September 30, 2010

Adam Dunn's Red Flag?

If Adam Dunn never plays another home game in Washington, his career at Nationals Park ended on a particularly ignominious note: 0-4, 4Ks. The golden sombrero. Of course, he didn't get cheated on any of those swings, so it's not hard to believe than Adam was pressing to give the home fans a memorable show. Dunn's 2010 has been marked by his traditional display of power - 38 homers and counting - but marred by a career low walk percentage and a career high percentage of strikeouts.

Dunn is famous for being very nearly the platonic ideal of a 3 True Outcomes hitter. When he comes up to bat you can lay good money on a home run, a walk, or a strikeout. He has seven consecutive seasons of at least 38 HRs, and averages 111 BBs and 183 Ks per season for his career. He's led the league in strikeouts three times and walks once. Yet in 2010 he has just 76 walks and is one whiff away from a career high of 196 strikeouts.

Over his career Adam has a K/BB ratio of 1.65. This season he's averaging 2.57 strikeouts per walk. His previous season high was 1.95 K/BB through 66 games in his 2001 rookie season. That was also his career low for walk percentage, when 13.3% of all his plate appearances ended in a base-on-balls. In 2010 he's walking just 11.9% of the time. Dunn is also striking out in more than 30% of his plate appearances, the highest that number has been in his 10 year career. As a result Adam's on-base percentage (.359) is the lowest it's been since 2003 (.354) and 22 points below his career average (.381).

The decline can be traced to a second-half slump. Pre-All Star break Dunn was hitting 288/372/588. He's a career 254/385/547 first-half hitter, so apart from swapping some OBP for increased power and batting average, the numbers are pretty typical. In the second half everything declined. Adam typically wears down over the course of the season, but this year it was particularly noticeable. Dunn's batting average cratered to .227, his on-base percentage dropped thirty points to .342 and he lost power to the tune of a .480 slugging percentage (vs. 247/376/493 in the second half for his career.)

At this point it's important to pause and note that there is nothing wrong with a .359 on-base percentage. Dunn's OBP is the 23rd best in the National League, nothing to sneeze at for a guy who also owns the league's 5th best slugging percentage. However, as the Nationals contemplate re-signing Adam for 3 or 4 more years they should be aware of that his 2010 numbers are moving in the wrong direction. It's impossible to draw definite conclusions from a half season's worth of stats, but that doesn't make them any less concerning.

There are mitigating factors. Josh Willingham, who hit behind Dunn in the first half and was arguably the Nats second best hitter in April and May got hurt and struggled in July and August before going on the DL. Maybe his absence made pitchers less reluctant to pitch to Dunn in the second half. Maybe Adam felt more pressure to swing and try to put the ball in play with a rotating cast of Bernadina, Rodriguez and Morse hitting behind him. Or maybe we're seeing the very early signs of Dunn's decline. Hitters with "old player skills" (i.e. power and batting eye) have a nasty track record of declining hard and fast once they hit the wall.

Adam Dunn will probably never be more than a serviceable but solidly below-average defense first baseman. His value is linked inextricably to his bat. He is without question one of the premier sluggers in baseball. But this year his declining walks and increasing strikeouts have driven him closer to being an "all or nothing" hitter. That could be a one-half season blip, or it could be a sign of things to come. I wish Mike Rizzo all the best of luck in trying to figure out which explanation is closer to the truth.

(If you want to check my math, Adam Dunn's stats are drawn from Baseball Reference - a statistical gold mine.)

September 28, 2010

Pay to Win

It doesn't get much easier to understand than this, courtesy of the NY Times:

Vertical axis: Wins. Horizontal axis: Payroll. Notice any correlation? Yes, there are exceptions to every rule (sweet, holy giraffe the Mets suck!) but the trend line is unmistakable. More dollars (in general) equals more wins.

Please print, clip and mail the graphic above to:

Nationals Park
Attn: Mr. Theodore N. Lerner
1500 South Capitol Street SE
Washington, DC 20003

H/T to Mr. Irrelevant.

September 23, 2010

It's The Lerners' Team Now.

Sell the StanSpeak translator for scrap; Kasten is headed for the door. Boswell's oddly well-timed column has some background that will provide copious fodder for the recently diminished ranks of the "Teh Lerners are Cheep!!1!" movement. Chris Needham correctly assesses the likely fallout.

This is a gut-punch for a franchise in need of a drama-free offseason. Leaving aside the Adam Dunn contract situation the Nationals' roster looks to be as stable as it has ever been. The manager (for better or worse) and GM are both expected back, providing continuity of on-field leadership. But with Kasten, the face of the front office and head cheerleader for "The Plan", jumping ship any number of things could be thrown into flux. Rizzo was a Kasten hire, and Riggleman was Rizzo's choice. That chain of command is now broken. Who's in charge?

Of greater importance, the buffer between the owners and the public is gone. The Lerner-Kasten partnership was a Bud Selig-arranged shotgun wedding that apparently never really suited either party. Kasten was a good soldier, never publicly admitting to an inch of daylight between him and Ted Lerner on decisions. His track record provided gravitas and cover for four years poor performance and declining attendance. But Boswell suggests that Stan privately chafed at having his advice ignored. The next president will be a purely Lerner hire, and will tell us a lot about what to expect for the future of the franchise.

Have Ted and Mark Lerner internalized Kasten's lessons? Will Kasten's replacement be a baseball man given room to operate semi-autonomously, or a glorified accountant? Will the Lerners front the money to improve the major league team around the Zimmermen(n), Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos even if attendance plods along in the low-20,000s per game, or will they simply be happy to turn a profit on the strength of their publicly-financed stadium?

There's no one left to deflect these questions. "The Plan" has run it's course; the future is now. It's the Lerners' team. Time to watch what they do with it.

UPDATE: Someone break out the Lerner Language Lexicon. It's a "Don't let the door hit you." statement from Uncle Teddy.

Stan Kasten will always be an important part of the history of the Washington Nationals. He was vital to ownership winning its bid from Major League Baseball and his agreement to serve as the team’s chief executive for the last five years has been critical to building the Washington Nationals franchise.

Over his tenure he has positioned the Nationals to become one of the most exciting franchises in baseball and we thank him for all that he has accomplished.

We certainly respect his decision to pursue other interests at the end of the regular season, but will continue to call upon him for his vast knowledge of the game, the league and the franchise. He will remain a friend and valued partner of the team and ownership group.

Theodore N. Lerner
Managing Principal Owner


UPDATE II: In what I can only assume is a brilliant protest move, Jim Riggleman is fielding the worst Washington Nationals lineup I believe I have ever seen for today's 4:35 pm tilt with the Astros.

Espinosa – 2B
Kennedy – 1B
Desmond – SS
Morse – RF
Bernadina – LF
Ramos – C
Maxwell – CF
Gonzalez – 3B
Detwiler – P

Undoubtedly they'll win by 14.

September 20, 2010

Nats 2011 Slogan Suggestion: It Could Always Be Worse

Now this is how a mature fanbase handles an extended period of failure and incompetence:



Somebody get Bob Boone on the phone. He's got work to do.

September 14, 2010

The Time Has Come

I'm a fairly lazy custodian of our "Nat(m)osphere" sidebar. I tend to stick with what I know and what I like. Hey, it's our sidebar. And, as previously noted, I'm a lousy housekeeper. What that means in practice is that I'm slow to update when new bloggers join the party and even slower to delete those who may have signed off or gone off the rails.

Every so often though, something gets my attention and reminds me to clean house. In this instance, it was this piece of whiny, self-important BS from Nats320. SBF's place on our blogroll is a function of longevity, not quality. As of now, that's no longer good enough. The team is in a downward spiral, our best pitcher is laid up for the next year, our best slugger is about to take his show on the road, and Jeff is incensed by the inequitable distribution of swag?

To make matters worse, this is the stuff that gets picked up and rebroadcast to the wider web. DC baseball fans have a fairweather, frontrunning image problem that Nats320 is feeding directly into. The Nationals Enquirer has nailed the only possible response to the substance of the post, but I'm using it as an opportunity to tidy up the ol' blogroll. I'm confident that SBF neither wants nor needs my link; I doubt there's much overlap in our audiences.

In place of Nats320 I'll be adding long overdue links to Nationals Fangirls and Nats Inquisition, and removing a few of the older, comatose if not dead links. The link to Nationals Farm Authority will stay until I've completed all five stages of the grieving process. I'm still bargaining. If I'm still missing anybody, feel free to leave your info in the comments, though it may be another 6 months until I get around to doing this again.

And finally, in case you were wondering, Ryan Zimmerman can't hear you.

video

September 12, 2010

Batting Practice Video

And now, for something completely different, Nationals players hitting baseballs with bats. Could have used some of that Friday and Saturday.


video

Also, MissChatter is now up with her typical incomperable photojournalism. (Warning: Do not look directly at the NTP photo.)

Nationals "Blogger Day" Take Two


Saturday afternoon was the Nationals second Blogger Day of the 2010 season. This time Dave and I were set loose on Nationals Park with video camera in hand. Chad Kurz, Manager of New Media and the Nationals public relations staff provided us with access to GM Mike Rizzo, Manager Jim Riggleman and many others.

Over the next few days we'll be posting still photos, video clips and thoughts on the day's activities. For now please enjoy this photo of the view from the press box.

Additional bloggy coverage of Saturday's events can be found over at Nationals Fangirls and Nationals Inquisition.

September 10, 2010

Off-Day Movie Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

The NTP crew can’t watch baseball every night, even with MLB Network and three channels of ESPN. Sometimes we need a break. Some of those times we catch a movie. One of those times, the movie was Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Matt:

Given the rise in popularity of video games and comic books over the last thirty years, the cross-pollination of the two was inevitable. Add in Hollywood insatiable quest for the movie rights to the new hybrid and you get “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”. We’ve seen movies based on comic books and story ideas lifted from video games before, but this is the first movie that *is* a video game. Director Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) takes Canadian cartoonist Bryan Lee O’Malley’s six-part graphic novel and creates a cultural testament to the 8-bit generation, complete with music from The Legend of Zelda, end-of-scene Boss fights, Pac-man history, and a healthy dose of PG-13 punk rock. How much you enjoy this film is directly proportional to how many hours you spent sitting in front of a TV with an Atari or an NES or a Sega Genesis. Frankly, we found it entertaining as hell.

Dave:

I’ll admit I was the one pushing to see this movie. It had me from the opening credits – which I can’t even describe without giving away the gag. As Matt said, we spent a whole lot of time in front of 8-bit consoles, and watching villains explode into coins is enormously satisfying. Several times the movie hit exactly the right, “This is what life would be like as a video game” note. You’d go on an adventure, you’d finish a challenge, and you’d have a boss battle. That’s the way it works. This motif recurs throughout the film. Either you buy in or you don’t. I bought in to it in a big way.

Matt:

The basic plot of the film centers on Scott Pilgrim, your average 22-year-old Canadian slacker drifting through life. He’s nominally dating a cute high school student, doesn’t seem to have a job and plays bass in a fledgling punk rock trio, Sex Bob-omb. (The name is a tribute to a minor baddie from the Super Mario Bros. series, and gives you a good idea of the universe this film inhabits.) Then he sets eyes on Ramona Flowers, the alterna-girl of his dreams. Literally. Of course, there’s a catch. In order to be with Ramona he has to defeat her seven evil exes, who’ve joined forces to stop Scott. Cue the boss fight music; it’s on like Donkey Kong. Say what you will about the film’s blissful ignorance of reality, but at least it’s an original premise. We haven’t seen this story told a hundred times before.

Dave:

I knew going in that it was going to be different. I haven’t read the graphic novels, but the trailers gave enough away that you could tell this was an original treatment. The plot is slightly incoherent, and occasionally even a little beside the point, but having played many video games that move you from level to level, the progression is instantly recognizable. The “cut scenes” move the story forward, but the action is the main focus. The use of comic book and video game style graphics in just the right places make this easy to accept. If you’re not willing to embrace the quasi-reality style, this movie won’t work for you.

Matt:

There is a very large leap of faith required by the viewer to accept “Scott Pilgrim”. As Dave mentioned, the opening credits set the tone but if you can’t sit back and accept what’s coming, you’re not going to enjoy the movie. Over the last 20 years advances in CGI technology have really allowed directors to experiment with how to tell a story. Graphic novel adaptations Sin City and 300 would not have been as compelling without their amazing visuals. “Scott Pilgrim” falls very much into this category. It’s a stylized, 8-bit treat for those of us who remember staying up late to play Super Mario Bros. for hours on end. With all sequels and re-treads being pumped out by Hollywood, original and well made movies should be applauded and encouraged, especially if they’re as fun and well done as “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World”.

On a completely arbitrary scale from 3 strikes (This movie is headed OUT! of theatres) to 4 balls (Run, don’t walk to your multiplex), this film earns: 3 Balls!

September 1, 2010

The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

Seafood just does not agree with the Nationals. Pick your poison. Last night, a 1-0 10-inning loss capping a pitching duel. Tonight, a 16-10 slugfest featuring only slightly more hits than hit batters. Either way, the Marlins remain the team the Nats just can't find a way to beat.

Speaking of beatings, I can't understand why Nyjer Morgan seems determined to beat a path out of DC. Maybe the relationship was irrevocably damaged when the team put Morgan on the DL against his will. Maybe he can sense that he's not part of the team's long-term plans. Maybe all the losing is getting to him. We may never know for sure. What we do know is that for all the reasons FJB lays out, the time has come for Morgan to go.

Steven's also right that this reflects badly on all involved. GM Mike Rizzo brought Morgan in and shipped Lastings Milledge out to "change the tone" of the clubhouse. I sincerely doubt that this is what he had in mind. Time to get that aura reader recalibrated, Mike. I initially assumed that the incident in Philly was just an overreaction to a misunderstanding, but everything that has happened since has inclined me to believe that Nyjer Morgan probably did chuck a ball at a fan.

For his part, Manager Jim Riggleman seems to have no relationship with Nyjer, and no control over his activities on the field. Leaving aside the question of whether Riggleman hung Morgan out to dry in the press, (he did) if you can't convince your 170-lb centerfielder to stop impersonating a blocking fullback, major league baseball manager may not be your optimal gig. Even worse, the teammates who are forced to back Nyjer after these stunts come off looking like dopes.

And speaking of dopes... so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen and goodbye to Rob Dibble. Honestly, I could have forgiven the Strasburg he-man idiocy if Dibble wasn't just plain bad at his job. Being a shameless homer because you have a deep, visceral, almost disturbing connection to the team is one thing. (Hi, SBF!) Being a homer because the team signs you paycheck is just embarrassing. The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said the everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts. Too often Dibble's version of reality was at odds with what was happening on the field (and in the strike zone.) I know there are fans who thought that Dibble's antics were the only thing keeping the Nats watchable. To them I say, you are bad fans.

To sum up: subtract Morgan and Dibble; add Wilson Ramos and Danny Espinosa? Who knows, maybe morale will improve in spite of the beatings