Wednesday, March 30, 2005

End of Endy

Nice, I haven't been able to log into blogger, so sorry if this commentary is less than timely. I wrote up this post last night, and I'm just now getting to publish it (11 AM-ish).

The Nats sent down three more. Gary Majewski doesn't surprise me. He got off to a slow start this spring, and was a long shot in my book, anyway.

Jon Rauch surprised me a little bit, considering that Armas is spending 15 days on the DL. I'd expected to see Hernandez, Ohka, Loaiza, Day, Patterson, Osuna, Ayala, Cordero, Eischen and Horgan go north. I'm surprised that T.J. Tucker sat over Rauch in the pecking order. Anyway, when Armas is healthy, except Tucker to be the one sent down.

The demotion that surprised me the most was Endy Chavez. I'm pleased as punch, as the indication was that the team was going to look past his history and his awful spring.

This is amazing, because from the traditionalists view (i.e., F-Rob), there is no obvious lead-off hitter, and there is no obvious center fielder. This may very well indicate that a trade for a traditional CF is lined up, or otherwise expected. Nick Johnson's name keeps coming up, even though his value is probably near an all time low. With Armas on the DL, I'm less worried about a guy like Rauch being traded, because there is now a depth issue. I don't see people like Majewski and Vargas as off-limits, though, so one of those guys could be packaged up.

If there's no trade, Robinson suggests Ryan Church will get the day to day nod in CF. That's fine by me. I'd also be fine with Wilkerson in center and Sledge in left, or seeing J.J. Davis out there on a daily basis. In reality, I expect him to give all three a lot of time until there is a clear reason to prefer one of the three on a day-to-day basis. Davis is already set up to be the odd man out, since there's always a strong case for Sledge and his bat.

This means that someone is going to be getting some time in CF that one wouldn't want to see there. That might be Wilkerson, who, earlier in the offseason, was all but begging to be put in a single spot and stay there. That would keep Sledge out of CF, who is definitely a guy you would want to keep in the left corner. But Wilkerson himself is
better suited for left.

They could also switch Wilkerson around, or fix him in left and cross their fingers when Sledge is in center. I can't imagine he'd be much worse than the 2005 Bernie Williams!

Beyond our 5 outfielders, 11 pitchers and 2 catchers, we're expected to carry 7 infielders. Barring injury, we can expect to see Johnson, Vidro, Guzman, Castilla, Cordero and Carroll. The last spot is between Blanco and Baerga. My crystal ball is hazy, but I would keep Baerga, myself.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Armas injuried already

Tony Armas, Jr. pitched only one inning yesterday, after a groin strain. He claims it is minor, and that his leaving the game is precautionary. But it could be a few days until there's a real assessment of how bad it is.

Armas sure doesn't need this right now. It's his contract year, and he needs to create some value for himself, overcoming the perception that he's rediculously injury prone.

Patterson and Rauch both got to pitch after Armas, and neither looked too sharp. If Armas isn't able to start the season, this should ensure Rauch a spot on the roster, but probably Armas will be back on the mound before they need to dip into one of these two guys as a 5th starter.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Fleshing out the 'pen

Be prepared for Jon Rauch to get sent down. It looks like he's battling for one to two bullpen slots, and there is a lot of reason to believe he'll be an odd man out. Even though I think he's merited the 5th spot, Day pitched very well this week, which seems to be enough to cement his place in the rotation.

The Nats are probably coming home with 6 people in the bullpen, though they'll probably end up with 7 in short order. Corderro, Osuna and Ayala are absolute locks. Robinson seems to be obsessed with the need for left-handed relief to offset the lack of left-handed starters. This isn't the best logic I've ever heard, but it's going to guarantee both Horgan and Eischen a spot, despite the fact that plenty of right-handers are having far better springs. T.J. Tucker and Jon Patterson have both been pitching well enough, and these guys are out of options. That's 7, meaning that either the Nats will go north with 12 pitchers, or one of these guys is going to have to get left behind for a short while. I believe Horgan still has options, so count on it being him.

Meanwhile, if you're in the New Orleans area, keep tabs on Giant Jon Rauch for me. In some ways, it will be fine, because I'd rather he continue to be a starter, and at least he'll get the right amount of work in AAA. But, it's too bad that we're probably not really going to see this guy until there's an injury of some sort.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Day for Pena?

Scuttlebutt is that Bowden is seriously considering a trade with the Reds that would involve Zach Day and the struggling Wily Mo Pena. Jim Bowden denies it, saying that Rauch and Patterson aren't sufficient if Day were to go, because he absolutely expects injuries in the rotation. That would require more than one injury at once, and it would mean they're not willing to give Hinkley a try if they had to do so. I think that's just talk to raise the asking price. But, there may be some truth to it, considering how big a problem injuries were in the rotation last year, especially since Patterson missed a start due to a hip injury. He'll probably be fine for opening day, but it's just another piece of straw on the camel's back.

Will Mo doesn't want to go, either (free reg required). He wants to play his whole career in Cincinnati.

Let's compare Pena to Chavez. Pena's 2004: .259/.316/.527. Projected 2005: .281/.351/.528. Chavez' 2004: .277/.381/.371. Projected 2005: .272/.321/.382

I don't care if Chavez has a better OBP, he absolutely can't hit for power. Going from an OPS of .752 to an OPS of .843 is a pretty big jump, and so I probably wouldn't hesitate to do the deal. OPS tends to be a highly accurate correlation to performance in subsequent years. Wilkerson had a .872 last year and Guillen had a .849, so Pena compares pretty well.

Defensively, Chavez doesn't look nearly as good as Pena, based on every metric I can find. For example, BP gives Pena a +4 as a CF for 2004, and Chavez a -6. Both are fast, but Pena seems to know how to get a jump and track the ball better.

I think giving up Day for Pena makes sense, considering our relative strengths and weaknesses. I personally wouldn't mind going into battle with Hinkley in a pinch, and I do think that Day should rightfully be 5th in our depth chart, but as long as Loaiza is placed above him, I'd knock him to 6th. And, as far as upside goes, I think Pena's the only one of the three who is a serious breakout candidate.

The BP summary of Day is almost prophetic on the matter:
...the Expos might do well to move Day for full value soon, before their defense starts making him look bad.

I think Bowden is definitely going after Pena. I wouldn't be surprised if he's trying to unload Patterson or Rauch. I think Patterson instead of Day is probably good, but I'd rather give up Day than Rauch. I saw some speculation about Hinkley, but I think that's crazy talk.

By the way, Vidro's MRI came back fine. In similar news, hyper-extended his knee, but his MRI came back fine as well.

Friday, March 18, 2005

MRI for Vidro

Vidro is going in for an MRI today, on his hyper-extended elbow. It looks like he may not be ready for opening day. Let's hope it's not much worse than that.

The Revolution will be Televised

Apparently, MLB President Bob DuPoy has insisted that the Nats will be on TV by opening day, by hook or by crook. This indicates that they've reached an acceptable place with Angelos and are just trying to improve it, or (more likely), that they are prepared with contingency plans for the case where they cannot settle.

I have a feeling that the potential ownership groups, Marion Barry and so on have made themselves heard that they don't want Angelos getting a sweetheart deal at the expense of the Nationals. I think they're still willing to give him at least half of a regional network, but I don't think they're willing to budge any more than that. If so, this could end up being a fun year, as we may be following both a new team and a new lawsuit.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Reason taking over

Apparently, members of the DC council have realized that the proposed private financing plans are all pretty much illusion:
"It's always cheaper for the city to borrow money on its own," said council member Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6).

When did the world start to make sense again? If the District really wants to spend money to reduce their financial risk here, then fine. I think it's silly, but at least they should call a spade a spade, and it looks like that might finally happen. Oh, I also like this one:
"The question is, what is the best deal?" said D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who voted against the stadium package in December. "What we want from the CFO is, what is the most economical thing to do? This ought not be a shell game."

I think Graham must read this blog...

As for the on-field world, it was good to see Zach Day have a good night. It wasn't so good to see Patterson give up five runs in three plus innings the day before (Rauch gave up one run in two innings). In my mind, Patterson is destined for the bullpen. I think that Rauch has an outside shot if he doesn't have a stinker and Day has another one.

In other sanity, Castilla has only gotten two hits this spring, and the Nats are fiddling with Nick Johnson, trying to solve whatever issue has kept him from realizing his on-field potential, even when he's not injured. And, I keep getting more worried about Vidro...

But not all is right with the cosmos, as Guzman is batting .500 so far. Let's hope he keeps that average up, because it's the most likely way for him to keep that OBP up, too!

As for the Most Valuable Network, I decided I'm not going that route. They were looking to merge me into the current blog, which already has a good, highly prolific writer, and then a guy from Montreal who has pissed me off tremendously with his blind hate for D.C. I think there's a reason that I'm pretty much the only other Nats blog linking to them. It's either that, or the silly name.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Hinkley sent down

Wow, it seems really early for Mike Hinkley to get sent down, but that's exactly what happened. I guess his rough start left him no flexibility to make the team out of spring training, particularly considering how well Rauch and Patterson have been doing.

I'm sure he'll get it together in AA, and then we'll see him as an end-of-year call-up.

Grass on the field...


These pictures are from today. There are a few more pictures in the Ballpark Guys forum thread where the original was posted.

Weekend in brief

It's going to be a very busy week for me, so pardon the brevity.



It was an interesting weekend for the Nats. Leaving all game results aside:

  • Armas and Loaiza seem to be progressing as well as can be expected. I'm starting to build up some hope that Loaiza will be average to very good, at least for a little while, before his arm falls off.
  • Osuna threw in his first game yesterday. It required 11 pitches for him to strike out the side.
  • In a vacuum, I wouldn't be worried that Vidro has a hyper-extended elbow. But, with his injury history and the fact that he's only played in three games so far. Is he so fragile that they really have to take it that slow?
  • Feel badly for Zach Day, who has a lot of scrutiny on him now, since his last two outings were "bad" and "utterly horrible". On the other hand, this gives the very deserving Jon Rauch a better shot of breaking into the rotation. Supposedly, Patterson is also pitching very well, and is getting a serious look. I'm sure Day will make the 25-man roster, even if he continues to be putrid. They'll just stick him in the bullpen until he works out of it, and then he'll make his way back into the rotation when we have a starter break down.
  • If you didn't see Angelos' ad in the Post this weekend, it was funny. He basically said, "don't blame me for no TV deal", tried to state as fact that his exclusive territorial rights go all the way into North Carolina or so (as opposed to the DC Border) and then said he was being magnanimous in offering to put the Nationals on the O's network. My hero!

Friday, March 11, 2005

All-Baseball

It looks like MLB's agreement with Bowden ends in April. But, to the inevitable disappointment to many other Nats bloggers, Tavares is working hard to get MLB's permission to sign Bowden through the end of the season. It's likely he will keep the job for at least that long, anyway, even without a contract.

In meta-news, All-Baseball is going to merge into Most Valuable Network. The courtship was, apparently, incredibly brief. It does have an impact on me... I've got a choice to make as to what I want to do, and I haven't made it yet. I'll give more insight *after* I figure out what I want to do!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Ticket time

Single game tickets go on sale noon on Saturday for the exhibition game and all regular season games, except the home opener. Those tickets will be available on March 26th, if there are any to be sold. Besides mini-plan holders getting opening day offers, I have it on very good word that season ticket holders will be able to purchase an additional two tickets to that game. My reading was that, even if you have 8 seats, you can only get two more tickets. According to the Times, the team estimates there may be up to 5,000 tickets available by March 26th, and they may use a lottery system to distribute them.

On the field, the Nats have looked pretty sloppy. The Post actually says Loaiza looked good yesterday against St. Louis, but he gave up almost 2 hits an inning over four innings, which I say is good enough for this time of year, but not "good" per se. Maybe the Post is just up on him because he gave up no runs!

Chavez hasn't been doing well, as he apparently has only 3 hits all spring. Sledge may replace him, because he's one who seems to be impressing. By the way, I don't believe Bowden is overly reluctant to trade Sledge. I think it's just rhetoric to both pump up Sledge's value and to keep Sledge from worrying about it.

Majewski is also not looking good. I'd say he's quickly becoming a long-shot to make the 25-man, since he hasn't looked good in a couple of appearances, and got shelled yesterday.

Another one who is impressing is Ian Desmond, a short stop who is only a year out of high school. Apparently, his defense is phenomenal, and he might actually be able to hit. While there's no chance of this kid starting anywhere other than A ball, the quotes from Robinson and Bowden make it sound like he's quickly putting himself #2 on the depth chart behind Guzman.

Monday, March 07, 2005

It's just spring training...

It's tough to comment on spring training, particularly this early. While the Nats have won four of their first five ST games (and, as I write this, are trailing Detroit, 1-3 after 3), that isn't saying anything at all, for a number of reasons. First, people are just shaking off the rust. Particularly pitchers, who will often focus on honing one or two pitches, where nobody (who matters) will care if they get shelled. Also, by the middle of games, everyone who's playing is a prospect that generally won't even make the 25-man roster.

As a result, I'm not at all worried that Day did horribly in his first start. It's a bit more horrible that Hinkley did even worse in his second opportunity than he did in his first, giving up 6 runs and 8 hits in just two innings, spanning 56 pitches. It doesn't matter much, as he was a long shot to break onto the roster, anyway. It just comes close to sealing that return to the minors.

Rauch and Patterson have both looked good so far, but we're a long way from finding out if they can take the 5th spot. Chavez hasn't been doing horribly, and is showing a lot of dedication. For example, I saw on a message board that, after the Mets game on Saturday, he drove 65 miles to pinch hit in the Astros game.

Also, Svrluga posts in his blog that some obvious cuts have already been made, sending a bunch of prospects back to the minor league camp. They're no big deal, as none of them were even a long shot to head up to DC.

Also, the Post points out that the Nats and O's will play each other one way or another next year, because the AL East and NL East will be playing each other. Besides that, I'd be shocked if they're not "natural rivals" after this year, as has been widely speculated. Apparently, pretty much everybody in baseball would be shocked as well.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Injury risks

Today, Baseball Prospectus had a couple of (subscription only) articles revolving around the Nationals. The interesting one was Will Carroll's Team Health Report. Will focuses on trying to use metrics with a heavy statistical bent to predict injuries. The high-risk players he identifies are:
  • Nick Johnson. No surprise.
  • Tony Armas. No surprise here, either.
  • Alex Escobar, which isn't much of a surprise, considering that it wasn't too long ago he had knee surgery for a torn ACL. He's not going to get much playing time anyway, but Will seems to think he's not going to recover fully, and he's probably right.
  • Christian Guzman. This one surprised me. I didn't realize he has had back problems, as well as an assortment of other leg and shoulder injuries. Will put it quite well: "Seventeen million bucks for this? Ugh."


Medium risk players are:
  • Schneider, who Carroll thinks is low risk... for a catcher.
  • Vidro. I was pleased to see he wasn't in the highest risk group.
  • Castilla
  • Hernandez, though Carroll believes his metrics are wrong for Hernandez, and that he's a low risk..
  • Loaiza... Carroll doesn't mention any of the signs of a possible run-in with TJ surgery that I was fretting about earlier.
  • Ohka. Not surprising.
  • Day. Not surprising.
Low risk players that Carroll mentions are Wilkerson, Chavez, Guillen, Sledge and Cordero.

First place in the Grapefuit league!

I got to watch the first few innings of the first spring training game from work (Nats over Mets, 5-3), but the video was pretty choppy. Now I'm at home and watching the game on Tivo, but I've gotten only 2 hours of sleep in the last 50 hours, so I haven't been as observant as I'd like to be, and I pretty much stopped paying attention to anyone who doesn't have a chance to make the 25-man roster.

Ultimately, of course, one game, particularly the first spring game, is way too small a sample size. But then again, impressions can affect roster decisions, so we can build some insight. The announcers were keenly aware of all the firsts... the first hit, the first HR, etc. I wasn't too concerned with any of it... it's a spring training game, it doesn't mean much!

Tony Armas started, and pitched two innings. His first inning was 1-2-3, but there were a lot of pitches that were stupidly outside. He did seem to put it over the plate when he needed to do so. After falling behind the first batter 3-0, he managed to throw three straight strikes (the third being popped up into the infield in foul territory). In the second inning, he led off with a four pitch walk, but all the pitches were right around the plate. He looked much sharper, and gave up no hits. His fastball topped out at 90.

Jose Guillen had an interesting day. In his first PA, he got hit by a pitch throw by Galvine. He tried stealing second, and he was rediculously slow... it was about as bad as I imagine Roger Clemens would be. Then he hit a monster 2-run shot in his second at bat.

Mike Hinkley pitched second, and also went two innings. He looked fine in his first inning, but fell apart in the second, giving up hit after hit. He even made an error, when he could have gotten himself out of the inning with an easy double play. I'm pretty sure that this won't leave a bad taste in anyone's mouth, and he'll keep getting the ball this spring. Even if he doesn't, we're not going to see him until September, so how he pitches in the minors is what's really going to matter... he could suck the entire spring, and nobody will care.

Jon Rauch eventually got the chance to pitch, and I thought he looked sharp. He gave up a run, but it was unearned. Endy Chavez dropped a routine fly ball in center field, then almost immediately, Jeff Hammons badly misjudged a fly ball, that ended up sailing over his head.

Chavez not only dropped that ball, he went 0-fer, and didn't look too comfortable at the plate. Maybe he feels pressure to have a good spring training, especially because Sledge is already off to a hot start (2-2).

Not long after the two fielding errors, ESPN was interviewing Frank Robinson, who is extremely personable. He was quite stressed about the sloppy play. When asked where he was going to eat, he said it depended on how the game played out, because he wasn't really hungry. They asked whether he was stressing the game, and Frank replied, "Absolutely. Any time you put the uniform on, you don't want to look sloppy." After that, Frank even argued hard with the ump over a blown call (they called the infield fly rule where the fielder had a hard time tracking and couldn't even catch the ball... it certainly wasn't 'routine', and F-Rob was right. But it was fun to see him argue! After the interview, Frank stayed on the headset for most of the game, listening to the broadcast. And, he occasionally chimed in.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Crystal Ball

In an online chat, in response to a question of starters that may be available around the trading deadline, ESPN's Buster Olney listed Tony Armas, Jr. among the potentials. I wholeheartedly agree that's a strong possibility. A few things have to happen, though:
  1. The team can't be in contention. I don't think this is a stretch!
  2. Armas has to stay healthy and pitch well enough to be valuable to a team that in contention.
  3. I think it'll also need to look unlikely that Armas will resign. If they think he's going to be asking for too much money, or if he expresses overtones of wanting to go elsewhere, I think they'll be far more inclined to trade him.

Basically, if they seem likely to lose Armas, the organization would be foolish if they didn't try to get as much for him as possible, particularly considering the state of the farm system. Getting ownership in a timely manner can make a huge difference here... if Armas likes DC, but is going to command a large paycheck next year, it may take some deep pockets to be able to feel confident enough that we can resign him to ride it out. In short, I say, prepare yourself for this one. It's not inevitable, but it does seem likely.

Next in my crystal ball, Esteban Loaiza. Sometime over the past day or two, I read some analyst (I think it was Gammons, but I'm having a hard time digging up the link), who thought that Loaiza had started off last year looking like his 2003 self. The implication is that there's something to Loaiza's "tired arm" theory, for why he sucked in the back half of the year. One would also have to believe that Loaiza really did become a good pitcher when he obtained a cutter. I'm looking at his per-month ERA splits (no need to look at anything fancier here):

April: 3.71 (34 IP)
May: 3.68 (36.2 IP)
June: 5.35 (38.2 IP)
July: 6.89 (31.1 IP)
August: 8.46 (27.2 IP)
September: 7.62 (13 IP)

You know, there's something to that theory. I don't think a 3.7 quite puts him in line with his 2003 numbers, but it isn't so far off, either. Then, he gets steadily and quickly worse, until he's mostly throwing meatballs (remember that one game for the Yankees where he did their part in setting a team record for runs allowed in a game?).

What does this mean for 2005? I think we might just see something similar. Esteban may start off reasonably well, and then start disappointing in June, and totally suck by July. He might even decline a bit faster this year. I think that, if the theory is correct, it's likely that Loaiza is on the fast track to Tommy John surgery. This all feels to me like the strain of being an innings eater is catching up to Loaiza, after quite a long run.

If that's the case, I can see someone giving the guy a chance when he's done. He could be the next Lieber.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Inning-Endy?

First, note that ESPN will be airing the spring training opener tomorrow at 1PM. I'll personally catch it on Tivo later in the day.

I feel badly for Endy Chavez, because the fact that he's marginal at best isn't just getting lots of play in the blogosphere, it's all over the press. Today's Washington Post takes a look, and determines that one of his problems is being too good at making contact:

Robinson explains it thusly. In the instances when Chavez is fortunate to work the count to, say, 3-1, his natural aggressiveness takes over. As Chavez said, "I like to swing the bat. It's hard not to." But because he rarely swings and misses or fouls a ball back, swinging at 3-1 can turn an at-bat in which Chavez held the advantage into a harmless groundout or popup. So in such situations, Robinson wants something different from a guy who's supposed to be a leadoff hitter.

"Occasionally, you're going to have to say to yourself, 'I'm going to take this pitch, and I'll go 3-2 and make him throw another pitch,' " Robinson said. "He has to, each at-bat, understand the situation, and then that will dictate what you should do that at-bat. Each at-bat is different, so look at it that way."
In other words, Chavez not only has no patience, he's too good at putting the ball in play. Well, I wouldn't quite be accusing him of that if he were "hitting 'em where they ain't", so to speak (his batting average last year was only slightly above average, and his OBP was well below it). Nonetheless, it is a good skill to be able to wear down a pitcher.

I don't think we will have Endy Chavez in the starting lineup past 2005 (and I suspect he'll be gone by mid year). Robinson's goal is for Chavez to score 100 runs. I think that's a poor metric for performance, but it's still a big stretch for a guy w/ a .318 OBP last year. I hope he makes big strides, since it seems inevitable that we're going to see him every day, but I doubt he's going to have a breakout season with a .400 OBP.

BTW, Chris over at Capitol Punishment coined the nickname 'Inning-Endy Chavez'. I like it, but I don't think it'll be true. I don't think he'll have enough of an opportunity as the leadoff hitter to build a solid reputation for ending innings. I suspect that many of the innings that aren't ended by the pitcher will be ended by Guzman (or whoever is mediocre enough to be batting 8th). We'll see!