Friday, August 21, 2009

Green Shoots

It's no secret that I wanted Hoyer. But that doesn't mean I can't learn to love Rizzo if he makes the right moves, or even if he makes the wrong moves for the right reasons. Hosannas aside, there were a few things said at Thursday's Rizzo press conference that I found interesting, or that at least set off my bullshit detector.

Questioned whether he uses statistical analysis to make decisions, the longtime scout claimed to be a baseball hybrid, saying that the Nats do a lot of "sabermetric calculations." Of course, leave it to proud papa Stan to oversell Rizzo's stathead cred:

"Oh, you've got to hear Mike talk about VORP and WHIP," Kasten interjected. "No, he's really getting good at that stuff."

"I'll throw WHIP at you," Rizzo said. "There's no doubt."

We already know Stan has his Mod Squad of stat dweebs. There's no need to try to convince me that Rizzo has changed his home page to FanGraphs and spent the last few months holed up with old Abstracts and a dogeared copy of Moneyball. Kasten could have just left it at this:
"As you know, [Rizzo's] background is eyeball scouting, which I continue to think is the most important thing. But it's 60-40. Not 90-10."
As long as Rizzo uses stats better than this guy, I'll pencil it in as a qualified win.

We also got the clearest statement yet of how Rizzo wants to shape the team and what his priorities are:
"In the immortal words of Stan Kasten, pitching, pitching and pitching. We understand that we have a very talented young starting rotation. That said, we need an anchor at the top of it. So some kind of veteran starting pitcher would help. You know, my philosophy is speed and defense, especially up the middle, and have your big mashers on the corners. So we're going to take that into account. Of course we have to stabilize a resurgent bullpen, but a bullpen that has not performed up to standards. That's another priority."
Ah, there's the bullshit artist who tried to sell me on the idea that the Nats have "seven or eight really good young starting pitching prospects." I was uncomfortable not being lied to.

Rizzo's list of priorities is notable only for how little it says. Everyone wants that veteran starter to anchor the rotation, good defense up the middle, power at the corners, and a shutdown pen. Rizzo describes the same basic philosophy that someone might use to assemble a Strat-O-Matic team.

Rizzo may want the ideal team, but what he has is a lot of doubts surrounding the rotation, second base, the bullpen, the health of Flores, and the futures of Dunn, Willingham, and Dukes. Setting the imagined distinction between building and rebuilding aside, we're still trying to read between the lines. We won't be able to tell this season whether Rizzo really thinks the core components are good enough for him to go all out in picking up complementary pieces for a 2011 run, or if, by dealing players like Guzman and Willingham should the opportunities arise, he shows that he thinks the team isn't quite there yet. With Guzman still stumbling around at shortstop in DC instead of Boston, I suspect Rizzo thinks the former.

Look at the different decisions Rizzo faces just concerning first base. The 30-year-old Willingham may be under team control through 2011, but Dunn is a free agent at the end of next season. If Rizzo wants to go for it in 2011, Chris Marrero might be key. If Marrero looks like he'll be ready for 2011, Dunn likely gets traded next season (unless Rizzo wants the agita of extending him and watching him try to play left field again). If Marrero isn't ready, then the Nats have to try to resign Dunn, move Willingham (or some other internal stopgap) to first base, find a trading partner, or hit up the free agent market for a first baseman.

If Rizzo doesn't think the team will be in a position to go for it in 2011, a player with Dunn's power probably gets traded regardless of how Marrero is doing.

No GM gets to put together his ideal team (well, maybe Cashman), so how flexible is Rizzo? The Lerners have shown they're willing to commit serious money to a marquee free agent like Teixeira, but what will Rizzo do when they say no? Will he spin his wheels trying to assemble his ideal team or will he be flexible in trying different ways to win?

I didn't expect Rizzo to get into this level of detail at a press conference that was intended to be more of a triumph than a genuine opportunity to learn anything substantial about the direction of the team, but it would have been nice for Rizzo to have given a hint.

No comments: