

It just goes to show that numbers don’t lie, even if they are inaccurate sometimes. Last season, the Mariners had an improbable winning record, despite scoring less runs than they allowed, and were actually in the wild card race with virtually the same lineup that they had this season. The lesson here is just because you get lucky once, or even for one season, don’t expect that luck will continue the next time. Relying on luck, rather than assembling a team that can score enough runs is just stupid and it will come back to bite you.

In terms of the Nats, I really was going to write about what helped them win this weekend. But The Nationals Journal did a great job. I would put #4 as #1 though, I think the fact that the first 3 guys are hitting at the same time is the most important thing right now. Regardless, Mariners fans owe a debt of gratitude to the Nats for helping end Bavasi’s time there. In exchange, we’ll take Felix Hernandez for Johnny Estrada, and call it even.

Mystery of the Missing Jerseys

In other news, I got an e-mail from a reader yesterday who said that there was supposed to be a promotion this Sunday – a kids jersey giveaway for the first 10,000 kids 14 and under. And now that promotion is gone. Gone from the website, no record of it exists. I have no ability to verify this, does anyone know what happened here? Did anyone get tickets thinking they were going to a promotion game? If so, let me know.

And while we’re on the subject of jersey’s, a few months ago I whined about how the Royals were giving away jerseys. Meanwhile the Nats say idly by and gave away t-shirts with Abe Lincoln’s picture on it. Now, I have seen that the A’s are doing the same thing, giving away a Vida Blue 70s retro jersey. I can’t tell from the picture whether it is a jersey or a t-shirt, but either way, it is a great giveaway. The Royals one, by the way, was almost definitely a real replica jersey, judging by the buttons. SO I ASK YOU WASHINGTON NATIONALS – WHEN DO WE GET OUR SUPER AWESOME PROMOTIONAL JERSEYS WITH BUTTONS?

Zimmerman’s Out and Headfirst Sliding

June 12, 2008

Right now, Ryan Zimmerman is rehabbing his shoulder, and if it doesn’t get better he’s going to have to undergo surgery. He’s got at least another 4 to 6 weeks of rehab. So at this rate, he’s not going to be back ’til at least July, probably after the All Star break. But why?

Why should a 23 year old player who is going to be part of the future need to risk ANYTHING? I’m not saying the Nats are doing this, I assume he will rehab and if there are any problems they will shut him down. But I don’t even see the need to take the risk. Originally I thought that if he didn’t rehab properly then they’d have to do surgery, which is still true. My first reaction was to shut him down NOW, have him undergo surgery NOW, so he can start rehabbing from that earlier. But doctor’s say they don’t think he’s gonna need surgery, so I am just urging the team to not rush him back in any way. And if there are any lingering issues, then keep resting. And if that doesn’t clear anything up, go get the surgery ASAP. I just don’t want one of the cornerstones of this team playing with a little ‘twinge’ for the second half of his season and screwing up his swing. It doesn’t seem worth it to me.

What’s annoying to me is how he injured his shoulder – in a headfirst slide. When are players going to learn that headfirst slides are dangerous and shouldn’t be done? The injury risk is apparent for a headfirst slide. Sure, the shoulder can be hurt like what has happened to Zim. Or hurting your hands and fingers, meaning you can swing the bat or throw a baseball properly. But it’s also very possible to injure your neck and the top of your spinal chord. Spinal chord injuries are not exactly players need to be made aware of that, because I’m not sure they are. The list of people injured on headfirst sliding is not a short one, and includes names like Derek Jeter, Jose Reyes, Michael Barrett, Kenny Lofton, .

The worst part about it, is that there is no evidence it makes you slide any faster. In fact, some evidence suggests there is no difference in the time it take to reach the base safely. Other studies have even shown that sliding in headfirst actually slows players down, thanks to increased friction and the slight hesitation of players who fear hitting the ground face first. There is some argument that headfirst sliding offers you more control, but it is hardly convincing to me. Rather, people just don’t know how to slide feet first. Maybe in spring training, just like teaching pitchers how to cover first base every single year, teams need to remind players how to slide properly. People will say they are playing at full speed and instincts tell them to slide headfirst, but with enough training, players could instinctively (and properly) slide feetfirst. I just find it ridiculous to think that great, and otherwise intelligent, players are missing time because they slid incorrectly.

A Few Callups and Returns

June 10, 2008

In the wake of the draft, the Nationals called up a few players from the minor leagues, and sent some guys rigth back down. They also got rid of alleged left handed hitter Rob Mackowiak, who was doing nothing other than dragging down a putrid offense. He became expendable once Dukes showed he probably wasn’t going to hit under .150. While Dukes hasn’t had stellar overall numbers yet, over the last 15 games he has hit a very impressive .289/.421/.444. If he does that all season, in his first full season, that would be incredible. The walk rate is also great, and he’s hitting with decent power. On to the callups…

Kory Casto

We’ve seen this guy before, and it wasn’t pretty. Last year he got 7 hits in 54 ABs, 2 of them were doubles, and he walked 3 times. He also struck out 17 times. This year, he looks entirely more comfortable at the plate, doesn’t look as jumpy and keeps his head much more still. That has translated to 6 hits in only 21 ABs, 5 BBs and only 3 Ks. He is a different player this year, as evidenced by his .315/.390/.461 line in AAA (a career high in average, close to that in OBP, and a decent but not great slugging). He’s seeing over 4 pitches per PA right now, and while he’s only had a few ABs, he looks much better than last season. If he keeps hitting this way, he can spell some of the vets even if they’re healthy, as nobody’s bat (other than maybe Christian Guzman or Jesus Flores) would be terribly missed.

Garrett Mock

He didn’t look so good in his major league debut the other day, giving up 4 ER in 4 1/3 IP to the Gigantes. He was immediately sent back down, looks like my beginning of the year prediction that he, Clippard and Chico will spend alot of time on I-70 in between Columbus and DC may have been correct. As I stated then, Mock has never been great, but he’s never been healthy, and this year he pitched very well in AAA, with a 3.02 ERA and K/BB of 51/13. He is giving up more than a hit per inning, though, and he really needs to show he can keep the runs down while keeping the Ks up at the AAA level (something he has started to show this year) before they feel the need to give him anything more than injury relief time. If the rest of the season continues as it has so far for him down there, he’ll definitely be back up.

Tyler Clippard

Clippard, acquired in the trade from the Yankees, has pitched well enough in the minors. He came up for a spot start and didn’t pitch very well against a team that isn’t known for their hitting (at least until they came to DC). Clippard was sent back down today, but don’t be surprised if he gets another shot. He is still one of the more promising AAA pitchers, a guy that may be able to hold the fort down and even be successful while we’re waiting for the real young, high draft picks. In the minors, Clippard has been a real strikeout pitcher with great control – in 670 IP he has 699 Ks and only 198 BBs. He’s still young, only 23, so this year he’s gotta concentrate on being good enough in AAA to warrant time in the majors. Spot starts are one thing, consistency at the highest level in the minors is probably better for him right now.

Ronnie Belliard

That name sounds familiar, didn’t he play second base for the… yeah, Clippard was sent down to make room for Ronnie, returning from the DL. What do we expect from Belliard? Well in the first month of the season, he batted a whopping .197/.316/.343, which is slightly less awful than the .256/.313/.308 that Felipe Lopez is hitting. Since neither are a whiz with the glove, Belliard will probably get some time as the starter. As I said when Belliard was mired in a slump in April, he’s a lifetime .273 hitter, and he’s only hit below .263 once and he’s never hit above .295. That’s a pretty consistent range, I fully expect him to get within or very close to it before the year’s out.

The Rest of the Picks

June 6, 2008

In the first round, the Nationals took Aaron Crow, and I talked about that as much as I could yesterday, I really don’t have any new info on him. There were, however, a few other picks, so let’s talk about them

The Nats second pick was Destin Hood, coming in at #55. Destin is a high school infielder with some raw power. According to Baseball America, he will be moved to the OF because of lack of arm strength to play infield. He has power and speed, and has been described as raw and electric, a very toolsy type player. He swings and misses too much, but when he does hit, it can be impressive. He won the Homer Derby at the Aflac All American Classic last fall. If he develops fully, he could be a middle of the order bat, but he has signed to play football and baseball at Alabama, so let’s hope there aren’t signability issues.

In round 3, Washington took Danny Espinosa, a SS from Long Beach State. While they took him with the 87th pick of the draft, BA has him only ranked at #141. He is considered a very hard working player that have average ability and really makes the most out of it. He played SS for Team USA last year, but may end up being moved to another infield position. He doesn’t have the best plate discipline but hits the ball well when he hits it, not necessarily home run power, but a good line drive hitter. BA also mentions that he has “a lot of attributes scouts love, including the knack to make those around him better.”

The Nats 4th round pick Graham Hicks is a left handed high school pitcher out of Florida. He was drafted as #121 but doesn’t rank in the BA top 200. Perhaps that’s because only a year ago he was threw his fastball around 85 mph. As he grew another inch, to reach 6’5″, he now consistently throws 90-91. As a lefty, that is the kind of velocity that gets you noticed, but what’s really intriguing is the possibility of him continuing to mature and adding a few more notches to that fastball. So despite being unranked as of last week in the top 200, he does have potential to do something interesting.

But their 5th pick Adrian Nieto, who went at #151, was ranked as the 74th best overall prospect in the draft. Nieto is a high school catcher from Cuba via Florida, who came to the US when he was 8. He is signed to play at South Florida so we’ll see if the Nats can sign him. He is a switch hitter and hits the ball well and with power as a lefty and a righty. As a catcher, he has a good arm but his other defensive skills are questionable. So it’s not positive he’ll stay as a catcher, but either way he can hit. He plays with “an ego and a swagger that should carry him to the big leagues.”

* The difference, by the way, between raw power and regular power is pretty simple. Regular power is when a batter knows how to square up the pitch well, hits with good contact, and hits the ball well most of the time. Raw power means the player is big and strong and uses his size. So that is maybe less likely to translate well, but if harnessed properly could lead to some serious power (which is like regular power, I guess, only better).

In other news

Last night, Redding has his 7th win of the year taken away from him, not that he really deserved one after giving up 5 ER including a no doubt home run to pitchers who had never gotten hits in the big leagues before. The finish was exciting, seeing Dukes come up and hit a game winning HR was incredible. I am always afraid that a slump could cause the team to lose him mentally, but to his credit he always seems to be up there fighting to get on base. Last night’s game could have been one of those moments that we’ll look back on and say “that’s when he really put it together,” but we’ll see. As for Milledge, I am happy that they are sticking with him even through the slump. But over the last month he’s batting .216/.283/.324, and he looks a little lost. Maybe batting him third in the lineup isn’t the best thing for him right now.

Nats take Aaron Crow

June 5, 2008

“With the 9th selection in the first round of the 2008 first year players draft, the Washington Nationals select Aaron Crow, a right handed pitcher from the University of Missouri…” So said Bud Selig a few moments ago. This makes me look smart, because I previewed him at the last second yesterday.

ESPNs Steve Phillips mentioned that Crow has an outstanding slider and is someone that you may even see developing a better fastball (which is already very good) as he fills out a bit. He also controls the fastball very well.

Keith Law said he was absolutely a starter, and he touched 97 mph in the Cape Cod league. He’s also shown the ability to hold a mid-90s fastball through 7 innings. He also mentioned that he is at least a #2 starter, and has the best chance out of any college starter to be a #1. He said Crow had great command in college, which was reiterated by ESPN’s Karl Ravech who mentioned his high K/BB ratio.

A summary of Baseball America’s take on him can be found in yesterday’s posting. Overall, everyone seems very high on him and thinks he’s already very good, with room to improve. I am happy with this pick, although I would have liked to see them get someone like Skipworth or Alonso, those guys are gone now anyway. As a college player, he should move quickly in the organization, and will hopefull help fill out a great group of young pitchers the Nats should have on their staff by 2010.