The Mick, a Winter Baseball Fix, and Bryce Harper

December 19, 2012

Every winter I try to read at least one baseball book, just to satisfy my baseball cravings. I recently finished The Last Boy, a biography of the great Mickey Mantle, and I highly recommend it. Any baseball fan would enjoy it. More than that, though, I think it should be required reading for any baseball player.

I was initially hesitant to read the book, which was given to me. I already knew what it was going to be, because I had read a few reviews. mickey-mantleAn exposé highlighting the lowlights of The Mick’s life, right? Well, yes that was in there, but that wasn’t the purpose nor was it the main arc of the book. It encompassed the great and the terrible, but it simultaneously humanized a legend and put me in awe of one of the most superhuman athletes ever.

As someone who follows the Nationals closely, it is hard to not think of Bryce Harper when The Mick is described. The speed that Mantle had his first season (which he never regained after famously blowing out his knee) is not quite Bryce, but the tales of his power send chills up your spine. When they talk about the mammoth home runs he hits starting at age 19, you cannot help but think of the young Nats outfielder.

The way his home runs are discussed in the book, the way his contemporaries describe it… it’s as if they’ve never seen baseballs travel that far and that fast. Putting it in scouting terms, The Mick had an 80 power, so does Harper and a handful of other players in MLB right now. But Harper’s the only one right now who was in the bigs at age 19 displaying it, just like Mantle. The way they describe his biggest home runs make you hope you can think of something poetic to say to your grandkids when you get to tell them stories of the inevitable time when Harper hit it over the RF scoreboard (or whatever feat of monstrous power he’ll do that will become legendary).

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The Politics of John Lannan

December 17, 2012

When John Lannan makes his debut as an opponent in Washington, it will be interesting to see how the crowd reacts. Lannan pitched 783 2/3 innings for the Nats, amassed a 103 ERA+, and was the team’s best starter in 2008 and 2009. He did this over 6 of the team’s 8 seasons, making him the longest tenured National other than Ryan Zimmerman. He didn’t choose to leave, he was told he’d been surpassed by others and was asked to leave, so there should be no ill will towards him. That being said, he wasn’t a great player, probably at best a #5 starter/swingman, so there shouldn’t be too much tearing of hair and rending of garments over his departure.

Nats fans haven’t really had to deal with this kind of situation before – not many guys who were any good have left this team, and the few of them that have (Dunn, Soriano) didn’t go to NL teams immediately, let alone NL East teams. They also didn’t have much tenure with the team. Lannan, meanwhile, is now on the current most hated rival, the Phillies. So what should be done? Here’s a guide

1. In his Nats Park debut as a Phillie, he deserves a round of applause. Not a smattering of applause, legitimate cheering. I’m not sure you need to stand for it, but feel free to if you’d like.

2. After his first pitch, he no longer deserves any cheering whatsoever (unless he does something spectacular and you have to grudgingly respect his play)

3. (And this is the most important point) There is no need to boo him unless he does something like throw at a player’s head or *gasp* throws over to first too much. In other words, he isn’t a target of derision any more than Kyle Kendrick at this point.

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Nats Get Their 5th Starter and Maybe More

December 4, 2012

Ken Rosenthal reported today that the Nats signed Dan Haren to a one year, $13M contract. The Nats needed another starting pitcher, and while some advocated trading some of their key position players for a starter, I always thought it would be unwise to do so. With the rotation of Strasburg, Zimmermann, and Gonzalez, I worried that any more real investment in the rotation might add a few wins during the year, but would be of no use in the playoffs. I worried that bolstering a rotation by taking away from their position players was trying to make an already top 3 rotation number 1 in the league, and it was unnecessary.

So what did the Nats do? HarenHesitationIt appears they threw more money at Haren than most were willing to do, without any long term commitment. This is what their payroll flexibility allows them to do. They end up getting a pitcher who is only 32, had been great up until last year, and was willing to sign short term. He isn’t totally healthy – what was worried to be a bad back (his issue this summer) actually ended up being a bad hip.

That bad hip is certainly of concern, but it didn’t affect him so much that he didn’t pitch well all year. Yes, he had a bad season. His final numbers from 2012 included a 4.33 ERA (87 ERA+) and only 142 K (his lowest total since 2004, when he wasn’t a full timer), but he sat out for a back injury, and pitched most of the year. He wasn’t so hurt that he couldn’t start most of the season, even if the hip was an issue. He ended up starting 30 games, with 176 2/3 IP, and only issue 38 BB. But his season numbers don’t reflect what he was able to do after coming back from injury. What may be more interesting to Nationals fans is how he performed after being put on the DL.

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