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Boswell on Baseball

Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 11, 2008 3:00 PM

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Friday, July 11 at 3 p.m. ET to take your questions about baseball and his latest columns.

The transcript follows.

Discussion Archives

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Tucson, Ariz.: Bos -

Great column...can you give any insight to the Nats and O's run differential??

Thanks!

Tom Boswell: Thanks. Run diferentil is simple. But it's also very useful. When a team's won-lost record and run differential draw different pictures, those two images are very likely to converge. And the final picture is consderably more likely to resemble the run-differential reality.

The Orioles are currently -2. So, they "should" be right around .500 and are. However, the trend for the O's is very much "down" in both w-l and r-d. The reason: Only two good starting pitchers: Cabrera and Guthrie. All others well about 5.00 ERA. Loewen hurt. Now Sherrill, who has always een a situational lefty and never pitched man innings, looked overworked and has lost confidence. Last night, in a sure sign of lost confidence, he got beaten by using his third-best pitch twice in a row__a 77 mph first-pitch curveball to the last two Toronto hitters. Both were left right over the plate. The first was a game-tieing SF8, the next a game-winning -9. He's gotten burned b sliders down-and-in (Belliard) and generally looks pretty gun shy right now. Great guy. Root for him. Also, Jim Johnson is getting hit a litte. Not much. But he's leaving pitches higher in the K zone.

So, the best for this season is probably behind the O's. Bt they've still been entertaining and shouldn't collapse. They just don't have the pitching depth __starting or bullpen__ to be a winning eam. That's why they decided to rebild in the first place. They've showeda lot of pride.

The Nats!? O, they're -120 runs, easily the worst in baseball and truly awful. The run of thumb for decaes has been that for every nine runs that you outscorethe league you will win one more game than .500. So, if you outscore the league by 90 runs for the full season, that means you will 10 more games than a .500 team (90/9=10). And visa versa, of course. So the Nats project to a -209 run differential. (120/93 games x 162 games = 209). Then divide by 9 (209/9 = 23.2). So, the Nats "should" lose about 81 + 23 = 104games.

Their current .376 winning percenage would project to 61-101. See, it almost always works. Always has. Comically, the SABR folks congratulated themselves for re-inventing the wheel by coming up with more complicated (but not more accurate) formulas, using the same imputs) to get almost identical results.

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Asheville, N.C.: Can C.C. Sabathia get the Brewers into the post season?

Tom Boswell: Yes, but he won't get them far. Ben Sheets is barely better than a .500 pitcher in his career. CC and Ben are not Randy and Curt with the '01 D'backs. The Milwaukee pair are very-good-and-good, Johnson and Schilling were both great __the BEST pair ever to appear together in any post-season. Yes, I researched that and it's not close.

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Washington, DC: Tom,

Will the Nats opening day line-up ever play another game together?

Tom Boswell: No.

Nck Johnson out for the year.And there will be changes before next year. Will Guzman resign? Will Lopez be traded, as the Nats very much hope? Lo Duca won't be back. Odals Perez may be traded by Aug 1. (The Phils might/should be inerested.)

So save that scorecard from 3/30/08. You'll never see anything remotely resembling that lineup on the field together again.

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Hardball Business = Bad Business: Okay Boz,

Regardless of whether the Lerners are within their rights to play "stadium hardball" with the city, it seems to me to be a "bad business" decision.

Why set up an adversarial relationship with the city whose name your team wears? There must be a better way to reconcile the "punch list" than withholding rent and poking them in the eye on sales tax revenue on season tix purchases. Geesh. Is this what multi-millionaires do? Shame on them for taking this approach with DC.

Tom Boswell: I always knew something like this would arrive and it's just the beginning. So, do some thinking and decide how you feel about this whole issue. The Lerners are, and have always been, extremely honest, completely up-front in their aggwessive negotiation of every detail of every conract and then FANATICAL about enforcing contracts.

Are they tough business people or are they on the verge of being just a bit nuts when it comes to the letter-of-the-law in contracts. Beore they ought the team I sought out people who'd had business dealings with them. I wastold, "They are dead honest. But there will be problems. The Lerners will make you live up to every comma of anything you ever sgn and they will never give an inch."

"How small an amount of money are we talking about here?" I asked.

"They will fight you over the price of a FedEx package," said this source. "I've seen them do it. That's part of the business culture when you build or run properties. You live and die by your contracts. But t will cause them problems in baseball, which is a much more free-and-easy culture."

In short, they will get TERRIBLE __and completely unnecissary_ bad publicity from things like this. But I bet they will keep doing it for years. The question: How long will it take Ted, after all the success he has had (and he's really fine man, imo) to discover that, in a broad sense, he will lose $10 of goodwill for every $1 that he gains by hold DC, and many others in the future, I suspect, to the letter of the law.

On the other hand, THE BALLPARK STILL ISN'T REALLY FINISHED. That is, the Nats offices portion still has plenty of on-going work __including the enter lower story. Just walk behind home plate and look at it __more than 4 months after it was due. If those offices were MY HOUSE and it was still this much behind schedule, Id be suing the builder, withholding payments __anything I could legally do.

Here's the problem, which everybody misses. THE LERNERS DID NOT GET A SWETHEART DEAL. It was BASEBALL

__MLB__ that got the $611M free ballpark. The Lerners didn't get ANYTHING for free or from "the public." The Lerners PAID $450-million for the team AND FOR THE USE OF THE BALLPARK that came with it. A finished park (and offices) were IN THE PRICE that they paid. And a very high price. Remember, they are looking at those 9,000 TV viewers and wondering, "Were we crazy to pay MLB $450M for this market? Hey, at LEAST we better make sure that D.C. finishes the park. We ain't paying one cent more. We ALREADY paid. It was IN the $450M."

In a technical legal sense, 'll bet the Lerners are right.

But I think they are sing absolutely abysmal __penn-wise-pound-foolish__ judgment in getting deeperand deeper into this argument.

D.C. officials should realize __not that they ever realze very much__ that they did NOT built a "free stadium for the Lerners." They built a free stadium for the OTHER 29 MLB owners who took the Lerners $450M and SPLIT IT UP among themsleves. It's so nice to join a sanctioned monopoly.

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Arlington, Va.: Tom,

I don't want to be a wet blanket but it is hard not to be after reading the latest story in Metro about the Nationals refusing to pay rent. If I were Fenty I'd just put a big fence around the park and say "Fine, go play at RFK"

I cannot think of any owner in any sport who has managed to build up such ill will in 3 years after being given probably the best stadium deal in professional sports history.

I just find myself despising the Lerners for how they've handled this, and believing this attitude will ultimately translate in that family being unwilling to ever spend money to put a truly winning team on the field.

Ugh.

Tom Boswell: As I pointed out in my revious post, and will no doubt write in a column soon, the Lerners did not "get" anything __free or otherwise__ from the District. They paid through the nose for it __at $450M, the cost of the Nats was about 25% of the family's estimated total net worth. It was not only a huge investment but one on which Ted Lerner has sworn that "we will put every cent back into building the franchise for the first 10 years."

The Lerners could have ut their money into bonds __or many other kinds of investments__ and gotten a normal heathy return on capital. They don't appear to be "in this for the money." So I'm sure they are shocked by all the negative feedback. Bt I warned them that "the public thinks it owns the team. They will never view your family as the owners, but only as the trustees. That's how it is everywhere. And that's probably how it should be."

They sort of get it. But not really. They will. I hope not too painfully. They are very nice people __but private, set in their business ways.

The current level of anger __much of it misdirected__ will surprise and sadden them. Unfortunately, I've just been waiting for it. A .500 season would have solved almost everything. And it loked like they might acually have had a75-80-win team. But they didn't build in enough margin of safety on the MLB playing field. They got very, very unlucky with injuries __I've never seen a team hit harder. So there's no purfume of performance to mask the smell of the petty argument __petty on BOTH sides__ between the Distrcit and Lerners.

I could probably guess the next few chapters. But I won't.

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The DH: Interesting article in the Wall Street Journal today about recent American League dominance (WS, all star game, and interleague play). The article argues that it arose in large part because of the DH, which meant AL teams could attract good hit/no field players that had no place in the NL.

Anyway, that all aside it does raise the question again of whether the NL should adopt the DH (or, I'd prefer, the AL ditch it). Given the leagues are now effectively a single entity, rather than two fairly independent leagues, it seems silly to have both rules (imagine the NFL using the 2-point conversion only in NFC games). Any prospects for change in the near future?

Tom Boswell: That was a good piece. Some of it dscussed for many years. Some original, I thought. The DH is an inherent advanatge to the A.L. In everything they do __from drafting a young player to making a trade for aveteran__ they can always say, "Well, if he doesn't work out as a 1B or 3B or outfielder, or if he gets fat or injures a knee and can't run well anymore, we can always MAKE HIM A DH"

It's a fallback position that no N.L. team has.

A friend at the game last night made a GREAT suggestion, I thought.

In interleague games, the rules of the VISITING TEAM'S League should be used, not the home team. When the A.L. comes to washington, the DH should be used and visa versa. Currently, the NL has a three burden in interleague games that compounds their problems on the road __they are "away" with a hostile crowd, the home team bats last AND the DH is used.

Reverse it!

Sorry that my computer keyboard seems to "miss" an unusully high number of key strokes (letters). IO, it can't keep up with me or I have to go back and retype the missing letters. Sorry for what look like "typos."

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Nats Stadium Rent Withheld: Tom, what's your take on this whole thing? Seems to me that playing hardball with the city is not the best way to go in the long run. There must be other ways to get the punch list items taken care of without withholding the rent. And the sales tax, thing - that seems quite petty to me on the part of the Lerners. Geesh. No wonder we don't have much in way of a team this year.

Tom Boswell: To add to this discussion, the istict needs to understand that the lerners did not get a free stadium. MLB did. The Lerners paid in full. So, they deserve to get a finished ballpark. They didn't. Is it "substantilly complete." Oh, great, lets argue about that for five years. (But I won't.) Walk around the park. Hundreds of tacky little details __duct work, exposed insulation, an entire floor of the Nats (not-very-big) offices__ are finished.

So, to D.C.: Finish the damn ballpark like you promsed. The Nats are going to be a magnet that helps bring a bonanza to SE. Keep your (contractural) promises.

To the Lerners: You're making yourselves look awful. Most people simply are not sophisticated enough __or concerned enough about the details of this argument (why should they be?)__ to see your side. Pay the rent. You're using the park. And probably making 50% on every hot dog. If you want to continue to hold a law suit threat over them __$100,000-a-day since March 1__ until they really do finished the job, then so be it. (I'd probably be pissed enough to threaten to sue 'em, then drop it, assuming they finish the darn punch list sometime this SEASON.)

The District needs to stop whining and finish the park. The Lerners need to learn what Montaigne called "the price of my nonchalance." About small amounts of money __and $3.5M isn't big to the Lerners__ don't give yourself an ulcer agonizing over details or make unnecessay enemies or poison your nest (in SE). Just pay up and forget about it. Forgive 'em. Wha, you thought the District was going to be the Perfect Partner?

Unfortunately (in this case) the Lerners define themselves as detail people. It's their pride. And it's one reason that so many details in the new park __including a lot of Lerner-paid extras__ are quite nice.

Oh, by the way, next year or in '10 at the latest, the Nats will win 85 games. Nt a great many. But, in the losy NL, enough to be in the wildcard race. And mch of this will be forgotten.

And, then, you will be able to add a zero to that 9,000 TV households number. 90,000 would be more normal. And if Washington, which hasn't had a team with more than 87 wins since 1933, has a chance to dream, you will see a replay on The Summer of '05. But in a Top Dozen ballpark.

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You're missing the point: It's not about who owns the team, it's about those of us who live in DC getting stiffed on taxes and rent. The rest doesn't matter. As long as the Lerners stiff us on taxes and rent, we'll be angry, and I for one won't go to Nats games.

Tom Boswell: I'm going to post a few of these Angry at the Lerner questions so that, this weekend, I can suggest that Mark, or someone in the family, take a look at the rane of concerns. Most of the easoning in these "questions" is not particularly logical, imo. But it's not the job of fans to spend their lives being Edward Bennett Williams and studying every detail of this fuss.

They just think it is ugly, inexcussible and has to stop.

And, in that big pitcure sense, they are right.

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Stadium Imbroglio: Is it fair to say that a large part of the problem is that the Lerners aren't accustomed to dealing with an organization as - how to put this - marginally efficient as the DC City Council?

Tom Boswell: They knew that going in. They haven't been disappointed.

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Reston, VA: I'm sure many readers are interested in your opinion of the Lerner-DC money situation reported in the Post today.

Can you add some information, or your opinion (if you dare).

Tom Boswell:"Daring," as you can see, doesn't seem to be my problem.

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Tysons Corner: Tom:

Nats hitters were all excited about moving into the new stadium this year, but as of today, Lopez is batting .236, Belliard is batting .212, Kearns is batting .199 and Pena is batting .209. Can you explain this? Is Nationals Park turning out to be another pitchers' park?

Tom Boswell: I've looked at all the stats. Natioanls Park looks like it is playing "fair." Not even a distinct pitchers park.

After all their injuries, the Nats just can hit worth spit.

Oh, they weren't hitting before they got hurt, were they?

How much is trry Crowley worth to the Orioles. He's completely fixed Huff. Zimmerman has never improved since Frank Robinson used to give him words of wisdom as a rookie. The Nats do not have a hitting instructor at any level of the organzation that has any established stature.

Too bad hitting coaches don't go free agent.

Poior Wily Mo is one of the most lost hitters I have ever seen. Too bad. Good kid, 265-pounds of muscle. Somebody, somewhere is going to "fix" him and have a nice 25-homer No. 7 hitter. But I doubt it will be the Nats.

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Endless Summer: So what is there to look forward to when going to Nats Park for the next few months other than Noah's Pretzels?

Tom Boswell: If, by magic, the Nats were the No. 5 offense in baseball, you would think that Bergmann, Lannan and Rdding were hot stuff. Youd sa, I can't wait to see them pitch. Lannan LEADS THE MAJOR LEAGUES in what I call "quality-plus" starts __a minimum of 6 innngs pitched and two-or-less runs. In eight of his 11 starts since coming back from te minors, Bergmann has a 1.20 ERA. Yes, that's correct. He's had three starts where he allowed 0 earned runs, three starts with one earned runs and two starts with just two earned runs. And in another ninth start, he gave up four runs in a complete game. His overall ERAsincecoming back, including two awful starts, is 2.63.

Oh, and the rookie Balester has exceptional stuff and a charming surfer-kid personality.

However, it's difficult to appreciate this when, as currently constituted, the Nats are in a forfeit position if they trail 10. (But they did almost make me faint last night by scoring two in the ninth and three in the 10th. At least they squanered a"winning position" both times. So, the moon didn't fall out of the sky from shock.)

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Washington, DC: Let's see -- Nielsen's show 9000 households watch the Nats games on TV. Steinberg notes on his "Bog" that the Nationals Journal gets far fewer clicks than any of the other pro team blogs on the Post's Web site and that the online links to the game stories and notebook also get few hits. I think he said we'd be shocked if we saw the number.

Conventional wisdom outside this area prior to the Expos move was this was not a baseball town. Any of this causing you to think the conventional wisdom may have been right? What areas experiencing growth largely due an influx of outsiders are good baseball towns? Arizona? Denver? Miami or TB? Houston or Dallas?

Tom Boswell: I've told Kasten that "core interest" in Washington for a losing baseball team is unknown. And might be small. So, why not maximize the chances __without blwing the budget sky high__ to avoid having a bad team in the early years here. He says, "When we win, they will come."

That, unfortunately, may set up a situation where "they BETTER win." A decent baseball team, after 33 years, isn't a bad thing. But I don't think Kasten understands how ANGRY _and "turned offm," as innot-gonna-watch-TV__ people get when they see Senators III.

Give it time. That's the answer everybody haes. But it's the answer you're going to get, including from me. The park is built. It isn't going away. The Nats mnor league system now has the No. 2 overall w-l record in the minors. That's remarkable. They were No. 30 two years ago.

And it will be VERY DIFFICULT, given all the payroll room they have and all the highdrat picks (and prospects acquired in trade) that the have amassed for the Nats NOT to have winning team in a couple of years.

By the way, the Nats TV households __probably poorly measured by MASN, snce they do very few things very well__ were 17,000 in '07. The Wizards last season __with a winning playoff team with well-known stars__ only averaged 20,000 households!

I'd say the correct inference is that the Nats __with a team as resectable as the Wizards__ would probably have TV ratings much higher than the Wizards. We'll see. Time will tell. And not that much time. We'll know in two-three years.

Meanwhile, it motivates people to be scared to death. And that 9,000 sureought to scare em!

Hey, Ted, Stan and Jim, MAKE A DECENT TRADE, will ya?

They claim they have lots of irons in the fire. Talks cheap. (Though not as cheap as unpaid rent.)

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The ghost of Bob Short: Mr. Boswell,

-- Only 9,000 people watching on TV.

-- 8 starters injured

-- Owners withholding rent payments

-- Worst record in baseball

Is baseball in Washington doomed to failure yet again?

Tom Boswell: Another to make the Lerners weekend brighter.

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Ellicott City, MD: Mr. Boswell,

If you were in charge of the Nationals, what 3 things would you do to increase the number of people watching on TV?

On another note, I know all the injuries hurt, but are the Nats missing a window of opportunity to build a fan base when the NL is so weak that mediocre means pennant fever all summer long? Wouldn't Nats park be jumping with just a .500 team?

Tom Boswell: Good point. In the N.L. .500 feels like .550.

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Putting you on the spot: Bos, no one was more forceful in proclaiming the likely success of a DC franchise, long before the Nats showed up. Looking at the recently announced TV ratings, are you second-guessing yourself and your feel for the market? Forget the alibis, 9,000 households is an embarassing total and seems to indicate this isn't a baseball market at all and isn't close to becoming one, if it ever does. What are your thoughts on this? Thanks.

Tom Boswell: I think, in stock market terms, this is "the bottom," or close to it. This winter, some semi-fans may not reknew their tickets at Nats Park. Then, perhaps, more of the best seats in the house__and within various sections__ will be returned to their rightful owners.

FWIW, Kasten thinks this whole discussion is comical. "Boy, the scars around here must really be deep," he said the other day. "Don't people realize that we have fulfilled every promise? We've completely rebuilt the minors. The stadium came in on time and on budget. And if we hadn't had so many injuries this year, we'd probaly be around .500. The young players who are part of the future like Lannan, Flores, Balester, Dukes, Balester (and Zmmerman) are already here."

He thinks they are ahead of schedule. Not behind. He thinks the Washington baseball market will be a huge success. And he thinks that all of this is OBVIOUS. He sees it. He's amazed, and fascinated, that Washington is completely blind to it.

Kasten may be wrong. But he helped build the greatest dynasty __in the sense of 14 straight 1st-place finishes__ in the history of American professional sports.

You and I didn't.

See you all in two weeks.

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Desperately seeking advice in Washington DC: Please help me think clearly about the Nationals' refusal to pay rent to DC, my place of residence. It seems to me that the city has provided a functioning stadium and that nothing that is incomplete has affected the Nationals' ability to make a profit. On the other hand...well, I'm not seeing anything on the Lerners' side, they look like money-grabbing crabs. I'm planning to go for the first time to the new stadium tonight, but I'm inclined to boycott the team if it continues to stiff the city (in reality, us taxpayers) and appear to be so disagreeable. What am I missing? There must be another side, mustn't there?

Tom Boswell: Ted, Mark, etc,

Don't miss this one. These are your fans.

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Ft. Campbell, Ky.: Mr. Boswell,

I'm a believer in The Plan and am willing to weather the hard times for the future. As a baseball fan I guess I'm still excited to have a team of our own, but I think the Lerners may have missed the memo that they need to build interest in the sport among casual or not-yet fans. The Nats have indeed been decimated by injuries, but the bottom line is that the team is not enjoyable for the casual fan to watch. The MASN ratings bear this out (I watch them on the Internet on MLB.tv - call me number 9001). Are they thinking about doing something in the short term to attract new fans? If the O's get to the postseason before the Nats, the long-term fan base could really be hurt as they go with a winner.

Second thing. I'll be back in town in August and will go to the new stadium. In a discussion a couple of months ago you explained how to explore the park for the first time. I failed to save it -- could you post a link to it?

Thanks for all of your columns and discussions. A day without a Bos column is like a day without a Nats win - they come with about the same frequency.

washingtonpost.com: Here's the chat about what to do on your first visit to the park: Boswell on Baseball (March 28)

Tom Boswell: Here's the link.

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