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Ask Boswell: Nats, Stephen Strasburg, MLB, Redskins and more

Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 27, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell will be online Thursday, May 27 to take your questions about the Nats, Stephen Strasburg's upcoming debut, the Redskins, Wizards draft plans and more.

The transcript follows.

Discussion Archives

Boswell Column Archives

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Leesburg, Va.: The leak that Strasburg won't start until the Pittsburgh series is very disappointing. Why the delay? They have already sold a bunch of tickets to the June 4 game under false pretenses.

Why are they messing with their fans?

Tom Boswell: The Nats have never said when he was starting. They have wanted to avoid exactly the backlash that they are getting now, through no/little fault of their own. They have always said that anytghing could happen -- minor injury, rain chances the date or an X factor. The X this time might be Pudge Rodriguez on the DL. I'd certainly want to have the best defensive catcher ever (maybe) working almost all of his games, including his first one.

But, of course, everybody wants to have a "best guess." So the media, including everybody at the Post, provided their thoughts -- as we should have. I gradually moved toward June 4th as most likely, but in a couple of columns and ast week's chat, was very careful to say that anything could happen, "buyer beware" type stuff. In the chat I said, "No one can be sure. If he pitched poorly his next few times out, etc., it might be some other day ..."

However, plenty of people at various times have probably phrased it more stronly than you would in a perfect world. And there's been snark (not my tone) that the Nats don't care because they just want to sell tickets. That, of course, isn't true. What they want is to sell tickets AND mainain good relationships with their customers. Given a choice, they'd MUCH rather have good relations, no bad PR, than sell X thousand more tickets to any one game. So, the Nats (Kasten as spokes-hit-dog) are very angry at "the media" for pushing June 4th.

Give me a break. Seriously, folks, this is a sport that is played outside. Bull Durham: "Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes it rains...Think about it." Anybody who thought that the date couldn't be one of several, depending on many variables, hasn't got much common sense.

IMO, there aren't any/many bad guys here. Press could have been more careful and made a speach aout "buyer beware" on every reference. Nats could, I suppose, have sceamed repeatedly, "We don't know," instead of just saying it calmly -- which they did.

If any scalpers bought in bulk, they may get burned. That's the only good I can see.

Let it die. And don't try to blame. There's never been a phenomenon like this Strasburg start for a rookie. So there's no play book on how to announce/speculate on a date. Or not much of a playbook. However, it looks like common sense failed a lot of people, including anybody who bought tickets and thought there was little chance that they'd "just" bougta ticket to a nice June baseball game.

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Ann Arbor, Michigan: What is the date projected for Strasburg to join the rotation, and do the Nats use a 4 or 5-man rotation?

I ask because I'm trying to project when Strasburg might pitch, if at all, on June 15-17, when the Nats visit Detroit. I want to buy my tickets now, before the demand goes up if & when the date becomes a little more certain. I know there are no guaranties. And if we miss Strasburg, maybe we'll see Storen.

Love your columns and books; keep cogitating and writing! They're filled with perspective.

Tom Boswell: Thanks.

Nats use a five-man rotation. But, after Strasburg comes up, I suspect that they will use off days to get Strasburg even more rest and not "skip" anybody in the rotation. So, he'll probably get five days rest, not just four, several times.

Again, it is almost impossible to guess the dates even a couple of weeks in advance. You can make pretty good guesses. But, as we've seen with June 4th, that is all they are.

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Crofton, Md.: Good Morning Tom!

We have come a long way with Nats baseball when we are included in trade talk for Roy Oswalt! While it would be great to have him here, the cash spent might be better off directed toward right field. At least with the prospect of having Strasburg, Wang, Detweiler, JZimm, and Marquis in the pipeline. Is hoping for a Werth too much, or is there a better option out there? Thank you for the chat - what a way to start a Holiday weekend!

Tom Boswell: Forget Oswalt. Never a serious consideration, according to a very good source. The Nats, as fun as they are, are just one losing streak or a key injury or two away from being a 90-loss team again. Oswalt wouldn't even consider going to such a team. He wants to be with a BIG contender. The kind of team that, if almost everything went wrong, will still win 90 games and probably make the playoffs anyway.

Also, Nats want to take a good look, in sequence, at Wang, Marquis, Detwiler, JZimm, in turn, so to speak. I'm even interested to see J.D. Martin's spot start this week. I liked him last year. Livan is high on him among the young pitchers.

There's potental for a big upgrade in RF. I don't think, as of now, that JMax or Bernadina look like a long-term answer for a team with a future. They need to turn heads and win a spot before the day comes when the Nats DO "fix" RF.

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Annoyed: Color me irritated about Strasburg not coming up on the 4th. I'm a long suffering fan who had perhaps the worst ballpark experience of my life surrounded by obnoxious Phillies fans.

This season has helped me feel better about the team and its future. When the press posited that Strasburg would come up on the 4th, I waited for some kind of denial, then went ahead and sprung for club seats so I could see history.

You'd think the team could have managed this a whole lot better given the pent up demand for hope with the Nationals. Now all the fans who rushed out to buy tickets to the 4th feel ripped off and mislead by the team. Its going to come up as another example of the cheap Nationals. Inviting Phillies fans to the stadium. Getting an extra gate on the 4th by letting the fans believe Strasburg would be called up.

Sigh

Tom Boswell: In my opinion, this is the wrong read. First, the June 4th game "isn't close to a sellout" according to the Nats. Does that mean 5,000 or 10,000 tickets left? We'll see on June 4 because not one more ticket will get sold!

All the nats had to do to sell lots of tickets to June 4th and June 9-10 combined would have been to start Strasburg in BOTH games. Simple. What, you think people aren't going to want to see his SECOND start!? of course they are. If he's great, that adds to buzz. If he gets hit, that creates buzz.

I'd say the Pirates-series decision is lots of things. Pudge being out in my favorite. But it's just another factor on the "wait" list. Pirates can't hit much. Reds can. The Nats, and others, don't consider AAA innings as stressful at MLB innings. In spring, Rizzo said he thought you had to count MLB nnings as TWICE the worload for a rookie and minor league IPs. Also, the later they bring him up, the longer (by a little) before they have to shut him down in late August or early September when he gets to 160 IP combined.

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Leesburg, Va.: Very interesting article on ball-strike count. We have been telling Babe Ruth team that first pitch strike is most important. A recent study found that 2/3 of the first pitches last year were strikes. And probably the most of those were fast balls. But questioning players they said their favorite count was 2-1.

washingtonpost.com: Thomas Boswell: Pay attention to the count, baseball's hidden treasure (Washington Post, May 27)

Tom Boswell: Leesburg,

Thanks.Interesting about 2-1! Those Babe Ruth youngsters sound smart!

I'd like to write five more columns like that about how to watch the game.

FYI, in MLB last year 63% of all pitches were strrikes. But despite everybody preaching "throw strike one on 0-0," only 58% of first pitches were strikes. Go figure.

Oh, about 11% of first pitches are hit in play. But nearly 25% are swung at. So, hitters are aggressive.

Pudge Rodriguiez ends 38% of his at bats over his career on the1st or 2nd pitch! When he hits, he doesn't want to get behind in the count. When he catches, he thinks just the opposite and wants to help his pitcher get to two strikes. Or else tempt the hitter into a quick out with a "quality" strike one.

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Frederick, Md.: Great column about pitch counts today. Reminded me of one of your early books when you discussed the value of swinging at the first pitch.

I was wondering if you had any idea of how The Big Bang Theory of Killer Innings (where the winning team usually scores more runs in one inning than the loser does in the whole game) has held up since you wrote about it.

washingtonpost.com: Thomas Boswell: Pay attention to the count, baseball's hidden treasure (Washington Post, May 27)

Tom Boswell: The Big Bang Theory never changes.

In about half of all game, the winning team scores more runs in ONE inning than the other team does in the whole game. Actually, it was slightly more than half in the thousands of games I research in the archives of the Library of Congress when my parents worked there and I was a copyboy for several years with tons of time on my hands. Nobody knew it until I dug it up in the '70's. But earl weaver sensed it and managed according to it.

If you want confirmation, it's amazingly easy. Over the years, I've taken out a week's worth of sports pages (boxscores) and tried to see if Big Bang works on as small a sample a one-week basis. It almost always does! And I've never seen a week of games -- even one week -- when the break wasn't close to 50-50.

Just picked up today's paper (early addition) w 15 box scores. In eight games, the winning team scored more in one inning than the losing team did in the whole game. Livan's loss to Giants was 4-2 with a four-run innings. perfect example. He pitched perfecly except for one inning when he couldn't minimize the damage.

Weaver HATED Little Ball, especially early in game -- before the seventh inning stretch. Of Gene Mauch's love of early sacrifice bunts, he said, "Play for one run early, lose by one run late." because, by playing for one run, you are reducing the chances of that being the Big Inning -- 3-4-5 runs -- that wins the whole game. In a pitcher's duel, a two-run inning can turn out to be -- and even feel like -- the big inning.

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San Diego, Calif.: How 'bout those Padres? Can they keep it going? I ask because I have season tickets, but I'm moving to DC - should I spend the weekend packing, or should I go to the games with the Nats?

Tom Boswell: jeir pitching is good. The big ballpark helps. But I'm not a believer yet. That's 3.15 ERA is partly mirage. Mat Latos may turn out to be excdellent, but the others -- the Garland, LeBlanc, Correia, Richard -- will probably revert to form. Just like Livan hernandez, even if he has an excellent season, will see his ERA got way up from its current 2.00.

The Nats hope those Pad ERAs start reverting to the mean this weekend!

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Balo, Neb.: Any idea what Elijah Dukes is doing these days? When the Nats talk about better team chemistry this year, is this a reference to the subtration of Dukes (plus the addition of Livo and Pudge)? Thanks.

Tom Boswell: Livo, especially Pudge, Kennedy, Capps and a full year of Morgan are all big pluses in the lockeroom. Dukes made a lot of progess. But, right or not, his teammates think the world is a slightly brighter place without him in it. Not a big difference. Just one more piece of a better mood, chemistry, discipline. But adding the "pluses" has been more important than any subtractions.

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Long Island, NY: Tom, Today's column shows another aspect of te perfect dimensions of baseball. Four balls and three strikes are just as important as 90 feet between bases and 60'6" from mound to home plate.

Baseball rulemakers could not have devised a better game with supercomputers and a truckload of statistics.

Tom Boswell: Absolutely true.

More examples of symmetry or the sense of "how could you invent it to be any better."

How often doe hitter drive in a man from third base with less than two outs? It's slightly less than 50%. Harder than you'd think. A challenge. A fair fight. But still relatively "easy."

In ground-into-double-play situations, how many DPs actually happen? One in nine. With baseball, it always seems to be "9."

Are there more ground outs or fly outs? Answer: Neither. It's almost exactly 50-50. How could you plan that?

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Geneva, Switzerland: Boz: Great column on the count, and it reminded me of something from my Southern California youth. In the glory days of the early 70's, SoCal not only had Scully with the Dodgers and Chick Hearn doing the Lakers, the greatest ever in their fields, but the added luxury of Dick Enberg and Don Drysdale broadcasting the Angels. This surely has to be the longest extended pairing of great announcers with an awful team.

Anyhoo: On a 2-1 count, Enberg used to say, "here comes the action pitch." I seem to recall that at some time he explained that this was the count on which most balls were put in play. I admit my memory was fuzzy, and I don't remember anybody else ever talking about this. Was he right, and was he way ahead of his time in recognizing this? Cheers.

Tom Boswell: Thanks again, Geneva. Nice that our chat questions every week come from all over the world. I'm always surprised at the reach of the online age.

In '09, the highest number of at bats ended on a 1-2 count, then 2-2, 3-2, 0-0, 1-1 and 0-1, in that order.

Only 5.5% of the 188,000 plate appearances in '09 ended on the 2-1 pitch. So, it is not the "action pitch" by any means. BUT it changes an enormous number of at bats because it LEADS to so many of those 2-2 or 3-2 pitchesor to the less frequent 3-1 pitches that are so great for hitters.

If you want to see all this stuff, go to baseball-reference.com and go to "leagues." Then click on "'09 NL" (or "AL"). Then you have a choice of "'09 MLB" and click on that. Then it gets tricky. Find "Batting +" Thenclick on "League Splits."

Even after I found the damn information I kept forgetting how to get back to it! But baseball-reference is, by far, my favorite alternate reality.

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Alexandria, Va.: Speaking of pitch counts, one thing the Nats seem better at this year is NOT taking a first pitch strike. Last year it seemed as if they were clearly instructed to take one strike. Would a hitting coach actually do that? If so, why? Why not just make it a ground rule that the Nats only get two strikes. Anyway, it doesn't seem to happen as much this year but there are a few hitters who seem. . .uninterested in that first strike. Your thoughts?

Tom Boswell: May be the influence of Pudge, in part. He knows, as a catcher, how important it is for the hitter not to get behind. So, when I-Rod bats, 38 percent of his at bats are OVER after two pitches. That's right -- 17 percent perfect end on 0-0 and another 21 percent end on 0-1 or 1-1. BUT, if he doesn't get a pitcher early, he then goes DEEP into counts much more often than normal hitters. Maybe he thinks, attack early, but if that doesn't click, then work the count as much as you can.I'll ask him sometime, but doubt he'll give away such state secrets. This is the stuff they WON'T take about in detail because, to them, it really IS important. And proprietary.

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NatsNut: Boz, add mine to the raves about your column today. The subtleties and nuances of baseball keep surprising me, and it's cool that The Count still surprised even you after all those years.

Tom Boswell: I was amazed. And I've only scratched the surface. I've been studying "counts" all season, but the two-strike insight only hit me about two weeks ago. I was a little sorry to see that somebody was already onto it -- though kindof tentatively because he had limited data -- in 04. I've asked execs with a couple of teams and more than a dozen players if they've ever heard of the imprtant of "strike two." All said it main intuitive sense, but they'd never seen it quantified or consider SO important.

It was even new to Davey Johnmson who has a masters degree in math from Trinity (in Texas) and was 100 miles ahead of everybody in '84 by the time he got to the Mets. It took the Saber crowd many years to get anwhere close to what Davey was already using. I was getting a lot out of him one day in '85 when he mentioned an obscure Stat book -- maybe the first -- by a Johns Hopkins (I think) prof named Earnshaw Cook (or Cooke). I made the mistake of saying, "Oh, I have that book. Somem of it's over my head because I stopped at differential equations in college. But I understand most of it." After Davey realized I might knew a Laplace Transform from a linear homogeneous system with constant coefficients, he wouldn't talk to me an more about any of it! By now, I've forgotten all that stuff, except some of the fancy names to impress my unfortunate family.

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Burke, Va: I was kind of shocked when the Nats put on Pudge on the 15 day DL, meaning he'd miss Strasburg's June 4th start. With 20/20 hindsight, maybe that was as clear as signal as you need that he wouldn't be starting the on 4th.

Tom Boswell: I talked to Rizzo on Sunday after the game and we were both ageeing that the most likely cause of a Season Derailment was a two-month, not two week, injury to Pudge because he is now the center of the team. Mike really waned to be extra cautious with Pudge, let him really heal, even if it hurts short-term. He can stillcatch his 115+ games.

Wise decision. It may have led, along with other factors, to pushing Strasburg back. Nats will never say they were pointed toward June 4th, then came off it. They are enjoying being angry at the media (read "The Post") much too much and deflecting as much customer annoyance at us possible. My sense is that, all things being equal, they'd have mildly prefered it be June 4th and were pointed toward it, but it just evolved into June 8-9-10 with Pudge as one factor.

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DC: The June 4th crowd. Heck, I've got 21 games, plus my red carpet tixs, and I bet I'll end up doing walup for a game in order to see SS. I have badluck with nats staters. Much like some guys have personal catchers, in 2009 I felt like Garrett Mock's personal fan, although I did see Jimenez and Lincecum. it's all good.

Tom Boswell: DC,

You should be given free tickets to a future game if you have to watch Mock more than once. Beat writers want to jump out of the press box when he "works" -- or, rather, belabors -- his way through 5 innings on 103 pitches. Got the stuff to be a middle-of-roation pitcher, or at least a 4th-5th starter, but just can't figure it out.

Stammen should be better than he's been so far this year and he knows it. If he's not as good as the Jon Garland, Jason Marquis types, I'll eat my hat. Should be a 4.25 ERA 12-win 200-inning guy for quite a few years. But he has to do it. Might need to brush a few guys back. Might need to mix in his changeup more. He's fallen in love with his fixed-elbow curveball. His biggest problem, sometimes, is that when it is a Big Pitch, he tries to hard, overthrows and msses his spot by a foot and doesn't even give himself a chance.

Be interesting to see Stammen in that huge pitcher's park this afternoon at 3:45. He needs to attack, trust his stuff, laugh at that homely Giant lineup and put up 7-5-1-1-0-4. But with him, it could be anything. I still think e's going to turn the corner. But he better hurry up. Strasburg is coming, then the Pitching Hordes.

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Sacramento, Calif.: I loved today's column. I was wondering whether these statistics are overly influenced by the quality of pitcher? On one end, I don't know that Daniel Cabrera, for instance, ever got to strike two on anybody. Of course it's harder to get a hit on an something and 2 count when you don't get to face the Cabrera's of the world. On the other hand, Greg Maddux rarely (if ever) walked anybody. I should be easier to get a hit in a 3-1 count if you never have to face the Maddux's of the world. (Not to mention, if Cabrera gets to a 2 strike count, he probably is pitching well that day, while a Maddux in a 3-1 or 3-0 probably is pitching poorly.)

Regardless, while you showed a few batters' stats to illustrate the effects of the count, is the same sort of transformation true for pitchers? And does this suggest that we should look at a pitcher's ratio of good counts to poor counts?

Tom Boswell: On Cabrera getting to two strikes, I can only say, "Ha!" If the game had allowed a pitcher seven balls, he'd have had a helluva career.

Of course great/awful pitchers or great/awful hitters do better/worse than the average player. BUT everybody is dramatically effected. For example, Pujols OPS is slightly over .800 in all 2-strike counts -- or better than the MLV average OPS of .751. BUT Pujols OPS DROPS more than the average hitter with two strikes. So, strike two "kills" him, too, but he plummets all the way down to "better than average."

Pujols ends his at bats much more quickly than most hitters. He ends 51.5% percent of his at bats on the seven best "hitters counts." (I excluded 3-0 since so few swing at it. Though it is the best of all counts for productivity. The Game is infatuated with that cheap walk on 3-0.) On the other hand, Dunn, because he depends so much on guessing/studying, as opposed to Pujols awesome and refined hitting technique, goes deeper into counts. He "only" ends 44.8% of his at bats in those seven-best hitter's counts.

I talked to Dunn about it. He thought he seldom swung at first pitches. Actually, he's just about average and ends 10.6% of his at bats after one pitch, just like Pujols (10.6%). But Dunn almost NEVER ends an at bat on the second pitch -- 0-1 or 1-0 -- even though he has fabulous numbers on those counts. Pujols has gotten himself about 350 extra high-production at bats over his career -- relative to Dunn -- by being much more agressive on 1-0 and 0-1. He's ended 968 at bats on the second pitch vs 546 for Dunn. And Pujols only has about 10 percent more career plate appearances. Pujols hits far more second pitchews than 0-0 pitches.

I said, "Why not be any aggessive on the second pitch. What pitch did you hit the home run on tonight."

"Second pitch," he said.

But I doubt he's going to change. Great guy. But he has his methods and they work for him. And, well, how often does a Dunn-key change?

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Seam Heads: So Boz, if you were a hitting coach of a MLB team, how would you use your count stats to help your hitters? What advice would you give them? Stats are only worthwhile if acted on for an advantage.

Tom Boswell: I suspect that this a.m.'s column is MUCH more useful for helping fans enjoy watching the game than it will be for players trying to perform better. The desire to be "ahead in the count," whether you're a hitter or pitcher, is already bone deep in the game. Always has been. It just hasn't been quantified that it's even more mportant -- maybe much more important -- than usually thought.

Anybody who played sort of knows already. I only played in high school and a little in Division III and I always looked for a pitch to hit hard or pull until I had a strike. Then I tied to hit the ball back up the middle after I had a strike because I didn't want to be too picky and didn't think I was good enough to prosper with two strikes. With two strikes, I fouled off a lot of pitches, only struck out three times in two years in high school and got a lot of walks, but I doubt I ever got an extra-base hit on a two-strike pitch. I was too busy fighting for my life/dignity. So, you can be a nothing player and still sense the importance of Strike two.

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How to beat Stephen Strasburg: Calm down, everybody, it's not that easy. I thought Toledo "attacked" him (a relative term) well by looking for first or second pitch fastballs. Then they didn't overswing and let his speed turn those swings into hits. I thought the pitch selection (with the backup catcher working the game) was predictable for the most part and they took a little advantage of it (to get two whole runs!).

This does worry me because it touches on my pet peeve: about 2/3 of the pitches called by our catchers is supposed to be thrown down and away. I realize this is baseball common wisdom but I think the Nats overdo it. I thought it was a special problem for Jordan Zimmermann last year because it kept him from jamming pitchers with his good heater.

Is this an organizational philosophy or are the catchers just being overprotective of the junkball throwing starters and will they treat Strasburg differently?

Tom Boswell: I didn't think Strasburg looked nearly as good in his last star in command or stuff; and they attacked him early in the count because he almost always starts with a knee-high sinker, looking for a quick out.

If the radar gun on the TV was correct, he was down to 92 on several sinkers. I even wondered if he had some minor arm tiredness. They got him out very quickly, then said everything was absolutely utterly wonderful with him. (And, after the game, if he had time, he might cure cancer.) The more Rizzo and others said it, the more I wondered. Part of the shift to the Pittsburgh series -- and that's what I think it is, no matter what they say -- is that they weren't so happy with his last start. Nothing bad. But just a little off. If he brings that game to MLB, he gives up a few runs.

OTOH, Tim Lincecum looked absoluely horrible and worrisome last night. Who was that guy? He was only throwing 91-92 most of the night. Seriously, he didn't have one "plus" pitch. That's not the electric Freak that I never try to miss. Until the last 10 pitches, when he finally got a little command, he had no idea where anything was going. He looked demoralized. And that's 11 runs allowed in his last two games after 11 runs allowed in his first 8 starts.

Just some "tired arm" or "dead arm" after so many innings in his first eight starts? Still, I'd be concerned. If he misses a start soon for extra rest, don't be surprised. I don't even want to say DL based on one game with way-below-normal stuff. But that was Garrett Mock in Lincecum's uniform last night. Except Mock has better stuff than that.

Even Ian Desmond, a rookie, came right out afterward and said he didn't have that much of a curveball; he'd expected the "electric" Lincecum, but didn't get to hit against him.

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Hope Springs (Eternal), Va.: Tom:

When I read what you wrote about the Redskins playing so many teams in 2010 that won 6 or more games than they did in 2009, I couldn't help but wonder if it's fair to factor in that the Redskins 4-12 record last year had a lot to do with poor coaching, a terrible locker room atmosphere and a quarterback who couldn't deliver in the clutch. I can't help but feel that improvements in all three areas could lead to 5 or 6 more wins in 2010 than they had in 2009.

When I went through the 2010 schedule, I had a hard time projecting them going better than 9-7, but I think it's realistic to see them splitting their 6 division games, beating the Texans, Buccaneers and (either)Packers or Vikings at home and beating the Rams, Lions and (either) Bears or Jaguars on the road. In your opinion, is that realistic?

Tom Boswell: Subjectively, I think they can go 8-8 -- a big jump from 4-12, especially for a team with an internal nightmare like Big Baby Haynesworth. But, objectively, because of that schedule and how abnormally difficult -- and unlucky -- it is, I think 5-11 or 6-10 is the right "fair" estimate of what to expect. If they go 10-6, just enjoy it.

It's impossible not to make predictions if you are a sports fan (or writer). The mistake is if you believe them. Take your guess. Then forget it, ignore it. Let reality, which is 100 times more ineresting, be your entire focus. If anybody says, "But that's not what you predicted," I just say, "You don't believe that stuff, do you? I usually don't even remember it." We wish that sports was comprehensible because so much of the rest of life is incomprehensible and uncontrolable. But sports only offers us the illusion of predictability and control. As soon as we get to "That's why they play the games," we've constantly reminded that it's just another part of life.

Of course, sports does have parameters. The Nats aren't going to win 105 games or the Yankees lose 105. Because we actually can KNOW some things, we (I) fall into the enjoyable trap of thinking that we can semi-know quite a few things. Then we look back at our own best guesses and say, "Oooops. That wasn't just wrong, it was waaaaay wrong."

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Strasburg is coming, then the Pitching Hordes.: Reminds me of the old joke, about the two campers hiking in the woods who come across a grizzly. The first guy drops his backpack and starts running as fast as he can. The second guy does the same, catches up to his buddy and says, "Why are we running? We can't outrun a grizzly?"

And the first guy says, "I don't have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you."

Stammen and Atilano should think about that.

Tom Boswell: Yup.

They think it every day, I promise.

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re: Padres: Yes, I agree that the pitching probably will not hold up. Latos is the class of the bunch, and Chris Young is fragile at best, and not even close to returning.

When they heard I was moving to D.C., people commented to me that I would have to watch the Nats play. My reply: I've been watching the Padres for 15 years, so I'm used to disappointment. Of course, this is why women make the best baseball fans - we are so used to disappointment from men.

Tom Boswell: !!!

Never heard that one. And I plan to steal it.

(Don't be disappointed when I do. That's just how we are.)

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First-Pitch Swinging: I've heard announcers in the past refer to first-pitch swinging with some distaste - as if it was some kind of desperation tactic, or trying to cheat the system. Something a batter might try out of desperation when mired in a slump.

But your analysis and your account of Pudge's approach seemed to counter that attitude.

Tom Boswell: Makes it all the more amazing that Ted Williams took almost every 0-0 pitch of his career and everybody knew that he would.

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Washington, D.C.: Bos,

On the Strasburg date, the media are in fact to blame. They hyped the date. To state, as you did, that the Nats should have been more vigorous in disputing the date is a bit disingenous, since the media reports what the Nats say.

In general, I think that when subjects, in sports, politics or whatever, "blame the media" they are trying to change the story or cover for themselves. But sometimes the media, writ large, is a t fault. And when that is the case, the media, who tend to be the most thin skinned folks around, do the same thing, blame someone else or try to cover for themselves.

That said, I think you, Tom, do a fantastic job in general. Keep it up.

Tom Boswell: Thanks.

The media should speculate about the date. It's part of the normal conversation. But we should also note that, "It's just specualtion. It can't be anything else. There's no way any team could actually know until a few days beforehand because so many things can change. But, right now, it looks like June 4th."

Which it did. Now it doesn't. Now, it looks like June 9th, to me. And it will look that way right up until -- it doesn't! Unless, of course, it is June 9th.

What shouldn't be done is imply that the Nats are playing games to increase ticket sales. All they'd have to do it is start him June 4th and June 9-10 and they probably draw 40,000+. So, what's going to happen now? They'll probably draw 30,000 to 35,000on June 4th (JUST GUESSING, OKAY?) -- and 40,000 on June 9th (or 8th or 10th). So, from their point of view, what's the big deal. If they'd wanted to max out this opportunity -- and minimize any bad PR or misunderstandings -- they'd just have gone with June 4 AND 9. They didn't? Why? I assume they just made a baseball decision that included many variables.

Anybody who isn't delighted with the Post's overall coverage of Strasburg, especially Shenin's -- and that incldes Kasten and the Nats -- can kiss my grits. And anybody who gets mad, rather than just a little annoyed, about the June 4th date speculation, has too much time on their hands or too little common sense about the impossibility of predicting exactly when anybody will pitch.

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Reston, Va.: Mr. Boswell, You said you would like to write five more columns like the one you wrote on two strikes; please do. I'm in my late twenties and living in DC most of my life I have never understood baseball as well as football even though I have been following the Nats since day 1. (I could never be a Os fan.) While books like The Book, The Book on the Book, and Tango's Book help, I still consider you the foremost authority on my continuing baseball education. Thanks.

Tom Boswell: Reston,

As more people are drawn to baseball by the Nats playing better, as wel as Strasburg and Harper, I'll try to write as many columns on "How to enjoy/understand/attend the game" as possible.

Oh, it looks very likely that the Nats will draft Harper No. 1 overall on June 7th. Unless they don't. They don't have to make up their minds yet. So they haven't. Not entirely, anyway. Not the same as Strasburg. But similar.

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Annapolis, Md.: Here's more praise for today's pitch count column. Glad to hear you want to do more of these.

When I was a teenager I sat in the upper deck in the outfield at Memorial Stadium with my uncle and said, "Wow, I never noticed this before, but infielders move on the pitch, and outfielders move on the swing." My uncle watched for a few pitches, and then said, "I've been watching baseball for thirty-eight years and never noticed that." I love that there is always a chance that the game will reveal itself in ways like that. More, please.

Tom Boswell: Thanks. More, please -- indeed.

Baseball never ceases to provide it.

See you all next week.

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