Ask Boswell: Nats, Orioles, Trades, More
Thursday, July 23, 2009; 11:00 AM
Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell will be online Thursday, July 23, at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions about the Nats, Orioles, the upcoming baseball trade deadline and the latest sports news and his recent columns.
Tom Boswell: Morning, chatters! Plenty to talk about since last week.
Trading deadline, pennant races, Tom Watson, Tiger misses cut, Lannan-Stammen sinkerballers, Strasburg radio silence, Jordan Zimmermann, O's, Lance tries/fails, etc.
However, I thought I'd start with a small baseball quiz. What is "normal" in the sport? When we watch a game, what do we expect and is that expectation an accurate appreciation of baseball reality?
Until a couple of weeks ago, I doubt that I knew the correct answer to most of the questions I'll ask. Maybe I'd have come close. But several really surprsed me. I'll provide the answers later in the chat, so maybe you can compare your own guesstimates. Also, since most of them this a.m. touch on pitching, I'll compare John Lannan to the "norms."
What is the average MLB batting average, on-base percentage, slugging average and OPS? How do hitters do against Lannan in these categories?
What % of MLB starts are "quality starts" (minimum of 6 innings pitched and three or less earned runs allowed). Lannan?
What is normal "run support?" (Measured in runs-per-9-innings while the starting pitcher is in the game.)
What is the average number of innings for a starter? Lannan?
What is the average number of pitches for a starting pitcher? (Germaine to all discussions of whether the Nats/O's young pitchers stay in games too long or not long enough relative to other teams.)
In what % of plate appearances does the batter hit a homer? (Or, baseball's most eternal question, if I go to the restroom now, what are the chances I'll miss a HR?)
What % of PA (plate appearances) are strrikeouts? And walks?
What is the ground-bll-out/fly-ball-out ratio for MLB? IOW, are most pitchers flyball pitchers or groundball pitchers? What's the normnal ratio? What's Lannan? Whjat is Craig Stammen?
How often do pitchers "convert" double-play situations into actual GIDP? (I had no idea and was very surprised.) Lannan and Stammen seem to et a lot of GIDP? How do they compare to the norm?
What percentage of all pitches are strikes?
What percentage of first pitches at strikes? (Always a big deal in baseball.)
How often (%) do teams score the man from third base with less than two outs? (The "situational hitting" in which the Nats seem so bad. What is normal? I was surprised.)
What is the MLB stolen-base percentage?
I was very pleased that many of these numbers are, in a sense, symbolic of the inherent aesthetic balance of the game. They don't, in many cases, seem random. They seem perfect. Hey, is this sport really man-made? My only hint on the answers is that humans don'tusually do things this well!
Near SE, Washington, D.C.: Boz,
If you were the Nats GM for the week, who do you trade and what kind of players do you target in return? Prospects or MLB-ready players?
Tom Boswell: As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I'd put 'em all on the block, except the eight young starting pitchers (including Mock, Balester, Olsen), Ryan Zimmerman, Jesus Flores, maybe Willingham and probably Dunn. Gotta give me a lot for Dunn and quite a bit for Willingham whose .840ish career OPS is much higher than most give him credit for. He's always hit just like he's hitting this year. The Nats stole him. He's only 30, under club control through '11. Don't let him get stolen from you. As for Dunn, it's incredibly hard to get a 40 homer, 100+ RBI, 110 walk cleanup hitter. Just try to replace him. Many many fine teams had one poor defensive player. And he's far from the worst.
Players who are want, to a degree, that I'd prefer to deal -- not looking for great value, just roughly equal, but younger and prospects with up-side -- Nick Johnson, Joe Beimel and Willie Harris. Also, Elijah Dukes, Ronnie Belliard, any reliever (if there's any market for them. It'll be hard to trade Guzman and his $8 million '10 contract. I still think he should be tested at 2nd base. Then he might really have value in trade a year from now. Then use Gonzalez (shudder) at short stop.
I prefer MLB-ready players, not "prospects" who are less proven and further away in development.
New York, N.Y.: Boz,
I know you no longer cover the Orioles for the Post, but judging from your columns and comments over the last few years, you seem to have lost your affection for them as well. I know you have embraced the Natinals, but I don't understand giving up on the team that you loved growing up. Have the Nats and Peter Angelos killed your love for the O's, or is it still there?
Tom Boswell: I still enjoy the Orioles and watch them. But I try to hide it out of respect for the many readers who feel a strong Washington-only passion. And, believe me, anybody who is still a Nats fan has passion!
My son's a big O's fan, so I'd hear about them plenty even if I didn't want to, but I do. I'm surprised Weiters isn't hitting better. Adam Jones is a beauty. In Bergesen (6-4, 3.51 EWRA in 17 starts), the O's may have found their righty version of Lannan -- a pitcher whose stuff doesn't look outstanding but whose delivery, command and grit make up for it.
Silver Spring, Md.: You left out Nyjer Morgan in your trade or keep answer. He's looked like the center fielder the team's needed.
Tom Boswell: Sorry, Morgan absolutely stays. Love him. Looks likean average offensive player, as long as he steals 40-to-50 bases, but he's either an above-average center fielder or a way above average center fielder. I haven't decided yet. A nice problem to have on a team for which every long flyball was a nightmare.
Also, Morgan's superior range in center fielder allows the corner outfielders to play closer to the lines. So, in a sense, it improves the range of all three outfield positions.
My sense, though I need to see him more in person, is that he plays a fairly shallow center fielder, which means that his trips back to the wall are even more remarkable. But I don't want to go too crazy. He misjudged a ball last night, though not badly.
His attitude is exactly what this team needed -- very competive, dirty uniform, won't rub when hit-by-pitch, upsets pitchers, smart and baseball smart, too. Now they need about six more guys like that.
Nyjer Morgan: What do you think of me now, Tom? Am I the Nats answer to center field for the foreseeable future? If the answer is yes, I'll bend the brim of my cap and straighten it on my head. Promise.
Tom Boswell: I love the way he wears his uniform right now. I imagine Pete Hill may have looked similar. Pete Hill? He's a center fielder in the Hall of Fame. He captained a "Giants" team that went 123-6.
Chattanooga, Tenn.: What do you think of Reilly's upbraiding of Tiger for his on-course behavior? I think it was long overdue. One point Reilly made that I wholeheartedly agree with -- I never saw Nicklaus act like Tiger generally does when things go bad. Think back to the Duel in the Sun -- Nicklaus walks off the 18th green after losing with his arm around Watson. Can't see Tiger doing that.
Tom Boswell: I thought it was perfect column. Especially because it emphasized that Tiger is now 33 and every great player in golf history has mastered his temper by that age -- except Tiger. It's his one big flaw. Barry and I were six feet from Tiger when he saw his ball was unplayable at the 11th hole on Sunday at his tournament at CCC and two "F bombs" exploded, though under his breath. He was on his best behavior at his own event. But then his game was on. At the british, he had a swing I've never seen before. orry, that's wrong, it kind of looked like your swing and mine on a bad day. I think I mentioned in last Thursday's chat that my reaction to his driver swing was: "What was that?" His swing fell apart in two weeks between Congressional and Turnberry.
My son also loved Rick's column. I told him that everybody wrote some version of that column on Tiger when he was in his 20's but that the conclussion was always, "But he'll grow out of it." But he hasn't. And he should.
Watson's perfomance at the British Open also brought into focus the relative lack of competitiveness of Tiger's primary foes. My son, sorry to bring him up again, but he loves golf, asked, "Were Palmer, Player and Trevino as tough in te clutch as Watson?" he asked me to rank them. I said I couldn't seperate them. They all wanted to kill you. All icy or attacting (Palmer). He asked if any other Nicklaus foes were that tough. I said, "No," that the era of the faint-hearted No. 1's started with Norman, the first great player who valued money more than the game. What really bothered my son was what a complete wimp Michelson is at 39 compared to atson at 59.
Alexandria, Va.: So the Mets are a mess; the Phils have been hot and they'll add Pedro soon. Does Phila. run away with it from here?
Tom Boswell: I never like the chances of a defending WS champ. But I think the Phils should pull out all the stops at the trading deadline to improve their pitching and make another run at it. What if Rollins gets back on track in the 2nd half? Do they have enough prospects (that they will part with) to get Halladay?
Also, a big question that few ask: will anybody add significant salary? Even Nick's $5.5M salary may be a small problem. The stock market seems to think that "the worst is over," but baseball owners are scared. They probably shouldn't be. Attendance has held up very well. It's only don -3.9% at the All-Star break, if you exclude the new ballparks in NYC that have lower seating capacities. Why exclude them? Because their ticket prices are so much higher that they generate more revenue even with less fans in the park. So, -3.9% is the right apples-to-apples number. Or maybe it's closer to "-0.0%" if you match revenues-to-revnues with the new New York City money added in.
Colesville, Md.: "What is the average number of pitches for a starting pitcher? (Germaine to all discussions of whether the Nats/O's young pitchers stay in games too long or not long enough relative to other teams.)"
From what I have heard, it's not really the number of pitches that is determining whether or not our young starters are being pulled (for our worse than shaky bullpen). The point of pulling them is so that their confidence is not ruined. "Don't want them to suffer a loss after such a quality start."
Don't you think we should test the pitchers more by having them pitch more even though they might lose?
Tom Boswell: Gene Mauch told me this first and I've always believed it. You should count "jams" as much as pitches. Mauch, paraphrase, said that "anybody" should/could get out of two jams, but a good pitcher could be allowed to work out of three jams but that only a great pitcher should ever be allowed to try to work out of a fourth jam.
So, I've always used the "four jam" rule as one of my "the Manager Is A Moron" metrics.
certainly no young Nats pitcher should be working out of fourth jams. What is a jam? It's when you say, "Damn, he's in another jam."
Charlottesville, Va.: Boz -- what is your take on the Lerner's at this point? They seem to have little sense of leadership as owners, other than being careful with money.
With many owners, successful and unsuccessful, there is an underlying motivation, a style, a fabric of the organization. Not yet here. It seems like the bottom has dropped out of this season, and Mark and Ted are nowhere to be found. They certainly aren't saying much.
Are they of the Bidwell-Angelos ilk, where fielding losing teams for years and years is OK, because the economics of the sport make it a no-lose business?
Thanks to you, Chico, and all the rest of the Washington Post staff for your great coverage and analysis.
Tom Boswell: I was answering an e-mail from a fanm the other day, but then I thought I'd use the answer here instead. He asked why the Nats sometimes looked like they were "just going through the motions," but, at other times, looked like they were trying plenty hard enough. That led me to the Lereners.
"Depression" looks a lot like "going through the motions."
One day (or inning) they are cranked up to "try again," then they screw something up or get a bad break and they go into a funk again, maybe for just the rest of that game or it might carry over into a general sense of the team being "flat" the next day. Then they regroup, look better maybe for a game and find some new shred of hope to cling to, "try to turned around." Endless cycle. Feeds on itself. Really sad to watch. That's part of why losing breeds losing and visa versa. The sports shrinks believe it. But you can't prove it. The Nats players are a good bunch and get themselves "restarted" better and more often than most bad teams. Of course they "quit" sometimes. But not for long, usually, even in losing streaks. It's not surprising that they get down. I'm usually amazed at how often, given their record, they actually try toget back up. Especially since "blown saves" are the worst psycholgical blow you can get in the sport. Also, they know they've been unlucky and should have 6-7-8 more wins with a normal distribution of runs. But when they pitch, they don't hit, etc. Oh, they're a thing of beauty all right.
It's everything above the players and coaches that is dysfunctional, especially the Lerners. I don't think that anybody, including Kasten and Rizzo, have any influence with them or really know what they are thinking, what they will or won't do. I think the Lerners, none of whom are brilliant outside of their narrow business world, knows what the heck is happening to them. They have that deer-in-the-headlights look, like "what did we get into?" They think, partly because Bowden and now Kasten always tell them that things are about to get less bad, that some kind of face-saving improvement is near. And Bowden and Kasten have always really believed it. That is how self-delusion works. The only one who "gets it" -- maybe -- is Rizzo who is a hard-eyed, old-school second-generation scout who knows talent (or in the Nats case the lack of it) when he sees it. He has said, ever since he was first allowed to open his mouth after March 1, that the 2 1/2 yrs before Bowden left were a complete pile of $%^#& and a lot of it needed to be torn down. Not "start over" but rethink a lot of things -- like sending Milledge down, then trading him and sending Dukes down. Both were touted by Bowden and Kasten as potential 5-to-10 year solutions based on their projected talent. Rizzo saw Milledge as an average offensive corner outfielder with no shot ever to be a decent center fielder -- plus a bad attitude. get ride of him while he still had trade value. And he got so mad after Milledge showedup late for his surgery that I hear he got Milledge and his agent on a three-phone call, blew Lastings up and probably decided right t6hen, "Gone." While others day-dreamed about Dukes, Rizzo wondered if a guy with a bone-on-bone knee, aweakness for low-outside breaking balls would ever be more than just "good." If your ceiling is decently high, but far from stratospheric, and you're not a center fielder, then your attitude has to be good or you have little value. By sending Dukes down, he was essentialkly saying: prove that your attitude can be good under all circumstances because our evaluation of your talent/durability has gone down quite a bit. We're rooting for you, but we're not wedded to you. All this is my interpretation, not gospel truth.
Of course, honesty may not keep him in the GM job. I'm not sure this is a group that really wants to know how bad things are. There have been players that the Lerner-Kasten-Bowden gang thought would be starters for many years that are gone or worth little now. Rizzo is far lower on the baseball totwem pole than they are, that he can get another job in any front office any time he wants because he actually knows things. He's competent. Like the Morgan-Burnett deal. People are afriad to trade with him right now because they worry that he knows his players and their players better than they know his players or their own players. He may be the better evaluator of both ends of a trade. The supposed "candidates" for the Nats GM job are mostly oldsters like Hart. I'd far rather see Rizzo. Kasten is optimist by nature. He needs a realist, with kind of a sem-break world view and a tight set mouth, like Schuerholtz, to balance him out. John was totally no B.S. So is Rizzo. I don't mean on camera, where they are all cheerful. I mean when they talk to each other.
Palisades, Washington, D.C.: Mr. Boswell
Can you think of another city in the country with as bad luck in sports team ownership? We havn't had a good ownership group in this town since Jack Kent Cooke, with the possible exception of Ted Leonsis.
Tom Boswell: The Nats will be under the gun with Strasburg.
Glad I always take my vacation at this time of year. I can just enjoy the silliness. nd it will get silly. When I talked to Strasburg, he looked nervous and tryinbg hard to stay "on message" which was: Haven't heard from the Nats. The Nats have tried to start a coiunter-buzz that they are shocked, shocked that a client wouldn't know about all the (failed) contracts that Rizzo has made with Boras to try to set up a meeting. Now we get the predictable Boras-to-media leak that the chances of Nats signing short stop are oh so terrible. Give me a break. No guess on this is a good guess. But my guess, subject to hourly change, is that short stop signs and for less than most think, maybeas low as $14-15M depending on termsof deal, number of years. The Japan option is semi-ridiculous. My wife and I are old riends of Japan's Commissioner Kato and his wife from his days at Ambassador to the U.S. I haven't asked his oppinion on short stop to Japan. But I sure know his thinking on U.S.-Japanese baseball relations -- what hurts them and what helps them -- from long before he was ever offered the commissionership. Lets just say that I don't think that the Japan option would play out as Scott resents it. Safter their performances in the World Baseball Classic, Japanese baseball pride is high. They don't like to be "used" as a contract pawn.
As I keep saying, both sides in this negotiation are weak, not strong. The deck is stacked against any amateur player. As soon as I mentioned Strasburg's name to Selig at the All-Star game, he went into his speach about the virtues of "the slotting system" and all the great players who had signed for slop or lower and about the bad record of amateur pitchers panning out. I didn't say, "Stop, Bud, stop," but I might have piut up my hands for mercy. So, there are two commssioners and an indifferent MLB union that don't want Stephen Strasburg to blow the system up. There's a recession. You've got the pathetic Nats, who desperately need to sign Stephen Strasburg for credibility and Boras-Stephen Strasburg who have about as weak a hand as I can imagine. And you have a previous high-water mark of $10.5M for Mark prior.
I'll be back from vacation on August 10. That'll be plenty of time to deal with this afer that. A whole week. Until then, much will be said. Nothing will be done.
Tom Boswell: Let me give you the "quiz" answers before noon, though I may keep chatting a while.
MLB averages: .260/.332/.415 for aN ops OF .740. Lannan is .271/.334/.419 this year, which would make you think he is "average." However, there are two areas in which he is extremely good that OPS does not measure. And not of the other Sabermetrics touch them either. Getting hitters to groiund into double plays and ability to hold down the running game. Only one stat does factor in the importance of GIDP and SB/CS. (Lets see, that would be my Tiotal Average. Oh, I've got that "on vacation" 'tude going today.)
Quality starts: MLB = 50 percent. How perfect! Exactly half. Lannan: 65% this year and 68% last season.
Run support: Average is 4.6. Lannan is 3.2 this season and an incredibly low 3.1 for his career! A full 1/3 less than the run-support he should have. If he ever had a "lucky" year with 6.0 runs, he might win 18-20 ganmes. And sometimes bad or mediocre teams do give excellent run supportto one lucky pitcher. The Nats have to be good. Lannan could just be as lucky for a year and he's been unlucky for two years.
Innings-per-start: 5.9. Again, almost a perfect 6.0 -- 23 of a game for the strater, one third for the bullpen. Lannan this year is 6.4.
Pitches-per-start: MLB avg 96. Lannan 95. Nats pitchers are right near the MLB average, including Jordan Zimmermann.
HR-per-plate-appearance: 2.7 percent. So, go on and go to the restroom unless Dunn is up.
K-per-PA: 17.7 percent. Walter Johnson would have struck out 400+ men a year in this era.
W-per-PA: 9.0 percent. That's why all hitters, even Cristian Guzman, should take SOME pitches. Control is far from perfect. Even slap hitter like Morgan, who never hit a homer, can draw walks in 10 percent of their PAs with just a little patience, awarenes of whether a pitcher is wild and some foul balls.
Ground-out-to-fly-out: 1.07. Again, almost a perfect balance of 1.0. Lannan is 1.70 -- tons of ground outs. Stammen is 1.55. Both very high. (Meaning very good.)
GIDP percentage: 11 percent for MLB. Lannan is at a fairly amazing 21percent in '09.
Strikes: 62 percentage of all MLB pitches.
First-pitch strikes: 58 percentageof all first pitches. Lannan is 64 percent this year and 59 percent career. He says he's more aggressive and trusts his fastball (sinker) more this year and it's helped improve his ERA and ability to go deeper in games.
Scre from third with one out or less: MLB = 52 percent! Again, almost perfect balance between offense and defense -- a 50/50 situation. I thought it would be much higher.
Stlen base percentage: 73 percent. To be worth stealing, you should be successful 67 percent of the time, ther stat nuts say. But I think the "disruption factor" of a Morgan has value.
N. Bethesda, Md.: Giving the Nats dismal season so far, I try to keep my sanity by pointing to building blocks, milestones, or any sort of sign that this season is not setting a trend for the future but is instead an inevitable low (if very low) point that all sports franchises find themselves in. Looking at the rest of the season, what things stand out to you as signs that this organization is about to turn itself around and not turn into the baseball's next Pirates?
Tom Boswell: The Pirates are sad.
If you want to do something for the next 68 games, worry about whether Jordan Zimmermann's elbow is really okay. Nobody ever knows what's going on in there -- until they cut it open and look. And you don't want that. Assume he'll be back in a month. It should be any sooner. He may have more long-term value than anybody in the organization, including the Other Zimmerman who, by the wa, seems to have worked on his throwing motion on routine plays and may be doing better on that problem.
Silver Spring, Md.: Follow-up on your assessment of Rizzo:
Right after the LaRoche trade that Pitt made with Boston, it occurred to me that Nick Johnson might have been one of the first baseman Boston was considering but I don't think Boston was willing to give up enough in the trade. Once again, Pitt gave away a quality player for not much in return (think our trade to get Morgan, etc.). I credit Rizzo for not panicking and trading Johnson to Boston for less than he's worth. Despite the current state of this Nats team, Rizzo and/or Kasten showed remarkable restraint.
Tom Boswell: Good point about the Red Sox-Bucs trade. God, is Pittsburgh sad. They recently cut off contract extension talks with short stop Wilson and former batting champion Sanchez which means they are on the block, too. If the Nats intend to keep Johnson, you'd think they'd be working on a contract extension now.
The rumor mill (no info from me) is that the Giants and Phils are interested in Wllingham and that the Giants are also looking at Nick. This is conventional wsdom.
Fairfax, Va.: Tom:
Now that the Manny Acta era is finished, how would you sum him up as a manager? Was he a great strategist? Did he have any motivational skills? Was he a good judge of talent? What attributes would you for in a manager if you had to hire one, and did Manny possess any of those attributes? If time permits, could you also give us the same summary for Frank Robinson as a manager?
Tom Boswell: I probably covered Frank as much as any writer ever, both with Orioles and Nats. When he believed the team had heart, he fell in love with them, gave them everything he had and was an inspiration -- '89 O's and '05 Nats.
When he hated his team, and I have never seen a manager who was more inclined to decide that his guys were gutless bums and didn't deserve him than Frank, he would quit on the team as badly as any manager I ever saw. No, more than any manager I ever saw. as this a vice? Not really. Frank was totally authentic. He could stop being himself. Whatever was in his heart, you got it thrown right in your face. (Including me.) He wuldell te press, maybe off-the-record, but point blank, which plaers he thought were usaeless or heartless. Sometimes it was most of the team. So, his career winning percenbtage -- around .480 -- is both accurate and inaccurate. It is a god overall rating of where he stands. But he was usually much better or much worse than thgat as a manger. he was a joy to cover when he was inspired by his team -- and inspiring to them. hgen he had checked out for the year by mid-season, he was long gone. And his players knew it.
Alexandria: Yesterday Yahoo! Sports reported that the Nats scouting staff consists of only 3 1/2 scouts, smallest in the league. Can you confirm that report? After all the requests for patience while they build up the farm system, this might just be the most disgusting revelation to date about the Nats organization.
At the FanFest in January Kasten pointed to Tampa as a model operation for on field performance without a high payroll, the Rays have 14 scouts, so much for following that model.
washingtonpost.com: Gordon Edes: Lee is an attractive fallback option (Yahoo!, July 21)
Tom Boswell: Some good comments on this on Nats Journal. There are several different kinds of scout. The reference in this stort was to scouts who study other big league teams -- advance work for the next series or trade possibilities. This is not beat-the-bushes for prospects scouting. hen you're going to lose 100-110 games, how many "pro scouts" do you need? The MLB average might be 6-or-7.
However, if you want to worry about something, ask yourself, "Who replaced Mike Rizzo as assistant GM?"
I haven't seen any announcements of a signing. Perhaps I am wrong. But I suspect that Rizzo is now, essentially, doing everything he used to do and everything Bowden used to do. Oh, and he has to run point on Strasburg. If true, and it's just my best guess because I have never known the Nats to pass up a chance to say, "We just spent some money. Get off our backs. We just got a new asst GM," I wonder how big a pay raise he got to do two jobs? I wonder if he got any?
Columbia, Md.: OK, pleased with the Nat's win last night and all, but why did Listache hold the runner on third with two outs in the bottom of the eighth after Willingham hit the double? I figure the chance of scoring the run has to be greater than the chance of the next batter getting a hit (less than 30 percent), not to mention that Willingham was close to being caught dead between second and third. Bad call if you ask me.
Tom Boswell: Nick went into tippy-toe mode. Not too anxious to go home. Also, if you may trade him, why send into a collision with a catcher? To win the game, you say? Please. I'm just glad Nick didn't get hurt putting on the breaks.
Conveniently Located to Bowl America and Marlo Furniture: Boz - I love your work; I love the Post; I subscribe. I don't like the cutbacks. I want to see all of you still around. In my work, I have to get to Lexis/Nexis and Westlaw. They would never dream of giving away their product. Why can't each section sell a membership - $200 a year - if you've got a computer, you could probably afford more - for PostPassion, or some such, where we get to meet up, hear you lecture on baseball, and have other privileges? I don't understand why you can't sell subscriptions at the same price, and, like the Economist or WSJ, no access otherwise. Prosecute whoever posts the work for free for trademark infringement, like the record companies who busted up Napster. Saving the Fourth Estate is a lot more important than free music. Why do you keep giving away free money? You, my friend, are money!
Tom Boswell: Paging Don G.
Actually, Don's probably heard every sane suggestion along these lines, plus most of the insane ones, too. We all hope that there is a solution.
Since I seem to be in an in-your-face mood today, I might as well give my Future Of Newspapers/Journalism viewpoint (in the minority). There is one. Both on-line and in the fish-wrapper. Coming out of this Great Recession will reveal that part of the revenue problem was cyclical. The secular decline in revenues is enormous and permanent, but not as much as people think. And a lot of competition is being removed. I don't like seeing it. But the survivors will be stronger. The Post will be around for a long time.
Alexandria, Va.: Boz - You wrote, "And sometimes bad or mediocre teams do give excellent run support to one lucky pitcher."
Can you say Livan Hernandez and John Patterson? The Nats' inaugural season, it seemed like they would lose 2-1 or 2-0 every time Patterson was pitching. And then Hernandez would pitch the next day and win 11-7. Drove me crazy; can't imagine what it did to poor Patterson. Early this season, I wouldn't have blamed Lannan for throwing a punch or two in the clubhouse, when the Nats' opposing pitchers had a collective ERA of 1.80 against the Nats' alleged hitters. Sandy Koufax would have had trouble getting a winning record with that kind of run support.
Tom Boswell: Nice. Thanks.
Arlington, Va.: Mr. Boswell, keep up the good work.
Two parter: What is your best educated guess as to the odds that the Nationals end up signing Strasburg, and if they do, what do you think the final number will be? Thanks.
Tom Boswell: 90 percent. No. 1 overalls almost always sign. And it's tough for a renegade agent-and-client to "break a system" that saves money for a whole industry during such tough economic times.
If the length of contract is similar to Prior -- four years, if I remember right -- then I think $14-$18-million is the ballpark. And they'll get that high, rather than $12-$14-million, because the Nats are in such a PR disaster position. How big is the Lerner Bonus? A few million extra bucks.
Buster Olney had an interesting thought yesterday. he said the nats should throw out their final and top offer in public, as the Dodgers did with Manny Ramirez, so that Nats fans will know that serious money was on te table and there won't be any revisionist history after a failed-signing.
I assume, if things look bad, the Nats would consider "negotiating in public" so save themselvesfrom years of cheapskate charges. But that can also really alienate the other side. At some point, maybe August 14-15, I'd say, "This is what we have on the table. They know it. Our fans deserve to know it, too. They have 48 hours. That's plety of time." But there's no need to go to the matresses until it's absolutely necessary.
Whatever the Nats think Strasburg is really worth, they should add 10%-to-20% as a PR Punishment that they have inflicted on themselves. Because if they don't sign him, it''ll cost 'em that much and more in lost good will.
Boz Country, Del.: Love your chats and the challenge to decipher your answers. Please don't ever change.
Tom Boswell: After vacation, I may offer a chat "decoder ring" for sale on line.
Couple of more, then I'm not thinking about sports for quite a while. Okay, until the Nats game we're going to Saturday. Oh, forgot, playing golf tomorrow.
Arlington, Va.: Reports on the death of the Yankees have been wildly exaggerated. They look mean right now and are winning every way possible.
The Red Sox look inept and are being exposed as a pitching team with no bats. Bay has quieted down. Ortiz has gotten better, but nothing near what he was.
Does it come down to Yankees and Rays, or do the Sox keep a foot in the door?
Tom Boswell: I hate it when reports of the Yankees death is exaggerated. But they almost always are, aren't they?
Until October! The score since '01: dead, dead, dead, dead, dead, dead, dead, dead and counting. To be continued.
Washington, D.C.: So ... Mets are constructed as poorly as the Nats ... with a farm even worse. Acta to N.Y. in the off-season? And who among up-and-comers in the baseball coaching fraternity have you heard of who's talked about as a future great manager? Not a big-name retread ...
Tom Boswell: I mentioned Don Mattingly in last week's chat. Afterward, I got a nice e-mail from the CEO of Mattingly, Inc.
Don was out for half of last year with family-related problems which, unfortunately, have resurfaced in the last couple of days. See the AP story at Post sports, if you want. But it won't make you feel good. Too bad. I wish the best possible for him and his family. The Yanks may want him if/after Girardi gets scapegoated this year. I'd take a shot at Donny Ballgame in a Washington minute. How long does he want to wait for a New York Yankees or, maybe, a L.A. Dodgers job? Would "Nats in hand" be worth Yanks-Dodgers in the bush
Cabin John, Md.: I don't understand the "Nats must sign Strasburg" sentiment. He had trouble with U-Va.'s hitters when facing them in the playoffs. His fastball was no better than 96. He had control problems. Would he make it out of A-ball? Maybe. AAA? Who knows? When the team could sign position players or free agents who are less risky, I don't freak out if they refuse to give Strasburg some astronomical sum above slot heretofore unpaid to a draft pick. As long as the Lerners spend a lot of money on proven players, they don't have to make a Boras-bloated bet on Strasburg. But they've got to lay out a lot of money to field a good team next year, or no more season tickets for me.
Am I wrong here?
Tom Boswell: That's a perfectly sensible position.
One held by you and 7 or 8 other people.
washingtonpost.com: Mattingly's Son Accused of Spitting in Mom's Face (Associated Press, July 22)
West Annapolis, MD: Boz,
Since you've already answered an O's question, perhaps you could entertain another: Should they consider bringing up Tillman/Arrieta/Mastusz this year? Their rotation is dreadful right now and with Rich Hill and Berken doing nothing, the bullpen is going to get burned.
I guess my question: Do you think the risk of potentially overextending their prospects outweighs the reward of actually winning a few games in 2009?
Tom Boswell: Do you mean, "Should the Orioles take the risk of pushing Tillman, Arrieta/Matusz as fast as the Nats pushed Joran Zimmermann, currently on the DL, this year even though he clearly -- in a erfect world -- would have sent a year at AAA working on an off-speed pitch?"
Well, it's a classic question.
Section 209, NatsPark: Boz - You have been a prophet crying in the wilderness telling anyone who would listen that the Lerners have to spend more money or this summer would happen. After the 2006 winter meetings, when Ted Lerner said the prices of free agents was insane, you did a column reminding them that no one made them buy the team and they had an obligation to spend money. Your advice has gone unheeded. I can't see that any of the Lerners have ever experienced, before owning a team, being a true fan - looking forward to a day at the park, drinking beer and eating hot dogs with their friends, living and dying on every pitch. Do they just not get it? Will they ever get it?
Tom Boswell: Their hearts are in the game. But the business practices that, apparently, have worked for them in other areas are often at war with what works in baseball -- an industry designed to insure short-term loses for all teams not located in NY-LA -- and only fair-to-middling chances of long-term franchise value appreciation.
They care. That doesn't mean they're any good. We'll find out. I've been worried about this since the day I was talking to Selig in '06 and I realized he'd already made up his mind that it was going to be the Lerners -- a family almost unknown (in any detail) to anybody in Washington, including the press. We are still only in the middle innings of finding out who they are as owners. Don't be too quick to think that "the game is over." There have been signs of movement in the last six months. They need to be a lot more such signs in the next six months.
I hate to leave. (Well, sort of.) See you next on August 13th, which should be an interesing time.
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