Podcast! 2015 Nats Season Preview with @NoahFrankWTOP

EDIT: I fixed the audio so it is properly mixed.

Noah Frank joins our show to talk about where the Nats are right now and how they look for 2015. On the show: the 25 man roster, the rash of injuries suffered by the team, how good is the Nationals rotation, is this bullpen sustainable, Strasburg, Harper, a little Matt Williams, an NL East preview, a rest of the MLB preview, and plenty more. Enjoy!

A Trip to Cooperstown, Part 1

As a diehard baseball fan, I had never made the pilgrimage to Cooperstown, New York to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. I’d actually never even been to New York before. How sacrilegious is that? With so much history, tradition and baseball in one place, how had a fan, like myself, never set foot on such sacred grounds.

Well, that all changed the second weekend in June as some friends and I, already having planned to go up to Upstate New York for a long weekend, made a pit stop in Cooperstown to check out the Baseball Hall of Fame. Let’s just say that I was mesmerized by how much baseball tradition is enshrined within the walls of the Baseball Hall of Fame itself.

When we first arrived there, I noticed just how much baseball was prevalent within the little town of Cooperstown. Baseball themed restaurants and stores line the streets with titles such as the “Triple Play Café,” “Cooperstown Bat Company,” and “Baseballism.” With restaurants and shops featuring names like those, you know that you’re in heaven as a baseball fan.

After parking the car and wandering down Main Street, taking in all the sights, sounds and smells of baseball heaven, we finally made it to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Baseball Hall of Fame is celebrating its 75th Anniversary this year and we picked a great weekend to visit. Not only was the ‘Iron Man’ Cal Ripken, Jr. there himself (we unfortunately did not see Cal) for various events throughout the weekend, the Baseball Hall of Fame actually was opening a brand new Babe Ruth exhibit on the day we went. Talk about great timing. We also got a commemorative keychain. Hooray keychains!

Once inside, we picked up a map and started to decipher where to go and what to see first. After opting to start on the third floor and work our way down, we entered the “Sacred Ground” exhibit. This exhibit featured quite a bit of information regarding the ballparks, past and current. It also featured a ton of new and old memorabilia, such as the Rally Monkey, which is a plush monkey (actually a real monkey in real life) that made appearances in late-inning situations for the 2002 Anaheim Angels’ World Series-winning team. There were also two seats from Veterans Stadium, the old ballpark that the Philadelphia Phillies called home from 1971-2003. Other relics and knick-knacks featured within this exhibit include old ticket stubs and giveaway items such as pins, bobbleheads, a Rubik’s Cube and ancient programs that were sold for 15 cents.

Rally Monkey

The exhibit changes from ballparks to players, highlighting individual records that each player has accomplished. Records such as Ripen, Jr.’s consecutive games played streak (2,632), most games played in a career (Pete Rose; 3,562), most consecutive seasons leading the league in singles (Ichiro; 10), most saves in a season (Francisco Rodriguez; 62), a broken bat highlighting Mariano Rivera’s 608 career saves and even Eric Gagne’s goggles signifying his 84 consecutive saves streak. Another interesting item that the Baseball Hall of Fame had was the hat that Chicago Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood wore during his rookie season where he struck out 20 Houston Astros batters during his fifth career start in the majors. One thing that I forgot about though was Barry Bond’s career home run No. 762 ball. It was in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but I completely forgot that the ball was purchased by designer Marc Ecko, who then branded it with an asterisk and donated it back to the Hall. I got a chuckle out of that. Finally, upon exiting this exhibit, they have replicas of each ring that the World Series champion receives. It was interesting seeing how gaudy the rings have gotten over the years. It really is all about the bling.

Kerry Wood Hat

In order to keep this on the shorter side and not be TL;DR, be on the lookout for Part 2 of my trip to Cooperstown.

Nats 2014 Mid-Season Review Part I: The Standings and Pitching Are Better Than You Think

The Washington Nationals have played precisely half of the games they are scheduled to play in the 2014 campaign. Since we, as a species, tend to like the easily divisible, I present unto you the longstanding tradition of a “mid season” review of the Washington Nationals – 2014 edition.

Standings: The Washington Nationals (43-38) are currently tied atop the NL East with a half game behind the Atlanta Braves (44-38) 5 games above .500. (They were tied after 81 game each, Atlanta’s just played one more already). This is certainly a step up from last year when Washington (41-40) trailed Atlanta (47-34) by 6 games. It also isn’t nearly as good as Washington (48-33) leading Atlanta (42-39) by 6 games.

Indeed, while both teams are maybe playing not quite as well as they had expected, it might be the first time Nats and Braves fans are seeing the “race” they were supposed to the last few years. There is no doubt that the 2013 Nats stumbled out of the gate and the Braves managed to stay hot (enough) all year, much the way the 2012 Nats blew it out of the box and never looked back. This year, neither team has run away with the division.

Atlanta owns the season series thus far (3-7), which only highlights their struggles against teams in the other 71 games. The problem for the Braves is that the Nationals are getting healthier (about to, finally, field their Opening Day line up since the middle of the game on Opening Day), and the Braves, really, are not.  Nine of those last 80 games for the Braves are against Washington, The other 71 are not.

The Marlins (4.0 GB), Mets (6.0 GB) and Phillies (7.0 GB) don’t appear to be in this race for the long haul.

Starting Pitching: Continue reading

Talking Points #3: It’s Only Spring (Until It’s Not)

-Photo Credit @AshburnNatsfan

-Photo Credit @AshburnNatsfan

Let’s face it. You don’t really like baseball (yet). Or maybe you do like baseball, but you don’t feel like you know very much about it (yet). Either way, you find yourself out of your depth when the conversation turns to the Nats and you wish you could just throw out a few bon mots to sound like you know what you’re doing. 

Nats101 presents Talking Points, a weekly series designed to take advantage of the BSing nature of Washington D.C., and make you sound like a seamhead on your very first try. (And maybe learn ya some baseball while we’re at it).

“I don’t know. I know they want to grow the sport overseas, but playing the first two regular season games in Australia just feels weird.”

  • Yessir, the MLB has in fact started playing games that count. More than a week before the March 31 Opening Day, the Dodgers beat the Diamondbacks twice in Sydney, Australia of all places.
  • The games started at completely odd hours of the day here in the States, given the time shift, and it required either staying up very late or getting up very early to watch.
  • Maybe you think that’s a great idea, but it is strange to think of games being played so early in the season, so far away…and then they come back and play more practice games that don’t count.
  • Tying this to the Nats, they open the season on the road playing the New York Mets on Monday, March 31. They play their first home game on Friday, April 4 against the Atlanta Braves.
  • Totes mention the Aussie series as a way to gauge baseball interest with others, and then use that to see if folks are excited about the Nats opening in New York, or in Washington later that week.

“I can’t believe some folks are panicking about Bryce Harper because he’s had a slow spring. You can’t really go by stats like that. It’s Spring Training!” 

  • If you are looking at the stats in Spring Training, you’re doing it wrong. If someone talks about the stats in Spring Training, they are doing it wrong.
  • Spring Training is not about stats, it’s about getting warmed up to play baseball. The only meaningful things you can ever pull out of ST is that players are healthy, or (if you’re able to pick up on such things) mechanics.
  • Unlike the regular season, players aren’t always working on ‘getting a hit’ or ‘striking a guy out.’ Very often, a player may be working on something in particular. Ryan Zimmerman may be laying off easy fastballs because he feels he needs to practice hitting curveballs. Stephen Strasburg may opt to throw a change-up to a hitter even if he knows he can’t hit the slider. In the Spring they aren’t worried about the result, they care about the process.
  • Plus you can throw out another buzz phrase “small sample size.” The small number of attempts a player will take distorts reading you will get on how well he is performing.
  • Imagine a pop quiz where there are only two questions and you get one wrong. You get a 50%. Now imagine a test with ten questions where you get two wrong. You got more wrong, but did much better. 100 Questions and 10 wrong? Even better…You get the idea.
  • Applied to baseball… Harper was 5 for 30 the other day, or a very bad .167 batting average. If he makes two more hits, his a bad but not abysmal .233. 10 hits out of 30? an all-star worthy .300. Five hits over 30 Spring at bats (where, again, he may not be working on always getting hit) is a swing of .133 batting average points. Over 600 At bats he might see in a season? .008 points, or 0.8%. Very, very small-so don’t be fooled.

“…but all that said, Two Home Runs in one game for Danny Espinosa? I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, but I think he might be back!”

  • I know, I know….I just told you not to read too much into Spring Training. But here is where you can make an intelligent distinction as to what’s going on down in Florida.
  • Last year, Danny Espinosa’s broken wrist and tore up shoulder cost him his 2013 campaign, his starting job, and put his standing with the team in jeopardy. While languishing in the minor leagues, Espinosa hit two home runs in 313 plate appearances. Which is to say, basically, that he couldn’t barely hit at all.
  • Espinosa’s swing has looked great all spring. Even the outs he’s made have been hard hit. Getting two singers in one game isn’t great because of the stats boost, but it shows that he can hit the home run.
  • Espinosa’s defense was always stellar. He wasn’t a great batter, but he had power. When he lost his power last year, he had almost nothing. If he gets his power back, he’s at worst a great backup.

Holding Court: What’s Eating Stephen Strasburg?

Janet Jackson – Nasty (Music Video) from Mary Lambert, Director on Vimeo.

What does Janet Jackson have to do with Stephen Strasburg’s current struggles?  Court illuminates, read on.

So why does Stephen Strasburg suck right now?

Okay, okay, he doesn’t suck. After his last start, he actually lowered his ERA to below last year’s numbers, but he can’t seem to give his team a chance. So what’s wrong? I decided to look into his advanced stats on Fangraphs.com (so you don’t have to) and found some interesting info. The sample size for this season is ridiculously small but I was mostly looking for numbers that were out of line from last year’s stats.

 Is it his velocity?

No. All of his pitch velocities closely match his averages from last year. The four-seamer is a little slower, but the two-seamer is actually harder.

 Is it his lack of first pitch strikes, like Boz says?

Continue reading

Review-Preview: Fish-Sandwhich, Har-Vey’s Bet-Ter and The Return of PeteF@*!!Kozma

@Natsaholic sends a sneaky photo of how close he is to @WashingNats

@Natsaholic went to the Mets series this weekend.  He tweeted  a sneaky photo of how close he is to MLB Beat writer, Bill Ladson aka @WashingNats

There are a million places to go get a recap and preview of every game, but here at Nationals 101 we prefer to take a slightly bigger slice of the pie.  The Review-Preview will take place between series and give a quick recap of the previous series (including anything we think you can learn from the series) and what you can look forward to in the next series coming up.

Normally a 3-3 road trip is a cause to celebrate.  When expectations are high (and the talent you play allegedly low) it comes away feeling a little flat.  Still, in the span the Nats split their 6 games, the Braves managed only two wins, which gives them a game up…in April, with 140+ games left to play.  So while all games are weighted equal, it is still the case that the overwhelming majority of games haven’t been counted yet. 

The Nats took the first series from the Marlins two games to one.  They blew out the Fish in the opener 10-2, dropped the second game with three starters missing 8-2, but bounced back in the finale to take the series with a 6-1 score.

The Nats dropped their opener against the Mets as Matt Harvey out-pitched Stephen Strasburg (and just about everyone else I’ve seen this year), losing 7-1.  The second day also featured seriously shaky starting pitching, with Gio Gonzalez having a meltdown in the fourth inning to lose a three run lead.  Still, the bats were alive with four home runs (two from Bryce Harper) and they won a game on offense 7-6.  Sunday’s game featured the debut of top prospect Anthony Rendon much to the delight of many a fan looking forward to his debut.  Unfortunately and 0-4 and error later for Rendon seemed like piling on after the Nats dropped the finale in a sloppy 2-0 loss.

So What Happened?  For the most part, the same thing that’s been happening all Month.  The Nationals have been winning games handily, or losing them because of sloppy play.  Dan Haren has yet to do anything to convince anyone he’s going to be a good pitcher, and Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez seem to be taking too many pitches to get anyone out at all.  Even when three errors don’t directly cost runs (as on Sunday) that makes Jordan Zimmermann throw more pitches than he needs to.  Letting the Mets of the hook by swinging at a 3-0 pitch with the bases loaded and no outs (ahem Jayson Werth) also cuts a huge break to a guy like Dillon Gee who had been averaging more than 8 runs a game before the start Sunday.

Our constant refrain of “It’s Only April” isn’t actually meant to excuse the sloppy play of the Nationals, or some how make you feel like a lunatic for thinking the Nats are playing poorly.  The Nats are indeed playing very poorly at times so far this month.  The reason to keep in mind that it is April is to remind you they have plenty of time to play well (and they will play well). 

It’s a trick of the mind:  When the Nats have played less than 20 games, those 7 or 8 bad games are a big percentage of the pie.  It’s important to remember that the pie isn’t 20 games big though-it’s 162 games big.  What’s 20 bad games out 162?  or 30? or 40?  or even 50?  Not a lot, that’s what.

I think a lot of fans who are the most worried tuned into the team sometime after the Capitals bounced out of the playoffs, or even later.  August maybe?  July?  It’s easier to stomach losses when you are already watching an established winner-particularly with no serious expectations on them (externally, anyway).  It’s much tougher to come into the season at the begnning season with triple the expectations and have to learn, from the start, just what a winning season looks like top to bottom.

“It’s Only April” doesn’t make you feel better in the moment, it only illuminates that it is only one moment in many.  In July, April will not matter nearly as much as you thought it did.

Lost In The Shuffle

  • The Nats haven’t had to do a lot of “over coming” so far this year.  They won games they were tied late in the game for, they’ve held on to leads despite furious comebacks-but the 7-6 Mets win on Saturday was the first time they actually battled back to win a game from behind.  (Note: I’m not counting the two times they were down 1-0 to the White Sox after the first inning).  I’m likely adding narrative to where there isn’t actually one, but it looked like the Nats had some fight in them for the first time this year.  Last year, I didn’t count them out of any game-up until Saturday, I had been a few times.
  • Bryce Harper had the flu and went 3-4 in Miami.  Seriously.
  • Miami beat the Reds, and took them to 14 innings the next day. Also the Braves lost twice to the Pirates.  Hopefully fans can stop worrying about who loses to who and who beats who in April and taking it as a harbinger of the whole season…soon.  My head would appreciate it.
  • Ryan Zimmerman had a tender calf in game one of the Marlins series before being pulled.  Thanks to how rules work, you can retroactively put someone on DL so long as they haven’t played since they were pulled and his 15 day stint started Thursday instead of Sunday when they announced it.  Wilson Ramos also is on the DL, though he’s a week in already.
  • Steve Lombardozzi filled in admirably this week, going 7 for 21 in 6 starts against the Braves, Marlins and Mets.  He did get owned by Matt Harvey going 0-4, just like most everyone else did on the Nats Friday night.
  • 0-4 and an error for Anthony Rendon.  Not an auspicious start, and it might be something Davey has stuck in his craw when it’s time to decide if he stays up or goes down.  That said, just as if he went 4-4 and helped turn two double plays-it would still only be one game out of about 12 he’ll play before the Nats have to figure that out.  Plenty of time for him to make his case either way.

St. Louis Cardinals

Let go of your anger and don’t expect and easy revenge match for the Nationals.  The Cardinals are a no joke team.  They post the same 10-8 record as the Washington Nationals, and also look up at division rivals they know they can catch and beat.  The Cards have also beaten teams handily when they win, and lost games inexplicably when they haven’t.  

Many fans will be familiar with the virtues the Cards boast:  Yadier Molina is a hitter nearly impossibly to strike out, and Carlos Beltran is a 30+ HR guy.

The Nats will send Dan Haren to the mound Monday night.  He might need to seriously get a good game in if he doesn’t want everyone in DC to completely hate him.  The Cardinals will send Shelby Miller to the mound for his first apperance against the Nationals ever.  He’s more or less a three pitch pitcher (Fastball, Curveball Change-up) but he has thrown a few cut fastballs this year as well.  He’ll be a riddle the Nats will want to solve quickly given the limited data they will have on the newcomer.

The Nats then send their best pitcher thus far, Ross Detwiler to face former Cy Young candidate Adam Wainwright.  The Nats have done well against Wainwright, particularly at Nats Park (1-2, 7.24 ERA and 2.2ish WHIP), but he’s still a dangerous pitcher when he’s on.  Given the uncertainty around him on the mound, the Nats need to get after Wainwright and make the most of Detwiler if he has another great start.

The Wed afternoon finale will feature Stephen Strasburg  and  Jamie Garcia.  Garcia is a solid pitcher, averaging about 3.5 runs given up per game and 1.3 hits per inning pitched.  The Nats clobbered him last year for 6 runs on 9 hits in 5.1 innings pitched.  

What To Hope For

Not to look ahead, but the NL Central leading Reds come in after the Cards for a four game tilt over the long “revenge” week this seems to have shaped up to be.  The Nats will likely be looking to show they can beat good teams and get some of these error/pitching monkeys off their back.  Over 7 games, 5 wins at home seems to be what the Nationals should feel like they should get.  Four is acceptable, 6 or 7 would be special.  With the Reds being just as tough ast the Cardinals (maybe tougher) the Nats would do well to get 2 of 3 from the Redbirds, heading into the extended weekend series looking to win 3 out of 4.

Cliff Notes: The “I’m a Sci Fi Fantasy Sweater Vest Minor Leaguer” Edition

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Cliff Notes is a bi-weekly-ish post featuring links to some of our favorite stories from other parts of Natstown over the past couple of days.  We want to make sure you’re reading the best of what Natstown has to offer!

Don’t forget, tonight is SWEATER VEST NIGHT at Nationals Park (Unofficial).  It’s in honor of color analyst F.P. Santangelo, who we all think is awesome.  Also, it will be fun to stand out at the park.  Come on out/look for us on the TV! (Presented by the Half Street Irregulars).

  • In other Non-Direct-Baseball News, @FakeFP’s STOP THE WAVE pamphlet (since turned into a back of an Anti-Wave T-shirt) got picked up by Yahoo and is making the National rounds.  This is a good thing.
  • See!  I didn’t Tweet-Lie when I said Werth was using Game of Thrones (and The Walking Dead) as his walk up music!  Now he really just needs to get the Dr. Who theme (preferably Seasons 2-3, or Season 5  of the rebooted seasons.  Season 1, and the Original Series are probably too quiet to be heard properly. You need that full BBC London Philharmonic Orchestra!)
  • How Do I Baseball wrote a story about Drew Storen’s evil, evil change-up against the White Sox Dewayne Wise.  It’s a pitch worthy of its own story. 
  • It’s similar to the Adam Kilgore piece about Strasburg’s change up against Joey Votto of the Reds.   Between these two posts, I’m pretty sure we’ll be doing a series showing what different pitches are and how they move. 
  • Natstradameus expresses my thoughts on Anthony Rendon nearly perfectly in this post explaining why, despite a serious case of the Error-Hiccups, the team won’t be calling up Rendon anytime soon.
  • Mark Zuckerman did profile who is playing well in the Minors so far.  In fact, the tone of his post seems to indicate that you might see Micah Owings or Zach Walters before you see Anthony Rendon this year.
  • Still don’t think the Nationals aren’t preparing Rendon for a possible move.  The last article today is from Byron Kerr, reporting that Rendon is playing both 3rd and 2nd base in Harrisburg so far.  This gives the Nationals a little more flexible with how they bring him up, when the bring him up (which still might not be soon).