Apr 21-27, 2014 Weekly Nationals Forecast Outlook

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WASHINGTON NATIONALS BASEBALL WEEKLY FORECAST OUTLOOK

VALID: April 21-27, 2014

GAMES | 21-23: vs LAA, 24-27: vs SD

FORECAST: Weather looks like a overall non-issue for most of the week. The Tuesday game looks like the biggest problem so far with a chance at some showers, but they look to clear out by first pitch. Friday could present some issues too, we’ll update that later this week. Highs in the upper 60s to upper 70s, so overall great. Really hard to find an issue on the days rain isn’t a threat.

Forecast by: Josh Owens, issued 4/22/14 8:30am

Nationals Weather Service, sports forecasting division of Maryland Weather Center

Tyler Clippard

Tyler Clippard is Dead, Long Live Tyler Clippard

Last night the Nats entered the top of the eighth inning up 1-0 on the visiting Los Angeles Angels with bullpen ace Tyler Clippard on the mound. The Nats exited the top of the eighth inning down 4-1. Through his first 11 appearances Clippard has struggled to the tune of a 3.72 ERA, 4.49 FIP, 15 strikeouts and 6 walks. If that sounds familiar it should. After his first 11 appearances in 2013, Clippard had a 4.35 ERA, 4.89 FIP, nine strikeouts and eight walks. After his first 11 appearances in 2012, Clippard had a 4.91 ERA, 2.55 FIP, 12 strikeouts and six walks.

But this year seems to be a bit more insidious of a problem. Four times this year Clippard has entered a game with the Nats tied or ahead and left the game with the Nats behind. That only happened once in 2013 and just twice in 2012. So this means the end of the great Tyler Clippard, right? Well, probably not. Continue reading

A look back into the past, while forward to the future: Baseball back in Montreal?

The 2005 Washington Nationals arrived in DC as a revamped franchise that had struggled for so long. It saw the likes of Brad Wilkerson, Livan Hernandez, Jose Vidro, John Patterson, and Brian Schnieder come to a city that had longed to see baseball again.

The city that had their team moved to DC to become the Nationals was Montreal. The Montreal Expos had become second to the NHL’s Canadiens, and had lost many of their fans after the 1994 strike. With the franchise’s best years behind them, a depleted fan base, and a troubled front office that was ultimately finished off by Jeffrey Loria, their move to DC was sudden but not surprising.

Now the city of Montreal was in the same position that DC had been before that 2005 season. It was going on ten years since the city had seen “Nos Amours” take the field at Olympic Stadium.

Then came along a Canadian based company Evenko, with a fantastic idea: baseball back in Montreal. After setting up an NBA exhibition game in Montreal that featured the Toronto Raptors, the company discovered the success they could have with a baseball game. Not only did they plan one, but two. Two games at Olympic Stadium that would feature the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets. Continue reading

Day at the MLB Fan Cave with Bryce Harper

Day after Opening Day, April 1, April Fool’s Day. How many people I told that day believed that I was face to face with Bryce Harper? Not many. How many others also believed I got $50 stolen from me right after the show. Not many either, but that’s a whole another story.

My day started by taking the train into New York City, and taking a taxi over to the MLB Fan Cave. From there I could feel the electricity of the day, the excitement of fans lining up at the door to get in. Me, I was able to go straight in without waiting in line. Why? Well, thanks to the Citizens of NatsTown, I was able to be an alternate contestant on “Off The Bat”, MTV’s new show that combines baseball and pop culture. It just so happened, their launch episode featured Nationals superstar Outfielder Bryce Harper.

Now as a “Harper Fan” for the show, I basically got the whole experience without the consequences. Here is a clip courtesy of MASN, with the segment I was ALMOST a part of, but was able to enjoy live:

Not only did I get to meet the Nationals slugger, but I was also able to walk away with an autographed Nationals home hat with his John Hancock on it, and some great memories. Hopefully I will be able to go again, and be able to report to you from national TV next time!

“Off The Bat” shows on MTV2 every Tuesday night at 11 pm ET.

 

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The Spotlight will Never Leave Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper currently has a .292/.352/.415 batting line and more than a few are saying it is disappointing. That Harper is once again under achieving. Forget for the fact that Harper has the third most home runs of any player before their 21st birthday or that Harper is one of the very few players in baseball to even play in the majors at that age. At 21 years old Bryce Harper would be an age appropriate prospect at low-A Hagerstown. Forget all that and think about the expectations. Think about them because Bryce Harper never put them on himself.

All Harper has ever done is play baseball and play it at a very high level. He is one of the best young players in the game, and with that comes the spotlight. Bryce Harper was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at the age of 16, he was being scouted in little league at the age of 14, Bryce Harper has lived in the spotlight for most of his baseball life, and when a spotlight is shined it sometimes picks up shadows. Before the 2010 draft there were reports of how Harper was a bad teammate, and just a bad guy. These things were being said about a 17 year old kid. No 17 year old has lived long enough on earth to be a bad guy, but the reputation came out and it stuck on Harper.

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Apr. 17-20, 2014 Weekly Nationals Forecast Outlook Update

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WASHINGTON NATIONALS BASEBALL WEEKLY FORECAST OUTLOOK

VALID: Apr. 17-20, 2014

GAMES: 17-20: vs. STL

FORECAST: The first two games of this homestand are likely to be rather chilly, but dry. Temperatures for Thursday will fall into the 40s throughout the game, with Friday’s game being a few degrees warmer. Even still, Friday will be chilly with game time temperatures in the low 50s. Fortunately, the weekend games will be bathed in sunshine, with highs in the upper 60s both days. There may be a few more clouds mixing in with the sun on Saturday. Again, rain is not in the forecast for any of these games at this time.

Forecast by: Kenny Gartner, issued 4/17/14 8:30 am

Nationals Weather Service, sports forecasting division of Maryland Weather Center

Early Promising Trends for the Nationals

The similarities between 2013 and 2014 are somewhat alarming to many. The Nationals were 9-6 after 15 games in 2013 and have the same record after 15 games in 2014. The Nationals in 2013 made a lot of errors early in the season and have done the same to begin 2014. And finally the Nationals were slugged with early injuries in 2013 and the same has happened in 2014. There are promising signs for the 2014 Nationals that didn’t exist for the 2013 Nationals. Though the Nationals have the same record as they did in 2013 they have outscored opponents by 11 runs whereas in 2013 the Nationals had been outscored by 7 runs. In other words the 2013 Nationals were a bit lucky to start the season where the 2014 Nationals are right where they should be.

If we dig deeper into the stats there are some other promising trends. Keep in mind all of this is a small sample size and early season stats lack a bit of meaning, but it is still good to see these trends popping up. Let’s start with the Nats late inning heroics that were on display again last night when the Nats broke the tie against the Marlins bullpen and won by three runs. The Nationals in the seventh inning or later are hitting .297/.370/.517 and in 2013 in those innings they hit .230/.292/.359. A lot of this has to do with the Nats improved bench, but the improvement of the bullpen also cannot be ignored. Too often in 2013 it was the Nats bullpen that was failing to hold ties whereas in 2014 the Nats bullpen has outperformed the starters thus far into the season.

Looking specifically at the bench Nats pinch hitters in 2013 hit a paltry .208/.250/.358 and to start 2014 Nationals pinch hitters have improved to .286/.444/.429. It is a very small sample size with only 27 pinch hit plate appearances but it is a promising trend even if the overall numbers are unsustainable. Add to that the Nationals numbers against relief pitching were awful in 2013. The Nats .728 OPS against starters in 2013 isn’t much different than their .734 OPS in 2014 and neither number is far off from the 2013 league average of .715 OPS against starting pitchers. The improvement against relief pitching is dramatic as the Nationals in 2013 hit .236/.303/.371 against relievers and the 2014 Nationals have hit .303/.378/.513.

Continue reading

World Series Winners Never Lose to Division Rivals

You’ve heard it countless times from talk show radio hosts and internet commentators galore. There are things that good teams just don’t do. The most important of these is something the Nationals (who aren’t a good team) just finished doing this weekend. At 1-5 against the Atlanta Braves the Nationals are well on their way to losing the season series. The Braves only have to go 5-8 in the remaining 13 games to take the season series from the Nationals and that it is a lot better than the 9-4 the Nationals would have to go. The fact of the matter is the Nationals are already doomed.

Winning one run games, always scoring the runner from third with less than two outs, and winning season series against division rivals is something every World Series team of the last 100 years has done. Sense I’m too lazy to look up the last 100 years we’ll go with the last ten and I’ll prove that no World Series team has ever lost a season series to a division rival ever.

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The Nats Struggles Against the Atlanta Braves

If you’ve been a baseball fan for any amount of time I can guarantee that you’ve been asked by a casual baseball fan why something happened or was the way it was and you shrugged your shoulders, threw your hands in the air, and said, “It’s baseball.” In a sport so good at giving us numbers for everything and with smart people working all the time to give us even more numbers there still exist that which cannot be explained. The real explanation for the Nats struggles against the Braves or other un-explainable matters of the game could simply be sample size issues.

The Nats have played the Braves six times and have looked significantly worse against the Braves than any other team they’ve played. It isn’t even that the Braves are a significantly better team than the Mets or the Marlins. When the Nats play the Braves they just play worse. I am certain the Nats early season defensive struggles will be highlighted by beat writers and talking heads today but 10 of the Nats 13 errors have come against the Braves, and let’s not even talk about the number of outs on the bases or runners left in scoring position. Some of that has to do with the Braves excellent defense and good pitching, but not all of it.

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Playoff teams and records

There are two things wrong with this post. One, it’s way too early to say anything about the playoffs. Two, all publishing conventions scream not to publish posts on Saturdays. But after seeing one too many people saying something akin to the following:

I decided I had to act fast, so here we are. Let’s get this over with. Continue reading

Wilmer Difo is Here to Steal Your Bases

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This is Willem Dafoe, not Wilmer Difo
Photo via NNDB.com

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This is Wilmer Difo, not Willem Dafoe.
Photo via Glenn Gaston, Auburn Citizen

You probably don’t know who Wilmer Difo is. Hell, I barely know who Wilmer Difo is. The middle infielder is not an especially sexy prospect given his lack of power (five career HR in 231 games) and propensity to make mistakes in the field (70 errors in 1022 career chances, .932 fielding percentage).

Difo has made himself interesting, though. He caught my eye by stealing two bases in each of Hagerstown’s first two games of the season this year. With a career OBP of .342 buoyed by a mature-for-his-age control of the strike zone (11.4% BB rate and 13.3% K rate), he raises the eyebrows of stat guys like myself. His 76 stolen bases in 100 total chances (that’s a 76% rate for those of you who didn’t major in math) show off both the raw speed that scouts love (76 SB!!) as well as the efficiency that stat guys love (76%!!). With Difo, there isn’t a superstar in the making, but there is enough to like about him for both sides of the prospecting aisle. Continue reading

The Nats hit too Many Home Runs

If I told you by averaging 5.44 runs a game the Nationals were third in the NL in that category you would think that is a good thing. You’re wrong. The problem with the Nationals offense is they’ve also hit the second most home runs in the league. That means the Nationals rely on the home run to score runs.

Let’s get one thing straight. Scoring runs is good. What is bad about relying on the home run is it isn’t the most honorable way to score runs. The home run represents all that is wrong with modern America. Think about it for a second. Now that you’re done wearing down your fragile mind let me explain.

By its nature the home run is the most selfish act a baseball player can commit. In one swing they score a run, get as many RBI as base runners (including themselves), add to their batting average, and they increase the SABRnerd stats of OBP and SLG. With all these letters and numbers in one swing you’d think a home run were some algorithm designed to run Obamacare.

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On Ryan Zimmerman and Third Base

Michael Young switched positions three times; Chipper Jones moved to left field in 2002 and back to third in 2004; Albert Pujols did not have a set position until 2004; Miguel Cabrera just switched positions for the fourth time in his career. There is a long list of very accomplished players who have moved because their team or career depended on it. Ryan Zimmerman will soon join that list, and will be better for it.

Zimmerman committed his first error of the season (a routine throw to first base in the third inning) during the first game of the season in New York. While it was disconcerting as Zimmerman struggled with his throwing in 2013, it did not sound any alarms.

Those alarms went off full-blast when Zimmerman was removed from last Saturday’s game versus the Atlanta Braves in the sixth inning when he complained of shoulder pain after committing another throwing error that allowed Andrelton Simmons to reach base on what should have been a routine out. While the fallout from Zimmerman’s absence (he only has one at-bat since Saturday) has been relatively subdued, it is no less alarming and changes how Zimmerman and the Nationals should plan for his future.

Zimmerman is in the first year of his six-year extension and remains one of the franchise’s centerpiece players, so any notion that he can, or will, be traded are misconceived. Players like Zimmerman are awarded long-term extensions because their general manager and ownership agree to support them when they suffer lumps in their career such as the one he is currently dealing with; he has reached a point at his career where the Nationals will accommodate his interests with equal consequence as the rest of the organization.

That does not change that the Nationals have a serious dilemma for the remainder of the season. Plans to eventually move Zimmerman to first base were actualized last offseason when manager Matt Williams told Zimmerman to purchase a first base glove and to anticipate playing roughly 15 games at the position this year. But incumbent first baseman Adam Laroche’s hot start this season has quieted those plans. A free agent next year, the likelihood of Laroche’s return is all-but-nonexistent now that Zimmerman’s condition is known, but the possibility for a big year has not stopped the Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell from writing that the Nationals should still consider trading him midseason to move Zimmerman across the diamond.

This all assumes Zimmerman can no longer play third base. Revising his announcement Monday that Zimmerman has arthritis, Williams said that he has a degenerative shoulder condition. Zimmerman is not going on the disabled list, and will rejoin the lineup Wednesday night. Because it is his right shoulder, he should still be able to hit, and has not demonstrated any difficulty doing so early in the season. The problem is his defense, which has ranged from sneaky-bad to abhorrent. Even when Zimmerman cut down on the throwing errors in the second half of 2013, his mechanics remained heavily flawed and his arm strength missing, problems that have resurfaced even though the Nationals claimed he would be able to rebuild his throwing strength after a healthy off-season.

Williams announced that Zimmerman is working on yet another change to his mechanics, but even if it restores his arm-strength, there is little doubt he will be playing first base by 2015. Similar to Boston’s Mike Napoli, who has a degenerative hip condition, the Nationals will need to build a regimen around preserving Zimmerman’s shoulder as long as possible. That means no unnecessary wear and tear: less batting practice, fewer pre-game grounders, and eventually, not throwing across the diamond. A degenerative shoulder is different from a structural injury like Danny Espinosa’s torn rotator cuff, which healed itself with time. Years of playing third base have taken its toll on Zimmerman’s body; it will be relevant for the rest of his career and will likely affect his quality of life after his playing days are over.

None of this means the Nationals are in imminent danger. Zimmerman has still been able to hit for power despite his shoulder problems. Napoli, who was diagnosed before the 2013 season, had one of the best years of his career and received a three-year extension from the Red Sox headed into his age-32 season.

Criticism of the plan to move Zimmerman to first base stems from the notion that he is less valuable at a position with more depth around the league. However, Zimmerman’s offensive numbers would still have been top-10 at first base in 2013, and it stands to reason his offense would improve from playing the less strenuous position. That criticism also unfairly assumes Zimmerman would be a liability at first base. Zimmerman is as athletic as anyone who has covered first for Washington in its 10-year history, and 97 of his 135 career errors (72 percent) have been throwing errors. Moving him to first means less throwing and fewer assists; reducing the strain on his shoulder and not only improve his defensive numbers (he has committed the third most errors in baseball since 2012) but making him an overall more valuable player.

While Zimmerman is in better position now than he was this time last year, when he committed 10 errors in nine games leading to 11 unearned runs and a 2-7 team record, the baseball gods have told him his days at third are numbered. The Nationals and Laroche have a $15 million mutual option for 2015, his age-35 season. If declined, Zimmerman will earn only $1.6 million more to play first base in his age-30 season. At first base, he will rarely have to throw the ball and the Nationals will likely configure their defense so he does not receive the ball on cut-off plays from the outfield.

While moving to first base likely will eclipse his value as a star player, it is necessary for the team to remain competitive long-term. There is no reason he cannot be a Gold-Glove caliber player at first base, or at least be trusted on defense again; at third, he is a liability and in decline.

Apr 7-13, 2014 Weekly Nationals Forecast Outlook

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WASHINGTON NATIONALS BASEBALL WEEKLY FORECAST OUTLOOK

VALID: April 7-13, 2014

GAMES | 8-10: vs MIA, 11-13 at ATL

FORECAST: Excellent weather ahead 3 game stretch between the Nats and Marlins, maybe a little cloudy for the Tuesday game, but sun and nice clear skies look to dominate for the Wednesday and Thursday games. the next chance of rain comes on Friday, but the Nats will be in Atlanta.

Forecast by: Josh Owens, issued 4/8/14 1:45pm

Nationals Weather Service, sports forecasting division of Maryland Weather Center