Monday, May 23, 2011

Adam LaRoche's Shoulder — A Timeline

March 1: Adam LaRoche at DH with 'soreness' in throwing shoulder
"Just spring training soreness in his throwing arm," Riggleman said. "It's nothing to be concerned about. He wants to play." … Not surprisingly, LaRoche downplayed the seriousness of his injury -- "I don't even want to call it an injury," he said.
March 25: LaRoche receives MRI, shut down until Monday
Neither he nor Manager Jim Riggleman have any concerns about LaRoche, who is slated to bat cleanup, playing Thursday, opening day. 
“Not at all,” LaRoche said. “If it felt as bad as it did when I first got here for spring training, I would still play. And it’s gotten a lot better since then. I don’t think it’s going to be 100 percent anytime soon. Hopefully I can get it up a little bit from what it is now.”
March 25: LaRoche had MRI on shoulder, will miss 2-3 days
Doctors have told him they think he has a pinched nerve, and he's been going through an exercise routine to strengthen his arm. 
Riggleman said he didn't know what the results of LaRoche's shoulder MRI were, but the Nationals feel good enough about his health to put him back in the lineup against the Braves. He should be ready to go for Thursday's regular season opener, also against Atlanta.
March 27: LaRoche has partially torn rotator cuff, but plans to play
Adam LaRoche, who has been hindered by shoulder soreness for much of the spring, has a partially torn rotator cuff in his throwing arm, a team source confirmed. But the first baseman, who received a cortisone shot, is scheduled to DH tomorrow, will be back at first base Tuesday and doesn't plan to miss any time once the regular season starts Thursday…If LaRoche does miss an extended amount of time at some point, left fielder Michael Morse would be the likely candidate to replace LaRoche. Center fielder Rick Ankiel and reserve outfielder Matt Stairs can also play there.
March 29: Adam LaRoche homers, says his shoulder is feeling better
Adam LaRoche, who hit his first homer of the spring in the fourth inning today, also played first base for the first time since getting a cortisone shot last week. He said the shot "did exactly what we wanted it to," and though his left shoulder - which has a slight labral tear - is only about 50 percent, LaRoche said he's fine playing the season with it at that level.
April 9: Adam LaRoche gets a day to rest shoulder after flare-up

The Nationals' plan is for Adam LaRoche to play more than 150 games this year and get upwards of 600 plate appearances, even with the small labral tear that will likely limit his throwing all season. But the fact that the team is facing a left-handed pitcher tonight gave manager Jim Riggleman a good chance to rest the first baseman - and for LaRoche, it came at a good time. 
He said the pain in his shoulder flared up Tuesday in Florida, several minutes after he fielded a bunt and made a throw. LaRoche has been playing with the injury all week, instinctively taking something off his throws to mask the pain. But he continues to say it's not affecting his swing - his first homer of the year on Thursday put the Nationals ahead for good in the 11th inning against the Marlins. He also doesn't anticipate going to the disabled list unless his swing is affected. But the pain has gotten worse, to the point where it's almost the same as when LaRoche first felt it in February. 
"A throw that short (after fielding a bunt) shouldn't be as painful as it is," LaRoche said. "If I can calm it down a little bit, it'd be great." 
He has been receiving ultrasound therapy on his shoulder, and will be able to get more of that treatment today than he would on a normal game day. LaRoche is realistic about how much better his shoulder will feel, but is hoping to reduce the pain somewhat.
He maintains, however, that he won't need surgery during the season.
May 22: Adam LaRoche will get second opinion on shoulder
Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche, who has been playing all season with a torn labrum in his left shoulder, will get a second opinion tomorrow, team sources said. 
LaRoche is out of the Nationals' lineup today after starting 42 and playing 43 of the Nationals' first 45 games. He was diagnosed with a torn labrum in spring training when he reported problems throwing the ball, but doctors said it would only affect him on defense and wouldn't be detrimental to his swing, since it's his top hand and isn't responsible for most of the power in his swing. 
In the first six weeks of the season, though, things have gone the opposite direction for LaRoche. He's played, in manager Jim Riggleman's opinion, Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base, not making an error in 43 games and scooping nine throws, several of which saved errors for other Nationals infielders. 
But he's only hitting .172 with three homers, and even for the notoriously slow starter, his lack of production this year has been out of the ordinary. 
May 22: Adam LaRoche will seek another opinion on ailing shoulder
Neither LaRoche nor Riggleman indicated which doctor the first baseman will see. But when asked about the potential for season-ending shoulder surgery, Riggleman didn’t rule it out. 
“That’ll depend on what the doctor says tomorrow and how does it feel tomorrow,” Riggleman said. “He’s been playing with this since spring training. It’s a throwing issue for sure and it’s something that will have to be taken care of and he and the doctors now have to make a decision." 
May 23: Trying times will test Jim Riggleman's hold on Nationals clubhouse
First baseman Adam LaRoche told Riggleman he would see a shoulder specialist on Monday to consult on his torn left-shoulder labrum — that’s his third visit. Technically, that’s “no news.” But, in baseball, the third time isn’t a charm, especially for play-in-pain guys like LaRoche. It’s usually a trip to the disabled list for rest, sometimes followed by surgery if that doesn’t work, either. And it usually doesn’t. Last year, 100 RBI, this year, .172. The Nats have no other real first baseman — anywhere. Ian Desmond better get used to Mike Morse digging out his low throws. 
Update:

May 24: According to #Nats 1B Adam LaRoche, he has a large tear in the labrum and some tearing in the rotator cuff

May 24: “That’s not what I wanted to hear,” Adam LaRoche said about his shoulder injuries. “I wish it didn’t take me 45 games to figure out something was totally wrong.”




Sunday, May 1, 2011

Everyone loses

I'm disappointed that all the Nats beat writers took the same approach in writing their game stories for yesterday's loss. "Oh, everything would be fine if only the Nats would start hitting." Yes, the Nats' anemic offense (along with the lucky pitching and Zimmerman's injury) is the story of the season so far, but the real story of yesterday's loss is Jim Riggleman's overmanaging blowing up in the team's face.

When a 13-12 Felix Hernandez won the AL Cy Young Award last season, it showed that only one group of people still care about pitching wins: baseball managers.

If the Nats were hitting and winning games, it wouldn't mean that Riggleman is doing a good job of managing. It would mean the Nats are doing well in spite of Riggleman's overmanagerial tendencies. But the lack of offense is exposing Riggleman not only as a poor in-game tactician, but as someone who values the wrong things and makes decisions for the wrong reasons.

In his post-game press conference, Riggleman admitted he made a series of bad decisions (leaving an increasingly ineffective Lannan in the game despite having a warmed-up Clippard available, intentionally walking Whiteside to load the bases with two outs to face Huff, letting Lannan pitch to Huff instead of bringing in Clippard) for the sole purpose of putting Lannan in the position to achieve a stat that DOES NOT MATTER.*

*Sometimes you believe in the stats. Sometimes you believe in the players. And I guess sometimes you believe in sabotaging the team in a misguided attempt to get one of your players a stat. And no, the fact that Riggleman owned up to his mistake doesn't make a difference. It's his process that's at issue.

Last time I checked, getting your starting pitcher a win was not reflected in the standings. The standings don't care which pitcher gets credit for the win. I'm sure everyone in the clubhouse would feel great if the team won and Lannan got credit. I'm equally sure everyone would feel almost as good if the team won but Lannan got a no-decision. But you know what I'm sure doesn't make anyone in the clubhouse feel good? When the team loses the fucking game.

And this is why Riggleman needs to go. He values the wrong things and makes decisions based on those mistaken values.* (Joe Posnanski already said this much better than I ever could.)

*And I didn't even get into the Nix-Bixler bullshit. Seriously, what the fuck was that about?


video
Yeah, I videoed my laptop. So sue me.

Monday, June 7, 2010

I don't care about Bryce Harper

All right, I care about Bryce Harper. It's always exciting to have the first overall pick in the draft, even if it means the Nats had to be absolutely terrible to earn it. But Harper has been the default pick for months, and Mike Rizzo ending the team's coyness about who their pick is and confirming it actually makes it less exciting. After having the first overall pick in last year's draft, there's more than a bit of a "been there, done that" mentality amongst fans. As Nationals Baseball points out, Harper is no Strasburg. As awesome as Harper has seemed in the Area 51 League, he's still just a 17-year-old kid with possible makeup and swing problems who's at least three or four years away from making an impact on the major league level. I'll be surprised if I see anyone other than this guy wearing a Harper t-shirt at Nats Park tomorrow night

I'm more interested in who the team will be taking in rounds 2-∞. The common refrain come draft time is that the draft will be essential to replenishing the Nationals' thin farm system, and this year is no different. The farm system is still pretty thin on actual prospects. The 2005 and 2006 drafts are what they are. The latest word from the Nationals' player development people on Chris Marrero is that his defense at first base is much improved, and they still expect him to develop into a major league power threat. While the 2008 Aaron Crow draft is riding on the shoulders of Danny Espinosa, the 2007 and 2009 drafts look like they might be qualified successes at the very least. But this is still a system that has had trouble developing position players and graduating them to the major league club. Subtract Ryan Zimmerman, who was ready for the show on draft day, and Ian Desmond is the only position player drafted by the Expos/Nationals who has developed into a regular contributor to the team in DC. (Let's wait and see who's in right field at the end of the season before we add Roger Bernadina to the list.) Adding Harper should go a long way towards rectifying this, but the team needs to find talented position players after the first round and successfully develop them, too. 

The team insists that the player development process has changed for the better under Rizzo, and I believe them, but the clearest proof will be in the results.

I'll be tuning into the live stream tomorrow for the start of the second round, but forgive me if I choose to watch something else tonight other than the first round of the draft. I just don't care about Bryce Harper.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Come to DeJesus

The Nats aren't real playoff contenders, but there's a value (baseball, fan interest, respect, and monetary) in playing around .500, especially when that means finishing the season about 20 games better than last year.

Despite the fact that the Nats don't possess enough position players that could be considered part of a future Nats contender, because of the value of playing around .500, Rizzo isn't likely to trade Willingham and/or Dunn for prospects.

The Nats emerged from what was expected to be the toughest part of the schedule with a 23-22 record. Looks like no one told the Giants and the Padres that they were supposed to roll over for the offensive juggernaut that is the 2010 Washington Nationals. Capital Punishment is salivating over an upcoming schedule full of patsies and soft underbellies, but I'll believe it when I see it.

Nyjer Morgan continues to have problems at the plate and in the field, and, at least for one game, is no longer batting leadoff. The Nats' lack of outfield depth means that, even if the team were inclined to consider it, benching Morgan isn't an option.

Right field remains an offensive black hole. Roger Bernadina didn't show that his brief display of offensive prowess was anything more than a good week in an otherwise dreary season. Justin Maxwell is no longer the guy who the Nats say they want to get playing time every day in AAA, but has become the guy the Nats call upon to fill out the bench when there's an extra spot on the 25-man for a few days. No one wants to see Cristian Guzman or Mike -- excuse me -- Michael Morse out in right on a regular basis.

Rizzo should take a look at KC Royals mainstay David DeJesus. DeJesus has a career as an average to above-average hitter, he plays a good left or a decent right field, and he can play a credible center field in a pinch. Numbers-wise, DeJesus is basically 2007 Ryan Church. He has a team-friendly contract for 2011 and it's likely that the Royals are firmly in sell mode.

Before the season started, the Nats inquired after Kosuke Fukudome and Corey Hart. Fukudome is probably too expensive for the Nats to take unless the Cubs throw in a boatlaod of cash to pay his salary. The Nats might prefer a better, younger player like Hart, but if there's competition for him, do the Nats have the necessary pieces to stay in the running? The Nats farm system is thin, and sending too much of it away to acquire someone like Hart would be counterproductive.

But it's not a given that there won't be competition for DeJesus, so who should the Nats give up and where should they draw the line? Any of the soft-tossing grounder-inducing finesse pitchers that have passed through DC not named Lannan? Absolutely. Andrew Kown? Sure. Chris Marrero? Maybe, but he's still young. Andrew Thompson? I don't know. Derek Norris or Danny Espinosa? No deal.

DeJesus will never be a star, and he's 10 months older than Josh Willingham, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't be a good fit for the Nats. If necessary, DeJesus can bat leadoff for a team that can't ever seem to find a leadoff solution while filling the gap in right field and providing another source of offensive production.

Eventually, Rizzo is going to have to figure out what kind of team he has for 2011. We can presume a 2011 pitching rotation of Strasburg/Zimmermann/Marquis/pick two of Wang/Lannan/Stammen/Martin/Atilano, but who will be fielding all those grounders and fly balls? If my assumption is correct, the value of playing around .500 means that the better Willingham performs, the less likely Rizzo is to trade him this season. Zimmerman, Pudge/Flores, Desmond, and Willingham are the only position players that can be considered locks for 2011. Guzman will finally be gone next season and Kennedy has a buyout. By the end of this season, Nyjer might end up a non-tender candidate. It doesn't look like any position players will be graduating from the minors for next season. Adding DeJesus buys Rizzo time while adding stability to the roster.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dear reader

Dear reader, this is meant to be a blog where I moan about the state of the Washington Nationals. It's not a place for me to indulge my other interests, like scrimshaw and potato chips that look like George Hamilton. That's what LiveJournal is for.

But sometimes things happen, momentous things, and they must be commented upon even though they may be only tangentially related to the Washington Nationals. Dear reader (and I know there's only one of you out there -- Hi Grandma!) -- former part-time Nationals beat writer Chico Harlan has a new blog. And I intend to make relentless mockery of his blog, taking the cheapest shots I can imagine. Looks like that post on why it would be a good idea for the Nats to trade for David DeJesus is going to have to wait for another day.

Oh, so now you want to post to a blog. What happened when posting to a blog was part of your job?

Dear reader, welcome to my blog. It’s about me.

Chico, when has anything you've ever done not been about you? I'm not quick to forget, Chico.

I hope you like it.

Nope.

Please, have a look around; take the grand tour.

Grand tour? It's a basic Blogspot blog. You didn't even splurge for a custom domain name. STFU.

In the last few weeks, with misguided desires to launch this forum, I conceived the title and designed the banner.

OMG, you're so creative!

I pray for this kid's editors.

I thought briefly about using Thai characters instead of Japanese, but their alphabet too much resembles a store shelf of flowerpots, and I didn’t quite like the aesthetic.

You don't have to cover Thailand as part of your beat, do you? Oh, you do? Don't worry, I'm sure no one will ever find anything derogatory you might have said about Thai culture on the Internet.

I thought briefly, too, about entitling this real estate “Big in Japan!,” but I have this new goal to go at least the next three years without publicly embarrassing myself. 

Might want to reset that sign back to "Zero days since publicly embarrassing myself."

Just as a deterrent, of course, I’ve constructed a first paragraph that slashes total readership to four. (*) 

I think I'll be sticking around for a while. So, make that five.

Now, before I get too far along — before I board the plane, even — let me provide some background. 

Let's all sit at the feet of Swami Chico as he recounts his heroic journey. 

Sometime early last December, I received an offer from The Washington Post to cover East Asia as a foreign correspondent. 

That's an interesting way to describe denigrating your job, implicitly insulting all your Washington Post sports colleagues, alienating your readers, doing a second-rate job on the beat, proving to be a wholly unworthy successor to Barry Svrluga, taking more vacations than a Greek civil servant, and then whingeing to your higher-ups that you didn't want to be an icky sportswriter anymore but could they please find another job for you and not fire your sorry ass into the worst job market for unemployed journalists since the invention of movable type. 

Acceptance of this proposal required a three-second lag time only because my new boss first offered his congratulations in Japanese, meaning I didn’t understand a word of what he was saying.

Somewhere, an unemployed Japanese-speaking j-school grad weeps. 

This, in retrospect, was probably the first good practice for my new life. Tuesday, I fly to Tokyo, my new home. Within a week, after finding an apartment, I’ll be responsible for The Post’s coverage of Japan, North and South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, etc. (‘Etc.’ doesn’t include China.) 

"Etc.?" No worries, the Cambodians and Laotians are used to being overlooked by Americans.

Though I’ve taken full responsibility for preparation — memorizing a fair portion of Kim Jong Il’s family tree… meeting with D.C.-based East Asia experts… honing and developing the Japanese vocabulary of a 3-year-old — nothing quite erases the fact that this is a remarkable job, and I am a wholly unremarkable person, and I am now very excited and very scared.

Anyone here feel the least bit of sympathy for Chico and his terrible plight? Anyone? 

When people hear about this job, they ask, invariably, if I’ve ever been to Japan. (And the answer, invariably — until now! — is no.) But they also ask, almost reflexively, if I plan to establish a personal blog. It is by now, I suppose, an accepted part of the modern human condition, a predictable sequence whose steps I list below, having dutifully submitted to each of them.

The ennui of the Gen Y privileged white professional middle class must have yet another outlet. Surely, as an accepted part of the modern human condition, the world demands it.

Step 1.) Person X obtains new job, requiring a move overseas.

Someone should tell Chico that "obtains" isn't a synonym for "whiningly demands."

Step 2.) A small number of people in Person X’s life suggest, even if they don’t really mean it, that, Hey, you should really start a blog, and Yeah, you’ll have to send me the link.

Do I need to start a beef with Eli Saslow, too?

Step 3.) Person X starts to realize that, Hey, it’s true; everybody has a voice; everybody has a story to tell, and maybe it’s not such a bad idea. Maybe, in fact, it’s a good idea. Person X tours the blogosphere, trolling for possibilities. He realizes that there’s a good chance no American citizen since 2005 has relocated to East Asia without establishing a blog. Generally, as subsequent research reveals, these blogs begin with the photo of a frenzied Tokyo intersection, the only thing motionless and in focus being, in the foreground, a white and somewhat flustered face, possibly framed by the display of a double-thumbs-up sign. The rest of the picture is a hallucination of warp speed life — lights and pyrotechnics and indecipherable signs and anime billboards, all the confusion and untamed beauty of the world’s most populous vortex. Ahhh, Tokyo! Here I am, “Big in Japan!”

Upon completion of his tour of the American-relocates-to-East-Asia portion of the blogosphere, Person X should have realized that most of the interesting things that could be said about Tokyo-style sensory dysphasia and dislocation have already been said. Person X should have realized that, unless he fancies himself some combination of Pico Iyer, William Dalrymple, and Paul Theroux (and really, Person X would need a truly massive ego to think such a thing), anything Person X might add to the wordy vastness of the topic would really be nothing more than a faded VHS copy of Lost in Translation. Person X should have realized that while everyone may have a voice, not everyone should speak.

Person X should also have realized that using phrases like "Person X" as a lame device to talk about one's self in the third person makes him sound like a self-important douche juice.

Step 4.) Person X joins the blogosphere.

Step 5.) The world becomes a better place.

A better place for comedy.

So, here I am. I’m in. I was at least 93.4-percent committed to the frequent upkeep of this blog and then my parents bought me a flip-cam, which pretty much sealed the deal. Since then I’ve applied for and received Blogspot.com’s official Waiver To Write With Unapologetic Immodesty, which is really just a formality around these parts.

I thought Chico already got that waiver from the WaPo's Sunday magazine. He needs another outlet for his solipsistic meanderings?

I am going to miss America, and in particular Washington, D.C. I am going to miss my parents and my friends. I am going to miss a world that makes sense.

To you. A world that makes sense to you. You know, you, the thing that you apparently think it's all about.

As a writer — or rather, as somebody who loves to observe eloquence — I will miss the way people talk. A few weeks ago, I heard author Tim O’Brien speak at a local bookstore, and with words — only words, and just the right words — he told stories for 60 minutes, and many in the crowd who probably didn’t expect to cry were crying. Strange, I know, but that’s the moment when I got really sad about leaving America.

I really hope Henry Allen, Joel Achenbach, Emily Wax, Pamela Constable, and the entire WaPo sports desk are lining up for a last chance to punch Chico in the balls before he leaves.

Leaving is not easy. But it’s right. I know this intuitively like I’ve known nothing else. A few weeks ago, foreign editor Kevin Sullivan, who himself has spent years in Japan, termed it like this, and I paraphrase: “Look at it this way. Right now your life is too easy. Nothing is a challenge. Soon everything will be a challenge, but it will be fun. You just have to go in with the right attitude.” And that, to me, made sense.

Since I know how Chico approaches a challenge, I expect to see Steve Yanda and Gene Wang filling in for him by September.

Now all the goodbyes are mostly over. My apartment is empty, but for the techie gadgets and clothing. Last Wednesday, I had my final Japanese class with my fantastic tutor, Kohriki-sensei. Last Thursday, in the latest sign that I no longer cover the National League East, I went out to lunch with my boss, who suggested I buy a Kevlar vest. 

I'd say that you need that Kevlar vest as a result of how you covered the National League East.

Then, Friday, I took a 24-hour trip to New Orleans for a buddy’s bachelor party. It was a debauched, terrific, poignant time, and in tribute we all conducted small-scale “top kill” missions — calling for a violent clash of unsavory substances — within our own stomachs.

Ha ha, oily post-Katrina New Orleans is nothing more than a theme park playground for upper middle class debauchery and an opportunity to make a tossed-off joke about environmental devastation and the death of an entire way of life. Good times.

Also -- "violent clash of unsavory substances" -- Jim Morrison called. He wants his terrible poetry back.

Saturday, I came home. Sunday morning, I wrote this, and now there’s basically nothing else standing between my old life and my new one.

What, you're not going to tell us what you had for Sunday brunch? I thought you wanted to write about food.

(*) And even those four will be tested by future blog entries dedicated entirely to yearnings for American breakfast cereal.

That's right, why try to understand a new culture by acclimating? Much easier to blog about how the Japanese eat fish and soup and rice for breakfast and no one's ever heard of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. And have you seen the toilets?

Bon voyage, Chico!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Nook Morgan? Nyjer Logan?

Who is worse: 2010 Nyjer Morgan or 2007 Nook Logan?

Comparing Nyjer to Nook would probably send most Nats fans into apoplexy. Nyjer must be worlds better than Nook Fucking Logan, right? From his inability to hit to the Family Circus Dotted Line routes he took to fly balls to his bad baserunning, Nook Logan was a terrible baseball player. Nook even gave good ol' IHOP-loving Charlie Slowes fits:



This is all true. 2007 Nook Logan was a terrible baseball player. But 2010 Nyjer Morgan has been even more terrible.

(Small cheat: Nook had a terrible first half and a better second half in 2007. It's difficult to compare partial seasons. For this blog post, I'm assuming that Nyjer's not going to improve very much this season. This might be an unrealistic assumption, but I've never been that high on Our Washington Nationals' 30-year-old late-blooming few-major-league-at-batting hockey-attituding aggressive CF wonder. ZiPS is projecting only a marginal offensive improvement for Nyjer for the remainder of the season. MASN's Ben Goessling has a good overview of Nyjer's 2010 season to date, and he thinks improvement is inevitable.)

Offense

2007 Nook put up an execrable .265/.304/.345 to 2010 Nyjer's merely contemptible .255/.341/.366. The real difference between the two is their walk rates. Nyjer knows how to take a walk (9.7% walk percentage) and Nook didn't (5.4% walk percentage).

(Fun fact: This season, Nyjer is seeing slightly fewer pitches in the strike zone, swinging at slightly more of those pitches, and making slightly less contact on them compared to previous seasons.)

Winner: 2010 Nyjer

Defense

My recollection now, which doesn't diverge too much from the impressions of fans then, is that Nook was a bad fielder. But UZR tells me that what I remember as Nook running around in circles saved 3.6 runs more than the average center fielder. Baseball Info Solutions' Plus/Minus measurement says Nook saved eight runs more than the average center fielder in 2007.

The story of Nyjer's 2010 in the field so far is best summarized with a single image from last Wednesday's game:


2010 Nyjer defensively: -4.4 UZR, -6 Plus/Minus.Maybe he should be a little less aggressive? The unnecessary leaps and inability to distinguish when to try to catch the ball and when to play the carom off the wall are beginning to remind me a little bit of 2006 Alfonso Soriano.

Winner: 2007 Nook

Baserunning

This is where Nyjer is really killing the Nats. Start with comparing Nook's 82% stolen base percentage to Nyjer's 50%. A finer comparison is more illuminating. Nook had 350 PA in 2007. Nook was picked off three times, was put out in non-pickoff baserunning situations twice, and took an extra base as a baserunner 41% of the time. In exactly half as many PA as Nook, Nyjer already has three pickoffs and two non-pickoff baserunning putouts. Nyjer, however, has taken the extra base 62% of the time.

According to Baseball Prospectus, not only is Nyjer a bad baserunner, he's the worst baserunner on the worst baserunning team in the major leagues. Measured in runs, Nyjer's exploits on the basepaths have cost the Nationals 2.4 runs. In comparison, crappy 2007 Nook, who always seemed to run into outs, was worth 1.7 runs as a baserunner.

Winner: 2007 Nook

Summary

2007 Nook sucked, but it wasn't a big deal because the whole team sucked. Fans of a team coming off back-to-back 100-loss seasons might envy the 2007 squad's 73-89 record, but a team that employed ace Matt Chico (31 GS!), groovin' Mike Bacsik, Tim Redding, and Felipe Lopez (DIE FLop, DIE) could afford to carry Nook Logan because it was never going anywhere anyway. The 2007 Nationals may have been built (thrown together? picked from the bottom of the used underwear bin at Kohl's?) to satisfy Ted Lerner's frugality or Jim Bowden's tool fetishes, but one thing that team surely wasn't built to do was succeed.

In 2007, Nook split time in center field with Ryan Langerhans and other assorted flotsam, rarely batting higher than eighth. From the first day of spring training, Nook was a "whaddya gonna do" afterthought. Bowden traded for Chris Snelling, and later Langerhans, because he was aware that Nook wasn't the answer to the team's center field woes. In contrast, Nyjer is quite important to the success of the 2010 Nationals. The current team is built under the assumption that Nyjer will play a plus center field every day and bat leadoff all season. The 2010 Nationals do not work if Nyjer fails to field his position well, doesn't get on base, or creates negative outcomes on the basepaths. However you define success for the 2010 Nationals, they need a productive Nyjer in order to achieve that success.

2010 Nyjer is worse than 2007 Nook not because the numbers are worse, but because the expectations are higher.

Nook finished 2007 with a WAR of 0.8. Nyjer has sunk to slightly below replacement level, with a current in-season WAR of -0.1. I expect Nyjer to have a positive WAR by the end of the season, but  nothing close to the 4.9 WAR he posted in 2009. (How improbable was Nyjer's 2009? He put up 3.0 of his 4.9 WAR just in the 49 games he played with the Nationals. That's what a .398 BABIP will do.) And he'll never be as valuable as Adam Dunn.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Eeyore; or, Is the Future Now?

I woke up this morning, took a look at the Washington Post sports section, reconfirmed that Bruney was indeed designated for assignment and that Storen was joining the Nats in St. Louis, and thought to myself, "Storen today, Strasburg in a few weeks . . . maybe the Nats really are just like the 2008 worst-to-first Tampa Bay Rays." Immediate corrective thought: "No they're not, you asshole."


This post is mainly in the interests of keeping myself grounded so I don't float off in a Kool-Aid haze like Tom Boswell. (Am I repeating myself? Maybe. But now that the Nationals are in OMG SECOND PLACE!!!1!! and Strasmas is nigh, tempering my own expectations is more relevant than it was last September.)

Apologies in advance for my inability to properly format tables in Blogger.


Why the 2010 Washington Nationals are not the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays

The Nationals may have sucked, but they haven't sucked enough


From 1998-2006, the Rays performed poorly enough to ensure that they selected eighth or better in the first round of the draft. The Rays selected first overall in 1999, 2003, and 2007. 





Tampa Bay Rays First Round Picks 1999-2007
Year
Overall Pick
Name
Pos.
1999
1
Josh Hamilton
OF
2000
6
Rocco Baldelli
OF
2001
3
Dewon Brazelton
RHP
2002
2
BJ Upton
SS
2003
1
Delmon Young
OF
2004
4
Jeff Niemann
RHP
2005
8
Wade Townsend
RHP
2006
3
Evan Longoria
3B
2007
1
David Price
LHP

Tampa Bay Rays Second Round Picks 1999-2007
Year
Overall Pick
Name
Pos.
1999
52
Carl Crawford
OF
2001
47
Jon Switzer
LHP
2002
43
Jason Pridie
OF
2003
38
James Houser
LHP
2004
45
Reid Brignac
SS
2005
56
Christopher Mason
RHP
2006
47
Josh Butler
RHP
2007
65
Will Kline
RHP

Tampa Bay Rays Third Round Picks 1999-2007
Year
Overall Pick
Name
Pos.
1999
85
Doug Waechter
RHP
2001
79
Chris Finn
RHP
2002
74
Elijah Dukes
OF
2003
68
Andrew Miller
LHP
2004
75
Wade Davis
RHP
2005
88
Avery Morris
RHP
2006
79
Nichoals Fuller
RHP
2007
95
Nick Barnese
RHP

Tampa Bay Rays Fourth Round Picks 1999-2007
Year
Overall Pick
Name
Pos.
1999
115
Alex Santos
RHP
2001
109
Dave Bush
RHP
2002
104
Wes Bankston
OF
2003
98
Travis Schlichting
3B
2004
105
Matthew Spring
C
2005
118
Jeremy Hellickson
RHP
2006
109
Alexander Cobb
RHP
2007
125
David Newmann
LHP


Even factoring in failed draft picks and development busts, the Rays' near decade of on-field incompetence allowed them to stockpile a huge amount of talent. Moreover, the Rays' player development process apparently works. Nearly every single one of the Rays' 1999-2007 1st round picks developed into a major-league regular. Rounds 2-4 couldn't be expected to be as successful, but Carl Crawford and Elijah Dukes stand out. The Rays also drafted Aubrey Huff in the 5th round in 1998 and Seth McClung in the 5th round in 1999. 

But successful drafting and player development does more than just replenish a team's major league roster -- it gives a team assets to trade. Just look at how the 2008 Rays were built:

Player
Acquired
Year
Grant Balfour
Trade w/MIL for Seth McClung
2007
Jason Bartlett
Trade w/MIN for Delmon Young, Brendan Harris, Jason Pridie
2007
Carl Crawford
Draft pick
1999
Cliff Floyd
Free agent
2007
Matt Garza
Trade w/MIN for Delmon Young, Brendan Harris, Jason Pridie
2007
Gabe Gross
Trade w/Brewers for Josh Butler
2008
Eric Hinske
Minor League contract
2008
J.P. Howell
Trade w/Royals for Joey Gathright,Fernando Cortez
2006
Akinori Iwamura
Free-agent signing
2006
Scott Kazmir
Trade w/Mets for Victor Zambrano,Bartolome Fortunato
2004
Evan Longoria
Draft pick
2006
Dioner Navarro
Trade w/Dodgers for Toby Hall, Mark Hendrickson
2006
Carlos Pena
Minor League contract
2007
Troy Percival
Free-agent signing
2007
David Price
Draft pick
2007
James Shields
Draft pick
2000
Andy Sonnanstine
Draft pick
2004
B.J. Upton
Draft pick
2002
Dan Wheeler
Trade w/Astros for Ty Wigginton
2007
Ben Zobrist
Trade w/Astros for Aubrey Huff
2006

Take away judicious (but still important) complementary free-agent signings like Iwamura, Percival, Floyd, and Pena, and nearly every major contributor to the 2008 Rays was a draft pick or traded for players the Rays had drafted and developed.

The Expos/Nationals haven't been nearly as successful at drafting and player development over the same span of years. The Nationals excel at promoting major-league ready 1st round picks to the major leagues, but struggle to develop those less-polished players that need time in the minor leagues. To wit: most of them. So far, the Expos/Nationals drafts have produced few major league regulars (Cordero, Zimmerman, too soon to tell on Desmond and Bernadina, please please Strasburg and Storen), and are still more notable for high profile washouts like Mike Hinckley and Colton Willems. And as for tradable commodities, there's little else after Derrick Norris and Danny Espinosa. The Nats don't have the goods to both service the major league roster and trade for established players.

The 2007 Tampa Bay Rays were already pretty close to being the 2008 Rays

Compare the rosters for the 2007 and 2008 Rays and you'll notice a lot of the same players. So why were the Rays so much better in 2008 than they were in 2007 and how do the 2010 Nats differ?
  • Better defense: The 2008 Rays allowed 273 fewer runs than the 2007 team. The 2010 Nats are on pace to allow 116 fewer runs, which is impressive, but it's not quite the dramatic defensive turnaround displayed by Tampa Bay.
  • Better pitching: The Rays replaced the unreliable Jason Hammel with the solid Matt Garza, every other Rays starter had a better year in 2008 than he did in 2007, and the team completely remade its bullpen for 2008. While the Nats' bullpen is markedly improved over 2009 (now that Bruney has been DFA'd), the starting pitching is still a jury rigged mess. St. Stephen is on his way, and Olsen looks good so far, but Livan/Lannan/Stammen is duct tape. The Nats' starting pitching still needs an overhaul.
  • Run production: The 2008 Rays scored eight fewer runs than the 2007 team while getting offensive contributions from more players. The Rays' improved 2008 bench, a better season from Navarro, and the additions of Longoria, Gross, and Floyd allowed the Rays to weather down years from Pena and Crawford while simultaneously providing enough pop to cover for all-glove no-bat Bartlett. The Nats are also on pace to score slightly fewer runs in 2010 than they did in 2009, but that's mainly because they have fewer sources of run production. Kennedy and Desmond are below-average, the bench is not so hot, and Nyjer Morgan is slowly failing (or, if you want to be charitable, merely slumping. Can one slump on the basepaths?) Zimmerman, Dunn, Willingham -- and then what? Hope Zombie Pudge is well-supplied with the brains that have him off to such a hot start (pay no attention to his lousy May)? The Nats' roster has a lot of offensive soft spots.
There's no need to create artificially elevated expectations by comparing the 2010 Nationals to the 2008 Rays

The 2008 Rays were a great story because they seemingly (if you weren't paying attention) came out of nowhere to go from last place in their division to first place. Worst-to-first was a great story with a compelling narrative arc that everyone was able to grasp the broad contours of even if they remained fuzzy on some of the details. It's not so easy to get excited about a multi-year rebuilding process. Pointing at the May standings and drooling over Strasburg and Storen might be good for short-term ticket sales, but is it the best way to convert the locals, who have mostly ignored the Nats? I'll be pretty damned happy if the team ends up doing something as miraculous as ending 2010 with a record close to .500, but how will all those new fans who were sold a shot at the Wild Card feel if the Nats are playing golf come October? 

Even though I still have doubts about Rizzo and doubts about the Lerners, there's no denying anymore that the team is on the right track. Combine that with the aging Phillies roster, the Mets' boundless ineptitude, and the Marlins' self-destructive frugality, and it's not unreasonable to envision the Nats being truly competitive (with the right moves and the right breaks) as soon as 2011. There's no need to punch up the Nats' story when that story hasn't lacked for drama. From the front office housecleaning to signing Strasburg at the last minute to free agents viewing DC as a viable destination to the death of Nats Fail, the Nats have come a long way since the "Natinals" days. (Although Opening Day might have been the biggest fail of all. Never forget.) The Washington Nationals have their own story; they don't need some other team's.

*          *          *

In other words, is it still too early for thisGet back to me in September. Does that mean they shouldn't do something to improve their chances of making the playoffs this year, like maybe trading for Roy Oswalt? Not necessarily. (Besides, Roy is under contract for 2011, too. Possible 2011 rotation of Oswalt, Strasburg, Zimmermann, Wang, Olsen/Lannan/Stammen/Marquis excite you the way it excites me?)