A fan's observations on the Washington Nationals, from across the virtual divide.

Christmas in November

Nationals fans got some of their Christmas presents early this week, with the announcements that Ryan Zimmerman was honored with both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards for his amazing play in 2009. Add to that the announcement that Jim Riggleman has been chosen as the permanent manager for the Nationals, and you’d be hard pressed to find a week with more Nationals news that didn’t have seven lineup cards and a few home runs.

Bloggers got an extra gift this morning – a telephone press conference with Jim Riggleman.

After having spoken to Drew Storen last week in Arizona, I was curious if Riggleman had some advice for those young players that were hoping to crack the twenty-five man roster this spring. Riggleman pointed out that the players in the Arizona Fall League are the cream of the crop and that the majority of them make it to the Major Leagues – though not all make it right out of spring training. Riggleman added that Storen’s path through the organization – signing early after the draft, getting considerable experience in the minors, and then an additional stint in the Arizona Fall League has done nothing but help his chances. And while Riggleman said it was too early to say exactly where Storen might land in the spring, he suggested that there might be opportunities for him if he earns it in spring training.

Some other notes from the press teleconference:

  • Riggleman hopes to have Cristian Guzman play at second base this year. Guzman’s September injury to his shoulder prevented the Nats from trying Guzman at second at the end of the season. Guzman’s surgery was successful and the damage found was minimal, so there is every hope that a healthy Guzman will move to second base in the spring.
  • … which brings us to shortstop. Riggleman mentioned that he would be comfortable with Ian Desmond at shortstop, but there has been some recent rumors that the Nationals may be interested in other shortstops that might be available on the free agent market.
  • Scott Olsen is recovering well from his surgery, and is expected to be ready for spring training.
  • Jordan Zimmerman is also recovering well from his surgery, but Riggleman does not expect Zimmermann to be back before 2011.

The Case For Pedro

Does Pedro Martinez have an ego?

Uh huh.

Is Pedro a Hall of Fame starter in 2009?

Nope. If he was, do you think he’d be sitting the spring out?

So why would the Nats be interested in him?

Because they need him… in the ninth inning.

Honestly, the Nats don’t really need starters. Lannan, Martis and Zimmermann are good now, and may well be great in a couple years. Olsen is better than his statistics show, and would be better still if the defense would come to his rescue a bit. Cabrera… perhaps a lost cause… but the Nats have a slew of starters that are as good (or better) either languishing in the bullpen or in the minors. Pedro would be an improvement there, but only a marginal one, I think. If you look at the cost of Pedro, versus the cost of starters already in the system, you’re probably talking like $500,000 to $1 million per additional win with Pedro in the rotation – if you could get him for $2 million.

But imagine Pedro as a closer… He’d have his mug on television every other day. Opposing batters respect him, he’s fearless, he has the poise and demeanor to be in the game when it is on the line…

… and we got nuthin.

Suppose he really did cost $5 million for the rest of the season. Would it be a bad investment, if you could get him to be a closer? I don’t think so – he and Beimel would be anchors in the bullpen. I think anyone would suspect his ability to go five or six innings, but he could probably be counted on for one… not to mention that he’s not pitching now, so even if you were going to use him as a starter, you’d need to stretch him out a bit. Why not just leave him at 25 pitches an appearance?

To sell it to Pedro, you’d have to appeal to his vanity and ego: you’ve done everything else… finish your career showing that you can do this, too… and do it as only Pedro can.

To sell it to the Nats, I would point out that the Nats have a marketing problem – their team can’t play in a close game, and they need a closer. [As an aside, I think the Nats need a closer more now than ever in their history. This team's offensive strength is going to get them and keep them in games that they've never been competitive before. If they can solve the head problems they have with their fielding, the problem that is left will be left is the bullpen. It is the only problem that needs to be solved with personnel changes.] $5 million is a lot of money, but you could take it out of the marketing budget rather than personnel. It isn’t that people will come to see Pedro, but they’ll come to see the Nats win (or be competitive). If the Nats can’t put a .480 team on the field this year, they’re going to be in terrible trouble with the fan base. They’re not entertaining to watch right now. You’re sending fans home feeling worse about the team than when they walked into the park.

Does signing Pedro fix that? I don’t know… but maybe. The Nats can’t really afford to trade away the Major League-ready players (except for an outfielder, and you know how I feel about Lastings Milledge), and there really aren’t any prospects in the system that you’d want to part with. You could sign Pedro without giving up talent.

Of course, all of this presumes that he can actually still pitch. But assuming he can, I would remind the Nats that they’ve spent $5 million on a lot less than Pedro.

(Paul LoDuca)

The upside is, Pedro could be to the bullpen what Adam Dunn is to the lineup – his presence might make the whole team better.

But then, I could be wrong.

Fantasy Baseball

I am going to take you back in time a few weeks… in an alternate universe. The date: April 18, 2009.

In this alternate universe, the Nationals played the Marlins at Nationals Park. The Nats won, 6-2. Scott Olsen went eight innings, giving up two runs and six hits. The Nats had a five-run first inning, including a grand slam by Austin Kearns. Joe Beimel came in and pitched the ninth, giving up a hit.

What is the difference between this universe and the universe that we live in? In this alternative universe, the Nats had no errors in this game, and in our “real” universe, the Nats had three.

Here’s the thing: Even in the universe where there were only two errors in the game instead of three, if the error that is missing is Nick Johnson’s dropped popup in the fifth inning, the Nats still win, 6-5, with Joel Hanrahan getting the save.

I bring this up because there are a lot of people who are only too happy to pile onto the bullpen problems as the cause for the Nationals woes. I am among the first to point out that the bullpen has not been a stellar part of the mix. But in their defense, the bullpen has been asked to come into games and pitch in situations where they never should have. And when you’re a pitcher, and you’re worried that your shortstop is going to boot a ball (or two) in a game, you start pitching for strikeouts. You start pitching not to make a mistake. You start pitching not to lose.

Which, by the way, is different than pitching to win.

I know that my example is both not statistically valid and an exaggeration. But my point is, you can’t give teams – especially National League East teams – extra outs, extra bases, extra runs, and then be upset with the bullpen about giving up a lead… if you’re not first upset with your defense about not protecting the lead you’ve built in the first place.

I suspect that the problem is not one that is solved by changing personnel, including the manager. I believe it is one where each player needs to be focused and accountable for their outcomes. That is more a leadership issue.

Errors happen, and teams win games where they make errors. In last night’s game, Anderson Hernandez made an error on the second half of a double play, throwing the ball away and allowing the batter to advance to second. But the Nats won, and while Hernandez probably should have swallowed the throw, he made the throw trying to be aggressive and get the second out. A mistake of youth. The Nats survived the inning, and the game.

If the Nats can reduce their erros, if the pitchers – both starters and the bullpen – can start to relax and trust their defense, if the whole team can start playing the way they know they can… this will be an interesting season.

If they can’t… well, my head hurts already. It will be a long, hot summer.

… and a thanks to Jeff Bergin at NationalsPride.com for the seed of this idea.

… and one other thing – the picture at the top of this page was from that game.

Potpourri

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Wigi @ 11:31 am November 12, 2008

Here are some short notes on the latest Nats News:

The Trade – I think there is some danger in calling this “The Trade”. Perhaps I will reserve !!!THE TRADE!!! for the real one (that hasn’t happened yet). Olsen and WIllingham for Bonifacio and two minor leaguers? This is a very good trade. Even if Smolinski and P. J. Dean turn out to be stars, I think it is safe to say that nobody would have predicted that today. The worst case scenario is that Olsen replaces Odalis Perez (OK, the real worst-case scenario is that everyone ends up on the DL, but lets forget that one for the moment). Olsen is probably better than that… and certainly younger. As for Willingham, who doesn’t need a disciplined bat with pop? The biggest problem with Willingham is where to put him. I think the Nats are committed to Milledge and Dukes, I think they’re not ready to give up on Kearns (neither am I, though I think ultimately he’s the kind of hitter that needs to be surrounded with good hitters to be effective), and then there’s Wily Mo Pena. I think even a healthy Pena ends up riding the pine. As Bowden said… competition.

One more thing… What is it about the Marlins that have made them Nats killers? Perhaps someone can ask Willingham and Olsen.

New Unis - I’ve always been partial to red. So, the red script curly-W-based ‘Washington’ on the road greys works great for me. Not sure about the alternate blues. Honestly, I’d rather see the Nats play in the Homestead Greys unis for those five or six games a year. In fact, save the alternate blues for the annual July 4th afternoon game. That’s it. (That’s right, the July 4th home game should be an annual tradition. Presidential opener, too.)

More on Unis – Well, not really unis, but logos. I am an expat Washingtonian, and I grew up with the Senators. I had a red curly W cap as a kid (I thought it stood for ‘Wigi’). But I loved that logo… and I still do love that logo – though I have been told that there are subtle differences between the Senators “W” and the Nats “W”.

What I haven’t liked, and continue not to like, is the “Nationals” logo, with the block letters over the baseball. My reasoning is that from a marketing standpoint, it defeats the purpose of having a logo in the first place.

Nationals Logo

The point of having a logo is that it is a symbol that represents the brand, without having to spell out the name of the brand itself. Almost every sports team has a logo which completely stands alone, without words that represents the team, and those who are sensitive to that industry universally recognize the logo and the associated meaning. You can even extend that beyond sports – think of Nike’s swoop, McDonald’s arches, AT&T’s globe – even in cases where the logo has words in it, the logo itself is recognizeable without having to read the words. Think 7-Eleven.

The “Nationals” logo, in 2005, served a purpose. Most baseball fans thought that the Expos were invisible in the first place, and moving them to Washington hardly made them more visible. Having the word “Nationals” in the logo helped to establish the brand. But here we are, five seasons later. The team surely hasn’t distingushed itself on the field to the point where the casual baseball fan knows immediately who the Nats are… but certainly, nobody (except play-by-play guys) thinks the Nats are the Expos, and would somehow look at a Curly W and think ‘Montreal’.

When the Lerners took over the Nats, they said that there would be more Curly W’s. That’s good. Now what we need are less of the other logo.