Saturday, July 3, 2010

There's a million better blogs/With a million better posts...

No linkagery today. I'm giving serious thought to packing that aspect of the blog in and going back to my roots as a baseball writer, which is to say the independent minor leagues. That's where I started in 1995 with the Rebel Baseball Review, and while the Washington area doesn't have nearly as many independent teams as the Upper Midwest, there are the Blue Crabs within convenient driving distance (more or less), the Washington Wild Things within range for an overnighter, and there are all the teams of the Cal Ripken Collegiate League in the area.

Let's face it - as my not-so-clever post title says. there are literally dozens of other Nationals blogs out there, and all of them have writers more familiar with the team than I am. Even if I'd started blogging when I got down here in 2007, I'd still have been behind the curve since at the time I paid little attention to the National League.  Since I started only this summer (and late, at that) it's a fools errand trying to overtake more established blogs, many of which are part of larger national & regional networks.

Don't look for too much in the way of blogging this weekend. I'm heading down to Woodbridge to see the P-Nats tonight and up to Hagerstown for Independence Day, and I'll probably post again on the fifth.

Crabs are playoff bound!

It was a good night for baseball in St. Charles, Maryland, home of the Atlantic League's Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, which was good since I'd driven 45 minutes from my home in Alexandria for the game. Regency Furniture Stadium is in the middle of no place in particular at the moment, but in the not too distant future, some homeowners are in fact going to have baseball in their back yards since there's still a lot of housing being built out there in Charles County. This was my first Atlantic League game, and I was very impressed by the stadium after years of hanging out in Northern League parks such as Midway Stadium, the Wade in Duluth, and the Wolf Den in Madison. Here's a view of the main entrance:

The parking lot was pretty full, since 4,078 people showed up for the game, and there was even some tailgating going on but I couldn't get a good shot with my Pixi. On the inside, the park is equally impressive. Great sight lines all around the park, even from the concession stands.

This pic was taken about two feet from the onions, relish, coleslaw, mustard and ketchup; you can see one of the napkin dispensers in the lower right-hand corner of the picture.

This shot was taken from my seat. Yes, it's true: I walked up almost literally at the last minute, plunked down $13, and got an aisle seat right behind home plate. Lord, I do love the minor leagues. The box seats were arguably more comfortable than similarly-priced seats at Nationals Park, with built-in cushions, cupholders, not to mention being capacious enough for my 375-pound butt. The park has a manual scoreboard reminiscent of the Green Monster at Fenway, though not nearly so tall; there is also a ginormous video screen in deep right field. Very much a state-of-the art minor league park.

As for the game itself, it was a pitchers' duel for three innings until the Crabs broke through in the bottom of the fourth on a double followed by an RBI single; the Riversharks went to the bullpen, but the relief corps failed them in the fifth as Crabs DH Matt Craig slugged a three-run dinger over the right-field fence, The rest of the game summary is here. Final score Blue Crabs 7, Riversharks 1, and after the fifth it wasn't even that close, really. Very, very nice post-game fireworks display, even if the accompanying music included (incongruously) Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." A great game in a great park, and I'm definitely going to head down there for a few more this season.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Good Start to the Rest of the Season

The Nationals have beaten the Mets like a rented mule this season, and I was very glad to see them do it again last night. 2-1 Nats in the bottom of the ninth; here's Patrick Reddington with the recap and Mark Zuckerman breaks down the decisive ninth inning. (I'm thinking JMax could have drawn that walk and scored that run just as well as Willie, and maybe better.) Another view of the ninth from Screech's Best Friend is worth reading.

Also from Mark, Jordan Zimmerman will be making a rehab start tomorrow with the P-Nats in Woodbridge.
Elsewhere, Sue Dinem at Nationals Prospects reports that yesterday was a good day for the Nats' farm teams. Also, Sue has a list of the Good, the Bad, and the Interesting. Over at NFA, Brian notes that the team has signed their 32nd round draft pick. This puts them just over halfway through this year's crop of draftees.

Brian also encourages us to attend the July 3 game with the P-Nats, reminding us of the silent auction.

Across the Potomac in Regency Furniture Stadium, the Blue Crabs beat the Riversharks 3-1 to move within one game of clinching the Liberty Division's first-half title. Second and possibly decisive game is tonight, with fireworks!

Up the road in Bowie, the Baysox got smoked 5-0 by the Aeros, who teed off on Bowie starter Ryohei Tanaka for all five runs. On the other hand, The Frederick Keys notched their second win against Salem with a come-from-behind 6-4 victory. Rubber game of the match is tonight.

Elsewhere in baseball (and pop culture, if you're into that) Aaron Gleeman has his weekly Link-O-Rama, while Joe Posnanski tells us the sad (yet inspiring and cheerful) tale of the Quisenberry Tree.

LISTEN TO THIS MAN. HE SPEAKS TRUTH. I'm following his recommendation and going down to St. Charles for the second game of the Blue Crabs/Riversharks series, and heading up to Hagerstown Sunday for the first game of the Suns' series against the West Virginia Power - and some Waffle House. Mmmm, waffles. Not sure whether I'll take in the P-Nats on Saturday or head downtown for Strasmas VI, There's a knuckleball pitcher on the mound for the Mets, after all. 

Thursday, July 1, 2010


The defense was good (well, no errors, at least) but the pitching was mediocre and the offense couldn't get the job done; despite getting eight hits and three walks, they were only able to push one run across and left eight on base. Patrick Reddington brings the recap. Mark Zuckerman correctly points out that opportunities were squandered. Mike Henderson looks forward to the Mets series.

Harper correctly points out that Pudge's current slump is really just the veteran catcher regressing to what we paid for. Over at SBNation, Chris Needham of Capital Punishment argues that the future is now, and the Nationals need to make some deals. Steven from FJB and Brian from NFA bring us Natmosphere In Your Ear, with some mid-season grades for the Nationals at each position.

Brian Oliver reports the Nats signing of an undrafted free agent pitcher from the collegiate wood-bat Northwoods League. Aside from that, it wasn't a very good day for the farm teams. April Whitzman also has some news & notes.

Up in Lancaster, the Blue Crabs take the last game of that series 7-3 and come home with a two-game lead in the Liberty Division thanks to the Riversharks' loss last night. This weekend's home series against Camden will decide the first-half division championship, and in addition to the on-field fireworks, there'll be fireworks after the game on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Bowie wins 4-3 and gets the sweep against Erie; tonight they'll face Akron in the first of four games extending through Independence Day. Meanwhile, freshly promoted lefty starter Nathan Moreau stuns Salem by pitching a no-hitter in his first game with the Frederick Keys, who back him up with seven runs for a righteous blowout.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Craig Stammen gets called up from Syracuse for the start, supersub Alberto Gonzalez gets a start at short, and Roger Bernadina starts in right. Result: the offense wakes up, the defense doesn't commit any errors, and the Nats post a curly W with a 7-2 win over the Braves. Patrick Reddington brings the happy news.

Definitely related: Mark Zuckerman puts up a couple of good posts about Gonzalez and Nyjer Morgan's struggles.

April Whitzman brings the news & notes from the farm system for Tuesday.

In Lancaster, Dan Reichert pitches eight shutout innings with 11 K's as the Blue Crabs win one from the Barnstormers. Crabs remain one game ahead of the surging Riversharks, who have won their last four games.; there'll be one last game in Lancaster tonight before the team comes home to Regency Furniture Stadium for a four-game showdown with Camden over the Independence Day weekend.

In the Orioles farm system, the Baysox took the second game against Erie last night 6-5, and going for the sweep tonight on Daddy/Daughter Date Night, which is also Wawa Wednesday. In Frederick, the Keys lost a close one to the Blue Rocks 3-2, and head off to Salem for the start of a six-game road trip.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Nightmare Before (During & After) Strasmas?

Another loss last night, this time to the Braves. Cue Patrick Reddington. At least it wasn't the Royals this time.

Screech's Best Friend thinks Riggleman could have done a better job managing last night, focusing specifically on his decision to have Ian Desmond bunt Bernadina over from second with the team down 5-0. Couldn't agree more. Mark Zuckerman notes that the fans are getting irate at the seemingly unending string of losses.

I'm a  little confused by Harper's post at Nationals Baseball. He's trying to get inside the GM's head and figure out how (or if) he's going to react to the current losing streak, and I'm not sure I follow what he's saying. It's still worth reading. There's talk about trading Dunn - sure, the White Sox would love to have him, but what do they have that the Nationals want? Also, the Sports Bog reports that Rob Dibble has had it with the Nationals' defense. (h/t Capitol Punishment)

Brian Oliver brings the (mostly good) news from the farm.

The Blue Crabs' winning streak came to an abrupt end last night as Tommy Herr's Lancaster Barnstormers took both ends of the doubleheader,  11-6 and 2-1. There's two more games left before the Crabs head home for the July 4th weekend.

Over in the O's system, the Baysox take the opener at Erie, 10-9, while in Frederick the Keys lose to the Blue Rocks 4-3.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Stop it. Just stop it right now.

If there's one thing I have grown tired of seeing on my peregrinations through the Natosphere (well, aside from the constant calls from some folks to trade Adam Dunn  for anything, even a bag of magic beans) it's the utterly false and depressing claim that the Nats are the worst defensive team in baseball. I mean, I'd like to think my fellow Nationals fans aren't, on average, as stupid, ill-mannered, and deliberately ignorant as their cousins in Boston, Philadelphia and St. Louis (to name but a few) for whom nothing but wins and saves matter for pitchers, nothing but batting average and RBI matter for hitters, and nothing but errors matter when it comes to fielding. Unfortunately, reading the comments at the WaPo's Nationals Journal and Mark Zuckerman's Nationals Insider is shaking my faith. There's way too many people out there that get an idea stuck in their head, and once it's stuck no amount of proof to the contrary is going to change their mind. Certainly not statistics! Perhaps coincidentally, a lot of those people are Anonymous Cowards, as they say at Slashdot, the kind of people who can't be bothered to take a few seconds to log in with their Google ID, their Facebook ID, or some other easily-established ID that would allow us to detect which idiots we could ignore safely. Or maybe that's the point.

Well, enough spleen venting. We're just going to have to ignore the anonymous folk and move along to the main question: Are the Nationals, in fact, the worst defensive team in the major leagues? Or even the National League? Sure, we lead the league in errors, and our team fielding percentage is 16 out of 16...but it's been known for years that neither of those statistics is really any good when it comes to answering the question we're asking. For reasons I've explained in this post, I tend to prefer Range Factor when it comes to evaluating defensive quality in fielders; it doesn't work well for catchers and first basemen, but everywhere else it will serve quite nicely. So let's go look at the Nationals' fielding page on and see what we can see.

Starting with the catching corps, it helps to remember that the two things we evaluate catchers on are handling of pitchers (which nobody has a decent stat for yet) and throwing out would-be base stealers. In the latter category, Pudge is clearly the better of our two receivers, taking out 42% of the would-be thieves (clearly above league average) while Wil Nieves is a little under the league average at 24%. For what it's worth, B-R rates Pudge as being three runs better than an average catcher and Wil one run better using the Fielding Runs statistic. I'm not a big fan of the linear weights stats, since I think they mash up too many disparate stats into one generic rating, but it's another tool we can use to make useful comparisons.

At first base, it's hard to tell much from the stats we have, but one thing is very clear: using the conventional metric of fielding percentage, Adam Dunn isn't the iron-handed menace to the defense some people claim he is. In fact, his fielding percentage is slightly above the league average, and actually better than his occasional defensive replacement Adam Kennedy; dragging the R score into this, we see that Dunn is actually far better than Kennedy over the course of a season (1200 innings/135 games).

Second base is full of controversy. At the beginning of the season, the plan was to shift Cristian Guzman from short to second to make room for Ian Desmond while keeping Guzman's bat in the lineup. Adam Kennedy was signed as a defensive replacement in addition to Alberto Gonzalez, one of the team's utility infielders. So far Guzman has actually worked out well at second - better than Kennedy, who has committed the same number of errors while playing only 40% of the time. The smart move would be to dump Kennedy and let Gonzalez, a far better fielder and no worse a hitter, take the innings he would have used up, but this is a team that can't seem to rid itself of Willie Harris, so...

Ryan Zimmerman has played the vast majority of the time at third base, with occasional late-inning appearances by Gonzalez and Kennedy. Zim has committed 8 of the 11 errors at third, and his range has declined to slightly below the league average. Here, too, Kennedy is a defensive liability instead of the late-inning upgrade he was supposed to be, while Gonzalez plays quite well in the hot corner when he gets a chance.

Ian Desmond, despite committing eighteen errors so far this year, is a significant defensive upgrade from Guzman at shortstop. Guzman has done well in short stints there this year, but even in his best years he never had the range that Desmond has now.

In the outfield, Josh Willingham's range factor is a little above league average in left, Morgan ditto in center (despite the five errors) while Maxwell and Morse are both (still) clearly better in right than Bernadina. There really isn't anywhere for Morse to go on this team; they should trade him to a team that can use a good fourth outfielder (Seattle?), release Harris, and make room for Maxwell as the utility outfielder. The kid is 26, the same age as Bernadina, and we're wasting his time and ours letting him pile up numbers in Syracuse.

So...if at most positions our players are better than the league average, and only in one or two are they worse, how can  the Nationals be the worst defensive team in baseball? They can't be, and they aren't. The rest of the season will prove me right, I'm sure.