Friday, September 30, 2011

IBWA - 2011 Awards

Today the DC Chapter of the Internet Baseball Writers Association (of which we are a member) posted their end of the year awards - a cumulative effort from all of the voting members of the Association. If you want to see the results click HERE.

Below I have included my votes for all of the awards, with my own special brand of reasoning. Winners are in parenthesis, my votes are after that, in italics.

Goose Goslin MVP Award (Winner - Morse): 1st - Morse. 2nd - Clippard. 3rd - Espinosa

Morse was the pretty obvious selection for just about everyone. He was able to play decent defense after LaRoche's injury as well as blossoming into an all-star caliber offensive star. He won't get any, but he deserves a few real MVP votes this year.

Walter Johnson Starting Pitcher o' The Year (Winner - Zimmermann): 1st - Zimmermann. 2nd - Lannan. 3rd - Livan.

Jordan Zimmermann was absolutely fantastic in his first full year back after Tommy John surgery. He showed that he could easily slide into the "Ace" label if the club needs it, as he registered the highest Nats WAR for a pitcher since 2005.

Firpo Mayberry Relief Pitcher o' The Year (Winner- Clippard): 1st - Clippard. 2nd - Storen. 3rd - HRod.

No need to explain. The stats speak for themselves.

Sam Rice Hitter o' The Year (Winner - Morse): 1st - Morse. 2nd - Espinosa. 3rd - Zimmerman.

Ignoring Morse (you saw what he could do, explained above), Danny Espinosa has a huge ceiling as a switch hitter. His left-hand side needs a bit of work, but that's where the power is - if he can cut down on the strikeouts you will see him winning this award next year.

Frank Howard Slugger o' The Year (Winner - Morse): 1st - Morse. 2nd- Espinosa. 3rd - Werth.

I have Werth here at 3rd because he had a very sneaky good second half, posting comparable, if not better, numbers to his career averages. Breaking the 20 HR mark is what inspired me to put him on this list.

Joe Judge Defensive Player o' The Year (Winner - Espinosa): 1st - Espinosa. 2nd - Ankiel. 3rd - Ramos.

Espinosa's defense was outstanding this year. He makes plays that only a handful of 2nd baseman in baseball can even think about, making him a perennial Gold Glove candidate. It is worth nothing that Ankiel played outstanding center field this year and that Ramos did a yeoman's job managing a pitching staff at such a young age.

Mickey Vernon Comeback Player o' The Year (Winner - Zimmermann): 1st - Wang. 2nd - Lannan. 3rd - Strasburg.

The fact that Chien Ming Wang can even throw a baseball anymore is outstanding and noteworthy, but that he has been able to come back and pitch at such a high level is incredible. For John Lannan to have such a solid year after being sent to the minors is also worth mention, as is Jesus Flores' return to the majors.

Josh Gibson Humanitarian o' The Year (Winner - Desmond): 1st - Desmond. 2nd - Zimmerman. 3rd - Pudge.

Ian Desmond has been everywhere around DC this year, whether it's breaking ground on a field or just helping out at food shelter. He is the Nats representative for the Roberto Clemente award, for which there is no higher praise in baseball.

Minor League Player o' The Year (Winner - Harper): 1st - Harper. 2nd - Lombardozzi. 3rd - Peacock.

The Phenom should've been an obvious choice here. Yes, the other two (and others) had fantastic seasons, but let's face it - Bryce Harper was able to dominate AA where the only other teenager on the field was the bat boy.

Agree? Disagree? Who are your winners? Leave 'em in the comments!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Um... Wow

So. Last night was probably the single greatest night of baseball in the history of the world.

To sum up.

Braves had an 8.5 game lead in the wild card the morning of September 6th. As of last night they were tied with the Cardinals, who ended up absolutely manhandling the Astros on the back of Chris Carpenter. The Braves held a 3-2 lead going into the 9th after a masterful performance by Tim Hudson and their stellar bullpen. However, Rookie closer, Craig Kimbrel, was unable to close out the game - with two outs in the 9th. The Braves ended up losing in 13 innings to their division rivals, the Phillies (who much more resembled a AAA team than MLBs best team). At the time this was the biggest choke in the history of the stretch-drive - no team had held a lead that large and not made the playoffs...

Until about a half hour later.

The Red Sox had a 9 game lead in the wild card on Sepember 3rd. As of last night they were tied with the Rays. After a lengthy rain delay, the Red Sox took a 3-2 lead into the 9th inning against the Orioles (who have owned them of late) - I believe that I saw a stat on twitter that said the Red Sox were something like 77-0 when leading in the 9th. In comes Papelbon, two outs later Chris Davis hits a double with Nolan Reimold following suit - tie ball game. The next batter comes up and hits a flare liner to Carl Crawford (who left the low-payroll Rays for the big bucks of Boston), who can't handle it and the run scores - Red Sox lose.

Now, this wasn't necessarily doomsday for the Red Sox - they still had a chance to play in a 1-game play-in if the Rays lost to the Yankees.

In the Rays game, the Tampa club went down 7-0 to the Yanks and everyone had a fork in them, except no one told the Rays. They stormed back against Yankees reliever Luis Ayala. Yes, that's right. Luis "Gas Can" Ayala. But they were still down 7-6 in the 9th - two outs later, Dan Johnson (he of the .112 average) was in a two strike count and he hit a game tying home run. Incredible.

It took the Rays 13 innings. But the minute they heard the news that Papelbon had blown the save in Baltimore, Evan Longoria took the team on his back and hit a walk-off home run to give the Rays the Wild Card.

In the span of 30 minutes we saw the two greatest collapses and two greatest comebacks in MLB history. And the Red Sox, Braves, and Yankees, at separate points, were all one out away from winning their games.

There will be plenty of time for us to discuss the Nats statistical leaders, their fantastic 80-81 season, and debut our BIGGEST SERIES EVER. But for a second I just want you to appreciate what happened last night in baseball.

It was truly something spectacular.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Moneyball: Through the Nats Looking Glass

12:01am Thursday night, myself and 6 other brave souls made our way to our local theater to see the first general public showing of “Moneyball”. Having read the book oh-so-many years ago, as well as numerous reviews from national baseball columnists, I knew roughly what to expect. Two hours later, all the expectations had been exceeded. It was like being a fly on the wall during scouting meetings, trade deadline discussions and in home visits with draft picks and parents.

At several points during the movie, I thought of the present, and the Nats. The first such moment comes early in the movie, when Art Howe, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, has a rather tense conversation with Billy Beane about his contract situation. He tersely explains his dissatisfaction with a one year contract, decrying the lack of confidence it inspires. Throughout the first half of the season, Howe, clearly unhappy with the roster make up, continues to defy Beane’s wishes to a point where Beane questions if he is being so difficult because of the contract situation. Of course this conjures the memory of Jim Riggleman and “Rigglegate”, as I am fond of calling it. To see the less than friendly interactions between Howe and Beane makes you wonder what the first half of the season must have been like for Rizzo and Riggleman.

Perhaps the most important scenes in the movie, from the standpoint of changing the mindset of talent evaluation in today’s game, are the scout meetings. The “braintrust” is assembled to evaluate options for replacing the holes left by Jason Giambi and Jonny Damon. Insightful comments from scouts include, “he has an ugly girlfriend, means a lack of self-confidence” and “he’s got a good face”. These are the top scouts in the A’s front office and this is the sort of analysis they trust in. Seeing these scouts I was left to wonder, Mike Rizzo is an old school scout, has he ever uttered these words, does he employ any of these guys?? Is Davey Johnson one of these guys??

The main thing that Moneyball shows is the necessity of having an organization wide philosophy. Billy Beane, when he comes to the realization that the game is inherently unfair and the deck will always be stacked against small-market franchises, changes the entire direction of the organization; as well as baseball, itself. Now when Rizzo took over in 2009, he faced this sort of mid-course correction situation. And he has done a pretty spectacular job. Through shrewd trades, strong drafts and a sometimes unpopular fiscal responsibility, he has turned the Nats into a rising franchise with 5 or 6 all-star caliber players and a real shot at prolonged relevancy.

The movie - It’s a new baseball classic that does for the front office what Bull Durham did for the minors, Field of Dreams did for fathers and sons, and Major League did for the city of Cleveland. The intensity this movie captures leaves you on the edge of your seat. There are so many scenes that will leave you wanting more.

Official CapBall Recommendation: See the movie… and read the book. For once, it really doesn’t matter in what order.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Espi > Phils

Something strange has been happening lately - Danny Espinosa has been owning the Phillies.

When I decided to sit down and actually do research for this post, I found out that it goes much further than I had imagined. Some of the stats that I have found are absolutely amazing.

So, without further ado - let's take a statistical journey through Danny Espinosa's career against the Phillies - bullet-point style.

- His 2011 slash-line against the Phillies is .333/.414/.733. For those of you that can, you know, add, that comes out at a 1.147 OPS. [Ed. Note - Stats as of 9/22/11]

- In his relatively-short career, Danny Espinosa has 277 Total Bases - 52 of those have come against the Phillies. The next closest opponent is a tie between the Mets and the Braves at just 32 Total Bases.

- He has ten 3-Hit games this year, and three are against the Phillies.

- Espinosa has owned 3-time All-Star and Cy Young Award winner, Cliff Lee, to the tune of a .700/.700/1.700 slash-line in 10 career PA against him.

- Using our old friend addition - that is a 2.400 OPS against Cliff Lee. The next closest with at least 10 ABs vs. Lee is Manny Ramirez with a 1.583 in 17 ABs.

- More about Espi dominating Lee? Ok. Lee has given up 17 home runs this season - only Danny Espinosa has more than 1. He has 3.

- One last Lee nugget. Only 1 player has more career home runs against Lee than Espinosa - Paul Konerko with 6 (in 5x as many PAs).

- Roy Halladay has only given up 10 home runs this year, one of them was to Espinosa. (Note: Laynce *The Daynce* Nix and Michael Morse have also homered off of Halladay this year).

- Vance Worley has only given up 11 home runs this year, one of them was to Espinosa.

- Of Danny's 27 career homers - 8 have come against the Phils.

All of these numbers, including Cliff Lee's 4 remaining contract years, bode well for the Nationals as they build on what is becoming a heated rivalry between the two ball clubs.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

CJ Wilson to the Nats?

A few days ago, Bill Ladson reported that the Nats had scouts in Oakland for last night's Rangers - A's battle - specifically for the purpose of scouting CJ Wilson's start. (Note: Wilson went 6 innings and gave up 2 ER while walking 3 and striking out 8).

By now you have seen plenty of other takes on this subject and whether or not CJ Wilson would be a valuable piece for the Nationals to have going forward.

I'm gonna just go ahead and say - No thanks, I'm good.

You might say that I'm crazy that I'm not interested in bringing aboard a pitcher that has a combined 10.1 WAR over the past two years.

All I have to say in response is that...
1 - He is already 31 years old and will want a 4+ year deal.
2 - He has only been a starter for two seasons.
3 - He has been on the DL for both Shoulder and Elbow issues.
4 - Sources say that he could be worth at least the same $82.5 Million that AJ Burnett and John Lackey received - and how is that working for the Yanks and Sox???
5 - I would much rather see Milone, Peacock, Wang, or Detwiler fill out the last 2 spots in the rotation.

What do you think, CapBallers?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Johnson 1 - Manuel 0

Let me set the scene: Bottom 10, 2 Outs, Runner on 2nd, Nats up 4-3, Chase Utley at the plate.

What do you do?

There are generally two schools of thought in this situation:
1 - Never. Ever. Ever put the winning run on base (via Intentional Walk).
2 - Walk the batter to face the lesser hitter on deck - in this case, Ross Gload.

Let's break down the numbers involved in each decision...
1 - With two outs, the runner on second (in this situation Eric Kratz - a 6'4", 255lbs. catcher) will be running on contact. Despite the fact that Chase Utley is having a down year, arguably his worst since his rookie season, he is still a solid contact hitter - having made contact 84.1% of the time over his career. This year, Utley's BABIP (Batting Average of Balls in Play) is at a worst-since-2004 .273 - well below his career .310. Keep in mind that Drew Storen holds Left-Handed Batters to a .231 average with a .301 BABIP. So you have a Former All-Star, contact hitter against Drew Storen with a runner moving on contact - knowing full-well that a single ties the game. Meanwhile...

2 - On Deck is Ross Gload, who is hitting .257 this year, .250 as a Pinch Hitter, but a dreadful .157 hitter with RISP. The issue being that, if you walk Chase Utley the winning run is just 270 feet from scoring - 5 of Gload's 6 Doubles on the year have come in a Pinch Hitting role, and a double would easily score Utley from first. It should be noted that Ross Gload is listed as a 0.19 Clutch hitter, whereas Utley is listed at a -0.22 (according to Fangraphs).

So -

Do you face an All-Star with your shutdown closer, knowing that a single will more than likely tie the game?

Or do you walk the All-Star to face a clutch Pinch Hitter - knowing that a single will tie the game and a double will lose the game?

Davey Johnson took the gamble, breaking baseball code, by intentionally walking Chase Utley to put the winning run on base. And he won.

It was the right move, as Gload grounded out to end the game. Davey Johnson out-managed Charlie Manuel several times in yesterdays 4-3 Game 1 win - but none bigger than his gutsy move with 2 outs in the bottom of the 10th against MLB's best team.

Well done, Old Man.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Appreciation Day

The Washington National’s future is bright. The number of young stars on the rise in the organization can only be quantified if, you know, you took off your shoes and the shoes of everyone you know and love. But, I think as we start to (hopefully) enter the period of prolonged relevancy, it’s important to think about the bridges from 2005 to 2011. Now Former Nats Greats are awesome, and no one enjoys their ridiculous tales more than I, but just for this post, I want to give credit to a current Nats great and player whose contributions will become more and more significant over time. Livan Hernandez.

Now, Zim will be the first Nationals Hall of Famer, maybe even followed by Strasburg and Harper. But if the Nationals start retiring numbers, 61 is the very first one going up on the wall. Since 2005 no one has done more for the Nats on the field than Livo. Over 1300 innings in just less than 200 starts, Livan has been the workhorse of the franchise.

2005. The Nats, in their very first year in DC, are surprise contenders. Livan throws the first pitch in Nationals history, goes 15-10, leads the league in innings pitched and games started and is an All-star. 2006. Livan is traded for future stars Garrett Mock and Matt Chico. Ok, not so much future stars, but Chico did a yeoman’s job in his tenure with the team, doing, frankly, much more than was asked of him and eating innings, while Mock…ate up a spot on the 40 man roster for the last 5 years.

2009. The return. After being unceremoniously cutting ties with the Mets, Livan returns to DC. He shows enough that the Nats offer him a minor league deal for 2010. 2010. Um, about that minor league deal…thanks for throwing 211 innings with an ERA under 4. Good for a WAR of 3.0, showing the rest of Major League Baseball he may not be done. But instead of testing the free agent market, this happens: “Hey Mike, 1 mil for next year?” “Sounds good, see you in 2011.”

2011. Strasburg is recovering, Zimmermann is on an innings limit. Marquis traded. Livan is there taking the ball every fifth day. 29 starts, 175 innings, his best K/9 rate since 2006, and enough Bugs Bunny curve balls to strike out Elmer Fudd 100 times. And now, with the youth movement taking over, Livan has taken on a role as mentor.

2012. Livan wants to play. He knows he can still play. He has said publicly that he is returning to Washington in whatever roll he can have, or retiring. Imagine Strasburg throwing 99 MPH for 7 innings and Livan coming in for the 8th throwing 59 MPH curve balls.

Whatever the future holds for Livo and the Nats, he has been a great pitcher, mentor and ambassador for the Nationals. He leads the Nationals all-time in 11 pitching statistics, and the ones Stephen Strasburg doesn’t break, he may hold for a very long time. I’ve been a Nats fan since their arrival and one thing can be said about Livo that can’t be said for any other pitcher. I was never nervous when it was his start. Think about it. Nats fans live on antacid from April to October, but every 5th day, it was Livo, and a chance to win…

Favorite memory about Livo…Please share!!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Rookie Talent

This September had the potential to be a harbinger for things to come in NatsTown - a chance for all the fans to catch a glimpse of the future. Thus far, the rookies have provided more than just a glimpse of the future, they have given the team a new present. Three rooks in particular have piqued my interest. Let's take a look at their resumes and potential for MLB employment in 2012.

Chris Marrero - Drafted 1st round (15th overall) in 2006
Drafting high school players has always been a gamble. The potential is always there with such young players, but it rarely ever develops to full potential - Marrero is no exception. He never turned into the power-hitting first-baseman. However, this September he has shown that although he doesn't have the 1B power he is a fairly intelligent baseball player who has a well-rounded game.

His 2011 season has seen 9 RBIs in just 75 ABs, to go along with a decent .989 Fielding Percentage.

I don't see Marrero with the big club next year, not with LaRoche expected to return in Spring Training and Morse roaming around in Left Field.

Brad Peacock - 41st round (1,231st overall) in 2006
For a player that literally came out of nowhere, Peacock has a helluva resume, from stellar minor league seasons to Pitcher of the Year awards. Peacock has flown through the ranks of the Nationals system, poised to become a major league pitcher as soon as next year. He has shown nothing but positive signs that he is a major part of our future.

His first appearance aside - Peacock dazzled in his only start of his major league career; going 5.0 innings, allowing just two hits and getting his first MLB win.

I see Peacock being in the Nats Rotation in 2012.

Tom Milone - 10th round (301st overall) in 2008
Milone has had a bit more time in the Majors than his counterparts, and his rust is beginning to wear off. So far, each start has been better than the previous, and that is about all you can ask for at this stage. As he gets more comfortable being in 40,000+ seat stadia, Milone has begun to show the stuff that has made him a top Nats prospect.

In his most recent start he went 5.1 IP while giving up just 3 hits - earning his first MLB win.

I see Milone being in the Nats Rotation in 2012.

The scouts and baseball people always say that you can't put too much stock into September performances, I don't think that tells the whole picture though. You can't put too much stock into the numbers in September, whats important to look for is how the players are adjusting to the pressures of everyday life in the bigs - whether they are capable of moving a runner over, or knocking him in on a SAC fly - whether they can get through a lineup that third time, do they get better each time out.

We are witnesses to all of these positives with these three players - enjoy it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Rick Ankiel: The Man We've Been Waiting For?

Wanted: Athletic, Defensively Skilled, On-Base Machine. Two out of three ain’t bad? The single biggest hole on the Nats roster is Centerfield/Lead-off batter. Now, there are free agents out there, in-house candidates, and the entire Nats camp that have their fingers crossed - waiting for Bryce Harper to come and save us all. But what if the right man was right in front of us all along…he was just wearing glasses and weird clothes. That’s right, I’m talking about Rick Ankiel.

The current book on Rick: Athletic, Mega-Super-Awesome Arm (that’s just the term scouts use), can hit the ball a mile if you leave it over the plate, can’t hit lefties or off speed stuff, strikes out WAY too much. The description doesn’t quite fit the personal ad the Nats are sending out. However, recently he has shown flashes of dropping some of those OBP anchors. Take his RBI double Tuesday night, how many times have we see Rick actively going the opposite way? It’s pretty rare. If he can expand on that, shorten his swing, and look to go the other way in the right situations, his average and On-Base Percentage would go up.

Rick Ankiel is going to strike out. Every major league player does it. It’s a part of today’s game. But if he could work on his approach at the plate and lay off a few of those breaking balls in the dirt, he could turn some of those K’s into BBs, or at least more fastball counts.

Now I know, I know, this is a big if, but Rick’s story and history in baseball show that he has the desire to succeed in Baseball, no matter what, and has the ability to make any adjustments necessary. It also means that from the time he was a high school All-American at Port Saint Lucie High School right up until he decided to switch from pitching to outfield in March 2005, he focused all his energies on the art of pitching. So, realistically he is only a few years into his career as a hitter and still has a ton of room to grow and refine his approach at the plate.

The last thing he could do to turn himself into an OBP machine and the answer to Mike Rizzo’s prayers? Take the off-season, and perfect the art of bunting. All of you Davey Johnson/AL-minded fans must be saying, “dude can jack a HR at any time, why take the bat out of his hands!?” Well its simple statistics. In his career he has struck out 425 times, and hit 64 home-runs. So it’s not as if you are asking The Babe to lay one down with RISP. But with Rick’s athleticism, and the fact that he is left-handed and therefore closer to first base, he could parlay drag bunting into 10-15 hits a year. And the threat of the bunt changes the way pitchers and defenses approach you, changing the game in your favor.

Ok. Do I really think Rick Ankiel will be the singular answer to the Nats centerfield/lead off problems? No, not really. But it's fun to think about. And in a few paragraphs I’ve made a reasonable argument that he could be the answer with a few (big) adjustments. So, Rick Ankiel if you are reading this… take a few pitches and practice your bunting!!

Thoughts on my wide-eyed optimism? You know where to go!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Tao of Rizzo

Every great sports team has one thing in common; an over-arching, organization-wide philosophy. A set of principles and procedures that stretch from the bottom of the team to the top. In baseball, that means from instructional league to “The Show” every player is taught to bunt the same way, to throw to the same base, and to think about the game in the same way. When Jim Bowden was the GM and guiding force of the Washington Nationals, the philosophy was scattershot - trying to acquire young, toolsy players (i.e. Milledge and Dukes) and taking flier after flier on reclamation projects (i.e. Meathook).

Then all hell broke loose in the Dominican.

Enter Mike Rizzo. Enter Pitching and Defense… and a new emphasis on the Draft. Rizzo undertook a huge makeover of the entire organization and his plan was to do it using his greatest tool, scouting. For years, Rizzo was known as one of the top scouts in baseball, signing untold numbers of future Major Leaguers for his employers. And thanks to the piecemeal rosters the Nats were running out during the '05-'07 seasons, they were set up with some choice draft positions.

So Rizzo went to work building an organization designed to compete year-after-year. The best way to do that, in his mind, was to draft pitching, and lots of it - then surround those pitchers with a defense designed to save runs and inspire the confidence to be aggressive on the mound.

The total number of pitchers drafted during Mike Rizzo’s three years as GM: 77. He drafted countless more before that as the special assistant to the GM and point man for scouting and the draft. The Nationals have now 15 starting pitchers under 27 already in the major leagues or on the top-prospect tract:

Stephen Strasburg - 23

Jordan Zimmerman - 25

Brad Peacock - 23

Tom Milone - 24

Matt Purke - 21

Alex Meyer - 21

A.J. Cole - 19

Sammy Solis - 23

Robbie Ray - 19

Ross Detwiler - 25

Shairon Martis - 24

Cory Van Allen - 26

Josh Smoker - 22

Jake McGeary - 22

John Lannan (yes, he is still under 27) - 26

Wow. We already know what some of these pitchers are capable of; Strassy and JZimm are top of the rotation guys and Lannan is a solid left-handed starter who can take the ball every fifth day and give you a chance to win. That leaves 12 guys with the potential to be above average MLB starters. Well over half could fail and the Nats would still have a top flight rotation.

Now, Rizzo knows that the best way to make sure those young pitchers are set up for success is to put a great defense on the field behind them. A great defense can save runs, yes, but more importantly, a pitcher that is confident in his defense will be more aggressive and throw more strikes. So, the focus needs to be solely on creating a solid defense, primarily up the middle (catcher, shortstop, second base, centerfield) - where they have already settled half of the equation (Ramos and Espinosa).

As an organization, the Nats are on the way up. Everyone who comes through the clubhouse or front office sees it - Livan will be the bat boy next year if that's all they offer him and Adam Dunn was desperate to stay. Going forward, all the Nats need to do is stick with Rizzo’s philosophy. Get a manager who will put defense first, help develop all the young arms, and set each and every player up to succeed. Is Davey Johnson that man? My hunch is no, his love for the 3-run bomb doesn't really have a place in Rizzo's philosophy.

Who will it be? You tell me in the comments section and I'll tell you why you're wrong!

Tyler Clippard Isn't Human - Part II

Way back in August after yet another epic performance by Tyler Clippard, I decided to write a sort of ode to the artist formerly known as Peaches. In that post, linked here, I showed you how Clippard has fared when stacked up against other relievers - the verdict? he was well ahead of the class.

Recently, as the Nats have been struggling to win ballgames, I have began to wonder how, after all of these appearances in the past two years, he is still able to dominate hitters.

So, my mind working the way it does, it was time to do a little bit of research.

Since 2007, only five relief pitchers have thrown more than 90 innings in a single season; Matt Belisle and Tyler Clippard in 2010 an Heath Bell, Peter Moylan, and FNG Saul Rivera in 2007.

Here is there WAR and ERA in their 90IP seasons vs their next season -

Heath Bell - 2.4/2.02 in 2007 ..... 0.9/3.58 in 2008
Peter Moylan - 0.6/1.80 in 2007 ..... 0.0/1.59 in 2008
- Pitched in just 7 games - Went on DL on April 15th with an Elbow injury, missed the season
Saul Rivera - 1.3/3.68 in 2007 ..... 1.3/3.96 in 2008
Matt Belisle - 2.2/2.93 in 2010 ..... 1.2/3.56 in 2011

So, as you can see, each pitcher saw a drastic drop in ERA, each pitcher (save one) saw a decrease in WAR, and there was one pitcher is a serious elbow injury. Can you see where I am going with this?

Tyler Clippard threw down a 1.4 WAR an a 3.09 ERA in 2010 - decent numbers for a reliever.

This year his WAR is slightly down at 1.1, but his ERA is a mind-boggling 1.96. No other pitcher was able to even hold steady at an above-average/average reliever in the year after they threw 90+ innings - Clippard got better.

And after 2 more (stellar) innings last night, Clippard projects to be right around 90 innings again this year...

Thoughts, CapBallers?? The Comments section awaits!

[Ed. Note] Make sure you come back around 1 for Sean's debut post!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Set Up To Fail

So, last night Stephen Strasburg made his triumphant return to baseball in exclamatory fashion, striking out four, walking none, and allowing just two hits in five amazing innings of work. We aren't going to write about that though; we recommend that you head to where I'm sure that Dave Sheinin has written an amazing feature about the appearance and that Tom Boswell has stated that he is the next Walter Johnson.

The game was far from over when Strasburg left, as noted by Adam Kilgore who made it clear that the Dodger's had just 2 hits through 5, while ending with 13... Ouch.

On a day that more closely resembled a Little League game (everybody plays!) than a MLB game, there were two decisions that really frustrated me as a writer and as a fan.

Play one:
Bottom 9. Two outs. Bases Loaded. 7-3 Game. Your two best hitters have just struck out looking. Sounds like the perfect situation to put in a kid making his MLB-debut, right? Well, only if you are absolutely insane. Nope, that's exactly what Davey Johnson decided to do. .235-in-AAA hitter Corey Brown entered as a pinch hitter, making his MLB-debut with the game on the line and all of the pressure on his shoulders. Brown did a decent job fighting off Guerra's gas, but eventually hit a lazy fly to left to end the game; all this while Pudge, Flores, Cora, and Nix all sat on the bench.

Play two:
It was reported before the game that Brad Peacock would not enter a game mid-inning, because it doesn't make sense to have a starter appear in the game mid-inning. Flash-forward to the end of the 5th inning, Strasburg has done his thing, the Nats have a 3-0 lead, enter Peacock, right? Wrong. Enter Doug Slaten in just his 2nd appearance post-DL. Two hits later and Davey calls for Peacock. Once again, we have a player making his MLB-debut. So, in his first career appearance he has to come in with two runners on against Matt Kemp, the NL leader in WAR and front-runner for NL MVP. Well, by now you know what happened - coming in mid-inning, having to pitch out of the stretch, against the NL's best hitter - Peacock blinked and the game was tied. As if he didn't have enough adversity to overcome just to make the big-leagues, you know - being a 41st round pick and all.

I'm not the only one who was frustrated by this last decision by Davey Johnson. Here is what the Natsosphere had to say...

Adam Kilgore - "Tie game. Doug Slaten started the mess. Davey let Brad Peacock, a prospect and starter, begin his career from the stretch against Matt Kemp."

Ben Goessling - "A guy with 12 career relief appearances started his major league career from the stretch. That's a mess"

Mark Zuckerman - "Davey said he wouldn't bring in Peacock in middle of inning. So naturally he brings him in to face Matt Kemp with 2 on and 1 out in 6th."
- "This game is tied 3-3 and Strasburg can't get the win. Can't blame Peacock. He's a starter. Why was he making MLB debut in this spot?"

I spent my college years training to be a teacher and one of the most important lessons I learned is that no matter what you do, you have to set your students up for success. Now, I know that Davey Johnson is out there trying to win ballgames, and if that is the case then why is he putting kids making their MLB-debuts in such pressure-packed situations.

It is clear by this point that the Nats aren't a playoff team, or even a .500 team. It seems to me like the organizational philosophy this September has been to see what the young kids can do (See: Livo shutdown, Marrero everyday). And if that is the case then why are we setting up these kids to fail by putting them in situations that are heavily stacked against them. It just doesn't make much sense.

What do you think, CapBallers? Did last night frustrate you as much as it did me? Sound off in the comments!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Goodbye for Now: Big Changes to the Blog

It was almost two seasons ago now that I decided to start a Washington Nationals blog called Section 409, which is now known as Capitol Baseball. Through the help of a number of people, including and especially Dave Nichols and Mark Zuckerman, this blog turned into something I never expected.

This experiment started as a way for me to get my numerous and never-ending thoughts about baseball, and more specifically the Nats, out of my brain for others to see. When I started, just family and friends were reading, and to me, that was great. But nearly two seasons and tens of thousands of readers later, I've decided it's time for me to try something new.

Effective September 12, I will be taking over as the Managing Editor of The Nats Blog. When the blog's founder, Will Yoder, approached me with the opportunity to write for and manage such a well-respected blog, I just couldn't say no. We've worked out the logistics, and I am extremely excited for this new opportunity.

As far as Capitol Baseball goes, here's the good news. It's not going anywhere. My great friend Craig, better known to you all as Mac, will be taking over as Managing Editor and Head Writer here at Capitol Baseball. His brother Sean, a baseball guru in his own right, will be joining the team as a Contributing Writer. Craig will also be writing one guest post a week over at The Nats Blog.

I don't want to make this post too long, so I'll look to wrap it up here, but I must say this: From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank every single person (even the ones who strongly disagreed with me over the years) that has ever read this blog in the past and will ever read it in the future. Creating Capitol Baseball has been one of the greatest experiences of my life, and I appreciate everyone that has been part of it, especially my fiancée Keri, who encouraged me to start it in the first place.

So again, thank you, enjoy Craig's and Sean's thoughts here, and I'll see you at The Nats Blog.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day Smorgasboard

I have had several different entries flying through my head in the past week, as I have been spending a lot of time driving on account of my new job. So rather than inundate you with a ton of posts over several days, where opinions/circumstances may change, I am going to lump everything into a singular post - our Labor Day Smorgasboard.


- It's been interesting to see Chris Marrero get some playing time here in DC - but I really wonder what his role is in the organization. I know that Rizzo says that the team isn't pursuing Prince Fielder, and the team already has two potential first-basemen on the roster for 2011 (LaRoche and Morse). I don't know if the team will be satisfied with a former First Round pick being a bench player or if they are showcasing him as trade bait.

- I posted this on Twitter last night, but it is worth repeating here. Jayson Werth leads the National League in Pitches Per Plate Appearances with a staggering 4.32 PPA. He is fourth in the Majors, behind Granderson, Abreu, and Adam Dunn.

- More and more I believe that Davey Johnson will be the Nationals manager next year - despite all that has been wrong with the team since he took over. Phil Wood had some reasonable arguments as to why it looks like he will be the skipper next year, such as that he already has the clause in the contract and that the only other time he took over a team ('93 Reds) they were bad for the remainder of the year (.449 W%) but the next year they were outstanding (.579 W%). I will use all of my considerable powers to make sure that he doesn't stay.

- In regards to Livan Hernandez returning as a reliever in 2012. I have flipped back and forth on this in my mind more than anything else. Honestly, I think it depends on what happens with Davey. He seems to be obsessed with having a "long-man" in the bullpen (knowing how to use him properly is beside the point; SEE: Gorzelanny 8/28/11). If Davey sticks around, I think Livo sticks around. And I think that is generally a positive. Livan is a leader in the clubhouse and he already has a strong investment in the future of the ballclub - having graciously accepted his role as mentor/coach for the duration of 2011. I think it would be an absolute thrill to see Strasburg hand the ball over to Livan one day - those hitters would be swinging from their heels, ending up watching the pitch float into the mitt post-swing. Needless to say that Livo has been the Nats 2nd most valuable pitcher this year according to WAR.

- This was awesome to watch.

- As was this.

- Let me preface this by saying that I generally like Henry Rodriguez. Henry Rodriguez has more appearances in the 2nd half than Tyler Clippard - 22 to 19. Not only that but HRod has a staggering 5.40 ERA in those appearances, to Clippards 2.85. WHIP is 1.72 to 0.98. Just thought you should understand the reasoning behind my frustration.

- It's September 4th and Garret Mock is still on the 40-Man Roster.

- The AAA Syracuse Chiefs 2011 season will be ending Monday, as the team isn't going to make the play-offs. Tuesday we should get our first look at Brad Peacock and Stephen Lombardozzi - which is very exciting for those of us that have followed their progress throughout the past few years.

- Matt Antonelli has major league experience, having appeared in 28 games with the 2008 Padres. This past offseason Antonelli brought his talents to the Nats, and he hit like a champion, throwing down a .297/.390/.457 slashline while playing pretty much every position on the ball field. I would love to see him in the next few weeks. Why not?

- Do you remember Shairon Martis? The 22 year-old lefty who won his first five decisions with the 2009 Nats? Well, he is still in the system, and he had a fantastic year that he capped with a 7 inning no-hitter back on August, 28th. He was 8-6 this year with a solid 3.05 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. Why do I bring this up? Well, Martis is still only 24 years-old, younger than Saturday night's starter, Tom Milone. Interesting...

- Davey Johnson has asked Rizzo to find him a Right-Handed power bat for his bench several times, Rizzo responded immediately with the trade for Jonny Gomes who, despite some clutch appearances, has netted the team with just 3 home runs and 10 RBI in 30 games. Rizzo needs look no further than AA Harrisburg, where 24 year-old Tyler Moore (another 1B) just slugged his 30th Home Run of the year. Let's call him up while we are at it.

- On Rick Eckstein: the quote from Davey Johnson was, "I think he is one of the best hitting coaches in baseball." Now where is the evidence? Back in May when the team was struggling offensively (pun intended), I wrote about the results that Rick Eckstein has achieved in his time with the Nationals. If you don't feel like going back to check out the specifics I'll sum it up for you: in AVG, OBP, OPS, HR, RBI over the past 5 years the Nats have been in the bottom half of baseball in 19 of the 20 categories. This year the Nats are now 27th in AVG, 25th in OBP, 22nd in OPS, 14th in HR, and 25th in RBI. Does this sound like one of the best hitting coaches in baseball?

- Since settling down at the plate after returning from the DL, Ryan Zimmerman has been one of the top hitters in all of baseball. In the 2nd half of the season Zimmerman is hitting a whopping .328 with 6 HR and 28 RBI - while gashing the ball to the Right-Center gap as evidenced by his 11 doubles in that time. Oh yea, and he has two walk-offs since then as well.

- Danny Espinosa leads all rookie batters with a 3.0 WAR and he is tied for 2nd when you throw in pitchers - tied with Michael Pineda, behind Craig Kimbrel and his 3.4 WAR.

- The Nats were 29th in MLB in errors last year with 127, this year they are sitting middle of the pack at 19th with 91 errors.

- Don't look now but Jayson Werth is playing like the guy they signed from Philadelphia. A career .265/.361/.467 hitter, in the second-half Werth is now hitting .268/.361/.452 which is right in line with what's expected of him. On the defensive side of the ball, Werth ranks 10th among NL OF in UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) and is 2nd in Outfield Assists. Not only that, but FanGraphs ARM statistic (the amount of runs above average an outfielder saves with their arm by preventing runners to advance) Werth ranks 1st at 7.2.

Well, there you have it. Several thoughts on the most recent Nats tidbits.

What are your thoughts? Leave them in the Comments section!