Friday, September 23, 2005

The Difference

Back in this August 15 post, I speculated that the Nats would need to go 27-18 in their last 45 games to reach 89 wins and have a shot at the playoffs. With 9 games left, we have gone 16-20, which is 6 games behind the pace we needed (i.e. a 27-18 pace over 36 games is a record of 22-14). Had we kept pace, we'd be 1 game ahead of the Astros right now for the wild card, and 1 game behind the Braves for the division.

The question is: Which 6 games are the difference? Can we find 6 games that could have very easily gone the other way? Here's my list:

(1) Losing to the Padres 8-5 on Sept. 17 -- No comment necessary
(2) Losing to the Giants 4-3 on Sept. 20 -- Livan can't go the distance.
(3) Losing to the Mets 1-0 on August 18 -- This killed our momentum out of the Phillies series.
(4) Losing to the Braves 9-7 on Sept. 11 -- True, this was an unexpected comeback, but with 2 outs, you have to put that one away.
(5) Losing to the Padres 2-1 on Sept. 18 -- Once we lost the lead, I was convinced we'd lose, but this was a winnable game.
(6) Losing to the Mets 9-8 on August 19 -- Given the Mets' September collapse, we should not have let them wriggle out of this one.

That's it for me. I can't find anymore "bad" losses than that. The 2 losses agains the Reds are inexcusable, but I didn't think we were in those games, or deserved to win them. There were a couple of lucky wins, too, the 8-6 comeback over the Braves and the blown save against the Phils that we won in extras 5-4.

In this sense, it's hard for me to be too disappointed. Sure these games could have gone the other way, but it's not obvious that that should have been the result. We certainly didn't play like a playoff team down the stretch, and, as a result, we aren't one.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Frank finally did it.

A lineup today without a single regular starter. Nothing says white flag better.

Preliminary Awards: NL Cy

As with the AL MVP, here are my 1-5 votes for NL Cy Young (and apologies to Chad Cordero, but there are too many good starters):

1. Chris Carpenter. Despite two bad recent starts, I still need to go with Carpenter. Clemens's ERA is no longer diety-like enough to overcome Carpenter's total resume package: 21-4, 2.42 ERA (2nd), 1.00 WHIP (3rd), 203 Ks (3rd), 7 CGs (tied for 1st), 230 IPs (2nd). For every category that someone beats Carpenter in, Chris just beats him more in the others.

2. Dontrelle Wills. This is so close between my #2 and #3 that it will definitely be affected by the final couple of starts (in fact, Willis may get 4 starts according to McKeon). The question is: can I still call myself a stathead if I allow a 9-1 better record than Clemens to edge the .59 ERA edge and .10 WHIP edge? I don't know, but I feel like at this second, D-Train deserves my #2 vote. By the way, not that you should throw away ANY games when making this decision, but here are Dontelle's full stats: 21-9, 2.48 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 7 CG, 217 IP, 148 Ks. And here are those first three stats without those three straight awful starts in mid-July: 21-6, 1.64 ERA, 1.02 WHIP. Not sure there are many pitchers that have had seasons that dominant with three games in a row in the middle that awful.

3. Clemens. I feel bad punishing Clemens for his couple of bad September starts when mentioning how good Willis would be without those three July starts. But despite the overrating most people have of the W-L record, let's face it--if you are going to be 12-8, you are just going to have to be that much more dominant than everyone else. The 1.89 ERA (1st), 1.00 WHIP (2nd--essentially tied with Carpenter), and 180 Ks (9th) aren't going to do it even with the .197 BAA. Like I said above, Clemens could easily jump Willis in the final week and a half; it is that close to me.

4. Pettitte and 5. Pedro. These two just seem to be the obvious choices to me. Pettitte's combination of a 2.45 ERA (3rd) and better WHIP could have him also jumping Willis by season's end. Pedro once again has the absolutely sparkling WHIP (0.93, destroying the rest of the league) and K total (207--2nd).

Preliminary awards: AL MVP

Sure, there are about 10 games left in the season, but I figured why not give my votes for the 4 major awards early.

Here's my 1-5 for AL MVP:

1. A-Rod. I'm not sure why there is a discussion here. If you can even have an argument over who is more valuable at the plate, don't you always give it to the guy who plays the field? And a gold-glove caliber field at that? In a very valuable defensive position? Of course you do. Let's not be confused--I think a DH "could" win the MVP, but not when there has been a batter almost as or as good who also plays the field and plays it well. Just like a reliever should be able to win the Cy Young, but not if there has been a starter who has been almost as or as dominant.
A-Rod's offensive case: 1st in OPS (1.024), 2nd in runs (113), 2nd in HR (45), 4th in RBI (120), by far the best Runs Created per 27 outs (9.37), and also still has speed (3rd in SB among top 20 OPS) and minimizes costly mistakes (only 8 GIDP, low for a power guy).

2. Ortiz. No doubt that even as a DH, he gets the #2 vote as his bat well ahead of #3. Big Papi has some huge hits in the pennant race (although note that A-Rod does too), is #2 in OPS (1.012), #1 in runs (114), #1 in RBI (140), #1 in HR (46). He's the best hitter in the AL right now.

3. Hafner. Easier to pick #3 than I thought it would be. He's #3 in OPS (1.008) by a decent margin. The clear leader on the surprise (probably-) playoff bound team of the year. He has fewer PAs than most contenders, but I don't think anyone deserves my #3 vote ahead of him.

4. Vlad. Here's the big plus for a Vlad vote: He is 5th in OPS (.970) when no one else on his team is in the top 50 (almost 60, next Indian is at 59)! For reference, the Yanks have 5 in the top 24 and Boston has 5 in the top 31. Add to that Vlad's speed, glove, arm, more walks than Ks, etc. and he gets my 4th vote--especially since I don't really see a #5 at all.

5. Mariano Rivera. I see my #5 vote as a complete crapshoot with no one that really leaps out. I'll go with Rivera, whose miniscule 0.84 WHIP, 1.32 ERA and his 2nd in the league 41 saves, combined with his ability to never make a mistake (.457 OPS against, 2 HR against, no wild pitches), makes him the dominant player at his position.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Cheer

Would it be too much to ask for RFK to become a Miller Lite ad parody tonight?

I would be especially gleeful if the first-base side of the stadium shouted out "CLEAR!" and the third-base side responded with "CREAM!" and it went back and forth like that for a while. As DM is a Duke fan and that would be very Cameron Indoor-like, I think he would find that quite pleasing as well.

Random thoughts

Since I really haven't been good about posting lately, I thought I'd throw out a few things, most of which are totally unconnected.

A) It truly is amazing how one's perspective can change dramatically with the slighest change to one's information base. I was away this weekend. Somewhere after midnight Saturday night, I was watching the scroll of scores on ESPN, and saw the Nats up 5-0 in the 8th. I went to bed. On my drive home Sunday, the Nats were again shutting out the Padres late in the game--all I knew was the score and the inning from the news report, not what transpired the night before. So, here I am in my car thinking, "wow, we actually swept the Padres. Could we really be in this thing?" Then I get home and that night read DM's excellent expose on the PETCO Commission. I then checked the Sunday score to realize we lost again. In the space of 10 seconds, my information base went from "we swept the Padres" to "we lost the series 2-1." That small change of a few words in my mind was the difference between "we can do it" and "what a shame the season is over." As I said to DM Friday, we needed to go 11-4 in our last 15 to have any shot whatsoever (it would also require Houston to go .500 in its remaining games). I still believe that, which means, we need 10-2 or better in our last 12... a very tall order.

B) More on going to bed thinking something is over. I went to bed last night with about 5 minutes left on the clock and the Cowboys beating the Redskins 13-0. The Redskins pulled it out 14-13 telling me two important things: i) We may be the worst 2-0 team ever--seriously, even at 2-0 and an easy schedule, I would be shocked if this Redskins team finished above .500; and ii) I may be the worst fantasy manager in history--seriously, I make these moves that make soooo much sense and always seem to blow up on me. Benching Santana Moss against the Cowboys defense and Domanick Davis against the Steelers defense in favor of Warrick Dunn against Seattle and a seemingly healthy Brandon Stokely still makes perfect sense in my mind. Well, those two moves changed me from a relatively easy win this week into being blown out. I try to repeat the mantra that results don't make good decisions, but it's a bit difficult this morning.

C) Speaking of football, if anyone wants in my suicide football pool, email dexys_midnight@yahoo.com --20 per entry, enter as many times as you want, winner takes all, season starts week 5.

D) More speaking of football, of the 7 teams in the NFL that are now 2-0, five (Tampa, KC, Cincinnati, the Giants, and the Redskins) weren't just out of the playoffs last year, they were in last or next to last in their division. My over-under on the # of those five that make the playoffs this year: one (and I'll say that the one is KC).

E) Has anyone noticed how bad the Summer 2005 movies were? Usually I see a bunch and there are more that I think back to and say "oh, I missed that; I'll have to catch it on DVD." This summer I saw very little and can think of almost nothing I want to make sure to see when it comes out on DVD. Anyway, I personally see a direct correlation between this and the lower box office results.

F) Frank Robinson says he will pitch to Barry Bonds this series, because he doesn't believe in pitching around him. 700 or so baseballs beg to differ. I don't understand the blanket nature of this statement. Of course, you pitch to him in bunches of situations. But if the game is on the line and Barry is up with runners on and first empty, you walk him...see lessons not learned against Andruw Jones recently. Frank also said that no one should be talking about steroids with Barry because nothing has been proved. Let me address this.
As a lawyer and a somewhat socially liberal one at that, I strongly believe in the innocent until proven guilty foundation of our legal system. But as a lawyer, I also believe in something called "evidence." I do not understand the perverse incentive we and the media give to people to never admit their guilt regarding things like this. We basically say unless a guy ADMITS to a crime or to taking steroids, or whatever, we shouldn't think that he has done anything wrong no matter what the evidence to the contrary. In my view, it is completely legitimate for each person to have his or her own view on whether Barry took steroids and its effects based on the evidence they can see for themselves. Sometimes if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck--even if it doesn't come out and say "look at me, I'm a duck."

G) I am going to do a separate post on my preliminary picks for awards. But this season has made me realize something and I am going to say it here despite it being controversial and irrelevant because the status quo will indeed go on: There shouldn't be a manager of the year award. That's right, I said it. What do we do when we vote on this? I know what I have done, consciously or subconsciously, in the past. I pick the guy who manages the team that has exceeded expectations the most. But that is a pointless exercise, isn't it? What makes me think that my original expectations weren't just wrong? Or that luck didn't have a great deal to do with the team's record? Or that one important over-achieving player, or the GM with good trades, or a new pitching coach, or someone's horoscope didn't have just as much to do with it?
Many of those of us that have actually been watching all or the majority of the Nats games this year think that Frank Robinson has been asleep at the switch, that his lineup decisions, game day decisions, and basic strategy have cost the team more games than it won. But those who don't follow the Nats exceptionally closely will look at our record and their pre-season expectations and think "Frank did a great job." And why wouldn't they? It's what I probably would have done if I lived in Seattle or LA or Minnesota or wherever and wasn't a Nats fan.
So, anyway, not knowing what any given manager outside Washington is in the clubhouse or how well he constructs his lineups, or how well he makes game decisions or what other factors went into a team's record in a given season, I think it's silly to vote on the best manager for a given year.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The PETCO Commission Report

Editor's Note: Sudden, catastrophic disasters, as we have seen the past few weeks, are greeted these days with shock, sadness and concern, followed almost immediately with finger-pointing, the blame game, and calls for an "independent commission" to get to the bottom of it all. This being Washington, we should treat last night's Nats disaster and the devastation it wrought no differently. The initial shock and concern can be felt here; below you will find the results of the official process of recrimination that normally follows tragic events like this one.

Introduction

The Commission, named after the site of the tragic events of September 17, thoroughly reviewed the testimony and evidence related to that horrible evening. Based on this exhaustive review, we feel confident that no other conclusions that those expressed below can be made about the culpability of those officials involved in the disaster. We also provide concrete actions that must be taken immediately in order to safeguard the Nationals interest and reduce the chance that such a catastrophe would happen again. To fail to implement these recommendations would be so reckless, so cavalier about the real dangers faced, that it would be legally, morally and ethically wrong.

Conclusions

Based on the testimony of Mr. Bergmann, the first official on the scene, it is clear that he was given neither the resources nor the opportunity to ensure that the first embers of this tragic conflagration were squelched early. Despite having thown only 11 pitches, 7 of them for strikes, his superiors removed him his post, ostensibly due to the walk he issued. At the time he left the game, there was one out and a runner on first, but Mr. Bergmann had just stuck out a batter, and seemed in control of the situation. Further evidence revealed that Mr. Bergmann is a young, up and coming official, and that his superiors have had problems with such younger staff, often discriminating against them. It is the Commission's view that Mr. Bergmann's removal is another instance of such discrimination, as it does not have any independent, objective rationale.
Mr. Bergmann was replaced by Mr. Eischen, a colorful fellow who provided some moments of levity to our otherwise somber proceedings. Mr. Eischen has many more years of experience in these situations than Mr. Bergmann, but he is not clearly better at dealing with them. Yet even the veteran Mr. Eischen was shackled and stunted by his superiors in his efforts to contain the danger. He threw only 3 pitches, 2 for strikes, and retired the first batter he faced, but exacerbated the problem a bit by giving up a single. Yet, like Mr. Bergmann his superiors removed him from the post, for reasons that remain inexplicable.

The Commission called a leading statistician to analyze the danger at the moment Mr. Eischen had retired his first batter. His research and testimony indicated that at that point, there was only a 0.15% chance that the calamity that in fact ensued should have ensued. The vast remoteness of this possibility makes the subsequent actions of those in charge all the more blameworthy.

Mr. Eischen's replacement, a Mr. Hughes, is another younger, less experienced official who has struggled to fit in with organizations more elderly higher-ups. Looking somewhat confused by the atmosphere of instability and chaos created by all the changes to personnel dealing with the problem, Mr. Hughes threw 2 pitches, giving up a single that scored the first Padres run.

Although the situation was by no means grave (our statistician said the likelihood of disaster was only around 1.35% at that point), the senior officials panicked, bringing in Mr. Cordero to replace Mr. Hughes. Mr. Cordero, despite being only 23 years old, is an extremely competent official, often brought in to resolve the most difficult and demanding situations. It appears, however, that Mr. Cordero might have been in the middle of "burning out", given the high levels of stress he has experienced, and it was clear that the night of the tragedy Mr. Cordero was not scheduled to work, and had been looking forward to the rest. His supervisors, though, were oblivious to these facts, and thrust Mr. Cordero into a very difficult situation, exacerbated by the quixotic, hapazard decisionmaking that preceded his appointment. As one observer noted, "the whole affair seemed to create more tension than the situation called for." (Svrugla, Exh. 45A at 2)

Mr. Cordero, it must be said, did not perform up to his expected level of performance, and he was the last official on the scene, he certainly bears a not insubstantial share of the burden for the tragic events that unfolded, particularly the dramatic grand slam that has captured so much of the public's attention as the central devastating event of this disaster. But the Commission's view is that the fireworks of that event overshadows the more important, systemic flaws and failures that lead to the disaster.

Responsibility for those systemic flaws and failures must be lain at the feet of the director of the agency, Mr. Frank Robinson, who, in the Commission's view, not only was negligent in his duty, but was so reckless in his actions that it is not unreasoanable to conclude that he might have had an intention to cause the harm that ultimately resulted. Anyone, even unsophisticaed, troglodyte "jockjaws" who spend most of their time on teh Internet had identified the danger that Mr. Robinson's actions were creating.

It is the Commission's view that Mr. Robinson's actions on that fateful evening were based not on an objective assessment of the situation at hand, but on personal vendettas against younger players, which he has harbored and acted on in the past, plus his authoritative, retributive style of placing discipline, particularly of Messrs. Bergmann, Eischen and Hughes, ahead of a goal of ensuring that the danger was alleviated. There was also some evidence that Mr. Robinson was not entirely in control of his mental faculties during the tragedy -- he spent the entire game huddled in a long-sleeve jacket zipped to his chin, despite a game-time temperature in the 70s. Mr. Robinson can also be faulted for refusing to implement modernization procedures that would have improved his ability to analyze situations in a more calm, objective and productive manner. The Commission was ably assisted in its work by the testimony of Mr. Needham on this point.

Other evidence indicated that Mr. Robinson delegated far too much authority to a Mr. Rodriguez, a subordinate hopelessly out of his depth for the tasks given him. It is the Commission's view that Mr. Rodriguez was responsible for the removal of Messrs. Bergmann, Eischen and Hughes, as Mr. Rodriguez has been known to adhere to the left/right doctrine so inflexibily as to cause more harm than good.

The Commission is also disappointed by the lack of leadership at the very top of the Nationals agency. Had Congress identified and appointed a committed leader in advance of September 17, there is a chance that negligent officials like Mr. Robinson and Mr. Rodriguez could have been removed before they created the dangerous conditions for the PETCO disaster.

In sum, the Commission is strongly convinced of the view that the disaster of September 17 at PETCO Park could have easily been avoided, and that Messrs. Robinson and Rodriguez not only failed to react in a timely and appropriate manner to a perceived danger, but actually took steps to exacerabate the danger and create hazards where there were none before.

Recommendations

In order for the likelihood of tragedies like September 17 from happening again to our Nationals, it is imperative that the following steps be taken:

Messrs. Bergmann, Eischen and Hughes should be absolved of any responsibility for the tragic events. Indeed, they should be given commendations for attempting to perform under the chaotic conditions created by Mr. Robinson.

Mr. Cordero presents a more difficult case. There is no question that had he performed up to expectations, the catastrophe that befell the Nationals would not have occurred. However, the Commission is of the view that Mr. Cordero was not placed in a position where the normal expectations could be maintained. Mr. Cordero should receive a censure, but nothing more.

Mr. Robinson and Mr. Rodriguez should be removed from their posts immediately, and criminal charges should be brought against them. After the conviction which is sure to follow, a serious penalty be imposed, including, without limitation, removal of a limb or limbs, or reassignment to the Baltimore or Bronx field offices.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

What Have I Done?


I think I have created a monster. My four-year-old son is obsessed with baseball. He reads the sports page religiously every morning, and has taught himself to read all thirty team names and nicknames. He knows the difference between the NL and the AL. He knows who the Nats are competing with for the playoffs, so he'll say "Dad! Dad! This is good! Brewers 6, Astros 4!" In the car on Sunday with XM, he was requesting which games to listen to; he had memorized the schedule for the day. He likes the Nats first, but also the Brewers, Rockies, and Tigers. He doesn't like being a frontrunner.

But today, he surpassed even all this. I came home and told him the Nats/Mets score. "Woo hoo!", he said, "That's three in a row against the Mets. The Mets aren't very good. Who do the Nats play tomorrow?" I told him the San Diego Padres. "Is that game on late?" he asked. "Yes, at 10 o'clock" I said. He frowned, "So that will be an x-late game in the paper, huh? Today, all the teams in the NL West had an x next to their names." I didn't know what to say.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

How can this boost confidence?

Yes, it has been a long time since I posted. I was away without any internet or phone access on vacation.

I promise to post more next week, but in the meantime...

Frank Robinson stated here that if Cristian Guzman was sitting at .1995 going into the final game/s of the season, he would sit him, so that his final season average would be rounded up and go into the books as .200. Why? Because, Frank said, it would be a big boost to Cristian's confidence to have his final average at .200.

Ok, does anyone see the flaws in this logic?
A) It is saying "you suck so bad, and you don't even realize it. So, I am going to do what I can to make you feel good about it. Now, over the offseason, you can proudly state 'I had a .200 average last year! And I was so good that the manager sat me the last game!"
B) It is saying, "you suck SOOOO bad, that if I gave you the chance to play in the last game, I am pretty sure you wouldn't get a single hit, which is all you would need to keep that average over .200 anyway."
B2) I mean, I don't approve of a guy being sat if his average is .401 either, but at least there you can say the guy has to have a pretty solid game to keep his average above .400, unlike here.
C) Hey Frank. Here's an idea! He's hitting .201 now. Start sitting him!! That way you can assure that his average will stay above .200, and we as fans don't have to watch him suck. Pretty amazing that you won't sit a guy to help the team you manage win, but you will sit him to artificially make his numbers look better for his "confidence."

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

With Apologies to T.S. Eliot

This is the way the season ends.
This is the way the season ends.
This is the way the season ends.
Not with a "Bang! Zoom!" but with a whimper.

Trivia Question

What do these teams have in common: Baltimore, Cleveland, Toronto, Detroit, Oakland, Texas, Milwaukee, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati, Washington, Florida, NY Mets, Philadelphia?

Answer in the first comment.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

ERV Boxscore for September 6, vs. Florida

Not much to say here. Darrell Rasner passed his initiation into the "arsonists", the club of journeyman starting pitchers who seem to have no chance of winning a game. Though, in this game, the experienced bullpen came through to douse the flames and hold the Marlins to 4 runs, which should be enough to win. But our offense went sour (why is Cristian Guzman playing? I thought we got D. Cruz to replace him) and we lose.

ERV Win: Moehler
ERV Loss: Drasner

3 Most Valuable Plays:

(1) Wilkerson's HR in the 3rd (1.90)
(2) Castillo's HR in the 5th (1.53)
(3) Hermida's double in the 3rd (1.33)

Monday, September 05, 2005

ERV Boxscore for September 5, vs. Florida

The good news and bad news about this game center around the same thing: our big three pitchers did the job this holiday weekend, winning three crucial games and putting us back in the mix. But they can't pitch anymore for a bit; we now we enter the abyss that is the back-end of our rotation. CBS Sportsline says it's Armas and Halama the next two nights. (Edit: I am a nervous ninny. We'll be fine. Today's paper says we have Darrell Rasner going tonight. I'm so relieved.) It would be an accomplishment to get one of those two next games.

ERV Win: Hernandez
ERV Loss: LoDuca and Encarnacion

3 Most Valuable Plays:
(1) LoDuca's GIDP in the 5th (-1.60)
(2) Hernandez's GIDP in the 6th (-1.56)
(3) Encarnacion's GIDP in the 7th (-1.49)

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Our Magic Number

After a very solid win today, one of the best in quite a while, it's time to start tracking our magic number. But we're not in any lead, you might say, how can we calculate a magic number? It's easy. Take the number of games remaining, add 1, then add the number of games your team is behind in the loss column. Here it is for the Nats, relative to winning the division: 25 games remaining, plus 1, plus 7 for the games behind the Braves in the loss column. So our magic number for winning the division is 33. Every time the Nats win, it goes down by one. Every time the Braves lose, it goes down by one. So, even if we won all of our remaining 25 games, we'd need the Braves to lose at least 8 games to win the division.

But what about the other teams between us and the Braves? How do we figure them into the magic number? Well, we don't, for now. They come into play if the Braves drop out of the lead. At that point, we figure our magic number based on the new leading team's loss total.

For the Wild Card, we have 25 remaining games, plus 1, plus 2 games behind the Phils in the loss column, so our magic number is 28 games for the Wild Card.

We'll be tracking this in the sidebar, replacing the Playoff Pace section with the Magic Number section.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

What is St. Barry Trying to Tell Us?

Barry Svrugla, the Nats beat writer who has been consistently excellent this year, has a very good story today about a very bad game for the Nats, and he tells us a lot about particular players in a very subtle way. Notice, for example, how the mere juxtaposition of two descriptions conveys a lot:

Afterward, in the clubhouse, outfielder Brad Wilkerson was asked about the mood of the team.
"I think it's getting a little ridiculous, to tell you the truth," Wilkerson said. "Hopefully -- I keep saying 'hopefully' -- we can get some momentum, get some confidence. But I think we got to want it. We got to realize what we're playing for. We're playing [teams] we're going to be going up against in the wild card.

"But now's the time. Now's the time to want it more than anything. And if we give it all we have and come up short, I can go home this offseason and work on next year. But if I had to go home right now, I wouldn't feel that way."

In the back of a nearly empty locker room, as Wilkerson spoke, Castilla joked with pitcher Esteban Loaiza, laughing loudly. Castilla was asked if he thought the team could still contend.

"How many games are left?" he asked. Twenty-seven, he was told. "Yeah, we're still in it," he responded. "We still got a chance."


Also interesting is that in my hardcopy version of the paper, the quote from Vinny Castilla is not in the story, just the description of his joking with Loaiza. One gets the feeling that Barry or his editor thought, "Maybe it would be best if we get a response from Vinny." Which makes pretty clear what Barry was trying to tell us.