Archive for May, 2009

Manny Mania

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

The clamor that the Nats fire Manny Acta seems to have reached new heights. Half Street Blues writes that it’s time for him to go, concluding that “he really doesn’t care about the team or the season or his career.” Jim Kurtzke at Nationals Pride weighs in with his own thoughts, giving readers four options to consider in “de-Bowdenizing” the franchise — convince the Lerner’s to sell the club, overhaul the front office (and fire Stan Kasten), overhaul the coaching staff (by firing Acta), and overhaul the roster by trading the team’s best players for prospects.

The ostensible reason for the crescendo of “Fire Manny” voices was a Tom Boswell piece on Acta’s personality, a column that made NP’s Brian Dautch “as angry as I’ve been about the Nationals all season.” Dautch would like Manny to show a little more emotion: “Everything about this just screams pain, pain, pain…and the Impervious One just sits there and rolls with it.”

Sell the franchise? Fire Stan Kasten? Fire Manny? Trade away Dunn and Zim and Nick and Goooozmahn? I have a better idea: let’s do nothing at all.

angry-manny-acta

Actually, there a good reason to stand pat: a sale of the franchise would ensure at least another two seasons of drift and firing Kasten and Manny doesn’t answer the real question: who exactly would you hire to replace them? And auctioning of Dunn and Zim and Nick and Guzman would be perceived by other clubs for what it is: an act of desperation. We’d get zilch in return and we’d have to start all over again. Nats fans would be happy with the bloodletting, but the satisfaction would be temporary: there have never been any successful inquisitions — nor, I would argue, is a good purge good for a franchise. Need evidence?

So . . .  why is doing nothing doing good?

Sherman, set the WABAC Machine for Atlanta, Georgia; the year is 1985, the place is Fulton County Stadium – the front offices of the Atlanta Braves.” There we find a group of officials peering over a roster of pitchers for the upcoming season: one of the most mediocre starting pitching staffs ever assembled by a team in the 1980s: Steve Bedrosian, Rick Mahler, Pascual Perez, Joe Johnson and Len Barker. There is some hope; Bruce Sutter is in the bullpen, wracking up meaningless saves.

Mr. Peabody and Sherman set the WABAC Machine to visit Stan Kasten in Atlanta in 1985

Mr. Peabody and Sherman set the WABAC Machine

Now, let’s return one year later. There’s a new president of the ballclub, a young Stan Kasten, peering over a similar roster. Mahler and Johnson are still there, but slowly the staff is being remade. Sadly, the Braves look the same: they finished fifth in their division the year before — now they’re dead last. Two years later things are just as bad, if not actually worse, except that Kasten has decided that the team must place its faith in a young pitcher who, in this his first year, looks terrible. Tom Glavine is 7-17. He leads the league in losses. Atlanta fans are in an uproar. The team wins 54 games; the franchise is a major league joke. Kasten maintains his patience, adding one more young arm the next year: John Smoltz. And then another one, one year after that, in 1990: Steve Avery.

This was a long hard slog. For six seasons, from 1985 through 1990, the Atlanta Braves were among the worst teams in baseball. For many years, they were the worst. During that period (from 1985 through 1990) the Atlanta Braves lost 96, 89, 92, 106, 97 and 97 games. Kasten kept assembling the parts, but not everything he did worked: Derek Lilliquist and Pete Smith never panned out and while Dale Murphy was a near-great, he couldn’t carry the club. David Justice was a great hope, but he eventually faded. But eventually (if not inevitably) the overall results were nearly miraculous. The Braves dominated the 1990s and the early years of the new century. From 1991 to 2005, the Braves won (in order) 94, 98, 104, 68 (the strike-shortened season), 90, 96, 101, 106, 103, 95, 88, 101, 101, 96 and 90 games. It was an astounding run. One of the best in baseball history. They didn’t do it by firing the front office or kicking buckets around the dugout. They did it by finding pitching and letting it develop. Fire Stan? Fire Manny? Trade the only good players we have? That’s not a plan: that’s revenge.

I vote for patience.

Strasburg … But Then What?

Friday, May 29th, 2009

There is little remaining doubt: that the Nats will take Stephen Strasburg with their number one pick in the amateur draft, but then what? There was early speculation that Washington would take another shot at drafting (and, more importantly) signing Aaron Crow, but it seems likely the righthander will go either third or fourth in the draft, ending up in San Diego or Pittsburgh. When Jonathan Mayo at MLB.com rubbed his crystal ball, he projected Crow as the fourth overall pick, going to the Bucs. I wonder: Crow is a little expensive for the Bucs, though he’s as close to a sure-thing as you can get if you’re name’s not Strasburg. It’s no secret, the Pirates are looking for some quick infield help and are traditionally worried about money — and they’re high on USC shortstop Grant Green. But . . .  but if Crow goes to the Friars and if the Bucs want the best pitcher in the draft regardless of money, then expect the Ahoys to pluck Zach Wheeler (there’s a good video of Wheeler on the link) away from the Birds, who reportedly love him.

Mayo has Washington picking Chad Jenkins, a Kennesaw State righthander at number 10. It’s all speculation of course, but there isn’t really any doubt what the Nats would really like: after Strasburg they’d like to draft Ryan Zimmerman — that is to say, they would love to find a high-impact college player that can help them at shortstop, second, or centerfield. And who can come to D.C. right away, or as close to right away as they can get. RZ did that at third, spending an eye-blink in the minors before reporting to the big club; he has people in the seats at both RFK and Nationals Park and become the face of the franchise. Outside of Bobby Borchering (at 3B) there’s only one guy close to that in the entire draft, and it’s Grant Green.

grant-green

Green is 6-3, 180 (smaller than Zim) but he’s fast, a crackerjack fielder and hits for power. The pick would make sense: the Nats have focused on pitching (a Stan Kasten obsession, and justifiably so), but you’d have to think that with Strasburg, Lannen, Zimmermann, Stemmen, Martis, Clippard, Detwiler and Mock they might be ready to think about building a team that includes some strength up the middle. They could keep Guzman at shortstop another year and give Green a good look at Harrisburg or Syracuse, just to see what they have.

There are only two problems with this scenario: Green is a Scott Boras client (which means the Nats are going to have to put out some money — in addition to the premium bucks they will spend on Strasburg) and someone else might get him first. I wouldn’t be surprised.

MLBN on DC’s DFA

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Harold ReynoldsPitching Coach: MLB Tonight got all chatty about Daniel Cabrera on Wednesday, with Harold Reynolds and Mitch Williams weighing in on the Nats decision to designate the right hander. Reynolds disagreed with the decision, pointing out that “Cabrera is 6-10,” and could intimidate pitchers simply by “falling off the mound.” When he finishes his wind-up, Reynold’s said, he would be halfway to home plate. Mitch Williams, the former “wild thing” reliever and salsa peddler, agreed: “just give me 30 seconds with this guy,” he said. The two then went on to talk about how two other pitchers — Sandy Koufax and Randy Johnson — were able to control their wildness, Johnson by getting advice during a lunch with Nolan Ryan (“I was there, in Seattle, the day it happened,” Reynolds said) and Koufax who was told by catcher Norm Sherry, in the Spring of 1961, that he didn’t need to throw the ball through the backstop. Both stories are legendary.

I agree with a lot of commentators that MLB Tonight is a compelling show, but the on-camera comments on Cabrera have to make you wonder: just where have Reynolds and Williams been? Neither Johnson or Koufax had the problems that have plagued Cabrera who (in 2008) led the majors in hit batters and the American League in wild pitches. All the while, Cabrera was being advised by two of the best pitching coaches in the game — Leo Mazzone and Rick Kranitz. This year Cabrera was nurtured by Randy St. Claire, hardly an amateur. It didn’t work. And I would bet (though this would be impossible to prove) that for every Johnson and Koufax there are twenty, or two hundred, other young fireballers who never master their art. Nor did Reynolds or Williams mention that Cabrera no longer has a “Koufax fastball” (clocked at about 95 mph). Cabrera never threw over 92 this year. Never. And, just as an aside, Koufax had perhaps the best curveball in the history of the game, while Johnson’s slider should be bronzed.  

Orioles fans are crowing that Andy McPhail cut the team’s ties to Cabrera and they extol the genius of their new front-office leadership for their foresight. When it came time to re-up Danny they took a quick pass. That’s right — the geniuses up on Eutaw Street had a better idea: they decided to sign Adam Eaton. Eaton, a former Friar, Ranger and Phillie never had an ERA below 4.00. But never mind, it seemed like a good deal — the O’s only needed to pay Eaton the major league minimum, while the Phillies picked up the balance of his contract, some $8.65 million. Eaton was released last Friday. He just didn’t pan out.

Okay, but he couldn’t have been worse than Danny, right? Well, not exactly. Eaton’s ERA was 8.56 over 41 innings, Dannys’ was 5.85 over forty innings. Whatdaya suppose the Orioles should have done with Eaton — “talk to him for thirty minutes?” Every front office is capable of bungled signings and of hoping against hope that a guy who hasn’t ever worked out anywhere will suddenly and finally find the strike zone with them. But even the smartest guys in baseball — like Andy McPhail — wouldn’t mention Danny Cabrera in the same sentence as Sandy Koufax and Randy Johnson.

Breathtaking.  

 wildthingsalsa-index-food-feathered

Wild Pitches: I like “MLB Tonight” because of the large store of anecdotes they tell. Tonight featured one from Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd, the former Bosox (back when they really were the Bosox – when they were terrible), who commented after a fogged-out game in Cleveland: “That’s what you get for building a ballpark on the ocean.” Speaking of The Nation. The Red Sox pitching staff tied a major league record tonight by throwing six wild pitches in a game. Four of the wild pitches were thrown by Daisuke Matsuzaka, who also bounced one to first. Meanwhile, rumors continue to circulate that the Red Sox are interested in moving starter Brad Penny, presumably for a shortstop. Makes sense. Matsuzaka is 0-3. Penny is 5-1.

Elijah’s Rap

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Is Dukes Underrated? Elijah raised the dead, brought fire from the sky and ascended to heaven in a chariot. That’s great, but we’d be happy if he’d just stay out of trouble and hit twenty-five home runs. The rap on Nats center fielder Elijah Dukes is the same as it’s always been: he’s a disruptive clubhouse presence who hasn’t grown up. Tim Kurkjian’s recently weighed in on Dukes, quoting a Nats official as saying that if he were gone “the clubhouse would be a happier place.” While this is new (Nats management has been nearly silent on Dukes) it’s hard to question Kurkjian’s sources: he, Gammons, Rosenthal and Olney have the best information network in baseball. Then too, as we know, Dukes has a past.

Dukes, who headed out yesterday to rehab a left hamstring, arrived in Washington as the purported clean-up messiah, a guy who could raise a dead ballclub and bring fire with his bat. The potential’s there: Dukes is currently hitting .277 with four home runs and was even named by one reader on MLB Trade Rumors as one of the NL’s most underrated players. That’s a stretch, but if Dukes can get healthy, find his stroke, learn how to run the bases and keep his mouth shut (that’s alot, actually) he will be an improvement over the so-so Justin Maxwell, who isn’t ready for prime time. The key to Dukes is his mental make-up, it always has been.  

edukes01

It’s not possible to over-estimate the problems that can be caused by a talented player with a bad attitude. The Cubs brought in Milton Bradley, primarily because of his OBP, signing him for three years and $30 million. Bradley, like Elijah, was going to be a fire-starter, a guy who would do anything to win. The Cubs downplayed his attitude, thinking (Nats-like), that Bradley could be tamed. At the same time, the Cubs allowed Mark DeRosa — the key to the clubhouse the last two seasons – to leave for Cleveland. The result? 

Two days ago Bradley accused MLB umpires of purposely stretching the strike zone to embarrass him: “Unfortunately, I just think it’s a lot of ‘Oh, you did this to my colleague,’ or ‘We’re going to get him any time we can. As soon as he gets two strikes, we’re going to call whatever and see what he does. Let’s try to ruin Milton Bradley.'” Bradley’s bizarre claim was soft-pedaled by Lou Piniella, who’s not normally known for understatement. “What we need Milton to do is get to the point where he hits the ball the way he has in the past,” Piniella said, “and getting on umpires is not a good solution.” Then Piniella added this: “He’s a young man that wants to do well, and he probably has put a little undue pressure on himself. He just needs to relax and play and let his natural abilities take over, and I think everything will be fine.”

The same could be said for Dukes.

But unlike Bradley in Chicago, Dukes has actually stored up a reservoir of goodwill in Washington, where large numbers of Nats observers (and not a few bloggers) gave Dukes a pass when the Nats fined him $500 and benched him for being five minutes late for a game. Dukes was late because he was signing autographs and giving high-fives to Little Leaguers. Dukes took his medicine, said it was his fault, and sat without comment. You wouldn’t get that from Bradley. 

So maybe — just maybe — the rap on Elijah Dukes is a little over-stated. If being five minutes late makes the Nats think he’s a bad citizen, then this team needs a lot more than a better bullpen. Then too, as Nats Planetary Blog has noted, teams will find it a lot harder to pitch to the Anacostia boys with Elijah in the line-up. Dukes might not be the messiah, he might need to do a little growing up, but we need him back. The sooner the better.

Ranking The Underrated

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

MLB TradeRumors: has a thumbnail listing of the game’s most underrated players by league. In the AL MLBTR lists Curtis Granderson, James Shields, Mark Buehrle and Nick Markakis, in the NL it’s  Jason Werth, Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Theriot, Corey Hart, Shane Victorino, Ryan Doumit and Garrett Atkins. It’s hard to argue the list, but in the AL I’d add Mariner reliever David Aardsma. The Mariner’s bullpen is ranked fourth, with three relievers who can throw in the mid-90s:  Aardsma, Sean White (22 IP, 2.01 ERA) and the otherwise underperforming Mark Lowe, who has had six straight games without giving up a run. But the key to the pen is Aardsma, a well-traveled (five teams in five years) sore-armed fireballer who is finally healthy. His numbers show it: he has not allowed a run over his last ten outings while holding opposing batters to a .129 batting average.

aardsma 

Up The Middle: I have never been a believer in Anderson Hernandez, but after watching him last night in New York, I would add him to the list. Hernandez had a stellar late-inning defensive gem against the Chokes and is now hitting .279. After nearly two weeks of Ronnie “I’ll swing at anything near the plate” Belliard, you begin to realize just how steady the work-in-progress Hernandez is, and why Manny and company stick with him at second. Two years ago Hernandez teamed up with shortstop Erick Aybar on one of the best middle infields of Tigres del Licey of the Dominican Republic. The two were nicknamed “los menores” — the kids — and worked the infield with the premier DR team with former Nats Emilio Bonifacio. Aybar has become a steady middle infielder and slap hitter for the Belinskis where, like Hernandez, he’s known for his speed and nifty glove work. Neither Aybar nor Hernandez (or Bonifacio, for that matter) have much power, but they can hit to all fields. Hernandez needs to cut down on his strikeouts (17, against 15 walks) and learn more plate discipline, but he’s probably a fixture now in the Nats infield.

Los "Tres Temores" -- Aybar, Bonifacio and Hernandez

Los "Tres Temores" -- Aybar, Bonifacio and Hernandez

Cleveland’s Curse

Monday, May 25th, 2009

cleveland

Bob Feller showed up in the MASN booth at National’s Park on Sunday to talk pitching with Jim Palmer and Rob Dibble and, because it was the Memorial Day weekend, he reminisced about his time in the armed forces. Feller (“the heater from Van Meter”) served in the Navy, taking nearly four years off from baseball. He enlisted one day after Pearl Harbor and served as a Gun Captain aboard the U.S.S. Alabama, participating in the “Great Mariana’s Turkey Shoot” against the Japanese in the late summer of 1944.

bob-feller-two

Bob Feller is known for being outspoken, and his time with Palmer and Dibble was no different. During the in-game interview, Feller commented that he thought that fellow Tribesman Herb Score was a better pitcher than Sandy Koufax – a surprising claim given Score’s record. (Not to mention Koufax . . . ) While Score set the rookie mark for strikeouts (245) in 1955 and was a combined 36-19 over his first two seasons, his career was cut short when Gil McDougald lined a ball off his right eye in May of 1957. The legend is that after he recovered, Score changed his motion to compensate for his fear of batted balls. Score, who died last year at 75, always denied this, saying that he changed his motion because his arm was sore.

The kind of claim that Feller made about Score might be controversial, but it’s not uncommon among ballplayers of any era, no matter how smart, how well-traveled, or how widely respected they have become. A hard core group claim that Al Oliver was one of the most talented hitters ever, and there are entire chat rooms dedicated to the question of his place in baseball history. Okay, you can make a case for Oliver (he has been considered for “the Hall”), but Feller’s claim comes dangerously close to entering the fantasy world of “if onlys.” The world of “if onlys” is a world inhabited by fans who obsess on the likes of Herb Score and Kenny Hubbs — who might have been one of the best defensive second baseman of all time . . . if only . . .

The Curse of Rocky Colavito: the history of Feller’s team, the Indians, is filled with “if onlys” — they seem to follow the team around. The biggest “if only” involves the trade of Rocky Colavito for Harvey Kuenn in 1960. The Colavito for Kuenn trade seemed even-up at the time, with the Naps sending their big bomber (he led the AL in home runs in 1959) to the Tigers for Kuenn, who had won the batting crown. Colavito, who loved Cleveland, is said to have put a curse on the team — which he denies. Even so, the Colavito trade, according to one Cleveland writer, began a 33-year run of futility for the Tribe that included a number of management pratfalls that kept Cleveland from fielding a good team – moves that included trading Tommy John, Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Joe Carter and Rick Sutcliffe, rushing pitching phenom Steve Dunning to the major leagues and signing over-priced pitcher Wayne Garland. In 1987, Sports Illustrated featured the Indians on its baseball preview issue under the headline “Indian Uprising.” The team lost 104 games.  

rocky-colavito

Down On Half Street: A good friend says that the Indians are as bad as the Nats. Not true. The Indians actually have a closer (Kerry Wood) and Carmona and Lee (in spite of their troubles) are more than passable front-line pitchers. In fact, Lee is brilliant . . . and the Naps are filled with talent: Grady Sizemore is one of the best center fielders in the game (despite his current BA) and Matt LaPorta is a rising star. Victor Martinez is still the heart of the team . . . But the Tribe is in trouble and in a seller’s market. Their front-line is hobbled, their players are underproducing, their fans are coming to the games as blue seats. And they have only 18 wins. The Nats could catch them, and it would have nothing to do with a Colavito Curse . . . Nats management says that they will draft and sign Stephen Strasburg and then send him to the minors instead of bringing him to the big club, because he will need “some seasoning.” So? Jordan Zimmermann and Shairon Martis and Craig Stammen are what, hard-bitten veterans? Tell ya what, send Danny down for “seasoning,” bring Strasburg to the big club, put him in a uniform and send him to the mound. Steaks need seasoning, the Nats need  wins. Seasoning? It doesn’t make sense . . . The Cubs are sinking like a stone. Pitching problems, hitting problems, injuries, poor attitudes (Milton) and they’re missing that great ineffible quality — a sparkplug, a ballplayer who wants to win. More than anything they miss that one gamer who can make a difference. They had him at one time but, believe it or not, he’s now in Cleveland  . . . Bill Ladson says that it’s decision time for Mike MacDougal, before giving us this bit of bad news — Scott Olsen is getting better . . .

“Team Errors”

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

Baseball Tonight’s Buck Showalter” can get angry in a hurry. Last night on ESPN he made a strong case for including a new statistic that he calls “team errors” — plays that cost a team an out, but that don’t show up in the scorecard. He was absolutely meteoric, his voice nearly a shout, as he voiced-over a video showing a third baseman, catcher and pitcher converging on a pop foul, which fell uncaught. “Now that should be a team error,” he said, “and it oughta be in the scorebook.”

Showalter and A-Rod in Texas

Showalter and A-Rod in Texas

Showalter makes a good point. During last night’s tilt against the O’s, the Nationals committed a “team error” that didn’t show up in the scorebook, but that cost the Nats a run — and perhaps the game. It came in the third inning. Detwiler walked the first batter (Greg Zaun). The next hitter (Cesar Izturis), grounded to Nick Johnson (unassisted). One out, runner on first. Detwiler then walked the pitcher (Koji Ueharu) and Brian Roberts before striking out Adam Jones (bases loaded, two outs). 

The next hitter, Nick Markakis, hit a slow grounder between third and short, forcing Zimmerman to his left with Guzman behind him. The ball was hit slowly enough that Zim’s only play was at second, but when he looked there the second baseman (Willie Harris) was nowhere to be found. He was moving towards first. Zaun scored from third. It’s nearly impossible to know how to score the play — officially it’s 1B, a dead-duck-no-fault infield single.

After the game, Nats fans (on “Nats Extra Postgame”) blamed Harris, saying he had failed to cover second. But Manny Acta had another version: “Harris was playing Markakis to pull,” Acta said. “Harris told Zimmerman that [on] a ball to him, he should go to first base. Harris just bluffed [going to second]. Zimmerman was not going to second base.” That is to say: when Zimmerman looked at second, Nats fans assumed Harris should be there. In my quest to keep the perfect scorebook (and after hearing Showalter), I noted the following – Team Error: Zimmerman, Harris. I then erased it. Managers place the infielders, so I put — Team Error: Acta. But that doesn’t make sense either, as I assume (perhaps incorrectly) that bench coach Jim Riggleman positions the infielders (according to the scouting report), so I put — Team Error: Riggleman. But actually, Harris was playing Markakis correctly, so Riggleman was not at fault. In the end I erased it all, and scored it the way the official scorer had it in his book: 1B. But in my notes for the game, I wrote this: Markakis (3rd inning) infield hit, no throw. 

The final line is frustratingly incomplete, but elegantly simple: BB, 3u, BB, BB, K, 1B, F9.

After The Game: I tuned into the Nats postgame call-in program and was surprised at the number of angry fans commenting on the loss. One caller suggested that Willie Harris “be waived” (for his apparent third inning “error”). But most of the calls focused on Manny Acta, for not being tough enough. I generally don’t like this kind of thing: it’s “football think” — where fans believe that winning games is a matter of “character” and “toughness,” words used by football commentators who pass themselves off as “analysts.” Do we really think that throwing buckets will make this team play better? Be patient. We just don’t have the horses folks . . . One of the callers, the night before last, had come down from Baltimore. He criticized Nats fans for being impatient. You have a beautiful ballpark, he said, and some very good young pitchers. The O’s look at Jordan Zimmermann and wish they had him. All true. But then again, we’d do anything to get this guy . . . After the Pale Hose worked hard to land Jake Peavy in a trade with the Friars (a panicky move to shore up their suffering starting pitching), White Sox pitchers threw two shutouts in a row, one from Gavin Floyd and the other from Clayton Richard. The second city’s second team has to feel better, but it won’t last . . .   

Defining The Game: Washington author Paul Dickson is finally getting the attention he deserves. The Dickson Baseball Dictionary was featured in today’s New York Times. It’s been a ready reference of mine for many years and is now in its third (new and expanded) edition. CFG readers might remember my chat with Paul about the definition of a Bugs Bunny Change-Up. It would be interesting to get his views on “team errors” and hear him whinge on about the history of the scorebook . . .

palooka_pitch

The “Other” Manny

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

Hacks With Haggs: gives us the transcript of an interview with Peter Gammons, in which the wag of Cooperstown says that the Nats and “The Nation” have had talks about a Nick Johnson for Manny Delcarmen swap. That’s not shocking news, nor is Gammons’ opinion that Nats acting GM Mike Rizzo would like to solve the club’s bullpen problems. The Nats can part with Johnson, shift Adam Dunn to first base (where he belongs), and give Josh Willingham some more playing time. And the Sox are one of the teams with a well-stocked bullpen. The question is: is Delcarmen — “the pride of Hyde Park” (gag)– the guy we need?

manny-delcarmen_1

Delcarman is not a closer – he has been used mostly as a bridge to the ninth, recording 53, 44, and 74 innings of work in each of the last three years since 2006. But he’s incredibly effective. His current ERA is 0.95. Delcarmen has also been through the Tommy John point of his career, having the surgery back in May of 2003. He has a 95 mph fastball and a good 12-to-6 curve. He’s 27, doesn’t get rattled and he’s cheap, at $495,000. Which is something the Lerner’s love. What’s not to like?

I can think of a few things:

— Despite his history of injuries, Nick Johnson is a lot to give up and the Nats are not as desperate as Gammons or the rest of us might think. We’re not going to contend for the pennant with Delcarmen, he might not even lift us into fourth place. And the common notion that “you can always find relief pitching” happens to be true — despite the Nats’ failure to do so;

– Let’s not kid ourselves, Delcarmen in Washington will not be the same as Delcarmen in Boston. This is a guy who’s waited his whole life to play for “The Nation” and this trade could raise his ERA a couple of points (which, granted, would still place him at the head of the Nats bullpen class);

— As a fan said over at NationalsFanBoyLooser, Dunn “has shown that he is not an everyday first baseman.” Yeah. Of course, he’s also shown he’s not an everyday left fielder too. Still, I would rather have him at first base. He won’t need to hit the cut-off man. 

Mikey Rizzo will decide, of course, but Nick’s contract is up at the end of the year and he’ll be looking to get out. And you never know when he’s going to go down. He’ll probably slip on the dugout step. The Bosox may need another week to convince themselves of what the rest of us in this part of the galaxy already know: Big Papi’s bat speed is gone and it isn’t coming back. We can get a better deal, maybe another-player-plus-Delcarmen, in early June. Or we pull the trigger now. 

We’ve Studied Your Condition and We Think We Know Your Problem: spontaneous demonstrations broke out all over D.C. yesterday when Manny Acta told the press that he would only bring Danny Cabrera into a game when no one was on base. We have a better idea. We think he should only bring Danny in when the Nats have a 12 run lead. Or maybe he should bring Danny in when the Nats aren’t playing . . . there was a good match-up on “Extra Innings” last night, with Tim Lincecum facing off against “the most underrated player in baseball” — Adrian Gonzalez. It was the 6th inning of a tie ballgame. Lincecum worked him outside and inside — in-the-zone, in-the-zone, foul, foul, ball out, ball in, ball down and Gonzalez (15 home runs) was flailing, shaking his head. He just wasn’t catching up to the fastball. Lincecum read the frustration and threw him another heater — 95 mph. Gonzalez lined it past his left ear. Lincecum played self defense, with the ball ricocheting off his right wrist. Another six inches and Gonzalez would have buried the ball in his ear. The kid is lucky he’s alive. Standing at first, Gonzalez stared at Lincecum, who barely gave him a glance. You could have read Gonzalez’s thoughts: ‘hey stupid, do you really think I can’t hit your fastball?’ It’s worth watching . . . The Giants lost the game at “the dog bowl“ in the ninth, but that’s no surprise. They’ve been swept there twice, losing six in a row . . .

adriangonzalez

And now from the Department of Redundancy Department: when the Friars faced the McCovey’s last night, one of the promos said — “Coming Up After the Game: the Post-Game.” I kid you not . . . Manny Acta has said that one of Danny C’s problems is that he has been improperly toeing the rubber, placing his spikes on top of it, instead of in front of it. Ohhhh, so that’s the problem. Now the Ministry of Truth has discovered there’s more to the story. After telling Danny he has been setting up wrong, Manny also told him that the object of being a starting pitcher is to throw strikes. Danny was shocked. “I had no idea,” he said. “I’ve been doing that [throwing balls] that way my whole life.” Whew, things’ll-be-okay-now . . . I know this sounds crazy, but my bet is that this guy is on his way out of Chicago …

Hot Corner Competition

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

Zim Is Not Alone: The one piece of good news amidst the doom of the Washington Nationals season is that Ryan Zimmerman has emerged as the National League’s premier third baseman. You couldn’t say it before this year, but with Zim hitting .355 (with ten home runs), the Nationals can point to him as proof that the Lerners (we may demote them, once again — to “Learners”) have gotten at least one thing right.  But Zimmerman has lots of competition.

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There are at least six all-star quality third basemen in the National League: Chipper Jones, Casey Blake (why did the Indians trade this guy?), Aramis Ramirez, David Wright and (arguably) Garrett Atkins, in addition to Zimmerman. When Troy Glaus comes off the DL, he’ll join this bunch (we should remember — Glaus hit 47 round-trippers with the Belinski’s in 2000). Then too, if the Brewers moved Ryan Braun back to the hot corner from left field he’d surpass nearly everyone in pure hitting ability — with the exception of Zimmerman.

You can make a good case that Zimmerman’s the best; he has more power than nearly any of his competitors (including Braun), fields his position better than Wright, has a higher batting average than either Blake or Atkins and, considering his age, is more resilient than Jones. By my calculations, Zimmerman is on a pace to hit 32 homes runs with 122 runs batted in. A hot weather hitter (he usually slumps in April and May), these numbers could go higher.

MLB Outsider ranked Zimmerman behind Jones, Wright, Ramirez and Atkins in a pre-season snapshot of the other NL contenders at third, but that was before Zim put up this year’s numbers. Then too, someone seems to have moved the fences out on Jones, Wright has begun to struggle, Ramirez has been hobbled by injuries and Atkins is having an off year. Casey Blake matches up well against Zimmerman (but was not mentioned in the “Outsider” rankings), though he’s not as consistent at the plate. Which is to say: Zimmerman should be the National League’s all-star selection at the hot corner, though a strong New York vote will probably put Wright there.   

A lot of baseball commentators have taken notice of this, including “Baseball Tonight’s” Tim Kurkjian, who has written of the third base “renaissance.” Kurkjian opines that Chipper Jones will go into the hall as one of the best third basemen of all time and he’s probably right. But it would be difficult to put him ahead of Brooks Robinson, George Brett, Mike Schmidt or this guy who, for my money, was the best there ever was:

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Slider, Slider, Slider, Wild Pitch: that’s the pitch sequence followed last night by Joel Hanrahan, who served up the go-ahead run with the slumping Adam LaRoche at the plate. The guy two rows ahead of me sunk his head in his hands before yelling — “Hey Manny, Hanrahan’s not a closer.”  I was struck by how evenly matched John Lannan and Paul Maholm were throughout the game, with nearly the same pitch count heading into the sixth (Maholm had 62, Lannan had 57). They were both in control. Maholm might well be the template for Lannan. The southpaw featured a 90 mph fastball, which never topped out over 92 (which he threw, twice), an off-speed curve (at about 85) and a good low-70s change-up. Lannan is more gangly than Maholm, but he features the same game — moving the ball in and out and mixing his pitches well. It’s taken awhile for Maholm to learn the game, but he’s confident now and you can see it. Like Lannan, he works best against the good hitters, but seems to lose focus against those lower in the order. He owned Adam Dunn:

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The Bad News Is …

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

The bad news is the same: the Washington Nationals’ great collapsible bullpen continues to collapse. Less than twenty-four hours after Manny Acta announced that Joel Hanrahan would return as the team’s closer, Hanrahan gave up three runs in the ninth inning against the Buccos. In truth, it’s hard to disagree with Manny’s decision on Hanrahan: after all, who else is there?

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The Nats bullpen has reached a point of near historic futility — though they were once considered one of the top bullpens in major league baseball. Back in 2008, one writer ranked them among the top ten, with Cordero, Rauch and Ayala the primary reasons. You have probably noticed: they’re all gone. The loss of these three horses from 2008 is sufficient reason for the great collapse, coupled with the front office’s off-season inability to sign any effective late-inning arms. Or maybe it wasn’t inability — maybe it was lack of concentration. So, just how bad is the Nats bullpen?

They’re the worst. According to statistics kept by the MLB, the Nats rank last in bullpen effectiveness — guaged by ERA. Their ERA is 6.71 in late-inning work. The next worst is not even close: the Belinskis 6.21 late-inning ERA ranks 29th. If the trend continues, they could be the worst ever. Opponents are hitting nearly .300 against the NATS in late-innings, and the ballclub leads the majors in late-inning walks.  Tom Boswell had this to say, just yesterday: “Until you have a ‘pen that can hold a lead and a starting rotation that does not include Daniel Cabrera and Scott Olsen, who’ve allowed 75 runs in 80 1/3 innings (the Nats are 1-14 in their starts), what you have is a fan’s nightmare.”

Boswell has some recommendations: get rid of Cabrera, eat contracts of pitchers that haven’t worked out (Scott Olsen is a DL return away from an outright release), promote the club’s young starters and allow the oldsters in the bullpen to teach the youngsters how to pitch. Will it work? Probably not. Nor, it seems, is there any relief (so to speak) in sight. The Nats might trade for bullpen help, but you have to believe that if there is anyone available the Belinskis would have found them. Then too, the Nats’ trade bait is Austin Kearns, now hitting .216.

There’s another possibility, of course, and that is that the Nats swing a deal with the Mets for Nick Johnson. The Mets are in the market for a first baseman, the result of a team  announcement that Carlos Delgado would undergoe hip surgery. Delgado will be out until at least the all star break, and maybe longer. The Mets are sniffing around for a way to replace Delgado and a trade with the Nats for Nick Johnson is an option. Perhaps. The New York Post has weighed in on the possibility, mentioning Johnson’s contract ($5.5 million) as an attractive alternative to taking on the contract of either Todd Helton or Paul Konerko.

The Mets have bullpen arms to give in exchange and the Nats could use someone like Pedro Feliciano or Brian Stokes — or both. But the Mets would have to be pretty desperate to part with them, particularly given Johnson’s injury history. Asking the Mets to trade away the most lively arms in the best bullpen in baseball (at least this year) is asking alot. If I were the Nats I would do it in a heartbeat, if I were the Mets I wouldn’t.

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