Monday, February 28, 2011

Former Nats Great #12

So after last weeks' Bonchitis-inspired hiatus, Former Nats Great is back with a player that etched his way into the hearts of true Nats fans way back in June of 2007. Bells should be going off by now for some of you, and now its time to unveil our dozen-th edition of Former Nats Great...

The one... The only...

Levale Speigner!

Congratulations on your accomplishment, and thanks for becoming a part of Nats lore.

Lets start at the beginning of your career in a curly W. Left unprotected by the Twinkies in the 2006 Rule 5 Draft, the Nationals decided to take a chance that you could finally realize some potential. Being a Rule 5 draft pick, it is required for the team to keep you on the roster for the entire season, or else you will be sent back to your original club (barring trade).

Things started off well, as Levale put up a 3.38 ERA in his first month as a National, in strictly bullpen work. But things wouldn't stay rosy for very long, as happens to be the case with Former Nats Greats...

By mid-May Speigner had pitched very well in relief (3.77 ERA, 6 ER, 12 appearances), and it was looking like the GM Jim Bowden had found lightning in a bottle, and a quality bullpen arm. But, by this point 4 of the 5 Nats starters had been placed on the DL and someone needed to step up, and 4th in line happened to be Levale Speigner. Results were, um, not so good... And here are his first 4 starts to prove it...

May 16 vs. Atlanta - 4 IP. 4 ER. 8 H. 4 K. 0 BB.
May 21 vs. Cincinnati - 3 IP. 5 ER. 7 H. 2 HR. 0 K. 3 BB.
May 26 vs. St. Louis - 3.1 IP. 8 ER. 8 H. 1 K. 3 BB.
June 2 vs. San Diego - 4 IP. 6 ER. 7 H. 3 K. 1 BB.

In that final start against the Friars, Levale gave up each of those 6 runs in the 1st inning. Not wanting to exhaust his already tired bullpen, Manny Acta decided to leave him in there for the wolves. Speigner didn't give up another run and retired 10 of the last 11 batters, giving Acta faith in the young right-hander to make another start. That start would come June 9th against the Twins...

In this interleague matchup, the Nats were going to have to face one of the most feared pitchers in baseball and the previous years AL Cy Young Award winner, Johan Santana. Levale Speigner, the former Twins prospect, was given a 0% chance of winning the game; it was the definition of a "reverse lock".

6 innings later the score was 3-1, and Levale had done a great job giving the Nats a chance to come back from just a 2-run deficit... Wait... What??... Nats were leading???... Are you sure???

Anyway, Levale Speigner pitched the performance of his life, outdueling a Cy Young winner while giving up just 1 run on 2 hits, striking out 3 and walking 1. Ray King, Jesus Colome, Jon Rauch, and Chad Cordero kept the game in check and the Nats ended up winning the un-likeliest of games.

2 starts later, Speigner had given up 9 earned runs in just 5.1 innings pitched. He was DFA'ed 2 days after his June 19th start. The Nats were able to work out a trade with the Twins, sending outfielder Darnell McDonald away to the Twin Cities.

He was able to stick around for just 7 games in 2008, amassing an ERA of 11.25 and a WHIP of 2.38.

Levale will always be remembered in the hearts and minds of Nats fans for that one fateful day where he was able to out-gunsling Johan Santana, referenced from here to eternity whenever the Nats face the Lefty.

Thank you for that wonderful memory, Levale. You will never be forgotten.

As always, be sure to check out previous editions of Former Nats Greats after you leave your favorite memories of Speigner in the comments section!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Is Jason Marquis Trade Bait?

The approaching 2011 season continues to get baseball fans across the country excited. The question that everyone wants to know is: Will my team be competitive? In the case of the Nationals, it's likely that they'll be better than last season, but still won't make a playoff push. So what does that do for the few guys that are making a ton of money this year as the trade deadline approaches?

A few things are sure. Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth aren't going anywhere. So who's next on the list in salary for 2011? Jason Marquis. Actually, Marquis will make the same amount as Werth this season, and more than Ryan Zimmerman. What's wrong with that picture?

Anyways, whether Marquis has a successful 2011 or not, the Nationals may not be willing to pay that kind of money ($7.5 million per year) again to sign him beyond this season. Meanwhile, some fringe contenders might be willing to eat some or all of his contract in order to have a veteran pitcher on the roster for a playoff push. Clearly the prospects of this happening will be greater if Marquis has a successful first half since his value will be higher.

I'm among those that are extremely skeptical of the possibility of Marquis' success in 2011. Even after his recovery from surgery to remove bone chips from his pitching elbow, he was incredibly inconsistent toward the end of the season. I do take into account his injury and that he may not have been 100%. So perhaps my prejudgement is unfair. But I hope for the best and another guy that can eat up innings and provide 15 wins like he did just 2 short seasons ago in Colorado. Either way though, success or not in 2011, I'd imagine Marquis is somewhere on the Nationals trading block.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

It Begins: A Reader Participation Post

Nats Spring Training invitees gather around the coaching staff.
(Photo Courtesy @NationalsPR)

This photo just made me happy, so I figured it deserved a post. Spring training is in full swing and the team is getting ready to go. As March quickly approaches, it's great to see all the familiar numbers on the Curly W jerseys. There's a big #61, a #31, and a #21, a new #22, and even good old #37 off to the left. All this does is remind me of one thing: just 36 days remaining until I walk through the Center Field Gate at Nationals Park, and we start it up all over again.

We'll begin the day to day ramblings of whether Livo's Opening Day start was everything it could have been, if John Lannan's ground ball ratio is high enough, and of course, if Stephen Strasburg will return to the active 25-man roster this year.

So that all leads me to this question. What do you look forward to most about Spring Training and the lead up to Opening Day? Hit the comments with your thoughts!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday Beatdown

I am gonna make a slight departure from Nats Spring Training for some NCAA love.

Today, my alma mater, James Madison University, opened their 2011 baseball season at home against Bucknell. In the past JMU baseball has been nothing to really get excited about, as their only big splash in the past 15 years of MLB has come from 2007 1st rounder Kellen Kulbacki. But today, their season opened with a bang.

The JMU Dukes opened the game with a 15-run first inning, on their way to winning a 37-7 decision. Yes, 37-7 in baseball...

In front of the Opening Day record crowd of 923 people, the home team belted 10 homers; one of which was found 551 feet away according to Harrisonburg's Daily News Record JMU Sports Reporter Mike Barber. Junior, Jake Lowrey, and Senior, David Herbek both hit 3 home runs with Lowrey netting 8 RBIs in his 3 ABs.

JMU has a doubleheader tomorrow and another game Sunday, all against Bucknell... Ouch.

So the only question for the Dukes going into the weekend is will they score more than 100 runs in 4 games.


The One Where Mac Eats Crow

Sometimes I make predictions and they come true (mere hours after its made), and other times, not so much. This is one of the times where, well, lets just say I was a wee bit wrong...

In my post on January 20th, I went through the entire 40-man roster and non-roster invitees to give my guesses on who was going to make the team out of Spring Training. Once finished I had taken a few chances on pitching staff members, basically trying to figure out what was going on with our rotation. We had just made the Tom Gorzelanny trade and it was widely assumed that he would be placed in the rotation. I wasn't so sure, so I took a chance and said that Chien-Ming Wang was going to be the 5th starter...

By now you probably have see the news posted by the beat writers about the drastic nature of his bullpen session. Recovering from an unheard of surgery for pitchers, Wang's velocity was distinctively slow compared to the others doing bullpen sessions. Now, its widely assumed that he will be starting the year in the Minor Leagues. Not what the Nationals hoped when re-signing him to a $1 million dollar MLB contract.

Here are a few of the words of our beat writers...

Zuckerman - "Now, I'm by no means a pitching expert, and my eye for these things isn't anywhere in the same area code as Steve McCatty and the rest of the coaching staff. But Wang sure wasn't throwing the ball with much oomph. He's got a very slow, deliberate motion, so that can make things look a little deceptive. But the ball wasn't coming out of his hand with nearly as much velocity as the other guys pitching alongside him."

Kilgore - "Today, he looked to be as far from away from a big league mound as he believes he is, not as close as the Nationals had hoped."

Goessling - "Most of the other pitchers looked fine, but Wang's arm strength just isn't there yet."

Sometimes you go out on a limb and it works. Sometimes you go out on a limb and Wang just never gets there... Wait... Thats not right...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Odds & Ends

As the Nationals pitchers and catchers (several position players as well) reported to windy Viera, Florida several 2011 decisions are clearing up. Our terrific beat writers are already diligently posting snippets of information from those on hand, passing them along to news-hungry Nats fans. Here are a few bits and pieces, with a little analysis parsed in for good measure.

- One of my favorite writers, Rob Neyer, has been an absolute beast since he left ESPN for the blogging network SB Nation. If you haven't checked out his work, please do yourself a favor and go over there immediately. In any case, one of his recent blog posts covers the first-of-the-year PECOTA projections by Baseball Prospectus, where simulations are made as to the end of the year standings. Shortly after posting, the guys at Baseball Prospectus pulled their projections so as to put the "finishing touches" on the piece. When it was still up it had the Nats projected as, once again, 5th place in the NL East. The bright side being that their record would improve to 74-88, while the Phillies would win yet another division title, winning a paltry 87 times. Definitely worth keeping an eye out for the differences between the initial leak and the "finished" product.

- In news of the not-at-all-shocking, Riggleman has given his most definitive vote for Livan to date, saying that, "unless something unforeseen happens, Livan has earned it (the opening day start)". I've got to agree that one thing we do have is depth. Most of our pitchers could fit somewhere in a Major League rotation, and when we have injuries (which we always do), we will have someone capable of giving us a spot start or two. Always a good thing.

- I'm not sure how I feel about the new Nationals Journal feature "Long Toss". I like that they are helping promote user discussion, but I think I would rather have that in the comments section while the blog is run by the writers. In the most recent edition, the editors seem to have just rehashed an old discussion that has been ongoing for months regarding the catching questions. Anyway, I don't see Pudge getting hit #3,000 in a curly W.

- One of the more interesting bits of news that came out of day 1 was that assumed #2 starter, Jordan Zimmermann, will have an innings limit this year. I guess it doesn't really come as a surprise, but it definitely makes things a lot more interesting for the last few months of the season. The most innings that Zimmermann has thrown in professional baseball is a total of 134 back in 2008, however it was before his surgery. For a reference, this past year he threw 70.2 IP during his recovery, from A ball to the Majors. Its been said that pitchers can often be stronger post-recovery, due to the strenuous and intensive nature of the rehab exercises.

- According to several of our beat writers, Roger Bernadina did some serious conditioning this off-season, blaming fatigue for his September slump. From Kilgore,
Several Nats players, coaches joking with Roger Bernadina about his biceps. As Post photog Jonathan Newton said: 'Beast.'" From Goessling, "Roger Bernadina is standing in center field, and the definition in his arms is visible from the third-base dugout." Sounds to me like someone wants the Left Field job...

- Check out this AM's post on the 5 Players to Watch in Nats camp this spring.

- Finally, in news of the even more painfully obvious, Riggleman hopes for more production from the top of the order. And here I thought that a combined .230 AVG and .300 OBP was enough from our table-setters...

5 Players to Watch

With Pitcher's and Catcher's now firmly situated in Viera, running through flip drills and bullpen sessions, the dust is finally being kicked up on the 2011 season. We have gone over some of the spring training battles in the past, focusing on different positions and roles that are up in the air. Now it's time to turn our attention to some more specifics, who exactly are we watching and what for? Lets' single out 5 players who we've got our eyes on in Spring Training.

Jesus Flores - Catcher
Is he finally healthy? Flores has spent his career as a long-shot, signed as an amateur free agent by the Mets, the 17 year-old Flores worked his way up through the system. By 2006, Flores was busy hitting .266 with an OPS of .822, in 120 games in High-A Port St. Lucie (also 21 HR and 70 RBI). The Mets decided to leave him off their 40-man roster at the end of the season and the Nats picked him in the Rule 5 draft, hoping to keep him on the big league team for the rest of the year. Flores proved to be a very serviceable backup, providing mediocre numbers with solid defense while giving fans hope for the future. He would spend much of the next 3 years on the DL with a variety of injuries ranging from a sprained ankle to broken shoulder to a torn labrum. Is this the time where Flores is finally healthy and ready to build on his amazing start to the 2009 season (.301 AVG and .877 OPS)?

Ross Detwiler - LHP
Is he finally healthy? This blurb will appear very similar to the previous one, with all the same stories being told. Tons of untapped potential. The only difference here is that Ross Detwiler was taken as the 6th overall selection in the 2007 Draft. Detwiler had the distinction of falling into the same boat as Justin Maxwell, called up to the Majors just a few months after signing with the club, starting his arbitration clock way too early. Early on it became evident that Ross was going to run into lots of problems due to the fact that his delivery crossed his body, creating unnecessary pressure on his left hip. True enough, he has had 2 separate trips to the DL with a chronic hip injury. In his limited time in the Majors, Ross has put up a 2-9 record with a 4.74 ERA and a 1.58 WHIP, not very solid for a first-round selection. If Ross can't put it together this year, it's time to starting using the word "bust".

Nyjer Morgan - CF
Nyjer's problems have been well-documented. Coming over from the Pirates in 2009, Morgan solidified a position as a future Nats star when he hit .351 and stole 24 out of 31 bags in just 49 games. Then 2010 rolled around, and it became apparent that Morgan was a loose cannon. His batting average dropped to a career low and he led baseball in Caught Stealing, hopefully new Nats 3B coach Bo Porter can work his magic in that department... Stats aside, there were tantrums in the outfield and brawls in Florida, Morgan lost a lot of goodwill with the fans. Normally this would be forgiven with solid play (See: Manny Ramirez's entire career), but Morgan struggled in every place he succeeded just one year prior; at the plate, on the basepaths, and in the field. I am already on the record as saying that I believe Morgan will lose his job by July, its now up to him whether or not that happens.

Jason Marquis - RHP
Marquis was last years "big name pitcher" the Nats acquired after failing to get someone better. Signed for a 2 year/$15 million dollar contract, Marquis dazzled opposing team's fans in his first three starts, giving up 19 ER in his first 8 IP in a Nationals uniform. The lowest of low points came on the Nats first Sunday Home game of the year, when Marquis failed to record an out despite giving up 7 ER en route to a 10 run first innning. Immediately going on the DL with a "right elbow injury" (read: case of the can't-pitch-itis), Marquis was out for most of the year. He came back in August and proceeded to pitch in a bi-polar nature; couple good starts, then a bad one, couple good starts, really bad one. The only impressive thing from his 2010 season is that he was able to lower his ERA from 20.52 all the way down to 6.60 by the end of the year. Going into Spring Training, he is almost guaranteed a spot on the rotation due to the large financial commitment ($7.5 million) the team has already made. Marquis needs to have a quick recovery from his worst year as a professional, if it doesn't happen by the end of Spring Training I could see Marquis getting a pink-slip before the ball club heads north to Washington.

Bryce Harper - OF
The wunderkind himself. No player will get as much buzz as the 18 year old phenom come March 1st. In all reality Bryce Harper has no real shot at making the big league ball club, but that won't matter to baseball pundits or fans. Fresh out of a stellar performance at the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .343 with a 1.039 OPS, this will only be Harper's second experience with Major League pitching. The only real markers that Nats fans should be looking for out of Bryce will be his adjustment to the outfield and how he can hit a Big League curveball. I, for one, hope that when Capitol Baseball makes our trek down to Viera that Bryce Harper is still in Big League Camp.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Former Nats Greats #11

Here at Capitol Baseball we proudly celebrate our past, good and bad. Mostly in these posts, we are celebrating the very worst of Nationals Baseball history, but that's the fun part. We promise not to pull any punches in terms of shying away from the embarrassing. That's where today's Former Nats Great comes into the picture; it is the perfect mixture of endless promise and untimely demise. Who do we have today, you ask?

The envelope please...

It's Ryan Drese!

We picked up this Right-Handed Pitcher straight off of the waiver wire from the Texas Rangers in June of 2005. He immediately joined the starting rotation and made a significant impact, winning 3 of his first 5 starts wearing the curly-W. Most impressive among his victories include a pair of 8 inning masterpieces; a 2 hit 1-0 win against the Angels (his first Nationals start) and a 2-1 win against the Pirates. Relying on a heavy dose of ground balls, Drese seemed to be fitting in nicely in the Nationals rotation; all while the Nationals were mired in a second half collapse.

As is often the case with these Former Nats Greats, the honeymoon was not to last.

After winning an 8-7 decision against the Phillies on July 8th, Drese would go on to lose 5 straight starts against the Brewers, Astros (x2), Braves, and Friars. His earned run average amazingly stayed steady in the mid-5's. It wasn't until August 18th that the wheels came completely off of the wagon. Pulled from a game against the Phillies, down 4-0 after 4, Drese was feeling some pain in his shoulder and just like that he went from the 15-Day DL to the 60-Day DL. Season over.

The following year, Drese found himself in the 5 hole in the rotation; behind Livan, John Patterson, Ramon Ortiz, and Tony Armas (Murderer's Row of Former Nats Greats). Two starts later (both losses) and Drese was out for the year with a right elbow injury.

He hasn't appeared in a Big League Game since.

His stats with the Nationals...
13 Games. 3-8 W/L. 68.1 IP. 5.00 ERA. 1.537 WHIP. 83 ERA+. 38 ER. 30 BB. 31 K. -1.7 WAR.

My favorite stat, 5 Wild Pitches.

Thanks for the memories, Ryan! And congratulations on becoming our 11th representative to the pantheon of Former Nats Greats!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bryce Harper to Play Center Field; Nyjer Shakes in Boots

The Nats first drafted Bryce Harper in 2010 to be a distant solution to a current problem in right field. But a few days ago, posted a story that Bryce Harper might end up moving to center field in the minors this year. This doesn't seem unreasonable, as they've recently signed this guy Jayson Werth, who is a right fielder, to a long-term deal. Maybe you've heard of him?

But the one person that gets lost in the shuffle is Nyjer Morgan, the Nationals current center fielder. After exploding in 2009 to outstanding numbers, he limped out of 2010 with lackluster numbers. So should Nyjer be worried that Nats have moved their best prospect to his position all of a sudden? Absolutely he should, though maybe not this season.

These two players have extremely different playing styles. Morgan is small and fast. (So small in fact that he regularly looks like he's swimming in his jersey, but I digress.) He is supposed to be the walk a lot, steal a lot player. The problem there? He doesn't walk enough and he was a less effective base stealer in 2010. Harper, on the other hand, is big and hits for power. His job will be less to be the perfect defenseman than to hit the ball as hard as he can.

It is still extremely unlikely that Harper would make the bigs before the Super Two deadline in 2012, similar to Stephen Strasburg in 2010. That's at the absolute earliest. It's entirely possible it doesn't happen until September callups 2012. So Nyjer might be safe for a little while, though the quality of at-bats that Roger Bernadina and Michael Morse put together while platooning in left field could light a fire under Morgan to have a more successful 2011.

For more on several of these Nats in Spring Training, check out Capitol Baseball all week. You might just see one or two of these guys make a post to come...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Opening Day Lineup Predictions: The Competition

We're just a weekend away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Viera for Spring Training 2011. This is it, folks. The season is finally upon us, and we couldn't be more excited. With just a few short weeks left, we've decided to put our predictions down on (virtual) paper as an inter-Capitol Baseball competition. Have your own opinion? Sound off in the comments.


Position in Batting Order




Nyjer Morgan

Nyjer Morgan


Ian Desmond

Ian Desmond


Ryan Zimmerman

Ryan Zimmerman


Adam LaRoche

Jayson Werth


Jayson Werth

Adam LaRoche


Roger Bernadina

Roger Bernadina


Danny Espinosa

Danny Espinosa


Pudge Rodriguez

Pudge Rodriguez


Livan Hernandez

Livan Hernandez


Rotation Spot



Opening Day (1.)

Livan Hernandez

Livan Hernandez


John Lannan

Jordan Zimmermann


Jordan Zimmermann

John Lannan


Jason Marquis

Jason Marquis


Tom Gorzelanny

Yunesky Maya

Notes: Mac and I had the exact same lineup and almost the same rotation, so I decided to tweak mine a bit just for fun. Who knows what'll happen?

Show us your Opening Day lineup/predictions in the Comments section!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

2011 Primer: Part 4 (The Minors)

In the final installment of the series that Mac has done a brilliant job with, I'm going to go over some Twitter accounts and sites that you must check out if you want to know what's going on in the minors. If you have any to add, throw them in the comments section. I'd love to learn some new ones.

Nationals Prospects
Nationals Prospects has done an outstanding job of covering the Nats farm system and prospects. The blog is clean and full of information, and has become my go-to for Nats minor league info since the guy below stepped aside from his official blog.

Brian Oliver
Twitter: @NFA_Brian
I know he's "retired" from the blogging world for a very noble teaching career, but he still links to really great MiLB information on his Twitter account pretty regularly. Definitely worth the follow if you don't already.

Top Prospect Alert
Twitter: @Minor League Blog
Great source of information on the Minors, especially during the season on their Twitter accounts. Provides superb summaries of the biggest names in MiLB that evening.

Prospect Insider
Twitter: @ProspectInsider
Provides prospect top stories, info on possible positional battles across the league, and even has a great rundown on arbitration, the Rule 5 draft, and free agency in its own Primer section. Worth a look.

I know Mac has already used this for baseball blogs, but it's also a great source for getting minor league stats.

I know there are others, so add them to the comments.

Off-season Transaction Round-up

This has been the busiest offseason for the Washington Nationals that I can remember. General Manager Mike Rizzo has spent his time wheeling and dealing, signing players to mega-contracts and minor league/spring training invite deals. It's entirely possible that one or two of these deals has completely missed your radar. Let's bring all these deals into the light of day just to see all of them in one place.

Novemeber 29: LHP Jimmy Barthmaier - Minor League Contract
December 5: OF Jayson Werth - 7 year/$126 Million Contract
December 14: OF Matt Stairs - Minor League Contract/Invite to Spring Training
December 15: OF Archie Gilbert - Minor League Contract
December 15: OF Jonathan Van Every - Minor League Contract/Invite to Spring Training
December 15: OF Buck Coats - Minor League Contract
December 16: RHP Henry Ramirez and OF Corey Brown - Trade
December 16: RHP Chien-Ming Wang - 1 year/$1 Million Contract
December 17: 2B Matt Antonelli - Minor League Contract
December 17: RHP Chad Gaudin - Minor League Contact/Invite to Spring Training
December 20: INF Brian Bixler - Minor League Contract/Invite to Spring Training
December 20: 1B Michael Aubrey - Minor League Contract/Invite to Spring Training
December 20: RHP Joe Bisenius - Minor League Contract/Invite to Spring Training
December 20: OF Jeff Frazier - Minor League Contract/Invite to Spring Training
December 20: RHP Tim Wood - Minor League Contract/Invite to Spring Training
December 21: RHP Ryan Mattheus - Major League Contract
December 23: RHP Harvey Garcia - Minor League Contract
December 23: LHP Sean Burnett - 2 year/$3.95 Million Extension
January 4: 1B Adam LaRoche - 2 year/$15 Million Contract
January 16: LHP Tom Gorzelanny - Trade
January 17: INF Alex Cora - Minor League Contract/Invite to Spring Training - $900K
January 19: UTIL Jerry Hairston - 1 year/$2 Million Contract
January 24: RHP Todd Coffey - 1 year/$1.35 Million Contract
February 2: RHP Cla Meredith - Minor League Contract/Invite to Spring Training
February 2: RHP Adam Olbrychowski - Trade
February 2: RHP Shairon Martis - Invite to Spring Training
February 3: OF Laynce Nix - Minor League Contract/Invite to Spring Training
February 4: LHP Matt Chico - Major League Contract (Not on 40-Man)
February 4: C Carlos Maldonado - Minor League Contract/Invite to Spring Training
February 4: RHP J.D. Martin - Minor League Contract/Invite to Spring Training
February 4: 1B Kevin Barker - Minor League Contract/Invite to Spring Training
February 4: RHP Josh Wilkie - Invite to Spring Training
February 4: C Jhonatan Solano - Invite to Spring Training
February 4: C Derek Norris - Invite to Spring Training
February 8: 2B Alex Cintron - Minor League Contract

As you can see its been a very active offseason for the Nationals and GM Mike Rizzo. Though most of the deals have been Minor League Contracts, they shouldn't be overlooked in terms of value; organizational depth is a very important thing.

Be sure to stay tuned to Capitol Baseball for all the latest moves!

Tomorrow, we're going to post our pre-Spring Training Opening Day line up and rotation predictions. It should be a good rundown, so stop by tomorrow morning!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Grading the Nats Potential Bullpen Pitchers

There is a staggering number of players on the Nationals laundry list of potential relievers in 2011. Lots of them are on the 40-man roster, too. So, how many possible relievers do the Nats have now that could be with the big club on Opening Day? Let's see how many truly viable options the team has that will improve on it's already solid bullpen by grading them. Report card style.

Collin Balester - B. Collin showed significant improvement over the course of the 2010 season, he can still throw hard, and he has an awesome mustache. High likelihood that he makes the roster.

Sean Burnett - A. Barring an injury, there's no chance that Burnett will be left off the Opening Day roster after his breakout 2010 season. Hopefully he can be a bit more stable against lefties, as he is technically a "lefty specialist."

Adam Carr - D. Carr was drafted in 2006 and now, at 26 years old, really has to prove something if he's going to make it with the Nats, and he's pretty low on the depth chart right now. There's little to no chance he makes the bullpen on Day One this year.

Tyler Clippard - A. Tyler Clippard has established himself as a critical part of the Nationals rotation and is a guarantee to make the 'pen to start the year.

Todd Coffey - B. It feels like Coffey has been around forever, though he's just 30 years old. He's only hit an ERA of below 4.00 in 2 of his 6 years in the league, and more often than not it's approached 5.00, but sadly, I'd say it's pretty likely that he'll make the team.

Ross Detwiler - C+. Oh, Rossy D. Who know's what you're good for anymore? I'm hoping that he can stay healthy and figure out his approach, but it appears to be more and more likely that it won't happen. If he ends up on the team, and that's a big IF, it will probably be in the rotation rather than the bullpen.

Cole Kimball - F. Kimball's competition is way too deep for someone who has never played above AA ball. He's got no shot.

Cla Meredith - C+. Rizzo went and got this former Major Leaguer who has had some success in the league, so just on his MLB experience, I think there's a (slightly) better than average chance Meredith makes the team.

Garrett Mock - D. Once the front office gets over the fact that Mock has "stuff", it won't be long before they realize he's 27 years old and has shown them nothing. I don't think Mock is in the long-term plans for the organization any longer.

Elvin Ramirez - C. It's a use him or lose him situation for Ramirez in Washington. If he's not put on the Nats 25-man roster in April, he's on his way back to the Mets. He throws hard, but is known to have control issues.

Henry Rodriguez - B. Rodriguez posted a 4.55 ERA in 29 games with Oakland last season, but Rodriguez is still young (23), and this young pitcher acquired in the Josh Willingham trade could still have a future with the organization.

Atahualpa Severino - F. His name is awesome, his talent keeps falling down the depth chart as the Nats make more moves. Sorry Atahualpa.

Doug Slaten - B+. They just signed Slaten to avoid arbitration for 2011. They wouldn't have done that if he wasn't a lock for the 'pen this year, so he definitely makes it.

Craig Stammen - B-. If Stammen makes the rotation, it's clearly as a long reliever to replace the hole that Miguel Batista (Mr. Iowa) has left in the bullpen. As infuriating that Batista could be, he was a passable long reliever. I'm not sure Stammen qualifies as passable yet, but I'm pretty sure we'll find out this year.

Drew Storen - B+. The "Closer of the Future" for another year or two, when he'll become the "Closer of the Present" or be traded. I hope its the former.... The only reason Storen wouldn't start the season in the Majors is because he has options left on his contract. Still, he'll probably make the bigs and share the closer's role with Burnett and Clippard.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Former Nats Greats #10

We are celebrating here at Capitol Baseball, for a myriad of reasons. The first, and probably most exciting, is that last week we hit our 200th post ever! The second reason is that it is now the 10th edition of our ongoing series identifying faceless names who have occupied the Nationals' uniform. What better way to celebrate our tin anniversary than with a very special edition of Former Nats Greats. Who will be the very honored 10th member into the club?

Wait for it...

Wait for iiiiiiiiiiiit...

Maryland-native, Justin Maxwell!

If you are a regular reader of Capitol Baseball you probably know by now that Jmax has become my punching bag. As long as there are players that don't pan out, I will use Maxwell in comparison. Its not that I don't appreciate the guy for being a stand-up teammate and above average defender, its that he was given chance, after chance, after chance to succeed, failing every step of the way.

Lets take a look at his way-too-long Nationals career.

Maxwell's arbitration clock started way too soon when GM Jim Bowden decided that it would be a good idea for him to get a cup of coffee in the Majors after just a half season at A+ ball. He would go on to have the best performance that September of '07. It didn't take him very long to show off his 5-tool potential as he got a Grand Slam for his very first Major League hit, in his 3rd at bat. Maxwell would see limited action for the month, garnering just 26 at-bats, but he put up some average numbers; .269 AVG, .796 OPS. 2 HR. 5 RBI. 0.0 WAR.

This is where Maxwell's career would begin to stumble. After a somewhat successful 2008 Spring Training, Maxwell was sent to AA Harrisburg but would only play 43 games because of a broken wrist.

Flash forward to spring of 2009, where Maxwell was expected to challenge for a roster spot. His spring did not impress the Nats brass and he was sent to AAA to start the season. As the year went on Nationals had Jmax made the Syracuse to Washington trek 3 times according to his player page on SB Nation. During his brief appearances he was never able to string together any sort of positive momentum, only negative. He finished the year with a paltry .247 AVG. .793 OPS. and just 9 RBIs in 89 ABs. Worse still was that as time went on, his career strikeout percentage increased drastically, reaching a 36% strikeout rate in 2009.

Spring training 2010: the Chance. In a move that shocked the baseball world, the Nationals released Elijah Dukes, who many predicted to be the starting Right Fielder for the 2010 club. Justin Maxwell finally had an opportunity, and it was clear that the execs were ready for him to finally step into the role. How did he deal with it?

20 Games. 50 At Bats. 5 Hits. 1 HR. 4 RBI. 9 Total Bases. 21 K. .100 AVG. .413 OPS.

Wow. Talking about folding in the face of pressure. Needless to say, Maxwell did not earn a starting job with the team, or even a bench role; at the end of camp (at age 26) he was sent back to AAA. 4 call-ups and 3 options back down, never doing enough to earn a job, Maxwell put up some of the most heinous offensive numbers this club has seen from a non-pitcher. In 26 games where he had more than 1 AB, he got more than 1 hit a grand total of 3 times; each time being just 2 hits...

2010: 67 games. 108 At-Bats. 15 Hits. 3 HR. 12 RBI. 25 BB. 43 K. .144 AVG. .594 OPS.
2010 Saber: 21.9 UZR/150. 0.4 WAR. 41.3 K%.

Career: .201 AVG. .698 OPS. 9 HR. 26 RBI. 1.4 WAR. 20.6 UZR/150.

Now, Maxwell had fantastic defense, and I love defense, but there is no possible way that any team could afford to have him be anything other than a defensive replacement, because he brings nothing to the table offensively. Another thing I love about him is that he went 3 for 6 with the bases loaded, with 3 HR. Unbelievable. I also find it amazing that he was a positive WAR player, due only to the fact that Fangraphs uses defensive metrics into their calculations, if not... Ouch.

After 5 years in the system without learning how to lay of breaking balls out of the zone. After 3 years of back and forth. After countless chances to win a spot in the lineup. After increasing his K% every year in the system. After being a Jimbo 5-tool player special of the year, of the week. It was time to say goodbye.

I was thrilled when the Nationals finally cut bait with 27 year-old Justin Maxwell on January 27th. I was elated when I found out that Mike Rizzo was able to get anything other than a bag of balls in return.

I wish Jmax the best of luck with the Yankees, and I really hope that he is one day able to figure out how to hit Major League pitching. Congrats to you on become our tin anniversary representative to the Former Nats Great collection.

Note to the Yankees: maybe instead of using the DH for the pitcher, you can bolster your defense by having the pitcher hit while you use your DH for Jmax. Just a nickel's worth of free advice.

Until next time, leave you favorite Maxwell memories in the Comments section!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Survivors: The Strasburg Effect

As the snow and cold of winter turns into, well, more snow and cold... the stories of the Hot Stove season begin to fall by the wayside and new stories will eagerly take their place. It's a time to talk about who will fill out the rotation, who will win the left field job, and just how will that bullpen battle shake out. There will be one, however, who won't be able to participate in all the exercises and pepper drills. This man is Stephen Strasburg, our very own #1 pitcher, out for the year* while rehabbing Tommy John Surgery.

*Maybe back in September

Today I don't want to talk about any of those great position battles or whether our defense will actually save us runs. Not today. Today I want to talk about 2012, by talking about the last three years. The hope that resides in recovery. No longer a proverbial death sentence, the recovery from Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) surgery has become common-place and almost routine; though not guaranteed. As you may have read at some point, 9 of this past year's All-Star pitcher representatives were survivors of Tommy John Surgery. With that spirit in mind, I want to take a look at some of those survivors, in the hopes that one day very soon Strasburg can replicate their success.

It's been said that your first 1.5-2 years after the surgery is when you finally return to your former self, so where applicable, I am going to look at those 2nd year stats.

First up we have Cardinals Co-Ace, Chris Carpenter. After having several stellar years with St. Louis, the Cardinals were looking forward to the ace of their staff leading them into another successful season. But on the day one of the 2007 season, Carpenter went down with elbow soreness. Several months passed before he had surgery in late July of the same year. He returned to the team almost exactly a year after his surgery, and put up good numbers in just 4 appearances for the rest of the year. Carpenter came out of the gate in '09 with a bang. Starting the season with a 7IP 1H 0R performance against the Pirates, he would not look back from there. In his 2nd year after Tommy John Surgery (2009) Carpenter finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting after going 17-4 with a 2.24 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP.

Next we have a perennial thorn in the Nats' side, Tim Hudson. Throughout his career Hudson has been a dominant pitcher, winning at least 10 games every single season he has been in the majors (save the '09 recovery season). On August 2nd of 2008 the Braves announced that Hudson would be visiting Dr. James Andrews for UCL surgery. He finished the minor league rehab, reaching the big leagues about 13 months after the surgery, joining the Braves on September 1st, 2009. For the rest of the '09 season Hudson was able to get 7 starts, winning 2 starts and posting a sub-4 ERA. Flash forward to 2010, his 2nd year after Tommy John Surgery, Tim Hudson put up outstanding numbers; 17-9 with a 2.83 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP.

Third up on our list is one of the best bullpen closers in baseball, though he won't be closing anytime soon as he is now blocked by another Tommy John survivor. That man is Rafael Soriano. Soriano came up in the Mariners organization after toiling away in the minors after coming to the states from the Dominican Republic. His breakout season was back in 2003 with those same Mariners, where he pitched in 40 games with a miniscule 1.53 ERA. Hopes were high for the ballclub after such a great performance, but after just 6 games in '04 it became evident that there was a problem. Dr. Andrews visit. Tommy John Surgery on August 17th, 2004. He played his first MLB game on September 10th, 2005 after 13 months of recovery. His 2nd year after surgery numbers: 53 games. 60 IP. 2.25 ERA. 1.08 WHIP. 65 K.

One final case to increase the amount of hope present in NatsTown. A case that also comes in the form of another Nats nemesis; Josh Johnson. As a rookie in 2006, Johnson put up stellar numbers (12-7, 3.10 ERA, 1.30 WHIP) on his way to finishing 4th in the Rookie of the Year voting. The Marlins seemed to be set for years with a rotation of Johnson, Scott Olsen, Anibal Sanchez, and Ricky Nolasco, until injuries plagued the fish. All those issues were summed up by a terrible 2007 campaign by Johnson that ended on August 7th with Tommy John Surgery. After what seemed to be an impossibly quick recovery, Josh Johnson returned to the Major Leagues in 11 months (July 10, 2008). And one year after his recovery he was able to post a 7-1 record with a 3.61 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP. His 2009 campaign proved to be even better, 15-5 record with a 3.23 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP. Fast forward to 2010 and Josh Johnson is one of the top pitchers in all of the National League, finishing 5th in the Cy Young voting while leading the League in ERA and ERA+.

Now, although these are only a few cases of success, if you did a little research you would find at least 30 more cases of pitchers returning to dominant form post-Tommy John surgery. It should be noted that for every Mariano Rivera and John Smoltz (both survivors), there are 5 Scott Williamson's and Phil Humber's. I have faith that the Nationals training staff will be diligent in monitoring Strasburg's progress, observing every single pitch he makes, so that we don't have another Mark Prior situation on our hands.

Upon further review, instead of waiting patiently for Strasburg's return in 2012, lets all eagerly wait to see if Jordan Zimmermann can replicate his pre-surgery performance to become one of these success stories, in this his 2nd year after Tommy John surgery...

Friday, February 4, 2011

Trade Candidate?

NOTE: I wrote this post on January 17th with the intention of it being a rainy-day post; for a slow news day. In the past week however, Phil Wood included a note in his MASN blog about the Nats having interest (at least internally) about dealing for Fausto Carmona and Grady Sizemore; since being debunked by every major Nationals internal source and every major news network. With that in mind, I just wanted to share this with you now that the cat is apparently out of the bag. No longer a rainy-day post, but now (maybe) a possibility, enjoy my thoughts about exploring a Grady Sizemore trade.

The summer of 2002 was a rough time for the Expos organization, they were in fighting for 1st place in the NL East and they had a chance to make the postseason for the first time in over 20 years. They needed some help to achieve that however, and General Manager Omar Minaya had little hope in a future of baseball in Montreal as the writing was already on the wall that the franchise was doomed. Minaya decided that his best shot at a winner was to do some mid-summer wheeling and dealing. In the span of two and half weeks the Expos traded away Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, Carl Pavano, and Brandon Phillips for players such as Tim Drew and Bartolo Colon. As they say, the rest is history.

Now, one of those players listed above, after being named "without a doubt one of the greatest players of our generation" by his GM, is on thin ice with his organization. Who might I be talking about? Grady Sizemore.

Sizemore has played in Cleveland since his major league debut in 2004, garnering national attention and numerous accolades for his baseball prowess. But in the past two years, his expensive contract has become a boondoggle for the Indians, as he has missed significant time due to major injury (throwing elbow and left knee microfracture surgery). Today, Buster Olney of reported that the Indians hold an $8.5 million dollar option for 2012, meaning that the club will need to decide over the next 9 months if they want to take a chance on exercising the option, pulling off a trade, or letting him walk. Could Sizemore potentially end up with the team that drafted him 75th overall in the 2000 MLB Draft?

This is where the Nats come in.

GM Mike Rizzo has never been shy in pulling the trigger on a trade, as evidenced recently by his massive attempt at Zach Greinke. And although Sizemore is a fan favorite back in Cleveland, I believe that the club's patience is waning after 2 years of serious injury. That, coupled with Nyjer Morgan's up-and-down career in Washington, the Nats may be looking to upgrade at center field with this 3-time All-Star and 2-time Gold Glove winner.

Lets take a look at his 162-Game Averages:
.272 AVG. .840 OPS. 25 HR. 84 RBI. 112 Runs. 26 SB.

Career WAR: 28.2 (Fangraphs). 27.9 (Baseball-Reference)
Career UZR: 29.2

Yes, he has suffered major surgery in the past 12 months, but this is a hard-nosed player who has the possiblity to be a steal for a club like the Nats. There are, of course, a lot of dominoes that would have to fall in order for this to become a reality (Nyjer continue his demise, Sizemore burns some bridges, etc.), but I am just putting this out there to the Natosphere to see what you all think of potentially adding Grady Sizemore to the team.

Would you add Grady Sizemore to the Nats? What would you give up for him? Sound off in the Comments Section!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

One Local Product Leaves and Another Joins the Nats

Cla Meredith - Courtesy

Lost in the shuffle of the Justin Maxwell roster move yesterday is the Nats signing of the submarining reliever Cla Meredith. So when the Nats lost the local product and UMD grad in Maxwell, they picked up a another local player in Meredith, a VCU grad.

You may have caught Meredith, or "The Claw", most recently on the MASN family of networks as he spent the last one and a half seasons in the Orioles organization. Meredith sports a 3.62 ERA over his career, but he's coming off of the worst season yet. He put up a 5.40 ERA with the O's until June 22, when he was DFA'd by the organization.

In the Nats continued effort to shore up their pitching, The Claw earned a minor league deal and an invite to spring training with the organization, so we'll certainly keep an eye on him when Capitol Baseball is in Viera from March 9-12. We have to imagine he'll still be in camp at least that long.

Former Nats Greats #9

Moonshots and Strikeouts. Nope, this weeks edition isn't everyone's favorite Weapon of Minuscule Power, this week's Former Nats Great is reserved for a former Mets top prospect acquired by Jim Bowden (and why not, being the prototypical "5-tool" player that JimBo so desperately desired).


Alex Escobar!

The Nationals organization acquired Escobar from the White Sox in a February 2005 trade that sent superstar Jerry Owens to the South Side. Who is Jerry Owens? I have no idea. Starting the year in AA Harrisburg after failing to win a job in Spring Training, Escobar hit over .300 in the month and a half in the minors before getting the call. He made his Nationals debut on May 20th in the Battle of the Beltway and immediately made and impact, getting 3 hits in his first 8 ABs with the big club. Just as soon as he arrived, however, he was gone. To the disabled list with a Hamstring issue.

After about a month off, he was able to spend a week at Rookie ball and AA rehabbing his leg before returning to the Nationals, finally joining them July 6th against the Fish. Escobar spent the rest of the season on an absolutely tear, solidifying his place in the lineup for years to come...

Or so we thought.

On August 25th Escobar slid awkwardly back into 1B trying to avoid a double play, jamming his right shoulder in the process. Shoulder surgery followed a few days later and he was done for the season.

In 87 At-Bats with the Nationals he had 31 Hits, 4 HR, 14 R, 18 RBI, while striking out 18 times. Escobar also was able to rack up a .356 AVG, .969 OPS, and a 0.2 WAR in his 33 Games.

The three-years-in-a-row Top Mets Prospect, according to Baseball America, was able to agree with the Nationals on arbitration in 2007, though he was never again able to crack the big club due to his constant DL-stints. Same goes for 2008. He was finally released in July of 2008, after spending over 3 years in the Nationals' system.

He was a ton of fun to watch when he was with the club, especially when he was hitting 2 pinch hit Home Runs in the span of a week in August of '06 (both coming for Livo, I believe). You were had the ability to play like Valdimir Guerrero, but more often than not you just played patient.

Take care Alex, we hardly knew ye.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Maxwell signs with the Yankees

Former Nationals OF Justin Maxwell has been acquired by the New York Yankees.

Maxwell was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for pitcher Todd Coffey. The 27-year old righty's numbers are certainly nothing to write home about over 122 career games: .201 BA/.319 OBP/ .379 SLG. But Maxwell does provide good speed and above average defense.

The Nats received RHP Adam Olbrychowsky (awesome name), a pitcher who reached AA ball for the first time last season. The move provides even more pitching depth to the Nationals farm teams.

So, with that we say good luck to JMax. Here's hoping he does something good enough to earn a nickname as cool as JMax in New York...

2011 Primer: Part 3 (Twitter Extravaganza)

We are less than 2 weeks away from Spring Training and I can feel the crazy Space Coast wind on my face already. We have just two parts remaining, and today's post is going to focus on a particular social-networking site that some of you swear by and others swear at, Twitter. I have found that Twitter is one of the best, yet most frustrating, ways of conveying news. So here is a brief list of those that we believe are must-follows for any MLB fan, Nats included.

If you don't already, follow us!
@CapitolBaseball - Joe's personal twitter and location for official Capitol Baseball news
@CraigMac - Nats, Flyers, Beer, other nonsensical things

@AdamKilgoreWP - Washington Post Beat Writer extraordinaire
@ballystar40 - Collin Balester, loves mustaches and the Anaheim Ducks
@billgluvna - Bill Gluvna, pun-happy Coordinator of Nats Media Relations
@ChiefsRadio - Nats' Triple-A Affiliate, Syracuse Chiefs radio broadcasters
@cnichols14 - Runs NatsNewsNetwork's popular Off the Field section & freelance photographer
@cstammen35 - Nats' long reliever, Craig Stammen
@dcsportsbog - radio transcribing expert and Washington Post writer - Dan Steinberg
@doubledays - Nats' new Single-A Affiliate, the Auburn Doubledays
@DrewStoren - Just a run-of-the-mill Stanford student and baseball star, Drew Storen
@federalbaseball - SB Nation Nats blog, Federal Baseball
@HagerstownSuns - Nats' Low-A Affiliate, the Hagerstown Suns
@HbgSenators - Nats' Double-A Affiliate, Harrisburg Senators
@hbgsensradio - Senators radio twitter account
@HendoDC - Columnist for Nats Daily News blog
@HeyClubbie - Mike Jech, Hagerstown Suns Clubhouse Manager
@JLannan31 - Opening Day starter and ground-ball expert John Lannan
@JWerthsBeard - Fantastic perspective from Jayson Werth's beard
@MarkZuckerman - Blogger for Hire
@masnBen - MASN Nats Beat Writer, extremely accessible to fans
@mattvita - Washington Post Sports Editor
@mlbtrnationals - MLB Trade Rumors: Nationals' specific feed
@MrIrrelevantDC - Side project of the Mottram Brothers
@natsdailynews - A wide variety of DC Baseball coverage, modern and historic
@NatsJournal - Washington Post's Nationals Journal blog
@NatsNewsNetwork - Credentialed Nats blog, great coverage
@NationalsPR - Official Public Relations Blog of the Nationals
@PNats42 - Nats' High-A Affiliate, Potomac Nationals
@RyanTatusko - Came over in the trade for Guzie, excelled in 6 games in Harrisburg
@StacheOBally - Exactly how it sounds, tweets from Balester's mustache
@SyracuseChiefs - Nats' Triple-A Affiliate, Syracuse Chiefs
@TheNatsBlog - Nats representative for the Bloguin Blog Network
@washingnats - Bill Ladson, Nats' Beat Writer, used to love cheeseburgers

@BattingStanceG - Batting Stance Guy, ridiculous musings about out-of-date players
@bigleaguestew - Yahoo! Sports MLB blog, 'Duk is a Blackhawks fan (boo)
@BtBScore - Beyond the Box Score, SB Nation Sabermetric blog
@jaysonst - writer Jayson Stark, has an affinity for obscure stats
@jcrasnick - and Baseball America writer Jerry Crasnick
@JimBowdenXMFOX - Former Nats' GM and now MLBNetwork Radio personality
@jimcallisBA - Baseball America prospect expert, very fan friendly
@jimcaple - writer and Sabermetric expert Jim Caple
@Joelsherman1 - New York Post Baseball Columnist, breaks many signings/trades
@JonathanMayoB3 - prospect and draft guru
@JPosnanski - Sports Illustrated Columnist and brilliant (and long-winded) baseball writer
@Ken_Rosenthal - Fox Sports MLB expert, breaks many signings/trades, wears bowties
@MinorLeagueBlog - Top Prospect Alert, nightly tweets of top MiLB performers
@MinorsandMajors - Grant Paulsen, host of XM's Minors and Majors show
@MLBNetwork - Official twitter of the MLB Network
@mlbtraderumors - Breaking news of trades, signings, and other deals
@OldHossRadbourn - Ghost of Old Hoss Radbourn, 1880s pitcher, definition of old-school
@pgammo - Spink Award winner and Hall of Fame writer, Peter Gammons
@robyneyer - SB Nation writer, Sabermetrics-centered analysis
@SI_JonHeyman - Sports Illustrated and MLB Network Insider, Jon Heyman
@STATS_MLB - STATS LLC in Chicago, amazing baseball stats every night
@UniWatch - Uniform-centric coverage of all the major sports

Any additional people we should be following? Let us know in the comments!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

MLB All-Star Weekend is Terrible

I really don't like baseball's All-Star game very much. It's fun to see the stars get together, but it's typically not very representative of the league's best players, and you don't really get to see player's personalities (minus maybe the Home Run Derby). But after this year's fantastic NHL All-Star Weekend, I thought we could explore what makes their weekend so much better, in my personal opinion. And rather than just complain, we'll also look at how MLB can improve their showcase of the league's best talent.

1. Player selection and fantasy player draft: I was really up in the air on this before it happened, but I have to say, the NHL got this just right. Besides Phil Kessel sitting out there last, though he did get a car out of the deal. The players genuinely seemed to enjoy the process; fans even got to see inside many players' personalities. The fans still got to select some players to the festivities, and the league selected the remainder of truly deserving players. So although teams like the Penguins and the Blackhawks got a lopsided share of the fan vote, the league stepped in to make sure other deserving players made the cut.

MLB should consider a similar format. The fans could select a portion of the representatives, and then the league can step in to pick out the people who have had an outstanding first half, not just by name recognition. I understand that the Yankees and the Phillies often have the most respresentatives because they're among the best teams, but it'd be nice to see things a little more equal.

Then, pick captains based on host city and seniority, and draft teams for the weekend. Baseball has a lot of free agent action and a very active trade market between the American and National Leagues. It could make for some very diverse teams and a great way to show the players' personalities.

I read this after I already finished this post, but the folks over at FanGraphs did a great job of a mock MLB draft, a la NHL Fantasy Players Draft, for the ASG. Check it out here.

2. Skills competitions
: I don't think there's much debate here. The NHL SuperSkills Competition is simply outstanding. Players are judged on all aspects of the game, shooting accuracy, shooting speed, skating speed, passing, finesse, and goaltending. The MLB All-Star Game has the Home Run Derby. That's it. That's basically the league saying, "all we care about is home runs" (See: Steroid Era). But if baseball wants to move past the Steroid Era, let's show that they actually care about more than how hard you can hit a baseball.

Why not do a base stealing competition for speedsters, a hardest pitch competition for pitchers, a fielding range competition for position, a longest toss competition for outfielders, or even spitball throwing competition? Who doesn't wanna see Michael Bourn against Carl Crawford in a foot race around the bases? Or see Jayson Werth throw a ball into a bucket at home plate from the outfield? There are so many opportunities that MLB is missing out on here.

3. "This one counts.": To me, this is the worst part of the game. Players should be out there having fun. Pitchers playing with different pitches to see how silly they can make hitters look. Batters should want to kill the ball every time. They should be relaxed and having fun. These players have to give 100% effort 162 times a year. Why not give the players one chance to goof off during the season in a game setting? Furthermore, it totally negates the incentive to have the best record in baseball, as long as your league wins the All-Star Game.

Baseball gets a few things right though, including the Final Vote. It's nice to give a few players a shot at the end of the official player selection process, a play-in vote if you will, to have the fans get the final say. But it'd be better if those fans didn't do all the selecting of position players from the start. The fans could really let the league know where they left someone great out.

So these are just a few thoughts about how MLB can improve the All-Star experience for both players and fans. What say you, readers? Leave your thoughts on the MLB All-Star Game in the comments!