Nationals Review

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Book Club

I'm in the middle of reading Andrew Zimbalist's May the Best Team Win: Baseball Economics and Public Policy. It's an excellent read if you like baseball and have any interest whatsoever in public policy or economics. It goes over a whole host of familiar issues to baseball fans such as public financing of stadiums, baseball's anti trust exemption, issues of competitive balance (perhaps Bud Selig should take notes), and labor issues such as collective bargaining and the powerful player's union.

I recommend our regular readers pick up a copy and take a look. You might even learn something you didn't know about relating to baseball. Plus it's not particularly friendly to the aforementioned "Dark Lord", Commissioner Selig. I'm sure I'll be referencing sections of the book in future posts.

Picture Time

Spanish Socialist prime minister Jose Luis Zapatero enjoyed his trip to Bogota very much, especially upon meeting Colombia's ambassador to Spain:

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!Ay caramba!

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Why It's Great to be a Nats Fan

Basil of Nationals Inquirer wrote another one of those great stream-of-consciousness, personal entries today about leaving his Orioles fandom behind in favor of our Nats. I feel exactly the same way: I loved the mid-90s teams managed by Davey Johnson, featuring Moneyball-type players like Brady Anderson, Bobby Bonilla and, of course, Cal. But, I haven't really been much of a true fan since ex-GM Syd Thrift dumped valuable veteran commodities for, literally, nothing. Remember the damaged goods of Luis Rivera? (Ed: Hey, he has a career MLB ERA of 1.23!) Lesli Brea, anyone? (To be fair, Thrift did get Melvin Mora -- accidentally, I think -- in the Mike Bordick deal, which turned out to be a real heist.)

But I've lost some interest in the Orioles not because they sucked hard for the last six years, but they've shown no indication in building a winning franchise. Whatever Thrift's merits, he was clueless in the modern front office, frequently mocked by other GMs and O's fans alike. (Some prank caller on a Baltimore talk show convinced him that Howard Stern's producer was a top minor league prospect in the O's system.) And they're just not a fun team to watch. Last year, I held out some hope with the slew of young pitchers they had, but Ainsworth is another Luis Rivera, Matt Riley also got injured, John Maine lost his luster and Erik Bedard is far from a sure thing. Furthermore, they traded one of their brightest young arms, Denny Bautista, for setup man Jason Grimsley. Grimsley could have the honor of being traded for two ace pitchers -- if Bautista lives up to his potential with the Kansas City Royals.

Anyways, I always expected the Orioles to screw up. It was a franchise without a vision and in many ways still is. But in a week where the Orioles made another classic bonehead trade, giving up Matt Riley, still with loads of potential for Ramon Nivar. Ramon who, you ask? He's a 25-year old OF who hit 264/290/374 in hitter-friendly Oklahoma City last year. He makes Tyrel Goodwin look like Jim Edmonds.

Yesterday, the Nats' brain trust made a move the Orioles rarely would. They cut Inning-Endy in favor of guys who can actually hit. They understood that leadoff hitters actually need to get on-base. (The Orioles never understood this in 1995 with the Curtis Goodwin experiment.) And even though I disagreed with the Castilla signing, the Nats will have tons of young, high-potential players that will be loads of fun to watch. Boz is right: the Nats have some classic Moneyball-type players. Wilkerson, Vidro, NickJ, Sledge, and even someone like Church take lots of walks, hit for good power -- and are underrated since they played in Montreal. And I haven't even mentioned their deep pitching rotation, which I think can be the surprise of the NL East.

This team will be a helluva lot better and more exciting than any of the Orioles teams, 1998-2003, and I'm stoked for Opening Day. This whole Peter Angelos brouhaha, which now appears to be over, has increasingly estranged me from my former team. I just bought Opening Night tix to the Nats -- the first-ever Opening Day/Night game that I've ever been to. I couldn't be more psyched about the Nats.

Sorry Baltimore, but I'm a full-fledged Nats fan now -- and proud of it.

More on Endy Chavez

Much like Josh, I also feel it's a good thing, and a good sign that Endy Chavez was demoted instead of Ryan Church. That's because Chavez is really bad. Career .303 OBP bad, with no discernable power. His only asset is his speed, and he's only passed the break-even point of 75% (as established in this article) once in his career. A few more Caught Stealings and even that value is gone to nothing.

Of course, Cristian Guzman is certainly not the answer, he of the (wait for it...) .303 career OBP! Guzman should really be hitting eighth. I could see an argument for hitting him seventh and Church behind him so he can get acclimated to the majors at the start of the season, but that's about it.

I'd like to see Nick Johnson hit leadoff. His only major problem in his early career has been injuries, but his career Isolated Discipline (OBP-AVG) is .117, a ridiculously high total. This would keep Brad Wilkerson down in the order, allowing his big hits (73 extra base hits last year) to drive in lots of men.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

NEWSFLASH: Endy to AAA, Church to CF

Well, the unthinkable happened just now.

The Nationals demoted Endy Chavez to AAA New Orleans. This likely means Ryan Church will start in center field. Perhaps Termel Sledge will get some playing time in center as well.

This is undoubtedly good news for the Nats' offense, and gives me a glimpse of hope towards the Bowden-Robinson brain trust. The Nats will have to find a new leadoff hitter, with Brad Wilkerson and Cristian Guzman mentioned as the most likely possibilities, according to Svrluga's Post article. I'd go with Vidro at leadoff; he's got decent speed and very good on-base percentages. I'm surprised he's not mentioned among the list of Potential Nats Leadoff Hitters.

In other news, Jon Rauch and Gary Majewski -- two Nats I'd fully expected to make the 25-man roster -- were demoted. The staff is now set with 11 pitchers. The rotation features Livan, Ohka, Loaiza, Day and Patterson. In the bullpen are: Cordero, Osuna, Tucker, Ayala, Eischen and Horgan.

Baseball and Steroids

I'm not one to provide tons of links since other Nats bloggers -- like Capitol Punishment, District of Baseball and Nats Inquirer -- do the best job in that respect. But today there were two outstanding columns on the steroids issue that I would consider must-reads for intelligent discourse on the topic.

The first is from the incomparable Alan Schwarz, on ESPN.com, about the ridiculous suggestion that home run statistics should be asterisked.

Jayson Stark writes the second piece, which surveys general managers and statistical analysts around the game, in search of some actual evidence of the effects -- or relative lack thereof -- that steroids had on the game.

These two pieces alone are infinitely more valuable and educational than the mounds of bloviating from commentators immediately after the steroids hearing on the Hill. Kudos to Schwarz and Stark -- two of the finer baseball columnists in the media.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Armas to 15-Day DL; Nats Roster Near Completion

The Nats' 25-man roster is closer to completion, with the recent injuries of Alex Escobar and, now, Tony Armas, Jr. The Nats placed Armas on the disabled list today, raising worries that his off-and-on again injuries are now on again. He strained his groin in Sunday's 9-4 loss to the Mets and will likely miss at least four starts. John Patterson seems to have edged out Jon Rauch for the fifth rotation, although both pitched miserably in replacing Armas yesterday. Patterson got the neat stat line of the day. He struck out eight batters while giving up four runs in his three-inning stint.

Here's how the 25-man roster will likely look, with the injuries:

C (2): Schneider, Bennett
IF (6): Johnson, Vidro, Guzman, Castilla, Cordero, Carroll
OF (5): Wilkerson, Inning-Endy, Guillen, Sledge, Davis
SP (5): Livan!, Day, Loaiza, Ohka, Patterson
RP (7): Cordero, Osuna, Ayala, Eischen, Rauch, Majewski, Tucker
DL (2): Armas, Escobar

UPDATE: Nationals Inquirer blogger par-excellence Basil comments below that Armas may be back before the Nats need a fifth starter, according to initial reports. However the recently-updated MLB.com article disputes the diagnosis, and quotes Bowden saying Armas will miss his first four starts. Not a good sign for him.

Credit Card Hoaxes

If you were ever worried about credit card fraud, well then this shouldn't help your peace of mind at all.

But at least it's funny.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Day Makes Rotation

... and other assorted Nats notes:

1. So, it's official. Zach Day, fresh off his five-inning shutout performance against the Astros on Saturday, will be the Nats fifth starter. Jon Rauch and John Patterson appear headed to the bullpen, which would likely mean that the Nats are only bringing 11 hitters up north with them. Without Gary Majewski.

2. MLB is tantalizingly close to reaching an agreement with Peter Steingelos, according to Jim Williams in the Examiner. The agreement sounds good for baseball fans, at the least. CSN would carry both Nats and O's games, and other Nats games would appear on a local DC affiliate. The network would not be controlled by the Orioles, thankfully.

3. Trader Jim is inquiring about St. Rey Ordonez's services. Yes, the Ordonez with the career .289 on-base percentage. Ugh.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Season Previews are Rolling In

Today's Nats preview comes from Craig Burley of The Hardball Times and the excellent Blue Jays blog Batter's Box. (He's also kicking my butt in Yoni Cohen's bloggers bracket challenge, but that's irrelevant.) Being a bitter Canadian mourning the loss of the Expos, there's some resentment there but it's a pretty good read.

I'll try to keep track of other Nats team previews around the Web as they start rolling in.

Nats News

1. The Nats get to keep Rule V draftee and former first-round pick Tyrel Godwin in their organization, by offering up A-ball pitcher Aaron Wideman to the Jays. Wideman, 21, threw only 40 innings last year, put up very impressive numbers -- low WHIP, and a microscopic ERA. Godwin's upside is likely to be a pinch-runner type with some contact ability, a la Brian Hunter. And he's already 25.

The Nats have a surplus of 4th outfielders, with JJ Davis, Ryan Church and Alex Escobar all on the 40-man roster. I don't see why they need to trade away a guy who has some potential with a minor league bust who has already flamed out.

2. Baseball writers are finally getting around to the notion that the Nats pitching -- especially with their depth -- is a strength, not a weakness. Svrluga, who's a great beat writer, caught onto this theme yesterday. A few weeks ago in the Examiner, Phil Wood came up with a similar diagnosis. This is in stark contrast to the original CQ -- based on the pitchers' won-loss records -- that pitching would be a weakness for the 2005 squad.

3. Finally, Barry Bonds may be out for the entire season -- sounds like part injury, and partly because he's sick of being lambasted by the media. Developing...

Sunday, March 20, 2005

"Matsui Embodies The Yankee Ideal"

Tyler Kepner of the NY Times hits the nail on the head with an article on Hideki Matsui that is in part praise of Matsui's mystique and achievements since joining the team in 2002 and in part recognition of the Yankees dwindling mystique. Money quote:

As Matsui enters his third season with the Yankees, the striking thing is how seamless his transition has been. As much as any player, Matsui embodies the Yankee ideal, an identity that seems to fade with each mercenary who enters the clubhouse.

I don't recall ever referring to the Yankees as mercenaries, but as the recent trade for the 41 year old Randy Johnson proved, the Yankees no longer have the mystique that helped them propel them to the top. The dynasty that existed from 1996-2000 is virtually unrecognizable outside of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Waxman's Pot Calling His Kettle Black

It only took one day for Rep. Henry Waxman (D) to become a full-fledged hypocrite. After abusing his Government Reform Committee's powers to subpoena baseball players in the steroid show trial, he unequivocally opposes subpoenaing Terry Schiavo's family to testify before Congress. His reason?

"These subpoenas are a flagrant abuse of power," Waxman said. "Congress is turning the Schiavo family's personal tragedy into a national political farce."

Friday, March 18, 2005

Around the NL East: Second Basemen

Josh K has asked me to do a preview of the NL East's second basemen. I feel this is one of the more even positions in the division, and I in no way feel like these are the definitive rankings. Feel free to disagree, as I doubt that these will hold up throughout the season; it's just how I feel as a snapshot today.

Previous installments: Catchers, First Basemen

1. Marcus Giles, Atlanta Braves (2004 line: .311/.378/.443)

Giles is the class of the division at this position. Only 26, he's still on the upswing, especially if he can put together a full season. Not that it's necessarily his fault, as he's collided with first Mark Prior in 2003, and then Andruw Jones in 2004. Unless, of course, you think colissions are recurring injuries. I expect Giles to bounce back to close to his 2003 line, with 100 runs, 20 homers, and over a .900 OPS.

2. Jose Vidro, Washington Nationals (2004: .294/.367/.454)

Vidro had a poor season last year by his standards, especially after signing a 4 year, $30 million extension before the 2004 season. His year was cut short by a knee injury, which he had surgery on and seems to be fully healed. Barring injury, he'll probably hit .300 again. I don't think he'll ever get back to 20 homers (he's only passed this once, in 2000), but he should hit about 15, and maintain a decent walk rate to get his OPS above .850 and become one of the Nats' best and most popular players.

3. Kaz Matsui, New York Mets (2004: .272/.336/.396)

I expect Matsui to make leaps and bounds this season as he finally adjusts to major league pitching, much like his namesake across town (Hideki's OPS: 2003, .788; 2004, .912). The move to second base and the addition of a real first baseman, Doug Mientkiewicz, should keep him from focusing on his defense when he's at bat. And he did go 14/17 on stolen bases last year; if he keeps that pace up, he'll be effective that way, especially if Willie Randolph lets him run a little bit more.

4. Luis Castillo, Florida Marlins (2004: .292/.373/.348)

Castillo can do three things well, hit for average, play defense, and steal bases. And the third is questionable, as he only has a 72% success rate, including a ghastly 53% in 2003. However, if he can repeat his 21/25 performance of 2004, he'll be useful attempting steals. I expect Castillo to be fairly consistent, and hit .300 with next to no power, and some speed and defense. Where he ranks is more a function of everyone else on this list.

5. Chase Utley, Philadelphia Philles (2004: .266/.308/.468)

It's not that Utley's bad, but he's got the least experience of everyone in the division, with 267 ABs being his max in a season. He's also not the best second baseman on his team, but Placido Polanco, who accepted arbitration to stay with the Phillies will be the utility man, at least until David Bell gets hurt. Utley's probably good for 20 homers in a full season, but he probably won't get his average over .280, and his walk rate is not so good. He's only 26, and was a well-regarded prospect, so I expect him to move towards the top of this list in the next two or three years

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Steroid Hearings and Channeling South Park

So I watched most of the Congressional hearing on baseball and steroids at work today. Lots of bloviating Congressmen from both parties. Indiana is clearly a hoops state -- Reps. Mark Souder (R) and Clinton-hater Dan Burton (R) made some of the most idiotic statements in their questioning of the players. So did Moonbat Dennis Kucinich (D), when he asked Sammy Sosa a question in Spanish; he sounded like I did in Spanish 1. What a joker.

On the players side, Mark McGwire came across horribly, robotically repeating "I don't want to talk about the past" whenever questioned about any question about steroid or supplement use. He's not that bright (maybe the steroids affected his intelligence) and I almost felt sorry for the guy. Still, I couldn't stand his blabber about starting some group that will help educate kids about steroids. Does he really mean that? It's just so cheesy and irrelevant.

I've always liked Curt Schilling, especially since his support of President Bush on Good Morning America back in October. He did an outstanding job responding to questions at the hearing, and made unintelligent and unprepared Congressmembers like Linda Sanchez (D) and Patrick McHenry (R) look like dopes.

It's really hard to root for people at this hearing. I've always been a big fan of Committee Chairman Tom Davis, but this hearing is pure grandstanding. I''ve been a frequent and consistent basher of Bud Selig and his cronies, but I've actually been inclined to hope they handily outdebate the know-nothing Congressmen. Some Congressmen who I generally agree with politically have made inane comments. And others who I couldnt be further from politically (see Socialist Bernie Sanders' comments) actually made sense. And I can't stand the ignorance and dopiness of Mark McGwire and loathe Jose Canseco. I've only been impressed with Curt Schilling and Rafael Palmeiro, who both came across as authentic during the questioning.

Finally, I've gotta end with this quote from McGwire, when asked what he thought about steroids. As some have mentioned before (Will Carroll, Baseball Primer) it sounded channeled from South Park:

Steroids is bad.

"A Blow to the Integrity of Baseball"

The steroid abuse hearings on Capitol Hill are already off to a very interesting start with Senator John McCain now claiming he was duped by Major League Baseball.

"I can reach no conclusion, but that the league and the players union have misrepresented to me and to the American public the substance of MLB's new steroid policy," the Arizona Republican wrote to baseball commissioner Bud Selig and union head Donald Fehr.

Gentleman, start your engines. The fireworks have just begun.

Meet the Colonials

The NCAA tournament starts today in full force when Kentucky tips off against Eastern Kentucky in the Austin regional. GW's Colonials were the only local team to make it into the bracket, and they open up tomorrow night against Georgia Tech in Nashville at the Gaylord Entertainment Center.

That's right. The Gaylord Entertainment Center. Which reminds me of this classic conversation from "Meet the Parents":

Delivery Man: Gaylord M. Focker?
Greg Focker: That's me.
Jack Byrnes: I thought your name was Greg.
Greg Focker: It is.
Delivery Man: That's not what it says here.
Greg Focker: Gaylord is my legal name. Nobody's called me by it since third grade.
Denny Byrnes: Wait a minute, so your name is Gay Focker?

Social Security Reform and its Consequences

Former head of the Council of Economic Advisors Gregory Mankiw lays out a persuasive case for Social Security reform in the New Republic.

Meanwhile, National Review columnist Ramesh Ponnuru details the possible consequences of the plan.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Dream Class

Once upon a time when I was a high school senior, I visited Tufts University and wanted to enroll there. I was summarily rejected by their admissions office, and attended the illustrious American University in Washington, DC -- alma mater of three of the four Nationals Review bloggers and NBA star Kermit Washington. (Lior, you can enjoy the aftermath of the Pete Gillen firing and take solace that your alma mater made it to as many NCAA tournaments as American U.)

I haven't thought much about the Boston-area school until I came across this course in their American Studies department: The Analysis of Baseball: Statistics and Sabermetrics. The syllabus includes course headings such as: "Case Study: Mazzone Effect" and "Give Jeter Some Love." Baseball Prospectus and Moneyball are among the required reading for the class.

Maybe AU should expand their own academic offerings to include baseball. Just a thought...

Scalia Speaks Out

Justice Antonin Scalia gave a speech last night at the Woodrow Wilson Center on judicial activism.

"If you think aficionados of a living Constitution want to bring you flexibility, think again," Scalia told an audience at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a Washington think tank. "You think the death penalty is a good idea? Persuade your fellow citizens to adopt it. You want a right to abortion? Persuade your fellow citizens and enact it. That's flexibility."
"Why in the world would you have it interpreted by nine lawyers?" he said.

While Scalia and I may have personal differences on many issues, I have great respect for him. Reading a Scalia dissent is always fascinating, as many of even his most ardent critics agree. It is clear that Scalia has a complete understanding of the purpose of the Supreme Court.

Scalia is one of the notable exceptions on the Court in that his dissents or opinions of the court are an exercise in humility rather than contempt for the legislative process. Perhaps the other Justices should consider emulating his simple concept that legislators legislate and interpretors interpret laws rather than make them.

Time for Term Limits?

Is it time for term limits for Supreme Court Justices? While I believe this would require some kind of change in the Constitution, I am starting to fall into the "yes" camp. It has become increasingly clear (and somewhat shocking) that some Justices either do not understand, or worse, simply do not care, what their role is as a Supreme Court Justice. The Court is the judicial branch of the federal government and as such is responsible for interpreting the law. Unfortunately, as the recent Roper vs. Simmons case showed, some justices have even gone as far as using international opinion to interpret the American Constitution. (ed. On a personal note, I am against the death penalty for juveniles, but that is beside the point).

The Supreme Court has gradually morphed into a quasi executive/legislative hybrid. Occasionally, it will literally legislate from the bench, forcing the executive branch to execute laws created in the judicial branch. Considering that judges are not elected but are appointed, considering term limits for them might not be such a bad idea.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Angelos' Fatwa II

It's become clear that Peter Angelos is engaging in some serious hardball tactics (pun intended). As Josh's earlier post indicated, Angelos is trying to turn local baseball teams into monopolies. While these kinds of tactics are normally highly illegal under various US anti-trust laws, perhaps a bad example was set by the fact that Major League Baseball is exempted from these anti-trust laws, establishing it as a legal monopoly, all courtesy of the US government.

This could make the upcoming steroids hearings very interesting. The chairman of the House Committee, Tom Davis, has declared that if any player does not show up, there could be a House vote to determine whether they are in contempt of Congress. The penalties for this contempt could include a revocation of the federal anti-trust exemption for baseball. Baseball Prospectus provides a very interesting look at the possible consequences were such a revocation to occur.

UPDATE from Josh: Tom Boswell, no fan of Angelos, pens a terrific screed against him in tomorrow's Post. It's Tuesday's early must-read.

The Arab Street

From today's AP wire -- live from Beirut:

Hundreds of thousands of opposition demonstrators chanted "Freedom, sovereignty, independence" and unfurled a huge Lebanese flag in Beirut on Monday, the biggest protest yet in the opposition's duel of street rallies with supporters of the Damascus-backed government. . . .

A line of people in the square carried a 100-yard-long white-and-red Lebanese flag with the distinct green cedar tree in the middle, shaking it up and down and shouting, "Syria out."

Protesters chanted "Truth, freedom, national unity!" or "We want only the Lebanese army in Lebanon!"

"Syria out, no half measures," read a banner, borrowing from President Bush's description of Damascus' gradual withdrawal from this country of 3.5 million.


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Peter Angelos' Fatwa

BallWonk has the best take on Peter Angelos' advertisement to Nats fans in the Washington Post. Angelos is responsible for holding up a Nats local TV deal, potentially preventing fans from seeing the opener April 3rd against the Phillies.

My best guess is that something will be worked out between MLB and Angelos this week. Baseball certainly realizes that DC is indeed a big-league city, and they would land a big PR hit if the Nats games weren't televised by the opener.

When the Nats first came to town, I expected to retain my O's fandom. After all, they were the only team that I've rooted for since I started following baseball. But now, I'm not so sure. Angelos is single-handedly ensuring that I'm not going to be heading up to Camden Yards at all in 2005 -- and beyond.

Oh Canada!

Matt Labash dubs Canada the "Great White Waste of Time" in today's edition of the Weekly Standard, and describes our neighbor to the north as:

docile, Zamboni-driving people who subsist on seal casserole and Molson. Their hobbies include wearing flannel, obsessing over American hegemony, exporting deadly Mad Cow disease and even deadlier Gordon Lightfoot and Nickelback albums.


Ouch! Here's the rest of Labash's ode to Canada.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Nats Roundup

Here's the "Houston, We Have a Problem" weekend edition of who's hot and who's not on the Nats. The Nats split their two Sunday games. Nats team A beats the Astros, 9-4; Nats team B loses to the Mets 14-5.

HOT:

  • Brad Wilkerson: Smashed a longball against the Astros today, which was his second in as many games.
  • Termel Sledge: Four hits in his first five at-bats. He's making a case to start in the outfield, or perhaps his play is making him more attractive as trade bait for other teams.
  • John Patterson: With more performances like his three innings of one-hit ball yesterday, he will have a shot at notching the #5 spot on the rotation.
  • Ian Desmond: The 19-year old shortstop has no chance of making the team, but he propelled the Nats to victory with his 3-run triple on Saturday against the O's.

NOT:

  • Zach Day: Chicks dig the longball. but not when you're giving up home runs. His mediocre start against the Astros today won't help him avoid the bullpen when the season starts.
  • Alex Escobar: 0-3 against the Astros, and he's now hitless for the spring.
  • Mike Hinckley: A great prospect, but his performance against the split-squad Mets virtually ensures that he'll begin the year at New Orleans (AAA). Two innings, eight hits, one walk -- ugh.

Memories of Greisinger and McLean HS

Reader Michael Krauss writes in:

You should consider writing about Seth Greisinger, a local guy who is fighting to make the team. His story is a good one, and he is a genuinely nice guy. [And he is the boy friend of one of my law students at Mason!]

I can't add too much to Barry Svrluga's nice piece Friday in the Post on Greisinger, a long-shot to make the Nats' squad. Greisinger was rushed to the majors with the 65-97 Detroit Tigers back in 1998 and, with a 5.12 ERA, pitched quite well for a 21-year old. After the Tigers overworked him at such a tender age, he required Tommy John surgery and hasn't been the same since. He didn't re-appear in the bigs until 2003 -- a stark reminder of what can happen to even the brightest prospects.

Greisinger also reminds me of a memorable moment in Annandale HS history, the school I attended in the not too-distant past, that had a difficult time getting attention for our sports teams. The school competed against the top Northern Virginia athletes in the Patriot League. With mega-schools Lake Braddock and Robinson as our main rivals, it was hard for our Annandale Atoms (yes, that was our team name) to get noticed. It's like being the Tampa Devil Rays in a division that includes the Yanks and Red Sox.

But there were exceptions. In 2000, Annandale's long-suffering baseball team managed to gain a slot in the regional playoffs. Their first-round opponent was one of the top baseball teams in the region that year: the McLean Highlanders. Annandale was the equivalent of the play-in team -- I believe they had the lowest seeding of the 16 teams in the tournament. And they upset the Highlanders on a sixth-inning rally that stunned McLean fans and put Annandale baseball on the map.

McLean, meanwhile, got a lot of attention because of Greisinger. Their fans would still mention his name at that game, even three years after his graduation. He was an icon for the small school known more for its academics. There aren't many local high school baseball players that even make the high minors. Cubs and A's reserve outfielder Robin Jennings, who also played for the Atoms back in 1989, is one. Joe Saunders, of West Springfield HS and VaTech, is another.

It would be great to see him pitch in a Nats uniform at RFK. It would be even nicer to see him live up to all that potential he once had as an Olympic standout and college star, back during my high school days.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Nats Gear Selling Fast

I haven't personally seen a lot of Nats gear being worn around the city, but according to Peter Gammons, Washington Nationals merchandise is selling so fast that it is second only to the Red Sox (who I might add are a horrible, horrible baseball team). So go join the club and buy yourself and the kids some nice baseball caps. Brian Schneider and Gary Bennett like theirs.

Non-Sequitur of the Day

From the reliably smarmy Dana Milbank in today's Washington Post:

Santorum aides dispute that, pointing out that both chambers have passed some version of what Santorum's spokeswoman calls the "enormously popular" proposal. Santorum put charitable giving at the top of what he called the "Senate Republican Poverty Alleviation Agenda."

But the other GOP senators at Santorum's event had different ideas in mind. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Tex.) made a pitch for extending tax breaks for married couples. Sam Brownback (Kan.), reading from a speech with the message "Love Jesus" hand-written at the top, spoke about prison recidivism. James M. Talent (Mo.) promoted welfare revisions.

I know Milbank comes from a feature-writing background at the New Republic. but how is it relevant that Brownback's speech had "the message Love Jesus on it?" For most Americans, it would be a sign of personal religiosity. Clearly, Milbank is trying to send a not-so-subtle message with that clause.

Hi!, and Thinking About 2005

Howdy there. My name is Josh (not to be confused with first-on-this-blog Josh), and I've been blogging for about two and a half years over on my own blogspot site, but I'll be joining the crew over at Nationals Review for baseball and politics blogging (not to try to encourage crossovers, but I'll probably do the occassional pop culture and local flavor posts over there). I'm a senior at American University, and a regular poster at Baseball Primer.

Last month, SG at the Replacement Level Yankees Blog ran 100 simulations of the 2005 season. Surprisingly, our Nats finished with an average record of 81-81, winning 6 divisions and taking 6 more wild cards (Primer discussion here). This doesn't seem to mesh with Buster Olney's rankings, placing the Nats 29th. Of course, neither does the Braves' identical 81-81 record.

Why the optimism? Szymborski's ZiPS system, which the projections are based on (available here), really likes the Nats' pitching. Livan Hernandez is projected at a 3.85 ERA (34th among all starters) and Tomo Ohka is right behind at 3.89. The highest ERA in the projected Opening Day rotation is Zach Day's 4.61. There's a grain of salt to be taken with these projections (I'll be interested to see how Diamond-Mind's own numbers rate the Nats), but it looks like the Nats might not be as bad as the MSM thinks.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

You Can Book This One to the Nats

...to borrow a phrase from former O's announcer/hack Michael Reghi.

Nats knock off the Mets, 5-3 in the team's first-ever game. Here's the debut of the occasional feature at Nationals Review: "Who's Hot and Who's Not."

HOT:

  • Tony Armas: Had occasional control issues, but when he needed to throw strikes, he did. The called strikeout on Carlos Beltran was a beaut.
  • Jose Guillen: Launched a two-run blast off Mets prospect Aaron Heilman in the fourth. Good start for the embattled outfielder.
  • Termel Sledge: Sledge was 2-2, and outshined his main outfield rival Endy Chavez (see below) who looked bad in his first at-bat, and dropped an outfield fly.
  • Chad Cordero: Struck out the side against the Mets backups with some nasty stuff. I'm liking this kid already.

NOT:

  • Endy Chavez: Ugh. Looked ugly in his first at-bat, and botched a fly ball. Not looking good for Inning-Endy.
  • Mike Hinckley: He wasn't bad at all, but he was a bit wild in his second inning of work. He needs to have an awesome spring to make the major-league squad, and he didn't live up to that standard.

All in all, a very good start for the Nationals. Heck, even O's castoff Keith Osik hit a homer. Nats are undefeated in the spring schedule, and should easily surpass the #29 ranking that ESPN gave them among the 30 baseball teams; only KC is ranked worse. (Ed: Yeah, yeah... I know Buster Olney wrote the piece. His rationale for putting San Diego at #11 is that they acquired Dave Roberts. Woohoo.) Colorado, Cincy, Tampa, Arizona, and Pittsburgh are easily worse than our Nats -- mark my words.

I don't know about anyone else, but I haven't been this stoked for baseball season in a long while.

Play ball!

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Health Care, Baseball and the Marketplace

One of the biggest problems we face as a nation is the dramatic rise in health care costs. Some of this is to be expected and even welcome. As new medical technologies are invented and new cures and vacinations are discovered, people will willingly pay more to take advantage of these new life enhancing and life expanding medical breakthroughs. However, the cost of general care now easily surpasses the rate of inflation, leaving nearly 45 million citizens without health insurance.

Arnold Rehman has a very interesting piece on the state of the US health care system in the New Republic. Rehman argues that the market for health care does not represent the typical marketplace and thus should not be subject to the same freedom of the marketplace as are most other goods and services. On this point, I agree with him, but strongly disagree with his conclusions:

During the past four decades our health policies have failed to meet national needs because they have been heavily influenced by the delusion that medical care is essentially a business. This delusion stubbornly persists, and current proposals for a more "consumer-driven" health system are likely to make our predicament even worse. I wish to examine these proposals and to explain why I think they are fundamentally flawed. A different kind of approach could solve our problems, but it would mean a major reform of the entire system, not only the way it is financed and insured, but also how physicians are organized in practice and how they are paid. Since such a reform would threaten the financial interests of investors, insurers, and many vendors and providers of health services, the short-term political prospects for such reform are not very good. But I am convinced that a complete overhaul is inevitable, because in the long run nothing else is likely to work.


Most economists agree that many of the fundamental problems in health care arise from problems that markets do not consider internally, such as adverse selection, asymmetric information, and moral hazards. Rehman argues that the general direction of the US health care system - toward a consumer oriented system he refers to as "consumer-driven health care," or CDHC, is doomed to failure. While the more individualistic oriented CDHC system does in fact negate some of the advantages of insurance, specifically the pooling of risk over a large population, Rehman seems to neglect the very real advantages that CDHC can have in taming the problems that the marketplace doesn't consider.

The creation of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) that combine high deductible health insurance plans with savings accounts that can be invested and gain interest, and most notably are owned by the individual consumer of health care, move the health care system to a more genuine and informed marketplace. Whereas typical for-profit health insurance plans practically beg doctors to take advantage of patients who lack information on what types of care they really need or should receive, HSAs encourage consumers to "shop around" for care that best suits their needs and to save money. They also encourage consumers to avoid unnecessary trips to the doctors for head colds or the flu, which drive up insurance costs for everyone else, since even meager costs are pooled in insurance.

How does this all relate to baseball? Two words: Juan Gonzalez. In baseball, free agency is a common occurence where a player is free to put his talent on the market and find the bidder of his choosing. Juan Gonzalez, a fantastic baseball player and former MVP back in his hey-day was heading towards free agency with the Texas Rangers back in 2000. Fearing Gonzalez would bolt the team, the Rangers traded him to the Detroit Tigers for several marginal players, among whom only one - Francisco Cordero - was successful. Gonzalez went on to have a terrible season, which many attributed to a nagging back injury.

As part of the free agency period, the former MVP Gonzalez was subject to several physicals from many teams, eliminating any potential economic problems such as asymmetric information about Gonzalez's health. Gonzalez ultimately signed an incentive laden deal with the Cleveland Indians and produced a monster season, batting .325 with with 35 home runs and 140 RBIs. Nonetheless, Gonzalez still didn't get the coveted multiyear, megabucks deal he had coveted while with the Rangers. Potential consumers of Gonzalez's talents were well aware that his back was still shaky at best and were wary to sign him to any lengthy deal.

Since his first year with the Indians, Gonzalez has been relegated to small base pay salaries with large performance incentives, and his performance has been shaky at best, including another injury plagued 2004 season with the Kansas City Royals. The analogy of major league baseball's free agency market to the health care market (while far from perfect, but hey, this is a baseball blog so take what you can get) shows the advantages of consumers who are empowered with information. Whereas baseball owners are always looking for more information to enhance their ability to make "purchases" of players talents, health care consumers have been generally left in the dark, a major concern that CDHC can help alleviate to a large extent. CDHC is not a cure all solution, but could be a giant step in the right direction.

Nats Minor League System Overview

The invaluable John Sickels of minorleagueball.com has a nice roundup of the Nats farm system. The good news? Unlike some teams with mediocre farm systems, the Nats have two legit top prospects in Mike Hinckley and Bill Bray.

At the tender age of 22, Hinckley has posted a career 2.80 minor league ERA, including a 2.59 ERA last season in Harrisburg (AA). Pitchers, as a breed, are unpredictable -- but his record is damn good. He's one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, though I'd prefer he began 2005 in AAA. As Sickels writes:

Hinckley is often ignored when top pitching prospects are discussed, but I rank him fourth among minor league lefty prospects, behind only Kazmir, Francis, and Meyer. Hinckley is a textbook case of how a "projectable" high school southpaw is supposed to develop.

Bray is somewhat of a local guy; he was the 13th pick in last year's draft out of William and Mary. The jury's still out, but scouts have raved about his stuff.

So what's the bad news? Once you get past the top 5 prospects, everything else in our system is drek. We don't have any depth, and most of prospects below AAA don't have much of a shot to make the big club.

DC Weather Woes

The DC-area meteorologists were all wet with yesterday's snow forecast.

When the storm approached, all the weathermen predicted the storm would arrive quickly -- likely by 4:00 a.m. When I woke up yesterday around 8:30, there was not a flake in the sky. All area school systems closed, though.

As flakes finally arrived by early afternoon, nothing stuck to the ground. With the snow failing to stick by early evening, these same meteorologists revised their forecasts arguing that the snow was over. Huge bust, or so it seemed.

But, wait! Just after they predicted the (non-sticking) snow would end, suddenly bursts of heavy snow blanketed the region, coating roads with 2-3" of new snow. These AMS-certified weather geeks, on TV and online, botched the forecast about as much as you could possibly botch a forecast.

Maybe -- dare I say it -- DC should emulate Moscow, whose mayor is fining meteorologists for inaccurate weather predictions.