Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Closer Watch

The Nationals are now on their 4th string closer and no one has a clue who it actually will be.

Drew Storen is finally rehabbing after surgery to remove bone chips from his pitching elbow. Brad Lidge is throwing a baseball and should begin a rehab assignment soon after undergoing surgery for a sports hernia. And Henry Rodriguez came down with Daniel-Cabrera-itis and forgot how to throw a baseball.

Instead of going over just how bad the flamethrower has been over the past few weeks (minus a few fantastic performances), let's review the candidates for interim closer until Storen is healthy enough to return.

Tyler Clippard - The Frontrunner - 1 Career Save

He wants it. What a trooper this kid has been for the team, doing whatever they have asked when in reality the righty has coveted the closer's job for years now. According to comments the other day (h/t Kilgore) Clippard had this to say, "'I want it bad, I’ve been fighting for the opportunity for three years now. I feel like I’ve been over-stepped a few times along the way for the opportunity to get those saves, for whatever reason'". He has earned it.

His numbers as a reliever have been nothing short of staggering: 201 Games. .185 BAA. .599 OPS Against. 10.6 K/9. 1.063 WHIP. 2.57 ERA.

Ryan Mattheus - The Young Gun - 0 Career Saves

Oh wait. He is hurt. Just like everyone else. Nevermind...

Sean Burnett - The Lefty - 10 Career Saves

When Henry Rodriguez has failed in the past week Burnett has been there to pick him up in spectacular fashion. The first time he came in the bases were loaded after Henry Rodriguez chose to walk them loaded and, with one out, Burnett only needed one batter to get the job done. A double play later and the Nationals were 8-5 winners. Last night, Rodriguez's leash was much shorter - as Burnett started warming immediately after the first batter was walked. Burnett actually entered the game mid-at-bat. He got the job done yet again with a fly out and a line out. 

Burnett has been there when the team has needed him and he could very easily slot into that 9th inning role.

Craig Stammen - The Underdog - 0 Career Saves

If you listen to Nats Talk on the Go (Available on iTunes!) you know that Joe and I are huge fans of Craig Stammen. Like Clippard, Stammen is a player that failed as a starter and was successfully turned into a fantastic reliever with some incredible reliever splits.

40 Games. .231 BAA. .622 OPS Against. 9.9 K/9. 1.183 WHIP. 2.93 ERA.

He is sporting even better numbers this season (his first as a full-time reliever) - .200 BAA. .517 OPS Against. 9.7 K/9. .920 WHIP. 1.44 ERA.

He is definitely capable of filling in with a bit more consistency.

Ultimately it's wise that the Nationals use a "Closer-by-Committee" instead of naming a new closer. Brad Lidge will slide in the role as "Interim Closer" when he returns from his injury, but for now the Nationals are making the right call going with an all-hands-on-deck approach. It will help keep the competition on their toes. Though if you ask me, Clippard.

Who would you pick for the Nationals closer? The comments section awaits!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Nats Talk On The Go: Episode 19

In this week's podcast, we talk about Bryce Harper's defensive struggles and offensive success. The Nats pitching has still been great, and we talk about that in some detail, and of course, we discuss injuries. We go over the Ross Detwiler vs. Chien-Ming Wang debate, suck up to Steve Lombardozzi a bit more, and talk about how awesome it is that Ian Desmond is batting fifth. There's a lot more fun in this hour plus podcast, so tune in and enjoy.

Subscribe and rate us on iTunes, stream it below, or download it.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Missing Pieces

Breaking News: The Nats have some injured players. Michael Morse, Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos, Drew Storen, Brad Lidge, Chien-Ming Wang all missing in action. For previous Nats teams, the season would be over, but the current Nats, lets call them Nats 2.0: the Natitude Edition, have the tools to succeed in this almost worst case scenario. Why? Lets break it down:

Michael Morse, Jayson Werth: Undoubtedly, the Nats need Morse and Werth to contend, they are keystone pieces that cannot be replaced. But not only are they missing the production, Bryce Harper's development may well be stunted. Just two weeks into his MLB career, he needs serious protection in the line-up. It took opposing pitchers all of a week to stop pitching to him. He is fed a steady diet of out pitches and has expanded his zone in a press to produce. Not ideal. A line-up that includes Zimmerman, Morse, LaRoche and Werth is a much friendlier place for Harper to develop his approach as a major league player. (Unless he somehow figures out how to devour a steady diet of breaking pitches, in which case he is some sort of Ted Williams/Ken Griffey Jr. cyborg)

Wilson Ramos: Love Wilson Ramos. But over the first month of the season, coupled with Henry Rodriguez fragile psyche, have shown Ramos to be sub-par defensively. His ability to block balls in the dirt is not developed and that is not a calming influence on a young staff. Jesus Flores can play major league baseball. He showed already this weekend he is a better backstop (At one point during Sunday's disaster of a ninth inning Dave Jagler pointed out that one of HRod's 54 foot fastballs would have been at the backstop if Wilson Ramos were catching). I don't believe the offensive drop-off will be that steep, and in fact if you remember Jesus first season as a back stop, he was clutch at the plate, delivering a number of important hits with runners in scoring position.

Chien-Ming Wang: The Wang/Lannan/Detwiler problem has turned out in the best possible way for the Nats development. The talent prospect has realized much of his potential and seized a spot in the rotation. Wang can take his time rehabbing and if he shows he is healthy he may draw interest from other teams in need of a starter and willing to take a flyer based on low salary and the potential return. John Lannan should always occupy a spot in Nats fans' hearts, but he has never had the talent to carry a staff or be a consistent contributor to a major league rotation. Nick Cafardo suggested today that teams may be more interested in Wang than Lannan, and at this point, the potential Wang beats the lackluster Lannan. Plus, I don't know if you heard, but the Nats have a problem with injuries, so a surplus of arms, might not be a bad thing.

Drew Storen, Brad Lidge: It should be clear to almost everyone after Sunday that Henry Rodriguez does not have the mental make-up to be a closer. And to be fair, that is not what anyone had in mind when this team was built. Drew Storen is looking pretty important these days isn't he? And wouldn't it have been nice to give Henry a night off Sunday and throw Brad Lidge out there with a three-run lead. You think Lidge walks anyone with a three run lead? The bullpen right now is a problem. A closer by committee? Open tryouts? Throw darts at a roster? This much is clear: I would be more comfortable with Rick Ankiel closing games than Henry Rodriguez.

Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler will keep this team in games through 6 or 7 innings almost every night. Players are going to ebb and flow offensively. Someone or someones may figure out how to close out a game. The Nats will get through these injuries with a record somewhere close to .500. At that point, imagine what the full team Mike Rizzo has assembled can do...

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

All Quiet in NatsTown

Well the Nats took two of three against the rival Phillies in what was an utterly emotionless series, devoid of anything at all newsworthy...


Where do I begin?

Do we start with the fact that out of Cole Hamels, Mike Rizzo, and Bryce Harper the most mature and adult involved was the 19 year-old? 

Or do we start with the fact that Jayson Werth, who has been the Nats 2nd most valuable hitter, is now out for AT LEAST 3 months with a broken wrist?

How about that he will be replaced by a platoon that registers a -1.1 WAR? 

What about Gio Gonzalez and his absolutely filthy home numbers?

Well, let's just hit some of the big points with some commentary thrown in.

- The Nationals had an impressive Take Back the Park series that did exactly what Andrew Feffer and Mike Rizzo wanted; solid attendance numbers with the majority rocking the Curly W. Natitude Park was taking it a bit far but I appreciate the effort.

- Cole Hamels is an idiot. Everyone in the world knows that he threw at Harper and most people could easily figure out why - but you don't have to say it. Zimmermann threw at him but said it was an "accident" = no fine or suspension. It's not the manly move to leave your team hanging even if it does fit nicely into the teams projected rotation.

- After going 16-9 with one of the worst offenses in the National League, the Nationals busted out with 29 hits in the first two games of the series and added 8 more in the 3rd game. Finally, the Nationals are only the 5th worst hitting team and have only the 3rd fewest runs in the league. #FireRickEckstein

- The injury bug has bitten again, this time to the $126 MIllion Dollar Man - Jayson Werth. Thankfully it was only a break without any ligament damage. Werth has been keeping the offense somewhat competent this season but now Davey is going to have to hope that LaRoche and Zimmerman can come back from their respective injuries and put up some quality numbers.

- Instead of playing Tyler Moore (who has 62 bombs in the past two seasons), Davey Johnson has announced that he will be employing a platoon of Xavier Nady and Roger Bernadina in Left Field. I don't think there is enough ink on the internet for me to explain how many different ways this is a stupid idea - not the least of which is that Xavier Nady has the 2nd worst WAR in all of baseball without even having enough ABs to officially qualify!!!

- Just a friendly reminder - Xavier Nady is hitting .119/.186/.348 this season...

- Why did the Nationals try Lombardozzi in Left Field in Spring Training? I guess his .305/.379/.356 and 0.2 WAR isn't better than Nady and Bernadina...

- #DFANady

- Bryce Harper is 19 years-old, has only played in 8 games, and already has a 0.6 WAR which is good for 4th best on the team (hitters). He has 8 hits in 8 games, 5 of which are for extra bases - oh, by the way, Nady has 7 hits in 20 games. Even more impressive than his .308 batting average is his .434 OBP - showing that his batting eye is incredibly advanced for such a young player.

- Bryce Harper is here to stay.

- Gio Gonzalez has the highest WAR of any NL pitcher at a 1.5... in just 6 games. For those of you scoring at home, that averages out to a 30 game season as a 9.0 WAR...

- Nat-Gio's home split? 3 Games. 2-0 Record. 0.43 ERA. 21.0 IP. 8 H. 1 R. 1 ER. 22 K. 3 BB. 0.524 WHIP. 

- There are 12 NL Starters with a sub-1.00 WHIP - 4 of them are Nationals; Strasburg, Gonzalez, Detwiler, and Zimmermann.

- The Nationals have a pretty friendly next two weeks with 5 games against the Pirates (12-16), 3 against the Reds (14-13), 2 against the Padres (9-20), and 3 against the Orioles (19-10).

Well, CapBallers, what observations do you have? 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

How Rick Ankiel Will Save The Nats

The Arm. The Freak. Ank the Tank. Rick Ankiel's defensive prowess is an exciting part of the Washington Nationals, capable of producing a highlight at almost any point in the game. But it is his all around make up that could prove most valuable to the Nats.

Disclaimer: I fully acknowledge Rick Ankiel is not Michael Morse, Ryan Zimmerman or even Jayson Werth.

There is nothing ordinary about Rick Ankiel, his story, his tool set or his current situation. Still developing as an outfielder and hitter, he is in a unique place to help the Nats. Absent serious run producers and not wanting to rush Bryce Harper's development, Ankiel's defense, mixed with his flashes of power give the Nats an out.

I'm sure the Nats thought Rick would be a nice insurance policy when they signed him to a minor league deal this spring. A left-handed bat on the bench, a late inning replacement for Morse or Bernie. There aren't many defensive replacements who can post a slugging percentage over .400 for a career (he is at .426 for the current season). Outside of Adam LaRoche, Ankiel has the highest slugging percentage on the Nats.

The current outfield of Ank, Harper and Werth could very well be the plan for quite a while. As has been detailed here previously, injuries on the Nats tend to persist, so the idea that Michael Morse will be arrive back on time is almost naive. Would this really be a bad thing? Of course we could use Morse's bat, but the combination of power, speed and defense those three provide would be formidable.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Nats Talk On The Go: Episode 18

In this week's episode of Nats Talk On The Go, Joe and Craig talk about the Washington Nationals' April and all of the positives and negatives that came along with it. We talk in detail about Bryce Harper and Tyler Moore's debuts, Danny Espinosa's ridiculously awful season at the dish so far, and then end by talking about the awesome pitching rotation once again. This will be the last episode of Nats Talk On The Go until May 14, so give it a listen!