Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Better than Earplugs

Hey, Raffy, earplugs don't really work. They're uncomfortable, they fall out, and you can still hear the noise. There is, however, a 100 % guaranteed, fool-proof way to end that annoying booing sound in your ears and relieve the performance anxiety of your 2 for 27 slump:


Monday, August 29, 2005

Bouton, Ball Four and Blogging

Note: I was on vacation last week, at the beach with no internet access. It was nice. I still had XM Radio, though, and the FM transmitter on the MyFi is a godsend, allowing me to listen to ballgames in the house even though the only reception was outside on the front porch. Rather than blog, I read Jim Bouton's "Ball Four". Here is a review, of sorts, and some observations about the book.

"Ball Four" was recommended to me by Rocket of Nasty Nats, who described it as a "fantastic f**king read". As a review, anything beyond those three words is superfluous -- I kept thinking the same thing throughout my enjoyable trip through this book.

I was aware of Bouton and the book, of course, but I had never gotten round to reading it. For those who are not aware, it is Bouton's contemporaneous observations from his year with the expansion Seattle Pilots in 1969, trying to make it in their bullpen as a knuckleballer after the fastball that helped him win World Series with the Yankees in the early 60s has deserted him. The book reminded me that I actually first heard of it in 1976 while watching the doomed CBS sitcom of the same name as an intrigued, baseball-crazed 8-year-old. My dad explained that Bouton was a funny guy who got into trouble with the things he said. My dad also liked Lenny Bruce, and I can now make the connection.

The book garnered headlines and controversy in 1970 because it broke the unwritten rule that what happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse, and exposed ballplayers, general and specific (even famous specific, like Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford) for what they were and presumably still are: young men engaged in a competitive, high-stress profession who like to relieve the stress and tedium of their work with sex, drugs, booze, sarcasm and hijinks. One would find similar, if not identical, situations among Wall Street bond traders, a freshman class in a military academy, police squads and the like. No surprises there, really, especially 35 years later, but probably even in 1970, though many did not like to admit it.

While those vignettes are great fun and keep the book moving along, it is the more serious observations by Bouton of his profession that make the book the fantastic read. One in particular stood out -- his reaction to being sent down to the minors in mid-April, despite the feeling that he still could be a good pitcher:

I could be kidding myself. Maybe I'm so close to the situation that I can't make an objective judgment of whatever ability I have left. Maybe I just think I can do it. Maybe everybody who doesn't make it and who gets shunted to the minors feels exactly the way I do. Maybe too, the great cross of man is to repeat the mistakes of all men.
Here he has captured remarkably well the great mystery of success and failure, applicable not just to be baseball but any endeavor where one tries to take the measure of his/her talent and prospects for success. Is it luck or skill? Why not me? Look at him, I'm better than him, yet he has more success? Why? If I have succeeded before, was I just lucky? (As an aside, economist Steve Levitt has insightfully observed that "almost every successful person underestimates the contribution of luck to their success.")

This book helped crystallize many thoughts I had been having from my following the Nats so closely this year, much more closely than I ever have any other team. This year has made me greatly appreciate the plight of the individual player who plays the game of baseball. If you read Ball Four, think of guys like Ryan Church, or Brendan Harris, or Jon Rauch, or Jeffrey Hammonds, or Wil Cordero, or Cristian Guzman, or Zack Day, or Marlon Byrd. They are all there, in some form or another. As fans of the team, we tend to view players only in relation to how they help the team win or lose -- once they are out of that picture, via a trade or injury or retirement, they quickly recede from our attention. Ball Four forces them back into our field of view. It would have been great to be able to hire Bouton to spend this summer in the left field bullpen at RFK, keeping notes and a diary.

Speaking of which, about halfway through the book, it struck me how familiar Bouton's style was -- short, punchy sentences and half-sentences, organized by date, timed for the punch line perfectly, like you're sitting on the bullpen bench with him. Then I realized what was so user-friendly about it: Bouton was blogging, 30 years before blogs. Though it was edited and packaged for publication, the book could have just as easily been a series of blog posts during the season. For example, this little bit reminded me of the type of hilarious nonsense you might find on a blog thread or, more likely, in a Yuda game chat:
An outfield game is making up singer-and-actor baseball teams purely on the sound of their names. Example -- Panamanian. Good speed, great arm, tempermental: shortstop Jose Greco. Or big, hard-hitting first baseman; strong, silent type: Vaughn Monroe. And centerfielder, showboat, spends all his money on cars, big ladies man, flashy dresser, drives in 75 runs a year, none of them in the clutch: Duke Ellington. Finally -- great pitcher, twenty-game winner five years in a row, class guy, friendly writers and fans alike. Stuff is good, not overpowering, but he's smart, has great control and curve ball, moves the ball around: Nat King Cole.

If you think this is a silly game, you haven't stood around in the outfield much.
Updating this for the modern recording artist -- clever, right-handed pitcher, intelligent, not a flamethrower, but several good pitches that he'll throw at any time, studies hitters, gets ahead, good fielder, dependable 20-game winner: Dave Matthews. Light-hitting utility infielder, small, over-acheiver, solid but unspectacular fielder, good contact hitter, good bunter and hit and run guy, rarely strikes out, works a walk often: Eddie Vetter. Goofy, left-fielder, wild, unorthodox swing, but makes contact a lot, with power, no batting gloves, just spit and dirt, uniform unkempt, colorful quotes to the media: Billy Corigan.

Bouton's blogging style provides an interesting take on the question of whether a modern-day "Ball Four" could be written about today's game. Indeed, could a player blog a Ball Four today? I don't think so, for several reasons. First, it's hard work. Bouton needed over year and an editor to produce Ball Four, and spent a lot of his time on it in season. He was a veteran pitcher who could afford the time not spent on trying to develop his skills and make a name for himself. Second, if the player did blog, it would quickly be noticed, and any controversial thing he said would be seized upon by the media, fans and others with an insatiable appetite for news about their team. This would likely not be very popular with management and other players, just as Bouton's book was slammed, only in a blog it would be real-time, and not in the offseason. Third, I think the amount of money players make these days relieves some of the tension that keeps Bouton's book together, namely the real concern players in 1969 had about their financial situation if they were cut from the team. I don't think there is enough of that tension in a major league clubhouse these days -- maybe on a minor league team, but not in the big leagues. Fourth, I think Bouton is a rare combination, someone with the ability to perform well in two areas that are usually mutually incompatible: sensitive, intelligent observation and big-time professional sports. It is my view that the fishbowl in which most athletes live nowadays, from a very young age, tends to diminish whatever reflective ability they might have had, because such introspection is probably death to the ego necessary to succeed in the current environment. Bouton describes it this way:

I've had some thoughts on what separate a professional athlete from other mortals. In a tight situation the amateur says, "I've failed in this situation many times. I'll probably do so again." In a tight situation the professional says (and means it), "I've failed in this situation and I've succeeded. Since each situation is a separate test of my abilities, there's no reason why I shouldn't succeed this time.

Then there is the case of the professional player who is not professional enough. He goes on a fifteen-game hitting streak and says, "Nobody can keep this up." And as the streak progresses his belief in his ability to keep it alive decreases to the point where it's almost impossible for him to get a hit.

The real professional -- and by that I suppose I mean the exceptional professional -- can convince himself that each time at bat is an individual performance and that there is no reason he can't go on hitting forever.

Is that clear? If it is, perhaps you ought to check with your doctor.
Finally, the last reason I think we won't see another Ball Four is that we don't really need one. Bouton's observations are timeless, and it would be difficult for the 2005 author to add to what he has so concisely captured in his book. Only the names and some of the specific hijinks would change, and some of those might even be more bland. Readers can use their own imaginations and knowledge about their teams and come up with their own Ball Four for their favorite club.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Best of the Bunt

Basil over at Nationals Inquirer helpfully points to Dave Sheinin's piece in the Post analyzing the utility of the sac bunt. It is a good article, worth reading to get a summary of the various positions. Like most pieces in traditional media, it does not go far enough. Like other bloggers, we've been following this issue for a long time, and we've placed on reserve here some additional reading materials for those interested in studying the issue further.

For a response to Bill James's position, see here. For numbers to support my position, see the links here. I don't understand why people haven't called James on this position. It would be easy to do.

For a chart showing why the "one-run" strategy is not really advanced by the sac bunt, see here.

For a case study of Frank's view, see here.

Bottom line: You should bunt when you want to preserve your chance of scoring the lead runner for the next batter. So the decision rests on whether the current batter can advance the runner by swinging away and avoid a DP. I don't mind the bunt by most pitchers -- they will often squander the scoring chance if left to swing away. But if you can pinch hit for the pitcher, you should do that rather than bunt. And most position players should never bunt. But, as with all things, the circumstances might dictate a different decision.

Update: Sheinin's game story quotes Jose Guillen explaining his inexplicable bunt in the fourth inning yesterday this way: "I was just trying to make something happen." This is the real danger of Frank Robinson's approach to the bunt described in the Sheinin piece. It is based on the notion that the bunt "makes thing happen". This is a critically important point: THE SACRIFICE BUNT DOES NOT "MAKE THINGS HAPPEN." IT SIMPLY BIDES TIME UNTIL A BETTER HITTER COMES ALONG TO "MAKE THINGS HAPPEN" -- BY SWINGING THE BAT. Bunting for a hit can "make things happen", to be sure, but not with runners on first and second. The problem is that Frank's uninformed view that bunting is a proactive play filters down to guys like Guillen who abuse it even worse than Frank.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Meanwhile, In AA Harrisburg

Zimmerman, Ryan, Third Base

197 AB
61 H
17 2B
8 HR

.310 AVG
.344 OBP
.518 SLG

We now return you to your regular programming.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Friday Morning Figures

I apologize for not posting these in a while. But did you really want to see it in July?

There was some discussion of Team MVP on Yuda's Gameday Chat last night. In my view, there is no contest: Chief Cordero gets it. The ERV numbers bear this out. Back in June, Johnson and Cordero were neck and neck for WV lead. But Johnson got hurt, and Chief remained consistent, and he has opened up a huge lead (on that he can lose quickly if he blows some close games). Patterson has also made a run for the lead, too. The other valuable players are Hernandez and Schneider.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

ERV Boxscore for August 18 (Evening), at Philadelphia

In the third inning, after Utley's homer, I thought "Why in God's name am I looking to Ryan Drese to win a big game for us?" In the 5th, when we close to 4-3, I thought, so another 1-run loss. Then, in the 6th, when Frank burns Ryan Church again (in more ways than one), so that Tony Blanco has to pinch hit with RISP, I tell my wife: "Four big swings, one foul, one K, end of inning."

So when we start hitting Urbina hard in the seventh, I wasn't ready for it. Hell, even Dave Huppert was cookin' that inning. Suddenly, we're up 5-4, the cynicism shades fall from my eyes, and I'm watching a June ballgame again. Frank does the right thing by bringing Cordero in early, and we win.

How big was this game? In our Playoff Chase section, were tracking whether the Nats keep up to a 3 out of 5 pace. If they had lost this one, they would've needed the next 5 out of 6 to keep pace. Now, they need only win tomorrow against the Mets, and 3 of 5 after that. We dodge a bullet, for sure.

ERV Win: Cordero, Vidro, Baerga, Wilson
ERV Loss: Urbina & Burrell

3 Most Valuable Plays:
(1) Wilson's single in the 8th (2.20)
(2) Vidro's double in the 5th (1.81)
(3) Baerga's single in the 8th (1.65)

ERV Boxscore for August 18 (Afternoon), at Philadelphia

This game sucked, in about as many ways a game can suck.

ERV Win: Padilla and Abreu
ERV Loss: Castilla and Johnson

3 Most Valuable Plays:

(1) Abreu's Double in the 3rd (1.97)
(2) Castilla's GIDP in the 6th (-1.81) (But hey, it was productive, moving the runner to 3d)
(3) Wilson's single in the 6th, right before Vinny's GIDP (0.96).

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Ryan Church Saga

In May he was Rookie of the Month. In June, Frank was platooning him with Marlon Byrd, and they were a solid combination. But then Church seals the win over the Pirates by slamming into the wall, and heads to the disabled list. In the interim, Bowden trades for another outfielder, Preston Wilson, and Church has nowhere to play when he comes back. Below is his ERV chart, which shows his precipitous decline since mid-July, in which he does not have a positive RV/WV game in nearly a month.

Could it have been handled differently? Maybe. At the very least, Church could have been gaining experience in AAA, or have been traded to a team while he was still a Rookie of the Year candidate, and we could have gotten a player we need.

ERV Boxscore for August 17, at Philadelphia

ERV Boxscores for August 12, 13 & 14, at Colorado

Monday, August 15, 2005

ERV Boxscore for August 15, at Philadelphia

That was refreshing. We grabbed the game the by throat early and never let up. Well, Livan stumbled a bit out of the gate, but righted himself and pitched a fine game. Eddie Rodriguez stumbled on a nice lineup, too -- Schneider finally gets his due and moves up a slot, and the 3,4,5 & 6 hitters combine for a positive 4.67 WV, which totally rocks. Preston Wilson would have had a plus 4.0 WV if he hadn't grounded into a double play, but we must know by now that some things are indelibly part of the Nats experience, like the Guzman booted grounder.

ERV Win: Preston Wilson
ERV Loss: Brett Myers & Jimmy Rollins

3 Most Valuable Plays:
(1) P. Wilson's HR in the 3rd (2.20)
(2) P. Wilson's HR in the 1st (1.98)
(3) P. Burrell's Single in the 1st (1.46)

What Will It Take?

Inspired by this electronic version of the Lincoln-Douglas debates (Abe Lincoln versus Michael Douglas, that is), I decided to take a cold stone sober look at out playoff chances, coming down from the rarified air of an easy three-game sweep of the worst team in the National League.

As I described in the original Playoff Pace post, the "gray area" for the playoffs is between 88 and 96 wins -- if you are south of 88, you are likely out, while if you are at 96 or better, you are almost certainly in.

As of today, here is what the Nats have to do to reach the various levels of the "gray" area:

88 wins: need to go 26-19, a .578 clip

90 wins: need to go 28-17, a .622 clip

92 wins: need to go 30-15, a .667 clip

94 wins: need to go 32-13, a .711 clip

96 wins: need to go 34-12, a .756 clip

For comparison purposes, so far this season we've played at a .530 clip, so we need to improve on that or we're out.

If we play like we played in the first 81 games, a .617 clip, we'll end up just barely in the gray area, with about 89 wins.

If we play at playoff pace from here on out (split on the road, 2 of 3 at home), a .586 clip, then we end up just barely in the gray area, at about at 88-89 wins.

And there is no guarantee at all this year, with five other teams realistically competing for the last wildcard spot, that 88 or 89 wins will get you anything this year.

My view is that 27-18 is the worst record we can have and still think playoffs, as that would give us 89 wins. That means we have to win 3 out of every 5 games. From here on out, we'll keep track on the sidebar how we're doing against that pace.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

ERV Boxscores for August 9, 10 & 11, at Houston

ERV Boxscores for August 5, 6 & 7, vs. San Diego

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Nats ERV Table

Below you will see the Expected Run Value chart for the Nationals this year, through games of August 5. As a refresher, this chart shows you the average number of runs the Nats scored after certain states in the inning, e.g. with a runner on 3rd and 1 out, the Nats, on average, scored 0.95 runs in the rest of the inning.

For comparison purposes, below is a table that shows the difference between the Nats ERV Table and the MLB 2005 ERV table for all of baseball. It shows that the Nats generally do not do as well with 2 outs as the MLB average, though we are better with bases loaded by a large margin.

Unfortunately, we don't find ourselves in the bases loaded situation very much, as this table shows the percentage of at bats for each of the various inning states:

Thursday, August 11, 2005

ERV Boxscores for August 2, 3 & 4, vs. Los Angeles

Sure, these are a week old. But do you really want to know right now that Vinny's error probably was -1.87 RV and -2.68 WV? Or that Morgan Ensberg had about 15 RV this series? Better wait a few days before exposing yourself to that. Enjoy a series we actually won!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Chemistry 101

Here's an AP wire story on our beloved Nats' travails, asking the question of where the chemistry from June has gone. Familiar stuff to most readers, to be sure, but it provides me with the chance to explain my views on "chemistry".

Chemistry in baseball (and other sports) is essentially the same thing as "goodwill" in accounting. When one someone pays $450 million for a company that on paper is "worth" only $300 million, the accountants fudge it by assigning the extra $150 million to "goodwill". Trademarks and brands, which are intangible and very hard to value, are often valued as "goodwill".

Likewise, in baseball, when the stats seem to say one thing but reality says another (e.g. your opponents have score more runs than you but your record is 19 games over .500), many ascribe the difference to "chemistry". Similarly, when a team loaded with talent on paper fails miserably on the field, it is often the lack of "chemistry" that is proffered to explain the difference ("We never gelled as a team"; "The parts just didn't come together"). Statheads eschew the word "chemistry," preferring instead what they see is a more proababilistically honest term: "luck". Whatever it is called, the bottom line is this: When people start discussing "chemistry" in baseball or "goodwill" in accounting, you have entered the world where people are making stuff up.

Monday, August 08, 2005

ERV Boxscores for July 29, 30, 31, at Florida

Catching up on games missed, here is the Marlins' series. Note that these boxscores are the first reflectin the revised Win Value system, which appears to lower Win Value, that is, makes the WV amounts closer to zero. I'll explain the new system in a post later.

More on DC Ballpark Design

David Nakamura has a feature article on Joseph Spear and the design of the new DC Ballpark in today's Post. While it's a touchy-feely kind of article - talking about the themes of the new park - there is some interesting information in the article about the stadium itself.

First, the article says that:
Opening to the northwest, which would give most fans a view of the Capitol, was forbidden by Major League Baseball because the setting sun would be in a batter's eye.

Well, that is demonstrably not true. Seeing as we are in the northern hemisphere, the sun sets in the southwest. A batter looking northwest would, at its worst in June, have the sun at a 45 degree angle to his left. Most of the time, it would be further left than that.

Moreover, you wouldn't have to orient the stadium northwest to give most fans view of the Capitol. Since the stadium would be on South Capitol Street (i.e., the street that runs directly south from the Capitol), you could have the opening to the North. Jacobs field already has a north-south orientation, so that would not be a problem for MLB. A North-South facing stadium would also match up nicely with an aerial view, as it would face the Capitol and form a large triangle shape with the Washington Monument, and a "T" with RFK.

Second, the article describes the facade of the stadium:
The facade along South Capitol Street would be built of stone and glass, echoing the grandeur of the District's federal landmarks -- including the Capitol Dome less than a mile north.

Hmm. Stone and glass? Quite a revelation. If it's poured concrete, that's not much of a stone look (see US Cellular Field). But if it is a Capitol-esque stone facade, that should be interesting.

But we aren't done talking about facades yet:

The other facade, along Potomac Avenue, would have a connected but distinct feel; largely made of steel and glass, this side would be lacey, almost skeletal, and afford views from inside the park of the Anacostia River to the south.

This sounds like a recipe for disaster - a stone and glass facade on the third base side, and a steel and glass facade on the first base side? Is this the Harvey Dent school of design? I hope someone talks Spear out of the Two-Face concept. A baseball stadium is a cathedral for baseball, not a cathedral for architecture.

More bad news from the luxury box department:
In some cases, Spear has had to make changes from his original thoughts to satisfy the Nationals. Team President Tony Tavares recently requested that all 66 luxury boxes be on the mezzanine level between first base and third base so big-spending patrons would have prime views of the field. Spear agreed to design stacked boxes.

This is a bigger problem than you would otherwise think. Stacking the luxury boxes means that you have to jack up the upper deck another 20-30 feet. This makes a very big difference in the quality of the experience for the fan. Again, ask the people that go to U.S. Cellular Field and sit in the upper deck; the closest seat in the upper deck "New Comiskey" is further from the field than the furthest seat was in the "Old Comiskey."

But there is some good news! The field will be below-grade:
Planners cite another advantage of the northeast orientation: perspective it would give fans as they arrive for the game. They believe about 80 percent of the fans will come to the stadium from Metro stations and parking lots to the north. Walking down Half Street past a row of restaurants, fans would be able to see into the ballpark because that side would not have walls and the playing field would be depressed from ground level, Spear said.

This really is a promising concept. Although I have doubts about below-grade fields in a city that was once a swamp (just kidding, it wasn't!), I think allowing a fair view into the ballpark from the outside is a terrific benefit. It will make the area around the ballpark worth going to even if the game is sold out, or even if the team is performing poorly. You can always go and have a beer, or eat dinner and casually see how the team is doing. They would be smart to pair this with fifth-inning and after tickets for a reduced price just in case someone in the neighborhood sees that a good game is going on and wants to pay less than full fare to come in.

But even better is the plan for the area surrounding the stadium:
Spear called Half Street the "decompression zone" -- a place where fans would pause to eat and shop because they would feel they have arrived at the ballpark even though they are not yet inside.

This is fantastic. They actually did this with Fenway Park during the World Series last year (I'm not sure it's permanent), and it was really nice to go to the game 1 hour before it started, pick up some merchandise, have a beer before it started. It was like being at the ballpark while still being outside. If this can be paired with a couple of good restaurants (i.e., not Chilis) and a good sports bar, this will really, really work.

So that's my book report on the ballpark design article. For more of my own thoughts on what the park should look like, look at my stadium design post here. DM had a couple of thoughts here, too.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Charlie & Dave & Mel

Distinguished Senators has good post complaining about Charlie & Dave's inability to simply tell you the score of the game. I had nearly the same experience at the end of the game Saturday night. I had lost track of the exact score. So I thought I would find out quickly enough after the last out. You would think it would be as simple as this: "And that's the ballgame ... Padres beats the Nats tonight, 3 to 2 ..." Here's what we got (almost verbatim from MLB Audio Archive):

Darrin Jackson moves to his left, makes the catch, and the ballgame is over.

The Padres have won, the Nationals lose ...

Number 13 in a row in games decided by a run ...

And Trevor Hoffman inches closer to John Franco for number 2 on the all-time saves list ...

For Hoffman it is career save number 422, now just two behind Franco ...

And the Padres have won three in a row, four of their last five ...

The Nationals have lost the first two games of this series with the Padres.

And the final score ...

The Padres celebrate a victory,

Hoffman with a one, two, three ninth ...

We'll be back with the totals in a moment ...

it's San Diego 3, Washington 2.

Who gives a flying @#$! about Trevor Hoffman and his quest for John Franco? That's what the San Diego announcers talk about, guys!

Speaking of San Diego announcers, I had to shut Mel Proctor off Friday night, because his Ron Burgundy-like San Diego trivia night act wore thin VERY quickly. The last straw was him telling us that Dave Roberts' four-year-old has Mel's wife as a pre-school teacher.

Who gives a flying @$#% about who keeps the little Roberts from eating paste?

It made me want to skip the game and just watch a marathon of old episodes of "The Fugitive", and I hate "The Fugitive." I mean, who gives a flying %&*# about David Janssen?

A Tale of Two Cities

Two months ago today, on June 7, Dexys, Chris_Needham, D and I took in the game between the Nats and the Oakland A's in the Nats Blog seats. It was a classic June game for the Nats -- the A's went up early in the first, but none of us were worried, and sure enough, Nick Johnson hit a 2-run homer in the sixth to win it, and we would complete the sweep the next two nights. It was the middle of our 10 game winning streak. Frank's quote from the night was:

"I've never seen a ballclub like this before," Robinson said. "Each night, it just seems to be the same script. 'OK, boys, it's the sixth inning. Let's wake up. Let's go to work.' Or maybe they just feel like they don't want to put too much effort out there and do too much work when they can get it done in half a ball game. I don't know what it is, and I'm not going to tamper with it. We're having success, so we'll leave it alone, but it's certainly not easy on the stomach."

The "I'm not going to tamper with it" line is interesting. Compare to Frank's recent statements (quoted in the free paper handed out at RFK) during our recent struggles about how he doesn't worry about it much because games are won and loss by players and coaches don't have much effect on the game. So, whether we win or lose, Frank is consistent in his effort to avoid having much effect on the game. Perhaps we should change his title from "Manager" to "Observer."

But back to the Oakland game. After that night, Oakland's record was 23-34. The Nats were 32-26. Today Oakland is 64-47, 6 games above our current 58-53. So since June 7, Oakland has gone 41-13, and we've gone 26-27. If we had managed, through some good sci-fi technology, to swap talent and personality with the A's that night, and we went 41-13 since then, we'd be 73-39 and have the best record in baseball. But, as we know all too painfully this past weeked, that didn't happen.

One might take comfort in the 26-27 record since then. That doesn't sound too bad, after all. But the 26 is mostly from June and the 27 is mostly from July/August, so the record is deceiving about present and future trends. As Dexys' latest post implies, we here at Nats Blog are preparing for next year. We'd love to feast on heaping helpings of crow come October, but I just can't see it happening. If we were a real team with a real owner, we might have some interesting times in the coming weeks and months speculating (and hoping) for firings of McCraw, Robinson, Rodriguez and Bowden. But we don't even get that luxury.

So it is on to Houston. No Roger Clemens, fortunately, so we might be able to avoid being shut out all three games.

Build the nucleus

Unfotunately, I am about ready to start looking towards what we have to do for next season. By writing this, it doesn't mean I have stoppoed rooting for the team or following them religiously, and I really hope we string a bunch of wins together and make a run this year. I am just trying to be realistic.

Over the last two days, San Diego has beaten us by playing to RFK almost perfectly. They have gotten 27 hits in 2 days, and those 27 hits break down to 1 home run, 4 doubles and 22 singles. They have been an OBP machine. I'm not sure why our guys don't get that that is how you win at RFK. Don't go for the big fly. Just keep hitting and hitting and hitting, and in this ballpark, you will score more than the other guy.

That is why I say we should define our nucleus and play to it from this point forward. Leave the starting pitching corps pretty much in tact (unless you can get a stellar pitcher to significantly upgrade), get a lefty reliever we can actually trust, and besides that: find every single high OBP guy you can and get them in here. Personally, I'm all for constructing the new stadium to be almost as much of a pitcher's park as RFK is. If you have a good pitching nucleus, its a lot easier to find great OBP guys cheaply than power guys. We need a lot more Ichiros than Adam Dunns.
Let high HR teams come in here and fly out a lot as we get single after single after single on our way to 5-3 and 6-2 wins.
Nobody should be playing on this team if they can't get an OBP over .350 and probably .360. What does that mean? It means Nick Johnson stays and remains our star. It means Wilkerson and Guillen better get their act together. Schneider can stay since he is close to .350 as a catcher. Guzman, gone. Castilla, gone. Vidro? Well, that low OBP better be just due to the injury or...gone.
It is time to start picking our strengths and building around them. I hope the new owners realize this.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

ERV Boxscore for August 4, vs. Los Angeles

I haven't forgotten about the Florida series or the first two games of this Dodgers series (I'll post those boxscores soon), but this game was so enjoyable I had to post this boxscore tonight. Note that none of the Dodgers hitters had postive RV or WV -- the first time I've seen that -- a good measure of the dominance of John Patterson.

ERV Win: Patterson
ERV Loss: Sanchez, Robles, Bradley and Navarro

3 Most Valuable Plays:
(1) Church's GIDP in the 1st (-1.85)
(2) Castilla's Double in the 4th (1.64)
(3) Wilson's Single to load the bases in the 1st (0.76)

Steroids and Palmeiro

With the recent revelation that Rafael Palmeiro has violated the league's steroid policy, I could only think of this statistical analysis from December that we did. It was intended to show how out of whack Barry Bonds' post-34-years-old production was compared to the post-34 production of the greats in baseball. One interesting oddity at the time was that Palmeiro, while not increasing his production at a prodigious rate like Barry, managed to maintain his production at pre-34 levels, which no other historical great could do. At the time I guessed that it was due to good conditioning and playing in a offense-friendly era. Now, of course, I'm not so sure.

Also, what does this do to Jose Canseco's credibility?

It's Nice to Have an Owner

On Tuesday night I was lucky enough to attend the Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants game at SBC Park. The game was exciting, 4-3 Rockies, with the Giants leaving the tying and winning runs on base in the ninth inning. It was not well-played, though -- it had a fair share of miscues, like a balk, dropped pop-up, baserunning blunder, four-pitch walks to the pitcher, managerial head-scratchers, etc. It made me homesick for the Nats!

What I did not get homesick for, though, was RFK. I am one who has defended RFK, sort of, in that I think it is not as bad as most people claim. However, when confronted with a gem of a park like SBC, there is no defending RFK. Everything at SBC is better than RFK -- seats, sightlines, food, atmosphere, location, ticket purchases, everything. I had the best bratwust ever, on a sourdough roll. The park is part of the city, giving the place a great atmosphere before and after the game. Ticket purchase is outstandingly efficient -- the Giants run a service for season ticket holders to sell their unused tickets over the Internet -- I purchased two groups of 4 tickets in the upper reserved, right behind home plate, at 1:00 PM the day of game for about $25 per ticket. And there were even better seats available than that. The only complaint I had is the scoreboard, which is cluttered and doesn't show you enough information about the opposing pitcher or what the batter did in his previous at bats.

The difference, it seems to me, is the presence of an active owner. There is a sense of purpose behind the ballpark and the Giants franchise that is utterly lacking here in D.C. It seems plain to me that the Giants, 6.0 games out of the weak NL West, have little to no chance at the postseason. Yet they still were buyers on the trade market last week, picking up Randy Winn from Seattle to replace Marquis Grissom, which improved their club. The fans around us were enthusiastic and optimistic, but realistic too. They seemed to genuinely appreciate the ownership and the players, and their good fortune to be watching baseball in such a wonderful place.

I hope the Nats are sold soon, and the new owners immediately take a trip out west to study how the Peter Magowan and the Giants do things, to start the process of building goodwill and enthusiasm with D.C. and its community of Nats fans.

ERV Boxscore for July 27 & 28, at Atlanta

When Atlanta went up 4-0 in last Thursday's game, I had had enough. I went on exile from the Nats. Honestly, it was nice.

But I'm back, and will be catching up the boxscores over the next few days.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Your Own. Personal. Guzman.

No, he's not someone who hears your prayers, he's not someone who cares. He's Cristian Guzman (By the way, although I'm not a Depeche Mode fan, I think Personal Jesus is one of the best songs of the past 20 years - so good that the Man in Black remade it). As I was watching the Nats go down to yet another defeat this evening, and while watching Guzman take up his spot in the order yet again, I got to thinking. Sure, Guzman is hitting .188, but it doesn't seem like he's hitting that well. So I looked at Cristian Guzman's Game Log to see how our fabled shortstop has done with SuperNoVa in attendace attedance while I was at the game.

Game 1: vs. Diamondbacks, Apr. 14: 1 for 4 (.250)
Game 2: vs. Phillies, April 26: 1 for 3 (.286 running)
Game 3: vs. Mets, April 29: 1 for 3 (.300 running)
Game 4: vs. Cubs, May 15: 1 for 3 (.308 running)
Game 5: vs. Brewers, May 19: 0 for 3 (.250 running)
Game 6: vs. A's, June 8: 1 for 4 (.250 running)
Game 7: vs. Mariners, June 12: DNP (.250 running)
Game 8: vs. Blue Jays, June 26: 0-1 (.238 running)
Game 9: vs. Mets, July 4: DNP (.238 running)
Game 10: vs. Rockies, July 18: 0-3 (.208 running)
Game 11: vs. Astros, July 23: 0-4 (.179 running)
Game 12: vs. Dodgers, August 2: 1-2 (.200 running)

So, that's weird. My own, personal Guzman is hitting better than every one else's Guzman, putting up a Mendoza-line batting average of .200. Heck, I've even seen Cristian walk 3 times in 12 games. My own, personal Guzman is a rotten player. But he's not a putrid stinking pile of filth like your own personal Guzman, reader.