October 16, 2006


What's a Nats fan to think about Kory Casto? Is the gifted young hitter a future fixture in left field, the next Ryan Church, or just the best product of a bad farm system?

The statistics are no help. Casto put up a great line at Potomac in 2005 (.290/.394/.510) good enough to earn him the organizational Player of the Year award. He followed that with a solid season at Double-A Harrisburg (.272/.379/.478) and a second consecutive POY. But as Basil demonstrated
here, Kory's stats don't translate well to the big leagues, at least not yet. Most notably, the talented Mr. Casto can't hit left-handed pitching.

So that's it, right? Nice kid, this Kory. Might have a future as a corner OF/3B, spelling Ryan Zimmerman once every couple of weeks. Just never against a lefty. Not such a bad life, really. But then came the
Arizona Fall League. And in the early going, Casto's tearing things up.

The AFL's supposed to be finishing school for prospects just about ready to make the leap to the big show. In theory, Kory's facing the best pitching of his professional career, and he's beating the snot out of it. All the usual small sample size caveats apply (18 ABs over 5 games) but Casto's .500/.667/.778 line is more than just eyebrow-raising. Most impressive? Nine BBs against two Ks.

Of course,
Larry Broadway had a nice little Arizona Fall League last season, and look where that got him. Another wasted year in Triple-A (.288/.356/.455) and a season-ending separated shoulder for his trouble. So maybe Kory Casto's October Surprise is just a flash in the pan. But in an offseason that promises little to get excited about, sometimes it's nice to dream.

October 14, 2006

Of feathers and more stupidity

Back in May, I commented on some stupidity from the NCAA.

The bloggers at the Post have picked up on this too.

Favorite quotes from the president of W&M:

I am compelled to say, at the outset, how powerfully ironic it is for the College of William & Mary to face sanction for athletic transgression at the hands of the NCAA. The Association has applied its mascot standards in ways so patently inconsistent and arbitrary as to demean the entire undertaking.

But even better:

Meanwhile, across the country, in the face of massive academic underperformance, embarrassing misbehaviors on and off the field, and grotesque commercialization of intercollegiate athletics, the NCAA has proven hapless, or worse. It is galling that a university with such a consistent and compelling record of doing things the right way is threatened with punishment by an organization whose house, simply put, is not in order.

For those still reading enough to care, I do wish W&M would take up the charge on this. Nichol's second quote hits the nail on the head -- the NCAA does little to actually promote student athletics, and now has the gall to tell W&M -- a school that actually graduates students shouldn't be penalized over something this stupid.

The inconsistency of the process what makes it a real sham. What was once inappropriate is now fine, but none of the criticism is actually justified -- it's some stupid hand waving with no specifics.

I wish they would focus on something, you know, important.

October 9, 2006

The (New) Owner's Cheap, The Stadium's a Dump and All the Players are Broken

Somebody needs to be hired, fired, signed, cut, indicted or elected Rookie of the Year right quick. The Natmosphere is growing restless.

You can't leave a Nats blogger alone for too long. We are by nature a skittish and mildly paranoid bunch. Not as downtrodden as Cubbie fans, who honestly think they're cursed by a goat, and maybe not even as paranoid as Yanqui fans, who must be starting to think that Alex Rodriguez is a $250M practical joke foisted upon then by the rest of baseball. But after decades of heartbreaking near-misses and two years of MLB mismanagement, if the average Nats fan doesn't have a bit of the whipped puppy syndrome, it just means they aren't paying attention.

We've been conditioned to lap up every scrap of available information, (Who's the front-running ownership group? What's the vote breakdown on the DC Council's stadium plan? Who's playing CF this month?) and when the information dries up, well rumor, innuendo and speculation are Washington's real pastime. If
Julius Caesar had a Nats blogger reading his chicken entrails, not only would he not have left the house on the Ides of March, he would have sealed the place up with duct tape and plastic sheeting, loaded his shotgun and put a load of buckshot into Casca, reserving the second barrel for Brutus himself. Or so we like to think.

In truth, we operate in an information vacuum that is nearly complete. We know what we read, and what we are told, which is almost always second-hand information at best. But we're dedicated and resourceful, and genuinely want to be useful sources of information for each other and Nats fans everywhere. So we do what we can to analyze and validate the information we're given, and struggle mightly to come up with something new and interesting to say that also has a chance of being correct. And then, every once in a while,
a story like this comes along.

It seems the Lerner family, the new owners of our somewhat beloved Nationals, are businesspeople. This comes as a shock to certain segments of the community, who were under the entirely reasonable misapprehension that professional sports owners are made of equal parts gumdrops, rainbows and disposable income. The most recent manifestation of this unsettling bottom-line orientation is the Lerner's focus on the new Southeast stadium. For reasons passing understanding, the family is pushing to have the stadium open on time and on budget, a stance which conflicts (to some extent) with DC's larger redevelopment goals for the neighborhood.

I have enough to say about the stadium in the wider context of redeveloping Southeast that I'll save it for another post, at another time. But I do want to talk about how this approach to the stadium project affects public perceptions of the new owners. For starters, take a look at
Capitol Punishment's take on the situation. Chris Needham's a bright guy, and no latecomer to the "Potential Cheapskate Alert" bandwagon. He takes a balanced, thoughtful look at the available evidence. The comments below his post are much more instructive.

There is a certain segment of the Nats fanbase that doesn't like the Lerners. Some people preferred the Malek ownership group, perhaps having been guests at one of Fred's puppy-BBQs. Others find the lack of Ben's Chili Bowl half-smokes at RFK a sure sign of owner indifference. Still others are apparently peeved that the Lerners didn't just hand out gold bricks to fans during the Grand Reopening Weekend. After all, with a net worth of $1.5 billion the cheap bastards could surely have afforded it. And some have examined the available evidence and concluded that the Lerners show early signs of joining Calvin Griffith, Bob Short,
Vince Naimoli, Carl Pohlad school of sports ownership, characterized by an unhealthy fascination with profit margins at the expense of fielding a competitive club.

Unfortunately there does appear to be some justification for this concern. The team was unwilling, for whatever reason, to commit the money necessary to sign rookies
Sean Black and Dustin Dickerson, who opted for college instead. Jim Bowden is already laying the groundwork for the Nats absence from the 2007 free agency free-for-all. And the Lerners haven't shown any inclination to splurge on that lovely limestone stadium facade that we all registered for at Crate & Barrel.

But is any of this enough to prove that we're to be eternally relegated to watching a shoddy "Tampa Bay North" team in a cheap, slapped together stadium amidst a sea of surface parking, while near Southeast DC is reclaimed by auto-body shops and gay nightclubs as the Lerner family laughs all the way to their next suburban shopping mall project? Not hardly. The Lerners just spent $450M, they're going to own the team for quite some time. We'll have plenty of time to sharpen the pitchforks and light the torches.


October 7, 2006

Ain't Gotta Go Home, But You Can't Stay Here

Sure the playoffs are still going on (except for the Twins, and possibly the Yanquis,) but the Nats season is well and truly over. And if you don't believe me, ask Pedro Astacio. Pedro, along with five other members of the Nats "pitching" staff got their walking papers earlier this week. Right now Astacio, along with Brian Lawrence, Zach Day, Ryan Drese, Joey Eischen and Felix Rodriguez are free agents, which is a nice way of saying unemployed. And rightfully so.

Of the six, Lawrence and Day are the only two I'm remotely interested in seeing in a curly W next season. The Nats are going to need pitching, and a lot of it, again next year. Lawrence will be turning 31, Day just 28. If either or both of them can return to health, an iffy proposition at best, they'll be useful additions to what figures to be another cobbled-together Nats pitching staff. Even with a bad 2005, Lawrence has a career ERA of 4.10. Zach Day is only two years removed from pitching 19 games with a 3.93 ERA. Granted, neither of these guys would have any place on a good team, but then again we're talking about your 2007 Washington Nationals.

The team cleared a little more roster space by outrighting four more players to Triple-A. OF George Lombard and INF Henry Mateo might soon be joining the ranks of the unemployed. Neither man is more than organizational filler at this point, and if they can be replaced by younger players, they should be. Reliever Roy Corcoran and utilityman Melvin Dorta are also headed back to the minors, but they're young enough to be worth keeping around.

And The Award Goes To...

Speaking of the minor leagues, the Nats have named their
organizational player and pitcher of the year. The Player of the Year is a familiar name, 2005 Minor League POY Kory Casto. On the opposite end of the spectrum the Minor League Pitcher of the Year is reliever Zechry Zinincola, taken by the Nats in the June draft.

Kory had a nice year in AA Harrisburg, hitting .272/.379/.468 with 20 homers and 80 RBI. But he still can't hit left-handers (.189/.311/.273 in 132 AB.) And the fact that, with apologies to Larry Broadway, Casto is the only power prospect in the upper levels of the system is less a compliment to Kory than it is an indictment of the lack of depth down on the farm.

Zinicola is a testament to both the strengths and the weaknesses of the Nats farm system. The 6th round draft pick rocketed through the system, from Vermont to Potomac to Harrisburg, racking up a 1.65 ERA in 32.2 IP. But he's only a reliever, and he was pitching for Arizona State last year. This is really an acknowledgement that there are no starting pitchers in the minors ready to contribute anything at the big league level. On the other hand, if this is an indication of the Nats drafting accumen, then the future at least looks bright.

Requiem For a Hall of Famer

Buck O'Neil, the great Negro League first baseman and baseball ambassador passed away yesterday at the age of 94. That O'Neil never gained entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame is one of the great travesties in baseball, and a discredit to the Hall itself. Baseball should be ashamed that it failed to honor such a great player, coach and scout during his lifetime. In a season when so much has been made of Frank Robinson's contributions to baseball, we should all pause to remember the passing of a giant.

October 5, 2006

Baking an Action Movie

The Guardian

Matt Watson – 2 out of 5 Stars

Mix three cups of An Officer and a Gentleman, add a heaping dose of Top Gun, two quarts of The Perfect Storm, and a half pint of Bull Durham and you have the basic recipe for The Guardian. All that’s left is baking that mix for a 2006 movie audience and you’ve got instant action movie. Director Andrew Davis isn’t serving up anything we haven’t had before but like most deserts if you put good things in chances are it will taste okay.

In The Guardian, Kevin Costner stars as Ben Randall, Coast Guard rescue swimmer extraordinaire. Rescue swimmers are the guys that jump out of helicopters to save people whose ships have sunk or have otherwise been stranded. We quickly surmise that Ben is the best guy out there. He’s been there and done that. Ben is stationed in Kodiak Alaska and he spends most of his days freezing in the Bering Sea rescuing one hapless victim after another. Per standard Hollywood cliché, this is a tough and demanding line of work, hence it must take its toll on Ben’s marriage to Helen (Sela Ward). She’s moving out and Ben can’t see past his pride to see what’s wrong. Before they can patch things up, Ben’s crew has a brutal accident. In order to recuperate and get his head on straight, he’s reassigned to “A-School” the training program where fresh faced recruits attempt to become rescue swimmers.

The head of the class is Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher), a high school swimming champ who passed up multiple ivy league scholarships to jump out of helicopters for a living. He’s surrounded by the usual group of military recruits, including the muscle-bound jerk, the timid outsider, and the lone female. Randall’s methods of teaching are a little unorthodox and after a little head butting with the schools regular instructors he settles in to make or break his recruits. You know where the movie is going from here. Jake meets a local girl and they fight their feelings for each other, Jake rebels against Ben’s authority, Ben fights back and the movie follows the setup perfectly. While it’s all standard fare, there is one good bar scene with Jake and Ben that the film can call its own.

While the film really is a bunch of clichés pulled together, it is well executed. Costner plays the aging hero really well. He finally has the face and experience to go with the gravitas that he’s had since Dances with Wolves. It’s not a stretch to think his Ben really has seen it all. He and Kutcher play well together and Kutcher manages to keep his characters bravado under control. We know Jake is the best recruit, but Kutcher makes him sympathetic enough that we don’t immediately root against him. Along with the performances, we’re treated to the usual training montages that are Hollywood required for any movie that shows sports or the military. The MTV style cuts and editing is a little annoying at first but you get used to it after awhile. In contrast the scenes on the ocean are well done and they have a palpable sense of danger that helps underscore the real danger of this line of work. It's too bad the plot doesn't have the same effect.

Sometime in the past a Hollywood producer decided that the best way to make movies was to rehash things that had already been successful. If it worked the first time it should work again right? Hence every now and again we get an original premise that never strikes out on its own. The Coast Guard is uncharted territory as far as movies go so it’s a shame that all we got was An Officer and a Gentleman in a wetsuit. All and all, the Guardian is a decent action movie that is probably best enjoyed by fans of the films that it borrows from.

October 3, 2006

Obligatory post-season wrapup

So after sunday, I came home, polished my monocle, hung the top hat, and got out a big bowl of caviar to look back on the season. It is somewhat obligatory to have a season recap, and so I'll do my part.

Back in March, I posted something called "What Is Success?", which I took as my own personal success criteria for judging the season. Seems worthwhile to bring this out.

For the team....

1. During the season, at least one 6 game winning streak.

We did this. Friday, Jul 22 to Thursday, Jul 27, we swept the Cubs and swept the Giants.

2. Not to be mathematically eliminated before Sept 5 (which does happen to be my birthday).

We did this too. Our mathematical elmination came later in September.

3. Nick Johnson to only be on the DL at total of 20 days or less.

We did this one as well. Admittedly, the end of the season was quite a way to go on the DL, but he got a full season out there.

4. Chad Cordero has 20 saves or more. Being conservative, but trying!

Chief came in with 29 saves for the season, and one at bat.

5. John Patterson has a record that includes 12 wins. Hoping for run support, this is more than last year

Double injury kept Big Nasty out of the rotation entirely. Patterson's record ended up being 1-2, with 8 games, for a total of 40.2 innings.

6. Guzmania delivers a Batting Average better than .260, and hits 30 dingers. I'm trying to recreate 2004 for him. If he hits Nate's predictions, so much the better.

Ok, so no Guzman. At all.

7. Zimmerman delivers, and we see a solid ball player.

Considering he's a rookie of the year candidate, I think we hit this one.

For Dave

8. Attendance at 15 games.

Did much better than this this year. I made 22 games, which is actually 2 more than last year. The Nats were actually a pretty good club in my presence, playing 13-9 ball when I was at RFK. This does not count the game at Camden, which would have made 23 games for 13-10.

9. Chipwich's at at least 5 games.

Chipwich's ended up becoming hard to find, and I ended up switching this to soft-serve. I did hit 5 for soft-serve, however. :) Soft-serve is yummy.

10. One entry into Coyote Ugly after a game

We did this once this season, even before the place became RnR.

11. One night of total stupidity at the ball park, involving not driving and a lot of beer.

I never did quite pull this off.

12. A win on Jun 24, just to have some personal gratification on beating the Orioles while at Camden Yards decked out in Nats gear.

We lost this game. We were 2-1 at Camden Yards. Better luck next year on this one.

If you do totals on my success list, we hit 8 of my 12 goals. (The team pulled off 5 of 7, and I did my part hitting 3 of 5) Since these were lower expectations than last year, we could dwell, but I'm willing to say it was fun, I saw most of what I wanted to, and from my particular set of beer goggles, this is pretty good. I think next year I'll raise the bar back to something more along the lines of what I would really like to see.

As a P.S. despite being late to the party (and hungover, as there was a wedding the night before in Philly), it was nice meeting the folks at the tailgate before Sunday's game. And yes, I met and shook Yuda's hand, and the world did not explode. Thanks to Miss Chatter for putting it all together.

Time to go don the top hat again, and go find new ways to squash the little man under foot.