I came home from college for Thanksgiving 2004 with the knowledge that my hometown was getting a baseball team. One of the first things I did was rush to Springfield Mall to get a Washington Nationals hat. I still have that hat. It is so filled with dried sweat that I can no longer wear it, but I will never throw it away. It is dirty and disgusting and wasted. A lot like my memories of those early Nats teams.
After I wrapped up my years at college I headed for a short trip with some friends and my first Nats game was in early June as Tony Armas Jr. and the Nats took on Barry Zito and the A’s. The A’s would take an early one run lead, but Nick Johnson would hit a two run homer and the Nats bullpen would help to lock down the save and the win. The Nats were 32-26 before I watched that game and from that moment until prior to 2012 the nats have gone 460-614. In the time I have been watching the Nats they are close to 200 games under .500 including two 100 loss seasons and a season in which they were predicted to finish with 140 losses.
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With just over two months left in the season it is time to start trying to predict who will win some of the season end awards. The NL Cy Young award is interesting because there is no clear cut winner and there are many different ways people are going to look at this one. Greinke, Cain, Dickey, Strasburg, and Gonzalez look to be the top contenders, but Johnny Cueto is currently ranked second in the NL in WAR and Clayton Kershaw, Cliff Lee, Josh Johnson, and Wade Miley find themselves up there as well. The Cy Young award isn’t going to be given out on WAR and it also won’t be given out to a one game winner like Cliff Lee unless he goes on an absolute run in the second half of the season.
There is a lot of bias against Greinke because he is an eccentric individual and many people will look at his 3.57 ERA and not realize it is the product of having the Brewers infield behind him. Greinke is the pitcher that advanced stats were made for. He strikes out a lot of batters and doesn’t walk many, but has played on a number of bad teams and that has not helped him in his career. Even if he leads the NL in WAR at the end of the season he will not be able to get enough votes.
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One of the stranger results of the new CBA is that suddenly teams that cried poor in the past are finding the money to sign players at the deadline. Instead of trading Greinke the Brewers instead have offered him a $100 million contract, and the Padres may try and lock up a couple of their assets long term. The reason for this sudden change in mood is being given as the teams weren’t getting offered what they wanted in prospects so now they want to sign the good players they have.
I can’t stop myself from thinking that this isn’t right. When teams were being offered a few decent prospects with high upside that almost never make it they are fine trading a player, but when offered players with less upside that might not make it they suddenly find the gold at the end of the rainbow. None of this makes a lot of sense to me as where was all this money when the Brewers were on the verge of losing Prince Fielder to free agency. If I was a fan of one of these teams that is now keeping players instead of trading them because they aren’t being offered enough in prospects I would start to wonder about that organization.
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Last season I went to watch the Bowie Baysox before Manny Machado arrived, and therefore wasn’t expecting to see any decent prospects, but one person stood out to me. The first baseman and clean-up hitter for the Baysox was Joe Mahoney, and when his bat made contact with baseball it created a noise seldom heard in the minors. The major league crack of the bat. Not the typical dull thud of wood meeting waded up wet newspaper that is normally heard in the minors, but a true crack. All Joe Mahoney did that day was hit line drives.
The next time I would have the pleasure of watching Mahoney play baseball was in Surprise, Arizona as part of a trip to watch the Arizona Fall League. During the game I witnessed in Surprise Mike Olt continued his assault on AFL pitching with a homer and a couple other extra base hits, but slightly less impressive than Olt’s power display was that of Mahoney who once again hit line drives all over the field.
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What do the following things have in common? A pitch to contact pitcher, a defensive specialist in basketball, and a catch and throw catcher? They are all euphemisms for guys that aren’t very good at what they do. That isn’t saying they aren’t better than the rest of the population of humanity, but when compared to their peers these terms have been made up to make guys who generally aren’t very good sound useful.
Once again we are having the debate about pitching to contact because Steve McCatty is saying words and some people don’t like those words. In many ways he is right. A few years back there was a book written about the Oakland A’s and how they managed to win ball games despite a lack of funds. Part of that book was about how on offense it is more important to not make outs than anything else. Then reaching base via a walk, a hit, a HBP, or catcher’s interference are all good things, and making an out is always a bad thing. Another part of the book was how the opposite was true. That ground ball outs are just as good as other types of outs when it comes to pitching, and that is why Oakland signed Chad Bradford and used him as their bullpen Ace.
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As the baseball season has progressed to the halfway point one question has continued to bug me, “What is this place?” I have asked myself that question so many times this season watching the Washington Nationals that it is starting to look like it is time to accept that the Nats have arrived, and that place they have arrived to is first place. So far in 2012 the Nats have spent 73 days in first place. In their magical season of 2005 they spent 20 less days in first place. Even if the Nationals can’t maintain that pace and fall out of first before season’s end this looks to be the best season the team has played since moving to Washington.
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With the month of June in the books, let’s take a look back at all the mayhem that emerged from the bullpen.
Aroldis Chapman entered the month of June with but just one blown save on the year. However, when the smoke of June lifted, Chapman now stands near the upper echelon of unreliable relievers with a total of four blown saves. His three blown saves in June is tied for the most on the month, but his hijinks earlier on in the month where he celebrated a successful save situation with two grade school-like tumbling somersaults, he’s pretty much on the radar of all batters who want nothing more than to see him blow more saves as opposed to other relievers.
But if Chapman wants to be the cock of the walk, he’s going to have a little bit of a challenge in catching the man who leads the Majors in blown saves. The top spot was deadlocked at five blown saves for most of May, but right at the very end, one man emerged among the dogpile to claim the top spot. Seattle’s Brandon League now has the title for most blown saves on the year with six, and his closest competition in Philadelphia’s Chad Qualls, was designated for assignment, meaning League might be “safe” for a little while.
More stats and analysis, after the jump. Read more »