April 29, 2009

Well, I Feel Much Better Now

Nationals trade minor league reliever Kyle Gunderson for Marlins reliever Logan Kensing.

Kensing's career major league profile:

  • 9.1 hits/9 innings
  • 5.1 BB/9
  • 8.9 K/9
  • 82 ERA+
Translation: gives up more than a hit an inning, walks way too many, has good strikeout numbers, but is a thoroughly mediocre 26 year-old RHRP.

I assume Logan's pre-trade physical included a check for the flashing light in his palm. Kensing will replace Jason "Harvey" Bergmann in the bullpen.

Bergy's career major league profile:
  • 9.1 hits/9 innings
  • 3.4 BB/9
  • 6.8 K/9
  • 85 ERA +
Translation: gives up more than a hit an inning, doesn't walk too many, average strikeout numbers, a mediocre 27 year-old RHRP.

Yes, this should be just what's needed to revamp the Nats bullpen. On the other hand, maybe this will do the trick.

April 17, 2009

Sacrificing Flies

For tonight's series opener against the Marlins, Manny's going with Willingham-Dukes-Dunn left-to-right across the outfield. Let's hope American Hero can live up to his ground-balling tendencies. Otherwise, I fully expect Elijah to be worn out by the fourth inning from covering gap-to-gap.

But, as one of the commentors at Nationals Journal noted, if he keeps the ball down Lannan will have cause to appreciate Anderson and Alberto up the middle with Nick and Ryan at the corners. Couple our best defensive infield with the anticipated offensive support from the outfield and you could have a recipe for success.

Go Nats!

April 16, 2009

You Never Forget Your First Time

See, it really was Milledge's fault all along! But seriously, at least now we know what it takes for the Nats to get a win.

1. Hold the opposing team to 2 runs on 5 hits.

2. Get home runs from Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham, Elijah Dukes and Alberto Gonzalez.

3. Don't let Saul Rivera out of the bullpen.

Simple enough, right?

April 15, 2009

The Future Ain't Now. So What?

The news of Lastings Milledge's demotion to AAA Syracuse was greeted in some quarters with jubilation (though Billy Wagner was unavailable for comment). By far the more common reaction though, was exemplified by the initialed Nats blogs of record, OMG and FJB. I'm not picking on Harper and Steven, their sentiments were widely echoed across the Natmosphere. They just did a particularly good job of articulating the argument.

Because you can read the source material, I'll summarize. Milledge, still just 24, is "the future" of the Nationals, has put up decent if thoroughly unspectacular numbers and is "improving." His talent, universally acknowledged, has earned him the right to play every day. By sending him to Syracuse the team is cutting off its nose to spite its face, rewarding inferior players, undermining manager Manny Acta and unilaterally scrapping "The Plan", aka the only thing fans had left to believe in.

That's not an unreasonable interpretation, it's just waaaaaaaaaaaaaay too alarmist for my taste. Lastings Milledge is not the key to the future of the franchise (or if he is, we're in bigger trouble than we supposed.) He's a talented, somewhat knuckled-headed 20-something with defense issues. AAA is made for guys like that. If Milledge can play CF and bat leadoff in Washington, he can surely do so in Syracuse. If he can't, well let's have the Chiefs figure that out for us.

It has been said that Lastings has "nothing to prove" in AAA by virtue of his 277/388/440 performance over 84 games for New Orleans in 2006 at the age of 21. That's a very impressive line, and for a 21 year-old, it's phenomenal. That's why Milledge was considered a phenom. By way of comparison, Roger Bernadina put up a 318/388/464 line in parts of two AAA seasons at age 23-24. Here's the problem. Lastings's line, particularly the batting eye, hasn't translated to the bigs. FJB notes Milledge's 299/355/448 performance over 250 ABs to end last season as proof that he's progressing. Harper has cornered the market on variable endpoint rants, so I'll just say: Maybe. If it's evidence of genuine progress then it should manifest in AAA pretty quickly, right?

The uncomfortable truth is that Lastings Milledge is not one of the Nats four best outfielders right now. Sorry, but it's true. If you're putting together a 4-man outfield rotation based on the Nats current 25-man roster, Milledge ain't on it. You want numbers? How about career OPS+?

Adam Dunn: 131
Josh Willingham: 116
Elijah Dukes: 113
Austin Kearns: 105
Lastings Milledge: 89

Kearns is easily the worst offensive player of the four, and he still beats out Milledge by a healthy margin. He's also the best defensive outfielder on that list. Dunn and Willingham are here for their bats and ought to be restricted to left field to limit spontaneous fan eye bleeding. Dukes has the tools to be a complete player if he stays healthy and sane, so he's your de facto center fielder.

The competion is between Kearns and Milledge for right field. Milledge's value is all about talent and potential. Milledge certainly could be better than Kearns, but as of today, he ain't. If the talent that so many have seen is really there, a month or two in Syracuse isn't going to make it disappear. If Milledge blows up the International League or Kearns falters, the decision will take care of itself. In the meantime, the Washington Nationals will be running out their best outfield and increasing the odds that they can get something in trade for the guys who aren't part of the future of the franchise.

Now if Rizzo decides to bench Dukes in favor of Corey Patterson, we can start passing out the pitchforks and torches. But with all due respect to my bloggy colleagues, sending a 24-year old to AAA to clear up a logjam, and create more playing time for your four best outfielders is hardly cause for administering last rites to the franchise.

Now let's talk about sending Jesus Flores to AAA and starting Josh Bard...

April 7, 2009

Flirting with the Enemy

The pitching sucks, the defense is non-existent, the manager is over matched and now the President/GM is actively courting the most heinous fanbase on the planet.

"No, we want to play you, we want to see you here, and we would
WELCOME your fans here. And I've got to tell you, I have gone to enough games in three different sports in Philly to tell you that I haven't always felt welcome in your parks, ok? But you can root for whoever you want, you will be welcome when you come to Nationals Park."

That's how long it takes to scrub the smell out of the stadium.

Thanks bunches, Stan. Don't think we'll need to break out the translator for this one. On the heels of last night's embarrassment, did you really need to make the home opener less palatable for Nationals fans?

You remember Nats fans, right Stan? The dedicated thousands who are actually trying, in spite of all obstacles, to root for your team. Jim Bowden may have been an insufferable d-bag, but at least he never openly advocated turning every Nats game into an away game.

I understand Kasten has an ownership stake, so every empty seat really does hit him in the wallet, so here's a suggestion. It's true that Washington is a front-running town, but we're suprisingly supportive of consistent mediocrity too. Put a g--d--- watchable product on the field and you won't have to beg every bottom feeder from Flushing to Miami to make a summer time road trip to D.C.

All the Right Moves?

OK, so how do we blame this on Jim Bowden? If last winter was Jim Bowden's crucible, this summer is shaping up to be Manny Acta's trial by fire. There's no question that this is the most talent ever assembled on Acta's watch. But, to misquote the late Ben Parker, with great talent comes great responsibility.

This is exactly what we as fans should want. This is Manny's team, win or lose. He picked Kearns over Dukes. He went with three lefties in the 'pen and left Bergmann out. He installed Lastings Milledge in center field and the leadoff spot. He indicated that there won't be a true outfield rotation to get Dukes and Willingham at-bats. If it works, he's a genius. If every day is like yesterday...

For what it's worth, I agree with most of Manny's moves. I think playing Austin is the only possible way to give him any trade value. I think stockpiling relievers with options in the minors is the best way to construct a capable bullpen over a long season. I think batting Milledge leadoff is at least a defensible move, though I'd prefer at little less GUZMANIA! in his approach.

Dukes isn't going anywhere unless he has a blow up. And if he blows up over being benched after the hacktastic spring he had, he's probably not a stable long-term building block anyway. It's not like he being passed over for Mike Vento, for goodness sake.

This is what managers get paid to do. Over the last few seasons Manny Acta hasn't been managing, he's been surviving. Lurching from game-to-game with a cobbled together lineup and the AAAA pitcher of the month is a fine test of intestinal fortitude, but no real measure of managerial skill. 2009 is a different story and the results will speak for themselves.

April 6, 2009

Prediction Challenge

So Chico @ WaPost put up a Prediction Challenge. I'm not on the ball enough to ask the other NTPers to do it with me, so here are mine... Happy Opening Day.

1. 2009 win total - 65

2. Attendance at Nationals Park (81 dates; last year's was 2.32 million) - 2.30 million. Half will be Red Sox fans.

3. All-star representative(s) - Adam Dunn

4. Adam Dunn's home run total - 32

5. Date of Stephen Strasburg's major league debut - 8/15/09

6. Nick Johnson's total games played - 100

7. Wins for John Lannan - 7

8. Percentage of season Dmitri Young spends in big leagues, not on DL - 25%

9. Josh Willingham's total at bats - 300

10. Innings pitched for Daniel Cabrera - 80

11. Team ERA leader - Lannan

12. Team batting average leader - Guzman, for Nate

13. Biggest surprise - That Jim Bowden was that much of a bad influence.

14. Biggest disappointment - I only get one?

15. Current minor leaguer (not counting Zimmermann) who will make an impact - A collection of people who will rotate through, and you wont learn their neames.

Bonus: Predict the Nats' rotation entering the last week of the season:
Impossible. Space and time do not allow for vision like this.

Talk amongst yourselves.

April 3, 2009

Good Humour, Man

In medieval medicine, the four humours were the cornerstone of diagnosis. A proper balance of blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile promised good health. An excess or deficiency meant it was time to break out the leeches. Sure there were rudimentary medicines, but leeches were what kept people coming back.

A certain segment of Washington Nationals fandom finds itself beset by a similar imbalance this spring. Understandably unaccustomed to the team's apparent excess of talented major league ballplayers, they have responded as any good surgeon would in the Dark Ages. "Let the bloodletting commence!"

The preferred prescription? Bleed off an outfielder. (With optional Nick Johnson trade therapy, depending on the severity of your individual condition.) Fans from the august St. Thomas of Boswell to the semi-nonymous rabble at Nationals Journal have signed on for this course of treatment. I covered this topic before, so I won't rehash. As Mike Rizzo, Manny Acta and others have noted, one injury can turn a surplus into a deficit mighty quick.

But there's another thing that bothers me about this line of thinking. It's the casual idea that our "treasure trove" of defense/health challenged OF-1B types is worth anything. It's easy to say (or write) "Trade Player X for another starting pitcher or prospects" as though it's simply a matter of filling out the paperwork. The implied logic is:

1. Player X (let's call him Continuings Sawedge or Houston Bearns) has terrible stats/work ethic/defensive shortcomings/body odor
2. ????
3. Someone will trade us a talented player that fills an immediate need or improves the farm.

That's the kind of business plan that keeps the Underpants Gnomes impoverished generation after generation.

The corollary is even better. Player X must be traded because he isn't good enough to start for the Washington Nationals. So the guy who isn't good enough to crack the lineup of our worst-in-baseball, 102-loss Nats is nevertheless a valuable trading chip. But he can't play because he'd be taking at-bats from more talented, valuable players, you see?

It's true that putting the best team on the field sometimes conflicts with the need to showcase players for a trade. The current climate, where teams are dumping multi-million dollar contracts right and left, makes the process of trading bad contracts even trickier. But if you really want what's best for the Nats, you should be rooting for guys like Kearns, Johnson and Milledge to play, and play well, at least until the end of July.

April 1, 2009

Trader Jim Resurfaces

Neither rain, nor wind, nor potential federal indictment will keep Jim Bowden from the public eye. ESPN Deportes is reporting (as best my feeble translation skills can tell) that Bowden has been spending time in the D.R. with fellow ex-Nat Jose Rijo. From the article:

"Rijo and Bowden are in discussions with officials from the Liga Dominicana to purchase a new expansion baseball team, the San Cristobal Pantalones de Cuero."

I assume the team will be based out of Rijo's newly vacant academy. No word on whether Carlos Alvarez has been tapped to manage, or if there's a handshake agreement to bring Dmitri Young on board this winter.