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Ask Boswell: Nats Spring Training, Stephen Strasburg, Caps and more

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Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 1, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Thursday, April 1 to take your questions about the NCAA Tournament, March Madness, Nationals Spring Training, Stephen Strasburg, the rest of Major League Baseball, the Caps, Redskins and his latest columns from Spring Training.

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The transcript follows.

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Columbia Md: Boz, Always enjoy your chats.. I have a question that you may have already addressed, if so, forgive me... The Orioles decided this year to charge extra for the price of a ticket if you buy the day of the game.. What are your thoughts on this?? How many teams, with 'LOSING' records, are doing this?? I remember the days of listening to Chuck Thompson, and Jon Miller on radio, they would say, 'If you're in the area, come on out to the game'..Now, Joe Angel and Fred Manfra can say the same, but will have to add,'be sure to bring a few extra bucks to cover the extra cost' ...

Tom Boswell: As you all can probably guess, I'm about to jump out of my skin with Opening Day and the Masters on tap. And, a couple of weeks later, the NFL draft and NHL playoffs.

Everybody has learned how to "market" their baseball product better. I think baseball was slow to understand that therre are "premium" games and that people who buy early should be rewarded. I like the new system, which every team uses. Why? Because you can game it.

For example, the Nats now give their season-ticket holders an enormous bonus -- if you buy tickets, for example, to 80 games, you get tickets to 40 additional games for free. (You can use them in any section with an equal or lower ticket price). So, I'm in a group with a ton of other people and my wife and I get 3-for-2 on all our tickets.

We're in the mezz now and, by buying early and getting the discount, our average price for virtaully the best seats in the house is $31-a-game -- which is barely the average price of ALL the tickets in Nats Park.

Just gotta be a smart shjopper and make it work FOR you.

I guess the days of spontaneity are doomed?

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Washington, DC: I think 70-plus wins would be a successful season for the Nats. But the pitching staff really scares me. Do you see hope for the pitching staff after Lannan and Marquis?

Tom Boswell: The bullpen looks awful, especially Capps. In '08 and '09 his spring training ERA was a perfect match to his regualr season ERA -- excellent in '08, but ugly in '09.

Now his ERA is over 10.00. yes, be worried. He needs to get straightened out fast. The hit-to-walk ratios for Burnett and bergmann are also gruesome. At least Bruney looks like he might step up and take the closer job if Capps has a Hanrahan spring. But lets give Matt some save chances with his adrenelin pumping. But don't give him until June.

The starters look much better than three weeks ago and are just fine by me. Last year, I enjoyed 120 percent of the games -- the ones when Lannan pitched. Other than that, cover your eyes and pray for 5.1-7-3-3-2-3. If you were lucky. Right now, I expect to enjoy 80% of the games -- the ones pitched by Lannan, Marquis (he should bounce back), Livan and Stammen. As soon as Strasburg comes up, the % will be 100! That's a huge improvement. I don't mean it's a wonderful rotation. I just mean that it is on the verge of being an actual MAJOR LEAGUE rotation, not a worst-in-baseball eyesore.

And, of course, Wang, Detwiller and Z'mann to come, at some point. Should be a lot of fun. If the bullpen doesn't torch every lead.

Usually, by the time I come back from the Masters and get to Nats Park a couple of days later, their record usually seems to be 1-7 and "the season is over." It would be nice if they could get off to a "torrid" start -- say, 3-4.

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Tom Boswell: I thought I'd throw out a couple of things that have interested me in the last week for you folks to chew on, if you want.

Baseball gets a lot of credit for its "perfection" in its dimensions -- like 90 feet to first base. Players have been getting thrown out on ground balls in the hole by a foot for 100+ years. Perfect.

The NFL draft, in a different sense, may be one of the "perfect" accidents in sports, especially the wonderful difficulty -- perhaps a "perfect" quandary -- in how to pick quarterbacks.

If you set out to do it, I don't think anybody create a player-development system (college football), which would provide just enough information to give the illusion of (draft) knowledge while remaining essentially a perfect mystery. And QB, by far the most important position in the game, illustrates it. No wonder so many people, including me, have been addicted to the draft for years.

In the last 35 years, from '74 through '09, there have been 68 quarterbacks picked in the first round. For the Skins, those are the only QBs who are relevant to their decision this year with what to do with their No. 4-overall pick. Just it at No. 4. Try to trade up to No. 1. Or try to trade down and still, perhaps, get a QB they want.

So, here's the quiz. Of those 68 picks, how many became "franchise quarterbacks?" How many became decent useful starting QBs. And how many were mostly worthless? Take a guess.

In my book, there have been 16 franchise QBs, four already in the HOF. There have been 12 "solid starters." The other 40 were flops. Yet all 68 were considered worthy of a first-round pick.

I'd call that pretty perfect puzzle.

My list of franchise QBs would be: Simms ('79), Elway, Kelly, Marino (all in the amazing '83 class), Aikman ('89), Bledsoe ('93), McNair ('95), Peyton Manning ('98), Culpepper and McNabb ('99), Carson Palmer ('03), Rivers and Roethlisberger (''04), Rogers ('05), Matt Ryan ('08). I don't insist this is right.

FWIW, all of these QBs have TD-to-Interception ratios of about 3-to-2 or better. Some these days are over 2-to-1 career, like Rogers, Rivers and Peyton.

My dozen solid starters: Jim McMahon, Ken O'Brien, Jim Everett, Vinny Testeverde, Jeff George (154 TDs-113 Int!), Trent Dilfer, Kerry Collins, Chad Pennington, Michael Vick (72-52), Byron Leftwich (58-41), Jason Campbell (55-38), Jay Cutler (81-63), Joe Flacco (35-24).

The jury's still out on Stafford (13-20) and Sanchez (12-20). Yes, I know what the Jets did.

Anyway, I was surprised (as usual) with how well Campbell's TD-Int ratio stood up against others. But he'd probably actually be better with a good team where his conservative style -- low risk, low reward -- would compliment his club's other strengths.

I've always paid the most attention to QBs, because they are the most conspicuous players on the field and (in theory) should be the easiest to evaluate when you watch college games. So, I got to watch a lot of Clausen, Tebow and McCoy in college. But, for some reason, I seldom watched Oklahoma games and saw little of Bradford, except the zillion highlight clips.

After looking at the last 35 years, I'd say there is about a 50% chance that there is a franchise quarterback in this draft. And it's probably a little less than even money whether there is even one "solid starter" out of this group. As I've said before, I would give a No. 4, or anything near that, for Clausen, McCoy or Tebow. I would for Bradford, if he somehow dropped. But I wouldn't trade up to No. 1 to get him.

What's so interesting is that this is a "perfect" test for the Redskins. In other words, a really, really tough one.

_______________________

Tom Boswell: In light of Desmond's two throwing errors yesterday (and a walk, single and two doubles, too!), this may interest some Nats nuts. But, frankly, you may also want to skip this post unless you have dangerous geek tendencies.

In my piece on Desmond I dug up stats that showed that the 21 regular shortstops in '09 cut their errors in half when they got to the majors. Their average career minor league fielding percentage was .949 -- which would get you expelled from the majors since it would be over 30 errors in 150 games. Their average career major league fielding percentage was .974. So, they went from making errors on 5.1 percent of all chances to just 2.6 percent.

Is this a minor discovery? Don't know, Never seen it before. I was aware of the problem of "selection bias." IOW, it's mistake in method to look only at the stats of those shortstops that succeeded and became regulars. What about everybody else, including all those whose careers didn't work out as well? Isn't that the group to which we should compare Desmond?

So I studied the career of every "bum" who played even one game in the majors last year -- about 50 more SS's. The pattern is identical at every level of ability -- the reduction in errors in the majors is enormous, on the order of 50 percent. In other words, greater than 95 percent of the shortstops who bounce up and down from the minors or end up on the bench in utility roles, fail because they can't hit enough (etc.), but not because their fielding doesn't improve.

Only two players had (slightly) lower career MLB percentage than career minor league percentage. Ramon Santiago is the exception that proves the rule -- .976 in 357 games in the minors, .975 in 326 MLB games. For nuts (like me) who loves these minor "discoveries" about baseball, here's a partial list of the expanded group (of about 50 shortstops): Augie Ojeda, Omar Infante, Alfredo Ameziga, Jason Smith, Juan Castro, Wilson Valdez, Ramon Vasqez, Ronnie Cedeno, Luis Rodriguez, Brendan Ryan, Nick Green (.925 in the minors in 229 games, what were the Red Sox thinking to give him the starting job last year), Chris Woodward, Reid Brignac, John McDonald, Russ Adams, Robert Andino, Brendan Harris, Nick Punto, Tony Grafanino (.964 majors, .905 minors!), Willie Bloomquist, Mike Alives, Tony Pena, Maicir Irturis, Cliff Pennington.

Almost everybody makes less errors in the majors, it's just a question of whether they make an amazingly smaller amount -- which is, of course, the question with Desmond.

A lot of famous shortstops of the past made big jumps in fielding percentage, including Omar Vizquel who cut his errors by 60 percent when he got to the majors (.963 to .985). Desmond needs to make a fairly big jump, probably .25 points. That's why I kept saying he's "not a lock" and might make "40 errors." He needs to be like Carlos Guillen, the hard-hitting ex-Tiger, who went from .937 to .966 and played 900 games at short in the majors.

Lots of players are probably being developed wrong out of an excessive fear of errors. Like Astrubal Cabrera. The Indians were worried because in the minors his fielding was .955, so they moved him to second. Last year, in 100 games at SS, he was.975, plenty good enough.

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Woodbridge: Now that Kurt Warner has retired, what do you expect from Matt Leinart?

Tom Boswell: I expect him to be mediocre at best. It doesn't take much of a sample, especially if you play for a decent team, to get an idea of whether a QB will be great. Leinart's ratio of TDs to Ints -- a give away almost all the time -- is 14-20. That's almost the opposite of what you'd want to see from a pretty good QB these days: more like 20-14.

As soon as you see more Ints than TDs, you're looking at a backup: Grossman (33-36), Carr (65-70), Boller (48-50), Losman (33-34), Alex Smith (37-43), JaMarcus Russell (18-23) -- especially with a first-round pick who, if he's good, should show it fairly fast.

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Alexandria, Va.: Boz: The baseball season is about to begin. The weather is warming - I can feel my fingertips again - and my shoes turn green when I walk on newly mown grass. Baseball is almost here again. Tradition! Tradition! The President is tossing out the first pitch. Will he throw an overhand fastball, or put a little curve into it? (P.S.: baseball is almost here again!!!!!!)

Tom Boswell: Yes, it's amazing the emotional jolt you get when the weather turns and, at the very same time, the Presidential Opener (!!) is just days away.

My wife chuckles at me. "It must be that time of year." I walk around whistling, wearing various "ball" caps that I also play golf in. few people love April-through-October as much as I do. Or hate Nov-Feb as much. Except for days in Viera, I endure March.

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Amtrak to Conn.: What does Guzman need to do to win the starting second base job from Kennedy?

Tom Boswell: Wasn't Guzman's attitude toward Desmond wonderful yesterday! He's such a good guy. I wondered how he'd react. Though his good heart would win over his wounded pride. Adam Kilgore (as usual) has a wonderful blog on Nationals Journal about the 5-year Desmond-Guzman friendship and what a quiet class act Guzman has always been -- and, man, has he had some rough patches in D.C.

What's most intyeresting to me is that Nats now have THREE quality middle infielders who may amass a .750+ OPS in 1,200+ at bats among the three of them. That would be a big edge over most teams.

As I've said, I think Guzman will, instantly, be a better second baseman than he was a shortstop. He has huge confidence in his defensive ability, his hands, his instincts (and everythikng he does is instinctive and self-taught, not done the proper way). I remember his inning at 3rd in the All-Star game. Never played there. Close game, late innings, he's laughing with everybody, makes a nice play. He'll be like that at 2nd, pick it up fast, tujrn the DP well, Just watch. And the last three years his combined batting average is .302. he can still hit. (But not walk.)

Everybody is going to like Kennedy. Smart good guy, quality solid big-league 2nd baseman. And concerned with fundamentals. He'll hit .280 with .725 OPS and better on-base than Guzman. He stole 20 bags last year and, being lefthanded, can hit through the hole when he bats second. He's also got soft hands, a "feel" for the infield.

Second base was a dfisaster area last year. Kennedy and Guzman will be a pleasure to watch there. Also, Riggleman isn't saying it aloud, but they make a perfect platoon. Kennedy has always hit RH pitchers much better and Guzman has always hit LH pitchers slightly better. Guzzy can still get some starts at SS when his arm feels stronger.

If Desmond can hold it to 25-28 errors and Dunn -- Oh, I don't even want to think about him "going to his right" -- improves a bit at first, the infield defense may not be as bad as ... as bad as the Nats own front office sometimes worries that it will be.

Will Guzman ($8M) actually win the second job from Kennedy ($1M)? Could happen if he hits .325. Competition, wow, what a concept!

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Baltimore: Tom: It seems that 20 or even 10 years ago, there was no such thing in MLB as a "bench coach." Can you explain what this job is about? Thanks.

Tom Boswell: The third base coach -- like Billy Hunter to Earl Weaver -- used to be the "bench coach," that is, the manager's "other brain." But half the time, he's out in the third base coaching box! So, teams decided that a manager needed somebody to help back-check him, be an in-game sounding board. I wonder if Billy Martin ever had a "bench coach?" I doubt it. But it would have been a great idea. Billy could have blamed every defeat on his bench coach, rather than blame them all on the players. (100 percent of the wins belonged to Billy.)

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Forget someone?: You said 16 franchise QBs in the 1st round in the last 35 years. But you only listed 15: 1. Simms, 2. Elway, 3. Kelly, 4. Marino, 5. Aikman, 6. Bledsoe, 7. McNair, 8. Peyton Manning, 9. Culpepper, 10. McNabb, 11. Palmer, 12. Rivers, 13. Roethlisberger, 14. Rogers, 15. Ryan.

I'm guessing you missed No. 8's brother?

Tom Boswell: Thanks. I missed Eli as I was typing. I included him as a franchise QB, of course. But his 125-88 TD-Int ratio suggests to me that he may -- Super Bowl or not -- be closer to the Solid Starter group than most of the Stars.

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Colesville, Md.: Has any team picked up Elijah Dukes yet? I was really hoping this guy would turn things around and do well.

Here's wishing our platoon in right field good luck!

Tom Boswell: Nobody has picked him up yet as far as I've heard. There may be some herd-think in that. If Dukes got one more chance, and wasn't treated as a special case or a ticking bomb -- which the Nats had to do for at least a year -- I think his new team would get a clear reading (and fast) on what Elijah's Absolutely Best Possible Attitude would be.

If it's not good enough, you'd know within weeks. I think he could take one more jump up in dealing with pepople, making teammates comfortable around him. A different set of team leaders, maybe Bigger Stars, would create a sense that Elijah wasn't one of the key people in the room, but just another guy. The Nats don't have much "presence" in the room. Dunn and Zimmerman aren't Frank Robby leader types. Morgan has old-fashionbed pep. Pudge may still have some ... jeez, I almost said "juice in the clubhouse." Sorry. Some influence. Anyway, I hope Elijah gets one more shot. But he is a big personality, and still not anywhere close to a uniformally happy one, and the Nats weren't comfortable with that. I get it. You can't define "chemistry" or what causes it to click. But when you don't quite have it, you have to look for ways to get it. They did.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Love your "geek" analysis of shortstops. Baseball is all about loving numbers.

A lot has been said here about Strasburg and Desmond, and the buzz is that Heyward of the Braves may be the next Barry Bonds. Any other young players who may make a big splash this year? (Yes, I'm in a couple of fantasy leagues.)

Tom Boswell: Arrrgh, I just went through all the spring training numbers the other day for a hot phenoms list but I can't put my hands on the darn thing now. By the way, a lot of young players don't discover their HR power -- except in BP -- until they've had 1,000 at bats in the majors. Heyward hit a 500-footer, supposedly, in Florida, b ut it was his only homer of the spring. One of the big questions with potential young stars is: Will The Power Show Up? And you don't know until it actually does.

With Ryan Zimmerman, it did last year with 33 HR. That means he might hit 40 some year. Markakis still hasn't moved that needle, averaging 20.3 the last three years. Will he ever? Stan Musial blossomed later. The big question, imo, in Baltimore is whether Matt Weiters will really be a true middle-of-the-order power-hitting catcher like Johnny Bench and Mike Piaza or more very good hitter, but not a monster. Last year, 9 HR in 354 abs and a .753 OPS. He's got quite a ways to go and will be 24 in May. The O's have a lineup full of 15-to-23 homer guys, but no big thumpers -- in a division that will always be full of them. Will any of them develop? I doubt tejada, Wigginton or Atkins will reach 20. Will Reimold or Jones move up a level? The O's have a lot of good young players. Over the next couple of years, they need a couple of them to turn into GREAT players.

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Arlington, Va.: Why still no interest in Jermaine Dye by the Nats? At this point I'm sure he'd be willing to take an incentives laden deal. He has to be better than Willie Harris!

Tom Boswell: Horrible UZR in the OF. That scares the Nats who probably now depend on modern defensive stats too much. But, seriously, you can't have Willingham, Dunn, Dye and desmond's arm on the same field at the same time. Pitchers would have a nervous breakdown.

My computer just ate a nice post I did on UZR.

The Fangraphs valuations just don't come close. Something's wrong with their method and I think its probably UZR. Folr example, they value the whole 84-win Rays team in '09 at a salry of $229M, but they think the 80-win Brewers, just four less wins, are "worth" only $116M using their stat methods. Huh???? Even worse, they say the A's and Blue Jays, both with 75 wins, are worth $162M and $176M, but the Astros and Pads, who won 74 and 75 games, are only worth $98M and $96M. Obviously, to me, there's a big problem here.

UZR is a big (negative) factor in the Nats thinking about resigning Adam Dunn. In my opinion, they need to get over it and trust teir own eyes, and scouts, more. UZR slaughters him. Your eyes say he's just lousy, not toxic waste. In five years, the various new defensive metrics will be inproved, debunked or whatever. But the Nats shouldn't trust them TOO much.,

In other words, no Dye when you already have issues at LF, first and SS. But realize that part of the reason you can sign Dunn so relatively cheaply is that the biggest current market INEFFICIENCY may be some of the defensive stats themselves. Oh, that ought to bring 'em out of the woodwork. Go on, explain those salary valuation. It can't be done. Any method or theory that proposes to assign "win value" to every player has to be consistent with past win totals. Duh.

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Best all around baseball players: Tom,

I was a big fan of Hank Aaron growing up and still think he was the best all around baseball player as he could hit for average, homeruns of course, steal bases, and win gold gloves.

Would Aaron fit into your Top 5?

PS. Didn't he cross hands when batting?

Tom Boswell: No, he didn't hit cross handed. But one of his '50's Topps cards had the photo transposed so it looked like he was hitting lefthanded. I carried that in my wallet so long that I ruined its "collectible" value when I found it 30 years later.

Aaron is one of MY five favorites, but I think the stats, even adjusted for era, would place him lower. And a fine RFer isn't the same as a great CF.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: There seems to be a wealth of young starting pitching out there this season besides Strasburg (e.g, Hanson, Kershaw, Scherzer, Matsuz, Price, Porcello). Who do you see having breakout seasons this year?

Tom Boswell: The only one there that isn't already pretty well known in baseball is Max Scherzer, drafted by Arizona when (I think) Rizzo was there. He's got top stuff, but because he was 9-11 with 4.12, could be overlooked. He's in that group. Kershaw is the flashiest -- though they better stop comparing him to Koufax in my presence. Porcello is very nice, but didn't compare to Strasburg for stuff when they faced each other in Florida. Price had to find a balance last year between being too "fine" and trusting his stuff. I think he'll rebound this year. Hanson, especially his slider, is just nasty and the Nats are stuck with him in the same division with the Braves for eternity.

Any chance you get, watch any Brian Matusz interview. Big knowledgeable fan of the game. Loves the sport and has a "feel" for pitching. Oriole fans are going to love him for a long time.

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Arlington, Va.: Typo question - you would or wouldn't use the No. 4 pick on McCoy, Tebow, Clausen?

washingtonpost.com: Based on the past headlines of Boz's work, I'm betting that's a strong "wouldn't"

Tom Boswell: Damn typos. Type slow, bore yourself to death or live with typos that spellcheck doesn't catch. Yeah, and my spelling, unfortunately, is a legend, too.

That's a firm but not violent "No" on Clausen at No. 4. However, there are sports opinions on which you really trust your view and think there is adequate data/observation/reporting to back it strongly. But there are other opinions that are just...opinions. And almost anybody's vioew on any top college question is just that -- an opinion. History says that only fools truly believe what they say about first-round NFL draft QBs. So, I'll be glad to be wrong on Clausen. My guess, he'll be about as good as Campbell someday -- a starter in the league -- but with more late-game dash, more INTs, not as tough and not as good a (quiet) leader. But if he is really good, then his edgy personality and cockiness could be a plus. If he's just pretty good, it'll be a pain in the ...

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Bethesda: When do think Storen will arrive here?

Tom Boswell: Looks like they may need him Saturday nite against the Red Sox!

I'd expect him in June, too, just like Strasburg, but in a middle-inning role. He's another kid that's going to be very popular. The Nats clubhouse has only improved ever since Bowden left.

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The problem with WAR is FIP: In my opinion, the problem with WAR is more on the pitching side. The "value" of a player is measured by their strikeouts, walks, and homeruns, rather than how many runs or even hits and walks they gave up.

So, basically, John Lannan wasn't worth very much because he got people out on groundballs instead of strikeouts. But in the real world, an out's an out. Sure, K/9 and BB/9 and FIP have some useful predictive ability, but they don't measure how much value a pitcher added in a given year.

Tom Boswell: You've got Lannan nailed and for the right reasons. For local reference, Lannan is going to be as good Scott McGregor -- 138-108, 3.99, 306 career starts. Of course, the W-L percentage is dependent on the quality of the team behind him. Lannan sholuld have won 12-14 games both of the last two years with an average team. If he ever has a "catchup" year on good/bad luck, he'll go 16-8.

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Flores Done?: Boz, what do you think? Flores a goner? Seems that the Nats think so by picking up another catcher. Sad. Baseball players careers can be quite fragile, can't they?

Tom Boswell: Don't give up yet. But now doubts are in everybody's mind, including his. Still, a catcher's shoulder isn't as big a problem as a pitchers. He can lose a little off his "fastball" and still play the position. But he can't lose a lot or have a chronic problem. he might be able to hit enough to be a DH or 1st baseman for somebody some day. But that's not nearly as valuable as a hitting catcher.

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Fairfax, Va.: Boz

What do you think of a Super Division concept? Pooling the Huge markets teams together on a payroll basis. I can't think of any other way to level the field for teams stuck in the AL East

Tom Boswell: I'm not sure that a whole lot really has to be changed, thoug everybody's got an idea. What is so bad with the way things are right now -- with more than 15 teams still in the postseason hunt on Labor Day every year? If it ain't broke ...

All these concepts seem to me to help only a few franchises in baseball significantly -- especially the Orioles.

Right now, the A.L. East has three great teams and only two can make the postseason. Good. Let 'em fight it out. Toronto isn't competitive. Forget 'em. The O's are a victim. Sports-tragic.

But look at the rest of baseball. Because the Yanks, Sox and Rays are all in the A.L. East, think of all the teams -- and fans -- that are energized all season in the Central and West! And the N.L. isn't dangerously lopsoded.

So, 20+ teams "have a chance" every year under the current system. A few teams -- especially the O's -- are shafted.

Be careful what you wish for. (With the exception of O's fans. They GET to wish for ANY change.)

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Ft Myers, Fla.: Hi Tom,

I'm taking my wife and kids to see our Nats play the Red Sox here tomorrow, and really looking forward to it ... it's not often that I get to see them so close to home.

So, help me look smart to a 5-year-old ... what should I look for? What should I point out?

Tom Boswell: Make sure the family wanders the upper deck. That's where the views are. The home plate plaza, which 98 of fans never see, is by far the parks best exterior view, especially up South Capital Street toward the dome.

Nats Park is the best park in baseball for walking during the game or leaning on the railings -- put there for you to lean on. Also, no park has more seats that are close to the field. Everything was done right on "sight lines."

Don't look at the garages. Whatever you do, don't look at ...

I've suggested that the Nats should consider turning the facades of the two OF garages into "Water Walls." Not as grand as the waterfalls in Kansas City that have been praised for 30 years. NO other park in baseball has used a "water feature" in its park! And, if you look online at every park, there is no park EXCEPT Nats Park that even has a PLACE where you could put a water feature. I'd suggest just water trickling down a (fake?) stone wall, like you see in Hyatt Regency lobbies and malls. You know, mall know-how, Lerners, water walls -- the D.C. moltif of "The Reflecting Pool" on The Mall and the Water Walls at Nats Park.

Light swould reflect off the Water Walls at night. Lots of potential for LED display technology. Hey, just an idea. But those two garages CANNOT BE a permanent part of what you see at that ballpark.

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Sec314: Mock? Olsen? Why not Martin? Mock just does not seem to have the "head" for pitching. Marting clearly does. And Olsen doesn't seem to have the arm.

And any thoughts on Jason Bergmann would be welcomed too. He's shown even less than usual in Florida.

Tom Boswell: You got it. They love Mock's stuff and Olsen's "makeup." But they can't combine them into one pitcher. They'll all get chances, I suspect, but I'd prefer that Martin get a clean shot before Strasburg comes up. I think he might be a GOOD 5th starter, not just an adequate warm body.

If Olsen gets his old stuiff back, he gets the spot b ecause he's LH. And because he has a track record in Fla. Rooting for him, but believe it when I see it.

Bergman thinks too much. So does Maxwell. (But then so do I.) The Nats need an I.Q. Extraction Machine.

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Rizzo Question: Boz,

Did Rizzo do enough, and if not why? They blew the defense fix and the bullpen fix too ... what happened and why?

Tom Boswell: Chill, man.

If the bullpen is merely adequate, they're a very much improved team. If not, problems.

However, this team now has a TON of players that I can't wait to go to the ballpark to see. Two years ago, they had Zimmerman. period.

Now, they have Z'man (now a total star), Dunn (a Frank Howard sluigger), Morgan (maybe the best defensive CF in baseball), Desmond, Lannan, Livo (one of kind), Marquis and soon Strasburg (!!) and Storen (!). Pudge is still a show all by himself on defense. At a lesser level, Willingham and Kennedy are pro's pros. Thaty is before Jordan Zimmermann, a true top-of-the-rotation prospect, comes back or Wan g gets his chance or the next No. 1-overal draft pick arrives. Good Lord, that's more on ONE team to watch than every Nats team I followed from '57 through '71 if you combined them all.

If you can't enjoy this team now, after the remake, and be interested in its development and future, then you're probably not as good a baseball fan as you think you are.

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Nepal: Happy Sidd Finch Day!

Tom Boswell: If I slandered anybody today, just remember it's April 1. (I will.)

Tons of questions I can't get to. Sorry.

No, Tiger won't win the Masters.

Yes, for the rest of this season Tiger will actually HELP the PGA Tour's TV ratings, etc., and the other majors, too.

Longer-term, the Tour will be a far healthier product, even with a tarnished (humanized?) Tiger, than it was during the deadly dull early-'80's to '96 period that I colvered when nobody really replaced Nicklaus. "Tiger the Cheetah" -- or Tiger the Transformed -- will have more drawing power for many years than Watson, Faldo, Strange and Norman ever did.

See you next week. For some of us, time is about to begin again. And none too soon. Cheers.

_______________________

Alexandria, Va.: We were full season ticket holders from 05-08 but decided not to renew last year. The product on the field justified our decision. This year I've jumped back in with the 14 game plan. I know you've addressed this in your column before but when can we expect the Nats to be truly competitive? I'm afraid that if it's not in the next three years that the team will have alienated the fan base to the extent that it may be in jeopardy of contraction or relocation in the next 10-15 years and then we'll NEVER get another team. I don't want that to happen but I refuse to spend alot of hard earned money on pathetic baseball. Your thoughts?

Tom Boswell: The day Strasburg arrives, the history of the Nationals changes. Not because he's THAT good. He may only be very good, like Andy Benes or Ubaldo Jimenez. But he'll mean that the team will be hard to mock or ignore anymore. Storen will help, too.

As far as being worth the price of admission, the Nats are well past that point -- or will be by mid-pseason. The crabns and trolls are going to have to get over themselves pretty soon. Things don't stay bad forever. The Caps got good. The Wiz will get a new owner. Snyder may learn to take a step back. The Lerners have improved, some, and got a huge break that they were awful at the right time to get Strasburg.

It's beautiful outside. Look on the bright side! Why, I may have to go hit a bucket of balls.


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