Monday, September 14, 2009


We know that Rizzo seems determined to add some free agent starters for 2010. We also know that most of those free agent starters aren't exactly the kind of pitchers you want to commit to for a few seasons or build a rotation around if you're trying to be competitive.

The worthwhile starters are going to be overpriced (John Lackey), have options for 2010 (Tim Hudson), or are little more than blogger pipe dreams (Aroldis Chapman). The Nats appear to be looking for back of the rotation types, of which Jon Garland or Randy Wolf are probably the best options (and Livan is probably the worst).

While there's a great deal of value in the league-average starter or the innings eater, I'd rather see the Nats' primary focus on someone else this offseason.

Rizzo and Webb have a history together, and Webb is pretty much Rizzo's ideal pitcher. Even if Webb looks healthy enough that an incentive-laden contract isn't an option, signing Webb is the kind of risk the Nats need to take. Let's say Detwiler and one of Martin/Stammen/Mock work out -- the Nats would still be starved for quality pitching. Coming off an injury, Webb probably won't command AJ Burnett money, but considering how valuable he's been in the past, it's safe to say Webb won't come cheap.

But Rizzo shouldn't stop at Webb -- he should also pursue Ben Sheets. The rehabbing Sheets has been completely off the radar this season, but early indications are that he will be able to pitch in 2010. This is where Rizzo should drive a hard bargain in offering the effective-when-healthy Sheets a contract loaded up with incentives.

Where would signing Webb and Sheets leave the rotation? The best-case scenario would be a 2010 mid-season rotation of Webb, Strasburg, Sheets, Lannan, #5. That fifth starter could be Detwiler or it could be someone like Wolf or Garland. Assuming Zimmermann comes back healthy in 2011, you might be looking at the best rotation in the NL East. Although I doubt Rizzo will go after Sheets, a potential 2011 rotation of Webb, Strasburg, Zimmermann, Lannan, #5 would still be formidable.

If Webb is indeed available, it would be irresponsible of Rizzo not to kick the tires on putting him in a Nationals jersey.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Dibble accentuates the positive

Dibble: Plenty of progress is possible in only a short time

As the season winds down, try and stay positive and build for tomorrow.

Sounds like we're in for another lesson in how to be a fan from a newly-arrived carpetbagger who acts like the team didn't even exist before his tattooed ass rolled into the Shirley Povich Media Center.

I know it sounds cliche, and maybe it is; but it's how we deal with failure and stay grounded in this game.

As Debbie Taylor likes to remind us, Nats fans need to have "Paaaaaaatience."

No matter how the season ends in DC, there will be some who wish to break down the season into numbers and how the team finished.

In fact, I'm going to do the very thing I said not to do when I compare the Nats to other teams.

Once again, I will remind people that it only takes a year to turn a negative into a positive.

Sales agents are standing by to take your 2010 season ticket deposits.

Let's take Tampa in 2007. They finished the year with 66 wins and 96 losses and finished 30 games back in last place. But they didn't let 2007 stand in the way of 2008, and they went out, stuck together, improved 31 games and won 97 en route to winning the toughest division in Baseball, the AL East.

Yes, let's take Tampa Bay. After having the first overall pick in the amateur draft 10 years in a row, getting new ownership, firing Chuck LaMar, bringing in Andrew Friedman and an entirely new management team, making some good trades, and changing the team name, logo, and uniforms, the Rays finally realized their potential. So, no, technically speaking, they didn't "stick together." And while it's true that the Rays didn't let 2007 stand in their way, that was mostly due to the team's inability to stop time.

This year's great story has to be the Texas Rangers: 79-83 in 2008 and they finished in second place in the AL West, 21 games back of the AL West winning Los Angeles Angels. They had the best offense in 2008 and the worst pitching staff in the American League.

79-83 isn't really that bad, not competitive but not as bad as the 2007 Rays or the 2008-9 Nats, but OK . . .

They hired pitching coach Mike Maddux from Milwaukee and now they are ranked fourth in the AL in pitching. They have one veteran starter, Kevin Millwood (371 starts), and four young starters with around 140 starts combined. One of the best of the Young Bucks, Scott Feldman is 16-4 and has 51 career starts.

Nope, the improvement has nothing to do with going from dead last in the AL in team UZR in 2008 (-51.7) to a very respectable 3rd in the AL in 2009 (41.1). Pssst, hey Rob, the same thing happened to the Rays from 2007 (-57.7, dead last) to 2008 (74.2, first).

The offense is fifth this year. The Texas Rangers of 2009 and the Tampa Bay Rays of 2008 learned a lot from failure and chose to be positive and focused the following year.

As the saying goes, nothing breeds success like failure.

It's not just adding talent to rosters that helps winning (although it can't hurt); it's learning every day, being prepared for every obstacle, applying tough lessons to future games and not letting a few rough patches get in the way.

Bad attitudes like Felipe Lopez and the 1992 Mets aside, it's still mostly about adding talent. All the positivity and preparation in the world won't take the suck out of Pete Orr, Wil Nieves, and Logan Kensing.

I like a lot of what I've seen this year, but it's not up to me.

Thank God for that.

It's up to everyone involved with the team - the coaches, the media, the organization, and most of all the fans. If everyone stays positive, it can be done.

Lemme guess, the best way to stay positive is to make a 2010 season ticket deposit, right?

Other than the superficial similarity of a lousy record, the Nats have very little in common with the 2007-8 Rays or the 2008-9 Rangers. The 2003/6 Tigers, who used some pricey free agents to complement homegrown position players and pitchers, is a more relevant example.

All the broadcasters do when they make these comparisons is create false expectations. The turnaround in the fortune of the Rays, and maybe the Rangers, has as much to do with changes in the front office as it does with changes on the field. This is where the fans really need to struggle to stay positive. The fans need to try to stay positive and hope that the recent change in management means there will be a change in process and a corresponding change in results.

Rob Dibble shows off his new car.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Mining the Bozchat 9/10/2009

I know my 3-5 readers are busy and don't have time to read online chats. Especially Tom Boswell's. Sometimes, though, in between the football and the golf and the misspellings and the attempts at statistical analysis, Boz has some actual Nats content. Highlights from this week's chat:
  • Will Scott Olsen be back in 2010? "I doubt that he'll be back. Probably be non-tendered. But it hasn't been decided. And this is just my speculation." Authoritative. So if not Olsen, then what? "The Nats have a ton of room on their payroll to add pitching. So I think they'll look at higher-priced free agents who have less history of arm problems. You'll certainly see two new starters next year." Interesting. "One may be Livan." Less interesting.
  • Boz sat down with Rizzo and they went over a short list of the top 2010 free agent starters. Boz lists who he thinks the top free agents are. Padilla, Penny, Washburn, and Pavano are on his list. Pass, pass, pass, pass.
  • Is Boz getting ideas from Dibble? "One of the Nats biggest problems in recent years is that their pitchers, partly because so many of them are young, will not protect their own hitters and, just as important, will not defend their 'right' to the outside corner." Boz quotes an unnamed "Nats insider" who lamented the fact that Nats starters have only deliberately hit a batter once in the last three seasons. Boz says it's great that the Nats don't headhunt, but "it's not so great that they give up five homers to the Phils on Tuesday, then two more on Weds and eight for the year so far to Ibanez and nobody goes down, nobody spins off the plate." So, the Nats pitchers, who are pretty crappy, as evidenced by all those home runs they gave up to the Phillies, should retaliate for their own systemic incompetence by deliberately throwing at the Phillies? Later in the chat, Boz tries to walk it back a little bit by saying that he was only referring to a batter who is "'diving' into the plate, taking away both halves, then pitch him hard inside."
  • Boz is on the fence about Riggleman, but one thing is clear: don't trust the national media. "As soon as you hear the names Valentine, Showalter or Davey Johnson, you know the writer/broadcaster has no idea what's going on." Boz knows the Nats don't want Bobby V. because he's a "Bowden guy."
  • "The Nats have money for anything they want to do. And they have no excuse not to do it . . . The Nats can/will/should get to $65M at least in '10 payroll." Their "internal plan/hope" is "to sign at least $20M/yr in free agents this winter," which Boz assumes will go to pitchers. Then $80m payroll for 2011-2014, and "eventually, they hope that their young players become good players who must be paid more to keep 'em. That pushes you toward $100M."
  • "I don't think there is any doubt that the Nats will be more active this winter than they were last winter."
  • On Desmond, Boz says he'd "give Ian some time," but the Nats still have to try to win.
  • "One of the Nats biggest mistakes __the front office wanted to sign Dunn for four years X $10M in feb. Dunn has said that he prefered more than 2 X $10M. The owners wouldn't go for it. They're afraid of what they think of as long-term commitments. They don't (yet) understand that 4 X $10M for a 29-year-old who has hit 40 homers the last five straight years is not a commitment. It is a steal." My initial reaction was "Lerners are teh CHEEP!" Then I thought, well, you never know when those three true outcomes guys are going to fall off a cliff, and a shorter contract might make it easier to trade Dunn, but then I remembered that those are all baseball questions, and the real obstacle was the Lerners' fear of committing so much money to one player, so -- Lerners are teh CHEEP!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Are you fucking kidding me?

Interim Jim had his weekly interview with, and it's a doozy. I'm surprised I didn't pass out from the repeated facepalming.

The interview discusses the September call-ups, but it's Riggleman's answers regarding Cristian Guzman and Ian Desmond that have me looking for a local anger management class.

Here's what Riggleman had to say:

Ian Desmond has probably been our best position player down there this year. He's really done a great job and he may have a future here in the very near future as one of our middle infielders, so we want to get a look at him.

Wow, sounds great. You know, Guzman has been kind of crappy at SS this season. He's been streaky, and when does hit, it's all empty batting average anyway. Dude never takes a walk. And Guzman's stumbling in the field is getting pretty embarrassing. I, too, would like to see what late bloomer Ian Desmond, formerly touted as "Nats Shortstop of the Future" can do when given regular playing time and at bats. So the Nats management and I are in total agreement, right?

Q: Speaking of Desmond, will he get the majority of playing time at shortstop?

I've talked to GM Mike Rizzo about this and he's in agreement, when you have these situations you don't want to ruffle feathers on your guys who have given you a great effort all season.

Whaaaaaaaat!? Fuck ruffling feathers. This kind of "veterans first" mentality is detrimental to the team. As FJB's Steve Biel noted in the most recent episode of Natmosphere in Your Ear, this is Frank Robinson playing Vinnie Castilla over September 2005 call-up Ryan Zimmerman all over again. Castilla, who still had another year on his contract, wasn't part of the future. Similarly, Guzman, who still has another year on his contract, isn't part of the future. Guzman's contract is a sunk cost and should have no bearing on whether he plays or not. Rizzo doesn't agree with my opinion that he fucked up by looking at Guzman as a piece of the future instead of trading him to Boston, but that arguably only hurt the 2009 roster. Playing Guzman in favor of Desmond potentially damages the 2010 roster.

This isn't like 2005, where Bowden couldn't stand up to Frank and make him play Zimmerman over Castilla. Rizzo and Riggleman are in agreement, so it looks like Rizzo is going all in on Guzman.

We've got guys like Cristian Guzman, Ryan Zimmerman, Josh Willingham and Adam Dunn; if somebody comes up from the Minor Leagues in September, you don't want to take the at bats away from guys who have played hard for you all year and just shove them aside.

One of these things is not like the other things. Nice try though. Maybe your straw man made a few readers slightly indignant.

We'll get Ian at bats but probably not to the extent of what maybe some people would like to see.

Loose translation: "Suck it, bloggers."

Riggleman will give Desmond just enough playing time to allow you to wonder what Desmond might have done if he had been given more playing time.

He's a guy that we're going to say "he's done a nice job at Triple-A, he's got all the tools to be a big league player." We'll get him some games in the big leagues, but at the same time not sit anybody who has been going out there and given us a great effort all year.

Would this be the same "great effort" that has the Nats charging towards a second 100-loss season in a row and running away with the Bryce Harper Derby? Instead of a "great effort," some might call that a "colossal failure."

Q: Do you look at this as an audition for Desmond? Is he the shortstop of the future?

I don't look at it as an audition because if that were the case, we'd just stick him out there and play him every day. I think the future of our ballclub, the determination is going to have to be made as to where we can best help ourselves in the middle of the infield.

Riggleman is right; it's not an audition when you've already decided the player isn't going to get the part.

Is Guzman our shortstop down the road or does the club acquire a second baseman to go along with Guzman or do you acquire a shortstop and talk to Guzzie about going to second? These are all questions that have to be answered, but they have to be at the same time.

Anything can happen!

Guzzie has been pretty much a .300 hitter all season, played through pain and to take time away from him, I can't audition Desmond extensively because that would be taking away too many at bats.

But none of those questions really matter because Guzman is going to get all the playing time. That philosophical bullshit before, yeah, I was just trying to confuse you.

Q: You mentioned Guzman possibly moving to second. Have you spoken to him about that and is he okay with the move?

We haven't spoken about it. It's been brought up to me by some writers during our press conferences before or after games, so it's kind of out there that that's on people's minds.

You know, the gotcha media, always makin' things up.

I can't say that we haven't given it some thought because we think about anything that will help our ball club, but Guzzie is a pretty good shortstop.

Five-man infield? We'd do it if we were convinced it would help. Four-man rotation? We'd give it a shot if we had four good starting pitchers. Hell, if you told me that we would win more games if I slathered my face with mayonnaise and rubbed two chicken bones together every time Willie Harris came up to bat, I'd do it. We would do anything, anything, if we thought it would make the team better.

Except for moving Guzman to second. No fucking way is that ever going to happen. That and playing Desmond over Guzman. That's not gonna happen either. So, anything but those two things.

He's an offensive shortstop.

Truer words were never spoken.

I'm not sure we want to do that. If we knew that what we wanted to do, maybe we would talk to him about it, but again, it's going to be determined by who is out there this winter that maybe fits for the Nationals and come in and play a middle infield position. If its second, Guzzie is our shortstop. If the only acquisition made was a shortstop, then we'd have to talk to Guzzie about moving to second.

If they con Orlando Hudson or Chone Figgins into coming to DC, then Guzman stays at shortstop. If they sign the zombified corpse of someone like Orlando Cabrera or Khalil Greene, or an overpriced Jack Wilson or Marco Scutaro, then they'll have an awkward conversation with Guzman.

Either way, Guzmania 2010!

Update: Jim Riggleman's sense of honor prevents him from playing September call-ups against contending teams because the Nats are supposed to be a spoiler. Maybe he should take a closer look at the Wild Card standings.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Is It a Trap?

In his April 14 column, Tom Boswell suggested that the Nats were considering demoting Lastings Milledge to AAA. Boz was prescient, as Milledge was demoted that same afternoon.

Are the Nats using the press again, this time to ready the fans for an offseason non-tender of Elijah Dukes?

On June 30, Ladson noted that the Nats were "looking to trade Dukes, and that may be hard to do because he comes with a lot of off-the-field baggage."

Boz had plenty of negative things to say about Dukes in his August 27 and September 3 chats, and he had some advice for Nats fans: "don't be amazed if the Nats 'non-tender' him if he finishes weakly."

In his most recent mailbag, Ladson floated one possibility for Roger Bernadina's future: "Then again, if the Nationals are not happy with Elijah Dukes, I could see Bernadina getting at chance in right field."

Speculating on the 2010 Opening Day roster, Phil Wood remarked that "it wouldn't surprise me to see the club non-tender a couple of guys, perhaps even Elijah Dukes."

While Dukes may have had some trouble showing up on time and making his child support payments, and while he may not be well-liked in the clubhouse or the front office, he appears to have become a relative model citizen compared to his "You dead, dawg" days.

Dukes is having a terrible year with both the bat and the glove, but he still bears the mark of "potential." His 2008 was as good as his 2009 is bad. For the sake of argument, let's also assume he's a giant prick who parks in the handicapped spot, always takes a penny but never leaves one, and everyone hates him. Non-tendering Elijah Dukes would be a huge mistake.

Dukes turned 25 this past June. Cot's Baseball Contracts says he had just over a year of service time at the start of the 2009 season, so Dukes won't even be eligible for arbitration for a couple of years. It seems like he's been around for a while, but to put Dukes' service time (1.083) in context, consider that Jesus Flores (1.158) and Matt Chico (2.000) both had more major league service time than Dukes coming into this season.

Non-tendering Dukes would be trading Milledge all over again, except the Nats would get nothing in return. If Bowden handed out too many second chances, Rizzo has gone too far in the opposite direction, showing no affinity for reclamation projects whatsoever, even when a longer look might be beneficial for both the player and the team in the long term. Instead of trying to figure out what's wrong with the player or the organization and trying to fix it, Rizzo prefers to move on to someone easier, even if he's older or less talented. So out goes Milledge, and maybe out goes Dukes, all because of impatience and a slavish devotion to makeup.

Dumping Milledge might have been a win-now move made by a guy looking to keep his job, but there were valid baseball reasons for bringing in a competent glove to anchor the outfield defense. The Nats would have no comparable excuse for cutting ties with Dukes. The team might point to Dukes' 2009 numbers and claim it was a baseball decision, but it would really be just another case of Rizzo playing with his chemistry set.

Update: Dukes is going to play for the Licey Tigers in the Dominican winter league. We'll see if this represents some kind of commitment to Dukes. He could play winter ball and get non-tendered anyway.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ladson's Bulging Sack: 9/3/2009

What bounty, a Bozchat and a Ladson mailbag on the same day. Where's my percocet? Some highlights:
  • Should Riggleman be the permanent manager? Yes. Why? "Because of Riggleman, I see fire in this team. I haven't seen that in a long time." Ladson is so obsessed with fire that it's a wonder he isn't a suspect in the Station Fire. But don't get too excited. Riggleman may be awesome, but the players still suck. "I think it's pretty clear that the team needs to bolster the bullpen as well as acquire starting pitching, position players who can catch the ball and more speed." Yup, should be pretty simple.
  • Some Ontarian jackass (I still think Ladson makes these questions up, kind of like Penthouse Forum) suggests bringing back Jose Vidro.
  • What's in Bernadina's future? He'll either compete for a bench spot, get traded (because a guy who can't make it as a reserve is very desirable to other teams), or -- wild card -- "if the Nationals are not happy with Elijah Dukes, I could see Bernadina getting at chance in right field." Why does Bill like Rog so much? "I would like to see Bernadina get a chance to play every day because he can catch the ball." If only baseball had a designated fielder.
  • Ladson thinks Billy Wagner would be "a great fit" for the Nats. True, now that Milledge is gone there's one less person in the clubhouse who would be interested in shanking Wagner, but does a rebuilding . . . pardon me . . . building team really need an injury-prone "closer" with a big mouth, attitude problems, and rapidly approaching AARP eligibility? If you said yes, then you might want to apply to for a job as a reporter.

Mining the Bozchat: 9/3/2009

I know my 3-5 readers are busy and don't have time to read online chats. Especially Tom Boswell's. Sometimes, though, in between the football and the golf and the misspellings and the attempts at statistical analysis, Boz has some actual Nats content. Highlights from this week's chat:
  • Boz pooh-poohs the hubbub over Strasburg's reaction to people wanting to watching his first professional game of catch, but then reverses by saying that if Strasburg didn't "want the kleig lights, then don't sign with the Yankees or don't have Boras battling for you."
  • Boz dismisses concerns about the streaky natures of Dunn and Willingham. "Sluggers are often streaks. I might even say "usually." That's why they play 162 games . . . The Nats stole two sluggers last off-season __a near-great one in Dunn and a very good (and previously underrated one) in Willingham. A lot of thing have gone wrong this season. But that went very right."
  • Should the Nats try Zimmerman at SS? "You don't move genius." Offhanded mention of Zimmerman's throwing problems, which I hope is intended to rile Dibble.
  • Boz knocks the between-innings entertainment and suggests that this is one case where Kasten's "something for everyone" philosophy has gone too far.
  • Superficial discussion of available free agents for 2010. Really just a list of available players at each position.
  • It's too soon to tell what kind of park Nationals Park really is, but it looks like they "avoided their main fear: a cheap homer park that would damage the development of their young pitchers in future."
  • "Right now, Riggleman . . . look[s] secure in [his job] for next year," but if the Nats "truly collapse," then Riggleman " won't be back, imo." Boz's guess: " It's going to get early-season ugly for the Nats." Upside: Harper time.
  • Questioner wonders whether Boz worries that he might "lose it" as a writer. Boz tries to make the case that writers get better over time. I'm currently reading How Life Imitates the World Series. It's a collection of late 1970s-early 1980s long-form pieces and some shorter columns. Aside from a few digressions, Boz hits pretty much what you'd expect from that time period -- 1978 Yankees-Red Sox playoff, Reggie Jackson, Earl Weaver, "where are they now" for the 1971 Senators, Frank Howard, Pete Rose and the 1980 World Series, etc. The merits of the book aside (it's pretty good, even if Boz is trying a little too hard to be Roger Angell or Roger Kahn), to compare it to Boz's recent work and say that he's getting better . . . I'd rather he took the time to do a long-form magazine piece than keep churning out logic-challenged "same topic, different year" columns (golf majors; Redskins; Tiger; we have baseball now; whaddya know, the Caps are good).

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Sweeping Observations

Some crap I thought up after the St. Louis series:

1. Rizzo's pitch-to-contact ground ball philosophy works, sometimes. The pitchers are indeed pitching to contact, but please ignore the poor middle infield defense and the inconvenient fact that some of that contact lands over the outfield walls. The Nats don't so much have a pitch-to-contact rotation as they have a rotation that gives up hits. While the Nats' starters have a GB/FB ratio of 1.24 (T7th best in the NL), those starters also have an even 5.00 ERA (3rd worst in the NL). Add in peripheral stats like a .304 BABIP, a 4.88 FIP, a K/9 of 5.20 (worst in the NL), a K/BB of 1.56, and a HR/9 ratio of 1.20, and there's only so much that can be blamed on bad defense.

Groundball pitchers with a low K/9 are iffy propositions. The historical data tends to show that if a pitcher ends up with a lot of ground balls, it's best to have a lot of strikeouts, too.

Luckily, the low strikeout rate should be worked out in next season's rotation. A very rough draft of the rotation in the middle of 2010 would have Strasburg, Olsen, Mock, Lannan, and a free agent. You've got a classic power pitcher, a two guys with decent strikeout rates, a soft-tosser who may or may not be sinking to his level, and a wild card (worst-case scenario: Livan). Add Zimmermann back in 2011 and you've got a staff that's going to either get batters to strike out or beat it into the ground (when Olsen and Zimmermann aren't giving up home runs).

2. Dukes looked pretty good in RF, maybe the best he's looked all year. Has he been reading the Bozchat?

3. Jorge Sosa is the king of suck and I don't understand why he's still on the team. Every time someone says something about how Riggleman's doing a great job and he deserves to be the permanent manager, I'm going to obnoxiously remind them that Riggleman keeps putting Jorge Sosa into ballgames.

Bergmann has also shown he doesn't deserve a roster spot. Clippard is surprising me.

4. After a truly crappy April-July, Garrett Mock went on a tear in August. Is it real? Mock's August numbers aren't that far out of line with what he did in AAA in 2008-9, and I penciled him into the 2010 rotation, but I need to see consistency. Right now, all Mock's August means is that I no longer moan in agony when I see him on the mound.

5. How is it that Khalil Greene is so shitty yet he still manages to hammer the Nats? Maybe the Nats need to sign Greene just to keep him from hitting against them.

6. Ray Knight knows things about baseball and is able to communicate them in a fairly effective manner despite not being the most articulate person ever to sit behind a microphone. Rob Dibble makes my ears and brain bleed.

Last season, when Knight would fill in for Sutton, I would do nothing but bitch until Sutton returned. Ha! Little did I know that Dibble would make Knight sound like a Rhodes Scholar.

What's the difference between Knight and Dibble? Perspective. Dibble is a real-life Kenny Powers, viewing every baseball interaction through the tiny pinhole of his years as a late-innings reliever with a fastball in the high 90s and a penchant for throwing at people. What do the viewers get? Meaningless cliches like "Let them beat you with your best stuff," endless whining about hitters standing too close to the plate, and suggestions that the pitcher's best move might just be to throw at the batter.

As a former position player and manger, Knight has a broader perspective on the game. Unlike Dibble's commentary, which it would be charity to call analysis, Knight's observations actually add to the game. Dibble knows nothing about hitting. Sure, he can give you a rudimentary breakdown of a batter's swing, but more often than not he does nothing more than coo over the super-neat qualities of MASN's X-Mo camera. He's basically a lousy sports talk radio host masquerading as a color commentator.

And it's not just because Dibble was a pitcher. Sutton made real contributions to the broadcast. SNY's Ron Darling and ESPN's Orel Hershiser add to their broadcasts. But they were all starters. Maybe the relief pitcher's role is too one-dimensional to lend itself to the ability to analyze all aspects of the game. Jeff Brantley is pretty terrible. And so is Dibble.

(For example, here's what Dibble said about Livan last night as part of the "PNC Bank Scouting Report" segment. "'I Shall Return.' Like MacArthur said, and Livan Hernandez is back. He was the student years ago, here maybe, in Washington. Now he's a teacher of these young pitchers." That's right, please pay no attention to Livan's Cuban seasons or the six seasons he played in MLB before being traded to Montreal or the 19 1/3 World Series innings he pitched for Florida and San Francisco. I'm sure it didn't really click for Livan until he walked onto the patchy brown grass of RFK in 2005. And this was something Dibble wrote in advance.)

The role of baseball will be played this evening by Marshall McLuhan. You can figure out who Dibble is.

Too Loose?

Acta had a few strict rules, rules that he seemingly took right out of his dog-eared copy of Mind Game: no stealing and no bunting by position players. Hell, no bunting for base hits, either (I'm looking at you, Zimmerman).

Riggleman, however, seems to be taking a looser approach to things. Morgan generally had the green light to steal, despite admitting that he was still learning to read the pitcher instead of simply trying to outrun the ball. Nyjer's overaggressive baserunning was a problem in Pittsburgh, too. And Morgan's reluctance to stop sliding head-first into bases directly contributed to his broken hand.

Last night, Livan decided to try a squeeze play with the bases loaded and one out. Result? 1-2-3 double play to end the inning.

Riggleman is all about the accountability, which is great, but is he letting his players have too much freedom of thought at the plate and on the basepaths? Maybe his attempts to manufacture runs are giving the players ideas?

(Yeah, I know it's just two unrelated anecdotes.)