Nationals Review

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Run Distribution and the Nationals

Over at The Hardball Times, Dave Studeman has been looking at the effects of run distribution on a team's record versus their expected record based on runs scored and runs allowed (the Pythagorean record). The best case of this this year is our Nationals who sit a whopping 14 games over .500 despite having allowed more runs than they've scored. As previously pointed out here and on other Nats blogs, a lot of this is due to the bullpen torching by Joe Horgan and Antonio Osuna early in the season. Here are the raw numbers, as of Tuesday night's game.

RunsTimes Scored
04
18
29
316
410
512
63
75
84
92
100
113

The above linked article (which you should probably read first if you're going to continue with this post) points out the expected winning percentage for each number of runs scored, and that the most important runs are numbers 2 through 5. The Nats exceed the expected winning percentage at every run value except for 4 runs, where they have a .400 winning percentage versus an expected winning percentage of .471.
The Nats have a perfect record when they score 6 runs or more, and are a stagerring 10-2 when they score 5 runs.

Some of this is probably due to the "pitching to the score" that Livan Hernandez and Chad Cordero have demonstrated so well. Per the THT article, adding up the offensive expected winning percentage only comes to 34 wins, 11 short of the actual number. This confirms what Nats fans have known for a while: the rest of the season is going to rely heavily on the pitching.

I'm going to keep tracking this, and will post periodically on these numbers.

(And no, I can't figure out how to get rid of that giant space. Sorry.)

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A Brief Foray into Politics

One thing that riles me up the most is an op-ed column that is completely devoid of logic. They appear regularly in papers across the country, from both ideological sides. But today's op-ed by Richard Cohen (usually a decent, if lazy, columnist) is so sloppy with facts that I had to e-mail him, and blog about it. It's a slam at conservatives for the popularity of Ed Klein's new book trashing Hillary Clinton. I haven't read the book, it sounds like a collection of sleaze but if Cohen had done any research, he'd find that most conservatives are either trashing the book or ignoring it. Here's my letter:

Richard,

You cite the popularity of Ed Klein’s new biography on Hillary Clinton as proof that conservatives “will buy anything, no matter how badly done, that attacks the Clintons or liberalism” even as you conveniently ignore (except for the brief Economist reference) that most conservatives, from Peggy Noonan to John Podhoretz have trashed the book in print. Nevermind the fact that, in all likelihood, a good number of the purchasers of the anti-Hillary tome aren’t died-in-the-wool conservatives.

In July 2004, you called Michael Moore’s Farenheit 9/11 “farrago of conspiracy theories” and “silly and so incomprehensible.” His movie, of course, was tops at the box office – propelled by many liberal Democrats eager to see a specious attack on our president – and our country. Likewise, hisbooks have consistently reached the top of the bestseller list. Are you going to condemn the many Democratic Congressional attendees of his movie and the many liberals who purchased his books and paid to see his movie?

I’m disappointed to see you misrepresent the conservative reaction to the book, and lazily insinuate that the popularity of the book is attributable to conservatives. Conservatives, in general, like to promote individual responsibility, and it would have been nice if you placed the blame on this trashy book directly where it lies: on Ed Klein himself. Instead, you take another cheap pot-shot at conservatives, who –- if you’ve done any research –- have not praised this book. Sounds like Hillary Clinton herself, in fact: blaming a liberal’s criticism of her on that vast-right wing conspiracy.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Another 5-4 Win!

The Nats won yesterday, 5-4, completing a successful 5-4 road trip against the Angels, Rangers and Buccos and today the Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, that "local governments may seize people's homes and businesses -- even against their will -- for private economic development." This presumably will make it easier for the city to buy off the assortment of strip clubs and isolated homes around the Southeast ballpark site for the new ballpark.

At first glance, I'm not a big fan of the ruling, even though it may be one of those good policy, bad judicial logic type of decisions. (i.e. Roe v. Wade, to abortion rights advocates) It seems to give arbitrary power for governments to seize land without giving enough consideration But then again, I'm no expert on eminent domain law, so check out smart lawblogs (like Volokh) for more insightful commentary on the decision.

Some tough roster decisions will have to be made in the upcoming days. Travis Hughes has been great in his two appearances with the club, so when Joey Eischen returns from the DL at month's end, one of Ryan Drese, Hughes or Sunny Kim will have to be sent down. I'd bet Hughes would be the odd-man out, but I'd like to see him a bit longer with the Nats.

When Jose Vidro is activated off the 15-day DL -- perhaps as early as tomorrow -- one of the Nats' trio of utility infielders will have to be sent down. I'd say the no-brainer candidate is sub-.100 hitter Wil Cordero. He's contributed absolutely nothing to the team all year and I doubt his "chemistry" points will push him ahead of Jamey Carroll or Carlos Baerga.

Final note: ESPN Radio dissed the Nats again this morning with Steve Phillips' NL top five power ranking. No mention of the Nats at all, but the Braves placed #2, the Marlins #3, and the Phils #5. Where's the love?

Friday, June 10, 2005

Breaking Nats News

Fresh off the wires...

The Nats trade Tomo Ohka to the Brewers and get 2B Junior Spivey. Also, Jeffrey Hammonds retires and Sunny Kim moves into the starting rotation, presumably tonight against the M's. Trader Jim also picks up former Rangers ace Ryan Drese off waivers.

Short-term, this looks like a good deal. But now, our vaunted pitching depth has vanished with Jon Rauch injured, Claudio Vargas released and Tomo Ohka traded.

Ryan Drese is a real gamble. He had some solid minor league peripheral numbers, but his 2004 season was pretty much smoke and mirrors; he's been awful this season. Perhaps a change from hitter-friendly Ameriquest Field to RFK will do him some good.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Return to Sender

Natty Review (which is much more refreshing and full-bodied than Natty Lite) would like to welcome newest Phillie Ugueth U. Urbina to the NL East. Urbina's line vs. Texas tonight, according to ESPN.com:

Pitcher IP H R ER BB K HR ERA
Urbina 0.1 2 4 4 2 1 1 ######

In the immortal words of Elvis Presley, Urbina's NL ERA is "no such number, no such zone." Nevertheless, I think an ERA of ###### may still be lower than Dan Kolb's.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Bang! Zoom! How 'Bout Those Nats!

I don't know if I can take these one-run wins anymore. Tonight, the Nats win yet again, 2-1 over Oakland, with my favorite Nat Nick Johnson driving in all the runs and showing off his glove again. I haven't followed or been as passionate about a team since the 1997 Orioles. Ever since Armando Benitez choked up an AL championship against the Tribe, I've followed the O's with their mindless management and enjoyed the progress that Moneyball-style teams, like the A's and Red Sox have made.

But now I'm really into the Nationals: their players, the city, the battle for first place. I've long been a cynic, but it's been thrilling following the Nats in their inaugural season. I always argued they were the ultimate Moneyball-type team: lots of solid, underrated players that get little attention. The team was universally picked in the cellar by nearly all the pundits; I had them around .500. When Linda Cropp almost scuttled the deal moving the Expos to Washington, I had many sleepless nights anxiously awaiting the resolution. And when ESPN profiled me as the Ultimate Nats fan, the evolution from critic to fan was complete.

Now I'm as anxious as ever as the Nats try to hold onto their notorious one-run leads. They did it last night against the A's. There's more of this to come, I'm sure.

Other Nats notes:

-- So, Patch can hit the lefties, eh? In only 18 at-bats, Church has hit lefties just swell: a .276 average and .444 slugging average. And the only reason he came to the plate against lefty Matt Perisho on Sunday is there was no one left on the bench. If his game-winning three-run blast wasn't enough to convince Frank he's an everyday player, I don't think anything will. Of course, he was benched again Tuesday, but at least Marlon Byrd is a fine replacement.

-- The 12-year-old "Alex the Phenom" on AOL Sports Bloggers radio show might be an enthusiastic guest, but he's no phenom and he still has a lot to learn. I can empathize: when I was 14 in the early days of the Internet, I once penned a letter to Orioles GM Pat Gillick after he signed Luis "She Looked 18" Polonia, an overrated hitter. For my age, I was a decent writer but my letter was nasty, unprofessional and I'm sure Gillick wouldn't even have glanced at it. It was full of snarky lines about how smart I was and how "idiotic" he was for signing guys like Ozzie Guillen and Joe Carter. I sent it out to one of those Orioles e-mail lists, and a few gave the standard, "Wow, that's impressive for a 14-year-old!" But the few wise members of the message board knew the letter was inappropriately written and immature.

Alex still has a lot to learn, and the sooner he realizes it, the better off he'll be. (And there, that's the cynic in me!)

Interleague Imbalances

I hate interleague play. Two reasons: one, it creates matchups no one cares about, like Marlins-Mariners, as a gimmick to get three or four interesting matchups in the entire majors, and two, it creates an imbalance among the schedules of teams competing for the same playoff spot (I don't like the use of unbalanced schedules with a wild card system for the same reason). And that's what I'd like to discuss today, with a 12-game set of interleague games coming up in the next two weeks between the NL East and the AL West. However, there's a disconnect. Because the AL West only has four teams, one team in the NL East is playing an NL Central team during each series, and miss one of the AL West teams.

These are:

Mets -- miss Texas, play Houston
Phillies -- miss LA/Anaheim, play Milwaukee
Marlins -- miss Oakland, play Chicago Cubs
Braves -- miss Seattle, play Cincinnati (4)

And our Nats are the lucky team that gets to play all four AL West teams. So who has an advantage here? I ran the numbers with a quick and dirty methods, using two major variables. The first is the record of the opposition, and the second is the home/away factor, using the MLB figure this season -- a .580 home team winning percentage. This isn't that much -- less than half a win per 6 games, the length of the interleague homestands (All NL teams are at home versus AL teams this week, then it reverses next week).

Here are the schedules for reference (marked by HOME and away), with average opponent winning percentage (as of Monday morning) at home and on the road listed (The Braves' road schedule is weighted because of the 4 games versus Cincinnati).

Mets -- HOU, LAA (.477 home), oak, sea (.435 road)
Phillies -- TEX, MIL (.523), sea, oak (.435)
Marlins -- SEA, TEX (.509), chc, laa (.558)
Braves -- LAA, OAK (.491), tex, cin-4 (.464)
Nationals -- OAK, SEA (.435), laa, tex (.577)

Next, I took the home and road winning percentages, multiplied by 6 games per series (or in the one case, 7), then made the home team adjustment, .48 wins per 6 games (or 1.07 wins per 7 games). This left the following indexes (based on a scale of predicted wins based on schedule strength based on 12 games.

Mets -- 3.62 home, 2.61 road, 6.53 total
Phillies -- 3.34 home, 2.91 road, 6.25 total
Nationals -- 3.87 home, 2.06 road, 5.93 total
Braves -- 3.59 home, 2.68 road, 6.27 total in 13 games (prorated to 12: 5.78)
Marlins -- 3.43 home, 2.18 road, 5.61 total

Subsituting punchless Houston for Texas, and giving the Mets the weakest opponents on the road gives them the advantage. As for the Nats, they need to take advantage of their major home advantage, because the road trip to LA/Anaheim and Texas will not be kind to them. And don't feel bad for the Marlins. They're already 3-0 in interleague, with 3 more to play against their "natural rivals", the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Let's Make a Deal

As the NL East continues its tailspin into collective mediocrity, the Braves are doing their best to contribute to the near critical mass of teams hovering just barely over .500. With Mike Hampton's return to the DL, Bobby Cox was forced to call up Seth Greisinger from AAA Richmond to fill the temporary hole in the rotation. Greisinger gets the call by default, as the Atlanta minor league system doesn't boast any more major-league ready prospects. While it’s nice to see a fellow UVA Wahoo in the East, Braves fans are merely hoping Greisinger doesn't embarrass himself too badly after embarrassing stints with Detroit and Minnesota. Meanwhile, Kyle Davies continues to impress, but even four reliable starting pitchers (and putting the beleaguered Horacio Ramirez in that category is currently a stretch) may not be enough in this division. Especially with freaks who can throw 150 pitches lurking in the opponents' rotations.

Rumors continue to circle regarding Wilson Betemit's future, as some Braves fans seem to think Bobby Cox is showcasing Betemit by giving him starts at shortstop. Rafael Furcal is legitimately hurt, so this isn't a stunt, but Furcal may be hurting some more if Betemit maintains his .340/.462/.604 line.

If Betemit is dealt, this could end up coming back to bite the Braves. Furcal is a free agent after this season and is likely to command more than he is worth, and Bobby Cox's unhealthy appetite for no-hit slick-field shortstops notwithstanding (remember Rafael Belliard? Walt Weiss? Ozzie Guillen?), apparent heirs Tony Pena Jr. and Luis Hernandez are not major-league caliber prospects. Betemit is the cheapest and best in-house solution to replace Furcal. Yet with starting pitchers dropping like flies, GM John Schuerholz may panic and deal Betemit for an arm. And a certain team with a no-hit shortstop may be desperate for a bat off the bench. All I've been hearing on this blog is how deep the Nats pitching staff is . . .

What do you say, Josh? Let’s make a deal?

Statheads Screaming Edition of Nats Notes

The screaming sound you hear is Baseball Prospectus writers becoming apopletic over Livan Hernandez's 150-pitch outing last night.

I was at the game last night (in 100-level Diamond Club seats as a terrific gift from my girlfriend) and was calling for Frank to pull Livan after he walked Josh Beckett, without knowing that Livan had already thrown over 100 pitches. (And I was close enough to the field for Frank to actually hear me!) But it seemed that Livan was out of steam. With some slick glovework from Nick Johnson and double-play handiwork from Livan himself, he escaped without giving up the winning run to the Marlins. But at the game, it was heart-wrenching.

With the benefit of hindsight, was it a good move for Frank to leave Livan in? Without the nifty stab by Livan in the 9th, they could have run into real trouble with the heart of the Fish's order up. The Nats have a solid bullpen, which should have been brought in that inning. We can't afford any more injuries, and 150 pitches is too much for any pitcher -- and many of them were pressure pitches with runners on base late in the game. But thanks to some sloppy Fish defense and John Riedling (!), the Nats win another one-run affair.

Some other Nats news and notes:

-- The Nats really need to pick up D'Angelo Jimenez. There were situations that begged for Frank to pinch-hit for one of the worst-hitting regulars in baseball, Cristian Guzman, last night. But he couldn't make a move, since there isn't a backup shortstop or second baseman on the roster. Signing Jimenez would allow much greater roster flexibility.

-- I said it when the trade was made, and I'll repeat it again. Marlon Byrd for Endy Chavez was an outright steal. Byrd filled capably as both Wilkerson's replacement and in the leadoff spot last night. He's hitting .348/.429/.413 in his 46 at-bats. Small sample, yes, but he's done everything asked of him. He's a hell of a lot better than seeing Endy in the 4th outfielder role, or JJ Davis or, god forbid, Jeffrey Hammonds.

-- Claudio Vargas was picked up by Arizona last night and was placed on their major league roster. The D-Backs were the one team he pitched well against. Hopefully, this doesn't come back to bite us, but with our deep pitching staff, I'm not too concerned.

-- Did you know Matt Perisho's ERA is 1.35? He's still an awful pitcher, and his stat line is close to CJ Nitkowski's in New Orleans: few hits but lots of walks and lots of luck. Ex-O and A Jim Mecir didn't have quite the ERA but his stuff was nasty last night and made Vinny look awful when he struck out.

-- As I reported back in April, assistant Red Sox GM Josh Byrnes to the Nats would be a perfect match and makes perfect sense for a group that has former Advisory Board CEO Jeffrey Zients as one of the key investors. Jeffrey Zients is to health care consulting as Billy Beane is to baseball management. No surprise that he would emerge as a leading candidate if the Malek-Zients-Powell group wins out.

-- Someone please give Martin from DCist.com a complimentary course in Economics 101. (Check out this post attributing lower DC crime rates to urban flight if you want a good laugh.) Here's a reading suggestion for him.

Finally, check out the Nationalz.com blog, now linked in the Nats blogroll on the site. It's frequently updated and chock full of posts and links.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

A Day at RFK

The Nats are rolling along, having won 3 in a row after last night's victory over the Braves. I was at the park on Monday, along with almost 40,000 other people to watch the exciting 3-2 victory. Just a few notes:

-- Tomo Ohka looked really good, although it's going to be hard for him to keep that up unless he strikes out more guys. That shouldn't be hard, however, as he racked up a grand total of ZERO on Monday.

-- Relying on the defense hurt Ohka in the third, with two errors, one by Carroll, which was hit hard enough that it could have been a base hit, and one by Castilla, who missed the hop as it looked like he was thinking about where to throw. After that, Ohka was lights out.

-- Cristian Guzman sucks. He left another 5 on base on Monday, although he actually got a hit in the third. His batting average is still below .200; his OPS is still below .500.

-- The hit and run doesn't work. The Nats gave away two outs on failed hit and runs with not-so-fast runners: Wilkerson and Johnson. That will hurt them if the trend continues.

-- I still don't understand the ruling on the Jordan homer-turned-foul ball.

News and notes:

Zach Day was put on the 15-day DL with a fracture in his wrist, discovered after he pitched once after the injury, and then was optioned to AAA (now retracted). It seems odd that the fracture wasn't found right away. Also, the article says that the Nats were close to trading Day -- to Cincy, maybe?