Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Nats Record Helping Espinosa's RoY Candidacy

Danny Espinosa's play speaks for itself. He is quite possibly the best defensive 2nd baseman in the National League; he's got speed and a fire to compete, and his bat is catching fire as the season progresses.

Espinosa's numbers in some categories are far and away better than any of his rookie counterparts. His WAR is 3.1, good for 1st place among rookies in all of baseball and more than double Cardinals SS Allen Craig's WAR (1.5). Espinosa is providing double the wins that the next best rookie in all of baseball would provide. If that's not impressive enough, Espinosa also leads MLB rookies in plate appearances, home runs, runs, RBI, and stolen bases. Not NL rookies, MLB rookies. He's better than every rookie in all of baseball in the most important raw stats in baseball. His own numbers aren't the only thing that is propelling Espinosa to the front of the Rookie of the Year competition, though.

The Washington Nationals record may have a lot to do with whether Espinosa ultimately wins the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2011. Since 1998, when Kerry Wood won the NL RoY award, only 3 players have won the award with sub-.500 teams: Jason Jennings (Rockies), Jason Bay (Pirates), Hanley Ramirez (Marlins). Two winners played for teams that ultimately won the World Series (Dontrelle Willis - 2003; Buster Posey - 2010). It's not easy for a Rookie of the Year to emerge from an unimpressive baseball team.

This Nats current stint above the .500 mark is drawing more notice to Espinosa and his candidacy for the prestigious award, but the team will have to continue to be relevant nationally, not just in DC circles, for Espi to stand a real chance to win the award. If he's able to keep up this current offensive breakout, we could be celebrating our first Rookie of the Year winner in NatsTown come this off-season.

Are these Nats for real?

Last night during the Nats contest against the Angels, I simply mentioned how the Nats good play makes me nervous from time to time, as I await an implosion in quality of play. Well, said tweet brought a flurry of responses, from the logical, to the pessimistic, to the ludicrous.

It really got us thinking beyond, "wow, this team is fun to watch," because they are certainly that. It made us wonder just how sustainable this team actually is. When you look at the Nats offense, there is still much left to be desired. Besides Danny "ROY" Espinosa and Michael "Beast Mode" Morse, there hasn't been any sort of consistency at the plate. Jayson "$126 million" Werth has been simply abhorrent, and Zimmerman has struggled since his return, though he looked to be getting his swing back yesterday.

The folks over at We Love DC Sports may have said it best, though. They responded, "I know, right? I can see the bell curve's broken here, but damn if it's not fun to watch." That's exactly how we feel. The Nationals clearly are a much improved baseball team, not just since last season, but since last month. The defensive talent is there and realized; the pitching has far exceeded expectations. We all know how lackluster the offense has been overall, but between clutch hits and a new air of confidence in a small ball style with power, they've some how made it work.

But let's be real here, folks. We still don't believe this team is playoff bound this year, and quite frankly, there's no way that this current pace is sustainable. Once the Nats reached .500 though, the season starts over. You just have to win more games than you lose from here on out, and you're in contention to be relevant in September, something this team hasn't seen in nearly 6 years. And who here wouldn't just be thrilled with that after 5 straight years of disappointment? The Nats don't have to keep the same pace, a simply ludicrous 17-8 in June, to be continue to impress. They just have to continue playing .500 ball. It seems like this team is actually capable of doing just that.

What do you think CapBallers? Are these Nats for real?


Well last-week's Ollie-Watch turned out to give Oliver Perez the CapBall curse, I decided to hold off on our Wang-Watch until he actually pitched into a game. And here it is, a year and a half and $3 Million Dollars later Wang is finally pitching in actual games.

Fighting against shoddy defense (the SS Martinson racked up 2 errors in the first 3 innings, making his season total now 21), Wang was able to show off his sinker, garnering 6 ground-ball outs. His line for the night was 3 IP, 2 ER, 2 R, 4 H, 0 BB, 1 HBP, and 3 K. Racking up a 6-1 GB/FB ratio is exactly what you want to see out of a sinker-baller.

Of the 4 hits that he gave up only 1 of them was in the air - and that was on a "soft liner" to said SS. The ground-balls were a single to short, triple to right, and double to left.

A big-ole hat tip to @JonDMV who was told by a scout that he averaged 87-88 velocity and got up to 90 at points. For the record, Fangraphs.com has his fastball at 91.8 in his last professional year (2009). This isn't necessarily the biggest thing to follow for a sinkerballer, but is worth noting to gauge the strength of that surgically repaired shoulder.

Stay tuned for the next edition of Wang-Watch when hopefully Wang can go for more than 3 innings. But for now, let's start the 30 day countdown til he "isn't in rehab" anymore.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Big Davey Style [UPDATE]

It's late and the Nats are still playing baseball after two blown saves in two innings from Storen and Coffey. But that's not the big news. As the beat writers reported earlier, Davey Johnson has been tapped to take over as Nats manager (possibly tomorrow - giving the Nats 4 managers in 3 days after McLaren's ejection).

But, what you might not know is what SI.com writer Jon Heyman reported a few hours later - that Johnson won't have the interim tag applied to his name. Yes, Mike Rizzo got his guy and he is signed through 2013 as the Nats Manager, when he is 70 years old.

[UPDATE - 10:26] It has been reported this AM that Johnson has a club option for 2013 instead of a guaranteed contract.

Johnson, 68, last managed in the Bigs for the Dodgers in 2000 and owns a career .564 Winning Percentage (595-417); .119 points higher than Jim Riggleman. Expect an old school and disciplined manager.

In the span of a week the average age of NL East managers sure jumped...

What are your late night thoughts on Davey Johnson being signed through 2013?

Bryce Harper Chosen For Futures Game

And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming... at least until Jim Riggleman says something else crazy. Until then, though, let's talk about the guy that was making much of the Nats news before the recent winning streak and managerial meltdown: Bryce Harper.

Lost in the hubbub of a stellar 2 weeks of baseball and the front office drama, the Hagerstown Suns star was selected to be participate in the All-Star Futures Game during the All-Star festivities in Phoenix in July. Harrisburg Senators P Brad Peacock will join Harper as the other representative from the Nats organization.

This season in Hagerstown, Harper is sporting a .330/.429/.586 slash line and an about-expected 14 homers at the break. He's also put together a stellar 23.9 wRAA (weighted runs above average), showing his offensive prowess with the low-A club.

The honor of being selected to the Futures Game is certainly not lost on Harper, as he told MLB.com's Bill Ladson. In Harper-esque form, he trivialized the Sally League All-Star Game as "a miniature game" compared to the distinction of playing in the big league All-Star Weekend. And of course, he isn't wrong. We just look forward to how he plays against a host of talent from across the minors, all the way up to the Triple-A level.

Riggs Linkage

It's the morning after. And what we have on our hands is a classic case of he said/she said between our GM and our former-Manager. Personally, I am still trying to digest all the information out there as it comes out before I throw out more than my two cents. So, for now I'll post some of the best and most thought-provoking words from your National Media and blogs; where the consensus is that both players are at fault in some way or another. Here is your Riggs Linkage:

Jim Riggleman Will Never Manage Again by David Schoenfield of ESPN.com's SweetSpot Network

Plenty of Options for Nats to Consider by Jim Bowden of ESPN.com

Riggleman Trades Nats by Can't Stop The Bleeding

Jim Riggleman Leaves Behind Promising Nats by Rob Neyer of SB Nation

The Nationals After Jim Riggleman by Grant Brisbee of SB Nation

Hard to Defend Riggleman's Choice by Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com

I Quit! by Kevin Kaduk of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports

Riggleman Shocker by Scott Miller of CBSSports.com

Riggleman Decision Shortsighted by Joe Lemire of SI.com

Riggleman Was Pushed One Too Many Times by Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports

Riggleman Proves He Wasn't Right Man for the Job by Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post

Riggleman Marks Resignation With A Drink by Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post

VIDEO - MLBNetwork Crew Reacts to Riggleman by MLBNetwork

There are also a ton of Nats-specific Blogs that I chose not to link here, needless to say that their coverage is also excellent and must-read. You can find links to several of our favorites over on the right-hand side of the screen.

There is definitely not a shortage of words on this subject - stayed tuned to Capitol Baseball for all the latest!

Dissecting Riggleman's Resignation

When the Nats walked off with a 1-0 win to sweep their series with the Mariners, no one in that clubhouse could have expected what was coming just a few short minutes later. Jim Riggleman's stunning resignation took the baseball world by storm on Thursday night, because it came after 11 wins in the previous 12 games and the team's first appearance above the .500 mark this late in the season since 2005.

Everyone reading this knows the details: Rizzo says there was an ultimatum; Riggleman says he just wanted a meeting. Initially, our reaction was pure, unadulterated anger toward Riggleman for making such a selfish decision. After cooling down for a bit, though, our frustration shifted toward Rizzo. Why hadn't he chosen pick up Riggs' option? Furthermore, why wouldn't he just sit down and have a conversation with him on the trip, even if there was no plan what-so-ever to sign him just to help the fantastic play?

It's hard to dissect the real background of the resignation without being a fly on the wall during Rizzo's and Riggleman's conversation at 12:35 pm on Thursday, and it certainly seem to us that there is an untold part of this saga, but we're going to do our best to create some accountability here and let you know how we see the Nats going forward.

We'd like to say that Mike Rizzo is innocent here, but he may not be. If what Riggs has said to the media is true, and all he wanted was a meeting about the 2012 option, then it seems inexcusable that the Nats' GM was unwilling to grant that request. But we have a hard time believing that was it. Furthermore, even if it was, as brilliant minds have pointed out over the course of the last 18-24 hours, it is still inexcusable for a professional manager to walk out on a team in such an odd manner with literally 9 innings notice. Not to mention, Riggleman's dismal 140-172 record as Nationals manager should hardly place him in a position to make immediate contractual demands. As such, we place the vast majority of the "blame" here on Riggleman's, and perhaps more importantly his agent's, poor decision making during the ordeal.

Several beat writers and national baseball media have quoted executives that said they wouldn't even consider hiring Riggleman as a minor league manager after these shenanigans. Riggleman comes off as selfish, and that doesn't look good in a sport where teamwork and clubhouse cohesion is so important.

Former bench coach John McLaren has already been named the Nationals short-term interim manager, and short-term is bolded because CSN's Mark Zuckerman seemed to make a point to emphasize that in his announcement. Here's hoping it remains short term. From there, though, the Nats have some options that CapBall will go into in more detail should time allow before the Front Office's official announcement, but there does seem to be a consensus on the leading contenders for the full-time manager's job: Davey Johnson, Bo Porter, Randy Knorr, and John McLaren.

Two of those four candidates (McLaren and Johnson) would likely only be short-term solutions to finish the season, but that's a hard decision to make. From there though, the future is wide open. Jim Bowden wrote yesterday that the Nats managerial job is a top 10 job in baseball that Riggleman literally gave away. And for once, we agree with Bowden. It's gonna be a fun couple of months in NatsTown as this epic saga resolves itself.

One thing that shouldn't be lost in the drama, though, is the players' resiliance; they didn't miss a beat. In interviews after the game, players wished Riggleman the best, but reiterated that the team would go on, and that they played for the team not any individual. Talk about advice Riggleman could have used before his brash decision: team, not individual. When Drew Storen said, "I don't think it's going to be as big as everybody's making it. I trust the veteran guys. I know that all the guys down here know what they're doing, so they're going to figure it out," we got the impression that this clubhouse really does know what they're doing. The veterans command the respect of the young guys. And things might actually turn out alright.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on all of this in the comments. Enlighten us, CapBallers!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Riggleman Resigns

The title of the post says it all - Jim Riggleman has resigned as manager of the Washington Nationals. It's not everyday that you see the manager of baseball's hottest team step down, but it has happened. Leading the team to a 16-5 record over the past 21 games, Riggleman was upset that the Nats hadn't picked up his team option for 2012. After giving the team an ultimatum - pick it up or I am gone - he held his end of the threat.

Stay tuned to Capitol Baseball for more as this story unfolds.

Don't Look Now: Playoff Speculation Inside

Don't look now, but Washington, DC has a baseball team that is above .500 (38-37) on June 23rd. The Nats took to sweeping the Seattle Mariners this Thursday afternoon 1-0 in more walk-off fashion. And boy oh boy, is the mood changing in NatsTown.

Earlier this season, Nats fans would have been dejected by the lack of run support for Jason Marquis stellar 8 inning 3 hit performance, but there was a different feel today. Even though the bats weren't doing much, there was a feeling that this team could actually put together a Curly W after all. And then, in the 9th inning, the newly resilient Nats did exactly that.

An inexplicable play by former Nats infielder Adam Kennedy left the bases loaded after an attempted Pudge sacrifice, and eventually Laynce the Daynce Nix hit a sac fly to left that scored Danny "Rookie of the Year" Espinosa for the walk off win. We don't mean to get ahead of ourselves here, but as of this moment, the Nats are 4.5 games out of the NL Wild Card spot. Seriously, they are. Look it up.

Despite our ridiculous excitement, don't count us as true believers... yet. We don't seriously believe that the Nats will be in the Wild Card conversation come September, or even August, really. They're certainly much better, but we're not convinced they're playoff contenders. But if the team does what we outlined in our post this morning, which is beat some weak opponents before the All-Star Break, we very well may change our tune.

Any way you look at it, though, it's become damn fun to watch baseball in NatsTown, hasn't it?

Satisfied with .500? The Nats Aren't.

During the game last night, when Drew Storen struck out Chone Figgins, Nationals Park erupted with another Curly W that brought the Nats home record to 21-13 on the season and a 37-37 record overall. Throughout the clubhouse, though, you hear players from Lannan to Zimmerman saying that they're not satisfied with a .500 record. Mac talked about that a bit on CapBall this morning.

But should you be satisfied with .500? In some ways, it feels sad and just a bit crazy to be so jazzed to simply be average. In the grand scheme of this Nationals franchise, though, a .500 record in late-June feels like a World Series victory compared with the last 5 seasons of relative ineptitude.

In other ways, you have to look at what got the Nats to this spot. The Nats are 14-6 in June and have won 10 of their last 11 games. They're going for their 3rd sweep in 4 series this afternoon against the Mariners. Not to mention, they're getting out-of-body pitching from guys like John Lannan and the entire bullpen. To focus on Lannan, his BABIP in June has been an outstandingly low .207 and has left 97% of runners on base. His season averages for those stats are .279 and 78.2%, respectively. These are just a few reasons why this current pace and record might not be sustainable.

But there are lots of things that this team has that no other Nationals team has had yet. There's a different kind of confidence with this team, a new kind of swagger. Not to mention, this team has a future together. Unlike the ragged bunch of rentals that the Nats played with in 2005, the key players with this Nats team are here to stay, and they're no slouches: Zimmerman, Werth, Espinosa, Ramos, Storen.

Finally, just remember this. Getting to .500 on June 22nd means that the Nats have the chance to start fresh. It's like having a 0-0 record with an 88-game season ahead. And to the Nats benefit, they're going on a short road trip to play two teams that are playing well below what was expected of them, the White Sox and the Angels. Then they will return to DC for 11 games (including a doubleheader on July 2) against the Pirates (4), Cubs (4), and Rockies (3). The next 17 games before the All-Star Break will really give the Nats the opportunity to show themselves, their coaches, and their fans, that they're ready to put their money where their mouth is and jump above .500 going into the Break. It sure will make for a fun 2nd half if they can.

NatsTown Time Machine

The Nats are back at .500 for the first time since May 2nd when they were 14-14.


It is great to be back at .500 but it is really nice to see the players still striving for more. Adam Kilgore was able to ask Ryan Zimmerman about the significance of being back at .500 and his reply is exactly what we need to hear in this town; "nothing". Same kind of stuff coming from Lannan as well, ""I know no one is satisfied. No one here is satisfied with being a .500 ball club."

A big lover of Nats history, I wanted to just quickly post the starting lineup from the last time the Nats were at .500 this late in the season - October 2nd, 2005.

Brad Wilkerson - 8
Jamie Carroll - 4
Jose Guillen - 9
Nick Johnson - 3
Ryan Zimmerman - 5
Ryan Church - 7
Deivi Cruz - 6
Gary Bennett - 2
Hector Carrasco - 1

Your bench players that got into the game?
Marlon Byrd - Brandon Watson - Cristian Guzman

Travis Hughes - Jon Rauch - Gary Majewski - Darrell Rasner - Chad Cordero - Joey Eischen

So, CapBallers? Which team would you rather have? The 81-81 Nats of 2005 or the 37-37 Nats of 2011?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Game of the Year?

So, about last night...? The Nats won a game that they had absolutely no business winning, which is awesome. But was it the Nats game of the year? Let's meet the contenders and go over their credentials before making a decision.

Last Night - Nationals 6 - Mariners 5

Joe has already recapped this game, but I want to add some stats to his analysis. As you may have seen by now, this was the Nats biggest 9th inning comeback since they came to DC from Montreal (previous record was 2 runs). Winning a game where Zimmerman became the first Nats/Expos franchise player to ground into 3 double plays since (wait for it) Fernando Seguignol did it on April 26, 2001 (H/T @Stats_MLB).

For the next bit of analysis let's turn to fangraphs. When Ryan Zimmerman grounded into the double-play down 5-1 in the 9th the Nats only had a 0.5% chance to win the game. For those of you scoring at home, that's a 1 in 200 chance to win. With the Hairston single the odds went to 1.4%. Morse single to 4.0%. Espi single to 8.7%. Then Ramos came up and hit a ball to the moon to add the 91.3% to get the Nats to 100%. Insanity.

After 8 innings of play, the Nats had just 3 hits - only to have 4 more in the 9th. Definite game of the year potential.

May 20 - Nationals 17 - Orioles 5

After being shut out 3-0 and 1-0 in New York in the two games prior, many in NatsTown were calling for Rick Eckstein's head. A team record 6 home runs and 17 runs shut everyone (including me) up.

Werth finally stepped up to the plate in a big way, going 3 for 4 with 2 homers and 4 RBIs. Espinosa added to his growing legend by going 3 for 5 with 5 RBIs, ending up a double short of the cycle. Ramos also went 3 for 5 with a homer and 2 RBIs. Everyone on the Nats starting lineup got at least one hit, except for one. Our DH, Matt Stairs, who was hitting for our best offensive pitcher, Jason Marquis. Oh, the delicious irony.

It was the best offensive output since the Nats have been in DC. Definitely worth game of the year status.

June 15 - Nationals 10 - Cardinals 0

A ten-run offensive output is usually the key to a great game, but for this game of the year candidate it was the pitching that set it aside. More specifically the crafty veteran throwing one of the best games of his long career, just 6 days ago.

Livan Hernandez was the star of this game, and it wasn't even close. Livan threw 9 innings of 3 hit ball, striking out 6 and not walking a single batter. His Bill James Game Score was an 87, the 15th best in all of MLB this year. It was also Livan's best game score since August 18th, 2000 when he went the distance for the Giants against the D'Backs with 9.0 IP, 0 ER, - R, 4 H, 2 BB, and 10 K.

Behind him, the Nats played stellar defense and gave him much-needed run support. You're offensive standout was Michael Morse, who went 3 for 4 with 2 home-runs and 3 RBIs.

10-run win? Check. Best start in 11 years by a veteran? Check. Game of the year? Maybe.

So - it's on you CapBallers. Which game listed (or not listed) is the Game of the Year so far? The comments section awaits!

Vamos Ramos: Walk-Off Style

What an incredible night in NatsTown! And by incredible night, we clearly mean 9th inning, because there wasn't much incredible about the rest of the evening. Ryan Zimmerman grounded into 3 double plays. Livan didn't make a single out in the 5th inning. But after some brilliant relief work from Ryan Mattheus, Collin Balester, and Todd Coffey, the Nats were in position for the most improbable of comebacks.

Mariners Manager Eric Wedge took SP Doug Fister out of the game and is probably kicking himself for doing so. Through 8, Fister gave up just 1 run and 3 hits, and the bullpen imploded to allow the comeback. The beardless wonder Jayson Werth gets a double, followed by a Bernie walk in a great AB. But then, Zimm grounded into his 3rd DP of the night. The game felt pretty lost at that point, but then Hairston came through with an RBI hit, and Morse singled off of Mariners RP Brandon League's leg. Espinosa snuck one through the right side of the infield scoring Hairston.

Then, it was time to Vamos. With 2 men on and 2 out in the bottom of the 9th, Ramos hit one of the most ridiculous home runs we've seen in Nats Park. It was launched over the corner of the Mariners bullpen and well onto the Red Porch. Ramos even took a second or two to watch his first career walk-off homer sail to the seats before he started his slow trot toward his teammates.

A game like Tuesday night's reminds us why baseball is... baseball. There's nothing else in sports like the walk-off home run. It's not a moment created by a ticking shot clock or game clock; it's not altered by penalties or man-advantages. It's one-on-one, mano y mano drama. There's no feeling in the (regular-season) sports world like when your team walks off with a win. Challenge us on that. We dare you.

Check back at 10:30 for more coverage!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Remembering Chad Cordero

(Photo Courtesy - wikipedia.org)

Chad Cordero is a name that is remembered quite fondly in NatsTown, and for good reason. Cordero was the NL saves leader in 2005 with 47. He finished 5th in Cy Young voting as a closer that season. Up until the very end of the 2005 season, when The Chief entered the game in the 9th inning with a lead, the game was over. The Nats would win. He was an integral part of the historic 2005 Nationals team that brought baseball back to Washington and provided the only .500 or above record to the Nation's Capital since the team returned.

Cordero is also the 2nd youngest player in MLB history to reach 100 saves, a milestone that took place in 2007, shortly before his career with the Nationals came to an end. The Chief missed all of the 2008 season recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum. After refusing assignment to AAA Syracuse in 2009, he tried to make it with the Mariners, Mets, and Blue Jays, before announcing his retirement on June 20, 2011.

Like most of you, we were disappointed, though not shocked, to hear of Cordero's retirement. Despite the severity of his injury, I think we all hoped that Chad would make a huge push toward recovery and become the pitcher that he was in 2005, even if it wasn't with the Nationals.

Does The Chief's tenure with the Nats earn him a retired number or his name in the Ring of Honor? It's not likely. But one thing is certain. Nats fans will forever remember the flat-brimmed, charismatic closer that brought baseball back to Washington in 2005, and the organization should make every effort to honor Cordero for his contribution to that team.

What is your favorite Chad Cordero memory, CapBallers? Share it with us in the comments.

Draft Update

As of 8pm last night the Nationals had come to terms with 20 of their 51 Draft picks, despite the fact that they have only officially announced one signing. Making the "non-announcements" even more ridiculous is that several of these players are already playing in Short Season Auburn.

Let's check out the list of signees - including who is already playing for the Doubledays. (Round - Name - Position - School - Stats in Auburn)

5th Round - Matt Skole - 3B - Georgia Tech - 1 for 12. 2B.
7th Round - Brian Dupra - RHP - Notre Dame - On Active Roster.
10th Round - Manny Rodriguez - RHP - Barry (Fla.) - 1 IP. 1 K.
11th Round - Caleb Ramsey - OF - Houston - 3 for 12. 2 RBI.
12th Round - Blake Monar - LHP - Indiana - On Active Roster.
16th Round - Deion Williams - SS - Redan HS (GA) - Not on Roster.
21st Round - Todd Simko - LHP - Texas A&M - A&M Still in CWS.
22nd Round - Travis Henske - RHP - Arkansas-Little Rock - 1.2 IP. 1 H. 2 K.
23rd Round - Khayyan Norfolk - 2B - Tennessee - 3 for 5. 2B. 4 RBI.
25th Round - Erick Fernandez - C - Georgetown - Not on Roster.
*26th Round - Shawn Pleffner - OF - Tampa - Not on Roster.
27th Round - Bobby Lucas - RHP - GW - Not on Roster.
28th Round - Ken Ferrer - RHP - Elon - Not on Roster.
29th Round - Sean Cotten - C - Tusculum (TN) - Not on Roster.
33rd Round - Trey Karlen - 2B - Tennessee-Martin - Not on Roster.
35th Round - Alex Kreis - RHP - Jamestown (ND) - On Active Roster.
36th Round - Ben Hawkins - LHP - West Florida - Not on Roster.
41st Round - Ben Ortega - 3B - Arizona - 5 for 7. 2B. 1 RBI.
45th Round - Richie Mirowski - RHP - Oklahoma Baptist - On Active Roster.
50th Round - Tony Nix - OF - UC Riverside - Not on Roster.

*Officially Announced

Rizzo is on record as saying the Nationals have "15 contracts pending" - but by my count 10 players who "don't have contracts" are currently playing professional baseball in the Nationals organization. My guess was that the team wanted one big press release as opposed to 19 two-line releases, but that was shot to hell when they announced the signing of Shawn Pleffner yesterday. So my current theory is as follows.... _____?

Anyway, glad to see that we have some pieces already signed and playing ball. Now if only we could get the top 4 picks signed prior to 10 minutes before the August 15th deadline.

Thoughts, CapBallers? Sound off in the comments section!

Monday, June 20, 2011

More Morse

Seriously, how good has Michael Morse been? You are going to hear a lot of talk about him in the MSM in the next few weeks leading up to the All-Star Game, deservedly so. You see, Morse just garnered enough Plate Appearances to qualify for all of the MLB Leaderboards, and boy did he show up. Lets check out his season in comparison with other NL Players.

.309 Batting Average - 8th in NL
.564 Slugging % - 4th in NL
.921 OPS - 6th in NL
15.7 AB/HR - 6th in NL
.255 ISO - 5th in NL
.391 wOBA - 9th in NL
43 RBI - 15th in NL

After starting the season mired in a dreadful slump, hitting just .211 in April, he more than made up for it by hitting .403 in May and .328 in June. It seemed to all come alive when Morse moved to the infield as well, hitting .355 as a first-baseman. It would be great to see Morse be rewarded with an All-Star birth, but I expect we will be seeing him watching the game from home.

Either way, we are witnessing a player having a career year, enjoy it.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Former Nats Greats - #22

It's been a while, so welcome back here to the Hall of Former Nats Greats. A place where we celebrate all that defines the Nats past, those players who (mostly) failed in such a great fashion they were never heard from again except from within the walls of this Hallowed Blog. Today's edition has one of the most-fun names ever to appear in a Nats Uniform, and actually had surprisingly good numbers.

Today we would like to take the time to honor...

Jonathan Albaladejo!

C'mon, you know you can hear Bob Carpenter trying to pronounce this name in his "Spanish" accent. Anyway...

Have you ever seen that show on HGTV, Flip This House? No? Well, uhh, neither have I... Moving on... The premise of that show is that you take a house that is run down, fix it up, and sell it for profit.

Jonathan Albaladejo is Flip This House.

He was Drafted in 2001 by the Pirates, and released 6 years later, and it was barely a week later that the Nats were able to sign the big Right-Hander for to a minor league deal. Albaladejo spent the majority of the season split between AA and AAA, he earned a September call-up where he dressed to impress.

His first appearance was arguably his best as well, pitching 1.2 innings against the Fish, he struck out 3 and allowed 0 hits. He didn't look back either.

In 15 appearances spanning 14.1 IP, Albaladejo only gave up 7 hits and 3 ER while striking out 12 with only 2 walks. That places his 2007 at a 1.88 ERA and a 0.628 WHIP with a 0.3 WAR.

After the season it looked as though the Nats found a piece that they could use in their bullpen for years to come, but so did the Yankees who traded a young 22 year-old starter for Albaladejo. That man was Tyler Clippard.

Everything worked out perfectly for the Nats as Clippard turned into one of the top Bullpen arms in all of baseball, while Albaladejo never again pitched even close to how well he did in 2007.

Albaladejo - 2008-Present = -0.2 WAR
Clippard - 2008-Present = 1.9 WAR and Counting

This trade goes down as one of Jim Bowden's best moves as General Manager of the Nats. Well done Albaladejo, thank you for your continued contribution to the Nationals.

Ollie-Watch: Taking A Flier [UPDATE]

During the past few years, one of the worst pitchers in the National League played for the New York Mets. After two years of 6.81 ERA and a WHIP over 1.90, the Mets decided that it was finally time to eat 12$ million and release Oliver Perez. Boosted by relationships within the Nationals organization, the Mexican 29 year-old LHP signed a minor league contract with the club on March 23rd.

After reporting to Extended Spring Training, Perez's velocity jumped up to the low-90s (according to reports) as opposed to the mid/upper 80s he had been throwing in Port St. Lucie with the Mets. Eventually, after enough work fixing his mechanics, it was time for Perez to be assigned to a club. So come mid-May Perez was sent to AA Harrisburg to start the trek back to the Majors. Of course, Perez will be paid the minimum by the Nats this year, while the Mets still owe him $12 Million. Which begs the question, will he make it to Nats Park in 2011? Let's take a look at the numbers.

Since his May callup, Perez has started 5 games with pretty impressive results.

May 19: 5 IP. 1 H. 1 R. 0 ER. 2 BB. 3 K. Win.
May 25: 1 IP. 1 H. 1 R. 1 ER. 0 BB. 1 K. (Suspended after 1 inning due to rain)
May 29: 6 IP. 5 H. 0 R. 0 ER. 0 BB. 5 K. Win.
June 4: 7 IP. 8 H. 3 R. 3 ER. 1 BB. 7 K. Loss.
June 11: 5.1 IP. 7 H. 3 R. 2 ER. 0 BB. 7 K.

That puts his stats on the year at...
2-1 W-L
2.22 ERA
1.027 WHIP
7.00 SO/BB ratio

Granted these numbers are against AA competition, but if these numbers were in Major League action this would give Perez career best numbers in all three categories; better than in 2004 when he won 12 games with a 2.98 ERA and 1.153 WHIP.

Perez's next start is scheduled for this evening against the Altoona Curve, and we will see if he can continue his comeback. With the current state of flux of the Nats Bullpen (12 different relievers used so far), it is entirely possible that Perez may make an appearance at Nationals Park in the next few months, provided that he continues his resurgence.

We will be paying attention to the next few months of Ollie Perez's performance in a little segment I like to call, Ollie-Watch. So stay tuned.

[UPDATE - 10:02 AM]

As of early this morning, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post reports that Oliver Perez has been placed on the DL. So much for paying attention to his start tonight.

Do you think that Perez might make it to bigs again this year? Sound off in the comments!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ultimate Team Rankings

ESPN.com's SportsNation came out with their annual survey of professional sports franchises, based on 8 different criteria from affordability to owners. Lets break down the numbers a little bit. First, the categories (straight from the ESPN.com website).

Bang For The Buck (BNG): Wins during the past three years (regular season plus postseason) per revenues directly from fans, adjusted for league schedules.

Fan Relations (FRL): Openness and consideration toward fans by players, coaches and management.

Ownership (OWN): Honesty and loyalty to core players and local community.

Affordability (AFF): Price of tickets, parking and concessions.

Stadium Experience (STX): Quality of arena and game-day promotions as well as friendliness of environment.

Players (PLA): Effort on the field and likability off it.

Coaching (CCH): Strength of on-field leadership.

Title Track (TTR): Championships already won or expected in the lifetime of current fans.

All points averaged together had the Nationals ranked #78 out of the 122 franchises in the four major North American sports.

Here are their individual rankings:
Bang for the Buck: 87
Fan Relations: 73
Affordability: 44
Stadium Experience:
Players: 75
Title Track:

It comes as little surprise that the Nationals garnered their worst ratings in the Bang for the Buck category; essentially judging the Nats performance on the field. It also comes as little surprise that the Nats placed well in the affordability category, due to their $5 walk-up tickets, and 10$ sections all over the park.

The title track section is definitely the most depressing, meaning we shouldn't be expecting a parade down South Capitol Street anytime in the near future.

How did the Nats fare with the rest of Major League Baseball, and the rest of DC?

Nats Rank 23rd in MLB - sandwiched between the New York Yankees at #22 and the Boston Red Sox at #24.

And in DC the Nats are 2nd behind the Capitals (27th) and well ahead of the Wizards (110th) and Redskins (121st).

The Nats are listed behind the Orioles who come in at #67.

What does all this mean? Not much, but it's still fun.

So, do the Nats deserve their 78th rating? Sound off in the comments.

We're Going Streaking!

Don't look now, but the Nats aren't in 5th place in the NL East (though only because of a tie with the Fish). Still a wonderful development that we here at Capitol Baseball are thrilled with. This wonderful 5 game winning streak (the Nats longest since 2009) has gotten us all nostalgic about past Nats winning streaks. So let's take a quick look at the past few streaks that have gone 5 games or more.

September 28 - October 4th, 2009 (7 Games)

The Nats were well on the way to one of the worst seasons in modern history, and with 7 games to go in the season they held a dreadful 52-103 record. Facing the Mets for three games, one expected the Nats to be able to win at least 1 game - but they ended up taking all three. Highlights included four 1-run wins, as well as Ross Detwiler's first career win.

Your winning pitchers vs the Mets? Detwiler, Clippard, Villone.

After this the Nats went to Atlanta to face the downtrodden Braves, who had been eliminated from Playoff contention hours before the first pitch of game one. The Nats were able to capitalize, taking all four games from the Braves - the last two in 11 and 15 innings, respectively.

Your winning pitchers vs the Braves? Clippard, Hernandez, Segovia (!), and Kensing (!!)

And even better. Your starting lineup from the last game of the season/streak?
Maxwell - 8
Desmond - 6
Orr - 5
Dukes - 9
Morse - 3
Bard - 2
Gonzalez - 4
Padilla - 7
Martin - 1

Wow. Jorge Padilla, Josh Bard, Pete Orr (hitting 3rd no less!). This is a smorgasboard of Former Nats Greats.

August 2 - 8, 2009. (8 Games)

Defining the 2009 season, the Nats had some crazy streaks both good and bad. This one is definitely the one shining moment from that season. The Nats were able to win 8 straight against the Pirates, Fish, and D'Backs. Let's check out some of the highlights.

The first two games were against the Pirates, and it should be noted that the Nats came into the game with a 32-72 record. Both of the wins were in "come from behind" fashion, lead by solid bullpen action and hot hitting Josh Willingham. The two wins, predictably, came from the bullpen; Clippard and Burnett.

Always being the Marlin's punching bag, the Nats were able to sweep them in the middle of their streak.
-The first game was another comebacker, with Adam Dunn homering in the 8th to give the Nats a 2-run lead.
-In the second game of the series, the Nats held the lead, barely; getting John Lannan the win thanks to an XBH parade of doubles, triples, and Homers (oh my!).
-Game three was probably the most impressive, as the Nats came back from a 6-run deficit to win the game 12-8. The pitching decisions? Sosa with the Win. Luis Ayala with the Loss. Interesting...

Next up was the D'Backs, who the Nats have had some success against in the recent past.
- Game one was a Garrett Mock win, in which he out-dueled Dan Haren and the Nats came from behind to win yet again.
- JD Martin's first major league win, lead by Elijah Dukes' three RBIs.

My favorite stat about these streaks is that Mike MacDougal picked up 4 of his 20 saves on the first streak, and 5 of the 20 on the second streak. Just brilliant.

There you have it, the Nats most recent winning streaks 5 games or more.

Do you have any memories of these great streaks? Does the title of this post make you want to watch Old School? Do you think that the Nats are going to be able to match/beat these streaks this week??

Washington Nationals: Baseball Team

It's been a rough/weird season to be a Nats fan. Despite being 32-36, the team as just felt a lot worse than that. The pitching has been good, the offense has been abysmal, and the games have been boring. Werth, the $127 million man, has been merely average, Zimm had been hurt, and LaRoche is done for the year.

Two weeks ago, though, the Nats went on an extended west coast road trip and came away with more wins than losses. Not a small task for this Nationals team. But things really seemed to turn around when the Nats took 3 of 4 from the struggling Padres. The low scoring games and newly shuffled lineup showed the Nats could be successful while playing small ball. But then they came home, and big ball returned in a big way.

The Nats have scored 18 runs in 2 games and has won 5 consecutive games for the first time since 2009. Let's look at our top 5 exclusively fantastic list of reasons why the Nats have looked this good.:
  1. Ryan Zimmerman - I mean, come on. How could #1 possibly be anything else? When Zimm is in the lineup, the team just feels different. I literally felt giddy watching his return on Tuesday, and it didn't disappoint.
  2. New lineup - Ever since Riggs put Werth at the top of the lineup on Saturday with the pitcher hitting 8th, the Nats haven't lost a game. It's just a fact, whether you agree with the new lineup or not, and you've gotta stick with what's working.
  3. Clutch hitting - the Nats nearly blew Sunday's game against the Padres by starting the game something like 0 for 16 with RISP, but that hasn't been the case against the Cards. Clutch, 2 out hitting has been abundant throughout the games.
  4. Michael Morse - Morse is making a ridiculously strong case to make his first career All-Star Game, but being at 1B certainly works against him (see: Pujols, Fielder, Howard, et al). That said, he's hitting .339 in June hitting full-time and hit .405 in May part-time. He just can't stop raking against ever pitcher he faces. He's also played great defense at 1B, which leads us to...
  5. Defense, defense, defense - The Nats haven't committed an error in 127 innings (June 1 against the Phillies) and that is a stark difference compared with previous seasons. It's fun to watch young players, and even older ones, play so remarkably in the field. It's also staggering to us that ANYONE thinks it's a good idea to run on Ramos and Pudge, under any circumstances. They're unreal.
So those are our top 5 difference makers that is making the Nats look like a real baseball team for the time being. What are some of your tops, CapBallers?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Z-Man Returns To Washington

Today is a wonderful day in NatsTown. The sun is shining; the breeze is light; the humidity is low; the temperature is perfect. But all that has nothing to do with what makes today so wonderful. Finally, after nearly 2 long months, Ryan Zimmerman will return to the Washington Nationals lineup tonight.

I don't know about all of you, but I'm about as excited for Zimm's return as I possibly could be. Having good old #11 in the lineup just makes everything feel better. We all know Ryan Zimmerman's value to the Nats, but just in case, let's recap.

Ryan's career batting average is .289 with a cool .356 OBP, and has a .485 SLG. In the 8 games he appeared in this season, he's sporting a .357/.486/.536 slash line. And all of that was done while nursing the injury that eventually required surgery.

I planned on going into a deep philosophical discussion on why Ryan Zimmerman is the most underrated player in baseball, but Dave Cameron over at Fangraphs.com did a much better job than I could ever do. So in celebration of Ryan Zimmerman Day, please read this fantastic article, "The Criminally Underrated Ryan Zimmerman."

Monday, June 13, 2011

Lannan's Secret to Success

John Lannan has had a great season so far, especially considering that last year at this time he was a week away from a trip to Syracuse for poor performance. So far he is on pace for career highs in ERA, FIP, WAR, and wins. What is most interesting is that when I have watched him pitch, he has been getting rocked - the opposing players have been hitting everything very hard. It seemed like every hit ball in the first 4 innings yesterday was a rocket shot that our suddenly stellar defense was about to track down or make a play on.

Being a big believer in stats, I went to fangraphs to try and figure out why/how Lannan has been able to put up these career numbers. But here's the thing. I couldn't figure it out.

- His K/9 is higher than his career average, but not a career high.
- His BB/9 is his highest ever.
- His BABIP is .283. His career BABIP? .283.
- His WHIP is 1.41. His career WHIP? Yep. 1.41.
- His GB% (Groundball Percentage) is a mere 0.7% below his career average.
- His BAA (Batting Average Against) is only .007 lower than his career average.

I just don't get it.

At times it seems like Lannan is working quicker on the mound, but at times he seems to be Yunesky Maya slow.

Seemingly the only three things I can find are slightly obscure, and don't fully explain his 2011 success.

- His Z-Contact% (Percentage of contact of pitches in the strike zone) is down more than 5% from his career total. Meaning, he is getting more swings and misses.

- Lannan's fastball is sitting at 89.7 MPH, 1.5 MPH higher than his career average. And even more interesting is that his fastball velocity has gotten faster each year since he debuted in 2007 with an 86.7 MPH average fastball velocity.

- I know his BABIP is right in line with his career average, but the Nationals have been played stellar defense of late, setting a new Franchise Record errorless streak.

Any of you CapBallers have any other idea why Lannan is on his way to a career year?

Friday, June 10, 2011

MLB Draft in Review

The MLB Draft has come and gone, and the first players are beginning to sign on the dotted line. It's time for us to take a brief look at the Nationals Draft haul from top to bottom.

1st Round - #6 Anthony Rendon - 3B
Watching the draft unfold while monitoring twitter was fascinating, especially when Seattle shocked the baseball world by skipping over Rendon (and other bats) to take UVA Standout Danny Hultzen. It was well known that the D'Backs and O's were on the lookout for pitching, and it came as little surprise that the Royals drafted hometown hero, Bubba Starling. But things turned out in the Nationals favor as they drafted Baseball America's #1 prospect going into the draft, the Rice third baseman. As I wrote the other day, expect a long and contentious negotiation ending with a signature before the deadline.

Money Guess? $7 Million

1st Round - #23 Alex Meyer - RHP
The first thing that stands out is Meyer's size, the big right-hander is 6' 9" tall. And if you have ever seen a tall pitcher (think Randy Johnson, Jon Rauch, or Daniel Cabrera [please don't]) you know that they can be tough to hit against. In addition to the fear for the batter, it takes pitchers quite a long time to get comfortable with their body; Randy Johnson was extremely wild in the beginning of his career. After posting ugly +5 ERAs the past two years, Meyer was able to turn it around for his Junior year putting up a 7-5 record wit ha 2.97 ERA. He struck out 110 in just 101 innings while throwing 95-96 MPH with his fastball. Meyer was a target for the Nats with the 6th pick, so to be able to get him and Rendon is a quality first round.

Money Guess? $1.5 Million

Supplemental 1st Round - #34 Brian Goodwin - OF
Goodwin was considered to be the best athlete in the draft by Baseball America. Starting his college career at the University of North Carolina, Goodwin had to transfer to Junior College after academic issues wrecked his eligibility. Capable of playing all outfield positions, Goodwin has the ability to both hit for average and for power.

Money Guess? Slot

3rd Round - #96 Matt Purke - LHP
At the beginning of the 2011 NCAA baseball season, Matt Purke was considered to be a Top 3 player by most organizations only to have a shoulder issue derail part of his season. NCAA Freshman of the Year, Purke went 16-0 with a 3.02 ERA in 2010 only to struggle in 2011. A ballsy move by the Nationals as Purke can re-enter the draft next year, credit must be given to Rizzo and company on this pick - now they only need to shell out the bills it will cost to sign him.

Money Guess? $6 Million.

5th Round - #217 Brian Durpa - RHP
More Rizzo college arms here. The Notre Dame senior has a solid fastball that can reach 95 MPH and a decent slider. Baseball America calls him on of the best senior signs to that point in the draft.

19th Round - #577 Hawtin Buchanan - RHP
Hawtin is a big high school kid that has a lot of potential, but has already committed to attend Ole Miss to start his college career in 2012. It is going to take some money to get the 6' 8", 230 pounder to break that commitment, but it is possible that the Nats can pull an AJ Cole/Robbie Ray and get a late round steal.

28th Round - #847 Ken Ferrer - RHP
Another College Arm, this time from Elon University, he has a fastball that can reach 94 MPH but struggles due to a lack of an "out-pitch".

30th Round - #907 Bryan Harper - LHP
The Nats picked several Scott Boras clients in the first few rounds, but didn't jump at the chance to take his son, Trent (represented by Scott's wife), instead drafting Bryce Harper's brother out of the University of South Carolina. Purely a tip of the hat move for the Nationals.

31st Round - #937 Josh Tobais - SS
Tobais is a "stocky" middle-infielder who Baseball America projects more at second base or center field. Chalk-full of potential, this North Carolina kid is committed to play ball for the Florida Gators and would be a tough sign.

Whew, Thanks to the amazing folks at Baseball America for making this recap happen. And to further analyze the Nats 2011 Draft haul, lets look to expert Jim Callis (once again, from Baseball America) for some responses (from his post-draft chat).

"It's hard to take Rendon when he's not 100 percent physically and when the only medical records you get are what the player and adviser are willing to give you. I understand that. I still think Rendon will be the best player from this draft in the long run."

"I understand why Rendon slid to 6, as mentioned earlier, but the Nationals may have gotten the best player in the draft for the third straight year."

"Impressive haul of talent, to be sure. They got a guy I thought was the best in the draft with the No. 6 pick (Rendon), a guy at No. 23 they would have considered at No. 6 (Meyer), one of the best athletes available (Goodwin) and a guy who entered the year as the third-rated prospect in the whole draft (Purke). My gut feel is that they won't sign Purke, but they'll still have had a very good haul."

Some kind words for the talent drafted by Mike Rizzo and company. Now is the hard part - using the Lerner's money to sign some of these impact, but tough-to-sign players by the deadline on August 15th. Stay tuned to Baseball America's 2011 Nats Database for updates on which players have signed on the dotted line.

Don't forget, it takes years to determine the value of any one draft class, but if the Nats top 4 picks all sign the Nats will be sitting pretty.

Well, CapBallers, what do you think of the draft class? Are you happy that they took some chances? Do you think Purke will sign? Share your thoughts in the comments!

So Much For Detwiler's Breakout Year

On Thursday morning, Capitol Baseball got its first live look at Ross Detwiler in an outing for the Syracuse Chiefs, who were taking on the Louisville Bats (awesome). Detwiler took a perfect game into the 4th inning, and he ended up getting the win (5-5 on the season), but things aren't looking so great for Rossy D. overall. We were excited about Ross's progress to start the season, because his stats looked great in spring training and had a quick start in the International League. Here's why we're concerned, now.

There are a few things about looking at Detwiler's line that are pretty easy to point out from the start. His 5.13 ERA while pitching to minor league talent is certainly of serious concern and so is the .387 BABIP that opposing hitters are putting up against him. Compared with his stint last year in Syracuse, his strikeouts per 9 innings are up, but his walks per 9 innings have nearly doubled.

In addition to the increased walks, we're extremely concerned with Detwiler's steadily decreasing velocity. In 2007, Detwiler's average fastball velocity was 93.2 mph, which showed he had could be the power lefty the Nats lacked. In 2009, Detwiler's average velocity dropped to 91.1 mph for his fastball and recorded an 84.2 mph changeup, on average. In 2010, Detwiler's fastball velocity dropped further to 89.8 mph and his changeup velocity increased to 84.8 mph.

What does that mean? Well, one of the most important parts of pitching is deception. When Detwiler averages a fastball that is only 5 mph faster than his changeup, it makes it difficult to surprise hitters. During his outing on Thursday, we never saw Detwiler break the 90 mph mark with his heater. His changeup stuck around 83 mph. What's worse, he doesn't show the command that a pitcher that only throws in the upper-80s needs to succeed.

For all these reasons, and despite our rave reviews in April, we are legitimately concerned that Ross Detwiler will turn out to be the first big time draft bust in the Nats organization. No, I won't say Chris Marrero (2006) will be a bust, yet, but Detwiler is certainly heading in that direction. Here's hoping whatever's going on with Rossy D. can be resolved soon.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Capitol Baseball Has Gone Mobile

You can now access CapitolBaseball.com from your mobile phone in an easy-to-read format. Just head to our site from your iPhone, iPod touch, Android, BlackBerry, or any other web-enabled mobile device, and you can read and comment on our posts on a daily basis. It looks awesome, so keep Capitol Baseball with you on the go!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Stephen Strasburg's Debut: 1 Year Later

On June 8, 2010, one year ago today, Nats fans were witness to perhaps the best game in the history of the Washington Nationals organization, and certainly the best non-Opening Day game. Nationals Park was standing room only, and neither the Phillies nor the Red Sox were in town. Just one thing was different: the rookie-phenom Stephen Strasburg was making his major league debut. I got chills even as I wrote that sentence, because it invokes so many vivid and exceptional memories.

From the team-record 14 strikeouts, to the home runs hit by Zimmerman, Dunn, and Willingham, to the organic "Let's Go Nats!" chants swelling across the park, it was a game that Nats fans will never forget. It was just a preview of what this town could look like once the organization puts a playoff product together.

For now, though, the Nationals and their fans just have to keep that wonderful June memory firmly planted in their heads while Strasburg continues his recovery from Tommy John surgery. It would be surprising if we saw the young star back in DC this season, as the 12 month mark wouldn't be until September 3, and this team will likely be far from competitive at that point.

But thinking about the hope generated on one evening in early-June 2010 and translating them into a full season sure can get you excited, even though many of the pieces from last year are no longer with the organization (Matt Capps, Adam Dunn, John Willingham, Nyjer Morgan, Cristian Guzman).

Just think, though. With Strasburg as the 2012 Opening Day starter, Jordan Zimmermann and a resurgent John Lannan behind him, a few strategic pitching pickups, and a healthy Zimmerman, Werth, and LaRoche at the heart of the lineup, it almost has us excited for next season before this one hits the half way mark.

In the short term (this season), we look forward to when Stephen Strasburg gets back on a mound and pitches to live batters again. For us, that will be the first thing to get the buzz going across NatsTown about Stephen Strasburg again, and that wonderful moment can't possibly come soon enough.

We'd love to reminisce with all you CapBallers out there. What are you fondest memories about the night when Baseball Jesus came to Washington for the first time?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

John Lannan Has Turned a Corner

One year ago today, John Lannan was sporting a 5.00 ERA and a 2-3 record. He struggled to throw strikes and struggled even more to keep the ball down in the strike zone. Lannan, the Nats' Opening Day starter last season, was just a few starts away from being demoted to AA Harrisburg for over a month.

Fast forward to last night's dominating performance against the San Francisco Giants. Lannan made his way through 7 innings, gave up just 1 run on 4 hits, induced 9 ground balls, and got 6 strikeouts. He was the benefactor of some decent offense by the Nats, too. Despite all of that, Lannan ended up with a no decision because a combination of Coffey, Burnett, and Rodriguez were unable to hold on. Anyways, Lannan has made it through at least 6 innings in 5 of his last 6 starts. In those same 6 starts, he's induced double digit ground ball outs in half of them.

In 2 of his last 3 starts, he has been the victim of a blown save in his dominating 2-hit shutout performance over 7.2 innings against the Padres on May 27th and a blown 3-run lead on Monday night against the Giants after pitching 7 strong innings. All in all, the Nats are 7-5 (as of 1:03 am EDT Tuesday) 7-6 (edit: Tuesday 9:30am) when John Lannan starts the baseball game, and that ain't bad. The only pitcher in the Nationals rotation with more team victories in starts is Jason Marquis (9).

With every outing, Lannan seems to get stronger, and in 12 of his 13 starts, Lannan has made it through at least 5 innings. His breaking stuff is getting better; his fastball is getting harder with more consistency, getting up into the low-90s. He's striking batters out with increasing frequency. His BB/9 is right at the league average: 3.30, so he's had pretty good control.

With all this good news, I thought there must be something out there that would indicate he was due for an implosion. I read and read and even looked at our trusty friend, BABIP, for assistance. Even there, Lannan is right at the league average: around .300. With the way Lannan has pitched lately, it looks like he may be legitimately here to stay. Maybe that first win over Philadelphia is all John needed to help his career fly upwards. Maybe it's just an anomaly, and he'll come crashing down to mediocrity.

What do you think, CapBallers? Is this the real John Lannan?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Compensation [UPDATE]

One of the great things about baseball's Collective Bargaining Agreement is that when Small Market (or bad) teams have star players who leave during free agency, those teams get something in return. And thats just what happened for those Nats when Adam Dunn chose to sign a 4 year deal with the White Sox. Regardless of the team Dunn signed with, the Nationals would have received two compensation picks due to Dunn's past performance, but the Nats lucked out in that the White Sox were just out of the woods for "protected pick" status; meaning, they had a good enough record last year that their 1st round pick wasn't protected. It should be noted that the Nats had a protected pick, and therefore lost their 2nd round pick to the Phillies for signing Jayson Werth.

By not trading Dunn midseason last year, the Nats took a chance that they wouldn't even get solid compensation in return if he signed with a struggling team. Anyway, the Nats seem to have won out of this deal, seeing as though as of today the Nats are going to be picking 23rd (White Sox 1st round spot) and 34th overall (1st pick in the Compensation or "Sandwich" round). And lets be honest, imagine getting two top 35 picks for Adam Dunn considering his performance so far this year: .179 AVG, 5 HR, 17 RBI, 78 K in 184 ABs.

And with the 23rd overall pick in the 2011 Draft, the Nationals were able to select 6' 9" RHP Alex Meyer from the University of Kentucky. Obviously the height is the first thing that jumps out, the second being his fastball which he can throw consistently in the upper 90s. MLBNetwork's player evalutation rates his fastball at a 8 (on the 2-8 scouting scale), with his slider projeccted to get to a 6, change up at 6, and control at a 5. According to Adam Kilgore, scouts in the room are elated at his "Jet Fuel"-type fastball. Considering the Nats were thinking about taking him at 6th overall, its a steal to get him all the way down at 23.

[UPDATE - 10:19PM]

With the first pick of the Sandwich round, the Nationals start off by taking OF Brian Goodwin from the Miami Dade College. He hit .382 with 8 HR this year in JuCo action. A very toolsy outfielder with raw power is how the MLBN team describes the speedy Goodwin.

Stay tuned for more MLB Draft coverage tomorrow!

With the 6th Pick in the Draft...

... the Washington Nationals select Rice 3B Anthony Rendon!

So, it appears at though GM Mike Rizzo is going to have to spend another summer negotiating contracts with Rendon's advisor, Scott Boras. On the bright side, the Nationals currently possess 8 Boras clients on the 40-man roster, so Rizzo and Boras appear to have a solid working relationship.

In the past, the team has not shied away from drafting players with "signability issues"; meaning, players committed to playing their senior years/college years. Once again. Rizzo has continued his persuit of the best possible player, by drafting the Rice third-baseman that has been dogged by injury problems. One thought of as the top hitter in the draft, Anthony Rendon played in mostly a DH role for the Owls, as his shoulder has been on the mend - I wouldn't be surprised if Rendon is transitioned to first-base, as the Nats seem to be more than set at the 3B position..

The Nationals should be extremely happy to have drafted another top notch player a year after drafting Bryce Harper. Giving the Nats Strasburg, Harper, and Rendon in the past 3 years drafts. Expect negotionals to last up until the last minute of the deadline for the third year in a row.

Well, CapBallers, do you think the Nationals made out well?

T-Minus Two Hours

So. We are now about two hours away from the start of the 2011 MLB First Year Player Draft, where the Nationals own the 6th pick. By now, you have seen the players targeted by the Nats, and done your research.

It's now question time. You are in the GM Chair in the War Room. Who are you taking?

Do you have the HS Stud Bubba Starling, the Local Prospect (with a $20 Million inheritance if he becomes a doctor) Danny Hultzen, Top HS Pitcher Dylan Bundy, UCLA Stud Trevor Cole, or do you come out of Left Field and take the road less traveled?

Its up to you CapBallers, who do you got?

Draft Day, Baby

Tonight at 7PM on the MLBN, the Nationals will do something that they haven't done since 2008 - not pick first. In what has been called the "deepest draft in years", the Front Office will have no shortage of top quality players. Even better for the Nats, who draft 6th, is that there is a general consensus on the top 6 players, meaning that regardless of who is taken in the first 5, there will be one left. Lets take a quick look at the players in question, as well as checking out some "mock drafts" by the experts.

Danny Hultzen - LHP - University of Virginia
A local product playing in Charlottesville (Zim's alma mater), the tall lefty went 11-3 in the regular season with a 1.57 ERA in 103.1 IP with a whopping 148 strikeouts. Pitching in this weekends NCAA Regionals for his #1 seeded Cavaliers, Hultzen threw 7 innings of ball, allowing 3 hits, 1 run, and striking out 12.

Anthony Rendon - 3B - Rice University
This third-baseman has had his share of injury problems this year, being dogged by a nagging shoulder issue that could affect his draft status. This year with the Rice Owls, Rendon hit .327 with a 1.043 OPS, while showing a little bit of pop, speed and solid D.

Gerrit Cole - RHP - UCLA
One of two standout pitchers for UCLA, Cole put together a solid year despite some inconsistencies. Entering the year as the Top College pitching prospect, Cole struggled a bit but still helped UCLA to a successful regular season. He went 6-8 with a 3.31 ERA.

Trevor Bauer - RHP - UCLA
Here is the other UCLA top notch pitcher for 2011, and he has exceeded expectations. Bauer was nothing short of incredible, posting an amazing 12-3 record with a 1.25 ERA. Oh yea, and his struck out 203 in 136.2 IP, with only 36 walks. He has thrown 9 straight complete games as well.

Dylan Bundy - RHP - Owasso HS (Oklahoma)
The only thing sweeping down the plains in Oklahoma this year has been Dylan Bundy's fastball. Its not everyday that there is a player coming out of high school that has 100 MPH gas, but Bundy's got it. Shorter than your average MLB pitcher (6' 1"), Bundy is the nation's best High School pitcher - as evidenced by his 11-0 Record with a 0.20 ERA, 158 K in just 71 IP. He only allowed 2 ER all season.

Bubba Starling - OF - Gardner Edgerton HS (Kansas)
He has been called a "true five-tool player" by Draft Guru Jonathan Mayo, and the "best athlete in the draft" by Baseball America. This Centerfielder has possibly the most potential of any player in the draft, with speed, pop, defense, and the ability to hit for average. The elephant in the room however is that this Boras client is also a football star (apparently he can throw a football 50 yards from his knees) who has committed to Nebraska to play CF on the diamond and QB on the gridiron.

So, there you have the run-down on the consensus top 6 for today's draft, in no particular order. Now, let's take a look at what the experts project for the Nats at #6.

Jonathan Mayo - MLB.com - Trevor Bauer

Jim Callis - Baseball America - Bubba Starling

David Rawnsley - PerfectGame.org - Bubba Starling

Keith Law - ESPN.com - Bubba Starling

Kevin Goldstein - Baseball Prospectus - Bubba Starling

Brian Oliver - Nats Farm Authority - 50/50 Bauer/Starling

I'm not by any means a prospect expert, but those guys are. My wish is for Hultzen to fall to the Nats, but that most certainly won't happen - so I'm guessing that the Nats will be taking Bubba Starling with the 6th pick. Expect it.

It should also be mentioned that the Nats get two compensation picks for Adam Dunn (who is hitting .179 and has fallen all the way to the 7 hole), so they will also be picking 23rd and 34th. I would think that the Nats are going to take the best available pitcher, most likely an MLB-ready college arm. It wouldn't surprise me if the team picked a "signable" player, one who would sign quickly and at/around slot.

Tune in to MLBNetwork at 7PM, and make sure you check out Capitol Baseball for all your draft analysis needs!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Jordan Zimmermann's Solid Start

In the beginning there was Rizzo, and along with Rizzo came a draft philosophy that had not been seen for the Nats. Here was the guy that made the Diamondback's system one of the deepest in the game, now with the DC Curly W's. It was a coup to steal him away from the D'backs, one of Bowden's best moves no doubt. And along with his philosophy came dedication, a dedication to find the best out there regardless of school or location. His journey took him to a town of 25,000 to see a pitcher no one had heard of. A cold-weather kid, as Rizzo describes him, who has the potential to be a top of the line big-league starter. His career path turned out the be quite unique, and it seems to finally be coming to fruition.

Zimmermann rocketed to the bigs after just 36 minor league starts, making his debut in 2009. With a top-notch fastball, Jordan kept up his persona of a power pitcher while something more lurked beneath the surface. Taking his lumps in the pros, as opposed to the minors, seemed to be the smart move as he racked up a 1.8 WAR in his first year. Things would take a down turn midseason, and you know the rest. A visit to Dr. James Andrews and Tommy John Surgery soon followed.

After an extremely quick recvovery, Zimmermann came back in late 2010 to start 7 games. Those games did not go very well, as to be expected. His HR/9 and BB/9 rates were way up, and his K/9 numbers went way down. Pundits and analysts were hoping that this would be "the year" for Zimmermann, when he finally makes the leap to front-line starter. Well, how is that going so far...

I'm glad you asked.

You have seen the ERA and the W-L record, but we here at Capitol Baseball like to look a little deeper. Just how has Zimmermann managed to become the Nats best pitcher.

Jordan Zimmermann has put his ego aside, choosing to be a contact pitcher - not a strikeout pitcher. As Bull Durham taught us, strikeouts are boring and besides that they're fascist. By pitching to contact, he has been able to lower his P/PA to a career low 3.72 (pitches per plate appearance), extending his outings and using his stuff properly. You see, strikeouts take at least 3 pitches P/PA and can severely shorten a pitchers outing.

One of the ways that he is able to accomplish this is by throwing his fastball a career low 58.4% of the time, limiting the stress on his arm. And when you don't throw fastballs as much, its harder for the opposition to hit the ball out of the ball park. By choosing to get outs the democratic way, Zimmermann's HR/FB rate (% of Fly-Balls that are Homers) has gone from 12.2% in '09 and 22.2% in '10 to just 3.4% this year. The corollary is that his K/9 is at a career low 6.42 K/9, a trade-off that is most acceptable for the value that he provides to the team; 1.8 WAR through 11 games.

Through trusting his defense and pitching to contact, Zimmermann has so far put up career best numbers (NL Ranks in parentheses) in HR/9 (6th), BB/9 (7th), WHIP (14th), and FIP (7th). Jordan Zimmermann can bring it with the best of them, and it bodes very well for the future of this organization; especially with the expected 2012 return of co-ace Stephen Strasburg.

Michael Morse and his Surreal Streak

Because of the way the All-Star Game is selected (don't get me started), it's unlikely that a position player will end up a representative for the Nats in the Mid-Summer Classic. But one hefty argument could be made that Michael Morse would be the absolute best player to represent the Nats in Arizona in July.

The man they call Michael couldn't have started the season any worse after an incredible spring training. In March and April, Morse hit .211 with just 1 HR in 71 at-bats. People around NatsTown, including us, just figured it was the difference between hitting against guys working on stuff in Florida versus pitchers trying to get a win. But since May 1, Morse has proven just how wrong we were.

Since May began, Morse has logged 70 at-bats (compared to the 71 in March/April) and is hitting an awesome .429 with 6 HR. He's made great contact in at-bats and his strikeout rate has plummeted. On top of all that, Morse has put together a nice 11-game hit-streak that is still going, and he shows no signs of slowing down. Michael's successes seem to be lifting the Nats' bats out of their terrible slump.

As icing on the cake, his defense at first base has been impeccable since he replaced Adam LaRoche. He's committed no errors in over 110 chances at first base and continues to make great picks on throws in the dirt. It's easy to forget that this 6'5", 230 lb. monster used to play the middle infield in Seattle. He's got some real skills with the glove, and you'd never know it by watching him try to track a ball down in the outfield.

If Morse keeps up his offense and defense at first base, Nats GM Mike Rizzo is going to have a difficult decision to make for 2012. The Nats have LaRoche under contract next season, and it could be a matter of money and long-term career success, but you better believe it's a good problem to have.

But that's for another day. If you ask me, there's no doubt that, today, Michael Morse should be the Nationals All-Star representative in the 2011 Mid-Summer Classic.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Swing and a Miss

Welcome back to Capitol Baseball after a sustained Post-Memorial Day nap/food coma. And in the most shocking of shocking revelations, the Nats were able to take 2 of 3 against the MLB-best Phillies, and their trio of All-Star pitchers Halladay, Lee, and Oswalt. Most amazing of all is the 10 run outburst on Tuesday night.

Beating the Phillies is a relatively new thing for the DC Curly W's (especially John Lannan) but you have to look a little bit closer to see how they were able to get it done at home.

This season the Nats have been dogged by a bevy of strikeouts, due to a combination of young free-swingers (Desmond), combined with swing-for-the-fences veterans (Nix and Ankiel). Their 23.9 K% ranks 28th in baseball, just barely ahead of the Pirates and Fathers - as does their 432 strikeouts in just 55 games (putting the Nats on pace for roughly 1275 strikeouts by seasons end).

But a quick look at the last three games of the homestand and you see a different Nationals club. Less Strikeouts = more success.

Monday vs. Halladay - 7 K in 35 PAs - 20% K-rate
Tuesday vs. Lee - 7 K in 39 PAs - 17.9% K-rate
Wednesday vs. Oswalt - 6 K in 32 PAs - 18.75% K-rate

Total for the 3-game series - 20 K in 106 PA for an 18.86% K-rate which would place the Nats 7th best in all of baseball. Once again thats just 20 strikeouts in 106 Plate Appearances against 3 of the best pitchers in the National League - if not all of baseball.

If the Nats can keep this up, they just might be able to mount am attack on .500.