Friday, March 31, 2006

Anna, You Made the List

Mrs. DM and Little DM were in 7-11 this afternoon, about to enjoy a nice spring Slurpee, and near the counter there was a copy of FHM Magazine with this cover featuring Anna Benson. Little DM, who will be five in June, sees it and says "Look Mom! Baseballs!" Mrs. DM steams and leaves me a voicemail with this thought for the soon-to-be-ex Ms. Benson: "Thank you for ruining the National Pastime for my son!"

I'd stay away from D.C., Anna. I can't control what she might do.

SoriaNO!!!!

Well, here's my official, unofficial prediction for Alfonso Soriano, left field / second base for the Washington Nationals in 2006 (assuming full season in Nats Pajamas):

.265 AVG. / .302 OBP / .435 SLG

77 runs, 32 doubles, 4 triples, 20 home runs, 82 RBI.

I don't know if the SLG figure works out with the other figures, but it is my rough estimate.

Dexy's? DM? Add to this post.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Spahn and Sain, Sabermetric Style

I just received my copy of The Book, Playing the Percentages in Baseball, written by Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman and Andrew Dolphin, and so far it is really good. I'll try to have a review up sometime, but there's one idea in it that I think would work for the Nats.

They point out that a lineup without a pitcher batting scores about 5.25 runs per game. A lineup with the pitcher batting 65% of the time scores 4.83 runs per game. That 0.42 difference adds up to 68 runs per season, or about 6-7 wins. So, if you can avoid your pitcher hitting, you can get 6-7 cheap wins. How do you do that? Pinch-hit for the pitcher every time. They point out that quality starters earn you more than 0.42 runs per game, so you don't want to pull them for a pinch hitter in the second inning. But less than quality starters (which we have plenty) don't earn that much, so pulling them early would be beneficial. Here's how it would work:

Game 1: Livan
Game 2: Patterson
Game 3: Astacio, Armas, Rodriguez
Game 4: Ortiz
Game 5: Armas, Astacio, Rodriguez

You would pull the pinch hit move only in games 3 and 5. Given our weak rotation, we might even think about this for game 4, too, by using another reliever like Eischen instead of Rodriguez, something like:

Game 3: Astacio, Armas, Rodriguez
Game 4: Armas, Ortiz, Eischen
Game 5: Ortiz, Astacio, Rodriguez

This strategy costs some flexibility in using your third-best reliever (Rodriguez) and you lose 2 pinch-hitters, but the authors (and I) think it is worth it. The authors point out that 0.42 runs per game is like adding a Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez to your lineup. I suspect that our weak lineup and bench means we are not going to get that much increase, so maybe for us this is worth only about 4-5 wins rather than 6-7 over a season.

This would never happen in reality, of course. I can just picture trying to explain this to Frank Robinson -- he'd probably get so frustrated he'd punch me in the throat. But if I ran the Nats I'd try it, because we need help with the back end of our rotation and our offense. We don't have anything to lose.

The Illogic of Sports Radio

Hot off the heels of a infuriatingly glib interview with Jim Bowden last night (transcription services provided by Federal Baseball), Tim Kurkjian appeared on ESPN Radio this morning to discuss the reports that MLB is launching an investigation of the steroids scandal, to be lead by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell.

Kurkjian's take, and Bowden's interview, are exemplars of why sports radio is repellent to those who can breath with their mouths closed. He said he doesn't understand why MLB is launching an investigation, given that it's too late to do anything like suspend those players who might have taken steroids, they are not going to remove any records or place any asterisks in the books, and people are still flocking to the ballparks in droves and don't seem to care about this issue. He also questioned the timing of the announcement given its proximity to Opening Day. He doesn't deny that many of the stars of the past decade like Bonds, McGwire, Giambi and Sosa most likely took steroids that improved their performance and numbers, but he said that there "will always be a story attached to those records now" which people can use to judge for themselves.

Well, Tim, who so far has written that story? Jose Canseco and Will Carroll are two that I know of, and I wouldn't trust those guys to judge a wet T-shirt contest. The San Francisco Chronicle reporters appear more credible, but their book, which seems to be the catalyst for the investigation, focuses on Bonds and BALCO and doesn't, as I understand it, get into McGwire, Sosa, Palmeiro and other instances of steroid use. Reports are that the MLB investigation is not limited to Bonds, but will extend to other players, as it should. The "story that will be attached" to the records should come from more established sources than an idiot ex-jock and self-aggrandizing blogger trying to sell books.

Imagine if Bud Selig had taken the position that Kurkjian has, and said MLB doesn't need to investigate the steroid use because we can't do anything about it, fans are still coming to baseball games, and we don't want to sully the beauty of Opening Day. Tom Davis's head would have exploded if he had said that at one of the Congressional hearings. It is odd to find the "whitewash" position being taken by a journalist, not by the institution about which journalists make us so cynical.

I said here before that, despite being a hawk on the steroids issue, I don't think asterisks or changing the records are appropriate. But that position depends upon people having access to the facts about players' steroid use -- facts that so far have come to us piecemeal and from witnesses of varying credibility. A good investigation of all the circumstances will help us make those judgments about the players and the records they may or may not have deserved. It may also clear the names of players who have been unfairly lumped into the scandal by shoddy reporting or innuendo. Let's hope we get that good information from Senator Mitchell, because we sure ain't gonna get it from sportstalk radio.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Boswell's End

If you have read Tom Boswell's column in the Washington Post's Baseball '06 Preview today, then you really need to read Capitol Punishment, where Chris Needham excoriates the soft-headed thinking that is so common in Boswell's writing these days. In fact, the fisking is so good and so complete that it's depressing -- the sad reality is that D.C. does not have any good baseball columnists.

Well, except for Chris.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

An absolute freaking laughingstock

That's paraphrasing SuperNova from my cell phone conversation with him on my drive home tonight after I informed him that the Nats sent their second best position player from last year (after Nick Johnson) to the minors. Paraphrased only because as much as I want to, I don't like spewing profanities on here not knowing who our reader base is. But if any move made by this pathetic administration deserves cursing, this is it.

Our beloved Nats optioned Ryan Church today, sending him down to Triple AAA, and I believe effectively ending his tour as a National--if he has any self-respect, he will immediately demand a trade, over which about 25 other clubs would salivate. Let's review the brief Nationals career of Mr. Church. In his one year with the Nats (taking away the few games he had in 2004), Ryan had an on-base percentage of .353, and was named the Rookie of the Month in May--after which he was promptly played less by Frank Robinson, who REFUSED to play him against lefties despite his staggering 1.075 OPS against them (reminding me of when Mr. Burns benched Darryl Strawberry in favor of Homer Simpson because he wanted a lefty-righty match-up). Admittedly, Ryan also had a couple of injuries--which for some reason irked Frank beyond belief even when Church came back.

I'd now like to take some time to list for you ALL of the Nationals (with 60 or more at bats) who had a higher on-base percentage than Ryan Church last year: Nick Johnson. As Tony Kornheiser would say, that's it. That's the list. #3 after Ryan, by the way, was Brad Wilkerson, so it's good to know that in a stadium where the ONLY workable strategy is to have high-OBP guys, we have managed to jettison two of our top three guys for a rookie and a guy who had a Guzman-esque .309 OBP, even including playing half his games at the hitter's wet dream that is Arlington.

Out of all the moves Bowden has made, this may be the worst. And you know what? I don't blame Jim Bowden anymore. We already knew Bowden was a complete idiot who has less baseball knowledge than my toddler (harsh, but undeserved?). I don't even blame Frank Robinson, who couldn't manage a Safeway because he might fire the best cashier in the place because she took a day off or looked at him the wrong way once. I place the blame squarely on Tony Tavares. Where the heck has he been while the inmates were running the asylum? How does he green light a Soriano trade when he knows Bowden hadn't talked to Soriano and that Soriano would refuse to play left? How does he green light that trade in any circumstance when we had Wilkerson and Church and what we needed for $10 million was a shortstop or a stud pitcher? How does he allow our best up and coming player (outside Zimmerman) to get optioned to the minors?!? This has gone on long enough. MLB: Get us a new owner so they can clean house already!

Meanwhile, poor Ryan Church, who admits he is in complete "shock." It's not like the guy is 19, or 22 even. He'll be 28 at the end of the year and Jim Bowden and Frank Robinson have thrown tear gas at this guy's career. He deserves a HECK of a lot better than this. I really hope for his sake he gets a trade and beats the living crap out of the Nats every time we play him (with the Nats still winning I hope--I'm not that spiteful). And maybe for good measure, he can run into Jimbo in the parking lot and do something less figurative.

I said to SuperNova that this move makes it so that with our current roster, we could be pushing 100 losses (remember, our Pythagorean win total last year was 69 or 70 as opposed to 81-81). His response: we're now the Kansas City Royals and we should be extremely happy with 100 losses. Let's hope we're both wrong. Let's also hope a new owner rights this ship, and soon.

The Steve Watkins Fan Club

So, there's this guy....Steve Watkins...and SuperNova and I are looking at the Nats pre-season stats--which are awwwful with a capital AWE--and we both say "wow, look at S. Watkins!"

Of course, I then find out 5 seconds later that Steve Watkins has been reassigned to the minors today. But at least Steve, unlike pretty much every other minor leaguer given a chance in camp this spring training, served himself well. In 15 innings, Mr. Watkins registered a 1.20 ERA with only 10 hits and 5 walks given up against 18 strikeouts. Here's to you Mr. Watkins. While I'm not sure what more you needed to do to make THIS pitching staff given that we named a pitcher with a 10.50 ERA our #3 starter, I have a feeling we may be seeing you around in the future--hopefully still in a Nats uniform.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Follow-up on New Orleans

A couple of days ago we noted the effort to renovate a hurricane-damaged Boys & Girls Club in New Orleans that the Nats AAA club was sponsoring. The link to donate is on the web now at:

Magical Builders Donations

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Soriano Watch

Will he or won't he? This is getting better all the time. Good gravy, the status of the Nats' team bus was on Mike & Mike in the Morning this morning. (It left at 8:15 a.m. No word on whether Soriano was on the bus, or whether they were serving bagels or doughnuts on the bus).

Well, Jim Bowden sure got his splash out of the Soriano deal. I mean, everyone is talking about the Nats...including Ms. SuperNoVa. A transcript of this morning's conversation:

Mrs. SNV: I don't understand why they want Soriano to play left field.
Our Hero: Well, he's really bad at second base.
Mrs. SNV: But doesn't Podsednik play left field?
Our Hero: Podsednik plays on the White Sox.

Hey, does YOUR wife know who plays left field for the White Sox? I didn't think so.
[DM, your wife doesn't count.]

Please keep checking this space over the day as we track the Soriano situation. We won't have new posts or updates. But you will run out hit count up. Thanks for stopping by and visiting our wonderful sponsors.

P.S., to the driver of a car with Virginia plates HIDIDLYHO on Chain Bridge Road two nights ago, I say, "Drop Dead Flanders."

UPDATE: Soriano takes the field! Soriano takes the field! Fonzie blinks, Bowden 1, Fonzie 0. Bowden's reputation, -3, Fonzie's reputation, -1.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Opposite of Selfishness

Is charity. There is a nice article on MiLB.com (Minor League Baseball's official site) about how the Nats' AAA affiliate, the New Orleans Zephyrs, is helping the victims of Katrina.

I find this story especially apropos today, where someone who makes $10 million per year - a whopping $60,000 plus per game - refuses to play left field because he thinks it will cost him a few million in free agency. Meanwhile, the majority of New Orleans' population - making less than $60,000 per year - is scattered in a diaspora around the country, away from their true homes.

Give what you can. We at Nats Blog heartily endorse this event or product.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Left Out

As our anonymous commenter has mentioned, Alfonso Soriano has refused to take the field this evening.

It even got to the point - and this is farcical at this point - that Soriano was in the lineup playing left field and did not show up in the top of the first. The Nats had Eight Men Out in the field.

Now, do not get me wrong. Alfonso Soriano is a jerk. A big selfish jerk who should never get another job in the major leagues. In fact, I doubt he gets signed as a free agent by anyone next year.

But this is an embarrassment. A total, unequivocal embarrassment to what has become, under the reign of Jim Bowden, the laughingstock of professional sports.

UPDATE - 8:34 PM

The Associated Press now has a story up about Soriano's refusal to take the field. It adds a little more light onto the situation, including this choice quote from Jim Bowden:

"We told him if we get to Thursday, and he refuses to play left field, we
told him at that point we will request that the commissioner's office place
him on the disqualified list, at that time -- no pay, no service time,"
Bowden said.

"If he refuses to play and goes home, and the commissioner's office
accepts our request to place him on the disqualified list, then at that point,
if he were to sit out this year, he would not be a free agent, he would stay our
property because his service time would stay the same."
In other words, Soriano will be in limbo - no pay, no free agency, no nothing - unless he picks up his glove and heads to left. If he does go to left field, Soriano could conceivably engage in a type of Operation Shutdown - playing poorly, not trying hard enough. That would kill his value in the free agent market - especially if he did so in a way that was obvious - and he would be cutting off his nose to spite his face. He'd get his $10 million, but would not get the big contract at the end of the season.

One wonders what his agent's role is at this point. He cannot be doing Soriano a service if he is advising him to refuse to play. Nothing good can come of this for Soriano. Assuming his agent is not totally incompetent, it looks like Soriano is driving this train. And he's driving it off a cliff. Thank heavens that he is taking Jim Bowden with him.

Trudging to Left

Vowel-challenged Barry Svrluga reports that Soriano will play left field tonight for the Nats. Apparently, his one-on-one meeting with Frank Robinson went well enough to convince him to pick up an oversized glove and shag flies.

He, of course, took infield at second base today.

So the three-week period for resolving the Soriano situation has come and gone, and Soriano has apparently blinked.

Of course, Jim Bowden will tell you that he knew it all along. In an excellent, excellent article written by consonant-challenged Dave Sheinin today, Bowden admitted - and this made me take the Lord's name in vain at the morning breakfast table - that he knew that Soriano would not move to left field. Sheinin reports:

Before the Nationals would give their final approval to the deal, Vice President-General Manager Jim Bowden phoned the suite of his Texas counterparts with one final request: Would the Rangers grant Bowden permission to speak to
Soriano first, so that the Nationals could gauge his willingness to move to left field?

The Rangers, who had the power to grant or deny permission because Soriano was still under their control, said no, according to sources with firsthand knowledge of the request who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the negotiations were private.

"We certainly looked at [the Rangers' denial of permission] as a factor," Bowden said recently. "We took it [to mean that] if we talked to the player . . . [the Rangers felt] that the player would say no [to changing positions] and the deal would be killed."

However, as late afternoon turned to evening on Dec. 7, Bowden told the rest of the Nationals' contingent that he wanted to go ahead with the trade.

Now, we have been critical of the Soriano trade in this space before. But our assumptions were always that Bowden was willfully ignorant in thinking that Soriano would move to left field. That he just chose to ignore prior reports that Soriano wouldn't move for the Yankees or the Rangers. That he thought his power of persuasion would be better. We were wrong. Bowden was simply willful in screwing up this trade. He knew Soriano would refuse to play left. He knew he was creating a disaster - and giving up Brad Wilkerson to get that disaster.

His excuse? Frank Robinson is tough:

At one point, according to a person with firsthand knowledge of the internal discussions, Bowden told Robinson, "You can handle it."

Great. You know how Frank can handle it? He can bench him. Beyond that, there isn't much he can do. Which means you've traded Brad Wilkerson for the obligation to write a check to Soriano on the 15th and the 30th. Nice.

Folks, this is beyond us needing to demand that Jim Bowden to be fired. This is us needing to demand that Bowden to be fired with cause (i.e., no pay, Jimmy). This is us needing to demand that Bowden should never work in baseball again. He's too much of a threat. This is us needing to demand that Bowden be expunged.

As far as I know, expungejimbowden.com is available.


Friday, March 17, 2006

Nationals' Ayala Out for Year

I don't think I need to tell any of the astute readers of this humble blog that today's announcement that Ayala is out for the year is a considerable blow to the Nats' bullpen. Ayala has born the brunt of Frank Robinson's bullpen needs over the past two years, pitching in a 149 games and throwing 161 1/3 innings in 2004-2005. He's done it with a sparkling ERA - 2.69 in 2004 and 2.66 in 2005.

Those innings will have to come from somewhere. The Nats' bullpen was excellent last year - starting at the top with the Chief and falling all the way down to Joey Eischen. By God, the Nats even got 30 games and a 3.58 ERA out of Mike Stanton, even if Stanton's MO was to clear the bases as soon as he came into the game. (Or so I'm told by Dexy's).

After being taxed so hard last year - probably something that led to Ayala's injury anyway - it's going to be hard for Robinson to lean on the 'pen much more this year. But since the starting pitching situation is woeful at best (and frightful at worst), there's fat chance that these guys will get much rest. Add the departure of bullpen star Hector Carrasco, and the Nats are really going to need some heroes to come through this season for the Nats to finish ahead of the Marlins.

So what does the 2007 draft look like again?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

More Ballpark Thoughts

I appreciate both DM and Dexy's statements concerning the ballpark and, as the person on this blog that has probably written the most about stadium finance and design, I feel like I need to add my own thoughts.

When I first saw the design, I had a weird reaction that I couldn't quite place. My thought was "bus station." I'm not sure why; I think it had to do with all the small windows facing the street. Upon reflection, and a little bit of research, I believe I know what my reaction was based upon - National Airport.



Sure, that's a little weird, isn't it. But I also realize that I drive past National everyday, and maybe what I was thinking of are the parking garages as much as the terminal itself:



So what we've got from the new Nationals stadium is a very urban, industrial design. It is a throwback to the 1960's - i.e., the way federal buildings were designed in the 1960's. I really should hate it.

I don't. Surprisingly enough, what I find compelling about it is the urban setting of the urban stadium. Camden Yards works so well because it is a brick structure set in a warehouse district of brick structures. It makes sense. Jacobs Field, by contrast, is a brick structure kind of pasted into Cleveland near I-90. I've never understood what my nagging objection to the Jake was, but that was it, lying their inchoate all the time - context.

The stadium design fits in well with the context of near Southwest / Southeast D.C. for some reason. If you've driven around the part of SW adjoining the stadium area to the west, that urban/industrial design seems like a natural fit.

The other amazing thing about it is that it feels like a city stadium. It's design looks jammed into a city block like Fenway or Yankee Stadium. It looks like the form followed its surroundings, giving it some additional harmony with the surroundings. Unlike Camden, it doesn't feel parachuted in to a neighborhood; it looks form fit, jammed in and bursting with energy. It's bizarre, but I do find myself kind of liking it.

We'll see. At this point, I think that Opening Day 2008 is absurdly ambitious - they probably needed to break ground months ago. When it's finished, we will know whether HOK pulled it off.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The New Ballpark is Here!

The Washington Post has drawings of the new Nationals ballpark released today, with views from four directions.

First impression? A modern Cleveland Municipal Stadium, AKA the "mistake on the lake". The main seating bowl is round for some reason, which, I think, necessarily puts seats farther from the field.

I will need convincing on this one.

UPDATE: It's been a few hours, and I've seen some more images and the video. (Just a Nats Fan has some great shots from the announcement). I'm still not convinced. I didn't want a "olde time" brick faced like Camden Yards -- last year I said we should build something reminiscent of the Federal Triangle, and SuperNoVa found a good shot of the Reagan Building that captured the idea. I don't mind the decision to go modern with "steel and glass" -- the problem is that it is much harder to make something memorable taking that route. You run the risk of conjuring up a K Street office building rather than the monuments, and I fear that is what we have.

The curved facade is a problem, in my view, as is the super-high pressbox. I also think the "knife-edge" section looks silly, disconnected from the rest of the design, idiosyncratic. They do not convey the image of a "park" or "ballpark" or "yard" or "ballyard". They convey only "stadium". In fact, the more I look at the designs, the more it looks like a football stadium. The pressbox will make the reporters and broadcasters grumpy, and also put them farther away from the action, making their job of calling and reporting on the game harder.

I wish I could be more excited, like Banks of the Anacostia. And, to be sure, it will be a nice place to see a ballgame, and better than RFK in a lot of ways, other than proximity and height of the seats, which will be dramatically farther from the action. But my expectations were high, for something truly memorable. It may look much different in person, but I'm not optimistic.

In fact, what we have is a physical representation of the whole shoddy process that got our beloved Nats here. It is a monument to the lack of leadership from Mayor Williams, the absence of consensus he should have developed, the political games played by the DC council at the last minute. It lacks grand vision, and reflects tinkering to please indifferent and uncomitted kibitzers who whined loud enough to be heard. In five years we will forget all of that nonsense, but unfortunately we'll also forget what this design was supposed to be all about.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

A Long Season?

They recently posted the contracts for over/under wins for all the teams . Essentially the price reflects the percentage chance that the team will go over the win amount.

Right now the Nats over 76.5 wins is trading for around 40, which means the crowds are laughing at those who think we'll win 81 games this year.

Of course, the crowds also said Brokeback Mountain was an 85 percent chance to win the Best Picture Oscar.

UPDATE (3/10): As of Friday morning, the Nats have the lowest share price (39.0) of any team. Who is the crowd bullish on? Perennial losers DET, COL, MIL and PIT.

Yay!

The Lease is signed, sealed, delivered. DC is yours, Nats.

On a more important note, the signing of the lease means the team is closer to having a new ownership group. Which also means that the Nats are closer to firing Jim Bowden.

After a winter of our discontent. . . with Brad Wilkerson traded for a guy who won't play where we need him, a bunch of never-weres in camp, and a dubious flirtation with Sammy Sosa . . . it is about time we are headed in the right direction.

And, oh by the way, we kicked some Oriole ass today. Our man Dutch hit his second homer of the spring.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Opening Day Lineup

It's getting worse as the days past, so I'm hesitant in even writing this, but I suppose if the season started today, our lineup would be:

Brandon Watson CF
Jose Vidro 2B
Nick Johnson 1B
Ryan Zimmerman 3B
Ryan Church RF
Brian Schneider C
Marlon Byrd LF
Cristian Guzman SS
Livan Hernandez P

With our 2P: John Patterson; 3P: Ramon Ortiz; 4P Tony Armas; 5P: Jon Rauch

And a bench of Alfonso Soriano, Matt LeCroy, Robert Fick, maybe Michael Tucker, Damian Jackson, Marlon Anderson, and a couple of other guys perhaps. If Livan is back in form, that lineup gives us a chance with our top two pitchers. After that, it's anybody's guess.