Friday, July 30, 2010

Goodbye Guzman

The Washington Nationals have traded INF Cristian Guzman to the Texas Rangers for yet-to-be-named prospects.

After the move, SP Livan Hernandez is the only member of the Washington Nationals that was on the Opening Day roster in 2005.  After leaving the Nationals in 2006, he spent time with the D-backs, Twins, Rockies, and Mets before returning to DC at the end of 2009.  Guzman was the final player to be with the team since the first pitch in 2005.

Clipp, Store, and Burn: The Nats New Closing Trio (Plus a Farewell to the Capper)

(Photo Courtesy: Notes from NatsTown)

Late in the evening on June 29, 2010, the Nationals traded their lone 2010 All-Star, closer Matt Capps, to the Minnesota Twins. The Nationals picked up Capps before the season from Pittsburgh after posting an inadequate 5.80 ERA in 2009 and earning only 27 saves. Capps earned 26 with Washington with more than 2 months left in the season. He also posted a fantastic 2.80 ERA.

In exchange for Capps, the Nats received top catching prospect Wilson Ramos and a left handed minor league reliever, Joe Testa. The move to trade Capps for a guy like Ramos indicates that Jesus Flores' recovery may have stalled indefinitely after 2 years of attempted recovery from injury and an acknowledgement that Pudge Rodriguez is 38 years old.

Early Friday morning,'s Bill Ladson reported that Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen, and Sean Burnett would split the closers role. So I propose a new name for the trio: Clipp, Store, and Burn. Different than good old Clipp 'n Save, but it'll work.

The Nationals and their fans will miss Capps' mild demeanor off the field and his intro music ("The Final Countdown") combined with his electric personality on the field. Capps will will join former Nats reliever Jon Rauch in the bullpen in the Twin Cities. Rauch has filled in admirably for the Twins injured closer Joe Nathan, securing 21 saves in 25 attempts. With Rauch setting up and a nearly automatic Capps closing, the Twins hope to push ahead of the the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central. As of Thursday, the Twins are 1.5 games back at 56-46.

Matt Capps has never played for a team that ended the season with a winning record. He's played for Pittsburgh, who hasn't had a winning season in 17 years, and for Washington who is on pace to lose just under 300 games between 2008-2010. Like the rest of NatsTown, I wish Capps the best in the Upper Midwest.

On Friday, Roy Oswalt and his new team, the Philadelphia Phillies, come to DC to face Craig Stammen and the Nats, so it seems unlikely that new new closer(s) will get an opportunity for a save. But that bullpen all of a sudden feels a bit more empty without Matt Capps. Get ready for Clipp, Store, and Burn.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What Will Be Done Without Dunn?

Many are predicting that today begins the final 4 days of Adam Dunn in a Washington Nationals uniform. I am not convinced, because no one seems to have any insider information on an actual deal in the works. But nonetheless, it's still possible. Adam Dunn's value is high, and he wants a lot. Should the Nats trade Dunn? Let's explore that for a minute:

Dunn's 2 years in Washington have been among the best of his career. His career average is .251. In 2009, he hit .267, the highest of his career. This season, he's even higher at .278. He's still on pace to hit around 40 home runs once again. His defense at 1st base is much improved. He's made a few extremely impressive defensive stops.

On the other end, Dunn is already 30 and will be 31 in November. He wants at least a 3 year extension and would prefer 4 years. With a 4 year contract, Dunn would be under contract until he's 35 years old. Not generally the prime of a power hitter's career. He's been a passable fielder, although not a great one. There are other guys currently in the organization that could probably replace the defense. But is there anyone that can replace the massive void in the lineup that would result in losing Adam Dunn?

  • Michael Morse: Obviously Morse is the guy most likely to replace Dunn at 1st. Morse is listed at 6'5", only an inch shorter than Dunn. The infield has grown accustomed to having a big target over at 1st, and Morse fits the bill. You're trading a left handed power bat for an unproven right handed bat, and Morse is still only 2 years younger than Dunn. Still, there's no arguing, especially among Nationals fans, that Morse shouldn't have an opportunity to play. This could be his best shot to prove himself. He is batting .345 in 2010, after all.
  • Adam Kennedy: Kennedy has gotten plenty of opportunities at 1st base coming in for Adam Dunn as a "defensive replacement" in late innings. Kennedy is almost half a foot shorter than Dunn. He's not a power bat, although he would keep a left handed bat in the lineup. Not to mention, Dunn's fielding % at 1st base: .994. Kennedy's at 1st base: .986.
  • Chris Marrero: He's worth bringing up. He's a Jim Bowden signing that was another "(insert position here) Of The Future" player. In this case, it was 1st base. In his 5th season in the Nationals farm system, Marrero has had his first full season in Double A Harrisburg. So far in AA, Marrero is impressing. In 2010, he's hitting .291 with a .347 on base percentage and has hit 13 home runs. He has a .985 fielding percentage at 1st this season with 13 errors. Maybe this numbers improvement has given Rizzo & Co. some hope and think that a guy like Morse could hold 1st base until Marrero is ready. Weirder things have happened, and a guy can dream...

I was going to spend time exploring "are you kidding me?" guys like Alberto Gonzalez, but I figured Adam Kennedy was enough of a joke for one day, so I'll move along. So all of this begs the question, should the Nationals trade Adam Dunn? Basically, the team should offer Dunn a 3-year contract. He probably won't accept 2 years and 4 years is too long for a guy his age. Unless the Nats think they can transform the pitching rotation or get a few game changers with the Dunn trade, it is not a worthwhile transaction. If you can't re-sign Dunn, you definitely can't afford to go out and get a Prince Fielder or someone in the off-season.

The fact of the matter is, if the Nationals legitimately plan to compete in the NL East any time soon, they need to re-sign Adam Dunn. As always, I'd love to read your comments and thoughts, whether you think I'm right or ridiculously far off base.

Don't Boo Miguel Batista

(Photo Courtesy AP Photo/Drew Angerer)

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last 12 or so hours, you obviously know that Stephen Strasburg was scratched from his scheduled start on Tuesday night at Nationals Park. Strasburg was having trouble getting loose in his pre-game warm up. As a precaution, Nats GM Mike Rizzo shut him down immediately. With a scheduled first pitch at 7:05 PM, Strasburg was shut down at around 6:55 PM. There will be plenty of opportunities in the next few hours and days to gossip about Strasburg when we learn more about what the team is calling his "shoulder inflammation." But for now, there is one guy who deserves all of the credit.

Miguel Batista was given approximately 10 minutes to warm up for a start, a process that most starters take the course of the afternoon to do for an evening game. When Batista comes in from the bullpen, he usually warms up over the course of several innings. But last night, there was no time. But the results were shockingly impressive.

We here at Capitol Baseball have expressed our share of Batista criticisms both on the blog and casually to friends. All I have to say about his one start last night: wow. While his ability to deal with inherited runners is still questionable, his "stuff" was certainly not in question. In his first start since 2008, Miguel Batista pitched 5 innings of 0 run, 3 hit ball. He walked only 1 and struck out 6. A truly outstanding performance.

It probably didn't hurt that the 1st place Braves came into the game expecting 100 mph moving fastballs and 91 mph change ups. While Batista isn't a slouch, his fastball is in the low 90s and was effective as it has been all season. But Batista was outstanding.

The bullpen certainly did its part, too. With Batista starting the game, someone needed to take over his long/middle relief role. That person was Sean Burnett, and no I'm not kidding. Burnett pitched a nearly flawless 2 innings of baseball. He gave up 2 hits and didn't walk any. Storen came in to set up and may have been one of his best outings of the year. He got 3 outs in 8 pitches, and his curve ball was dancing. Finally, All-Star Matt Capps came in to get his 25th save on the season. He got the save on just 10 pitches.

The offense produced early. Nyjer Morgan quite literally manufactured a run, stealing 2nd, then 3rd, then got home on an error on the throw to 3rd. Ian Desmond had an outstanding game, with a 2 RBI single that gave the Nats the 3-0 lead that stuck for the rest of the game. Desmond went 2 for 3 on the night. Also, after my Desmond rant on July 7th (that I later recinded), he has committed just 2 errors. I'm not saying that was me... but...

So it turns out the Nationals can actually win baseball games without Stephen Strasburg. Even if Strasburg was scheduled to start that very game. As a Nationals blogger and just a fan of good baseball, I sincerely hope that Strasburg's issues were nothing more than a little bit of inflammation and he'll be ready for his next start. But only time will tell if the Nats will decide to shut Strasburg down a week or two early as a precautionary measure. More on this, with commentary, as it develops.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Strasburg Strikeout

For your lunchtime reading: There is a GREAT article in the Washington Post today about Strasburg's mechanics from a health standpoint. It's in the Health & Science section (Section E). It's also available here:

A really fascinating read. I recommend it to everyone.

The Battle of the Future

On Tuesday night at Nationals Park, Nats' phenom RHP Stephen Strasburg will take on the Braves young star RHP Tommy Hanson in what should be an epic pitching duel.  The main difference?  Hanson (8-6) is playing for something, while Strasburg (5-2) is playing for an early end to his season.

Tommy Hanson is just one star in the very impressive rotation that the Nationals rotatoin will have to face over the next 3 days.  On Wednesday, the Nats get to face Tim Hudson (10-5) and on Thursday they face Derek Lowe (10-8).  This year, Hanson has been good, but not unhittable.  In 2009, his rookie year, Hanson posted a most impressive 2.89 ERA over a half season or so of work (21 games). 

It just so happens that Tuesday's game will be Hanson's 21st start of his sophomore season, so we can do some semi-accurate comparisons.  Semi-accurate because the Braves are in the heat of a playoff race this year.  This year, Hanson has posted an ERA that the Nats would be jealous to have in their rotation, 4.12.  He's struck out almost as many this year as last year at this point, and has given up 9 fewer walks.  He has a respectable 114 Ks on the year.  The Braves have lost Hanson's last 2 starts, though.

Meanwhile, in less than half the number of starts that Hanson's had this year, Stephen Strasburg already has 75 strikeouts, has an impressive 2.32 ERA.  Even more impressive, the Nationals have won Strasburg's last 4 starts. 

An interesting Nationals Park matchup, Strasburg's home ERA is a meager 2.03, but when Hanson isn't pitching at Turner Field, he has posted a 3.83 ERA.  Also making the duel interesting, Strasburg is pitching for a strong end to his very short season, while Hanson is pitching to help the Braves make the playoffs and for a top of the rotation spot if they get there.  All in all, it should be a great day for baseball in the District.

Coming off of a rest day, we can hope to see some resemblance of a passable lineup today for the Nats.  But there's always a chance that Harris or Kennedy can get a random WTF start because Hanson is a righty, and the way the lineups have been posted lately, I would not be surprised.  Only time will tell.  Now that I'm back in town and won't be posting from New Jersey based on all I can see on ESPN Gamecast or's Scoreboard, I hope to have some more interesting things to share with you over the next few days.  Until next time, all.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Riggleman Returning for 2011

After the Nationals infurating 7-5 loss to Milwaukee on Friday after being ahead 5-1, I imagine that the folks in Natstown are not particularly thrilled that Rizzo just announced that Riggleman will be back to manage the Nats in 2011.  After all, Riggleman is 75-97 as the Nats skipper.

But really, how much difference does a manager make?  Sure, the decisions to insert Willie Harris over Michael Morse are infuriating.  Or Adam Kennedy over Guzman or Gonzalez.  I understand the logic of wanting to flip out over it, because I've done so regularly on this very blog.  Just check the archives.  And I'll probably continue to do so in the future.

Let's be real, though, before performing some immature rant about how Jim Riggleman is the worst manager in the history of baseball.  He was given a pitching rotation this season where John Lannan was your "ace" to start the season.  And without even considering Lannan's meltdown, Lannan should never be an Opening Day starter for any MLB team.  But what else did he have to put out there?  Jason Marquis: The former All-Star that ended up having a 20+ ERA and ended up hurt for most of the season?  Garrett Mock: The guy who got hurt the first week of the season, and most people were shocked that he even made the rotation?  Craig Stammen: The guy who has already been sent down to the minors once this year, and I imagine it will happen again before 2010 is over? 

The bullpen started out strong, but now it seems like Clippard gives up as many runs as he gets in outs in each appearance.  Burnett has been terrible.  Batista has proven to be an ineffective long reliever.  Brian Bruney got fired after a month on the job.  Tyler Walker can't get it done and is on the DL.  Jason Bergmann got DFA'd, and because no one else in baseball wanted him, he got reassigned to the minors.

This is the cast of characters that Jim Riggleman has had to deal with in 2010.  Sure, he has guys like Strasburg, Zimmerman, Dunn, Willingham, and Capps (at least for now).  But he had almost nothing to start the year, and he has made remarkable strides.  Last 2 years the Nats ended the season with more than 100 losses.  Recovery from that type of terrible baseball takes time, and the Nationals have decided that Riggleman is the guy to do it.  He's already miles ahead of the last 2 years, and next year will be better.  But until then, it's Riggleman's team.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Lannan's Struggles Continue; Team Moves On

It is still remarkable to consider that a pitcher for a Major League Baseball team could go from Opening Day starter to struggling in AA in one season, but that's exactly what John Lannan has done in the course of 4 short months.

Manager Jim Riggleman listed John Lannan, Matt Chico, and Ross Detwiler as possible starters in place of Luis Atilano this Sunday after he was placed on the DL with bone chips in his elbow. Lannan started on Thursday in Harrisburg, so that basically eliminates a Sunday start for him. However, even if it wouldn't be short rest, Lannan hasn't made a case for himself since he left DC.

When Lannan was sent down, he showed no signs of being a top of the rotation starter. His ERA was 5.76, he had walked 35 batters in just 14 starts. Considering in his last two seasons, his ERA was below 4.00, something was obviously wrong. At first, the Nats thought he was hurt. He missed a start, came back, and nothing. So the organization did the unthinkable. They demoted their Opening Day starter. (Aside: The Nats starting rotation on Opening Day included Lannan, Mock, Stammen, and Marquis. Of those 4, none of them have spent the entire season in the majors, and Stammen is the only one in the rotation today. And that's probably temporary.)

But since Lannan trekked up Route 15 to Harrisburg, PA, there hasn't been much improvement. His ERA is down to 4.29, but he's facing merely adequate major league talent. He is 1-3, and while you can't learn everything by wins and losses, in his most recent outing, Lannan gave up 4 runs on 9 hits in just 5 innings. In Lannan's last start on July 17th, he went just 4 2/3 innings and gave up 4 runs (1 earned) on 5 hits.

So while Lannan tries to figure it out in Double-A, Ross Detwiler and Jordan Zimmerman are getting closer to MLB-ready. Strasburg has solidified himself as the Nats ace for years to come (Please don't be like Mark Prior, Please don't be like Mark Prior...). Livan has shown that he can still be a middle to bottom of the rotation innings eater. Scott Olsen and Jason Marquis could both be on their way back to the rotation soon. So all of a sudden, even with Strasburg being shut down in a few weeks, it looks like there may be no room for the Nats 2010 Opening Day starter on the expanded September roster.

It is a meteoric decline by a guy that many considered a 3rd or 4th spot starter (after Strasburg and Zimmermann) for many years to come. Lannan is an upstanding player, one that works tirelessly to be a better pitcher and an off-the-field presence in the community. I speak for many when I say I hope that he can figure it out and have a comeback very soon.

Capitol Baseball will continue to update all ye dedicated readers on Lannan's progress.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Future of Nationals Pitching

Sure, the Nats offense scored 8 runs on Wednesday, but pitching is the story of the day for the organization.

Strasburg went just 5 2/3 innings to get the win on Wednesday, as the Nats beat the Cincinnati Reds 8-5.  SS is now 5-2 with a 2.32 ERA and 75 strikeouts.  He's been in the league for just under a month and a half and he's half way to double digit wins.  In case you were wondering the last Nats starter to get 10 or more wins... well that would be Tim Redding in 2008.  Before that, it was Ramon Ortiz in 2006.  It'd be great to see Strasburg end up on that list so the Nats could stick to their every-other-year trend for 10+ winners.  And eventually, buck that trend.

Down in Potomac, Jordan Zimmermann pitched 4 innings of 0 run, 2 hit baseball.  He struck out 4 and walked none.  The Big Nats can't wait to get this guy back on the squad.  Perhaps as soon as next month.

Ross Detwiler had an equally impressive start for AA Harrisburg.  He went 7 innings of 0 run, 5 hit baseball, struck out 7, and walked just 1.  His ERA is now 2.48.  With the Nats announcing that Luis Atilano is "hurt" and will not make his next start on Sunday in Milwaukee, it will be interesting to see what the team's next move is.

Now that Detwiler has gotten deep into a few games and has show that he is capable of being effective all the way through 7 innings, it's possible that he could make an appearance in Atilano's place.  But always lingering somewhere in the organization is Matt Chico, who is the other top candidate for the spot start.

I, for one, hope to see Detwiler with the Nats for the start, but only time will tell.  All in all, despite the infuriating near implosion by the Nationals in Cincinnati, Wednesday was a pretty great day for Nationals baseball.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

It's Time for a Change: Part Deux

(Photo Courtesy AP Photo/Al Behrman)

If you watched the Washington Nationals play baseball on Monday night, you probably woke up depressed about it on Tuesday morning. As a matter of fact, I'm nearly sure of it. At points yesterday, both before and after the 42 minute rain delay, disappointment and shame for covering this baseball team overtook me.

After a game of lackluster defense by Guzman and Harris, and an exceptional defensive game by Desmond and Dunn, Jim Riggleman and his squad kept spouting the same tired lines that Nats fans are simply tired of hearing. "We'll have to break out of this slump, eventually...." There's no outright anger, almost helplessness.

The Nats have plummeted to 22nd in hits and 26th in RBI in the League. They're moving way, way in the opposite direction of .500. And while I know that it would be nearly impossible for this team to reach more than 100 losses this season, it certainly hasn't felt like it lately. Long gone are the thoughts of an 80 loss season from the first few weeks, back are the days of minimizing damage and just hoping the team doesn't get swept in every series.

In Riggleman's infinite wisdom, he put Willie Harris in the game, as we covered yesterday. Harris went 0 for 3, shocker, and saw his average somehow drop even more to an almost inconceivable .173. He did draw a walk, but he also struck out. Morgan hit the ball hard, but still went 0 for 4. The only person who was on in all aspects of his game today was Ian Desmond, who had two incredible fielding plays and actually went 1 for 4 and scored a run. Yes, a .250 day is now considered a roaring success in Natstown, until proven otherwise. Desmond threw one of those amazing plays from shortstop into the dirt, but Dunn was there to rescue him.

Even national broadcasters are now flabbergasted at Riggleman's seemingly inconceivable decisions to keep guys like Harris, and to a lesser extent Guzman, in the lineup. Even on an a completely irregular basis. When 2010 started, I was as big a support of Jim Riggleman as anyone you could find that cheers for or covers this team.

Before you read on, know that I do not support firing Riggs at all during this season. His management doesn't make the Nats the worst defensive team in baseball. For the most part he works with what he has. But what he needs to start doing is playing the guys that have a future in Washington, or in baseball, as anything but a utility guy. To reiterate, let's quickly list two categories of those characters:
  • Future of the Nats' organization: Morse (bench), Bernadina (bench), Gonzalez (bench). Yes, Cap Ballers, I'm going to keep touting the 27 year old AG as a future 2nd basemen for DC until someone can provide an alternative.
  • Future utility guys for other clubs: Guzman, Harris (if he can figure it out), Morgan (if he figures out how to steal bases again, he may end up as a pinch runner type. May.)
Before this post gets even longer, and you completely lose interest, I'll end here. But I will continue to post future parts of this story (will the next part be part "Trois," part "Tres," even part "Drie"? Check back in to find out...) as the Nats work to figure out to roster disaster that is occurring right now in the Nation's Capital. Until next time...

Monday, July 19, 2010

It's Time to Get Younger; It's Time for a Change

Tonight, the Washington Nationals will face the best team in the NL Central, the Cincinnati Reds. J.D. Martin will get his first start since before the All-Star Game against Johnny Cueto. Cueto is 8-2 with a 3.42 ERA. Now, it's a lot easier to get wins when your team is 7th in baseball in average, 4th in homers, and 5th in RBI, but it still poses a problem for the Nats.

Not the least of their problems is the managerial decisions that have been made lately (and unacceptable base running errors). Sure, the Nats haven't gotten any offense for their starters, and I'm certainly not making excuses for that. But look at the line ups that these starters have behind them, starting with tonight's. And a few things about them.

1. Nyjer Morgan - Although Nyjer is new to the organization, he is still already 30 years old, and has shown this year what Pittsburgh saw in him when they decided to let him go. That said, Lastings Milledge certainly wasn't an upgrade, and Morgan is having the worst year of his career this season. His career average is .288, this season it's .255. Career OBP is .348, this year its .316.
2. Cristian Guzman - Guzzie is 32 years old. Being that baseball peak ages tends to be 28-32... he's on his way down for sure. That said, Guzman is, on no planet, a 2 hole hitter. And he's had more than half of his ABs in that spot this season. His CAREER on-base percentage is .309. Unacceptable for a top of the lineup guy.
3. Ryan Zimmerman - A near-perfect 3-spot hitter, and among the best in the game. His average this year is .293, and his OBP is .381, 30 points above his career average. He hits for power (16 HR) and traditionally has been an RBI machine. One problem though: NO ONE is getting on base in front of him! Oh... and he's only 25. (Time to start asking yourself what you've done with your life, everyone...)
4. Adam Dunn - The Big Donkey is in the peak of his career. He's putting up career numbers, is hitting near 40 points above his career batting average, he's on pace to hit 40 homers yet again. Dunn is 30.
5. Josh Willingham - The Hammer is also playing solid ball, giving Dunn ample protection. Dunn is getting pitches to hit because a guy like Willingham is behind him. This is one of the main functions of a 5 hole guy, and he fills it well. He, along with Dunn, have become passable fielders.
6. Ivan Rodriguez - You're never, ever going to argue about having a Hall of Fame catcher behind the plate to help your young pitching staff. But at 38 years old, he does significantly skew the average age of the Nats straight up. That said, there are few good reasons to have a catcher hitting above the 8 spot in a line up, especially an old catcher. But as long as Pudge keeps putting up the great numbers, he deserves it. If I EVER see him batting 2nd again though, I might vomit.
7. Willie Harris - I'll try and take care of this one without losing my cool. Willie Harris is a bad hitter. Like... really, really bad. Yes, he's a good fielder. Yes, he has a World Series ring from being a utility player in Chicago. But he's 32 years old, he's hitting .177, and the Nats are playing him freaking $1.5 MILLION for it. Ok, my heart rate is skyrocketing. So I'll stop with this: Keep Harris and Kennedy OUT of the starting lineup. End. Of. Story.
Rather than bore you about everything that I've already said about Ian and J.D., just go read my very recent posts dedicated to those guys.
8. Ian Desmond - See this post
9. Martin - See this post

Meanwhile, riding the bench today are Michael Morse (28), Roger Bernadina (26), Justin Maxwell (26), Alberto Gonzalez (27).... Personally, I'm not big on the "JMax is the future" train, so let's leave him out of this just for a moment. The fact remains that the other 3 that I just listed are far more likely to be the future than some of those guys in the line up. Morse, Bernie, and AG are all hitting .280 or above in their opportunities. I fail to see how leaving guys that are passing their prime in the starting line up, while the "future" rots on the bench, only to start every few days, makes managerial sense.

If the Nats win tonight, I won't be eating my words, because one game doesn't make me wrong. Riggleman's job isn't at risk, because I mean, come on. He's coming off of 205 losses in 2 years. He'd have to do something really bad (I had lots of inappropriate... and hilarious... examples here, but I'll keep the blog PG) to lose his job. But the problem isn't the talent. The talent exists. The Nats are using the WRONG talent, and have backwards priorities. It's time for a change.

Friday, July 16, 2010

And We're Back: Strasburg Time

(Photo taken by Keri Roberts for Capitol Baseball - 2010)

Welcome back to the unofficial 2nd half, ladies and gents. Cap Baseball has taken a load of for a few days to prepare for the exciting post-All-Star break festivities. So let's start the ride.

Tonight, Stephen Strasburg begins the push to the end of his season (late-August, early-September), quite possibly just in time to see Jordan Zimmermann return to the rotation with a week or two of overlap possible.

But before anyone worries about that, Strasburg has to take on the Florida Marlins in... Joe Robbie, no Pro Player, no Dolphin(s) Stadium, hm... Land Shark, nope, oh, right, Sun Life Stadium. (Aside: Seriously, who paid the money to switch the stadium from Dolphins Stadium to Dolphin Stadium in 2006. That is outrageous)

The Nats are 3.5 games behind the Marlins in the NL East... for 4th place... so this series is important for them to help close that gap. The Nationals decided to go with Strasburg just for this reason; they want to get the best start from the best pitcher they have to start the second half rolling. Strasburg is 3-2 with a still-impressive 2.32 ERA and 61 Ks. He'll take on Ricky Nolasco instead of Marlins ace Josh Johnson, since Johnson just pitched in the All-Star Game. (Nats hitters are undoubtedly relieved.) Still, Nolasco has been impressive with his 9-6 record and a passable 4.55 ERA.

The Nationals need to pick up where they left off at the end of the first half. I'm not talking so much about the Livan loss on the Sunday before the break. It's more about the run support that the offense has been able to generate (15 runs in the last 3 games). Not to mention Adam Dunn's 2- and 3-homer games and his .500 batting average in the last 5 games. And Zimmerman's .316 average in the same span.

Strasburg will have to face guys like Home Run Derby runner up Hanley Ramirez who is sporting a .301 batting average with 13 home runs and 53 RBI on the year, and his fellow phenom on the Marlins, Mike Stanton. Stanton tore up the the Marlins' minor league affiliate Jacksonville Suns early in the year, batting .311 and hitting 21 home runs in just 52 games. The Marlins had seen enough, and they brought him up in early-June. But Stanton hasn't been quite as unshakable as Strasburg. He's hitting just .231 with a .276 OBP, and facing Strasburg won't make it any easier for the young man.

I know that you're all as excited as I am to get back into baseball, so let's see what Stephen can offer the Nationals today. But more importantly, let's see what the Nationals offense can offer him in support.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tip Your Caps to Capps

As we prepare for the All-Star Game this evening, it only seems fitting that a Nats blog should write about the Nats only ASG representative: Matt Capps.

This season Capps has the 3rd most saves in the NL (23) and has been basically automatic in every appearance. He has a tendency to give you a mild heart murmur every once in a while, but he's blown only 4 saves all season.

If you look back at Capps' career, it's obvious that this season is by far his best ever. The only time he's had more than 23 saves in a full season was last year with Pittsburgh. He had 27 all year in 2009 and posted an atrocious 5.80 ERA. It's safe to say that Capps will exceed that level in 2010. But will it be with the Washington Nationals?

It's hard to tell what the Nats front office thinks about this idea at this point, since most trade rumors are focusing on Dunn and Willingham. But Matt Capps' trade value will never be higher than it is today. He's an All-Star for the first time in his career, he's sporting an ERA just over 3.00. He's pitching with purpose as a guy who was dumped by the team that drafted him.

With any contender that is interested in Capps, he would almost certainly not be a closer barring a late season injury to that team's closer. He is a closer with the Nats because they needed someone to hold a place for Drew Storen. With another organization, he could be an above average setup guy that helps take a team deep into the post-season. The Nats shouldn't balk at this opportunity, especially if they're able to land another strong pitcher. The problem is, contenders aren't going to be willing to trade away a strong player in return for Capps.

So what say you, Capitol Baseballers? Is it time to pass the torch to Storen this year since the Nats aren't playoff bound? Should they hold on to Capps as the closer of the near future and leave Storen to that task in a few years?

I tend to think you get whatever you can for him, even though I really like him, because his numbers show he may be far outperforming what he is actually capable of. I await your comments, and enjoy the festivities tonight!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Feeling down after the first half of 2010? Here's why you shouldn't feel so bad...

On Sunday, the Washington Nationals ended the first half of their season in a very, very familiar position. Last place in the NL East. In their 6 seasons in DC, the Nats have spent the last 5 in last place with 50 or more losses at the All-Star Break. Number of Nats losses at the All-Star break by season:

2010: 50
2009: 61
2008: 59
2007: 52
2006: 52
2005: 36

The obvious exception is the Nats magical 2005 run, when they were in 1st place in the East with 52 wins before they imploded in the 2nd half. But just look at the losses above. The Nats were the closest to breaking the 50 loss barrier than they had been since 2005, and compared to the last two first halves under Manny Acta, baseball fans in DC should be thrilled.

It is easy to be disappointed, especially after the Nats promise at the beginning of the season, but while everyone was excited, most knew that the team would come down to earth eventually. And they did just that. Let's talk about a few specifics about the team ended the first half:

Bullpen: While the Nats are sending closer Matt Capps to the ASG this year, other aspects of the pen are a bit concerning. Certainly, this bullpen is a leaps and bounds better than the 2009 barely AAA quality staff that the Nats had there last season. Clip and Save has become "Watch Clippard Implode while Capps loses a save opportunity because he gets no support in front of him" very quickly. Since June 25th, Clippard has given up a run in every outing but two of them, and gave up 4 runs in 2 appearances. Not encouraging from your set up guy. The Nats may have to hold off on trading Capps, even though his value is sky high right now, if they plan on winning many close games in the 2nd half. Even if Storen is ready for the closers role, doesn't look like the setup guy is as ready as many thought.

Starting Pitchers: Stephen. Strasburg. And... I think I'm done with this category.

No seriously though, Strasburg has obviously been the story of the 1st half for the Nats in all aspects of the game. He, alone, has gotten the Nats onto the national stage this season, something that they had sorely lacked in their short existence. Livan Hernandez has had a resurgent year, despite his rough outing on Sunday to end the first half. He has a 3.37 ERA before the break and is 6-5.

Meanwhile, J.D. Martin has come out of nowhere to post a similar 3.35 ERA. He could be an important part of the 2nd half. And then there's the what-ifs: Jordan Zimmermann (Strasburg before there was Strasburg) is scheduled back this summer, just 12 months after Tommy John surgery. Ross Detwiler is progressing and could be back soon after the All-Star break. That will be helpful to help get Atilano (4.85 ERA) and Stammen (5.79 ERA) out of the starting rotation and either to the bullpen or to the minors, where they seem to belong. There is promise here.

Offense: Zimmerman. Dunn. Willingham. No matter what your neighborhood baseball fanatic says, this among the best 3-4-5 combos in baseball.

Zimmerman, the best 3rd basemen in baseball who did not make the All-Star team, is sporting a .294 average, an OBP of .383, is slugging .526, and has hit 16 home runs this year. Behind him, Adam Dunn is tied for 1st in the NL in home runs with 22, is 2nd in slugging, and is 3rd in OPS. These stats make him one of the best offensive 1st basemen in baseball. Josh Willingham is 3rd in the NL in OBP with a staggering .411, and is in the top 10 in OPS. He is barely a liability in the field, and his production provides Dunn superb protection.

Unfortunately for the Nats, there are just under 3 weeks until the trade deadline. In all likelihood, Rizzo, Kasten, and Co. are looking to be sellers, not buyers, this season. Fans just have to hope that they don't end up selling Dunn or Willingham. When you get two top quality offensive players who both continue to express how much they would like to stay in DC, a minuscule baseball market thus far, you don't let that go.

I could have gone on and on, and I may still do that over the next few days while the Nats have a few days off in favor of the break. But more than likely, I will recharge my batteries to prepare for the 2nd half to keep Capitol Baseball going strong. Enjoy watching big guys kill the baseball tonight in the Derby and the Midsummer Classic tomorrow! I appreciate the increase in readership lately, I hope you all will join me for the 2nd half.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Ryan Zimmerman Is An All-Star

Last night, MLB Network announced that Cincinnati Reds 1B Joey Votto would be the final vote selection for the 2010 All-Star Game in Anaheim. Originally, I was going to write a scathing post about the the voting process, how Ryan Zimmerman should have been selected, that Zimmerman's numbers were much better than the rest of the people at his position, especially compared to Votto's elite competition at 1st base. That post quickly became impossible, as it's simply not true.

Joey Votto is hitting .314 with a .417 OBP and is slugging at a staggering .595 rate. He ranks #1 among all NL first basemen in these 3 categories. Better than Pujols, better than Howard, better than Gonzalez. So then you really have to wonder, why wasn't Votto selected before the final vote when he is the best player thus far in 2010? It's not like he's even playing for a bad team; he's playing for the #1 team in the NL Central. But I digress...

Ryan Zimmerman is the best all around 3rd basemen in the NL, and quite possibly in baseball. David Wright is a quality 3B, and Rolen is having a great season as an older player, but the fact remains that Zimmerman is the reigning Silver Slugger and Gold Glove winner. Unfortunately for Zimm, he plays for a Washington Nationals team that's in last place in its division. And has been for most of the team's short history. It's also team that, besides Stephen Strasburg references, barely gets acknowledged by local, let alone national, media. So although Zimmerman is 2nd in on-base percentage and 3rd in slugging percentage among qualifying 3rd basemen, he was left off of the list for Omar Infante, a utility player for the Atlanta Braves. That's right. A utility player.

I would like to be outraged by this development, but I'm simply not surprised. The Washington Nationals front office didn't exactly do an ideal job getting out the vote for any Nationals players this year. I saw ushers passing out ballots once all season. Meanwhile, in Baltimore, ushers were passing out ballots to everyone in the seats.... The Nats got outshined by the worst team in baseball. But in all reality, it probably wouldn't have mattered. When you have an average paid attendance of barely 20,000, you're not going to compete with teams like the Yankees and the Phillies that have average attendance over 45,000. That's more seats than exist at Nationals Park.

So 2011 is another year, and maybe if the Nationals are respectable this year and get the dream rotation that Boswell wrote about, the team will be visible nationally, and more Nats players will get a serious chance at making the All-Star team. Guys like Zimmerman, Dunn (RE-SIGN HIM!), Willingham, and possibly even Strasburg could make a run. But until then, let's hope that Matt Capps can help the National League win a game that they hasn't won since 1996. That game was hosted by the Philadelphia Phillies... at Veterans Stadium... and the MVP of the game was Mike Piazza. It's time to start a new baseball legacy for the NL... one from this millennium.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Re-evaluating Desmond

So, I've gotten more comments (both on and off the blog) about this week's Ian Desmond posting than I expected, and I thought I should re-evaluate the question. So here we go. Should the Nats bench Ian Desmond?

I acknowledge that I was inordinately harsh on Desi this week. (Especially since my fiancee swoons over him.) I simply expect better of MLB players than throwing balls away. A booted ball happens from time to time, especially with shortstops that tend to field more balls than any other infielder, but throwing the ball away on an impossible double play is inexcusable.

To reiterate my point: In the 2009 season, no shortstop had more than 25 errors. The entire year. Nats 2009 starting shortstop Cristian Guzman had 20 all season. Desmond has 21 before the All-Star break this season.

That said, I often forget that Ian Desmond is an official MLB rookie playing as a starter in one of the hardest fielding positions in baseball. He is working through his errors by making more deliberate decisions games after he commits errors.

I also must say that, upon further research, undersold his hitting ability in my last post. Among National League shortstops this season, Desmond is top 5 in batting average, slugging percentage, and home runs. If you consider his stats against both AL and NL shortstops, he remains is in the top 10 in the same 3 categories.

I want to acknowledge a few different people, like the anonymous "Nats Fan" yesterday, bdrube and the notorious Mac today, and others that I've spoken with, that piqued my interested and pushed me to re-evaluate my feelings on Ian. It turns out, I was wrong. You all were right.

Ian Desmond should remain a starter for the rest of the season barring a major implosion. It is possible to make an argument that at least 21 errors at the All-Star break is an implosion, I did it yesterday. But it wouldn't be fair to a young man who is learning and trying to become a premier MLB shortstop. And his offensive stats clearly indicate that he has the ability to be just that.

So to everyone, please remember: I become a better writer, one who write less off the cuff posts about my daily frustrations, when I get comments from people like you. So please keep commenting. It makes the posts more enjoyable for everyone.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

J.D. Martin's Strong Start

Let's start with the obvious stat from Wednesday night. For the first time in the history of Nationals Park, a player has hit 3 home runs in one game. That guy, fittingly, is Adam Dunn. (Soriano did it in RFK in 2006.) Dunn got his curtain call, and maybe a reminder to Rizzo and Kasten: Re-sign this guy!

Now let's go on to another great story of the night: J.D. Martin. J.D. Martin came into this game 0-4. Talk about a deceptive, meaningless stat. If you only look an inch further, Martin hadn't gotten more than 2 runs of run support in any of his 4 decisions. Well, tonight Martin got some run support, and as much as the bullpen tried to give it away, they couldn't do it. Martin got the win.

After 7 starts, J.D. Martin has posted a 3.35 ERA; he's struck out 26 batters and has only walked 5; he's gone 5 or more inning in 6 of his 7 starts. It's easy to look at wins and losses and say, "wow, that guy's a bad pitcher," and I've been guilty of that. I was shocked to see that Craig Stammen was sent down to AAA before Martin to make room for Strasburg. Turns out, if I had really investigated the stats, even at the time, I would have been wrong.

I don't know that Martin can be a solid rotation guy for the Nats long term. Only time will tell. I can tell you one thing, though. Even if the stars align and Jordan Zimmermann is ready to be the number 2 guy next year behind Strasburg, and even if Ross Detwiler is ready to go, and even if Jason Marquis comes back to All-Star, 15 win form... wow... that's a lot of if's people. If, and it's a big if, J.D. Martin ends the season with the stats he has right now: an ERA in the 3s, and a 1 to 5 walk to strikeout ratio, he very well could end up in the Nationals rotation in 2011.

The Nats could only hope for a bottom of the rotation guy that could be as consistent as... J.D. Martin has been half way through this year.... Talk about lines you never thought you'd type.

It's Time To Bench Desmond

When the Nationals called up Ian Desmond at the start of the year as the starting shortstop, I was as excited as anyone. I was excited to see what the young kid could do. When Desmond started to struggle in the field, I supported Riggleman's decision to stay with the young man. You have to give a young guy a chance to keep the spot.

But just over half way through the 2010 season, the Nats have committed 74 errors this season. That's 6 more than any other team in baseball. It's double the number of errors committed by the Twins and the Padres and more than double the number committed by the Yankees. And it's only July 6th.

Of those 74 errors, Ian Desmond has committed 21 of them. The next closest shortstop in errors is the Brewers' Alcides Escobar with 14. Making matters worse, Desmond is hitting just over .250 and has a sub-.300 on-base percentage. All of these numbers translate to a shortstop who should lose his job.

You can always look at the good things a player does, and you should. In Tuesday's game, Desmond hit a home run and had a decent relay to home to prevent the Padres' 6th run in the top of the 9th. But you have to look at the entire body of work. And Desmond's error on the double play attempt gave up the run the game's tying run. Luckily, All-Star Ryan Zimmerman had a dramatic walk-off home run in the bottom of the 9th for the win. (More on this soon.)

In the mean time, Alberto Gonzalez is a quality infielder with a good average. I've been high on AG for a while now, and maybe it's time to get him in, because Desmond isn't getting it done.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Stephen Strasburg: All-Star?

To those of you that loyally read Capitol Baseball, you know my thoughts on the All-Star Game and All-Star voting. I wrote a few weeks back about reforming voting, but a topic that has become more interesting to baseball fans across the country is whether Stephen Strasburg will, or should, make the All-Star Game.

Stephen Strasburg's introduction to major league baseball was a spectacle never seen before in DC, and maybe never before in the entire sport. The buzz generated around a singular player for a team that is a running joke for most baseball fans was remarkable for the Nation's Capital. The Nats were finally mentioned on Sportscenter, and Baseball Tonight, and MLB Network. And not to say "wow, look at how much this team sucks." To say "the Washington Nationals are looking up; they have what may be the best pitcher in the game." A refreshing change, indeed.

Strasburg's first start was dominant. His second, third, fourth, and fifth starts were not quite as incredible, but certainly were strong, despite offensive and defensive breakdowns in more than a few of them. Nonetheless, the hype surrounding his rookie year and the impending All-Star Game has people wondering... should Stephen Strasburg be an All-Star this year?

Strasburg will, we hope, have a long and prosperous career as a Washington National and will have plenty of opportunity to make the ASG on merit. But if he makes it this season, it would be on hype and MLB profits, not ability. Sure, Strasburg is exciting. He fills the seats at Nats games, a feat in its own right. He has seemingly endless talent. But when a rookie with 6 starts under his belt at the time the roster is decided by Charlie Manuel (July 4th), it's hard to make a good argument that he should make the squad.

In addition, the Nationals, as they have in 4 of their 5 seasons, will probably only have one representative at the ASG. I know that I, personally, would rather see someone that has earned his way. Maybe Zimmerman, maybe Capps, maybe Pudge, maybe even Clippard. But not Strasburg.

I get the feeling that Washingtonians will have plenty of opportunities to vote for Strasburg as an All-Star in the future. Why not let the fans select him to his first game, rather than a manager's pick? Strasburg may eventually be great, but today he's a rookie with out even a month of experience in the majors. He is not an All-Star.