Thursday, March 26, 2009; 12:00 PM
Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Thursday, March 26 at noon ET to take your questions about the Nationals spring training, the World Baseball Classic, the latest sports news and his recent columns.
Vienna, Va.: Boz, great column on Strasburg, really great. The column, along with reading the latest scouting reports, helped me finalize my thinking on the draft: the Nats have to draft this guy and hope he overcomes 34 years of history, even though he probably won't. You simply have to take the chance on that kind of talent.
Here's a strange question: you can count on one hand, maybe two, the number of guys who threw 100 mph and maintained that speed for very long. Do the scouts need to evaluate Strasburg now and project what kind of pitcher he will be once he blows out his arm?
washingtonpost.com: Armed, but Dangerous (Post, March 24)
Tom Boswell: This is going to be an excellent subject for discussion for the next three months. I wanted to introduce the one major element of the debate that I think relatively few people outside of baseball are aware of.
No, I don't think you factor in a post-blow-out value for Strasburg. The 100-m.p.h. guys that history will remember __Randy Johnson, Nolan Ryan, Walter Johnson, Bob Feller, Roger Clemens, Sandy Foufax __never lost their velocity, except to the degree that you'd expect with age.
Boonsboro, Md.: Will the re-launching of Gilbert Arenas for the final few games of the Wizards season give Ernie Grunfeld time to evaluate whether the Wizards will remain an Arenas-centered team or whether it is time to move on?
Tom Boswell: I talked to Tapscott about this 10 days ago and, while he didn't want to push Gilbert, he made it clear that it would certainly help the team formulate its off-season plans if they could look at Arenas for even a few games. Practice doesn't tell you enough. Gilbert is a hard guy to figure. But, even if he only plays in a handful of games, will certainly be helping the Wiz get a handle on his value.
They assume that hje is so talented that, if necessary, he could adapt his game __to a degree__ and still be extremely valuable. Pass more, etc. But they certainly want to see how much defense he can still play.
I'm looking forward to going out to see his return.
Virginia Beach, Va.: Hi, Boz, which starting pitching staff would you rather have, Nationals or Orioles?
And, what's happened to Byrd, Sheets, Mulder? No one signed them.
Tom Boswell: I'd much rather have the Nats at this time.
Jordan Zimmermann has been more than a pleasant surprise. He may actually be a No. 2-3 starter by '10. Martis has looked quite good, though that will require much more proof. His stuff and command aren't as self-evident as Zimmermann. Balester always has command of his fastball. But he never knows if he can throw his curve or change with control until the game starts. That's a reason for more time in the minors for polish.
The O's rotation is still painful to behold.
Mulder is, if I remmeber correctly, finished. A No. 2-overall draft pick who started fast but hasn't won a game since age 27 (103-60 career).
Norfolk, Va.: Tom, I thoroughly enjoyed the WBC and the play of the international teams. How impressed were you with the Japanese and Korean pitchers and if the Lerners were Snyder or Steinbrenner how likely would it be that they would "buy" the entire bull pen?
Tom Boswell: I'd certainly be looking at Japan and Korea. For years their pitchers were considered suspect, though their position players, like Ichiro, were respected. Boy, does that need to change. Kasten has been talking about Yu Darvish for a couple of years and jokes with Japan's baseball commish __my old friend former-Ambassador to the U.S. Ryozo Kato__ about how much it would cost to get him and when he'd be eligible to be grabbed, like Dice-K.
Kato tells me, laughing, it's "going to be a long wait."
The WBC was great fun. But it's only fair to point out that the U.S. still doesn't have anything remotely close to its best team __and especially its best pitching__ on the team. And our players are still at the spring training stage while the teams in Asia start work on Jan. 1.
Nevertheless, this has been a near-PERFECT beginning for the WBC. The fears were that the U.S. would win teh first couple of WBCs and kill interest around the world. Or that Cuba would dominate. Neither has happened. And the ability of almost every one of the 16 teams __including "my" Netherlands__ to win one or more games has really jacked up interest around the world.
Tom Boswell: Because I'm a bit crazy, I wanted to quantify just how much the Nationals were (or were not) damaged by all their injuries last season. How bad was it, really? What's normal? What constitutes truly extreme levels of injury, especially to your top players?
So, I did a chart of how many at bats every team in MLB had from their four players with the most AB's in '08, then their six players, eight players and finally 10 players on their team with the most ABs.
The Nationals were dead last in EVERY category and by a huge margin. Didn't matter whether you were counting the Top Four, Top Six, Top Eight or Top 10.
For example, the least injured team in baseball, as measured by the number of at bats for their eight most-used players, was the Orioles who got 4,263 at bats __or an average of 533 at bats per man. Now that is very healthy. The Brewers were No. 2 with 4,219 abs, then the White Sox 4,183 and Yankees 4,137. In all, 15 teams had more than 3,800 abs for their top eight men and the average for all of baseball was 3,809.
The Nats only had 3,083 at bats from their top eight men __Guzman (579), Milledge (523), Zimmerman (428), Harris (367), Kearns (313), Flores (301), Belliard (296) and Dukes (276). The Nats cleanup hitter on Opening Day __Nick Johnson__ had only 109 at bats.
So, the O's got 533 at-bats-per-man for their eight most-used players. The average team got 476. The Nats: 385!
There's a ton more but I won't choke you with it all. Just one example, the leaders in the Top 4 category were: Seattle (2,524 or an average of 631 abs per man). 2) Mets 2,518. 3) Brewers 2,357 4) Yankees 2,357.
The Brewers, Yanks and Phils all stayed very healthy in '08. So far this spring, they already have stars who are injured (Chase Utley and Alex Rodriguez) or depleted by lost free agents. With normal health, I'd expect all three to disappoint expectations somewhat this season.
All in all, the Nats numbers were Top Four (1,897) vs. Seattle (2,524), Top Six (2,511) vs Seattle (3,459), Top 10 (3,510) vs. White Sox (4,842) followed by Brewers and Phils vs. Nats at 3,510.
The only team that was a dramatic statistical outlier __either high or low__ was the Nats.
I realize that this stat is impacted to a degree by how many players you use in platoons and by mid-season trades. It's not intended to be exact. Just interesting in a broad-brush way. But I think "normal" health for the Nats __especially Nick Johnson (ha!) and Zimmerman__ would make a bigger difference than even followers of the Nats might think.
Arlington, Va.: I was surprised with your column. You're giving the Lerner's an out on why not to draft Strasburg. I mean, they HAVE to draft him, don't they?? Fans would never forgive them.
Tom Boswell: Strasburg appears to be the No. 1 talent in the draft. Maybe by a lot. As I said, there is an appropriate price for him. Even INCLUDING an appreciation of the vastly higher risk with pitchers.
Would I sign him, if he keeps pitching like this, for $11M __more than the previous record of $10.5M for Mark Prior (washed ujp at 25). Yes, absolutely.
Would I sign him for the rumored $50M-for-6-years? Absoluitely not. That's rediculous.
More to the point, would I sign him for HALF of the rumored price __$25M. Absolutely NOT. I wouldn't even consider it. If I thought $25M or $20M was the real get-it-done number, I'd just move on.
What about $12M, $15M or $17M?? I don't know. But the debate should be conducted in the real world. Not the silliness of BNoras asking for $200M for Manny Ramirez, turning down $45M for two years then finally signing for $43M with much of the money pushed into the future so that it's "present value" is more like $40M.
I still think the basic stat in my column tells it all __on the risk element. Of the players picked in the top five since 1965 __220 players, 102 of them pitchers and the other 118 hitters__ there are ZERO Hall of Fame pitchers and nobody even close. Kevin Brown is No. 1 with 211 wins.
But the hitters include Griffey, A-Rod, Chipper, Baines, Mauer, Adrian Gonzalez (119 RBI), Strawberry, Burrell, Reggie Jackson, Joe Carter, Will Clark, Yount, Molitor, Matt Williams, Glaus, Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Thurman Munson, Dave Winfield, Barry Larkin, Dale Murphy, Teixeira and on and on.
GET THE POINT!
This is a very tough decision, not a case of Fans Raise Hell, Get Their Way.
We all raised hell about Teixeira and Dunn (and Beimel) and the right things were done. But we need some range and historical perspective on this draft.
Washington, D.C.: How do you feel about the flak you've gotten from "real" hockey writers after defending Ovie's celebrations? Most seem to stem from a sense of insecurity when faced with the glaring fact that their favorite sport is still a second-class citizen.
Tom Boswell: I love a good fuss.
Especially when I'm right.
Sometimes, you don't know if you're right (even in your own opinion) until a couple of days after you've written an off-the-news column. Sometimes you think, "Rats. Another one I wish I didn't have to live with. Or change my mind."
I'm quite happy with my Ovie column. It's another good debate __not black-and-white. I've had some smart e-mails from readers that I respect. But the NHL can loosen up A LOT and still not come anywhere close to the NFL or NBA for pre-palnned celebrations. And still be way behind baseball, too, where it's still fairly rare.
However, I would NEVER want to give up the memory of the minor league manager with the Braves who planned out a base-throwing rant, then finished it off by CRAWLING up the back of the mound, picking up the reisin bag as if it were a grenade, then pretending to pull the pin and, from him knees, lob it right at the feet of the ump standing beside home plate.
I think the guy was fired and is out of the game. Not sure. But I saw the clip agaqin the other day and think it's funnier, more wonderfully surreal now than I did then.
Washington, D.C.: Boz, What are your thoughts on Jordan Zimmermann? Put him in the rotation now or in AAA, thus delaying his arbitration "clock"?
Tom Boswell: I think he can only be helped by some more seasoning in the minors __regardless of any other factor.
Look at the "young" Rays rotation last year that was, on Opening Day of '08, ages 26, 25, 24, 24 and 24. BUT then look up their entire careers and see when Tampa Bay first asked them to pitch a full season of 162 innings or more. Shields first such season was at 25. Sonnanstine at 25. Edwin Jackson (since traded) at 24. Matt Garza at 24. Only Kazmir was elligible for the ERA title at an early age __21.
And now the Rays have sent David Price, who looked so great last October, back to the minors to polish his craft more.
Compare that to the Nats ages on Opening Day of '09 __Lannan 24, Balester 23, Martis 22, Zimmermann 22, Olsen 25. Clearly, to be on the Rays "program," Balester, Zimmermann or Martis could ALL use another full season, or at least half-a-season, in the minors.
Even by the standards of teams that are now famous for "young pitching," the Nats are in danger of rushing Balester, Zim and Martis. And Lannan is on a fast track.
Yes, I went through the career of every starting pitcher in baseball yesterday __the majic age for getting 30 starts for the first time is 24 or 25. Of course there are many exceptions, including many of the very best __C.C. was 20__ but the number of fine starters who got locked into a rotation at 24-25 is huge.
Washington, D.C.: When you look at the likely starting lineup, do you see the Nats as perhaps having an above-average offense? If the outfield is Dunn-Milledge-Dukes, even Milledge may be an above average offensive player for CF, the weakest OF position. The infield, with a healthy Nick, should hit, especially if Belliard stays at second.
Could this team jump its run scoring from the 650 run level to the 775 - 800 run level?
Tom Boswell: If the team stays healthy, with Johnson in the lineup, I'm expecting 775 runs. I've posted before about using career OPS and '08 OPS to project what this lineup might generate. I keep getting 775-to-800.
Hards as it is to believe, the Nats may have enough hitting to get to .500 this year if their starting rotation __a very young one__ was a major surprise. I doubt it. I'm more concerned, as I just noted, that Zimmermann and Martis are handled gently. Balester has more than 500 innings in the minors, so I'm less concerned about him.
Laurel, MD: Will the Nats be the worst team in MLB again this year? Or will it be someone else?
Tom Boswell: The Nationals will not be one of the EIGHT worst teams in MLB this year. Remember the awful utterly untalented '07 Nats? They finished 73-89 and were ahead of NINE teams. This team is not only much better but also shows the outlines of its future.
But, as I nagged in the winter, I still think the Nats should have paid up for one more veteran mediocre free agent starting pitcher on a one-year contract as a "bridge" to the kids in late '09 or '10.
Arlington, Va.: To what extent did the apparent vitriol that certain GMs in baseball feel towards Bowden over the past few years end up costing the Nationals in terms of player movement? You can make the argument that he held onto players he should have moved (Soriano, Cordero) and now has left us with 6 corner outfielders and 4 injury-prone first basement on our 40-man roster. Will we have a better reputation now that Rizzo is handling affairs?
Tom Boswell: Good point. Bowden had his enemies, people who didn't want to deal with him. Rizzo is very popular. And, of course, other GM's may want to test him, see if they can get the better of him in a trade, even if Kasten has imput, too. So, that may help the Nats get some action going __and see how Rizzo handles it.
Just want to point out with all the residual Bowden bashing that everytime somebody raves about Jordan Zimmermann, remember how the Nats got him. Both he and Josh Smoker were picks that the Nats got in return for losing Soriano as a free agent. Look it up on baseballreference.com.
Oh, and the Nats will not give up any picks for either Dunn or Beimel. Neither was offered arbitration by his previous team.
Arlington, Va.: I love this time of year. I read somewhere that "...Time Begins on Opening Day."
Do you think the Nats are waiting to see how Nick Johnson looks and plays before dealing with the incredible log jam of outfielders/first basemen? It seems to me that Dukes, Milledge, and Dunn have to be the starting outfield. That leave Willingham out in the cold. Obviously Kearns and Wily Mo are at best spare parts, but they are around also.
I hope they can move some of these players, perhaps for some bullpen help.
Tom Boswell: Agreed on all points.
Metro Centro: Boz baby, any word on whether the Nats will lower drink and food prices for the season? I hate $8 beer!
Tom Boswell: Kasten was talking on the Nats TV broadcast last night that they were doing bargain "food packages." Thjey also have (somewhat) discounted eight-game mini-season packages.
They need to do everything can. Abotu six weeks ago, my best sources said that they guessed that Nats season-ticket attendance would be down about 20%. That was just before Dunn came. A lot can change. But that's a big hit. If you've got to cut the beer prices, do it. BTW, the Lerners get a BIG slice of the concessions prices. They can be a big help there __if they want to.
Silver Spring, Md.: Mr. No. 1 pick Price was just sent down to the minors by Tampa. Strassburg is an exceptional college pitcher, but has no track record except in the Olympics where he was so-so against professional athletes. He is not worth any thing more than Price in these economic times. So - who is/are the hitters the Nats should draft?
Tom Boswell: I'm a bit concerned that, when he came to San Diego State, DStarsburg had to lose a lot of wieght. It's said that he gets rattled a bit when he gets hit, gets angry. Of course, that doesn't happen much. His command is exceptional because, in high school. he only threw 88 and needed control. However, Ben McDonald's command was phenomenal when he arrived __right up until he started getting hit. Then he tried to be even "finer than fine."
The Nats like (among others, and in no particular order): SS Grant Green (USC), 1st Dustin Ackley (UNC) and (P) Mike Minor (Vandy). There are others, of course. I'll get around to them. They also have the No. 10 overall pick. Everybody focuses on Green and Ackley. Not a surprise.
Capitol Hill: Didn't Scott Boras throw out the $50 million number for Strasberg just so when he signs for $20 million, still a record, people don't complain as much?
Tom Boswell: Sure. But people should know that, at least based on 44 years of draft history, that $20M would be the "crazy number" to throw out there, then work back down toward reality. That's not Scott's style, to say the least.
This is a standard psychological technique: See the classic "Influence: The Art of Persuasion" by Caldoni. (I might have spelled the lasty name wrong, sorry.) Example: College student on phone __"Mom, Dad, I wrecked the car, got arrested and they don't know how badly the passengers in the other car were injured...(pause)...just kidding. But I did get a "D" on my history exam."
It REALLY works. I thought it was such a cheap obvious trick by Boras __about 25 years behind the times__ that it needed to be shot down. Let him come up with a new cutting-edge negotiating trick.
Sec 114, Row E: Bos, good thoughts on Strasburg and the 1st overall picks.
But, can the Nats afford NOT to pick him? After last year's fiasco with Crowe - whomever you want to blame, it still was a fiasco.
Can the Nats afford one more bad PR move? If the Nats passed on Strasburg because of "signability" they would get a nationwide beating from everyone with a keyboard - from the lowliest blogger to the esteemed writers at major newspapers?
washingtonpost.com: Armed, but Dangerous (Post, March 1)
Tom Boswell: Boras may assume that the Crowe mess will be a factor. And it may cost the Nats an extra million at the 11th hour. But Strasburg is a What To Have, not a Must Have pick __because he is a pitcher. And all pitching phenoms, as I said, are meant to break your heart. Granted, college p;itchers are slightly less likely to blow up in your face. But NONE of the 102 in the top five have been HOFers! Hello...
Remember '91 when Kasten ran the Braves? Sports Illustrated ran a cover story on Todd Van Poppel (Spelling?), a high schooler. (And SI is now working on a big Strasburg piece.)
The Braves passed on Van Poppel (who went No. 2 and was a flop) and took...Chipper Jones, instead.
Bleachers @ Kettler Capitals Iceplex, Arlington, Va: Thomas, have you seen today's "Morning Skate" at the New York Times?
"Boswell's understanding of hockey and the nature of the issues surrounding it is pretty limited, and he suffers from the usual malady of wanting it to conform to sports with which he is more familiar, rather than learning about it and letting it be its own wonderful, contradictory self, which is one point in Kern's very, very, very long (but very interesting) blog post.
Of course, Boswell would probably leap through his computer screen if he read a hockey writer praise a batter for showing up a pitcher and condemn a pitcher for throwing at that batter for showing him up."
washingtonpost.com: The Morning Skate: Ovie's Crime of Celebration - Slap Shot Blog - NYTimes.com
Tom Boswell: Hey, lets give 'em a free read.
I've covered Caps games every season since they got here back in the '70's. I've covered some of their best, and most brutal playoff games. I've talked with both Murrays, Ron Wilson, etc., about hockey until they probably never wanted to see me at their office door again. (They were all very helpful though.) Don't worry too much about my knowledge of hockey. I undersell it.
Arlington, Va.: Phillip Wellman was the grenade throwing manager of the Mississippi Braves. Not only was he not fired, he was named Southern League manager of the year in 2008.
Tom Boswell: All right!
You just madfe my day! Thanks.
Gallery Place: Mr. Boswell,
Ted called you out on his blog -- Did You Ever Think?
"Did you ever think that a Capitals player could become the center of the universe? :-) One week after teh 50th goal was scored; the New York Times keeps the subject matter alive.
Tom Boswell: Your move?"
Can we expect your move here in this chat or in a column tomorrow?
Tom Boswell: I'll give Ted a read, too!
He deserves the good times he's getting now after all the hartd years. Also, when you succeed __with any franchise or in any sport__ you get the Second Wave of fans and media attention. If you are a sane franchise (or sport) you WANT IT. As I've freely said __in fact, taken pains to point out in an entire column__ I'm part of that wave! And happy about it.
Maryland's Eastern Shore: Here on the Shore, we're Orioles fans. So tell me, will Matt Wieters start at catcher and where does he bat? And where does Adam Jones bat this year?
Tom Boswell: There will come a day, perhaps even this year, when Markakis bats third and Weiters bats cleanup. And, from that day forward, it will not change for many years __just like Mauer and Morneau in Minny.
Thanks. See you all next week.
Alexandria, VA: Drafting a pitcher is always a gamble but in this case it's a gamble the Nationals have to take.
Joe Mauer was a viable option for the Twins in the year Prior was drafted. Ackley and Green are not in the same class as Strasburg when it comes to talent.
Tom Boswell: This same argument __"EVERYBODY KNOWS that one is vastly better"__ is based on the same herd-think nonsense that we see every day on Wall Street where the hot-stock, cold-stock debate is conducted at full-scream level every day. It is called "market noise."
In '01, Mark Prior was "it." The Twins took Mauer No. 1. Prior went second. Prior is finished. Mauer just won his second batting title.
In '00, slugger Adrian Gonzalez was taken No. 1 ahead of Adam Johnson of Cal-State Fullerton. Adam Johnson?
In '99, Josh Hamilton was taken No. 1 ahead of Josh Beckett (high school). Nice debate there. Takes yeasr to get the answer.
In '93, I'd heard pelnty about the overpowering pitcher at Wichita State named Darren Dreifort. When a high school kid was taken No. 1 overall, one pick ahead of Dreifort, I said, "Who the heck is Alex Rodriguez?"
This one is going to be a beauty. Just to be clear, my preference would be to see the Nats take a risk on Strasburg __even though I know history says it's nutty__ just as long as the price isn't crazy also.
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