Ask Boswell: Cabrera, Acta, Hall of Fame, Caps, Rizzo, Manny

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Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 7, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Thursday, May 7, at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions about the Caps, the Nats, the Redskins, the latest sports news and his columns.

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Richmond, Va.: Mr. Boswell, Big fan of your writing -- always very insightful. Question -- there are currently only 3 active NFL head coaches who have won a championship, and only 4 NBA coaches, but 10 in MLB. You seem to have a good feel for what separates baseball from other sports -- why do you think there is such a discrepancy there?

Tom Boswell: Very interesting point. I haven't seen anybody else make it.

Partly, that's parity. Lots of different teams have won the World Series in the last 15 years. Those managers tend to get "tenure" of a sort. They've proved that they aren't the problem, they don't prevent a team from winning a title.

Also, baseball is the sport where patient judgment is rewarded the most. I once wrote (as someone teased me recently), "Judge slowly. No, more slowly than that." So, once a team has found a manager who has patience with players, knows how to developed a bullpen over time (!), has respect in the clubhouse __a Leland, Torre, Francona__ they are very slow to replace them.

And baseball is also a bit stuck in the mud sometimes. While the NFL is all about fast, fast, fast and quick (impatient) decisions are often the rule, baseball is the opposite. So, maybe what you point out is not entirely a virtue since a manager who can win a Series with one type of team may not be well suited to a different type five years later. Even though they have the same name on the front of the jersey.

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Alexandria, Va.: Isn't it time to release Daniel Cabrera and give Craig Stammen a shot at the rotation? How about letting Tyler Clippard get a shot as a set-up man? I'm tired of the Nats trotting out the same old pitching failures over and over.

Tom Boswell: As I've said, I root for Cabrera because he is a very poor natural athlete, can't repeat his delivery, etc., yet has worked hard to get as far in the game as he has. I respect his effort and what he's done for his family with very little except a huge frame and willingness to work. But....

I hate to watch him pitch more than almost anybody I've ever seen. He has no idea where the next pitch is going __ever. He can throw a fastball on the black or a killer curve__ then try to duplicate it and throw a fastball over the catcher's head or bounce the same curve five feet in front of the plate.

I never thought the Nats should have spent $2.6M for him at the time. I said so. I asked Bowden, "Don't you watch Oriole games?" I asked, "Don't you know he is the worst athlete the O's ever tested?" They claim they did know, that Mazzone said good things about him. Well, Leo never said any good things about his pitching to me!

The Nats are 0-6 in his starts. That's no accident. Even last night was a horror to watch__and it was supposedly a relatively 'good' start. He's had 24 runs score in 29 2/3 innings. A bunch were unearned. But he seldom overcomes mistakes behind him.

Sorry, that's too many words on the subject. I guess I have a hard time saying, "Oh, just release him." I'd rather give a look to Stammen or, if he gets straightened out, to Balester.

Clippard has good relief numbers and herky-jerky delivery. I wasn't impressed with him as a starter for the Nats. He's worth a try in middle relief. But, with Beimel back, I'd try to work Hanarahan back into a closer-by-committee. Mock and Wells have good stuff for the 6th and 7th. Also, Rivera, just as they sent him down, looked like he'd rediscovered the movement on his slider. He told Chico he thought he'd gotten his grip on the pitch messed up. Lets see how he does in AAA and maybe he comes back to his old role.

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Sec 114, Row E: Bos, in your May 6 column, you quoted Manny Acta saying something about "negativity and sarcasm" -- can you fill in the rest of this? What was the context of the comment?

Does he think that the media is draggng the team down? Or does he think the media is trying to get him canned?

Tom Boswell: No, he was just being honest, I think. He understands that when you lose 102 and then start 1-10, you are going to be mocked. And he knows that he has internal support to keep his job, as long as things don't get too stupid.

If 7-18 is followed by another 7-18, his seat gets hot. And if there's another 7-18 after that, few manager could survive. You can't go 21-54 with a team with this good an offense and three promising young starters in JZimm, Martis and Lannan. AND managers are expected to have some skill at patching together a bullpen ut of string and bailing wire. I was once talking with Davey Johnson about what the Orioles needed to add to the team. I brought up the bullpen. He held up his hand and said, "Leave the bullpen to me. That's my job. You can make a bullpen out of very little." (Not a great bullpen, like the one he had with the Mets in the '80's.) I asked, "How do you do that?" Davey said, "You give the ball to the ones who have guts and you get rid of the rest of 'em so they don't contaminate 'em all." For him, relief pitching, especially setup and closing, was about having the courage to throw strikes under pressure. Especially strike one.

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Ladysmith, Va.: Boz, what precisely is the point of showing the lack of Hall of Fame pitchers drafted No. 1 or Nos. 1-10? The Strasburg money thing is about his talents and his leverage, not about his future as a Hall of Famer. And the Nats aren't, or shouldn't be, drafting to draft a Hall of Famer. They should be drafting for ace ability here. Strasburg has ace ability (as have numbers of other Nos. 1-10 picks), and having an ace gets you that much closer to a championship. We want Strasburg to be our ace, not our Hall of Famer particularly. Championships, not Hall of Fame plaques, are really the point here.

Tom Boswell: As I've pointed out in columns, blogs, etc., the issue is not who "makes the Hall of Fame." You can set up any standard you want __great pitcher or very good pitcher or good pitcher or total career value__ and it is still nuts to use draft picks in the top-20 overall for pitchers rather than hitters. You are far more likely to get a very good hitter than a very good pitcher, etc. The best pitchers are guys like Kevin Brown ad Dwight Gooden. But you can find 30 HOF or near HOF hitters taken in the first 15 overall picks. HOF is merely an illustration of a much larger tend. Since the draft started in '65, baseball simply has not been able to identify great-good-or-durable pitchers anywhere near as well as it can identify great-good-or-durable hitters. The list of HOFers is just the most obvious example.

No HOF pitcher has ever been taken with any of the first 18 overall picks in the draft. Roger Clemens was taken 19th. BUT the data swamps the HOF criterion. There is only one pitcher taken in the first 18 overall picks who has ever won 200 games. Look at the hitters: Griffey, Bonds, Chipper, A-Rod, McGwire, Frank Thomas, Reggie Jackson, Molitor, Yount, Winfield, Sheffield, Strawberry, Baines, Joe Carter, Will Clark, Ed Simmons, Teixeira, Dale Murphy, Munson, Larkin, Joe Mauer, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Hamilton, Glaus __it's endless AT EVERY LEVEL, whether you want HOF, merely "great" or "very good."

The question is, in the face of this long-established FACT, what is Strasburg WORTH in dollars, even if he appears to be __by a wide margin__ the best prospect?

As I keep saying, YES, you draft him. But the price must be sane _probably $12-to-$15M for four-or-five years__ or there's a point at which you back away and say, "This risk/reward proposition just got crazy."

Also, after the Nats pick Strasburg __and I think they will, I think the price will be the highest ever, but probably under $15M and I think he will be a superior pitcher (as long as he stays healthy), perhaps at a Dwight Gooden level__ I also believe the Nats should NOT use their No. 10 overall pick on a pitcher, no matter who it is. But I think they are leaning toward two pitchers right now. I wouldn't go that way. Better a hitter up-the-middle like the SS Grant Green at USC, though I know many like UNC 1st/OF Dustin Ackley.

To put this to rest, baseball has never been able to elevate and project pitchers __whether great or merely good__ nearly as well as it can evaluate the futures of hitters. Also, pitchers get hurt more often and more seriously. And they return to near-100% health much less often. So, lets stop pretending that this is just about HOFers.

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Halethorpe, Md.: Is baseball nuts? I can't imagine that anyone who sat through any part of last night's 6 hour, 6 inning Oriole win at Camden Yards, much of it played in a cold, driving rain, wants to head back to that or any other ballpark anytime soon.

When I was a child and dinosaurs roamed the earth, baseball was not played in the rain. I think that changed with the '68 WS, but that's beside the point.

Very few teams sell out all their games. An occasional actual (not separate admission) doubleheader could do wonders to get them back in the park.

I belong to a SABR group peopled by other old geezers who spent a recent afternoon recalling our our favorite doubleheaders. One guy went to the Mets DH in the late 1960's where the second game went 20 plus innings, and his parents called the cops when he did not return home at what they considered a reasonable hour. I saw one in Balt. vs. Boston on a hot, steamy day in July 1975 where canny veterans and heat aficionados Luis Tiant and Mike Cuellar each pitched a shutout and sent everyone home reasonably happy. Too bad today's young and not so young fans will be denied these memories.

Tom Boswell: All interesting points. I don't think we'll ever go back to old-fashioned doubleheaders just because of $$$. It will be split-gate afternoon-and-night games. That's no DH.

yes, I used to love doubleheaders, circled them on my boyhood calendar. Even in college (when I still couldn't spell 'c-a-t,' I shudder to think of the spelling in these chats) I used to take school books to sit in the afternoon and study/watch-baseball for five hours. Oh, of course, a DH only took about five hours back then!

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Ithaca, N.Y. : Mr. Boswell,

After watching last night's poor effort by the Caps against the 'Guins, do you believe the Caps are in danger of losing the series? Or was Game 3 just a bump in the road?

Tom Boswell: The Pens outplayed the Caps in Pittsburgh by a wider margin than the Caps outplayed the Pens in D.C.

But that two-games-to-one lead, plus home-ice edge is still very large. You rarely see a good team fall behind 3-0 at home in a Game Three. They are utterly desperate. In some sense, I was surprised that, with all the motivation and crowd noise that the Pens had that the Caps might have won Game Three anyway.

So, I still think the Caps take it. Game Three may be as well as the Pens can play against the Caps, but Varlamov kept it close and gave the Caps a chance, despite many penalties.

However, if the Pens dominate Game Four as much as they did Game Three__and win__ then the Caps have to have a lot on their minds when they come home for Game Five. Especially since Varlamov has never played back-to-back games before in the NHL.

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The Nationals Enquirer, D.C.: Boz, in your column the other day (was it Monday?) you hinted that the Nats were in danger of losing the town. Be honest -- don't you think this has already happened? And will it be as simple as fielding a winner to win it back?

Tom Boswell: I've gone back recently and studied the attendance patterns of every MLB team that ever went to a new town. I'm afraid there is only one inflexible pattern: When you win enough to be a contender, the big crowds always show up __everywhere, every time.

You can have huge crowds in the early years in a town, then "lose the town" and get it back. You can have bad teams and disappointing crowds in the early years, then get the town to love a winner. Maybe next week I'll give you a dozen examples of the different permutations. Even "new park" isn't nearly as important a factor as "win games."

STILL, would any team in its right mind that has a major market (demographically) and a beautiful new park (and the darn thing is even pretty half-full) WANT to go through the experience that the Nats are enduring if it could be avoided with modest expenditures in earlier years?

Of course not. One Nats insider told me recently, "The Lerners are OVER this 100-loss thing. They never expected this. And they never want to go through it again. Since the offers to Teixeira, things have been different."

Maybe. And "how different?" Some? A lot? Enough? Enough different to get Stasburg signed and ad a FA reliever over the winter? Anyway, this is a variant on the Bowden-solid-'em-rose-colored-glasses school of thought. Add it to the mix as we re-re-re-visit Early "Nats Return to DC" history.

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Draft Talk: And what if Ackley and Green are already selected when the Nationals select at #10, should they overdraft a bat if there are four or five higher rated pitchers on the board?

I agree if Ackley or Green (or Donavan Tate) are out there at #10, they are logical choices but the most likely odds, at this point, is that all three will come off the board between picks 2 and 9.

Tom Boswell: Anybody who drafts a pitcher with an overall pick between 5 and 15 is out of their mind. Just my opinion. And I don't think you could find one team in baseball that would take this extreme an attitude.

Most of the pitchers who have been taken in the first 18 picks that you'd be glad you picked __maybe not Griffey Jr ecstatic, but happy__ came in the first five overall. In other words, they REALLY jumped out. But between 6-and-15, it's a nightmare. For example, 6 and 7 overalls have produced Bonds, Jeter, Sheffield, van Slyke, Thomas, Prince Fielder, Nick Markakis, etc. The 44 No. 6 overalls and the 44 No. 7 overalls __88 picks since '65__ have produced....Rich Dotson. And nobody else I even bothered to write down.

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Sec 114, Row E: 5. Did you know that there are only 5 pitchers who were drafted who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. And 2 of the 5 were not signed by the team that ultimately drafted them.

All other HOF pitchers were signed prior to the induction of the draft. And of course, there are a number of pitchers who are eligible and have yet to be inducted -- or who are not yet eligible for voting.

Tom Boswell: As I pointed out, my point is not about the HOF. That's just one illustration of the broader point. The HOF is a "subset" of the general proposition.

It's 98% the Nats will go with Strasburg. Lets hope they sign him and he turns out to be better than any low pick in history. Or that he's as good as Gooden, etc. And if he's one of the 150-150 type pitchers, that's not bad. And there is no certainty (though the odds are better) than your No. 1 overall would have been a fabulous player is you'd used the pick on a hitter.

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Midwest Nats Fan: Any timetable for naming the new GM for the Nats? I'm assuming Rizzo is still the front-runner. If that's still the case, why hasn't he been named officially yet?

Tom Boswell: Rizzo looks like the logical choice __and a good one. Don't see a reason to wait, especially since you'd think the Nats would want to say to their No. 1 and No. 10 picks, "This is our GM. He'll be here for a while."

I'm going to be very interested to see what Rizzo does with Kearns and Nick Johnson. Do you play them all season, get value for the $8.5M and $5M you are playing them, then let them go free agent and get picks back for them as (perhaps) Type A fee agents? Do you try to trade them before the trade deadline? Do you try to resign one of them for the future? (I doubt that.) Do you say "We need a reliever NOW" and make an under-pressure trade immediately. (You're not going to get a closer for either of them. And maybe not even a setup man, right now. A lot of bullpens all over MLB are on fire right now.)

It certainly looks like the Nats are likely to have Dunn at 1st next year, Willingham (whom they like a lot) in LF, Dukes in RF (yes, he's better-than-Milledge in CF, but that doesn't mean he's good) and a battle for CF between Maxwell, Milledge and (maybe) Bernadina. Without the contracts of Young ($5.5M), Kearns, Johnson, Cordero and others, that's how the Nats can resign Ryan Z and Strasburg and get a FA this winter.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Manny Ramirez suspended 50 games for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. Unbelievable. I always thought that there were a few guys that didn't use. Now I'm not so sure.

Tom Boswell: Here we go again!

Sorry, can't make chat guesses on a minute-old "report."

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washingtonpost.com: Report: Manny faces 50-game penalty (ESPN, May 7)

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Sec 114, Row E: Bos, you have to help me out on this one. From where I sit, I don't see anything different from the Nats brass since the 102 loss season.

Yes, they appear to absolutely have gone after Teixeira. But the WaPo had reported that Kasten had to go to the mat to convince them it was the right time and person to spend that money on.

If things have changed -- after Teix went to the Yanks, why wasn't Dunn (or Abreu or Manny...) signed immediately thereafter.

I don't see anything different. Sure we signed Zimmerman. But my beer stand has run out of Bass Ale both games I've attended and the Senators Sausage stand doesn't have the sausages ready before first pitch.

Tom Boswell: Gradually, the picture becomes clearer of the last six months. The Teixeira offer required a United Front by the front office to say, "If you don't do this, then you'll never do anything."

Dunn was another pitched battle. I think they might have been able to get a third or fourth year on the Dunn contract. If so, bet they wish they had.

Rizzo went red-flag-alert his first day on the job and Beimel arrived within 24 hours.

Kasten took over the Zimmerman contract after Bowden left and got it done minutes before the first pitch on Opening Day. There seems to be progressively less need for everybody to set their hair on fire to get things done. But prices for players have also come down.

The Nats appear to be set to draft Strasburg. That means they intend to sign him and will be shocked if they don't. After the Crowe disaster last year, and you still hear grumblings about that since he may go as high as No. 5 overall this year, they have to sign their No. 1.

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20003: Any comment on LA Times breaking report of a 50 game PEDS suspension for Manny?

washingtonpost.com: Los Angeles Times

Tom Boswell: The desire to have an immediate reaction to big (but vague) news has led to some awful mistakes in my business by journalists during my career. I've learned by watching others: wait until you do the reporting YOURSLF and know what you're talking about. After JR Richard collapsed, after Michael Jordan's father was murdered and other times, I've seen people jump to some "obvious" conclusions that were completely wrong and harmful.

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Washington, D.C.: Boswell: I'm going to be very interested to see what Rizzo does with Kearns and Nick Johnson...Do you try to resign one of them for the future? (I doubt that.)

I'm going to cry if they don't resign Nick, the way he's playing/hitting (finally).

Tom Boswell: Johnson also balances the lineup by being a LH hitter. He's a slightly above average fielder. I no longer buy the idea that he's a wonderful 1st baseman.

What worries me most about him __and I've mentioned it to him__ is that he's a 235-pound man who plays as if he weighed less than 200 pounds. He chases pop flies too far, as if he were as nimble as his uncle Larry Bowa, and usually just gets in the way or (once) had a terrible collision. He does fancy litte-guy fall-away or head-first slides and tries to sidestep catchers instead of bowling them over. That's led to a couple of his injuries. If he would play like a 30-year-old Big Guy, I might take the (injury) chance on resigning him. Nick wants to "play the game the right way." At his size and age, that means toughing it out and playing the day after you get drilled in the ribs with a fastball. But stop the acrobatics/excess-bravery, please. Play like the big Dunn-key. He gets it. And averages 160 games a year.

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Kearns and Johnson: The problem with holding on to them is that they won't likely yield a first round choice. Free agent ratings are based on the previous two years of performance. Both Kearns and Johnson played so little (and poorly) last year that they will never rank in the top 20% at a premium offensive position.

Tom Boswell: Yes, I was thinking about that as I was typing. A good point. More likely to be Type B. They're tough to trade unless you eat every cent of their contract (unlikely) or trade them for somebody else's equally overpriced player.

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Tom Boswell: Manny's suspension has been confirm.

That's going to leave a mark.

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Vienna, Va.: Have you been to a Nats game this year as a fan? Have you seen ANY improvement in service....I have not and I have been to 6 games. Face it.....Lerner killed the sport.

Tom Boswell: The cable TV reception on MASN of Nats games that are not on HD is unwatchable on my system. That's about half of the games for the Nats and half forth O's. ANOTHER step backwards. I don't know how widespread this problem is, but MASN gets an "F" this season at my house.

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Re Cabrera: Yeah, as an O's fan, I really liked him as a person. From what we saw in interviews and heard from reports he really is a good guy. But, unless Annie Savoy can get hold of him it's not a bad idea for Nats to hand out batting helmets to everyone sitting between first and third.

And I like the guy.

Tom Boswell: I've thought of Annie Savoy and wondered if he shouldn't "breath through his eyelids," etc.

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Downtown: Did you know the Caps have NEVER won a Game 3? EVER! I don't have a question about that, but it's a pretty amazing bit of trivia.

Tom Boswell: Noted!

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Washington, D.C.: Two quick questions. 1. Can you explain the difference between "command" and "control" for a pitcher? Many writers make a distinction, but I don't understand it.

2. Is David Ortiz toast, or just slow to get started?

Tom Boswell: "Control" means you can throw enough strikes to have an acceptable walk total (low). And when you have to throw a strike, you can.

"Command" means that you have PRECISE control within the strike zone. You can, with some consistency, pitch to quadrants of the strike zone. Some pitchers, like Maddox and Eckersley, have taken "command" to the point where it looks like they can "put the ball in a coffee cup."

So far, Shairon Martis has had games, like his five-hiter, when he had true command. (In other games he hasn't.) Lannan has command, most of the time, especially of his fastball and change up. Jordan Zimmermann has shown control and courage __"Strike one! Strike two!" Rizzo says, "He has command, too. In his first three starts, he's only had good control."

Maybe tonight in L.A. we'll see Z'nn with command of his stuff for the first time.

And speaking of control __how about Mike Hinckley's wild pitch that hit the top of the screen behind home plate last night on a full-count pitch with the bases loaded! Just about the funniest thing __sadly__ I can remember outside of "Bull Durham." And it was a fastball. Matt Chico's sideways pitch was full-count bases-loaded.

The O-Dog (Orlando Hudson) watched the pitch go over his head, mouth open, like he was watching a UFO land. If there had been a hitter in the LH batter's box, it would have gone 10 feet over his head.

On to Manny! See you next week.

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