Monday, February 22, 2010

Monday Inbox

It's that time again! Here is the inbox:

I'm concerned about promoting Stephen Strasburg to the Major Leagues so quickly. I'd like to see him learn how to pitch for a season or two in the Minors first. I remember David Clyde coming up too soon for the Rangers in the early 1970s and would hate to see that repeated.
-- Richard G., Washington, D.C.

I get your point, but the Clyde/Strasburg comparison is apples-to-oranges. Clyde made his ML debut as an 18 year old right out of high school and the same year he was drafted. Even if Strasburg pitched on Opening Day, he would be 3 years older, with 3 years of college at San Diego State and some time spent against legitimate prospects in the Arizona Fall League and some legitimate ML/AAAA/AAAers in Spring Training. That's a ton more experience than Clyde ever had before making his first start.

But I digress to the actual point: Strasburg should only start the year in a Nats uniform if he has an ERA under 1.00 during Spring Training. Unless his other-worldly talent brings other-worldly success, he needs to spend at least a few months in the minors to tune up and learn the game, both on and off of the field.

With Ross Detwiler and Chien-Ming Wang out for a few months, do you think Chuck James might get a chance to become part of the starting rotation?
-- Don M., Stratford, PE, Canada

I would put his chances at 1% or less. James didn't pitch at all in 2009 and was awful in the Majors in 2008 (albeit pretty good in AAA). He was never as good as his numbers indicated, either. He's not a bad guy to have around in case of a large number of catastrophic injuries, but I wouldn't list him amongst the top 10 or so options to break camp in the starting rotation.

Bringing back reliever Ron Villone made me wonder why the Nats didn't re-sign Mike MacDougal. MacDougal was one of the few bright spots last year.
-- Luke H., Prince Frederick, Md.

Well, considering Meiklejohn only got a minor league deal from the Marlins, apparently every other team felt the same way about him. He had more walks than strikeouts for goodness sake! Again, he's not a bad fall back option for the league minimum, but just because he led the worst team in baseball in saves doesn't make him a good closer.

Since Wang will not be available until later in the season, would the Nationals have any interest in pursuing John Smoltz as an early-season starter and then moving him to the bullpen where he could provide leadership and help shore up middle relief?
-- Glenn B., Arlington, Va.

If they could sign him to a deal worth $2 mil or less plus incentives, I'd be fine with it. His stats from last year are deceiving; he had a 3-8 record and a 6.35 ERA but a 3.87 FIP. He'll definitely bounce back at least some from a poor season last year, but I wouldn't be willing to pay him anywhere near the $5.5 mil he was guaranteed last year.

One other note on Smoltz-he only threw 80 innings last year and 28 in 2008. Don't expect him to be able to toss 150 innings.

I find it interesting that you focus so much on the defensive weaknesses of Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham and Cristian Guzman. Yet, you seem to have a selective memory when it comes to the defense of Elijah Dukes, who was average at best and had many misplays and errors.
-- Robert M., Daytona Beach, Fla

The difference between Dukes and Willingham/Dunn is that Dukes actually gets to the ball and THEN makes an error. Dukes has a career UZR/150 of 2.8 in RF and I'd be more than happy with that.

I noticed that outfielder Chris Duncan is a non-roster invitee. He was a fan favorite in St. Louis. What are his chances of making the roster out of Spring Training?
-- Tim S. Richmond, Va.

I think he has a great chance to be honest. The Nats don't have any lefthanded hitters with any pop to come off the bench. If he puts up decent numbers in Spring Training, I think he'll stick. With a career line of .270/.366/.485 against righties, I think he'd be an awesome guy to have around to serve as a late game pinch hitter or Elijah Dukes platoon partner IF he rebounds from an awful stretch in 2007-08. But like Ladson said, pairing him back up with Rick Eckstein could help him a bunch.

Dunn seems fine at first base, and everyone is raving about Chris Marrero's bat, but what about Mike Morse? When he came up late last year, he looked solid as a rock to me.
-- Woody S., Arlington, Va.

Morse is a pretty decent bench bat, but I'm not counting on him to do a lot more than that. His bat is essentially Cristian Guzman's but with more power. He rarely walks but strikes out a lot, which could hurt his chances as the season rolls on.

2 Nats that could surprise us in 2010

Everyone is undefeated in Spring Training, even the Nationals! But that does not mean that everyone is projected to have a great season. Today, I'll take a look at two Nats that I think can outperform their projections in 2010: Scott Olsen and Jesus Flores.

Scott Olsen, LHSP

Olsen had a rough 2009, with an awful 6.03 ERA in just 62 and 2/3 innings pitched. His season ended in July when he had labrum surgery and he claims to be back toabout 80% of his normal form. I think Olsen can more than challenge the 4.95 ERA and 119 IP projection that comes from an average of the Bill James, Marcel and CHONE projections.

  • He's hungry. On Friday, he told Dave Shenin of the Washington Post, "Last year was horrible. I have a lot to prove to the organization and to people in baseball in general." It's a little bit cliche, but I don't think you can ever underestimate an athlete looking to prove themselves.
  • The Nats' defense has improved. Hopefully, we will see Adam Kennedy and Nyjer Morgan step in with full seasons of above average defense that will replace the likes of Ronnie Belliard and Alberto Gonzalez at 2B, and Elijah Dukes and Willie Harris in CF. In addition, Adam Dunn will play 1B exclusively. For somebody that doesn't strike out a whole lot of batters (projections range between 5.54 K/9 and 6.77 K/9), the defense behind you is important.
  • Olsen is still young enough to rebound. Even if Olsen's arm issues were not a major reason behind his regression. I still think he can rebound in 2010. He's just 26 years old; if he puts in enough effort in the weight room and in Spring Training to get his fastball velocity back to 90-91 mph, I think he'll be alright. It's far from a guarantee, but I think Olsen has a higher chance of bouncing back to even a 4.50 ERA, 180 IP #4 starter than people give him credit for.
Flores is also coming back from a shoulder injury in 2009, but he did play very well while healthy. While the current state of his shoulder is in question, and I definitely don't think any more than 90 games can be expected out of Flores this year, I think the average projection of .264/.325/.422 is a little bit conservative. Here's why:
  • He hit .301/.371/.505 last year. While I believe in the statement "don't always believe in a small sample size," his numbers show that he chased less pitches outside the strike zone than in 2008 (O-Swing % down from 36.9% in 2008 to 34.0% in 2009) and made better contact across the board (contact % up from 71.8% in 2008 to 78.3% in 2009). I don't necessarily think his 10.4 BB% or .204 ISO will hold up, but I don't think it's crazy to expect a BB% in the 7's or an ISO around .175. My FanGraphs Fan Prediction of Flores ended up with a .269/.324/.444 line and I'll stick with that.
  • The addition of Pudge Rodriguez will be beneficial for Flores as well. Sure, he got to play a little bit along side veteran catchers like Paul Lo Duca and Brian Schneider, but neither of them are Pudge Rodriguez. Here's a good quote from an article about Pudge from this afternoon: "[Rodriguez] warmly greeted veterans and rookies alike, some youngsters awed that a future Hall of Famer was introducing himself to them. 'Years ago, I was watching that guy on TV and now I'm playing on the same team,' beamed fellow catcher Jesus Flores."
For the record, I was going to include Elijah Dukes on this list as well. I decided against it because I think the whole Natmosphere sees him rebounding from a lousy 2009. Put me down for around a .265/.360/.450 line for Dukes and we'll leave it at that.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

3 reasons to like the Chien-Ming Wang signing

Chien-Ming Wang is coming to town. The two-time 19 game winner signed with the Nats and passed his physical yesterday. While he is coming off of two years of injuries, he's still young (30 in March) and fairly cheap ($2 mil salary plus incentives). I like the deal for 3 reasons:

  1. He's under team control through 2011. Just like Matt Capps, the Nationals own Wang's rights for two seasons even if each player's contract is technically only for one. It's the ultimate team option; if either player underachieves or if the Nats just don't want to pay them, they can non-tender them next offseason without having to pay a buyout.
  2. When he's healthy, he's a Mike Rizzo-style ace. He's not going to strike a lot of guys out (4.16 K/9 over his career), instead relying on ground ball outs. While it may be scary to add another ground ball pitcher with Adam Dunn playing in the infield, I think it's the right kind of pitcher to add, considering 3 of the 5 NL East teams play in parks that allow more HR than the league average (FLA, NYM and PHI). If he works out the kinks with his sinker (far from a guarantee), the Nats have themselves the kind of pitcher Rizzo likes to sign.
  3. Taiwanese people (both in Taiwan and Taiwanese-Americans) adore Wang, to the point where he was listed in 2007's edition of the Time 100. Money quote: "Whenever he pitches, whether it's a live telecast or a rerun, Taiwan ditches its political woes and personal cares to huddle in the most unlikely places—from bars to beauty parlors to boardrooms—to cheer Chien-Ming." Let's just say, we have a lot more Nationals fans in Taiwan now. And even though Taiwan isn't a large nation (just over 23 million residents), expanding the Nationals brand worldwide is very important to the team.

Do or Die Time: Tyler Clippard

Tyler Clippard may be seen by some as an odd choice for this series, as he actually had a career year in 2009. So rather than guessing whether he'll bounce back from an iffy year like Alaniz, Burgess, Marrero and Maxwell, I'll talk about the likelihood of Clippard repeating his awesome 2009 season, specifically because he's out of options.

Tyler Clippard, 25 years old, RHRP
Drafted 9th round, 274th overall in 2003 by the New York Yankees.
Acquired via trade in 12/2007 for RHRP Jonathan Abaladejo.

2009 stats:
Syracuse-AAA: 4-1, 0.92 ERA, 24 G, 0 GS, 1 S, 39 IP, 4.6 H/9, 0.5 HR/9, 3.5 BB/9, 9.2 K/9, 0.897 WHIP
Washington-ML: 4-2, 2.69 ERA, 41 G, 0 GS, 0 S, 60 1/3 IP, 5.4 H/9, 1.3 HR/9, 4.8 BB/9, 10.0 K/9, 1.127 WHIP
Total: 8-3, 1.98 ERA, 65 G, 0 GS, 1 S, 99 1/3 IP, 5.1 H/9, 0.99 HR/9, 4.2 BB/9, 9.8 K/9, 1.03 WHIP

Career stats:
Minors: 51-52, 3.59 ERA, 164 G, 131 GS, 1 S, 791 1/3 IP, 7.8 H/9, 0.8 HR/9, 2.9 BB/9, 9.2 K/9, 1.185 WHIP
Majors: 8-4, 3.87 ERA, 49 G, 8 GS, 0 S, 97 2/3 IP, 7.1 H/9, 1.6 HR/9, 5.2 BB/9, 8.6 K/9, 1.362 WHIP
(Note: before 2009, all of Clippard's ML experience was as a starter for the Yankees, putting up a 6.33 ERA in 27 IP)

The question is not “will Tyler Clippard regress in 2010?” but instead “how much will Tyler Clippard regress in 2010?” There is no way he can sustain a 2.69 ERA a ridiculously low .207 BABIP and a ridiculously high 86.9% LOB%. Add that to his BB/9 rates hovering in the mid-to-high 4's and HR/9 rates around 1.35 and he's not even really an average pitcher.

I expect Clippard to regress to the low to mid 4 ERA range, which is still decent for a Nats reliever (albeit bad for a relief pitcher in general). If he can lower his BB/9 to below 4 while keeping his K/9 in the 8s or above, I think he'll remain a pretty good pitcher.

Recent scouting notes:
"Holy cow! (Clippard's throwing motion) does not look natural"-Driveline Mechanics, 8/3/09.

"0.92 ERA with 42/15 K/BB in 39 innings for Syracuse, 2.50 ERA with 42/18 K/BB in 36 innings for the Nationals. I took flak for rating him this high, so I'm glad to see that he's done well."-John Sickels, Minor League Ball, 8/26/09

"My friend Deric McKamey in his 2007 Minor League Baseball Analyst rates Clippard as a potential number five starter, and points out that he gets his strikeouts with movement and deception, not pure velocity. Baseball America ranks Clippard as the number seven Yankees prospect, projects him as a fourth starter, and notes that he "pitches backward," using fastballs in breaking ball counts and vice versa."-Sickels, 2/9/07

"None of his pitches classify as anything more than average but he does bring three pitches to the mound (87-91 fastball, curve and change). His ceiling is realistically a #4 or 5 starter but I believe his move to the National League and opportunity to work with Randy St. Claire will pay dividends for the Nationals."-Brian Oliver, Nats Farm Authority, 2/21/08

MASN Defining Moments Casting Opportunity: TODAY!

Here's a verbatim copy of a comment left on one of my posts the other day. Think of it as a Public Service Announcement!

The Philadelphia Casting Co. Inc. is looking for:
Nationals fans!
Paid job!
Please forward to anyone in the DC area who is a Nationals fan!
Auditions in DC- Wed, Feb 17** (see schedule below)
Thank you,
Sam Gish

It’s a unique opportunity for Nationals fans to demonstrate their passion for their team.
MASN, the cable network of the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals, will continue its popular Defining Moments advertising campaign for the 2010 baseball season.
Last season hundreds of fans auditioned for the opportunity to appear in the 2009 campaign.
This year 15 lucky Nationals fans and 15 fortunate Orioles fans will be chosen to appear on-camera in promos promoting Nationals and Orioles games on MASN.
Defining Moments is the definitive display of devotion. The chance to show everyone why you are an Nationals fan.

Spots airing on MASN and Balt/DC local tv and cable & Balt/DC radio & Internet.
Pay is $150 if chosen for a callback in Baltimore.
$350 for shoot date, March 1, 2, 4, or 5, TBD.

All ages, 18-80.
Family combinations are good. Dad and son, Mom and daughter, etc.
People should have a natural passion for the Nats.
People should have strong knowledge of their teams and players.
People with strong/outgoing/unique, friendly – personalities seem to work well.
No actor or model looking people. Real, friendly, charactery welcome.

Interview Schedule: (choose one)

On Wednesday, Feb 17th from 4:00-6:00 p.m. we'll be at the:
Wooly Mammoth Theatre Company.
641 D Street, NW (7th & D)
Washington, DC 20004
For Directions: on Plan your visit and then directions.
**Please do not call the theatre for directions!
Please email us at if you are coming to the theatre, and we'll give you an appt. time.

After that, we are hoping to go to the Rocket Bar, and Buffalo Billiards....but this is not officially set up yet...

Then we'll head over to:
Crystal City Sports Pub
529 23rd St. South
Arlington, VA. 22202
We'll definitely be here on Wed. night, but don't have the exact time yet....probably arrive somewhere between 8:30-10:00 p.m.

Please DO NOT CALL any of those places for directions!
Hope to see you!
Sam Gish
The Philadelphia Casting Co. Inc.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Inbox and Thoughts

I'm going to start today with this week's Inbox and move along to some other thoughts afterwards.

How good can outfielder Elijah Dukes be if he plays up to his potential?
-- Jake T., Cortlandt Manor, N.Y.

Dukes can be a perennial All-Star if he plays up to his potential. He can hit 30 HR and steal 20 bases while reaching base consistently and playing decent defense. But I do believe the likelihood of Dukes playing up to his potential is waning each year; he still hasn't proven he can hit consistently well on a major league level.

If they stay relatively healthy, are the Nationals possible playoff contenders or will they finish below .500?
-- Jeff H, Washington

Possible? Sure. Probable? No. The Nats need both health and luck to finish .500 or above.

I notice that you get a lot of heat for getting on Adam Dunn's defense. How do feel about the criticism you get for it?
-- Ken J., Washington

Ladson doesn't have anything to apologize about. Dunn's defense is below average at 1B and worse in the outfield. He has to work extremely hard to get his glove in line this year, or else the Nats could be in big trouble with Zimmerman and Desmond throwing to him at 1B.

How many at-bats do you think Ivan Rodriguez will get this season? I really think he wants to make a run at 3,000 hits, and I'm sure the Nats are aware of this.
-- Dave, New York
Wait...Ladson says “Jesus Flores will be out for quite some time after right shoulder surgery.” ACK! He'll still be out for quite some time once the season starts? If that's the case, the Nats need more than Wil Nieves and Jamie Burke to fill Flores' void.
I do agree with Ladson that the Nats need to ease Flores into things when he's healthy enough to play. No need in rushing him back; I'd rather see him play the whole span of a season, even if he ends up playing in fewer games total. Think long-term with Jesus.

Now on to the actual question: 400. I don't think he'll be in position to hit 3,000 hits until 2012, if he's still around.

I wanted to know what your thoughts were about possibly bringing in Gary Sheffield as a big bat off the bench for the Nationals?
-- David H., Laytonsville, Md.
Ick. I don't know what is with people asking about washed up veterans in the mailbag, but it's starting to get old (just like Gary Sheffield). His bat is declining fast and he's even more of a DH than Adam Dunn.

Now on to some bullet-point thoughts:
  • I would like to thank DC Sports Report for their yearly review of Nationals blogs (check out last year's list here). I'm proud that their authors bumped me up from a 3 star blog last year to 4 this year. All of the blogs I link to regularly got at least 4 stars as well, so congrats to NFA, NationalsFanboyLooser, FJB and Nats News Network and everyone else!
  • MLBTR has the current list of borderline roster players across the league that are out of options. The Nats have one of the longest lists, with at least 9 players: Bergmann, Bruney, Burnett, Chico, Clippard, Morse, Slaten, Walker and Willingham. My guess is that 7 of the 9 stick, with Chico and Slaten getting outrighted (and I'd guess that they'd accept being sent to AAA because they have as good of a chance at getting back to the bigs with the Nats as with anyone else).
  • Nationals Journal has their guess at the Opening Day 25 man roster posted. Here's mine (so far):
PITCHERS (12): Batista, Bergmann, Bruney, Burnett, Capps, Clippard, Lannan (Opening Day starter), Marquis (#2), Olsen (#3), Speier, Stammen (#4) and Walker.

I think Mock will be the #5 starter but he won't be needed until April 19, so I think they'll carry an extra reliever in Batista/Speier until then. When they're ready to call Mock up, they'll DFA whichever of the two is doing worse.

CATCHERS (2): Nieves and Rodriguez (OD Starter at C).

Like Chico, I'm not willing to bet that Flores will be around for Opening Day. I certainly hope he will, but I'm not expecting it.

INFIELDERS (6): Desmond, Dunn (OD Starter at 1B), Guzman (OD Starter at SS), Kennedy (OD Starter at 2B), Morse, Zimmerman (OD Starter at 3B).

Yes, I do think the Nats will break camp with Desmond on the 25-man roster. No, I do not think he will be an Opening Day starter. And no, I do not think having him on the bench is a good idea. I think that this would be a decent distribution of PT for what it's worth: Desmond-30% at 2B and 40% at SS, Guzman-60% at SS and Kennedy-70% at 2B. Obviously not scientific, but I think something like that would be feasible.

OUTFIELDERS (5): Dukes (OD Starter at RF), Duncan, Harris, Morgan (OD Starter at CF), Willingham (OD Starter at LF).

I don't know why, but I have a feeling Chris Duncan makes the squad on Opening Day. His lefthanded bat certainly helps his cause.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Do or Die Time: Justin Maxwell

A reminder: I have formed a partnership with The Miz of Fight for Old DC to feature some of my posts on the site. Please go to, join the forums and comment away!

Next in line of my "Do or Die Time" prospects to take a closer look at is outfielder Justin Maxwell. Check out my previous posts on Adrian Alaniz, Michael Burgess and Chris Marrero if you have a chance.

Justin Maxwell, 26 years old, OF
Drafted 4th round, 114th overall in 2005.

2009 stats:
Syracuse-AAA: .242/.344/.396, 10 2B, 5 3B, 13 HR, 42 RBI, 68 R, 35/43 SB (448 PA)
Washington-ML: .247/.343/.449, 4 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 9 RBI, 13 R, 6/7 SB (102 PA)

Career stats:
Minors: .257/.351/.442, 54 2B, 15 3B, 52 HR, 193 RBI, 233 R, 104/129 SB (1506 PA)
Majors: .252/.333/.461, 4 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR, 14 RBI, 18 R, 6/7 SB (129 PA)

I like Justin Maxwell a lot. That may be a surprise to some that read my blog, but I'm a big fan. He's very athletic and a good defensive outfielder. He hits plenty of homers but also steals some bases. So why have I traditionally been against giving Maxwell a consistent ML roster spot? He scares me.
How could such a nice young man scare me? Unrealistic expectations. Maxwell has never hit for a high average in the minors and strikes out a ton (we're talking 30% of the time). He has plenty of ML-ready tools, including power, speed, defense, and the ability to take a walk. But I can't see Maxwell hitting much more than .230 in the majors at this point in his development.
I do see a light at the end of the tunnel, though. In August, I noted that Maxwell and Mike Cameron's minor league numbers are eerily similar.
Maxwell: .257/.351/.442
Cameron: .258/.344/.424
Additionally, after the 1994 season, Cameron's career looked to have pretty much stalled out. He followed up an awful 1993 season in A-ball with a .248/.343/.391 triple slash playing for the Prince William Cannons in '94. Cameron improved a little bit in 1995 before breaking out with a 1.002 OPS in '96, which essentially vaulted him into the majors. Maxwell's '08 season was stalled by injuries and he hit .242/.344/.396 in AAA last year (eerily similar again!). I'm hoping this year will be his "improvement" stage and 2011 will be his breakout year. If he continues to stall out, I think he'll end up as a good 4th OF, but never a true starter.

2010 Fearless Prediction: .260/.355/.450 in AAA, .230/.325/.400 in ML
I think Maxwell will tweak his swing to hit for a higher average in AAA, but at the same time I expect his batting average to drop a bit if he plays for a more extended period in the majors. This is the last year for Maxwell to work out the kinks; at 26 years old, what you see is what you get.

Major League ETA: Now

Recent scouting notes:
"He’s on this list because he still technically qualifies as a rookie but I’m not sure he’s ever going to develop into anything more than a #4 or 5 OF. This is not necessarily a bad thing as teams need those guys, but given the expectations he had, it is somewhat of a disappointment."-Nationals Farm Authority, 12/24/09
"What you see is what you get: power, walks, speed, low batting average. Can they look past that and appreciate his secondary skills?.", 11/18/09


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Reviewing predictions from 2009

Here were my guesses from the Nats Journal prediction thread. I'm just a little embarrassed...

2009 win total-76
Only missed by 17!
Attendance at Nationals Park (81 dates; last year's was 2.32 million)-1.9 mil
1.817 million-came within 73 thousand!
All-star representative(s)-Dunn
I'm more than happy to see Zim make it!
Adam Dunn's home run total-40 (exactly)
Hey, I was going for consistency...he hit 38.
Date of Stephen Strasburg's major league debut-Sept. 2
Pipe dream...
Nick Johnson's total games played-129
Shockingly close-he played in 133.
Wins for John Lannan-12
He had 9, but that was still 4 more than anyone else on the team.
Percentage of season Dmitri Young spends in big leagues, not on DL-20%
Well, 0% is certainly better than 20%!
Josh Willingham's total at bats-300 total, 60 with Nats
Oof. Oh me of little faith. 502 PA/427 AB.
Innings pitched for Daniel Cabrera-160 total, 110 with Nats
Thank goodness we only had to endure 40 innings of CaBBrera! He also pitched 11 innings for the D-Backs.
Team ERA leader-Lannan
Clippard led qualifiers (2.69) but Lannan led starters (3.88).
Team batting average leader-Zimmerman
For the year, Zimmerman led everyone with a .292 BA. But Nick Johnson hit .295 with the Nats (.291 overall).
Biggest surprise-Austin Kearns
Heh. Surprised me!
Biggest disappointment-Rookie Pitchers (ZNN, Martis, Hinckley)...and I'd like to add Anderson Hernandez.
Well, I'd say I was right on all of them. Hernandez and Hinckley played their ways out of town quickly, Martis won 5 games but pitched poorly in general and ZNN had Tommy John surgery.
Current minor leaguer (not counting Zimmermann) who will make an impact-Bill Rhinehart
Predict the Nats' rotation entering the last week of the season:
(Zimmermann and Martis will be shut down because of innings)
Livan, Martin, Detwiler, Mock, Lannan...I was 2/5!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Inbox and Links

Here are my responses to the last inbox:

What do you think about Cristian Guzman? Do you think he is on the way out before Opening Day?
-- Jesse P., Arlington, Va.

Guzman is overpaid and undergood, but needed on the Nats. The system is still bare up the middle; just because Ian Desmond put up a miracle 2009 season doesn't mean he's a sure thing and neither is Adam Kennedy. Since nobody is going to give up anything for Guzman, we HAVE to keep him, simply because he's our best out of the worst-case scenarios. And personally, I don't think Desmond is 100% ready yet, either.

I still think it's funny how things change: 19 months ago 79% of voters on Nationals Journal "approved" of the Guzman 2 year/$16 mil extension. At the time, I said in the comments of my main post that "I still think it's a decent deal, just because we guarantee ourselves an okay shortstop." And looking back, I still think that was the right attitude; Ian Desmond was coming off of a .251/.318/.406 triple slash in 93 games in AA (not counting the 3 games he spent in the GCL). There was no indication that he would become a major league player by September 2010 let alone 2009.

I disagree with using Ian Desmond as a utility player. If he really is the Nationals' shortstop of the future, Desmond needs to play every day. The Nats are better off leaving him in the Minors and send him up when the time is right. What do you think?
-- Alex C., Montreal

I think Desmond is better off starting the year in AAA. He hit fairly well in 89 PA's at the end of the year while playing atrocious defense. The majors are not the place to learn plate discipline (BB% fell from 8.5% in AA and 9.8% in AAA to 5.8% in ML) or defense. This is more for his sake than ours; if he bombs in the majors, that will kill his confidence. Let him work out the kinks and come back up in May or June or whenever he's needed, but don't rush him just because our MI situation is crappy.

That all being said, wherever he plays, he has to play every day. If he's a utility player in the majors, that's fine with me, as long as he's playing at least 4 or 5 times a week somewhere. Anything less than that and he needs to be in AAA.

Do you see Jermaine Dye coming to the Nationals? He is a great defensive outfielder and a great power hitter.
-- Alan W., Herndon, Va.

Jermaine Dye's defense was so bad last year, he was worth -$1.2 million, even with a .250/.340/.453 triple slash and 27 homers! His UZR/150 has been -21.4 or worse for the last 4 seasons. Dye's career UZR/150 in RF is worse than Dunn's career UZR/150 in LF! If he can learn 1B, I wouldn't mind adding him for a righty bench bat and pinch hitter, but anyone who signs Jermaine Dye to start in the outfield (or really anywhere for that matter) is begging for the basement.

Do you see Livan Hernandez returning to the Nationals in 2010?
-- Ryan B., Fairfax Va.

Yes. He'll sign a minor league deal in the next 2 weeks.

Why is right-hander Shairon Martis never mentioned as a possible starter for the Nats this year?
-- Steve B., Washington

I'm honestly not a big fan of Martis. I've certainly been wrong about people before, but Martis was actually worse than his 5.25 ERA in the majors last year. He absolutely has to bring his walk total down as Ladson said, but also needs to bring his K/9 way above the 3.57 it was last year.

Has Adam Dunn been working this offseason on his fielding at first base? Any improvement there could be a huge boost to the infield. If the injury bug bites again, what's your opinion of the team's depth?
-- John B., Burke, Va.

God help us if he hasn't been working on it. Rizzo has added depth to the hitters: Kennedy, Bruntlett, Whitesell, Pudge, Duncan and Mench, but I wouldn't necessarily call it "good" depth, and it's still nowhere close to enough depth. If these guys are on the bench, that's okay. If they're trusted with a starting position at any point, we're in trouble.

Could you give me a projected starting lineup for 2010?
-- Juan F., Alexandria, Va.

Ladson's prediction:
1) CF Nyjer Morgan
2) SS Guzman
3) 3B Ryan Zimmerman
4) 1B Dunn
5) LF Josh Willingham
6) RF Dukes
7) C Ivan Rodriguez
8) 2B Adam Kennedy

Looks about right for now. I could see Kennedy batting second and Guz batting 8th, but this is probably the best guess. I don't think Flores or Desmond will start, at this point at least.

If the Nats sign Dunn to a multi-year deal, what does that mean for Chris Marrero's future with the club?
-- Jake B., Silver Spring, Md.

I haven't seen anywhere that Marrero is anything near the poor defender Dunn is like Ladson suggested in his response. Anyways, I say we cross this bridge when we get there; a lot can happen in a few years, as we've seen with Guzman above.

I see Willingham as a defensive liability, and I believe his bat is not stellar enough to tolerate his defense. If the Nationals want to have better defense, they should try to trade him.
-- Andrew, W., Alexandria, Va.

Willingham ended the year with a .863 OPS even with a .156/.248/.278 month of September. I'd say his bat is plenty good enough to counteract his weak defense.

On another note, I promised links, so here they are!

-Baseball-Intellect's work on the Nats: Overview, Top Prospects 1-5 and Top Prospects 6-15. If you're not a member, you still get detailed info on Strasburg (#1), Norris (#2), Marrero (#6) and Eury Perez (#7). Good stuff!

-NatsStats put up an interesting FanPost on Federal Baseball comparing Nats pitchers to other pitchers in terms of ERA and First Pitch Strike %.

Free Zuckerman!

Okay, maybe the whole "Free ____" thing is over-done. But Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider (and former TWT Nats beat writer) wants to go to Spring Training. He needs $5000 to make the 6 week trip, and has already received 53% of that goal as I write this. So donate. If you've already donated, donate again. Lobby your Nats friends, the Post, MASN, whatever you need to do. If you want the best Nats coverage at Spring Training, Mark is most likely to give it to you.

Use this widget to "Chip In!"

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Lots O' Links

Here are some links to check out:
Nats sign Kevin Mench to MLC. Dude mashes lefties, has the largest head in the Majors and is nicknamed "Shrek"...what's not to love?

Andy Seiler gives his preview of the Nats' 2010 draft. My preview of his preview: expect to see predominantly College and JuCo players (along with a few signable high schoolers) from the West Coast and Georgia (the scouting playgrounds of Kris Kline and Roy Clark, respectively). Definitely worth checking out.

Marc Hulet of FanGraphs provides us with a top 10 prospects list for the Nats as well as a draft review. The top 10 list is a little peculiar, because it doesn't include 2009 draftees (although an exception is made for Strasburg), but it works for me. The draft review looks back all the way to the 2006 draft that wasted a ton of high picks on crappy high school. Yay?

Matthew Pouliot of Circling the Bases gives his version of the 2010 Nats depth chart, and it's pretty all-encompassing. Even Jerry Owens makes an appearance! Money quote: "The Triple-A pen might be better than the major league pen at the start of the season." Yikes!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Inbox Infusion

I'm condensing the last 3 inboxes into one, so here they are!

Will the Nationals make Nyjer Morgan upgrade his sliding technique?
-- Dave C., Arlington, Va.

Ladson passes along the following quote from Tony Plush in November: "If I have to make the change, I'm definitely prepared to make the change. But I'm not going to stop my aggressiveness on the basepaths. I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing out there. If I have to change my slide for the team's sake, I will. We have something brewing and it will be special. I just want to be on board with everybody."

If Nyjer's willing to make the move, I'm all for it. But if he starts getting caught more often than not in Spring Training/April, don't be surprised to see him change back.

Would you rather have the Nationals sign Orlando Hudson, or play Ian Desmond and spend money on pitching instead?
-- Alex C., Montreal

I'm all for signing Hudson. I think if a Hudson deal happened, Guzman would get about 20% of the PT at 2B and 40% at SS. I don't see the Nats naming either Guzman or Desmond the full-time starting SS if Hudson signs; both have too many question marks IMO.

Adam Dunn has proven to be a real asset. Yet, you seem to want him gone because his defense isn't that great. How in the world are you going to replace 30-something home runs and a guy who lets Ryan Zimmerman see better pitches to hit? I like the direction the team is going and I hope that includes a slugger like Adam for years to come.
-- Tim H., Virginia Beach, Va.

Adam Dunn is an asset offensively, but he is not a long-term option. It might sound silly, but I think the Nats could (and should) take a run at somebody like Miguel Cabrera. His value is at its all-time lowest with his alcoholism problems, but his worth as a player is still incredibly high. He'll only be 27 in April and can handle 1B relatively well. For more on the topic, check out Matt Klassen's FanGraphs article from November about Cabrera's trade value.

By adding Jason Marquis, do you think the Nats will have a much stronger five-man rotation in 2010?
-- Thomas B., Boston

Umm...yes? Marquis instantly brings stability to the rotation. 200 IP of 4.50 ERA ball is better than most of what the Nats have gotten from their rotation since, oh, 2005.

Is there a place for Leo Mazzone in the Nats' organization? He has an excellent reputation as a pitching coach.
-- John H., Wyalusing, Pa.

I could see the Nats bringing Mazzone in as a roving instructor of some sort, but I think they're happy with Steve McCatty as the big league pitching coach for now.

What about platooning Willie Harris and Alberto Gonzalez at second base?
-- Bill P., Arlington, Va.

Like Ladson, I don't see it happening. Desmond and Guzman are the upper tier of Nats MI's right now and Harris and Gonzalez are the lower tier. If the Nats don't sign Hudson and Desmond or Guzman flop big-time, I might reconsider my position. But if we're talking about where we stand today, I can't see this happening.


I think Willie Harris is underrated. I would put him at second base and Ian Desmond at shortstop. Do you agree?
-- Ben M., Silver Spring, Md.

Harris is a solid backup at 2B, somebody you can count on in a pinch. But let's be serious: he is not a starting 2B. He hasn't even played 200 innings there in the last 4 seasons! He is significantly more valuable to the team as a super-sub or starting LF than a starting 2B.

Where does left-hander Ross Detwiler fit in with the Nationals? I saw you didn't include him in your possible rotation scenarios. Could he get a real chance in 2010, or are the Nationals grooming him for future years? Being a St. Louis native, I would love to see that talent in a Cardinals uniform.
-- Josh K., St. Louis

With the signing of Marquis, Detwiler won't be rushed/forced into a starting role. If the Nats think it's better for his development to send him to the minors, they will. I don't expect him to throw more than 100 IP in the majors this year, but at the same time, I expect him to pitch there at least a little bit. Unless he has a very solid Spring Training, I think he'll start in Syracuse or Harrisburg.

The Nats decided to non-tender Mike MacDougal, who had 20 saves with a 3.60 ERA and sign Matt Capps who had 27 saves with a 5.80 ERA. Why is this so smart?
-- Glynn P., Falls Church, Va.

Because MacDougal sucks. You're about 10 years behind in your logic; rather than signing guys based on what they have done, sign them based on what they can and will do. Invest in the future, not in the past.

Why didn't the Nationals go after Jon Garland? He could have provided another veteran arm and guided the young pitchers who aren't quite ready.
-- Dylan P., Shiloh, Ohio

I don't know why, but I'm not a big Garland fan. Ladson noted that the Nats did make an initial push for him, though, and you can't sign somebody that doesn't want to sign with you.

Why not add Pedro Martinez to the rotation? He looked good with the Phillies last year. I think he has enough gas left in the tank. It would be a great fit.
-- Phil F., Quebec City, Canada

Here's what I said at the end of June: "

I campaigned hard for the Nats to sign him a while ago, but every day he sits in free agency he makes less and less sense. They've found some nice young pitchers that need time in the majors. Maybe it could happen if he wants to take an offer to build up his value over the offseason in late August or early September when the young guns need to be shut down for innings totals but not now."

Here's what I said at the end of October: "

I doubt (the Nats will make a run at Pedro this offseason). They didn't go hard after him this season and he's only going to be more expensive and a year older next year."

One thing to consider: sample size. Pedro's "good" 2009 (3.63 ERA, 4.28 FIP) occurred in only 9 starts and 44 and 2/3 innings while his "bad" 2008 (5.61 ERA, 5.18 FIP) took place in more than twice the starts and innings (20 starts and 109 innings, respectively). And he averaged less than 5 innings per start in 2009. At this point, I think I'll pass.

Who is battling for a bullpen spot this Spring Training? Might we see Mock or Balester in the bullpen if they don't make the team as starters?
-- Alex C., Montreal

Here's my abbreviated bullpen outlook:

Locks (75-100% chance of making the roster): Capps (100%)

Semi-Locks (50-75% chance): Batista (~50%), Bruney


, Burnett (~75%), Clippard


, Walker


Bubble (25-50% chance): Bergmann (~40%), Mock (~30%), Slaten (~25%), Speier (~40%)

Outside looking in (<20%>


Why isn't Clippard a lock? Compare his 2009 to Steven Shell's 2008. An extremely lucky year in both cases leads to unrealistic expectations.

The Nats wouldn't trade for Bruney only to have him not make the roster, right? Wrong. Even if you're looking solely at sunk costs, the Nats didn't really give up anything for him, with a pretty weak Rule 5 crop this year. If Bruney doesn't impress during Spring Training, they won't be afraid to show him the door. At the same time, though, I expect that he will do what he needs to do to break the Opening Day roster.

I think Batista will be a heavily-used member of the Nats' bullpen this year. Maybe not good, but heavily-used.

Feel free to ask/challenge any of my guesses in the comments.


What do you think about Justin Maxwell playing right field on a regular basis for the Nationals?
-- Michael W., Silver Spring, Md.

I think that's a terrible idea. There's this guy who plays there now (you might have heard of him) named Elijah Dukes who is both more talented and more projectable. And anyways, Maxwell still has to do better than a >30% K rate and a <.250 batting average in the minors before he even sniffs regular ML time (not considering injury of course).

Is there any possibility the Nats bring in Johnny Damon to solidify the third outfield position?
-- Andrew G., Fairfax, Va.

Ladson says there is no chance, but if the Nats trade Willingham, it wouldn't surprise me. While Damon was brutal in LF for the Yanks in 2009, he wasn't far off from Willingham. I would much rather have a solid young pitcher and Johnny Damon than just Josh Willingham.

Will Willingham get traded?
-- Jennifer W., Gaithersburg, Va.

Yes. Rizzo isn't satisfied with the current state of pitching, and it's a whole lot easier to acquire a bat for the future than an arm. Willingham's value is at its highest, and Rizzo would be foolish to hold onto him long enough to risk that changing.

How does Matt Chico fit into the Nationals' plans in 2010? Do you see him competing and winning a rotation spot?
-- Benjamin C., Gaithersburg, Md.

I don't think he'll even compete for a rotation spot. His 2007 season was nothing special (below average, really) and he's been hurt since then. Do you really expect him to be better? Even his 2007 status would be a downgrade compared to most of the other guys competing for the starting job.

Do you think the Nationals will acquire a veteran starter before Spring Training?
-- Joy M., Washington

Yes. I don't know that it will be one that will be guaranteed a spot, but I am willing to bet that they'll acquire somebody in the Livan Hernandez tier at the very least.

How much better will the Nationals be if they acquire second baseman Orlando Hudson?
-- Kenny I., Baltimore

A ton, but not for the reasons that you might think. On the surface, Hudson would boost the offensive and defensive numbers from the past at 2B. If you look further, signing him would also give the Nats a contingency plan if Desmond needs more minor league seasoning or Guzman bottoms out. The one thing the Nats generally seem to lack is quality depth, and a Hudson signing would allow them to keep a ML-starting caliber middle infielder on the bench in either him, Guzman or Desmond in every single game.